Your wife is cheating on you; you can sense it. It’s a Sunday, and she’s working. She said she will be back by lunch. When you open the fridge, you notice there is nothing for lunch. It’s an opportunity to make something special for her. Your wife has been working a lot lately, so much so that she talks about presentations in her sleep. She is a workaholic. You kind of knew what you were getting into when you married her. Everyone told you marrying a woman from Bombay would be a lot of work, but you wanted to live the busy life in Bombay. You thought Mangalore held you back.
Maybe it was your way of reclaiming what you lost in your childhood. When your father returned from Kuwait during Saddam’s horror reign, he refused to find new work, using horror stories from the Gulf war as excuses. It was tough to afford a life in Bombay. You returned to Mangalore with the help of your uncle. Now that you are back in Bombay, you miss Mangalore.
You take an umbrella, a small cloth bag and then lock up your flat. You walk down the stairs instead of taking the lift as your stomach has started to bulge. You are panting by the time you reach the ground floor. You need to get in shape. Three auto-rickshaws slow down as they reach you; you move ahead towards the bus stop. You are saving up; every rupee counts. It has started raining. It’s September but it pours heavily. You attempt to unfurl your umbrella as soon as possible but your desperation only makes it worse.
Art Courtesy – Siddhi Vartak, 2023
By the time it opens, your glasses are wet. You look out for the bus. It will arrive anytime now. Your wife finds Bombay rains romantic. She had told you she wanted to walk with you under one umbrella. You haven’t done that yet, why haven’t you? That’s something you should do. You will do it today. You will take her out for a walk, in the rain, under the umbrella.
The bus arrives; you get in through the back door. The front door is meant for those who are alighting. You sit in the single-seater aisle, to the left of the bus. It reminds you of how lonely you are. You really want to cook something special for your wife, you haven’t decided what that will be, not yet. You have been having tiffin meals for a long time now as both of you have been busy. The tiffin service is run by a Mangalorean. You don’t love the food but your wife gets tired after work. You can’t expect her to cook.
You’ve wanted to go on bus rides with your wife but bus rides are not her thing. She likes riding on her scooty. It gives her a sense of freedom. The TC comes up to you, balancing his feet on the floor of the bus so as to not lose his footing. You pay your fare and look out of the window. A lot has changed in over a year—buildings have been renovated, new shops have opened up. You notice couples walking—hand in hand. One guy has his hand over his partner’s waist. You look away and check your phone. There’s no message from your spouse. You imagine her sitting at the conference table, crossing her legs, adjusting her kurti to cover her knees in a way you admire but you doubt she will do that in your absence.
The bus jerks. You are pushed forward. You grip the handle of the seat before you to prevent your face from dashing into the man’s balding head. You adjust yourself on your seat, the bus turns, an expanse of greenery flashes before your eyes. For a brief moment, your heart is filled with hope, things might change, things might go back to before. The bus moves past bakeries, opticians, parlours, and bike repair shops. It halts amidst traffic. You see an old man stitching a sari blouse on a small table set by the side of a shop. You haven’t seen your wife in a sari for a very long time. You think of the day you got married in Mangalore, the traditional way. The fattest pig had been slaughtered that day. It was the tastiest pork curry you have ever had in your life but that wasn’t the most memorable thing from the reception.
It was looking at your wife in a sado that made you speechless. You felt special when you tied the mangalsutra around her neck and the jasmine around her thick hair. Her curvy body wrapped in the sari made you feel proud and unworthy of her at the same time. Everyone had told you that it was rare for a Bombay girl to agree to a traditional Mangalorean wedding in Mangalore. The bus halts again, you look around and realise you have missed your stop. You get up in a hurry and run towards the door. You manage to get down just before the door closes. You retrace the steps taken by the bus to reach the bazaar. If only you could retrace the steps of your marriage. Or is too late already?
