Below The Belt

Who is the Indian housewife: Slut or saint?

Marriage is not just about the sex, at least not in India. Look at our serials. Films. It's the Sita syndrome everywhere.

 |  Below The Belt  |  8-minute read |   04-12-2014
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Wednesday mornings, at my parlour. Usual suspects. A bunch of ladies, getting ready for their mid-week kitty.

"Pinks, iss baar let's do Macau… suna hain wahan pe bara casino wasino hain…" a woman in her early 40s with the broadest hips and the most hideous pink lip colour hissed.

"Please ya… Macau is so LS. Let's do Spain." the lady called Pinks answered. Blowing over her gel manicured nails.

"Housewives," I reminded myself!

"Hey, I'm Anu, you're the author of Sita's Curse, that erotica book, right?" a tall, slim woman with eyes the colour of rain spoke slowly.

I'd had seen her before. Usually with the same pack. Mostly, on Wednesdays. The hottest, amongst them. She had three daughters, I'd overheard. She owned a couple of restaurants. Or was it real estate? She had a lot of boyfriends. One of the pedicurists had once mentioned. Looking over his shoulder slyly.

"Madam ke toh bare kisse hain… pati ke paison pe aish karti hain…" he'd smirked, just as she'd got up to pay.

"I read your book," she leaned in. A whopper of a solitaire nestled at the center of her cleavage.

"Watched Lunchbox?" she asked causally.

I nodded.

"Fucking asshole," she showed a finger.

"Me?" I laughed, suddenly conscious.

"Nope. That woman. Imagine living with a man who treats you like shit and makes you clean his shit too, and somehow finding an intimate connection, and, then blowing it. What's the point of a woman's desires being awakened, if she has to still exist like a sexless creature. No wonder the junta loved it. The Sita that is easier to defend," she pressed my arm.

"Are there more than one Sita's? Even the Bombay High Court in '12 had passed a judgement during a divorce petition filed by a man on grounds that his wife was unwilling to relocate to his new place of work (Port Blair), that, 'a wife should be like Goddess Sita who left everything and followed her husband Lord Ram to a forest and stayed there for 14 years,'" I paused.  "Sita was a smart chick. It's us who are dumb. That's why I liked your book. This housewife of yours, Meera…" she had a strong stare.  I nodded.

"She gets f***ed in her marriage. But instead of being the victim, she uses her sexuality, as every woman should! Like, Sita. I mean who saw her once Ravana whisked her off to Lanka? Who knows if they consummated their relation, there? If he was a passionate lover? A man. More than Rama. A myth. And maybe, Sita just wanted sweet revenge. So she played along with the agnipariksha, knowing she'd score brownie points. There is a Sita in every woman. Every wife is…" she looked away.

I asked for water.

"Marriage is not just about the sex, at least not in India. Look at our serials. Films. It's the Sita syndrome everywhere. Even if the husband is a womaniser, an alcoholic or jobless, the wife always waits… victimhood glorified…" I said.

Anu finished a quick call, before adding, "But look at Urmila… why couldn't she ever get as much footage as Sita…" she sucked her lower lip.

"Urmila?" I repeated, distracted.

She touched my back.

"Lakshman's wife… Urmila too sacrificed her life, right? I mean she waited for 14 years also… probably yearning to be touched by a man. By her husband. To have kids. To be a queen. To live like one. Big palaces. Big chariots. Big gardens… silk… diamonds…" her words trailed."Not much is known about Urmila…" I mused.

The pedicurist was massaging Anu's left heel. She had a pierced navel. Her calves well worked out. I tried guessing her age. Faint traces of henna admonished her palms.

Was she happy?

"I was married at 19. It was arranged. My husband eight years older, he was like a young Rishi Kapoor. I fell in love with him on our wedding night. When he removed my ghagra. We made love. I got pregnant. I wanted his child.

We went to Europe to celebrate. There he'd want to spend all his nights out. Leaving me at some cousin's place. Initially, I thought it was about business. We are into exports, also. And, then, the last week, he brought this woman to our hotel in Geneva.

She was a whore. He later confessed. I waited in the lobby. Too shocked to process what had happened. I complained to my mother-in-law and my own mother after I got back. Both of them said turn a blind eye, claiming men are horny when their wives are carrying. I tried to kill myself. The month Ananya was born. She's 29 now. I couldn't.

