All of us live with our past. All of us allow it to shape our future. But some of us know how to shrug the past. I think that is who I am [*], Chitra by name. But what if past catches up with the present? Well, as the moment of reckoning is dilemma, before I come to that, I will take you to my past.
When I completed my course in fashion designing, fate seems to have patterned the woof and weft of my love life that was a score of years back. Landing up with my first job in a reputed company, so to say, I landed in Gopal’s lap. He was smart and handsome, witty and humorous, enough to enamour women that’s besides his conversational skills. Well, if man dents woman’s heart with darts of his eyes, it’s the tenor of his words that grips her mind. So, at the threshold of seduction, words are weapons of conquest for men that pierce the chinks in women’s armour of chastity! Whether it was his conquest of me or my surrender to him that tended our union is immaterial to my love but it is material to his morals.
As he began courting me, I started taking solo rides into a dream world that is besides our long drives into the wilderness on the outskirts. How the prospect of life as his spouse seemed a dream in itself? Why not, yet to cross thirty, he was the head of fabric design of a blue chip company. Does man’s status add aura to woman’s love? If so, is love as pristine as poets tend to picture it? Or is it that women have an innate weakness for successful men? What about man’s love, isn’t it beauty leaning? The bard said that beauty provoketh thieves sooner than gold and it can as well be said that it influenceth men to alter their amour. It’s not as if women give a damn for man’s looks, maybe some of them do, why, isn’t it said that some dames prefer ugly men. Lo, some men, rare though, are taken to mustachioed women, oh, what a messy human emotion, this so called love! Then why blame love for its fallibilities? And yet, if urgency for possession symbolizes man’s love for woman, her prudence lay in not putting the cart before the horse, so it seems. If woman were to serve man on a premarital platter, won’t she let herself bereft of that for which he would die to tie the knot with her? And marriage is no guarantee either for her to keep her man all for herself, as men, rarely, if ever, fail to explore the avenues of fornication for sexual exploitation. And that’s what Gopal did. That I realized long after I lost my virginity to him.
As he averred that he was constrained to lead me to the altar forthwith for his only sister was yet to be married, I believed him as that’s the prevailing custom. That’s fine, but what was fatal in the end was his proposition that it made no sense to waste time before our nuptial time. Yet what a time we have had on the sly till I discovered, on that accursed day, that I was but his other woman; or was it a moment of deliverance from his deceit? When I happened to see him from afar with a woman and two kinds in a cinema hall, I thought she could be his cousin of sorts. Not wanting to embarrass him, I refrained from approaching them, but settling behind them, well after the movie began, I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Courtesy the kids, it didn’t take me long to know that she was Usha his wedded wife. What with my decency of not hurting her overpowering my instinct to shame him, I left the theatre to bring the curtains down on our affair. Back home, I reflected hard and long as to how to deal with him. First I was tempted to get even with him by pulling him up for his shameful act but on second thought I felt it was too lenient a sentence for his utter perfidy. That way, he would know why I walked out on him. But what if I put in my papers to leave him in the lurch guessing as to why I had left him; was it owing to my discovery of his double life or did I ditch him for he never knows why.
Shrugging off the past, though I readily wedded Murali, it took me a while to shed the baggage of guilt from his bed. Though it made no difference to the physicality of our sex, as it bogged me down in the emotionality of coition, I could see that past is the future of the present. Added to that was Murali’s confession about his own past – an unfructified love between him and his classmate owing to her parents’ superior status. Thinking it prudent to keep mine away from him and determined not to let the sapphire of my life turn literally blue, I began applying my mind.
What’s the big deal about premarital sex that woman should feel self-condemned when men shirk if off after they jerk it out? But then why do women tend to linger on to the sexual acts, emotionally that is? Is it because they are the recipients of male cum in their female receptacles? And what about the sexually adventurous dames, after all there could be some, though none of them can get away like Catherine the Great that is after boasting about bedding with hundred lovers, or whatever was the number. By any chance was it the source of her greatness, I shall Google that later. What a variety it could’ve been for the queen of yore in comparison with the sex workers of the day, well, isn’t it like comparing apples with oranges? Surely, the queen could’ve chosen her mates but the whores can’t deny any Tom, Dick and Harry, even as they can pick and choose, and that’s man’s world in woman’s backyard. How strange! When it comes to parity in sexual choices, won’t legalizing sex-work make it a level playing field for women? So went my reasoning for sexual smooth sailing in my marital bed that fetched two off springs.
