Rebecca Vedavathy is a research scholar studying Francophone Literature in EFLU, Hyderabad. Being a woman sometimes is an accomplishment by itself. This piece of writing is testimony to the complex positions women come to occupy in relation to societal expectations and the transformations they undergo.
Her nail beds, the scent of onion peels neatly folded the clothes line into a sizeable pile of wearables. The clothes wore an air of wife-washed cleanliness. A blue nylon sari wrapped her gifted waist, sliding ever-so-gently off her shoulder making her a piece of pop art gracing the household.
‘Mayil’, the bearded voice in the bedroom called out for one thing or the other that was most probably at arm’s reach. She left the pile of clothes lusting after her as she trapized into the bedroom to knot the tie or find the watch or untangle the laces from the previous night. “The aftershave is over,” the voice muttered as she found another bottle. Standing in front of the mirror a wince curled up the pained lips when the lotion grazed a nick that the razor had made. She leaned in and made quick acquaintance with the aftershave face. The face held her neck with one hand like a butcher holds chicken before slaughter. Desire threw her sari off balance. The blue nylon made its way down her breasts to her navel. Her beautiful navel. They stood there pressed against each other to the sound of Illayaraja’s Kannae kalaimaanae kanni mayilenak kandaen unai naanae. Curtains drawn – she checked. She ate the lips looking at her. Zips, hooks, buttons and nādas came undone. Love was made on wobbly knees, framed against a wooden door.
Kannae kalaimaanae played on loop as Mayil rearranged her pallu onto her tired shoulder. She lifted her legs onto the pile of pre-arranged pillows and devotedly left them hanging there, as the old wives’ tale went. Her thoughts took a stroll with invisible baby hands. She pondered the lonely bed, the doorframe an excuse for luscious movement. Babies should be made in bed. Next time perhaps.
Mayil got back on her toes in front of the open window and inhaled the breath of the city that up until a moment ago protected the ‘innocence’ of children. She picked up a stray piece of paper lying on the dressing table.
When your belly doesn’t protract proportionally to the number of months you’ve been married the ladies (the ones who live next door, the ones you are related to, the ones you buy your brinjals from) all of them begin to whisper about your uterus. They are loud enough so Mayil can make out what they say and quiet enough so she doesn’t presume they are being hurtful. So writes the praying mantis.
The girl next door must stop playing this mournful lullaby Mayil concluded as she hummed along. She entered the bathroom sat on the commode and lifted her sari mid-thigh. Against navy blue a forest of black. She meticulously washed herself with left hand and soap. She used a towel to wipe herself, applied a handful of powder between her legs and shook her sari back to the floor. The powder drank her moisture. The doorbell rang. The postman stood browning in the sun when she signed for the courier. She dug her nails into the unsuspecting package and found a brand of sanitary napkins. They import cheap she gathered as the powder on her thigh turned a stubborn red.
Red they say is a blessing. Red tomatoes. Red bangles. Red kungkumam. This customary red Mayil bleeds month after month is the stench of time running out. A shrunken womb. Blood flows freely between her thighs and cuts supply off to her unborn children. The chicken’s head half alive. Mayil oh Mayil the thirsty blood your body spurts. So writes the praying mantis.
She stood there crying for three whole days. Red tears and blood. “Mayil”, the bearded voice called this time half asleep. She moved listlessly. “Some tea,” the voice informed. The milk from yesterday had boiled over. She sliced a lemon and squeezed it into the decoction. Sugar was a luxury the diabetic didn’t need to be afforded. She walked into the bedroom a cup of strong, sugarless tea in hand. The tea slipped easily into the diabetic’s mouth. The same mouth moments later bore into her skin with a feverish longing, entered her with acute precision leaving behind a war on the sheets. Her hips were sodden with sweat. Kannae kalaimaanae became the voice that lulled the diabetic to sleep. She put her legs on the head of the bed prayerfully hoping blood came with babies. Next time perhaps.
Mayil pried the bed sheet from under the sleeping body. She dipped it in a bucket full of detergent. The red from the sheet spread like ink in the water. She sat on the bathroom floor scrubbing her sins off the bed sheet.
No baby in belly. Still, empty like a mollusc on the beach. Mayil, the pumpkin vendor full of ripe yellowing pumpkins sniggers. The sprouts don’t sprout. The oven has no dough. So writes the praying mantis.
Mayil was armed, ready to wipe the thanjavur bommai manning her shelf. Its pendulum head and its peacock tail were tightly wrapped around Mayil’s left palm. Her right palm held a dusting cloth, the colour of a rare tropical orange. The tinsel wiped the bobbing doll head; ready to drop, un-ready to infuse with the mud that made it. Schrodinger’s cat was more decisive Mayil surmised. She shook the skirt into a peaceful still and drew the sliding door shut encasing the bommai into an emblematic detention.
Mayil in the household. Mayil slicing the tomatoes. Mayil de-weeding the pots. Mayil the hangar. Mayil the shoes. Mayil no baby. Mayil this. Mayil that. Mayil. Mayil. Mayil. So writes the praying mantis.
Mayil was awake. The night swelled up into the sunny day. And Mayil stayed up like leftovers waiting for sleep to ingest her. Up and about, Mayil. Mayil realised what she wanted. She saw the warm body lying next to her wrapped in summer sweat. She slid her nails under the thin sheet and met a pair of limbs. The sleeping limbs didn’t seem to mind her exploratory nails. The sun grew out of the clouds, a bright orange. The sheets billowed in response. The limbs now awake looked hook-eyed from under the sheet. Mayil sat upright against the head of the bed with legs apart. The limbs moved languorously onto her. Mayil pushed the lazy limbs back onto the bed. In one swift motion she coiled around them.
Mayil danced. This dance was hers. Her hips swayed to a primal rhythm. She was moving heat. Caught in the quagmire of sleep, the pair of limbs were trapped in her cosmic dance. A war-dancer, she pranced. The limbs now entirely buried in an acrimonious grasp of thigh muscles woke up to free themselves. Mayil was stronger. She caught them in a grip so powerful that the limbs flopped into silence. She hungered on. Relentless. Savage. Feral. The tired limbs emptied into her. With a graceful swivel Mayil plumped into the panting chest. She did not raise her legs this time. She lay there motionless and triumphant. Two bodies exchanged a quiet moment before the limbs attempted escape. In one fierce movement Mayil crushed the limbs back into submission. It was not over. She picked up the pillow calmly, knelt as a mark of prayer and watched as life was liberated from its human cage.
The ladies sing the suprabhatam, malli poo in hair. The idlis look lovely. The chutney a glorious green. A pair of struggling feet. A swollen pumpkin draped in yellow gossamer threads. Kannae kalaimaanae kanni mayilenak kandaen unai naanae the preying mantis sings.