notun bous, the new bride. She was Indian in name, and color, but that was it. She was as British as Lord Mountbatten as Bapi was so fond of saying . . ." />

Construction Literary Magazine

Fall 2019

The New Bride

The New Bride

Photograph via Flickr by Pankaj Sharma

I distinctly remember it was a Friday, the day I met Anushi. Anushi Patel—London-educated, London-returned, the new bride of my cousin, Bipin da. She was the notun bou, the new bride. She was Indian in name, and color, but that was it. She was as British as Lord Mountbatten as Bapi was so fond of saying, and we were excited beyond belief that Bipin da married her and she was coming with him to visit us on their way from London to his new job in Kolkata.

It was 1978, and I was eight, in Class Three, Lovely Angels Primary School for Young Girls, run by the famous Anglo-Indian sisters, Maribel and Louella Pinto. And I wasn’t sure whether Bipin da was really my cousin. But it was one of those statements Bapi and Ma made, that he was my cousin, so I assumed he was. It was three days into my summer vacation that day when I realized Ma hadn’t pushed me to finish my daily handwriting practice for an excruciatingly long hour (without break), nor had she scolded me for pouring the greasy milk from my cereal bowl into the sink. In fact, she had been up very early in the morning (I had heard her banging pots and pans even in my dreams) and had barricaded herself in the kitchen. Ma was preparing cauliflower curry, mixed vegetable rice, ginger chicken and malpoa for the new bride.

When I strolled into the hot and muggy kitchen, Ma greeted me with a “Ragini, go away.” She was kneading the dough quickly, her hands flying. Her helicopter rotor blade-like hands told me that she had decided at the last minute to make luchis, puffed, fried rotis for Bipin da because he loved Ma’s cooking. “Take your cycle outside and ride it. Your Bapi didn’t spend eighty rupees for the Hero cycle for nothing. Go, and don’t run off to the main road!”

But Ma didn’t even bother to look in my direction. Her attention was on the simmering cauliflower in the pressure cooker while she absent-mindedly pummeled the dough into a round sticky off-white ball.

“Can I taste the curry?”

She swatted my hand away. A flaky piece of dough flew from her hands to mine and slid off. I rubbed my knuckles where she hit me. It hurt; I could feel the tears rolling into a knot choking me, but I pretended everything was fine, and walked back to the dining table. The Khaitan ceiling fan circulated the hot air that then traveled from the kitchen to the dining space. Outside I heard Kunti, our maid yelling at the neighborhood boys to stop stealing our hibiscus flowers. My tears lodged safely in my stomach, so I could talk again. “When will Bipin da come?”

“What?” Ma called out from above the suddenly screaming whistle of the cooker. Expertly moving it to the chipped marble counter next to the dented red gas cylinder, she wiped the sweat from her forehead with her old handloom sari. “Bipin and Anushi will be here in an hour. Your Bapi’s gone to the airport, remember?”

“How long will they stay? The whole summer?”

“No, Ragini, don’t ask silly questions.” Ma added cardamom, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and cloves to a battered steel pan on the stove with butter. “They have to go to Kolkata. That’s where they will stay. With Bipin’s father, your Bapi’s friend, Shubir jethu, you know, the one who gave you that red doll with the bobbing head when he came back from Russia?”

“Is Shubir jethu coming too?”

No, Ma shook her head, and then waved the curry ladle at me. “Go, go out! They’ll be here soon. And don’t get dirt on your pedal pushers, what will your Anushi boudi think? That you are a roadside ruffian? And you know that won’t do.” She swung the ladle again, her tired eyes trying to hold a semblance of threat.

“Is Shubir jethu my real uncle?”

Uff!” my mother rolled her eyes. Her fingers still sticky with dough, she pushed some imaginary strands of hair from her forehead. I could see soft wrinkles where her bindi shone brightly at me. “No, he and your Bapi have been best friends since college. His father had lots of money, and sent Shubir jethu to England for further studies, and he met your jethima there. And—”

“Why didn’t Bapi go?”

