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ginu kamani

Mr. Munshiram Jayaram Singh, or Singhji as he was affectionately known, sat in the lobby of the three star Golden Palace Hotel in Rampur, Rajasthan, dressed in a traditional loose shirt and trousers, with a woollen vest buttoned from neck to groin to keep out the cold. Singhji was running for office, Member of Parliament, of course, and was relying on his Rajput community in Rampur district to support him all the way. He awaited the arrival of another Mr. Singh, literally Mr. Lion, as so many Rajputs were named. This lion was affectionately known as Singh sahib, and was the acknowledged force behind that district's Rajput population. Singh sahib was ex-royalty and owner of the hotel, his former family palace now open to the public.
He strode down the stairs now, flanked by one Indian woman and one blonde firangi. Behind them all walked Nirmala, Singh sahib's secretary, as tiny as a mung bean, as aggressive as an armed battalion. Singhji sighed with mild exasperation. He wanted to talk to Singh sahib about important political business, and here sahib was showing off his latest females. Singhji, Singh sahib, and other members of the male Rajput order were never seen in public with their wives. If you wished to see the wife, you had to be invited home. And if the the wife happened to be in purdah, there was a good chance that non-relatives would never see her. But unlike Singhji, Singh sahib always had women companions in public. Some ex-royalty believed they still inhabited the titled days of pre-Independence, when Rajput maharajas ruled the world. But Singhji knew, as only the second-rung Rajputs knew, that the ruling families of Rajasthan were entirely dependent on newcomers like Singhji, who had adapted to the Indian Union and the national politics based in Delhi, while still keeping an eye on the penniless Rajput royalty.
Singhji remembered the day the sign for Golden Palace Hotel went up on the iron entrance gates of the Rampur castle. To begin with the sign was small, barely visible, and after two seasons of sun and rain had weathered to the point of being indecipherable. Nonetheless, the firangis came, in droves, paying whatever was asked of them in order to experience the grandeur of an Indian palace. Soon the the iron gate, almost a quarter of a mile away from the palace was torn down and a bigger sign was moved onto the palace itself. Gradually the family learned to do away with terms like Raja Sahib, Rajaji, Excellency, Your Highness, The Ruler of Rampur. .
Perhaps the firangi woman was French. They came in droves, the French, flying directly to Rajasthan, roaming around the state by train, car, jeep, even cycle rickshaw if they had to, then flying straight out again. They were interested only in the desert. Almost every merchant in Rajasthan now spoke French. But this one, her eyes were too big for her to be French. Her skin was white, her hair was blonde, but her eyes... they were almost Indian, they were so dark and big. .
"Are you Indian?" Singhji asked with astonishment even before they were all introduced. .
"Yes!" she laughed. "I was Indian in a previous life. And you, are you Indian?" she teased. Singhji felt his ears burning. .
"I am Rajput!" he puffed up in pride, grinning at Singh sahib while bowing in namaste. Somehow all these firangi women knew the reputation of the Rajputs. Singhji turned to offer namaste to the Indian woman in salwar khameez but realized in time that she was offering a handshake. He hated handshakes. He touched her palm lightly with limp fingers, then locked his hands behind his back. Nirmala ignored him as usual and stood a few feet back. Singh sahib flicked the ends of his Pashmina shawl over his broad shoulders and motioned for all to sit. .
"Hotel is very peaceful today?" Singhji asked jovially, and watched Singh sahib's face darken. Tourist trade had been diasastrous that year due to terrorist bombings in Delhi. .
"Sushmaji is well, I suppose?" Singhji continued, watching the color rising in Singh sahib's cheeks. Sushma was Singh sahib's wife, locked away in the private quarters on the top floor of the hotel. .
"Oh!" the firangi sat forward. "We met Sushma just the other day. What a beauty! And so talented. No wonder you Rajputs hide your women away. Is your wife also in purdah?" .
"Thank you," Singhji smiled, acknowledging the firangi's attention. He turned to Singh sahib and rattled off a reminder in Rajasthani that the elections were drawing near and Singh sahib had committed to supporting his caste brothers, and it was clear he was very busy, but if he could just take a day or two out of his schedule to campaign with him locally, it would make all the difference to bringing the Rajputs back into power. He added, carelessly, confidently: "Who are these two whores?" .
Instantly, the Indian woman answered back in Hindi. "You refuse to shake my hand, then call me a whore? You're expecting women to vote for you?" .
Singhji felt his heart stop. Mistake. This one understood Rajasthani. He looked carefully at her. She looked very young but probably he was fooled. Short hair, fancy clothes, no make-up, no jewelry... probably one of these brats from Bombay or Delhi. .
