Time's Eunuch

               "Birds build – but not I build, no, but strain,
               Time’s Eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.”

                              Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

The temperature touched 114 Fahrenheit that summer. The jacaranda tree just across from my window withered. Crows called raucously from the bare branches. In the killing heat of that scorching summer, we were forced to move house yet again. We’d sold the old house in Pune. The last link between me and my married life was snapped. Nothing left at all, except a few memories, some happy, some bitter. Little Shamik was thrilled to be rescued from that “rotten old boarding school. He romped about barefoot, splashing himself with water from the pump in the tiny garden. “Don’t worry, Ma. Let Papa go with that woman. I’ll look after you” he yelled.

But most of the time, he was caught up in frenetic games, falling from trees, jumping from walls, disappearing for hours. I was busy, but alone…

These last five or six years had taken their toll of me. Moving from Pune to Delhi had been a deliberate move. I hadn’t realised it would strain every bolt, nut and screw of this ship that is me. Apart from the long and strenuous journeys between Pune and Delhi – Second Class, by train – and the separations from Shamik, I had to start afresh each time. To find a new place to stay each time, storing my belongings wherever I could, moving them each time, with inevitable losses, made me frantic and desperate. I had managed the humiliations of being a Paying Guest for the first year or so. Later, I was always searching for a flat or a house, where I could put together my scattered belongings, my fragmented life. I’d always dreamed of being an actress, but the dream was fast being displaced by dreams of security; of having a home, a place of my own, where I could put down fresh roots again, – a place I wouldn’t be dislodged from every six months, or every one or two years, by greedy and suspicious landlords and landladies.

What heaven to have a place of your own, your books and pictures and music around, and all the lovely, familiar things packed away in the Pune house for so many years. Imagine the smell of fresh, white paint on the doors and shelves …imagine that old chair I had loved - now right here, in this corner. This became such an obsession that I spent hours scanning the To Let columns. When I wasn’t doing that, I was going from office to office: - all those people “not in their seat” wanting you to “come again next week” – electricity, gas, water, telephone, tax. It was endless and time-consuming. They talked of brain drain (Shamik’s father and I had thrown up excellent jobs in the U.K. & the U.S. to come back and “work for our own people” in small towns). This was a drained brain, I thought. I should be a creative person, not spending all my energies like this! The loves I might have found along the way got lost, or disappeared. The scenery was arid in my emotional life. Despite a few who still hoped to change my mind, I told myself: I don’t need anyone. I’ll be strong on my own. I’ll make my own home. It’ll be an inviolable sanctuary. I’ll close the doors and never let anyone hurt, deceive, abandon me again. If necessary, I’ll be the one to slam the door. I’ll move before attachments become too strong, need too overpowering. I’ll never cry over a man again. And as I kept on with all these resolves, I found myself alone, unviolated, strong, able to lay down the conditions in any relationship. I was proud that, when disappointed or let down, I could walk out without even looking back. No attempt to win me back ever worked. Apparently, my heart had turned to stone. Arun and Gaurav, two of my remaining men friends, did ring up now and then, offering to escort me here and there, but my air of independence was getting through to them. Their calls became more and more infrequent. I had discovered that there was always a price to pay for company and help. I found I could manage most things on my own, and was even beginning to love my own company!

My last landlady, a vicious society creature, who swung from sweet to vindictive with amazing rapidity, had just threatened that she would “throw (my) things out on the road, if (I) didn’t vacate the house soon.” That’s when the possibility of selling the Pune house came up, and the transaction went through. Despite the harshness of the summer, I went house hunting, and took a place, maybe not quite what I had dreamed of, but a lovely flat anyway, marble floors, big windows and balconies, letting in light and air. My own space, my own things around me, my own home at last, after years of deprivation.

It was on the second, actually third, floor. So there we were, climbing up and down that endless flight of stairs, thirsty, exhausted, on the verge of a heat-stroke, carrying the things that weren’t safe with the loading truck workers. After one such trip, we heard the doorbell ring again and again. Looking through the peephole, Shamik said to me in a whisper: “The hijras are here!”

 

 

* Hijra: a term used for eunuchs or differently sexed people. In North India, especially among Hindus. 
Hijras became a separate group, living in small communities. Some of them might have been kidnapped and castrated as children. They earn their living dancing and singing bawdy songs for auspicious occasions such as weddings, birth of babies, new houses etc.They generally dress as women, and it is hoped that they will be able to lead more normal lives soon. 

 

 

Anna Sujatha Mathai

Anna Sujatha Mathai is an Indian poet who now lives in New Delhi. She has also lived in England and, more briefly, in the U.S. She has five Collections of Poetry in English. They have been  anthologized, translated into various Indian and European languages, and she has read them at various venues, in India, England and Struga. She has a short Novel, Shueli's Star, which is being serialised on StrandsLitsphere, and a few of her short stories have been published in Indian Literature, The Times of India, etc. This year, the Feminist Group, WOMEN EMPOWERED, awarded her with The First Kamala Das Poetry Prize.

 

Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Tuesday, December 25, 2018 - 22:24