“Because he didn’t have money.” Ma glared. She deftly transferred the curry, now golden yellow with flecks of coriander leaves garnished on top into the ceramic bowl, which had yellow and pink roses at the edges. “He worked hard for us, and now we are fine. Fine, you understand?”

I nodded. She stirred the curry, before transferring it to the dining table. The table was covered with the new crocheted pale yellow tablecloth that Ma had purchased last week after Bapi told her that Bipin da was coming. She stepped back from the curry, watching the steam escape in satisfaction.

Ki, nice, na?” she asked for my opinion that didn’t matter.

I nodded again. “It smells good too.” I ventured to pick at one floret and she raised her hand to hit me, so I stopped in mid-action.

“I have to finish the chicken, then make the luchis. Ragini, just go, will you?” Ma had never looked so anxious. It was as if she was getting ready for her final examinations.

I walked out through the side door and grabbed my cycle propped next to the pumpkin creeper. Kunti sashayed past, her hair tied tightly in a well-oiled bun, her green georgette sari tucked closely to her waist. She smiled, her crooked stained teeth sticking out when her rough fingers pinched my cheeks, “Ki, Ragini baby, what fun, no? Dada and boudi will be here soon.” Her eyes sparkled. “That too from foh-rain! What will they get for you, I wonder? Chock-oh-late? Or maybe, another doll, baby?” she pinched my cheeks again.

“Oh, keep quiet, Kunti!” I squirmed away, and climbed onto my cycle. The seat wobbled as the training wheels balanced me. I whizzed past her and she opened the kitchen door. Inside I heard Ma scolding her for being lazy.

Ma paced back and forth in the living room. It had been two hours since Bapi should have been home. I was hungry. There were mice and rats playing football in my stomach. The rumbling was so loud that I pretended we were in a thunderstorm. Ma adjusted her new Murshidabad silk sari again (bought at a bargain price of only two hundred and sixty seven rupees according to Ma when she explained to Baba where she had spent the rest of the money he had given her and what she had gone to do at Raj Traders of Great Bengal Company Ltd., near Main Market of our Bengali neighborhood, last week after buying that tablecloth), pulling the purple pallu around her right wrist like a lady of leisure, as if she were bored with life and had time to play with her tinkling gold bangles that entangled in the silk pallu.

Ish, I shouldn’t have fried the luchis so soon. They’ll be rock hard and cold by the time they get here!” She talked to herself, even though she looked at me while she spoke. I noticed she had applied new kohl to her eyes, and her bindi matched her sari. Ma looked almost young, with her hair up in a complicated bun shaped like an eight.

“Maybe I should eat them, and you can make more?” I tried to be helpful, but her glare told me otherwise.

Kunti giggled in the dining room, listening to our exchange. The phone rang, jangling loudly, making all of us jump.

“Hello?” Ma anxiously played with her umbrella-shaped gold earring on her right ear. “It’s you, I was so worried—” She is cut off. All she said after that was, “oh” and “okay” and “soon, then?” before she hung up.

“Well? Can I eat now?”

Ma turned from the phone and smiled, “Not yet. They will be here in half an hour. Just delayed at customs. Let’s check and see if the house looks nice.”

Quickly, she walked from the front room, after fluffing up the white cushions that she had embroidered with red flowers on the sofa with the shaky left leg. “Come, Ragini!” she waved, excitedly.

