Every year, around Christmas time I feel these stirrings deep within me; I wake up in the night gripped by dark longings and desires and toss and turn, guilty as the poor spouse snores on, unaware of the storm in the better half’s heart.
I’m sure other women have done this too but some mornings I am out of bed like a jumping jack, all hospitable- my man’s favourite breakfast ready and waiting on the table with the morning newspaper and me wearing my best smile. I suspect he is a bit disconcerted when the old, crochety-in-the-morning wife suddenly becomes this cuddlesome, cheerful woman with hair combed and pearlies glistening. He is also a bit fearful and makes it out of the door on these days with Usain Bolt’s speed. The office people probably suspects he has an unhappy marriage and is seeking refuge in his work.
As for me, I pull out my sexiest dress, put on the season’s most happening lipstick, give myself a blow dry, get into smart shoes and rush out, heart pounding in excitement and hoping spouse does not call on the landline and realise the lady of the house is missing. And before you think I am a wicked cougar on the prowl, let me confess: I am just heading to the mall to admire myself in one of those changing room mirrors. Not as soon as I get to the mall. But after I have bought myself half a dozen of those gorgeous, slinky numbers that tempt and seduce me as they slither over the slender shoulders and whisper over the almost non-existent waists and hips of mannequins.
I am sure there are other women like me who haunt boutiques and malls around this time of the year, checking out the store windows and blowing up their month’s salary on clothes that they will never wear and shoes they cannot possibly walk in. The other day I was headed for a late evening meeting , twiddling my thumbs and trying to will the car to inch ahead in the chaotic traffic and a minute later I was screaming : “Gadi roko , gadi roko.” The poor driver probably thought I had lost my onions as rushed across the road as if a gang of robbers were chasing me with a knife. All I actually wanted to do was gape at a shop window full of the sexiest LBDs and LRDs that I have seen recently. There was this deep, dark, she-devil of a dress whose neckline ended where the waistline began and the entire dress ended just an inch below the unmentionable parts. It would effortlessly win the ‘sexiest dress’ sweepstakes but I would need to be high on some substance to get into that dress and survive to tell the tale. You know now what a woman of substance means. The red dress hanging next to it was what I would wear if I was headed to a secret tryst with SRK. The old man at home would probably need smelling salts if I dressed like that. When it comes to clothes, his motto is ‘More is Less’, even though I have seen the eyes wander a bit when a babe in a lil dress passes by.
I barely made it to my meeting that evening, which, incidentally and unfortunately, was right next to a mall and so, it was almost midnight when I got home, the bones creaking from all the getting in and out of dangerously tight clothes and trying out vertiginous heels. The spouse, thankfully, was out of town and did not see me slinking home with my deliciously wicked purchases. If there were to be an apparel and shoes version of demonetisation, I would practically have to flee the country to evade the law.
Talking of malls brings me to this interesting debut collection of stories that I am currently reading. The author, Tejaswini Apte Rahm, has lived a delightfully nomadic life, thanks to her husband’s transferable job and has put together this riveting, dark, sometimes funny, sometimes chilling collection of stories, all of them tinged with her experiences of living in Serbia, Israel, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar. There is nothing like travel to hone a writer’s craft. Every place, every interaction, every morsel we eat on a foreign land leaves its indelible ink on our mind and finds its way into our stories. Tejaswini’s ‘These Circuses That Sweep Through The Landscape’ does just that.
One such story, The Mall, is about a woman who goes on a reckless shopping spree in an upscale mall in her hometown and gets trapped in it for over a year, unable to find her way out. Apte-Rahm tracks the woman’s frantic, terrifying, ordeal as she wanders around, up and down elevators and escalators, pleading with fellow shoppers for directions to exit the mall and using her cunning to somehow escape from its gargantuan innards. Most women will identify with the woman’s mindscape as she does this: how many of us have gotten into a mall to shop for an hour but have exited six hours later, tired and cranky, our credit cards maxed out? Even as she walks around, desperate to escape, the woman in the story still gets sucked into aisles selling expensive shoes, bags, and baubles and purchases as if her life depended on it.
The inspiration for this story came from her time living in Bangkok where she found herself wandering in the cavernous, utterly tempting malls there, Apte-Rahm says. Go get a copy of this book for your winter chills and thrills. There are nine other equally chilling stories to be devoured.
As for me, if someone in the times to come were to track the minds and behavioural patterns of ‘women in their middling years in 21st century, urban India,’ all they would have to do is to look inside my wardrobe and shoe cupboard. Every dress, every lipstick and every shoe will tell the historian the story of a woman’s journey from her teenage years to her eighties. Hopefully I would have hung up my shoes by then and will be doing the Rumba in heaven up above with a tall, dark and handsome sort.
You can reach her on firstname.lastname@example.org or her twitter handle@sudhamenon2006
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