Saturday, May 6, 2017

Prerna

It was as if all the time she was with someone else, and for her he rarely existed, and it dawned on her one day while she earnestly sat in front of a desktop and downloaded a PDF document of Leo Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’. The first line of the book never left her; instead it kept on coming back to her in one form or another.

“All happy families are alike, but unhappy families are unhappy in their own ways”

She began reading and found it was very much like the current age except the direct reference to intimacy it was more into normalcy, like married women being busy with their children and people were just thrown into a monotonous life. The word ‘Family’ never made any sense to her, it depicted more as a monarchy wherein others are subjected to follow that one head of the ‘family’.

How does one exactly explain the emptiness within the family? It’s more like an image which one has to draw so as to derive something meaningful out of their existence being associated to a family. And it always irked her, unlike childhood which made it easy for her to face these facts of life, growing up has altogether a different isolation attached to it which multiplies and gives you emptiness.

“One does not know what it is like to be a daughter unless one experiences it”, Prerna listens to one of her friends tell her the other day. She knew because she read Anna Karenina and felt nothing much has changed since then; men always have privilege over women in one way or the other.

Prerna first got to know about her father’s past when she was around twelve years old. It was her elder brother who spilled the beans, when as usual their parents had a fight and her mom yelled “You’re so suspicious about me, just how you did with the first one. I will also leave if you continue to do so”, and her brother took her aside by her elbow and said “You know Dad was already married, right?”All she could do was to nod her head affirmatively. Earlier she heard few vague references but this was the first time she understood and acknowledged it.

***

The first day, is always chaotic and there is exasperation hanging in the air. Prabha is cursing under her breath while standing beside the stove, a big bowl of water on it. She raised the flame of the stove and let the fire laps its tongue to bowl, licking and heating it. ‘This girl gets it right on the auspicious occasion, now everything that I’ve done is ruined. The sweet dish, my vow to God, my purity adhering to God, everything! All is impure now.’

Prabha then takes down the boiled water and goes near the bathroom, where Prerna stands idly. ‘It happens every month, why does she behave as if everyone is going to die and I’m the reason for it’ Prerna can only be pensive and patient because once after the first day, there will be many more moments to test her patience. Prabha though near the bathroom stands in a way that the boiled water is at arm’s length, the edges of it held tightly with a worn out blouse piece that is used for domestic purposes once they lose their charm. She then quickly pours the water into the bucket and then rushes away as if she is being chased by a snake.

‘Periods in this household are always an impure thing and I’m sick with it. It’s the time when I need the touch of my mother the most, and this when I get to be treated like an untouchable’ Prerna mumbles while brushing her bushy pubic hair, their ends with blood and the when the droplets fell on the floor and made their way, she could smell the metallic odor.

When she is finally out of the bathroom and rushed into her room, she thought about the first time it started. She was neither aware nor ready for it. It was never discussed, never even hinted at for that matter. When she asked her mother after seeing a sanitary pad advertisement, she was scolded and was asked to shut her mouth.

The first time, it happened when she was in her eighth standard and woke up to go to school. She saw that her underwear was showing all blood and felt she’ll die. So she told her mother about it, and then all the hell broke loose.

‘Oh, so it happened? It happened now, yes. Now just don’t touch anything and do as I say’, the next thing she did was to ask Prerna to sit on a chair and began calling her relatives. After ten days there was a ceremony, and Prerna received gifts mostly clothes from the relatives. Prerna was aghast at the sudden treatment like an untouchable and then the celebrations that followed. In those ten days, she wasn’t allowed to bathe but on the final day a lady was called, who is of madiga caste, a total stranger gave her a turmeric ball and instructed to rub it over her vagina.

The memory now angers Prerna, she was not asked about her choices and the saddest part is when everyone assumed that she is happy. Prerna catches herself naked in the wardrobe mirror, ‘I’m a human being and I don’t think I’m pure’. She doesn’t feel like dressing up, all she thinks of is ending her pain. Not the one of her womb but that of her impurity.
There is a razor that she uses to shave her armpits, a cheap plastic one. She starts unscrewing it, the blade comes out.

***

Prabha thinks of taking a bath once again, that too with turmeric water. Turmeric is known for its purity and the ability to heal a wound. She sighs at the sweet dishes she made that morning with the help of Prerna. It’s all now nothing, she contemplates of distributing them to the children nearby, who jump at such delicacies.
‘What are you still doing in the room?” Prabha shouts and bangs the door. ‘Are you sleeping?’ another scream from Prabha but there comes not even a single voice. Only after sometime she could see the bottom of the door is turning crimson.
Hearing the ear splitting scream, neighbors come out to help. It’s because her son and husband were busy outside son with his friends and the husband, who knows. The resident of the next house, Mr. Murthy pushes with his might only to come back cupping his eyes and asking ladies in the gathering to come forward.

***

Prerna felt it is ridiculous to cut the vagina as it is already bleeding. She starts then, hesitantly at her breasts which her mother felt were under nourished. The body starts responding to her activities, she is now not able to control the urge to do more damage. The inner thighs, wrists, shoulder blades and even the collar bone, where there is no flesh. She hits even harder at her collar bone, ‘time has come’ Prerna cries.

She manages to write a note, a warning:

The education you gave me is not helping me in anyway. It’s because you’re there to control how much of my education gets into my mind. The father who says I’m there to be married off and the mother who thinks I’m impure. And also to the brother, who is kept in darkness about the monthly bleeding. Here’s to all.

I’m not pure, so please don’t try to touch when I’m dead. It makes my soul flinch with your touch on my body; it is not what I want. I never dared to want anything other than being treated with respect, irrespective of my monthly bleeding. I feel like I’m worthless, for whom I’m bleeding? I do not know. Hence for the last time, I wanted to bleed for myself. And I’m happy now; I don’t have to face anything anymore.