We went to the guest room, which had windows on two sides facing the front lawn. If it weren’t summer, and if the stray dogs hadn’t dug holes in the grass and kicked out the dahlia bulbs, anyone living in our guest room would have seen beautiful flowers blooming in our front lawn. But that day, all we could see were the sickly hibiscus tree with three red flowers that Kunti guarded with her life and a few irregular ferns Bapi had planted when we moved to Delhi from Kolkata four years ago. The second window looked out to the side of the house, to the long driveway where I practiced my cycling since Bapi parked his Fiat outside. Ma pulled the white lace curtains on the spring wires so they fluttered prettily. Then she adjusted and re-adjusted Rabindranath Tagore’s photograph next to the dresser and mirror. “Anushi should know we are Bengalis. What with her mother-in-law Kalyani, your jethima”—she stopped to explain—“your aunt gone, God bless her, who will teach this girl our Bengali values, right, Ragini?” Ma adjusted her sari again, watching her exhausted reflection in the mirror. She picked on three black spots on the right corner, where the mirror was chipping off, and shook her head. There isn’t anything we can do about that, she decided with each shake.

“Come, let’s straighten the bed.” She bent down and patted the thick blue cotton bedspread as if it were crushed. The bedspread was starched, washed, and ready to be used by the guests.

I pretended to pat the pillows, white with yellow flowers on them. Ma smiled at my effort. “Do you want to look at the food again?”

“No, I’ll eat it this time.”

She laughed, and we walked back to the dining table, “Well, since you helped, I might let you sample some.”

The table was sagging with the weight of freshly cooked food. The ginger chicken was the highlight, sitting in a silver platter on top of a red metal trivet (that Ma brought from her home when she married Bapi), the fragrance of cinnamon and coriander wafting with the smell of clarified butter in which the chicken was fried; the cauliflower curry, a modest vegetarian accompaniment, almost apologized for occupying space next to the regal chicken; the steaming rice, with carrots, peas, bell peppers screaming for attention, and the luchis were in a corner in a stainless steel large bowl, puffed balls of dough, enticing, exciting, waiting for me.

I sat down at my spot and stared at the new plate Ma had placed in front. These were the plates Ma bought at last year’s Durga Puja sale. She said she would use them for my wedding. I guessed it was now.

I looked at her, and she shrugged, “We need to use it this time, Ragini.” And she doled out a little scoop of rice and a piece of chicken.

I heard the Fiat a few streets away and jumped out of my chair. Ma was already rushing to the front room, her sari swishing with each stride. By the time I ran to my room, washed my hands in the bathroom, scampered past the dining table where Kunti was removing my plate with a frown that said—you didn’t eat properly again—and reached the front door, I could hear Bapi talking to Ma.

Uff, Charu, it is so hot, these two are very tired, give them something to drink!” Bapi dragged a huge black suitcase with bright BOAC stickers and airline tags on the handle. “Ragini, move away, go, we have lots of luggage.”

Bapi’s new blue shirt, worn in honor of Anushi boudi and Bipin da, was now patchy with sweat. He pushed the suitcase inside the guest room, and straightened up, wiping his forehead with his white handkerchief. His bald patch glistened with the summer heat he came from. “Water, Ragini, get some water. I’ll get the rest of the luggage in.”

“Where’s Bipin da?” I pulled at his trouser leg.

“Aah, he’s coming!” Bapi pushed at my clammy hand. “Bipin, come on in, your greatest fan in India is dying to see you.”

I pushed between Bapi and Ma who was hovering around the luggage and ran to the front door. I heard Bipin da’s laugh before I saw him.

Ki, little one! How big have you grown.” Bipin da’s big hands grabbed me and pulled me high in the air.

He looked like I had imagined (because in four years, he had taken on a film star-like feel), having seen him last when I was four when he came for a visit from England: tall, thick black-rimmed glasses, happy eyes, broad shoulders, a rainbow colored shirt so popular in the seventies, a huge black belt with a silver buckle and long, long black bell bottoms that seem to go on and on.

I screamed with excitement. “Bipin da, Bipin da,” I repeated, “what took you so long? I ate already, Ma made luchis, and chicken and cauliflower—”

Everyone laughed and in that noise I heard her tinkling low laugh, an amusement at the happy scene, an outsider who was comfortable being one. Anushi Patel, the new bride, she stood behind Bipin da. I watched her from her husband’s hug and I rested my head on his shoulder as he affectionately pulled at my pigtail.

