Translated from Axomiya by Dhrijyoti Kalita
Bhairavi was trying hard to concentrate on her Haruki Murakami novel as she kept tossing on her mahogany bed. But she was frequently getting distracted by the beautiful sharp notes of Himachali folksongs she played on her laptop just a short while ago.
At that moment, she suddenly heard a hiss hiss sound coming from the window near her. She was dazed to see an enormous python creeping through her window railings and slipping along its body towards her room. A chunk of his large smoky body glittered in the mid-day sunlight.
Instead of feeling horrified, Bhairavi experienced a weird thrill.
There – on the far side of the window was Madhuban, a relatively smaller hill range. Many birds had taken refuge in its trees and hollows.
But such a huge python…?
She jumped out of her bed at once and latched the door of her room. A moment ago, Jhumpa went to sleep in her adjacent room. After feeding Jhumpa with few mouthfuls and a sleeping medicine, Bhairavi had managed to lull her to sleep. She could not, by any means, let the python get inside Jhumpa’s room.
After latching the door, she got back rather impassively to her bed again. She opened up the Murakami book. The Himachali folksongs were still on. In a sneak glance, Bhairavi saw that the python was making waves in the rhythm of the Himachali folksongs. He then climbed up her study desk and started peeping at her intently while casually blanketing himself with the music.
…in the hills, the clouds struck and got scattered. The rain came with much hope in the dry-arid jhum fields – as if the folksong also wanted to desperately portray a similar picture. This picture had no real connection with the savage handsome snake. As she was taking delight of the canvas comprising of the snake and the music, Bhairavi gradually fell into a light slumber.
It was nearly four in the afternoon when she woke up. It was time for Jhumpa to get up as well. Now she would be seated on a wheel chair and led to the lawn downstairs for a stroll. Bhairavi rushed out of her bed. As she walked out of her room, she saw – only the books were lying on her desk– the python was no longer there. Perhaps, he was gone already.
That night, one more time Bhairavi felt the existence of the python creeping through her entire body and consciousness. On the pitch-black bed, Mukunda’s breathing got heavier in the most usual manner. Like most other days, she kept biting her lips with the least affection and frustration and tried to co-operate with Mukunda. Suddenly she realized that a long, lissome and large body had enveloped her hands, legs and body taking possession of her complete mobility. She heard the python’s hiss hiss voice almost like a whisper in her ears.
Bhairavi stayed there stock-still.
In total distress and irritation, Mukunda spitted out on the floor – “You dirty frigid!”
With utmost affection, Bhairavi would tend upon Jhumpa’s fuzzy hairs. She would wash them after every two days, would diligently braid them in different styles. Those days when Jhumpa was still in Bhairavi’s womb, she imagined how her daughter would look like (yes, Bhairavi knew that she was going to conceive a daughter) and Jhumpa was exactly the same. As if Jhumpa’s hair, her dense and profound eyes, her free-flowing eyebrows all developed out of Bhairavi’s imagination. But since few days now, Bhairavi had noticed that whenever she combed her hair, Jhumpa would start crying. May be it was getting more painful. Her fuzzy hair had also managed a few curls in some places now. At last, Bhairavi persuaded a girl working at the parlor to scissor out Jhumpa’s hair locks at home. After that, Bhairavi did not even dare to look at her own long hairs. She moved ahead and snipped out her hair.
The other day in the evening, Bhairavi led Jhumpa to her dressing table as she fondly brushed her short hair. Seeing her new face from her wheel chair, seven-year old Jhumpa longed to say something to her mother – “Ti Ee Ee Da.” Bhairavi bent down and kissed her daughter and told her softly – “Now we have new faces, Majani.”
Just at that moment, the python slipped inside through the room ventilator. Bhairavi felt the horror this time as Jhumpa was there sitting beside her. She held Jhumpa tightly to her side and tried to cover her as much as she could from the python. But slowly, quite secretively and with cunning body movements, the python crawled and coiled round Bhairavi’s legs. Slowly the python twisted round her thighs, her waist, her chest and finally her entire body.
Though it was not the beginning, yet it seemed like one.
The python then started to visit Bhairavi off and on very much without any inhibition.