The bazaar is crowded. The strong smell of jackfruit reaches you; it reminds you of the time you had gotten jackfruit in the early months of your marriage. When your wife found it in the fridge, she accused you of contaminating the whole fridge. She hadn’t had dinner that night as she claimed the smell had ruined her appetite for the day. You didn’t have the heart to tell her that it was your favourite fruit. You haven’t had it since. There is an assortment of fruits and vegetables along your path. Oranges, bitter gourd, beans, carrot, potato, beetroot…You decide to get cabbage. Your wife loves salad; she has been dieting.
It was a few months ago when you discovered that she had turned vegetarian. She doesn’t mind that you eat non-veg but every time you eat it you have this nagging feeling of betraying her. You both have nothing in common, and it looks like she is finding ways to distance herself even further. You step on something soggy. There are patches of cabbage and other leafy vegetables throughout the bazaar. They are little traces left behind by the vendor’s presence. Does your wife remember anything from the initial days of your marriage? The traces of love you had showered on her. You pass by men and women who are selling different flowers, mostly roses and garlands of jasmine. The jasmine brings back the sado memory again. You have to make this day count. She must be speaking to her colleague now, the Jain guy.
She’s been talking about him a lot, about how she finally has found someone at work who knows what she’s trying to do. You are happy for her, you really are, but what if it’s not just about work? You’ve seen how her eyes sparkle when she talks about him. You stop walking for a few minutes as the road has become narrower with hawkers flanking both sides and vehicles trying to get past. To your right, a van is trying to get past. To your left, a man asks a hawker about the gingers on display. He asks him which ginger is apt to make pickles, and the hawker picks the lighter coloured ginger. There’s a small altar behind the hawker that has been built into a hollow in the brick wall.
The hawker asks for change from the men standing beside him who are also selling similar stuff. This is what it’s like day in and day out for them. They seem content in each other’s company. Maybe they’re all neighbours or from the same family. One really needs good colleagues. You are close to one person at work and you have confided in him about your troubled marriage. All he said was ‘It might just be in your head. Why don’t you talk to her?’ Which made a lot of sense but you don’t have the courage to do that. Why rock the boat?
You hear a commotion of sounds and people rushing towards each other. You notice the government vehicle—the source of the vendors’ frenzy. You decide to escape the crowd through a pathway leading to the fish market. You go inside. There are crows and cats lurking beside the female vendors. There’s a variety of fish. Crabs, pomfret, mackerel, Bombay duck and sole fish…Your wife hates fish. At home, back in Mangalore, you had fish almost every day. You had races with your mother while having ladyfish, Kane. You could swallow it whole, along with the bone.
You can’t find Kane, even if you do, you know you won’t buy it. You need company to enjoy anything, be it a dish, or a movie. Someone tells you that the meat market is just beyond. You reach the end of the aisle and slip into the small opening in the wall. On the left side, vendors are selling chicken. To the right, they are selling mutton. Mangalorean mutton curry was your wife’s favourite. You remember the way she would bite the mutton chop, trying to get as much meat off it as she could.
Art Courtesy – Siddhi Vartak, 2023
A young boy picks a hen out of the cage and holds it by the neck. Its wings flap fast in fear. The boy then rests the hen’s body inside a tub. He chops the neck. He lets the hen’s body slide into the tub while he flings the head attached to the severed neck on the black stone platform. Many chicken heads lie there in a heap. You can hear the hen flailing around in the tub. You think about the violence for a moment but you don’t let it get the better of you. You immediately turn your back and ask for the mutton.
A small goat bleats in the corner. Its innocent look makes you think of how you and your wife have never discussed having children in the three years of being married. The goat vanishes before your eyes and for the first time you wonder whether your wife might have gotten pregnant and aborted the child. You shake your head to get rid of that image. You get the mutton, go to the bus stop and head for home.
