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Feel, Feeling

by Vasundhara Singh


Meow. 

The neighborhood cat, Meow, on her morning hunt. Her charged claws tearing the air into invisible shreds, her gurgling screams like water boiling on high flame, the falsetto of her sadism, screeching and trembling. Meow, on her morning hunt, a vision of mundane mutilation. The children in their creased pajamas thundered out their front doors, their puffy eyes captured by the ordinary violence of faux wildlife. The claws swished, the paws thwacked, the nails hooked, the whiskers quivered, the slimy silver-streaked tail of the sewage snake slithered its last slither and froze. It hung like an extension cord from the blood-splattered mouth of Meow. 

Anita witnessed this tragedy from her bedroom window, her arms folded over her ballooning belly and a few hours later, as she sits surrounded by a sanitized group of civil servants and their sweet-talking wives, it’s all she can think about, it’s all she wants to think about. 

Meow. 

An afternoon garden party, they call it, a rendezvous of misery. Anita sits behind the sympathetic convex of her pregnant belly, oozing from every pore of her stretched surface, drops of sweat and nervousness. 

It’s early April, late spring. The semi-circle arrangement of cane chairs and tables is decorated with sugar speckled biscuits, fine china fuming with dancing vapours of masala tea, quarter plates of lethargically chewed spring rolls and the starch filling of samosas. The painted faces and mustachioed mouths grunt with jealousy, form O’s of wonder, snicker at falling servants, spill stories of their offspring entering law colleges and sometimes, rarely, become still with silence. She drives her sight from one mouth to the next in search of this stillness. Every time she spots an unmoving mouth, she sighs, but with a blink of her lids, the mouth stirs and storms with emotion, and she oozes some more. 

Lips trained in English medium schools. 

Ears filled with a stream of English words. 

Heads nodding in agreement with other English heads. 

Keep nodding, Anita tells herself.

A large serving of fish fingers is being passed around with bowls of bright tartar sauce and a sour black liquid. Faces turn from one side to the next, working in tandem with hands that seem to exist for this very purpose. The smell of sea and salt travels parallel to the unifying smell of expensive perfume. One perfume, multiple bodies. 

‘Here,’ Mrs Sen hands over the plate to Mrs Rehman. 

‘Thank you, Mrs Sen. Oh, this smells lovely,’ Mrs Rehman passes the plate to Mrs Rajshri. 

‘Thank you, Mrs Rehman. Kamaal hai! The arrangements are just wow!’ Mrs Rajshri to Mrs Guggal.

‘Thank you, Mrs Rajshri. Here, Mrs Singh, do you eat fish?’ Mrs Guggal to Anita. Anita nods a vague ‘yes’ and picks up the smallest piece of crumbling phallic fish. Her pelvis shifts under the weight of her torso, and she adjusts herself on the chair and passes the plate to a grateful Mrs Kaur. ‘How are you feeling?’ Mrs Guggal says. 

How are you feeling? Anita repeats the question in her head. She excuses herself and leaves for the bathroom, all marble and brass-framed mirrors. 

Achi hun? Badhiya? Sahi? Pareshan? Thaki hui? Ghabrayi hui? uff! She stands before the mirror and stares at the melting visage of her damp and dusty front, coming up with all the answers to Mrs Guggal’s question but none that will work for they are all in Hindi and ever since she attended Gupta academy for English speaking, she recognises occasions where one’s native tongue is sealed off. An afternoon garden party is one such occasion. 

How are you? At Gupta academy for English speaking, she memorised the standard responses to this greeting. The answers applicable to most situations, to most people. I am fine, thank you. How are you? 

I am good, thank you. How are you? 

I am keeping well— 

But Mrs Guggal asked her a different question. How are you feeling? 

The first three words, familiar and cozy but the fourth, feeling. Feeling. Feeling. Feeling.This is a serious question, one that warrants a serious response, she concludes. She can respond with silence. Yes, say nothing at all—wait! Did silence have a language? What language will Mrs Guggal attribute her silence to?

Or, she can tilt her head to one side, squint her right eye, raise her left brow, bite one end of her lower lip. Will this suggest that Anita feels too little or feels a little too much? The expression suggests the withholding of information, intimate and controversial, not conducive for revelation at an afternoon garden party. 

I am feeling good—no, she isn’t, and it is too simple. 

I am feeling pregnant and good—okay, hm. 

I am feeling sweaty and pregnant and good — no, no one likes to hear the word sweat. I

am feeling—what will her husband say to this?—wait, she hasn’t asked him. I am

feeling—a knock on the door, Mrs Rajshri drank too many glasses of sherbet—I am 

feeling theek thak! No, not Hindi, Anita. Oh god, what is theek thak in English?

Another knock, Mrs Rajshri begs. 

As she makes her way along the stone pathway, she notices Mrs Guggal glaring at her. For a panicked second, she thinks her belly, red and purple and green, is naked and vulnerable, but when she looks down, she finds it hidden under the stiff satin of her sari. She sees, instead, another disconcerting sight and her swollen feet wobble like jelly. Between her finger and thumb dangles the crumbling phallic form of the fish. It has been with her all along, an eleventh finger. ‘I—um,’ she says. Meow, her mind echoes. 

Mrs. Guggal rolls her eyes and slaps Anita’s tectonic knee.‘Arey! Hota hai...jab main pregnant thi...patah nahi kitne ajeeb kaam kiye honge,’ she says. 

She comforted her in the language Anita inherited from her mother. She drops the fish onto the grass, her fingers stained with mustard oil.


 

Vasundhara Singh is a graduate of Journalism from Kamala Nehru college, Delhi University. Alumina of City University of London’s Novel Studio programme, she is one of the winners of City Writes Spring 2021.

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