Her eyes were brown. A beautiful soft brown, as was her hair. Later, Ma said that it was because she uses too much shampoo and henna, that’s why it’s not black like Ma’s. She wore a silk sari, just like Ma, but it was cream-white, like Kwality’s Ice Cream, the vanilla butterscotch flavor, slightly crushed from sitting on that plane for so long. The border was embroidered with orange flowers, soft, smooth bunches, as if they had been tattooed on the cloth and if I looked closely, I pretended the flowers were caressing her white skin too. But the biggest mistake was her smallest piece of attire. The notun bou was wearing a sleeveless blouse—a cream blouse, with orange blossoms budding on the thin inch straps that lifted her bosom up, exposing her fair, taut stomach and mid-riff before the sari started again. Years later, when Ma would tell the rest of the women in the family of her first glimpse of Anushi boudi, her description of the bride’s teeny, sleeveless blouse would be left till the last sentence, so all the women would listen to Ma in rapture, her description of her sari that was white like a widow’s, her hair that was brown because Anushi wanted to be a blonde, her eyes were brown because, who knows where her mother had been? And then, scandal of all scandals, her breasts were peeking out of her tiny blouse, especially when she pretended to bend down and pay her respects to Ma. “Buhjle to,” Ma would start, as if she needed to explain everything, “not only was she not wearing a bra, those breasts were big as melons! Melons, I tell you!” and she would separate her palms out wide, as if Anushi boudi were parading fruit on her chest. I never stopped her exaggerations, and pretty soon, when I did imagine Anushi boudi, I would think of her body as one of the beautiful statues in Mohenjo daro, but with impossibly enormous breasts.

But at that moment, all I noticed was Anushi boudi’s charm. Her lips, my, they were pink, shiny with lipstick, something Ma never wore, and her cheeks were softly red, like apples from Kashmir.

“Hello, Ragini, you’re a real beauty.” Even her voice had a husky tone, matching her foreignness. Her English was clipped, like she was British, maybe she is, I wondered. “Nice to meet you! Bip here has talked so much about you.”

I stared back soundlessly, never having seen heaven in close quarters. Bipin da laughed, shook his mop of dark hair and let me slide down. “And this,” he bent down and made me face her direction, “this is your boudi, Anushi boudi.”

Behind me, at Ma’s sudden intake of shocked breath, I turned around. “E ki blouse!” she whispered, signaling at Bapi with a shake of her head, her earrings swinging. Bapi shrugged, and went out again to get the last of the never-ending luggage.

After an awkward silence, Bipin da let me drag him inside to the front room, with a, “Oh, porey gaylaam, I’m falling! Stop, stop!”

Ma and Anushi boudi were still facing each other at the front door. Then, I heard Kunti bringing the tray to Ma so I ran back, leaving Bipin da to stand underneath the fan, holding his shirt half-open with his collar, sighing from the heat.

The tray was significant. It was stored on the shelf next to the spices in the kitchen, right in front of the fifteen gods Ma prayed to every morning. The tray that Ma talked about every day, ever since we heard Bipin da was returning to India after ten years in England.

“Well, she is our bou ma, after all, our notun bou.” Ma said two weeks ago after Bapi told her about the new non-Bengali bride that our Bipin had wed and was bringing back from England. “We have to accept this. We have to give her the welcome aashirvaad, the blessing. It will be a great occasion, the aashirvaad.  I’ll have the tray ready.” The novelty of a notun bou was fascinating to everyone, especially since she was Indian, and yet, not quite. She was born in London, brought up there, but her parents were Indian, and according to Bapi, were very happy that Anushi chose someone of the same country. Ma snorted at that, telling us once an Indian, always an Indian. “She cannot forget her values. And if she does, we’ll remind her.”