Singhji drew a deep breath and mimicked a stutter in Hindi. "So...so... so... sorry, madam. I have a slight speech problem... forgive me. I meant to say rani, you see, not randi. Sordy. I mean... Sorry! You see?" he simpered. "How is it that you understand Rajasthani...," he finished in an agonized whisper. .
"I lived here as a child," the Indian woman sneered. This caused Singh sahib's secretary to burst into delighted laughter. .
"Oh!" interrupted the firangi, looking right at Singhji with shining eyes. "You're so adorable. What are you saying, exactly?" .
"Thank you," Singhji laughed heartily and bowed his head in mock humility. He turned once again to Singh sahib, slightly more desperate this time. "Our community has fallen asleep! They have forgotten that Rajputs do not form a majority in this state. Someone with power must awaken them. Someone like yourself, with a name respected for generations." .
Singh sahib's eyebrows twitched, and his gaze traveled down the firangi's legs, which were bare, under her short dress, covered only in black stockings. His dark eyes warned Singhji that local politics were not the issue of the moment. .
"Mar-ga-ret sends her regards!" the thin secretary chimed in. "She remembers your beautiful house very well. This one is a friend of hers," the secretary added knowingly, nodding at the firangi. .
"Margaret? Ohhh... Margaret!" Finally Singhji began to understand. Singh sahib had not agreed to this meeting to discuss politics. This was about Margaret, the white woman who had become friends with Singh sahib and demanded that the prince initiate her into the secrets of man-woman relations. Not that she was naive and inexperienced, Margaret with the long blonde hair and the tight dresses, but she was... what was the word they had used? Cold. Frozen. Raped as a child. Singh sahib was the first man in decades who had brought her to heat. She had to have him. She offered him thousands of pounds. He agreed. But the question was where. .
Singh sahib lived and worked in the private apartments on the top floor of the hotel. Sushma, his wife, and Neelam and Maneka, his two daughters, walked in and out all day long. Singh sahib had no other place he could go. He needed privacy. He requested Singhji for the use of his house. Singhji dared not say no. .
Singhji's wife lived in strict purdah. The women of Singhji's family used a separate entrance, and lived in a separate wing of the house. His wife never, ever entered the public rooms at the front of the house and had never even set foot in her husband's bedroom or study. It was unthinkable. When Singhji wanted his wife, he went looking for her. If he did not seek her out, weeks, months, or years might go by with no contact between them. She was ignorant of his visitors and couldn't have cared less even if she found out. Singhji's quarters were perfect for Singh sahib, who moved in for six weeks, committed to bringing the heat back into Margaret's body. Now Margaret seemed to have sent a friend of hers. And Singh sahib appeared to be fishing for the use of his home once again. .
Singhji mumbled that it would take at least 12,000 votes to swing the election in his favor, and Singh sahib nodded. .
"It will be done," he affirmed sharply, bored. Nothing further need be said. .
Singhji looked at the firangi and bowed hospitably. "You are welcome into my home any time," he smiled. "It will be my honor to have you visit." .
"Ohhhh!" the firangi's eyes lit up. "Do you mean that? And your wife, will she mind? Perhaps you should ask her first?" .
Singhji felt the annoyance rising up his spine and into his throat. "No, no," he said more sharply than he intended. "Don't worry about my wife." .
"Is she also in purdah?" asked the Indian girl. .
"But naturally!" Singhji answered, incredulous. .
"Ah..." the firangi nodded, pleased. "Then she must be very beautiful. And very talented. It almost makes me jealous. Is she like Sushma?" .
Singhji nodded. "Yes, my wife is also Rajput." .
"No, no," the Indian said in Hindi. "What Eva is asking is whether your wife looks like Sushma." .
"Yes," Singhji nodded vigorously. "She is from good family. Her grandfather was ex-minister of Rampur, her father was very highly placed in Indian Civil Service." .
The firangi and the Indian leaned close together and had a brief discussion. The firangi nodded, then uncrossed her legs deliberately, switching limbs, then crossing them once again. .
"Mr. Singh," the firangi said sweetly, "you don't seem to understand. We are film makers. We are interested in Indian women. We would like to know what your wife looks like." .
"Looks like?" echoed Singhji. .
"Yes! Is she dark? Light? Tall? Short? What are her features?" .
Singhji was utterly perplexed. He turned to the ex-ruler of Rampur with beseeching eyes. "You can have my house any time you want. I will arrange everything. You are needing car and driver? I will provide." .
Singh sahib was smiling at him lazily, twisting his thick moustache at the ends. .
"What is her name?" the firangi asked. .
"Mrs. Singh," came the prompt reply from the secretary, who burst into giggles. .
The Indian film maker turned to the secretary. "So, what does Mrs. Singh look like?" .
"God knows!" answered the secretary. "I've never seen her. Maybe she doesn't exist!" .
