House of Oracles
He is not even five
when he is suddenly drawn into the women’s quarter
of a neighbour's house during Eid--
a hot, confusing world
of swirling skirts, flowing petticoats, unbuttoned bodices,
where everyone seems to have so much fun,
eating, smoking slyly, playing cards,
cracking jokes, laughing loudly.
He marvels at their self-assurance--
this is what women are really like,
when there's no man around.
Just then, he is spotted, picked up,
and placed, squirming and scared,
on the warm and sweaty lap
of a gigantic matriarch.
Her mouth drips with pan juice;
when she opens it,
he feels he is looking into a deep, dark cavern,
punctuated by glistening, stained teeth
hanging down like stalactites.
Her diamond nose-stud glitters
in the uncertain light,
from half-drawn bamboo chicks.
Suddenly someone screeches:
"Aapa jan, Aapa jan, you must tell his fortune..."
even as the women crowd around him,
mussing up his hair and fondling him.
His interlocutor fixes him
With a steady gaze from her kohl-rimmed eyes,
as someone thrusts his little palm
into her large, fleshy, henna-stained hand.
Her thumb expertly undoes the tiny fist
formed in half-hearted resistance,
authoritatively, moving all over his exposed hand,
as she stretches his fingers back.
"Hmmmn!" she wheezes, "very interesting...."
There is a hush in the roomful of women.
Aapa's sari has slipped off her bosom
as she frowns with concentration.
From the corner of his vision,
he sees her enormous breasts,
unshapely and baggy,
bursting out of the cotton blouse.
One moment more and he will
panic, faint or scream.
But just then, he discovers
that his fate has already been sealed.
"Look at this little rascal's paw,"
Aapa exclaims, gazing around triumphantly,
as if she has deciphered the wiry script
of the criss-crossing lines of his life.
"He's going to be like Krishna,”
she hisses, “surrounded by gopis."
Quite baffled and alarmed
as the others burst out laughing,
he ventures in a faltering voice,
"But, wh-what does that mean?"
"Oh, what will he understand?
He's still a suckling lamb,"
some hussy quips. At that,
there is another round of titters.
Aapa, however, explains kindly,
"Your fortune says that you'll
always be amidst women..."
"Like now..." another high-pitched
voice, butts in. Utterly dismayed,
he says rather crossly,
"But how can that be?
I hate girls;
I've decided never to marry."
"Poor little wretch,"
and much merriment is all that his outburst provokes.
There are tears in his eyes
as he looks up at Aapa,
almost pleading with her to alter his destiny,
which then seems totally hopeless.
"No, no precious," she coos,
"don't be alarmed. Little boys
all say that, but when they grow up..."
"They're always trying to get into our skirts..."
And, again, there are giggles.
Suddenly, Aapa becomes serious:
"Shut up, all of you shameless sluts,
he will be good to all these women
and they will be good to him—
because his hand shows purity
As she releases him from her grip.
he bursts out of that closed, stuffy room
with all its uncomfortable yet enticing female scents,
and, like a shot spring, bounds downstairs
to the male half of that unforgettable house of images.
|Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape|