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‘That’s the way women like it’, his father had told him. The first rule to find a good bride for yourself is to be well groomed, papa kept reminding him, whenever he would occasionally skip his bath or not shave.
The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women.
Anjali Paul is one of the winners picked by author Manreet Sodhi Someshwar for the January 2021 Muse of the Month. First titled ‘Get Well Soon’, this story, in Manreet’s words, is “wickedly entertaining, with some real laugh-out-loud moments!”
“Ouch!” Rishabh screamed out in agony. Tears welled up in his eyes. He wiped them away furiously with the back of his hand. His eyes darted furtively towards his trainer, hoping his small outburst was not noticed.
Just then, he again felt that same shooting pain. Oh God, why! He cursed his fate as he bit his lips and curled his toes in an attempt to suppress the excruciating pain.
His chest was being waxed for the first time.
‘That’s the way women like it’, his father had told him. The first rule to find a good bride for yourself is to be well groomed, papa kept reminding him, whenever he would occasionally skip his bath or not shave. His fast growing stubble would give away his lazy escapade for the day and papa would frown and shake his head disapprovingly.
Rishabh had broken the second rule for the day in a whisker. He had cried. How shameful! Men never cry was the second rule. What would papa say? And moreover the trainer would punish him instantly if he got even a whiff of such a transgression.
The day he had gotten an appointment letter for his first job he was packed off to the Oakfield Finishing School at Mumbai. The same one where papa had been to, and that’s how he was able to wed amma. The beautiful, only daughter of the extremely affluent Kumar family.
‘In a month’s time, Rishabh would be the most eligible bachelor in Pune. What, with a plush 6 figure job and a diploma from Oakfield Finishing School, everyone would want a piece of him’, amma would gloat to her relatives.
The next class was how to invest your finances. A financially astute son in law and husband is what every family looks for when they get their daughter married off. Rishabh was finding it hard to keep his eyes open during the classes. For a moment he drifted into such a deep slumber that he could hear himself snoring.
Just then someone shook him vigorously and Rishabh woke up with a start.
“Where am I?” mumbled Rishabh, looking disoriented.
“You are at home, where else?” his mother replied looking at him strangely. “What’s wrong with you?” She asked him.
A wave of relief washed over Rishabh as he realized he was at home and on his bed.
‘Gosh, that was a dream. But it seemed so real!’, Rishabh said to himself.
Rishabh’s mother touched his forehead in concern. “Son, are you OK? Why are you talking to yourself?”
“Nothing ma, just a bad dream, a really bad dream,” said Rishabh shaking his head.
He then headed to the bathroom to get ready for his first day at work. He took off his shirt and stared at his hairy chest for an unduly long time.
Suddenly memories flooded him one by one.
It was in 10th standard that they had teased their class topper mercilessly. A nerdy girl with glasses who had the bushiest of eyebrows, the beginnings of a moustache, and hairy arms and legs.
They used to call her as ‘transgender’ each time she would pass by them. She would scurry off without uttering a word, her eyes often filled with tears. They felt powerful knowing that they wielded so much control over her.
Another victim of their bullying was a boy, who broke into tears the first time he went on stage. “Ladki ki tarah kyun ro haha hai?”(Why are you crying like a girl?), they kept asking him, which continued long after the incident was over. In fact even now after 10 years they referred to him as “Chui mui”.
The backbenchers were ruthless. They hid their incompetence by making snide remarks. They would barely pass each exam and they knew their strength was in their togetherness. Individually they would be nothing. They would just be hollow shells.
This false sense of machismo went on to be their weapon, or so they thought.
Rishabh too had several notions about how his bride-to-be was supposed to be. Most of them were self-created, and quite a few were passed on to him from his amma and papa.
She should be beautiful of course, and well educated. But working after marriage would be a strict no. A homemaker, like ma. She must be virtuous with a tinge of modernity. She better be good in bed. But again she wouldn’t know all those things. I will teach her all the tricks of the trade, thought Rishabh with an evil smile spreading on his face.
“Nowadays, parents of girls don’t send their girls to finishing schools it seems,” Amma told Rishabh with a frown on her face as she lay out the table.
The table was always laid out with the finest cutlery and crockery for each meal. Their house was immaculately done, spic and span, nothing ever out of place. ‘The sign of a perfect homemaker,’ papa would say proudly, and ma would blush red. She would then say, “All thanks to my parents and the finishing school I went to. They taught me well”.
