“Look at the swing of her waist….she is too sexy, man”, Sahil remarked, as he followed the movement of Sujata’s posterior from side to side.
“You’re right man!” cheered his friend, whose eyes were fixed on Sujata, who walked ahead of them in long, hasty steps.
“But what’s the point in discussing all this? She never even takes notice of us outside of class.”
“I know. She’s too professional to our disappointment”, said he, as he pulled out a smartphone from his bag and clicked a photograph of her back, without her even noticing.
“Have you heard that she’s unmarried? Wonder how the guys of the world let her be single for that long” said Sahil, as he stuck out his tongue and made with it, a full circle around his upper lip, in a sexually suggestive gesture.
“These women don’t realise that their parents won’t be with them all their life. Ultimately they need MEN, don’t they?” said his friend, as he winked over his emphasis on the word ‘men’.
“She should give us a chance – at least once man! We won’t disappoint her” said Sahil with a wicked smirk, his eyes stuck on Sujata’s back as she walked towards the exit of the school, her long neatly-plaited hair swaying in the air.
Sujata was a pretty and delicately-built woman, in her mid- thirties. A gold medalist in university, she made ends meet by teaching Geography to high-school students in an English medium Convent school in Mumbai. While she knew her subject in and out, she was better known in the school circles for her looks and taciturn ways. Without making much effort to look good, she managed to do it, much to the chagrin of other women she worked with.
Her thick, dark black tresses were meticulously plaited each day, in the same fashion, with exactly the same length of hair left dangling in the end. Her plait, touching the back of her knees, often caught more eyes than anything or anyone else in those surroundings. The only difference one could spot each day was the colour of the band she used to tie her hair, being the exact colour of her saree.
Her face, almost cherubic, was almost apple-like in appearance. Round in shape, it housed large, black eyes, a small, sharp nose and bright pink lips that resembled the hue of rose petals. As for the apple-ness in the face, the lightly freckled cheeks were a dark pink, which turned red at the slightest blush. The pink lips seldom parted into a smile and when they did, they revealed ivory white, well-aligned teeth that fitted perfectly with the overall set-up of the face.
The only thing unnatural about the face was the thin streak of black kohl under her large, twinkling eyes. No matter what season of the year or what time of the day, the kohl never left her side. In fact, once, in a frenzy she had forgotten to line her eyes and everyone, including students had gone about asking whether she had not been keeping well.
She had been with this school for about seven years now, and remained its most un-understood member. She often kept to herself – got off the school bus every morning, went straight to classes she taught, kept to herself in teachers’ staff room and left school at the end of the day, without much hoo-ha. Her personality type often baffled her colleagues – she rarely talked but always smiled. She spoke minimally to almost everyone in school, who knew her in any capacity, but rarely shared details of her life or how she felt about most things in life. She opined only when asked to and rarely tried to assert her opinion.
While most people thought well of her, somewhere deep down they disliked her. Even without her knowing it, she managed to give others around her, especially women, an inferiority complex. Despite best efforts, they could never manage to get as much attention as Sujata did, nor were they as popular and nor did people, students included, ever aspire to know more about them. They were yet another set of beings operating in that environment, as neglected as may be pieces of chalk that lie on the wooden panel under black boards. Male teachers would often try and act too friendly with her, some in rather ‘touchy’ ways, but the line she had drawn for herself spoke for itself. She would just smile and pull herself off at the slightest sign of danger from a male colleague, and never look him in the eye ever again. Her withdrawing herself into her shell and taciturn attitude often turned male colleagues off, who would in turn, avenge for the rejection through labeling her ‘haughty’ and ‘self-obsessed’.
In short, her behaviour and the shell she kept herself in, often ended up in people beginning to question their own beliefs about themselves. This often resulted in malice.
As she boarded the local train to reach home, her mind went back to her experiences at school that day. It had been a tiring day with two extra classes for teachers absent that day. Students were generally nice to her, particularly girls. Some of them would often bring her greeting cards or on rare occasions, rose buds and tell her in a hush tone, about how much she inspired them. She would feel so humbled and hug them in uncontrollable happiness. They were like younger sisters to her, or may like her own children. Well, she didn’t quite know how it felt to have children – she had none.
But with male students, the case was different. Most of them liked and respected her – it showed in their eyes. Being a teacher, she was blessed with that rather uncanny sense of reading people’s minds. But there was some whose eyes reflected malice and things not-so-good. Well, it was not as much their fault, as that of the exposure they had. Children’s brains are so soft, so vulnerable. How are they to understand that not all things that seem worthwhile today, may not be eventually? That teachers deserve just one emotion – respect? That gender is only a superficial construct, a mere tool for social classification? That they must aspire for bigger things in life? Only parents and teachers can teach them that. Parents seem not to have the time and teachers have already lost the battle. She sighed at the thought.
Her thoughts were disrupted by the ugly and discomforting touch on her back. Someone was running his fingers down the skin under her blouse and above the folds of her saree. Though this was not uncommon for her or for other women travellers on local trains, she felt creepy. The cold fingers (it felt like three fingers) gradually began to approach the front of her body, when, in a haze, she turned around and caught the intruding hand. Before the man could react, she had managed to twist his fingers (they had indeed been three) till her ears had devoured the clicking sound of his finger bones. The man shrieked in pain, much to the surprise of the fellow passengers, who had been too lost in thoughts to notice the misbehaviour.