Sometimes when she was working, sometimes when she played with Jhumpa and at times when she cooked in her kitchen, the python would sit and watch her quite keenly. Quite often that large lissome body would coil round Bhairavi and hiss at her ears.
This was a really strange thing. Bhairavi even saw traces of the python’s body on the sandy banks of the Brahmaputra once during a visit to North Guwahati. One day from inside a black-canvas painting, the python gaped out his rapacious tongue at Bhairavi.
The light, the darkness, the monotony and the diversity of the outer world slowly receded from Bhairavi’s life like in a dream. There was only Jhumpa for real – and the crazy presence of an enormous python.
For Bhairavi, the python had now become a familiar routine. Like the routine food-sleep-sex of a normal life. She was never threatened by the python’s presence until the moment he yawned his mouth wide as a gesture of inviting Bhairavi to his dark cavern.
It was a desolate winter afternoon. Bhairavi accompanied Jhumpa for a stroll to the park nearby. The wheel chair moved squashing over the red-yellowish leaves that had matured and fallen off from the trees. Quite unexpectedly, a group of kids who were playing in the park approached Jhumpa and flanked her from all sides. They then began to pull Jhumpa’s virtually disabled hands and laughed out loudly in amusement. They tweaked her back and arms. Then they started singing and dancing while poking fun at her as Jhumpa cried out “aaa, aaa” in utter helplessness and horror.
It was a bright-colored winter sky.
The park was vivid as well.
Jhumpa’s face, however, donned a garish color of fear and agony. As she tightly held Jhumpa to her bosom, Bhairavi could feel the blood profusely running down her heart. Right at that moment making rustling sounds through the fallen leaves, the python popped up out of nowhere. He appeared in front of Bhairavi and Jhumpa passing over the other frolicking kids and held his monstrous mouth wide open in front of them. For the first time, Bhairavi witnessed the dingy pit inside a python’s mouth. She saw the unknown recesses of mystery suffused in that darkness.
She slightly jostled Jhumpa’s wheel chair a little far from the python and spoke to him in deep conviction – “No, no; not now.”
Now with Jhumpa on her lap, Bhairavi had started to read the Gita. Sometimes, she read the Koran and the Bible as well. From one of her friends, she had also learnt to utter some Buddhist chanting.
The python was not there for several days.
Often inside her enclosed room, she would immerse and dance herself to the tunes of Sufi folk songs or to the music of the Chinese bamboo flute. In this way, she strived a lot to appropriate the python’s waves into her own body.
Life inched in a slow and relaxed rhythm.
And once again from some trench in the Madhuban hills, the python arrived one night and tangled up Bhairavi’s body and her mind.
One night after quite a number of days, Mukunda came and crashed at Bhairavi’s bed. Mukunda’s heavy breathing and his jagged nails pricked Bhairavi like thorns. She tried to join Mukunda by closing her eyes and biting her lips. The python entered just at that moment. From her legs very cautiously he made his way through her thighs and waist to twist her chest and neck as he finally tethered Bhairavi and her consciousness. It was pitch dark and yet Bhairavi indistinctly saw the python’s foggy frame. Once again she heard his heroic address: hiss hiss. She lied there motionless surrendering herself completely to the python.
Mukunda woke up after some time spitting on the floor out of total frustration and resentment – “You beast. Just look at the vanity of this useless body that cannot even give birth to a complete human baby. I spit on you. No male touch is good enough for such a body. It is just perfect for the worms and pests.”
Mukunda went out after spitting on Bhairavi’s body.
The python also came out disentangling himself from Bhairavi’s body. Slowly he coiled round on the floor and with devotion of a lover bowed down in front of Bhairavi splitting his mouth wide open.
Bhairavi realized that this starkly dark cavern full of supreme illusion and enigma was actually the path to eternity and salvation.
Though this time Bhairavi kowtowed in front of the python and spoke to him in a much agitated voice – “Singlehood, salvation, excruciating agony or a death prayer imbued in my existence – whatever you are – please leave me now. I want to live till the last day of my disabled child’s life.”
Geetali Bora is author of many novels and short story collections in Axomiya. She was a recipient of the prestigious Munin Barkataki Award in 2008 from her short story collection Sambhavata.
Dhrijyoti Kalita is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Asian Languages and Literatures, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, USA.