And so, Ma arranged a lace napkin with red satin ribbons that she stitched with an intricate loop eye knot, incense, Kalyani jethima’s photograph, with a sandalwood dot on her forehead to signify that she was with God, a little dhaan, rice, some dhubba, green grass stalks, and a piece of shondesh, the best sweet from Raghu’s Sweets and Savories. Kunti handed the tray, a silver-plated dish with the incense now lit carefully, to Ma, as she pulled her pallu over her head.

Anushi boudi stood uncertainly, shifting slightly from one delicate leg to the other. “Bip, um, Bip?” she called out uncertainly. Bipin da did not come to her aid.

Maatha dhaako!” my mother signaled her to cover her head. But Ma didn’t look at her. Her sleeveless arms seemed to have put her in my mother’s I-don’t-approve-of-you list. And there was no going back once you were on her list. My mother’s anticipation for the new bride had now changed into a softly simmering censure. She didn’t look at Anushi directly, just fiddled with the tray and cleared her throat for no reason.

I smiled at Anushi boudi but she skimmed over me. She needed her husband who was trying to cool himself off in our living room. So she pulled her tiny pallu from her back, trying to cover her head. Her arms were still bare; the sari was not meant to cover her; it was meant to show her off.

Ma shuffled the rice, and the grass, and then rolled her eyes, “Kunti! Go, make some tea and lemonade for Ragini’s father and Bipin. Go!” She used her angry voice, while she shook with intense disapproval at the vision in front of her. “Here,”—she thrust a piece of shondesh in Anushi boudi’s pink mouth—“pray to your mother-in-law.” Then, Ma showered the rice and placed a blade of grass on the new bride’s half-covered head.

Anushi waited, unsure, an awkward bowing of her head, before she decided to bend down and touch Ma’s feet for her blessing.

Ma let her touch her and then said gravely, “Be happy, have a prosperous married life, and keep Bipin happy. That is all we want from you.” She let Anushi get up and then swayed the tray in front of her, Kalyani jethima’s photo wobbling with the sudden swerve. “Good, at least your parents taught you to respect the elders. Even though they didn’t teach you what a respectable woman wears the first time she meets her in-laws.”

Anushi’s shocked eyes met Ma’s, and she almost protested, before she swallowed, and looked down again. From the tray, Ma took a pinch of red sindoor, the mark of a married woman, and dabbed it on her forehead, and the parting in her hair. “Always wear it, Anushi. It is for your husband’s good. And you want that, don’t you?”

Silent, Anushi nodded. I watched tears forming at the corners of her luminous eyes. But she gulped and let my mother talk. Then Ma handed the tray back to Kunti, who signaled that I need to come with her, and they walked inside.

Bapi followed with the last big duffle bag, and I held the door open. “Ki?” he panted, “happy to see them?”

I nodded and followed him in.

Bipin da was very hungry. He decided to sit down to eat even before Ma and Anushi boudi came in. I ran up and stood next to him, so excited, I didn’t know what else to do. He grinned back, his glasses rose up and down with each chomp of his chicken and luchi.

“You’re right, Ragini.” He told me in all seriousness, “Kakima”—meaning Ma—“your mother is the best cook in the world.”

Ma beamed, protested and bustled into the kitchen, “Arey Bipin, how can you say that? The food is cold, you two came in so late!” She nodded at Anushi boudi as if it was her fault entirely. “Sit, Anushi, yes, that seat next to me.”

Bapi now in a freshly starched, white kurta pyjama, walked to the far end, “Oh, Bipin, you started already, good, good!” He pulled the chair noisily to sit down. “Ah, Anushi, eat, you must be tired. Then you should rest, you poor girl.”

Ma rushed back from the kitchen, “Come, Anushi, you need to pray to the gods before you start.”

Anushi boudi half-stood, looked at Bipin da who nodded, and then went toward the kitchen. I followed her as she folded her palms in a namaste before the gods, “Can I eat now?” her voice was soft, but I could hear the tears in it.

