Sunday, May 24, 2015

Bengali Woman

She walked out of the restroom gingerly, as if not to distract fellow diners with her footsteps, and took her seat noiselessly — as if she wanted her existence to be a whisper. "Please be very honest with me," she said, "am I boring you?"
"Boring?" I replied, "I am sitting with one of the prettiest woman I have ever known. Another beer?"
"Yes, please. But am I boring you with my stories?"
"I am a good listener."
"You don't have to be polite. Anyway, now I will tell you how I met Pascal."
"Pascal, who?"
"That French guy I was telling you about the other night?"

"Ah, your French boyfriend."
"I don't think I can call him a boyfriend. I met him only once, four years ago, but I can never forget him — never. I preserve his number, you know, even though I have changed phones. But I have never had the courage to call him all these years."
"What if he sounds different? Worse, what if he sounds indifferent? There have been times when I almost dialled his number, but I held myself back."
"Interesting or silly?"
"Very interesting. So how did you guys meet?"
"Oh yes, so coming back to the story. I was in Paris at the time — I had gone there on work. One afternoon, I was at an antique shop, just looking around, when my eyes fell on a guy who was looking around as well. He was tall, well-built, the first thing I noticed about him was the tattoo on his upper arm — it said Om Namah Shivaya, in the Hindi script. Our eyes met more than once; and even though I was curious about him because of the tattoo, I was careful not to keep looking at him."
"You could have said Hello and asked him where he got the tattoo from, no?"
"How could I make conversation with a total stranger? What if he wasn't interested in someone invading his privacy? You know how foreigners are."
"And then?"
"Well, he walked upto me and said, 'Hello, I am Pascal, you from India?'"
"Wow. And then?"
"And then he asked for my phone number. But I refused. How could I give my number to a total stranger? I quietly walked out of the shop. Later that evening, I went to a bookshop for a poetry reading. Some French poet had just published a book of poems, which had also been translated into English. The French part was read by a very handsome Arab — perhaps an Algerian. And the English part was read by guess who?"
"Pascal!" A tear escaped her left eye. "I sat at the bookshop transfixed. It was as if Pascal was reading those poems for me. How beautifully he read! I kept looking at him. I wanted to tell him, with my eyes, why he wanted to have my phone number when he could have me! You have no idea how magical that evening was."
"And then?"
"And then we went to a cafe where Hemingway is supposed to have got drunk often. You have heard of Hemingway?"
"Of course, I have."
"Like Hemingway, I too got drunk, really drunk, but I remember everything — everything. Pascal drank as much as I did, perhaps even more, but he was sober. That's the thing with Western men, they usually hold their drink and rarely get obnoxious even when drunk — unlike Indian men. Indian men put me off when they drink."
"I am Indian!"
"But you are a dear friend."
"I was kidding. I know I act silly when I am drunk, though I don't remember putting anyone off. Maybe I have — who knows — one doesn't remember things when drunk."
"But I remember that evening so well."
"So what happened next?"
"Pascal asked me to spend the night with him. He was staying a walking distance from the cafe, maybe a kilometre or two. My hotel was far off."
"So you went with him?"
"It took me a while to decide. At first I wondered, being an Indian women, should I spend the night with a stranger — that too a white man? What will people say? How shall I explain my absence from home to them? Then suddenly I realised that this was Paris, where I did not know a soul and where I did not have a home. It did not matter to anyone, including me, whether I spent the night in the hotel or with Pascal — and I had already fallen in love with him."
"So you went with him?"
“Of course. And you know what, one of my sandals broke as soon we came out of the cafe. I walked with him barefoot, carrying both the sandals in my hand. He offered to carry me home — in his arms — but that would have been too much, so I said no. But how romantic, the whole gesture! Once we got into his flat, he made coffee for both us — and then we made love."
"Was it good?"
"I am not going to give you details," she smiled shyly, taking a sip of the draught beer, "but let me tell you one thing: I am a small-made woman, even by Indian standards. I am petite. Pascal, on the other hand, is huge. He has a huge chest. And you know what I found on his chest?"
"A tattoo showing the portrait of Lord Shiva himself! That turned me on even more."
"And then?"
"Well, when I woke up the next morning, I found the sheets stained with blood. I cried at the sight of the blood, not because I felt scared, but because I was elated."

"Because I had been practising abstinence for many years. Four years, maybe five years?"
"But why?"
"You must put that question to my husband. By the way, he is also a Bengali — like you."
"What do you mean? You are also a Bengali."
"I am. But I am a Bengali woman."