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What would her mom say if she knew? But Maanasa seemed not bothered by such thoughts. She was so…. Titiksha searched for the right word, Maanasa was so uninhibited.
Our Muse of the Month series this year focus on stories that pass the Bechdel test, and are written on inspiration from a new prompt every month. This month, the prompt was “Just Living Is Not Enough…”, and the story should pass the Bechdel Test, that is, it should have at least two well crafted, named women characters (we differ here slightly from the classic Bechdel test, in that we require these characters to be named),
The first winner of our August 2018 Muse of the Month contest is Manishi.
Titiksha’s eyes were wide with awe. The sinuous curve of her sparse lashes seemed to straighten itself in strict attention, as her deep dark pupils took in every inflection of Maanasa’s voice sailing through juicy lips stained a mild cinnamon.
“But we have to do more than that. Did you read the page I had sent on WhatsApp? Pause. “You should read it. She blends the metaphysical with real and spins such a tale. It provokes you to think for yourself, draws you into the story – leaves you wondering what is actually happening and what is not. I simply cannot get over Morrison. But now am reading Baldwin”
Titiksha now watched Maanasa’s fingers as she cut cabbage into tiny shreds. With every move of the knife, Titiksha was afraid that Maanasa would saw off her finger. Miraculously, nothing of the sort happened. For a brief moment Maanasa placed the knife down on the cutting board and shifted the phone from its position between her right ear and shoulder to the left.
“You are right, it is about power. But also freedom. You know where he asks, by defining the other you seal your own self, so who is actually trapped?” As the tempo of the conversation picked up so did the knife pick up dangerous speed, churning out shreds that were short thin strings. Titiksha was transfixed by the rhythm but prised her eyes away, afraid her fear might disrupt Maanasa’s precise ritual.
Her ears followed the conversation for the next ten minutes as the cutting continued. Maanasa and the speaker who was unknown to Titiksha (but very known to Maanasa – Titiksha could tell) discussed freedom, agreed and disagreed, accepted and rejected and exchanged a whole lot more than what the mere words conveyed to Titiksha.
“Ok. Have to go now or will never make it. See you soon. Let’s continue then. Bye”
Putting the phone down gingerly with two wet fingers, Maanasa turned around and added oil to the kadai. Choosing spice bottles from the kitchen shelf, she said
“Sorry Titiksha. I did not mean to exclude you. I know I got carried away. We should be done with this sabzi in 15min or so. Then we are good to go”
With a trace of marvel, Titiksha said “How do you do it chithi? You cut so fine, half the time I was afraid you were going to chop off a part of your finger”
Maanasa’s tinkling laughter tumbled down and seemed to rebound from the shiny tiled walls and stood suspended all around the kitchen “Oh I love cutting veggies. It calms me down usually” adding in a stage whisper “and gets the cooking done sooner”
“But your conversation was nothing but calm!” Titiksha blurted out. Her velvet skin darkened deeper as she realized that she had admitted to eavesdropping on Maanasa’s phone conversation.
Maanasa, hardly noticing, just said “Oh that! I could not help it. It is not fair isn’t it, that we draw these tiny walls around ourselves and stay imprisoned? Don’t allow ourselves to taste everything out there? I had to get him to see that the sky is the limit. At least try” she smiled at Titiksha.
“Oh I didn’t know chithapa read English novels” Titiksha now presumed.
Hurriedly stirring the cabbage now, Maanasa said “He doesn’t. Your chithapa and I speak about movies all the time – it’s his thing. Mine is books. But both are essentially the same, isn’t it? As many worlds out there as there are people, what a blessing to be able to experience all that.” Her words splashed color onto the steady stream of dust motes swimming in the sunlight from the lone window. It gathered both of them in an invisible embrace, infusing Titiksha with the passion inherent in Maanasa.
Yet, looking up, within the space of a second Maanasa caught the confused expression on Titiksha’s unguarded open face. Watching her with amusement Maanasa said “It wasn’t your chithapa on the phone. It was my friend.”