My husband also drank heavily. He started abusing me, whenever I'd ask any question, publicly calling me "gawar," pointing to my ugly stretch marks. I ate all day. Got bashed up. I had given up my degree also.

Soon, I had my second daughter. My mother-in-law blamed this for her son's philandering. I kept vraths. My husband returned home sloshed from clubs and parties. I once caught him screwing a maid… a young Bengali thing… Prathana… I loved her name. Prayer, right? You're Bengali, right?" she bit her lip.

The other women eyed us spuriously.

"Yes, but, looks like you left him? You look absolutely great now. I can't believe your oldest is twenty… nine…" I tried making a joke."Was Sita happy as a mother?" Anu cut me short.

"Meaning?" I was intrigued.

"The shit continued till I had my third kid. Born accidentally, practically a rape. I didn't want to live after that. My mother was ill. My bhabhis didn't want me back. You know how women are women's worst enemies? My only silver lining was my husband's cousin who came visiting, from Canada. He was younger. Used to sing. Recite Faiz. Was into literature. Got me back to books. One afternoon… at this small library, he kissed me. I was startled. One part of me wanted to reciprocate. The other scared - of becoming just like my husband. A fallen woman. I think my brother-in-law sensed it too. He was about to leave, when I grabbed his shoulders. We made love in a hotel. I cried as I came. Years of solitude. Suffering. Silence. I don't know how many times he entered me…" her words trailed.

Then touching her inner thighs, Anu added, "to the world, I maybe the slut. But I was set free. Since then I've cared a damn. I joined a gym. It was like learning to walk again. I also began refusing to have sex with my husband. I wasn't frightened. I was a mother. I knew I could take any kind of pain. I felt like a Goddess…the years passed. My husband's liver failed… I took over the family business. I had started pursuing my studies online. I even finished an MBA thanks to my children. I had other men… told my daughters everything… each word… each cut…" a tear rolled out.

We held hands.

"I had a choice. Either quit. Or, stay, and fight. But who says life after divorce is a bloody breeze. I mean for all those who advice women to walk out, do they know how society looks at a divorce. Including a girl's parents. How expensive a legal battle is. The fear of losing custody. The questions in a packed courtroom. Your character, your sex life, your bank balance… the pressure to remarry, just to prove you are the purer one… that you are right" her eyes lit up.

"What would you say to a woman?" I asked.

"Which Sita do you wanna be? The one who waits… prays. Fasts. Akin to a saint… or… the woman… who wants to be… touched…seen…who is an equal in some way…" she stopped. Then pointing ahead, she added, "Pinks… that fair chick there… her husband visits the same spa… we got Botox done together. Horny old man! Keeps texting all day…"

"It bothers you? Their ire? The fact that men see you a certain way? That you may never be their Sita? This desperate housewife tag…" I touched her stomach accidentally.

Anu laughed.

"Someday, you'll tell my story to the world, who knows it may change the way we pass judgments on millions of faceless wives… some in a ghunghat, or standing at the bus-stand, crouched behind a chula… or the one who throws a rooftop brunch… with the sexy South Delhi pout…pati ke paison pein aish karne wali," she stopped.

I laughed this time.

Anu waved to the other ladies.

"Why don't we do a sex holiday in Bangkok gals?" she threw her hands up.

The others burst out laughing. Giggling giddily. Suddenly looking younger. The same, somehow.

"Yes! Yes! Yes!" all of them screamed, as if it were a war cry.

"And, now… will the real Sita please stand up?" Anu stood up. Her shoulders arched. I flashed her a victory sign.

As if this were a battle.

Imagining we had won.

Writer

Sreemoyee Piu Kundu Sreemoyee Piu Kundu @sreemoyeekundu

The writer is an ex-lifestyle editor and PR vice president, and now a full-time novelist. She's the author of Faraway Music, the best-selling female erotica, Sita's Curse, You've Got The Wrong Girl! and Cut. Last year, she wrote the internationally acclaimed work of non-fiction on single women in India, Status Single. A leading columnist on sexuality and gender, Sreemoyee is also the recipient of NDTV L'oreal Women of Worth Award in the 'Literature' category.

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