Posted by: gdevi | February 12, 2016

Words are Tattoos

All identifying details have been changed to prevent embarrassment for the characters should they ever read this. They probably won’t. 

Mrs. V. was distantly related to us through marriage, and she and her husband and two children lived within walking distance from us in a palatial house. I saw a recessed marble-floored living room in Mrs. V.’s house for the first time. Most houses in Trivandrum had floors that were mosaic, tiles, red oxide or black oxide. At Mrs. V’s house, you pass the front foyer and then take two or three marble steps down to enter the living room that was on a lower level than the rest of the house. The living room had imported curios from the US, the UK, Europe, Singapore, Malaysia and other parts of the world that Mrs. V. and her husband had visited. Mrs. V.’s husband was a banker. He was a loud, foul-mouthed man who liked to drink and boss people around. Mrs. V. didn’t work. She socialized. She was an important fixture at all the weddings, naming ceremonies, festival days, commemorative events, concerts, dance recitals and other events in town. They had two children: the eldest, a daughter, was my age, and the youngest, a son, five years younger. They both went to a private Christian school.

Since they were related to us by marriage, we had to interact with them for family and social events. I disliked her the first time I met her at some family function. She didn’t like her children or any other children to sit with them at these events. Mrs. V. and the husband sat in the front. Her children were sent to sit back behind. If her kids or any kids went up to the front, we were all swatted back to our back-row seats.  The husband’s money and position were the reasons for this swatting behavior. They always had their sycophants around them. Mrs. V. spoke to her children and all children condescendingly. I used to see people wait patiently for their “turn” to speak to Mrs. V and the husband.

Mrs. V. wore a lot of jewelry and expensive silk saris and was manicured and pedicured at all times. She spoke of her saris, her ornaments, and their money and high company and parties and trips. She was a liability at these family gatherings. She made up for her lack of personality by being loud. She also liked to speak about sex.  Mrs. V. liked to air the details of her sex life; it was another of her accomplishments like her saris and her jewelry.  She never paid attention to the children present, so we also heard the salacious details of Mrs. V’s sex life. Our mothers and other women in our family did not speak like this ever. Mrs. V. was around forty years old or so when I first met her. I must have been twelve or thirteen years old then. In my earliest memory of Mrs. V. she is sitting in the dining room of a relative’s house; we were all there for a funeral. Mrs. V. explained how now that the youngest son was also in school, she and her husband had plenty of time to have loud sex inside the house.  Mrs. V. also talked about having sex while menstruating.

Mrs. V’s language reminded me of the register used in the yellow newspapers in Malayalam, my mother tongue, at the time. Yellow newspapers were printed on cheap yellow newsprint, and published third rate literature and titillating and smutty news. We were not allowed to read yellow newspapers, but once in a while, I would find one left behind by servants, the car drivers, or the men who worked in the yard or people like that. Since I read everything, I read yellow newspapers as well.

Mrs. V. used a similar language to speak of the sexual activities of her husband and herself. It struck me as ironic that a wealthy, well-kept wife and mother could resemble an overripe rotten fruit.

Looking back, Mrs. V. was nothing but a cliche. What I remember most about her was that despite her fair white skin, her jewelry, her silk saris, her titillating tales about sex with her husband, she permanently defined herself as a crude woman through her speech. What I most remember about her was her voice and how crudely she spoke. I saw her years later once when I went home. I was in my forties and she was in her late sixties. It struck me as ironic that while I listened to her open her pleasantries to me all I heard when she spoke and I looked at her was her husband lying on top of her while she was menstruating. It was pathetic. Words are tattoos.


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