Heat, Hatred and Retributionby Anita Kainthla
I watched the chaos of blood in numbness. The show of gore had probably been staged to inflict a nauseating disturbance on the audience, which it did, but the drama was strangely cathartic. When the movie ended, Bill (and almost the entire cast) had been ruthlessly butchered.
All those who were knew me well enough to suggest movies to suit my delicate temperament had advised me against Kill Bill. But that’s why I chose to watch it; I needed its graphic intensity to strengthen my nerve. In the last five days I had watched Kill Bill more than a dozen times. That’s all I had been doing.
The summer had peaked to an all time high. And also, I absolutely hated Shantanu. In the last five days, I hadn’t stepped out of the house. In fact, I’d barely stepped out of the living room. Every time Shantanu came in to sit or walked through the room, I felt something like static electricity ripple through me. It was bloody annoying. Like an itch somewhere in the middle of the back, an unreachable area of the anatomy.
I stood at the window with a dull ache in my tight-set jaw, wanting to claw the glass pane with my fingernails and draw out that unbearable screech.
For the last five days, the movie had been my singular, daily agenda but today I woke up with a different schedule in mind. I tried to hum my way through bath and breakfast to build up my courage. Later, however, I thought it best to sit through one more screening of Kill Bill before going in for the final kill myself. I had already seen half of it before coming and standing at the window.
I married Shantanu when I was 19½ and he was three months my junior. Parental objections to our alliance were not related to the usual class, clan or religion but a unanimous concern regarding the rawness of our years. Not my years so much as Shantanu’s. But as for Shantanu and me, we were ready.
Besides, Shantanu was still in the final throes of his academic endeavours. The issue of a decent livelihood was thus a major concern for both families and us as well. But we married anyway and by and by, all issues were resolved; until newer ones took their place. And now there seemed no resolution for these. We tried almost everything, even banging our heads against the walls, but no, nothing. Now we were both 27—Shantanu, of course, lagging behind by three months.
June wasn’t my favourite month; I still couldn’t bear its heat. I grew up in the highlands, at the foothills of the mighty Himalayas, and I couldn’t compromise with the ferocity of the summer in the plains—not then, not now.
“It’s not so bad, darling,” Shantanu used to say, trying to ease my discomfort during the initial years. “Don’t think about it all the time. The more you give thought to something, the more it invades the senses.”
I tried not to think about it, but it invaded my senses pretty fast. Senses are the most vulnerable of our assets and hence a soft target for much of what happens in life. Early in the marriage, mine had been affected by the Great Indian Summer and a corrosive hatred for Shantanu. I couldn’t tell which was harder to bear.
I pushed back the curtains and the sun exploded the heavy dullness of the room. I instinctively turned up the air conditioning. A blanket of perspiration lifted off my back. I needed to smoke and also drink something really cold. So I lit a cigarette and filled a tall glass with some water and a lot of ice cubes. All the while, I was thinking, planning and gathering courage. Flashes from Kill Bill passed in before my mind’s eye.
I have tried very hard to recall how I came to accumulate this immense, unbearable hatred for Shantanu, but to no effect. Now I have given up. I’m only consumed by its irrational ferocity. Another thing I can’t be sure of is the basis for it. Every day, there were a number of ordinary and extraordinary reasons that could have contributed towards it. Reasons wrapped in words, held within looks and acts or bound in criticisms and comparisons. There were reasons everywhere—from the car park to the bedroom. Every inch of our co-inhabited space was infested with them. Initially we tried to battle all motives of conflict with mild dozes of irritation, but later irritation got replaced with rage, which in turn became a fatal loathing. A loathing that sought revenge.
I stubbed out the cigarette, slid an ice cube into my mouth and sucked on it. I walked back from the window and slumped into the couch which, having borne my posterior almost uninterruptedly for the last five days, had moulded itself to that shape. With eyes closed I tried to relish the effect of the tobacco swirling in eddies between my brows. But vicious thoughts, not at all in keeping with my natural bent, began, once more vaporising and condensing. I was very scared. I played the second half of Kill Bill.