The next day they were to meet a girl. From the looks of it, she appeared to be a perfect match for Rishabh.
But Rishabh was in for a rude shock.
Naividiya was well educated and stunningly beautiful. She was the PR head of a prominent multinational company. Rishabh couldn’t take his eyes off her. Before Rishabh could ask her anything. Naividiya began the conversation without even a slight hint of hesitation or coyness.
“I believe in equality,” said Naividiya staring into his eyes unwaveringly. “If we are to be wed, we not only pledge to share our lives but everything, even the household chores”.
Rishabh looked at her in disbelief and took a huge gulp of water to placate himself. Just then she raised her hands to tie her hair into a ponytail. That’s when Rishabh noticed hair in her armpits. ‘Yikes, doesn’t she wax?’ thought Rishabh as he watched on in horror.
Naividiya saw Rishabh’s shocked expression as he continued to stare at her hands. “Not too comfortable with some hair on a woman it seems. Tsk tsk!” said Naividiya as she let out a hearty laugh. “I hate waxing. I shave once in a while but that’s about it.”
Rishabh couldn’t believe his ears for a moment. How could a girl be so frank about such intimate things with a boy? He decided to change the topic.
“But I hope you won’t be working after marriage,” said Rishabh.
“Of course I would be. What sort of a question is that?” said Naividiya with her eyebrows raised in puzzlement.
Then almost like it hit her suddenly. She let out a laugh. “Oh, so you are one of those who want the beauty with brains but no say.”
“You have come to see the wrong girl then Mister,” said Naividiya.
Rishabh let out a nervous chuckle. “Nothing like that,” he whispered softly.
“Men love beautiful women. But when it’s beauty and brains, they don’t know how to handle it. Because we have no role models to emulate? Even our parents call such women ‘too forward’. When actually it’s the men who are backward. Women are racing ahead, having kids and careers, leaving men holding their dicks in their hands. You know, at one time, girls were sent to finishing schools to increase their market value? Well, guess what? It’s time for men’s finishing schools!” said Naividiya to a stunned Rishabh.
Naividiya had had enough. She got up and gave him a gentle peck on his cheek. “Get well soon Rishabh”, she murmured into his ears.
“Get well soon? But why,…” Rishabh’s voice trailed off as he stared at Naividiya leaving the room.
From then on Rishabh has been having this recurring dream of having joined a finishing school.
He just couldn’t get it out of his head. Naividiya’s nonchalance and confidence was something he could never get. That meeting was the turning point of his life. He did realize he was sick, and if he didn’t mend his ways he would lose out on an amazing life partner. Someone who could truly enrich his life. Someone whose sole purpose wouldn’t only be to make him comfortable, but someone from whom he could learn something new. Thankfully, he was on the road to recovery.
Editor’s note: This month’s cue has been selected by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar, whom we have interviewed here.
Manreet Sodhi Someshwar is a multiple award-winning and bestselling writer of six books, including the Mehrunisa series – The Taj Conspiracy (2012), and The Hunt for Kohinoor (2014), the critically-acclaimed books The Long Walk Home (2009) and The Radiance of a Thousand Suns (2019), as well as Earning the Laundry Stripes (2014) and her latest, Girls and the City (2020). Hailed as ‘a star on the literary horizon’ by Khushwant Singh and garnering endorsements from Gulzar for two of her books, Manreet and her work have featured at literary festivals in Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong, India and NYC. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, the South China Morning Post and several Indian publications. Manreet lives in New York, New York, with her husband, daughter and cat.
The cue is from her book Girls and the City, which had to be incorporated in the stories – whether at the beginning, end, or somewhere in between.
“Men love beautiful women. But when it’s beauty and brains, they don’t know how to handle it. Because we have no role models to emulate? Even our parents call such women ‘too forward’. When actually it’s the men who are backward. Women are racing ahead, having kids and careers, leaving men holding their dicks in their hands. You know, at one time, girls were sent to finishing schools to increase their market value? Well, guess what? It’s time for men’s finishing schools!”
Anjali Paul wins a Rs 750 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations!
Image source: a still from the Hindi film Chhalaang
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I am a mom who works from home and dabbles with writing when time permits.
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