Ma nodded. She seemed to rejoice in this new mother-in-law role. Adjusting her sari again, she nodded to Kunti who started frying the eggplants. Each one reached the hot oil in the pan, bubbled with the oil, and rose up.

Bapi passed the vegetable rice to Anushi so she could take a spoonful. She took a small scoop and handed it to Bipin da, who took hearty clumps. I wandered around the table, as they talked about how hot it was, how long the flight had been and how breezy the house was. Kunti came in and dropped fried eggplants, one on each plate.

Then Ma sat down heavily next to Anushi and pointed to her plate. “Why aren’t you eating? Dieting?” She spat the words out like Anushi boudi had a disease.

“No, no,” Anushi boudi protested, “I ate on the flight, and I eat slowly. Bip, tell her!” her bangles clattered, unbride-like, as she waved at her husband.

But Bipin da, talking to Bapi about his new position in an engineering firm, didn’t hear her.

Reaching over Anushi boudi, Ma brought the curry over. “Here,” she ladled a big scoop into her plate, “eat, you’re too thin. Do you eat meat, chicken? I can give you that if you want.”

“Stop, stop!” Anushi boudi put her right hand over her plate, but Ma put a dollop of cauliflower on it anyway. The florets fell awkwardly over Anushi’s knuckles, the turmeric-laden sauce slid over slowly dripping into the plate. “Bip, tell her, no…please?” she whispered. She was not even hiding her unhappiness.

Bipin da stopped in mid-sentence, looked at her, and then Ma. “Um, Anushi, it’s okay, Kakima is only trying to be a good hostess. She lives to feed us, you know that!” he laughed, his eyes uncertain, “come on, Anushi, let her pamper you.”

Ma moved back, dropping the cauliflower bowl on the table with a loud thud. Her voice shook as she spoke in Bengali, looking at the wall across from her, “Why, Bipin? Is your wife too rich, too British, too upper-class that she cannot eat anything that I made? Is that what it is?” By now Ma’s voice had risen. “Is our food too poor for her? Ask her, ask her!”

I stopped in mid-perambulation, what will happen now? Will Ma cry? Will boudi finally cry?

Anushi looked up, startled. Her pallu, all along on her head, fell. “I can understand Bengali, Kakima!” her shock at being talked about right as if she were invisible was apparent to all, “I said, I can’t eat so much, I didn’t say I don’t like it. Did I, Bip?”

Bipin da shrugged, and Bapi intervened, “Aah, you women, stop that! Anushi, you eat what you can, child, and Charu, just sit down. And everyone, eat, and then all of us will sleep because we are hot and tired.” He waved his left hand, “Kunti, come, give me the chicken. This heat is making all of us crazy for no reason.”

They ate in silence and then Bipin da tried to talk to me so the moment passed. I told him about Lovely Angels, and how Miss Maribel loved me because I said, “Good morning, Miss Maribel!” each morning in front of her office so she had to come out and tap my head. Anushi boudi listened carefully and smiled at me through her tears.

After lunch, Ma got up, picked up the plates, and handed them to Kunti. Bapi and Bipin da went to their respective rooms’ attached bathrooms to wash up. Anushi boudi sat quietly, as if she were intruding, her hand extended on the table. She had hardly eaten anything.

Boudi, do you want a malpoa?” I tried to humor her.

She looked up, “What is it?”

“It’s a fried sweet, dunked in sugar, and has anise on it. Very nice, you want some?”

Her eyes bright, she smiled and nodded. Then she signaled that she wanted to wash her hands first. Ma came back into the room to take away the rest of the food so we pretended to look in opposite directions. “Ragini, go to your room, and sleep. It’s too hot to do anything else. And you, Anushi,” Ma now treated her like a child, “you should rest too. You may be in a better mood after that.”