Singhji shot her a warning glance, and Nirmala settled back into her seat. .
"My wife!" Singhji exploded. "Is like any other woman. Just the same." .
"So does she look like me?" taunted the secretary. Singhji's lips curled in contempt. .
"No!" he shouted vehemently. .
"What about me?" asked the Indian girl. .
Singhji stared at her, then lowered his eyes. "No," he said again, softer this time. .
"Don't tell me she looks like me!" the firangi gasped. .
"No." Singhji closed his eyes in exasperation. He felt like he was drowning in a whirlpool. He looked up to get help from Singh sahib, but Rajaji had gone, answering questions at the hotel desk. .
"What does she look like, Mr. Singh? Don't you have a picture of her in your wallet? Is she so ugly that you can't describe her?" .
Silence from Singhji. .
"Does she have big eyes? Does she have a straight nose? Is her hair long? Are her teeth straight? Does she have a nice figure? Does she look like a movie actress?" .
Singhji felt a thin film of perspiration at his thinning hairline and dabbed at it with his sleeve. "You have seen her, right? You have children with her, right?" .
Singhji nodded slowly, silently, then straightened up. "Please, I am politician. I am working for my people. Ask me anything about my district, and I will answer." .
"Are you saying that you don't know what your wife looks like?" .
"In India, one does not expect such questions. One is not prepared," Singhji answered. .
"But what color are her eyes, for god's sake?" The firangi almost sprang off the sofa. "Is her hair dark or light? Is she taller than you? Is she shaped like this," her hands curved sinuously, "or is she shaped like a brick?" Her hands fell straight down. .
Singhji mopped his face furiously, then wiped his sweaty palms on his trousers. "Please, she is my wife. She is a simple woman living in purdah. She has chosen to live that way. How many times I have told her, 'Other women are changing, don't you want to? Go to the bazaar with your head uncovered... Come to parties with me?' But she says 'no, no, no,' she has lived her whole life in purdah, how can she throw herself into the public? She has given me three healthy sons. Can any man ask for more?" .
"If we give you a pen and paper, can you draw her? Is her face long or round, does she have big lips?" .
Singhji brought his palms together, pleading. He turned to the Indian woman and spoke to her in Hindi. .
"Madam, please, ask me any question but not this. Any other question, I swear I can answer..." .
The Indian woman's eyes glittered, as hard as diamonds. They were ablaze, barely focussing on him. The lines of her mouth were tight, unyielding. Singhji recognized her contempt and covered his head with his hands. The sight of her loathing was too much. He tried to shut her out, shut out the chandeliers on the ceiling and the red velvet upholstery. The whole thing with Margaret had also started this way... .
No matter how hard he tried, Singhji could not explain to Margaret that it was not customary for him to sleep the entire night with his wife. Rajput men simply did not sleep in the women's quarters. But that stupid Margaret. "Is your wife functioning?" she asked. "If your wife is functioning, you should be grateful! You should be her companion! How dare you leave her all alone!" .
It was all the fault of that Margaret. For six weeks Singhji gave up his rooms so that Margaret could get unfrozen. For six weeks, under Margaret's watchful eye, he slept in his wife's bedroom. The first week was not a problem as his wife was away in the "bleeding room," but then she came back. She knew nothing about his sleeping habits. One hour after the lights were turned out, without fail, whether he was asleep or not, he would hear her, reaching between her legs first with one hand, her silk sari rustling with every movement, then reaching in with the other hand, and somehow the rays of moonlight always fell directly across her face, highlighting every line, every spasm. Those long moments of watching her were agony, her face contorting with every stroke, her body riding on supple fingers, churning the bedsheets, grinding the pillow, the wild shaking of her head, the arching rise of her shoulders and the final snarl on her tiger face accompanied by growls fiercer than any he had heard in the jungle. Her indescribably altered face shining in lunar incandescence roamed through his nightmares and Singhji lost the ability to look into his purdah-framed wife's face. .
He looked up then, kicking himself for losing control over two beautiful women, one white, the other brown, staring him so boldly in the face. His friends would be completely envious! .
"Sorry!" he boomed jovially. "I am not myself today. But tell me about Margaret. How is she? Does she remember my house? You know, no woman had ever used my bed before. Imagine that. And such stains they left behind! Tsk, tsk, tsk. I had to throw the sheets away..." .
The women leaned forward excitedly, interrupting each other with questions. The secretary yawned and looked around for her employer, who was busy chatting up his hotel guests. Singhji leaned back and sighed, mentally thanking his father for his English studies. He might even introduce these two to his eldest son. The boy was getting on seventeen now, and needed to experience women out of purdah. .

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Anno 8, Numero 34
December 2011




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