Even when she had taught that man a lesson, the creepiness refused to leave her mind. She was tired of these things. Was it her fault that she was a woman, or that that she was compelled to step out of home to earn money every day? Could people not respect another’s physical boundaries? In a country where touch is considered sacred, where people prefer to join hands instead of shaking them with strangers, must people be taught how to touch women? The whole thing made her feel nauseous. It was one of those times when one begins to pray not for new beginnings in life, but for its end, which promises greater respite that life itself. Anyway, this would go on and on, till she lived. Till even one woman on earth was alive. This was her destiny.
The local train came to a screeching halt and the engine hooted harshly. It was time to get down.
She covered her face with one end of her saree to avoid the specks of dust that would hit her face incessantly as she was out of the station, on the streets. Her house, a small, one-room apartment in the bowels of sub-urban Mumbai was still fifteen minutes away. As the sun had begun to disappear behind grey clouds, leaving specks of red and orange behind, she was walking as fast as she could. With long strides, she walked past plastered huts, walls stained with red spit, narrow streams of water hosting at least half a dozen pigs of all sizes, naked children defecating at the sides of the street and so much more. As she walked, she could feel the prickly gazes of men on her back. She dared not look back. She was just a minute away from home.
She was finally there. She breathed a sigh of relief as she stood outside the bright-blue painted wooden door of her house. A heavy iron chain hung at the door, meant to be used for knocking, given the absence of a door bell in most houses in that locality. She held the chain by its last link and knocked gently. There was no answer. She knocked again. No answer, yet again. Her heart began to race wildly. Was everything inside alright? Were her parents OK or had something happened to them? They were all she had, she said to herself, as she gulped a big lump that had welled up in her throat. Suddenly she heard footsteps and in a matter of seconds, the door flung open.
An old lady, most likely in her mid-sixties stood at the door, sweating profusely. She was breathing heavily, as if after running for miles.
“Maa, are you OK? Have you had an attack of asthma yet again?”
“No no..nothing to worry. Your dad had urinated in the bed again. Just finished washing the sheet.” she said with a tint of irritation in her voice. “Sit, sit. Let me get you some water. You must be tired.”
“Oh Maa. You could have waited for me to come back. Why did you have to wash linen? I don’t know how to make you understand!”
“How much more will you do for us Sujata?” the old lady said with tears in her eyes. “We won’t live forever, do you understand?”
“Not again Maa.. it’s become routine for you to say all this every time I’m back from work. Please please please!!! You people are all I have, get it?” she said as she washed her hands vigorously at the dirty-yellow wash basin. The thought of that creepy man had still not left her mind.
“Come here, let me oil your hair first” screeched the old woman, as she limped from inside the kitchen, holding a glass of water for the third and last member of the family, who had just stepped inside.
It was almost fifteen minutes to nine at night and everyone, including Sujata had retired to bed. While the old couple occupied the only bedroom of the house, Sujata lay on the narrow folding cot spread out in the living area. That was her corner, from which she could see the moon hanging in the sky, every night. The sight of the moon was rather comforting, she always thought. It never ceased to appear. It never disappointed.
She could not sleep that night. Sleep does not come easily when you invite it to provide relief, she thought to herself. She turned to her side, clutching more tightly, the large, white feather pillow between her arms. Suddenly a wide smile appeared on her lips, as the thought of the man she loved came to her mind. She remembered how he had caressed the whole of her with his eyes, in that very corner of the house, on a full-moon night, albeit eight years ago. It had been a cold night, causing their thin, cheap curtains to dance from end to another, as the wind blew its lungs out that night. She had snuggled to his chest, winding her fingers around the tiny curls of hair that lined his chest. They had not known when the night had flown and the only witness to their little acts of love – the moon, was ousted by the glaring morning sun.
Two pools of tears suddenly welled up in her eyes and within seconds, trickled down to the once-white, now-yellow pillow under her head. Why did he have to go? Why did he not tell her that he shall never return from work that day? Why did she have to see his lifeless, blood-stained body that day, instead of the vigorous, masculine figure she had witnessed just the night before? She was only twenty four years old then. Are people of that age meant to witness lifeless bodies of people they love? Must they lose all they have? The same old questions had begun to trouble her mind again. These questions shall forever remain unanswered, she thought, as she turned to her side again, to stare, with large black eyes, at the honey-coloured moon. It was a full moon again, casting its orange light on the grey-black sky with full splendour. The man she loved, her husband, for just that one night was gone. Just the love remained, as did the moon, their only witness. The memories of that night and the man who had given it to her, was all she had – her only anchor to live through what lay ahead.
She clung to the pillow tighter, as a continuous stream of tears made its way onto the pillow under her head. There she lay, lonely, aimless and limp, in a corner of the house, with her husband’s parents sleeping in the other room. Her own family she had none. The man who had provided her refuge in his heart was gone. His parents remained – her only family, the only people to look up to. She could not leave them. Never. If she had lost a husband, they had lost their son. Never, never.
She did not know when sleep took her in her arms that night, only to be nudged by the shrill sound of the alarm in her old, tattered mobile phone.
It was five in the morning. She woke up with a jerk – it was time to get ready for work.
Sujata was in the shower, when the old woman sneaked into the corner of the room where Sujata’s bed lay. She held out her hand to the yellow pillow on the bed – it was moist yet again.
She wiped her own tears, as she limped into the kitchen to prepare tea for her daughter-in-law, err daughter or may be son.
Image taken from Google images.