When all seemed settled but for children’s settlement, how has my past caught up with me today to usher in this moment of dilemma, that too in a novel way, beyond the realms of fiction itself. When I returned home at an unscheduled time, I was surprised to find Binny in the corridor of our fourth-floor apartment, and what’s more it kept on pulling at my pallu as if to prevent me from unlocking the door. Perplexed at its uncharacteristic behavior, as I entered the bedroom, lo, what I saw - Murali in an uncompromising position with a striking woman. How taken aback I was seeing that scene, well, taken aback, but not disgusted! Strange, isn’t it? Maybe I couldn’t believe my eyes for once as he never gave me any reason to suspect his fidelity all these years. So, I withdrew into the drawing room wondering why I didn’t barge into them.
While I still in a state of disbelief, at length, they entered the drawing room, hand in hand, and, so to say, the boot was transferred to the other leg. Dumbfounded, as he fumbled for apologies for his perfidy, I was sizing the woman who seemed to be familiar. When he said she was Usha his old flame, I could place her as Gopal’s wife and saw the irony of it all. What I felt then I better leave it to your imagination as I am not equal to penning those myriad feelings for your marveling. But, I can place their confessions before you for your appreciation of their situation.
They happened to meet only this morning that is after twenty-five years, and for want of a better place to exchange notes, he brought her home. Separated by fate from Murali, she reconciled to her life with Gopal to whom she bore two children as well. And to be fair to her man, he never made her feel wanting for anything, and that insensibly dulled her pining for Murali. But when she first discovered her man’s perfidy, she was at her wits end that he addressed with his assurance of abiding loyalty, and that brought their matrimony back on an even keel. That was some ten years back. But her recent discovery that he was a habitual philanderer made her feel that she had been living in a fool’s paradise and that distressed as well as depressed her. When she accidentally met Murali, she just wanted to seek his friendly shoulder to cry over, but as one thing led to the other, they ended up in bed. When Usha, said that Murali made her regain her self-worth, I felt my own hurt less hurting. But then, what’s this empathy for the woman who broke my heart twice? Is it because of my innate regard for the nobility of love?
Soon, as he went along with her, I tried to gaze at the crystal ball. So, leaving me to nurse my wounds, he left to address her needs? What does that portend for me? Won’t his ‘felt’ love for her make him lean towards her forever? That’s about the pull of love in lovemaking, isn’t it? Why by all means, Gopal is better in bed and yet didn’t I see her ecstatic sex with Murali, and that would ensure they carry on regardless. Where that would leave me but in a corner of his life till the very end, and what sort of life that could be? While the three spruce up their lives with their paramours, why should I alone stick to the sticky course fidelity? What about making hay when the sun is still shining? Why I’m barely forty and hugely attractive, am I not; don’t I know that as men of all ages can’t desist from ogling at me. Why not I take a handsome youth for a lover to set my bed on fire to light my life? Nothing original about it though as I gathered that from the novels I’ve read for it’s a part of the Parisian mores of yore. As the thought itself is so exciting, how thrilling seducing a youth, and all that follows, could be. What prevents me from experiencing it myself for there is no substitute for self-experience? Why not I freshen up and set out to conquer the youthful horizon in seductive style?
As I was about to leave, Binny, as if it smelled the rat, pulled my pallu to stop me from venturing out on my adventure! The faithful dog, my foot; it’s only faithful to the master, never mind he’s unfaithful to the mistress, who tends it. As that revelation made me feel alone than ever before, shrugging off Binny, I set out resolutely to find a fresh mate at the eleventh hour of my life.
This story was developed on the prompt [*] by author Anita Nair for Write India’s short story initiative of May 2016.