One morning my grandmother drew her daughters beside her and began to describe her last night’s dream. Her three daughters, the eldest being my mother, left their morning chores- cooking, dusting, cleaning- and gathered around their mother. Knowing men were not in the house, therefore they were free. Even if it was only for twenty minutes.
“Last night I dreamt I was running naked,’ my grandmother began. ‘I don’t know why. I was jumping up the stairs, running to the rooftop, dancing around the kitchen- not a thread on my body, not a thread. Every one was begging: Nidhi, Nidhi, wear something, wear something. But I was not listening.” She heaved a sigh. Remembering. Almost happy.
The daughters flapped their eyelids and hesitated to speak. As the current topic had gone far beyond their regular conversations on intimate subjects. It was not that they didn’t speak about sex. As one of her daughters, my mother, had been six years married and had my brother and me. But the subject of sex came like a touch and go, to evoke a giggle at a silent corner of the house. Or at a delicate moment, to show liveliness where there was none. As a momentary relief to the drudgery of their small town lives.
Or as a cautionary tale.
“The Banshi guy, han, the Banshi guy. I tell you. Beware of him. Beware of him. He is dangerous. I tell you. Has done some horrible things to the poor Didimoni- that poor woman! Horrible!” One Masi would warn another. As the overseer of the chastity of her junior sibling.
“The school teacher is not that pure either.” the other Masi would reply in protest. She was not courageous, but a submission to her sister felt unwise.
“That’s alright. Her problem. You beware.” the elder Masi would persist.
If I was around the conversation, the apparent predicament of a school teacher would please me a lot. As I had begun to go to a primary school and was afraid of teachers, and assumed all of them were cruel.
“What happened to the teacher, Masi, what happened to her?” I would ask to relish the poor teacher’s ill fortune.
In a moment both of them would break free from the spell that a not so imminent danger casts, and forget the usual decorum of affection toward me and shout in unison, “Who allowed you here? Who? Don’t you know you shouldn’t listen to women’s conversations? Didi, Didi, take your son away from here.”
My mother, who had a reputation for being an angry woman, who behaved with exemplary strictness toward her children, would come to the room stomping, pulling me by hair toward the wall and banging my head against it. In an effort to make it all go away, from the head- all the nasty imaginations of the world.
But that morning I was there- silently sitting between the daughters. My brother was sleeping in the crib. The summer sunlight shining through the latticework of the window warmed the vegetables. And no one said a word.
“It happens sometimes,” the middle daughter finally said. She was the heartiest and the most talkative. “Like sometimes I dream that I am falling down. I feel I should stop, after a while. But I still fall. Till I actually fall down from the bed.”
And everyone began to laugh. When my grandfather came back home after his morning walk, everyone became responsible and fussy again and went in silence back to work.
Only I had the leisure till the lunchtime to imagine a little girl- not more than ten years old- floating around our house. Her hands waving. Her fingers dancing. And her light blue sari floating- before flowing entirely away from her. Mingling with the house walls and mango trees and being soaked by the sky.
An unknown sensation that felt like happiness, a thrill, emerged from the heart, spread across the chest and gave me goose bumps for being able to see her dance and, see her.
Even now I see her often.
When my wife looks up from the far side of the bed, waiting, for a twitch of the eyebrow, or a flicker of inattention on my face- while I read. A deep sigh, or anything that says I would come to her- and the light from the bedside lamp warms her breasts. I often fear if I don’t hurry up and grab her she would fall down from there.
Twenty years of marriage is a long time. It nauseates me to stretch my hand and touch her.
That is why, when I look at her, she hesitantly asks, “Who do you want me to be tonight?”
I tell her, “How many times should I tell you, Kuntala? On a bad day you are a cruel teacher to whom I do horrible things. And on a good day, you are Nidhi, you are Nidhi, a naked girl.”