With clamped jaws and fists, I took a leap into the heat at 11.15 a.m. As I feared, nausea immediately overcame me. I hurried into a corner of the car park and retched just as the Bengali neighbour lady swerved out. She missed me, luckily, and I emptied out my guts in peace.
I was working myself into such a fury, I didn’t trust myself to drive. I took a taxi. After giving the driver the address of the nondescript doctor from a pathetic clipping in a national Hindi daily, I tried to loosen up. He adjusted the mirror to get a view of me; I slid lower and denied him the pleasure. In 25 minutes we were at the place. Just for a couple of minutes I hesitated, trying to give myself a last opportunity to reconsider my decision. Then, in a trice, paid the fare and turned my face up to the clinic on the second floor of a dubious construction.
I began climbing up the numerous stairs. Once more the nausea began working its way from the pit of my stomach into my gullet. I stopped a few minutes to catch my breath before taking the final flight up.
This was it! Suddenly, almost with an audible bang, my sense of ease returned. Perhaps it was the atmosphere of disease and dinginess all around that distracted me from the ruthlessness of the soon-to-be-done act. Perhaps I realized there was no going back now. It could have also been sheer numbness. My anonymity encouraged me to proceed with my plans.
I took my seat on a grimy couch pushed into a narrow space between two walls—one of the doctor’s examining room and the other of a rancid toilet. There were two women besides me on the couch. One was very young and looked frightfully bloated with pregnancy; her bulging eyes looked scared. The other barely gave her pregnant status a thought; she had two similarly aged children pressing and pushing into her sides, trying impossibly to get comfortable on the tiny couch. All four of them surveyed me openly. I fixed my gaze on the flowers on the coarse curtain overhanging the examining room, pretending to be engrossed in the contemplation of superior issues that were beyond their meagre lives. This didn’t deter the older of the two.
“Which month?” she asked me.
“Huh?” I looked blankly at her and my courage dipped again.
She repeated her question.
It was none of her business and I looked at her with a little roll of my eyes.
“Third,” I said.
I didn’t want to encourage conversation but didn’t want to raise unnecessary speculation either. So I threw out the one-word answer like an untouchable. But that was one word I had never mouthed, not even to myself in whispers. However, despite all my voluble denials about it, it had obstinately resonated deeper down. And now, this nosey woman had made me utter it.
I stood up purposefully but there was no escape. No place to even flex your limbs, let alone your thoughts. I had to sit down again.
“First time?” This time it was the younger woman.
Oh why couldn’t they leave me alone? Why didn’t they look away? I wanted to run away.
“Yes.” Another one word answer.
“Me, too,” she said with a nervous smile. “Ninth month.”
There was such a genuine fear in the woman’s eyes. Through her smile I felt that she was trying to establish a fellowship of sorts with me; a fellowship of fear, of understanding, of pride, of hope. But it only aroused guilt in me—as if I was conspiring against all womanhood and didn’t deserve that heartfelt smile.
There was a rustling behind the ragged curtain. From inside the doctor’s cabin emerged a frail, wasted woman, hanging heavily over the long arms and bony shoulders of a man. Maybe her husband.
Husband. The word was like a slap employed to rouse one from a daze. Doctor’s clinic—man—woman—husband—wife—third month—Shantanu—me. That’s how the association moved the thought process forward in my head. How I hated that man. My husband. Shantanu. Shantanu who loved children and wanted at least five of them. Shantanu who would get none. I would make sure of that. And there, in that grimy clinic, in the middle of nowhere, I hated him with even greater ferocity, with a mindless, blinding, all-consuming hatred. He was responsible for all that was wrong with my life.
“Radha,” the man at the reception, squeezed in a corner inside the entrance, called out.