Just then the phone rang again. Maanasa saw it was her sister-in-law and ignored it. It rang twice more and Titiksha knew it was her mom calling to ensure they had left, and would arrive safely. Maanasa felt she had to explain “Please don’t think I am ignoring your mom. Am sure she is calling to remind me yet again to not forget to pack your clothes, to make sure you eat and a whole bunch of such stuff. I trust you to have done all that. You are 16, not 6. And even if you missed something, we can always fetch it. We are in the same city now!”
Titiksha knew exactly what Maanasa meant. Her mom had called her once this morning already, giving her instructions about everything. Now she was intrigued by the fact that Maanasa spent half an hour on the phone with her friend but did not feel duty-bound to answer her sister-in-law’s call. She was equally excited by the fact that the “friend” was a male. A friend, who was obviously very dear to Maanasa. Titiksha got the distinct feeling that they had had many such conversations before and were even about to meet now after Maanasa dropped her off at her paati’s house. What would her mom say if she knew? But Maanasa seemed not bothered by such thoughts. She was so…. Titiksha searched for the right word, Maanasa was so uninhibited. Titiksha wished it for her mom too – Her mom tried so hard to do the “right” thing all the time and was often bitter because she felt unappreciated for all her efforts.
As the auto carried them across the dusty city, Maanasa asked Titiksha “Are you okay Titi? You seem very quiet this morning” Over the din of mid morning traffic speeding by, Titiksha replied “Am ok” and shyly added “Am glad I got to spend these two days with you all. Thank you” but she was relishing that late night when she had sat up reading the novel Maanasa had given her and the following lazy morning as they discussed the content.
Maanasa smiled “You are so formal now?” She lightly touched Titiksha’s cheek and said “It was such fun having you home. Especially Kavya and Kishan, they are going to throw a fit when they return home from school and find you gone. I wish you could have stayed longer, 11th standard starts so much later than other classes.”
Maanasa’s casual touch gave Titiksha such a glowing feeling within. She remembered the other night spent at Maanasa’s. Maanasa had insisted that she will sleep with the kids while Titiksha got to sleep by herself on the cot in Maanasa and chitapa’s room. He was away anyway. When Maanasa had opened the wardrobe to fetch her nightie, she had noticed Titiksha eyeing her saris. “Do you want to try Titi?”
Titiksha was dumbstruck at being asked, her longing and glee, uncontainable, spoke loud and clear from the corner of her eyes. Maanasa heard and insisted that she choose one – she chose a black chiffon barely there sari and Maanasa tied it for her. Before Titiksha could turn around to look at herself in the full length mirror Maanasa said “Pity my blouse will not fit you, but….” she left the word hanging in the air and quietly left, closing the door behind her. Titiksha bolting it, carefully removed her T-shirt and untied her hair. Turning around she had looked at herself in her black bra and the barely there black chiffon. She instinctively touched all the places where the gossamer fabric was caressing her skin: her slim exposed waist, that intimate space between her breasts, her soft yeilding shoulders. She then turned around to see her beautiful ebony back where the fabric was saying sweet nothings to her hair and felt the pulsating flare of her hips that promised to be firm and full in future. Parts of her that were hidden away began to wake up wanting to see too.
In the auto now as she recalled the rendezvous she had been granted last night, her skin tingled and a sudden intensity flowed through her. She felt such a rush of gratitude for Maanasa. She had not even mentioned it this morning, let alone tease her about it. Titiksha realized how respected she felt and wanted to be in Maanasa’s presence for longer.
Looking into Maanasa’s eyes she replied “I wish so too. But I understand you are back at work tomorrow”
Maanasa smiled “Maybe your mom will allow you to come with me to work next time” she winked. Titiksha saw the flashing lights that danced in there. Instinctively she asked “Do you love your work?”
Maanasa looked at Titiksha for a moment. With a simple sincerity Titiksha had never encountered before, Maanasa told her “I love all of life Titi. There is just so much to experience, how can you not?” There was a dreamy look in her eyes as she continued “Just eating sleeping surviving is not enough, we have so much potential and all of this world to realize it in. The possibilities are endless Titi.”
They had reached. But Titiksha’s journey had only begun.
Manishi wins a Rs 250 Amazon voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the top winners at the end of 2018. Congratulations!
Image source: videoblocks
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