It takes a while to know your husband, but no one has the time to wait for you to know your husband, and mothers assure you that ‘he is not running anywhere’ so you take your while to know, but bearing a child has nothing to do with knowing your husband, it is a purely biological process, no eye contact is involved in bearing a child, kissing isn’t necessary, no one cares where your erogenous zones or where your heart is, because that is all later. It is later that you have to worry about whether he knows what your favourite cuisine is, and later that you have to think of how ugly his nose is, anyway once you bear a child, you don’t have to worry because there is no time so there is no later. It is only after the child grows up, after he is an adult, that you can think about where your erogenous zones are but by then the wear and tear in your own body gets you confused, and your face is not like your own any longer, so it is best to not know.
But Leela still tried, she looked him up and down every day, noticed his gait, tried to remember his lips when he was away, his nose, his flabby face, inside of her she felt fulfilled, she had a child, she had a family, but her husband was ugly and she could not get that out of her mind. She herself was also plump and had a double chin now, but she still looked better than him, he was plain ugly, and she was not shallow or too hung up on looks but like any young woman she had wanted a decent looking man and when he had come to their house with his parents, he was slim and his face was not as flabby. But as soon as they got married and a few days later when he was on top of her, she noticed that there was a potential for ugliness in that face. His father was a gentle-looking, fair man, she saw him and thought my husband will grow this way, his mother was a chubby unpleasant looking woman with an equally unpleasant attitude and everyone saw it and everyone around her knew that her life with this mother-in-law would not be easy, but everyone smiled and everyone approved. Two years into their marriage her husband looked more like his mother than his father.
He got uglier, on some days more crooked than others, nose fatter, forehead flatter and eyes muddy. She cooked pumpkin, bottle gourd, bitter gourd as her mother-in-law advised but her husband didn’t seem to become any more pleasing. She looked him up and down, up and down, a neat sum of her aspirations, a support that she had to have, if there was one thing she had been taught, it was that a man is the only necessity in a woman’s life, a man, a man in total, with working genitals. It doesn’t matter if tall or short or dark or fair, or yellow or green, man, man, man, only a man can be hope, and only a man can be dream, but she only wished that her hope had a sharper nose and her dream was less crooked. The night after they got engaged, she lay in bed thinking of the pleasant tingling in her stomach when he touched her hand while putting a ring on her finger, she had no complaints then or when they got married too and he came dressed in a white sherwani with a red pagdi, clean shaven, fair, lean. But a week into their marriage after a few unsuccessful attempts at penetration, he asked her to rub his flaccid dick, she felt queasy holding it, nervously giggled, he looked angry, “Hold it properly!”, but how could she, this her mother had not taught her, not told her, no one had told her that a flaccid dick is uniquely disgusting. He got impatient, she felt like it was her fault, he got angry, it was her fault, and because it was her fault she fell in love with him.
She couldn’t remember exactly when he became an ugly truth from a disgusting fantasy, maybe it was just after the birth of their first child. Just when her body was blood and mucous and when she was swathed in sheets and had two scarves on her head and was supposed to feed the one who looked like his father, when she smelled adulthood on herself, this being patient with smells and letting your body become a source of food for a new-born was adulthood. She felt cheated, she cried, her mother told her it would be tough at first but it would get better, her mother-in-law told her to ‘man’ up and do her job. But where was the man? The man, the man who was the necessity of her life. The man, walking in and out, held the baby, smiled proudly as if he had accomplished a mammoth task, basked in his virility and his image, and left, then came back and when she told him that she was overwhelmed with all this, he frowned, she saw his nose get fatter and his eyes get muddier, but maybe that was just her imagination, because the frown quickly changed to a consoling movement of the lips, mock kisses given to a child, condescending sounds that made her hate herself, for she felt the ugliness, independent of him, creeping up to her.
Shivani Mutneja teaches English Literature at Symbiosis College of Arts and Commerce , Pune. Her poems have appeared in The Literateur, Nether Magazine, Radius (from Center to the Edge) and The Brown Critique. Her personal essay called ‘Kitchen Sketches’ recently appeared in Pendora Magazine.
She can be found on Medium – https://medium.com/@shivanimutneja
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