The older woman looked at us in triumph and went inside the cabin. She was out again in barely ten minutes. As she collected her children and prepared to leave, she threw us a faint smile. In just half an hour the three of us had shed some formality and become bound in a loose tie of a kind. It was disturbing. I would have preferred to continue feeling detached from myself, as well as from everyone around me.
It was the younger woman’s turn now to go in and finally I was left to myself, but not for long. I stood up nervously as the younger woman, too, emerged in no time from behind the curtain. She smiled gain. This time the smile was meant to assure me that I would be fine. She walked out, leaning heavily backwards due to the weight of her nine-month-old foetus.
It was my turn now. Numbness once more. I was so numb that I didn’t feel the nausea rising again as I walked into the cabin. Soon after entering, I retched violently in the middle of the room. The doctor gave me a terribly deprecating look accompanied by a loud “Oh my God!”
I felt foolish. A bell rang somewhere in a cavernous room hidden inside the cabin and a dwarfish woman with a mound of frizzy hair materialized. The doctor pointed at the vomit and then looked accusingly at me. The dwarf lashed me with the same look as the doctor, cleaned up the mess and retreated to her lair. I was left alone with the doctor, a middle-aged lady, strikingly beautiful and appearing even more so in her dingy hideout.
She ordered me to lie on the blotchy bed and remove my pants in an impersonal tone. Her voice was shrill, almost squeaky, and she didn’t give me even half a look. I did as told and lay down, my lower half naked. The doctor meanwhile flitted about making a lot of clanking noises readying her instruments. Once or twice the dwarf too came in with her immense frizz and meddled around. It was all so surreal. I was still numb and now, delirious too, and very cold.
The trough was smoldering with a dark viscous fluid in which, mutilated fetuses floated.
I was 15, when in school we had a three day seminar on sex education. Closely monitored by a row of nuns, in a dimly lit auditorium, we 15, 16 and 17 years old were educated about sex, conception, unwed mothers and contraceptives. There was a table with contraceptives on display which, we could touch and see. And there were quizzes and questionnaires which we were required to complete. And then there were documentaries. The one that was the most disturbing was the one that showed, in ghostly black and white, a huge trough containing the aborted fetuses of unwed mothers, in some Southeast Asian country.
The only visions in my delirious, half-clad state were of this ghastly trough. The motivations, responsible for my being there in that grimy clinic, with a bored looking doctor standing over my naked legs and an enormous frizzy head peering into my nakedness, had fallen away like feeble autumn leaves. The heat, hatred and retribution were forgotten in that moment as easily as one forgets the name of a movie or book. Like how one forgets the words and their meanings memorized for a class test. All the lessons in ‘Kill Bill’ had been in vain. This is how I went into unconsciousness.
When I regained my senses, I was lying in the cavernous room inside the doctor’s cabin with the dwarf sitting idly on a chair. I felt light and unusually well. I realized immediately that the nausea that had gnawed my entrails for the last three months had gone. I was washed over with, not hunger, but a sweet desire for food. A dull ache twirled in my lower abdomen and lower still, in my genitals as well. The inside of my abdomen burned and I felt as though someone had passed a scraper through it. The numbness returned as did the delirium but the heat, hatred and retribution didn’t form even a passing thought; never did after that day in the grimy clinic.
The only thing that forever invaded my senses was the ghastly trough; a cauldron, smoldering with a thick viscous fluid and floating fetuses.
Author/freelancer. Have had a couple of books published- a collection of poetry 'Moksha and other poems' by writer's workshop, which won the third prize in the Indo-Asian Literature Poetry contest in 2005 a biography of Baba Amte, published by Viva Books in 2005. Currently Viva Books is publishing another book of mine, which is a religious and historical background of Tibet and I'm on the verge of completing a travel book.
My poems have appeared in 'Poetry Chain', Journal of Poetry Society of India and Indo-Asian Literature Poetry journal.
I have written travel articles and short stories for Woman's Era and India Currents (Indian American magazine)