One morning my grandmother made her daughters sit 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 instinctively gathered around the mother- knowing men were not in the house and thereby they were free; even if that 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. Beware of him, I tell you. Beware of him. He is dangerous. I tell you. Has done some horrible things to the poor Didimoni- that poor school teacher! Horrible!” One Masi would warn another. As the protector of the chastity of her sibling. As the good deeds for her pleasant afterlife piled up for her.
“The school teacher is not that pure either.” the warned Masi would reply. In protest. It’s not that she was not fearful, but submission to her sister’s wisdom was even worse.
“That’s alright. Her problem. You beware.” the warner Masi would persist.
If I was around the conversation, it would please me a lot at the apparent predicament of a school teacher as I had begun to go to a primary school and therefore was afraid of teachers and assumed all of them were harsh.
“What happened to the teacher, Masi, what happened to her?” I would ask to relish her ill fortune.
In a moment both of them would break free of a spell that only a great but 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 and exemplary strict to her children would come to the room stomping, pulling me by hair toward the wall and banging my head against it. Probably 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 of them all and the most talkative. “Like sometimes I dream I am falling down. I feel I should stop- after a while. But I fall still. Till I actually sometimes fall down from the bed.”
And everyone began to laugh. When my grandfather came back home after his morning walk, everyone became responsible and fidgety again and went quietly 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 blue sari floating, before flowing away from her, mingling with the surroundings and being absorbed by the sky.
An unknown sensation that felt like happiness, and 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 the 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 now 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 a marriage is a long time. It nauseates me now to reach out and touch her.
Probably why, when I look at her hesitantly she 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 strict teacher to whom I do horrible things; and on a good day, you are Nidhi, you are Nidhi, a naked girl.”