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She could feel the first blood trickle down her legs. She was 11 years old and not even coherent enough to acknowledge that the fertility Goddess had bestowed her with the gift of procreation. It was early evening at the sleepy little hill station, where the lights would go out by 4.30 pm. The place had an unspoken tension of the once peace-loving tribals beginning to look harshly at the Bengali neighbourhood. They were called the Dokkhar, which meant “the outsider”. Her 11-year-old mind was fearless yet restrained because she knew someone may just touch her inappropriately; her mother had told her to be careful of touch.

Her hair was shiny as silk thread and straight falling just above her little rounded hips. She had eyes that had a coquettish confidence of being in charge and you could see the effect it had on the little boys in her neighbourhood.

Every day there were letters thrown at her from boys who swore love and affection. Her 11-year-old mind was purer than the crystal dews settled on the shivering leaves of the winter of Shillong. I knew her like no other. Girls were at their first step of realising womanhood in its pristine best at that age. She loved reading and imagining those stories. Her father banned Nabakov’s Lolita for her touch or read. He said it’s for the later years. But her rebellious mind always peeked into that book with the enticing cover of a pair of red lips licking a lollipop. She didn’t understand why the forbidden enticed her so much. But quickly she kept that book away before Ma & Baba could catch her.

Baba introduced her to the Jewish-Indian poet Nissim Ezekiel’s work on Beauty. She remembered the poet’s introduction of the lizard. It was the protagonist of this poem. Most misunderstood and considered ugly, the lizard kept your home clean of insects by licking and eating the unwanted bugs inside the home. There are a few lines of that poem that never left her:

“The bird-book was beautiful          
It was also colourful            
I picked it up at a friend’s   
We’d talked of means and ends    
In life and in poetry
I turned a page silently       
And came upon a fine bird
In my bones the marrow stirred    
It held a lizard by the head            
Which was beautiful, and dead.”

Many evenings she sat pondered and thought of the lizard. It looked beautiful even when dead.

Slut Shaming

She was growing and maturing, and so was her urge of being near the opposite gender.

One evening she saw the 15-year-old Ashok, a young boy who seemed to have a massive crush on her. She wanted to know what a kiss would feel like. She showed him a photo from a magazine of a boy and a girl kissing. He hurriedly kissed her lips and ran.

Next morning she got ready with a twinkle in her eyes for school. It was a sunny morning with her grey blazer protecting her from the harsh winter winds of the lull of the little town. On the ever busy hill road on her way to school, was a wall that screamed out loud with charcoal written “Manu Randi”. Her Hindi was weak and her virgin mind was reeling but she knew with a sinking feeling in her stomach that whatever that word was, it was wrong. Seniors in school scoffed and cousins who passed on the same street to school behaved as if nothing had happened. Manu Randi was the virgin-whore in town because some people were jealous of her free spirit and her pretty rebellious eyes.

In a few days, there was a pity in the eyes of some and disgust in others. But no one holding The Virgin Whore’s hand. That evening her aunt suggested her hair be chopped into an army cut and no lustrous hair ever for her. She hid from that fierce force. Her eyes were tired of crying. She was forcibly grabbed by her little wrists, taken to the barber shop. She saw the long strands of silk fall lifelessly on the dirty floor at the barber’s shop.

A scene from the movie Malena
A scene from the movie Malena

She knew it was a crime to be free sexually or acknowledge your growing desire. She wore her scarf over her head waiting for her hair to grow again. It grew again, those natural long silky tresses, like the blood between the barrier of her growing uterus and her stunted femininity. Years have passed and just like the film Malena where Monica Belucci is shaved, kicked, stoned in public for being a beautiful single woman, the Virgin Whore remains untouched when someone calls her beautiful. That slut shaming won’t leave her ever till she reaches her grave.

That’s the thing with memory. Even today as she sits alone, the sight of the black charcoal writing on the hill wall stays.

For years she wished she was the lizard in that poem but alas she grew into a beautiful, melancholic woman. With desire, love and sense in good measure, but the charcoal stain stays forever.


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