Mohini Can Scream
Mohini woke up ten minutes before her alarm. On a normal morning, bombarded with images of the day’s to-do-list, she would have risen by instinct, deactivating her alarm prematurely and shrinking her every movement to not disturb her Sleeping Working Husband.
But this morning even began different.
Anand’s snoring had crystallised overnight and now assumed a rhythm, and before Mohini could realise what she was doing, she was listening, consciously subconsciously following his breath vibrations, present in a marital bed at sunrise in a way she hadn’t been in years.
In their marriage’s infant days, a Young Mohini would catch herself watching her shiny new husband as he slept, sometimes with anthropological detachment, sometimes with tender fascination, wondering if he might break or burst into dust any moment. Back then she memorised the patchy patterns of his milk skin, the camel lashes that masqueraded as softness, the way he self-protectively slept crossing an arm over his chest and his glasses attractively dented his attractively prominent nose. Endearing and unnerving was her bubble-wrapped husband, hand delivered to her like a toy with lanky charm.
Today she forgot about his skin and his nose and simply winced at the chickpea shaak stain on his white pyjama top. Gently moving his chest-crossed arm to inspect further, she ended up wincing more when she caught her own hand stained with the tangerine smudges of week-old mehndi. Make an olive oil and lime paste to help mehndi fade faster she added to her mental to-do-list – her grandmother used to say it was bad keeping to wear mehndi that was no longer brilliant because it stunk of passivity.
Then, for the first time in months, Mohini’s alarm rang shrill and glorious, filling the non-master-size master bedroom like a sun would in May. Anand put a pillow over his head, and Mohini began her day.
But Young Mohini pitched a tent in Mohini’s heart and stayed for dinner that day. As she emptied the tumble drier, she remembered the late afternoons spent scrubbing towels in Nagpur, her mother singing to Lata Mangeshkar and battling with the monsoon rains to be heard. Back then Mohini dreamt of waiting tables at the emerging jazz clubs of Bombay – her father had taken her once as a child and for the following months she dreamt of a sax and sitar hugging, she even walked to school replaying in her mind the drum and tabla fusion beats she’d heard that beautiful sticky night. As manager, she thought, she would fill her bars with Common Folk because jazz was made for revolution, and the light skinned fat cats who smoked pipes to Leon Abbey and wanted jazz all to themselves also did not want revolution.
She remembered she agreed to marry Anand the day he bought himself a saxophone, promising to teach her one day once he had learnt himself. She regretted her decision the day he told her they were moving to England, and he laughed when she asked, in all sincerity, how she would manage Bombay bars when an ocean lay between them. He never taught her the saxophone, and he never learnt himself – a pattern of boyish excitement followed by boyish indifference Mohini would come to know well in her husband. Eventually the thing collected too much dust and Mohini gave it to their local Sue Ryder.
That morning Mohini remembered a time when she was rinsing her rice and heard a young-sounding-woman on her kitchen radio asking another young-sounding-woman if she could ‘pick her brain’. What a funny saying, Mohini thought, something so covetous about such a request yet something so flattering too. What made young-sounding-woman-2’s brain so worthy of being picked? And why had Anand never asked to pick hers? After all, was hers not a brain that Thought a lot of Things and sometimes Things that were worthy of being spoken about? He asked her questions sure, many every day in fact, but never did she feel she was asked anything where her uniquely crafted perspective was required – not by him, not by her children, not even by her bright-eyed friends. Indeed, all of these people dependent on her knowledge like they might be a Google search, but nothing more, as though they believed An Idea to be outside her zone of operations.
Mohini had not realised how much time had passed until she heard the muted thunder of Anand rushing down the stairs. Muted, because Anand always found a way to be lacklustre.
Routine was a hasty kiss goodbye on the cheek, but still thinking about the radio voice that was asked to speak and was consequently listened to, Mohini made sure that nothing about this morning was routine. Before Anand reached the door, a small woman in her small kitchen found her stomach and called her husband’s name. ‘Anand’, she sang – to him it was a mutter, to her, something much more. She had intended it to sound a question but it emerged from her stomach as a command, shocking Anand as much as it shook Mohini herself.
‘Do you want to know what I think of your tie?’ asked a half-dazed Mohini, the question slipping out like hot butter and without a second thought.
Anand nodded, cautiously, wondering which Star TV soap opera his wife had picked up this particular trick from.
But Mohini choked, and the couple held silence between them until it began to curdle. ‘It’s… lovely. Maybe too red’ she eventually fumbled out, immediately angry at herself for asking a question she had no answer to. She closed her eyes as Anand brushed off his confusion as swiftly as he did her, and with a chuckle, he stumbled into the outside world. Stumbled, because nothing Anand did was ever done with intention.
Feeling stripped and suddenly arid, Mohini sunk herself into a pile of unfolded clothes with a brain left unpicked. She wondered if her pea green walls even knew what her voice sounded like, because in this house she barely spoke unless spoken to. If she called to them, how would they be able to differentiate between her voice and a sea of other voices calling them? Then she wondered if she herself would even be able to recognise it. With a heavy heart, she asked why the young girl who once traded sugar rotis for ACK Comics with the Gujarati boy next door grew up having nothing to say. Grew up to be laughed at by a Light-Footed Giver-Upper No-Sax husband.
So, on that morning that was so unlike other mornings, as Young Mohini wept in her heart-pitched tent, Old Mohini screamed. She screamed for three minutes, without cease, and without anyone but herself and her pea green walls hearing. It was the most noise she had made in years. If she was to lose her voice, she thought, better to have it be this way.