Chandrante Irrachi ( The Meat of the Moon): Madhavi Kutty,1969
Her lover continued to sleep even when it turned eleven in the night. She felt no inclination to wake him up and send him to his home. Whenever he removed his glasses, the natural intensity of his face seemed to diminish. As he slept, she noticed the loneliness of a little boy on his face. A lost soul- no, a soul who had forgotten the way-a lonely little boy, was tied inside the forest of mortality in that aging body. She knew that she was deeply in love with him: the one who had witnessed his father’s death, the one who used to go to school in a bullock cart- wearing a sailor’s costume.
Outside that house- situated on the outskirts of the town- the rain was pouring down heavily. Through the ventilators, a breeze from yonder- crossing the thorny plants and trees on a hillside-entered the room, moaning like a wounded creature.
‘Beloved,’ she called bending low, ‘ It is past eleven- should you not be getting up?’
He woke up startled: with a wide eyed gaze. ‘ Eleven? Why didn’t you wake me up earlier?’
‘Don’t go tonight. Stay with me,’ she said.
He got up and wearily sat down at the edge of the cot.
‘I am so groggy. How will I drive all that distance?’
Gazing at his body- gleaming like a flame in the light- she gently closed her eyes. Her heart sang: ‘Your body has reached my pyre- no, bed-carrying its secret destiny…I cannot escape now, Your body is like a golden harvest of ripe grains. It has been created from the meat of the full moon…’
‘Now it will be past midnight when I reach home. What excuse shall I give today?’ He asked her.
‘Why don’t you stay the night with me? Won’t you give me one night?’ She asked him.
‘You know very well that it is impossible. I cannot act so irresponsibly.’ He said.
Seated on the stool before the mirror, he wore his socks. Tied the laces of his shoes. His hair- a mix of steel and black curls- reflected on the mirror.
‘Don’t you feel any obligation toward me?’ She asked.’ I am your kept woman, your slave: do you feel no obligation towards this unfortunate woman?’
‘I love you,’ he said mechanically, ‘ I love you even when you tell me about your colleague. I will love you even if you marry him. You know that very well.’
‘What is the cost of such a love?’ She asked.
‘I don’t know,’ he replied.
‘Shall I marry him? Shall I become his wife with your permission? Tell me, do you have no objection at all?’
‘Why should I stop it?’ He asked,’I am a man who is aging fast. A married man. He is young and handsome.Your colleague. I do not think that you will stop even if I were to object.’
He moved towards the door, while she lay on the bed.
She called out to him: ‘ I will give him an answer tomorrow itself. I am greatly relieved that you have no issues with it.I will have to stop seeing you. But eventually I shall forget that pain. My dear, you are so compassionate.’
‘I will see you next week. Call me tomorrow afternoon,’ he said.
At the sound of the door banging shut, she felt that she had been shattered to bits. She was a woman, she was a fragile piece of glass. She felt that every tiny shard of glass wanted to hurt her, make her bleed..
She picked up the phone from the table, and woke up the young man who was in love with her. ‘Hello’, he said: ‘ Hello!’
‘Who is it? Mini, you?’ He asked.’ How come you are awake at this time?’
‘ Today, you asked me if I wanted to be your wife. I thought I will give you an answer now. That is all.’
‘What is the answer?’
‘ It is not possible.’ Putting the phone back into its cradle, she snuggled under the covers and closed her eyes.
She was convinced that for her- who was accustomed to the arms of a man who was successful in all aspects of life-there was no satisfaction to be gained from marrying an ordinary man.
Note: For the sheer power of the narrative from the other woman’s perspective: not a whiny, complaining tone, mind you- but that of a woman in control of her destiny- I found this gem of a short story written by Madhavi Kutty in 1969, an iconic piece of feminist writing.
It was when I read Telugu writer Volga’s interview ( She won the Kendra Sahitya Academy award in 2016 for her book Vimukta: Translated as The Liberation of Sita, Harper Collins )that I realised again that the mind’s freedom to question everything was the greatest gift of existence.
She mentioned about a classic Telugu short story by a famous writer in early 1920s when Sita jumped into Ravan’s pyre instead of stepping into the Agni Pareeksha. She was speaking of how intolerance has increased in society nowadays, since Vimukta- a series of stories showcasing Sita’s bonding with Mandodari, Soorpanakha, Ahalya et al..was pilloried by some.
Inexplicably, another memory came: Of reading that great short story , ‘Sunstroke’ by Ivan Bunin. Perhaps it was the nonchalance of the women in both stories which bemused me.
And then, I could not resist translating this gem!