“I am in a good mood, Kakima.” Her voice was polite, just firm. “I’ll see you later.”  Ignoring us, she followed in the direction of her husband. I watched her back as her long hair swayed with each stride. The room was filled with her gardenia perfume.

Ma made a face, “Not a suitable girl for our Bipin. No, not at all!” She roughly ran her palm on the tablecloth, removing escaped rice particles from it. “Too modern. No respect, no concern, no shame at all! Thinks only about herself. Thank god Kalyani is dead, this is what she would have to see!” She shook her head and then noticed me. “What are you doing here, Ragini? Didn’t I say, go?” She roared her embarrassment into anger and pointed toward my room.

That hot afternoon, I tossed in my bed in utter boredom. Even the fans complained. Outside, the sun shone brightly like it was the last time it would ever see the earth. Kunti left, shutting the kitchen door with a loud bang. I heard Ma talking to Bapi in the next room, a lot of chee chee, how awful, and then a sleeveless blouse, white sari like a widow, and more chee chee before Bapi said, “Ah, stop that, Charu! Let me sleep.” After that, there was silence.

I decided to see what Bipin da and Anushi boudi were doing. I walked across the house, past my parents’ room, past the dining space, toward the front room, and then a slight left to the guest room, but the door was shut. No one shut the door in our house; it was indeed strange. But maybe they were sleeping. I went back to the kitchen, drank some water from the fridge, something I was not allowed to do since I was prone to colds and coughs, and I decided to ride my cycle.

Leaving the house through the side door, I pulled my cycle propped next to the kitchen window and dragged it closer to the front of the house. It was hot, steaming hot, and my pedal pushers stuck to my calves, but it was a heady feeling, since I had been able to balance finally after weeks of trying. I pedaled faster and faster, back and forth along driveway past the guest room.

I heard the water running in the guest bathroom as I passed by. The shower stopped. I decided to walk my cycle back to the kitchen side and I remembered I told Anushi boudi about the malpoa. I walked to the side window to the guest room. The window was open, and the curtains, the pretty lacy curtains were drawn. I heard voices inside.

Boudi, boudi!” I called out, but I was panting too hard, so I knew she didn’t hear me. “Malpoa!

 I propped the cycle next to the wall and went to the window. I saw her before I peeked properly through the white curtains. Her back was toward the window and she was wiping her hair as she talked to Bipin da, who was lying in bed, shirtless.

Her long hair was now tied loosely in a bun with a towel, the blue towel Ma had placed in the bathroom. Her hair was wet, and water drops were still trickling down the nape of her neck, falling down her long, naked back. I watched in silence as the water trickled down, slowly, along her spine, the curve of her back, down, down to the dimples above her soft, white buttocks and she moved her graceful hand from her hair to her back and stopped the drop’s journey.

“It’s only a matter of a couple of days, Anu.” Bipin da consoled her, “and Ragini loves you. I told you Kakima is slightly conservative.”

Anushi nodded, and her hand stayed on her back. She turned slightly, so I saw she’d been crying, and I wondered, “is it because she had only one sari and now has to stand naked because she had to wash it and will come out only when it is dry?”

“But you didn’t even help me, Bips!” her voice held all the hurt.

Bipin da sighed again, “Sorry, Anu, come,” he held his arms wide open. He looked different, almost like Amitabh Bachchan without his glasses, a super star. “Come, I’ll make it up to you. In fact,” he stopped for dramatic effect, “in fact, I’ll make it up to you right now, Anu!”

She protested, “But we just, we just did—” and Bipin da lunged from the bed, the new bedspread now crushed, to grab her by her waist. She didn’t protest.

I watched mesmerized, as Anushi let herself be dragged back to the bed. Her breast, soft, beautifully round, was now in his palm. His long, dark-brown fingers enveloped her. Her back was still toward the window, when he pulled her closer, held her by her hair and kissed her mouth softly. She moaned as the blue towel dropped loosely from her wet hair to the floor.