When you reach home, you cut the cabbage and soak it in water after adding some salt to it. You cut an onion, a couple of chillies, and ginger. You can’t wait to surprise your wife. You call your mother to ask for the mutton curry recipe. She is surprised but happy that you remember her. She wanted to live with you after your marriage but your wife didn’t want that. The mutton curry preparation is a long process but you’re up for it.
You wash the meat. It feels tender in your hands. You had forgotten how slimy mutton meat could get. You cut the extra fat and leave it to one side of the cutting board. You put the washed pieces of meat in a vessel of boiling water and add a few elaichi and tikki to it. First you roast little dhania, jeera and chillies in coconut oil. You add them to the mixer. Then you chop tomatoes, onions, garlic pods, and ginger, and add them to the mixer. You add a pinch of turmeric powder. You then roast some coconut powder and add it to the mixer along with a few maggi cubes. You add a little water and then set it to grind. You keep looking at the clock. Once you are done, you check the paste’s consistency. You want to call your mother again but you decide to go for it. You wait for the mutton to be ready before pouring the ground masala into it. You peel the skin of three potatoes and soak them in water.
Your wife’s colleague would not even eat the potatoes. You have heard that some Jains don’t even have Vodka because it’s made out of potatoes. Some orthodox Jains don’t even have cabbage. As the starch leaves the potatoes, you drain the water and add them to the curry. You taste the curry and the meat to gauge the tenderness and salt. It’s perfect, your eyes close in reflex. Your wife has a way of shutting her eyes when she’s really enjoying something. You transfer the cabbage to a strainer. You shake the sieve to drain the water completely before adding the cabbage to the cut onion, chilli and ginger in a bowl. You add vinegar and then mix it with your hand. When you taste it, you are pleased with yourself.
You wait eagerly for your wife. You feel exhausted from the trip to the bazaar and the cooking. You doze. You dream. You see a long conference table, a table that stretches so far that you can’t see where it begins or ends. You hear some sounds, sounds of two people fucking. You don’t want to turn behind. You fear it’s your wife and her colleague. When you turn around you are surprised to see an onion and a potato breeding on a swivel chair. You wake up on hearing a female voice, ‘What’s that smell? Is that mutton?’
Your wife is back! ‘Yes,’ you say, jumping from your seat. ‘I’m sorry I…’
You rush to the kitchen, open the vessel’s lid with a cloth. You pour a little curry into a bowl and add a mutton chop to it.
‘Here have this,’ you offer her the bowl.
She says, ‘Look at the time! It’s 4.30! Are you like gone fuckin crazy? I’m veg! That stinks!’
‘Please try this. You loved it na,’ you push the bowl further. You feel like a beggar with a begging bowl.
‘What’s wrong with you? Don’t you get a ‘NO’. A ‘No’ is a ‘No’. Please please, you think that will change my mind, neither am I going to eat this nor am I going to sleep with you. It won’t work,’ she crosses her hands. It frames her breasts. You can’t remember the last time she changed in front of you.
‘What’s gotten into you? Oh my God why did you get cabbage?’ she says, going into the kitchen.
You are filled with rage. How can she humiliate you this way?
‘Why can’t you have cabbage?’ you ask.
‘I JUST CANNOT HAVE THIS CONVERSATION. I’M LEAVING. DON’T CALL ME,’ she picks her bag and walks out.
You sit down with the bowl. You pick the chop and stare at it. The rib reminds you of the Biblical belief that women were made out of men’s ribs. Your wife is clearly not made for you. You take a bit of the tender meat. You saw the goat die in front of you. You won’t let its death go in vain. You still haven’t told her about your notice period. You won’t be able to bear more humiliation. You can’t give her another reason to hate you. You browse Facebook. Your uncle has posted a family pic of an outing at the mall. You message him with your left hand, ‘Mama, Kaso aasai? I need a job, Pls, pls arrange for visa.’
After you hit send, you read the message again. Is this really you? You’re begging your wife. You’re begging your uncle. You hold your face in your hands and cry.
Art Courtesy – Siddhi Vartak, 2023