Dharini Bhaskar’s debut novel These, Our Bodies, Possessed by Light, is a work of literary fiction that follows Deeya, who is living in a tolerable marriage, until Neil enters her life, offering her romance and a new identity. Before she decides what to do, she confronts the stories of the women of her family — her grandmother and mother — both of whom have had complex relationship negotiations of their own. Deeya faces the decision of choosing between writing her own narrative and following in the steps of her family.
This excerpt from These, Our Bodies, Possessed by Light by Dharini Bhaskar, published by Hachette India, has been reproduced here with permission from the author.
It was an unusually blustery morning – trees swaying, shedding leaves; sari pallus billowing like fishing nets; a woman’s neatly braided hair escaping those bobby pins, flying.
Miss Mimmy, overseeing all formalities – the display of flowers, tubby marigolds (‘Why is this one wilting? What will people say?’); the arrangement of chairs (‘I want the front seat, okay?’); the food and the drinks (‘No whisky, no marriage!’) – seemed most flustered about the weather. ‘The canopy will fall on people’s heads, I tell you. It will be like – what’s that movie? Twelve Weddings and a Funeral – only here there’ll be many-many funerals and no wedding!’
As the make-up artist slapped on layers of pink glop on my cheeks, I wanted the prediction to come to pass. I wanted a thunderstorm, great, fat drops of rain, a flood that would wash away the chairs and tumid marigolds and sweep me back to a place that I missed.
I missed Sahil. I missed him enough to send him an invite – drop it outside his door, then flee – in the slim hope that he’d read it, make it to the wedding, and claim me back. I was relying on Hollywood dreamscape, on happenstance and joyous endings, and especially on a gallant lover who’d publicly seek my love. But when I paused, as I was compelled to in the make-up room, I saw the past and future all too distinctly – Sahil’s likely failure to have spotted the invite and his impassiveness even if he had read it. He was the last person to make dazzling overtures of love.
‘Stop squinting,’ the make-up artist brusquely ordered, drawing from her purse a fat stump of kohl. Mamma appeared out of nowhere – as always, a streak of colour – and rearranged a pleat on a misbehaving pallu. Miss Mimmy fluttered close, pinched my chin, teased, ‘What’s this, my dear? Lost in thoughts about your man?’
I must’ve been peeved, for the make-up artist scolded, ‘No scowling, please!’ I erased the grimace, unflexed a raised eyebrow, forced myself to look indifferent.
I wasn’t indifferent.
‘Look at that, tears in your eyes!’ Miss Mimmy cooed. ‘Every bride feels this, beta. But then – then it always gets better, no?’
The make-up artist nodded, repainted my eyes, told me, ‘It’s okay, the liner is waterproof,’ then led me to Mamma who hurried me out.
The wind still blowing.
And so the wedding – with chatter and baby wails and the boom of barrel-shaped drums.
The priest, as master of ceremonies, commanded, cast your right foot forward; bow before the fire; place a hundred-rupee note in my palms.
Commanded, feed her milk; feed her sugar; be provider, man.
Commanded, still commanded – Dev, always Dev – take this girl as you would barren land; grant her the richness of soil, a good yield.
Take this girl, wipe away her past, write what you will on the blank slate that is her body.
Take this girl.
After this, I focused not on the event itself, not on the smiles on the faces of unknown relatives, not even on the seven giddy circles around the fire, but on stray things, irrelevant, relevant.
I thought about a film I loved. Her. In it, when Theodore asked his incorporeal lover, a computer-generated voice, ‘Do you talk to someone else while we are talking?’ the voice, smooth as brandy, said, ‘Yes’; said, ‘ To 8,316 others’; said, ‘Of these I love 641’.
I remembered, too, something else, a fact disclosed by Tasha – where did she read it? I cannot say – of a faraway community where every woman was urged to have numerous lovers – storytellers and mathematicians and weavers and magicians – so each whit of semen would contribute to her yet-to-be-formed foetus, every touch would chisel a step in the twisted ladder of her future baby’s DNA. If a woman were to forget the men she made love to, obliterate them from her memory, her baby would be half-formed, never whole enough for birth. Who forgot to tell those OS voices, those women in far-flung worlds, to erase their histories; who encouraged their men to write on bodies brimming over with experience; who –
That night, the first of our marriage, I was vacant. Dev and I were ushered into a hotel room – one that tried desperately to look ritzy, with chandeliers dripping crystals and wallpapered walls and faux marble flooring.
I went to the bathroom, locked myself in, removed whatever needed removing, the anklets and the nose ring and the beads crowding around my neck. The armlets and the bright red bangles. The safety pins and my grandmother’s brooch.
Then I walked up to Dev. I’m yours, I said.
I had no time for preciousness and pretence – for coyness, for an anxious pulling away, for a ‘no’ that really meant ‘maybe’, ‘yes’, or perhaps, after all, ‘no’. A pause, the tiniest break in proceedings, and I would have to wrestle with second thoughts.
That night, I did not want to deal with second thoughts – of what use were they anyhow? – Sahil hadn’t – I stopped myself.
I made my pallu slip, my hair come undone, the sari unravel. I lay down and let Dev claim me as was his wont. He lunged, schoolboyish – his mouth wet, a cod out of water; his hips flailing; his fingers hungry, irresolute, fumbling with loose ends, a bra strap, a knot in a drawstring, a body separate from his own.
That night I learnt of another kind of lovemaking – without cadence, without sound, neither hesitant nor engrossed. Write what you will on the blank slate that is my body.
Listen to Dharini Bhaskar reading the above excerpt:
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Updated Date: Jan 19, 2020 10:12:18 IST