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All she wanted was love and a family. But she had to make her escape from the violence, and carve out a safe, independent life for herself.
The second winning entry is by Veena Kaippangala.
In her twenties, when she met the man of her dreams, she was still wild and full of hope for the future. They were working together at a garment company, where insults and barbs were as pervasive as the rags of clothes littering the floor. And because they spoke different languages, they started off by exchanging swear words and fitting comebacks in each others’ languages. She was charmed.
When she told him that all she wanted to do was to go the mountains and slide down the green hills and play with goat babies, he laughed and called her cute.
After work, she often sang loudly and gaily to him: Let’s place a saddle on a cloud and gallop to skies and beyond… He definitely looked like love. With him, she looked forward to weaving her little cutesy dreams into the tapestry of married life.
A lone bee whirred against the tube light of the living room and suddenly dropped down dead. Lying prone on the cold floor, tears dripped down her eyelashes as she thought about how she had fallen low enough to have been pulled by her hair and dragged across the room by the man who had once felt like love. She didn’t even know what brought it about this turn of events. It just didn’t feel like love anymore. Love punctured by patches of violence. That was what it was.
In despair, she looked up to the other women who had shaped her – her mother, aunts, sisters, friends, and godmothers – if only she could spot any crumb of hope. But she saw them very clearly now, as tamed entities, making themselves smaller than they were, living like they were in some video game, playing to the whims of their own master controller.
She clearly saw now, the circle around them, invisible but important, drawn by the unseen but very palpable and oh so powerful hands of society. A circle that very few dared to breach. She tried to reason with them, argue with them: Women are still getting beaten these days by the men in their lives, it is true true true, don’t you reach for the carpets to shove their stories under, don’t you normalize it anymore!
She just wasn’t going to stay on, unlike the rest of her brood. Massive tears bubbled and overflowed like messy hot lava, smudging her cheeks. It was as if she were stewing in a hot cauldron of emotions and confusions and tears. Gulping a lungful of air, she set off, her legs aching, her chest aching, aching to leave everything behind, and to trudge along till she reached the mountain of her dreams. Over there she would work and sweat and feed mountain goats with leaves.
Until then, she must run, run, run.
Coarseness. That was the unifying texture that ran through the expanse of the mountains, spilling itself over to the animals and the people living around, in a way equipping them with grit for hardships. Having lived among the goats for so long, she was even beginning to look like them.
She was now poor and old, but free, running her own establishment that sold goat’s milk all over the valley, providing employment to numerous other men and women of the valley. In the evenings, a few women would gather at her porch to listen to her stories about choices and changes.
An ancient expression passed across her wrinkly face as she talked about how most people trusted in the future, assuming that their preferred version of it would unfold. What version of herself would have unfurled, had she stayed back with the man she had bartered love and languages with, but who gave her scars in return? The unheard voice of society had insisted that she learn to adjust, like a woman: Just shrink a little, woman, to feel included within that invisible circle of norm. That would make everything alright.
And yet, instead of staying dangled over the bottomless pit of that alternate life, she had leapt to make a choice, somehow scrambling back to the life of her childhood dreams. As dusk settled in and the women left for their own homes, she folded herself into a hard wooden armchair like a gunny bag, her crooked bones jutting out of the lumpy sack of a body.
The bones of a misfit. She was proud of that.
This year, we bring you again the Muse of the Month contest. We have received some wonderful entries for the March Muse of the Month, and had a hard time picking just 5 winners. Congratulations to all of them!
The cue for March 2016 was: “Most people trusted in the future, assuming that their preferred version of it would unfold.” ― Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland
Veena Kaippangala wins a Rs 250 Flipkart voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the 10 top winners at the end of 2016. Congratulations!
Image source: lone woman in a saree by Shutterstock.
I'm a language editor who enjoys reading literary fiction.
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