At the lowest point in life, when I was in extreme physical pain from a back condition, Sunita from the neighbourhood parlour was someone whose kindness helped me make it through the haze of pain. She understood why, despite extreme agony, I would hobble over to get my eyebrows threaded or arms waxed. She didn't judge my need to indulge in such grooming rituals just to feel normal. When she noticed I couldn't sit up for more than 2 minutes at a stretch she invented new ways to thread, exfoliate, soften, condition and wax.
Since then, our friendship has grown. We continue to meet once a month, when she comes over, all-professional, to deliver 'parlour' services. I am healthy now and have my own place. I've had a significant romantic relationship and remain unmarried. She got married a year & a half ago, late by her family's standards. Within the first year, she suffered a heartbreaking miscarriage and came to realise that the man she'd married was less life partner and more petulant man-child.
Whenever she comes over, we hang out for a bit - me in my ganji and shorts, her chatting away as she heats the wax, knowing where everything in my kitchen is.
She tells me that a few days back she found herself at a bus stand at 8pm, not wanting to go back home to her husband yet unable to return to her parents because they would only send her back. As she rips out the tiny hairs on my calf, she declares that women in this country can rely on no one, not even their own parents. I ask her why she didn't call me from the bus stand.
"I thought you were traveling for work - don't you travel a lot?"
"I do, but you can still call."
"The phone works outside Delhi?"
"Yes, it's called 'roaming'. You can ask your mobile company to activate it. Anyway, I don't travel that much anymore."
"Oh, then I should call you."
"Just come and stay over."
Then like always, she recommends that I get a full body uptan treatment done. "I will do it nicely. You see how your skin will glow after that!"
"I don't want it Sunita. I barely have patience for the basics."
"But bhaiyya will like it."
There is no bhaiyya in my life anymore. She doesn't know this because I haven't updated her yet. Instead I launch into a lecture about how I don't care to go through hours of treatments for bhaiyya. Any bhaiyya who enters my life will just have to deal with me as I am.
"I'm waxed and threaded, Sunita, that's about all I can offer bhaiyya."
She giggles and then gets serious.
"It took me a year to realise it, didi, but I can't rely on my husband for anything. As long as I'm happy and laughing he's fine. He'll take me out for shopping or ice-cream. But when I suffer, he can't handle it. When I lost the baby, he moved out to go live with his sister."
Then she says, "It's good you are not married didi. You did the right thing."
Over the years I've known Sunita, I've heard this line many times. Earlier, she would say it as a kindness. "It's good you didn't get married." I imagined she felt bad for me because she knew how others perceived unmarried women our age. Now when she says it, it's as if she's proud of how my life turned out. So I don't tell her how lonely I feel sometimes and how my gut wrenches in the middle of the night because I miss being held so damn much. Instead, I listen as Sunita tells me about her other friends at the parlour, girls like her who wouldn't give up their jobs for all the husbands in the world. Girls, who would sneak out at lunchtime to cheat on their 'karvachaut' fasts because "When have our husbands ever cared enough to fast for us? The day they bother half as much as we do, we'll skip the samosas." She tells me about the elaborate labyrinth of untruths they spin to avoid the wrath of their in-laws. It sounds a lot like the lengths I go to to avoid relatives fixated on undoing my single-status.
"Ok didi, let's try something new today. Bikini wax."
"Just see how bhaiyya will love it, didi."
"I don't care what bhaiyya will love. It's too painful."
"Oho, the way I do it there will be no pain."
"Yeah yeah yeah. No thanks."
She looks exasperated. She had me pegged for an adventurous woman and now I've disappointed her.
I don't know when it happened but at some point a hairy bush became not-normal. When I realised it wasn't a passing fad and that 'everyone was doing it' it made me angry. Burning hot wax on my shins was one thing but my crotch?! That was going too far. My politics wouldn't allow me. My fear of singeing my cooch absolutely forbade it.
But here is Sunita, bored by my tedious politics, unimpressed by my fear. Is there some arcane code of sisterhood she's invoking because it's beginning to feel like I just might let her come at my vagina with hot wax dripping off a butter knife.
And HOLY SHIT it hurts like a motherfucker.
"You SAID it wouldn't hurt. STOPPPP."
"I can't stop now. That would be silly. I can't leave you half-done like a chicken."
"I DON'T CARE. STOP."
"Shh...it's the first time you're doing this, no? That's why it hurts. You see how good you will feel later. Especially when you get your period."
"Sunita, you're being ridiculous. OH MY GOD WHAT SATANIC TORTURE IS THIS."
"You know didi, I've opened up a secret bank account. I'm going to put all the money I make from this job in that. I won't tell my husband."
"That's so great." I whimper. I hate her so much right now.
"Bas bas bas...ho gaya. It's almost done."
Whenever Sunita says something is 'almost done' I know that something terrible is about to happen. And so, as a last ditch effort I scream out my confession:
"There's no bhiayya anymore! He's GONE!"
Sunita looks up at my face. She looks just the right amount of sad. And then she grins.
"OhO! It doesn't matter didi, who needs bhaiyya? Now turn over. Let me do your bum."
|Like A Motherfucker|