Political Stories by Volga

Political Stories-5

stony breasts

          It was ghostly evening, a busy time in the hospital. Friends and relatives were rushing to see patients. Some of them looked sorry for the suffering of the patients. They were here to kindly and lovingly share the pain. Some looked annoyed and weary as if wondering how much longer they would have to make these visits. Others walked in so casually as if to announce that the suffering of the patients didn’t touch them at all. Suseela was watching them all. Nobody would come to see her today. They would all come tomorrow morning. Her husband, children, elderly parents, brother – they would all come. Even her Sankaram maamayya might come. She would have surgery after they arrived. Her breasts would be torn apart, cut off and discarded. What would happen after that? Who knew?

          Though she had them all these years, she had no love for them.

          It had been a long time since she was first alienated from them.

          The thought that they would now be fully, physically  removed from her left her perplexed – how would life be without them? She was not sure if she should be concerned but this question kept rising in her mind intermittently lil waves of smoke rising from an earthen stove doused with water. 

          Waves of pain and worry, rising and subsiding.

          But at the bottom of it all, she remained tranquil and pain. less Why? Was it because she was about to relish her revenge against the world? Did this kind of vengeance make any sense? No, this shouldn’t be happening. Dr. Hema came in with a smile on her face, “Looks like you have no visitors today?” “They won’t come today, Doctor. They will be here tomorrow morning.”

          Hema smiled kindly perceiving the concern in Suseela’s eyes. When she saw Hema’s kind regards, Suseela felt the urge to wrap herself around Hema tightly and cry. To resist that temptation, Suseela turned her eyes away from Hema. “Are you afraid?” Hema gently pressed on Suseela’s hand.

          Suseela shook her head No. “This is a difficult surgery for us, women. But there is no way around it. We just have to learn to live with what life hands us. There are folks who are blind from birth. There are young people who have lost their hands and legs in accidents. You think the life of a woman who loses her breasts is more unbearable than theirs? It is certainly not.” “No, Doctor, I am not worried.” Hema smiled again. “Instead of pretending you are not worried, share your anxieties with others. You will breathe easier. You will feel stronger mentally. I usually spend some time talking to my patients before the surgery. That is why I am here now; I have a couple of hours. Shall we go sit out side?” Hema gently helped Suseela get out of bed. They walked to the veranda and found two chairs. It was getting darker. The lighted hospital surrounded by darkness looked more isolated and lonely than in daylight. Nurses who recognized Doctor Hema talking to a patient from a distance exchanged familiar glances. “Tell me, what does your husband say?” “I am not worried, no matter what he says, Doctor. In fact he isn’t saying anything.” “What do you think? If an important part of our body is cut out…” “Doctor, maybe you don’t know, there were many times when I wanted to cut off these breasts. Maybe that is why I got this cancer – could that be? Does it happen like that?” No. It doesn’t. But why did you feel that way?” «You never had such thoughts? You never got angry with your breasts?” Suseela looked straight into Hema’s eyes. “You tell me, Suseela; today it is your time to talk. Another time, when I feel saddened, I’ll talk to you. Whatever you feel like saying today, go ahead and tell me. Let all the memories spill out of your heart. Forget that I am a doctor, talk to me like you talk to another woman, a friend.’ Hema considered the friendships with her breast-cancer patients as a very valuable part of her own life. They talked to her about things they wouldn’t tell anybody else: about their fears; their pain; and the looming changes in their future. They talked about everything, and Hema comforted them. Hema believed that providing them mental strength before the next day’s surgery was as important as preparing them physically. Looking at her, Suseela thought of her as a friend and felt the urge to talk. The memories of all those incidents, rigby from her childhood, that alienated her from her breasts rose up in her chest. The blissful scene of her mother breast-feeding her brother – that was the only beautiful memory she had of a woman’s breasts from her childhood. When she was five-years old, she wouldn’t move away watching her mother breast-feed her younger brother matter what game she was playing at the time, she quit and ran to her mother. In the room, on to her mother. In the room, on the veranda, the backyard, under the light of a lamp, in moonlight,in soft sunlight- no matter where her mother was feeding her brother, that place would appear most beautiful to Suseela. She would feel happy, peaceful and tranquil. At such moments she would forget all those times that her mother had yelled at her, scolded her or beat her. She didn’t have any memories of a long period of time after that. In those days Suseela had not thought of her breasts. They did not have an identity of their own and she did not pay any attention to them. Nobody else did either. Childhood rolled on rather quickly with schoolwork, games, friendships, laughter, grief and festivals. What a pity that it was over so fast! On the day that her childhood ended, a day that Suseela would never forget, the classroom was silent. All the students had their heads stuck in their notebooks trying to solve math problems. 

          The sound of soft footsteps was the only indication that the teacher was pacing around the classroom. Suseela was working fast. As she wrote down each step, it was becoming clear to her that she had a grip on the problem. With renewed enthusiasm, she moved her pencil faster. The white page was quickly filled with numbers like a battlefield filled with soldiers bursting out of mother earth. Several ideas for solving the problem rose up in her mind like ocean waves trying to rush to the shore. All this excitement played out on Suseela’s face for anyone to see. It was a moment of congruity between her eyes, her hand and her mind. The girl who looked at that moment like a symbol of concentration, stopped suddenly, lifted her head and turned to look behind her. The teacher was brushing over her back with his hand. Suseela stood up in reflex.

          “You haven’t started wearing a bra yet? You are growing older. If you wear these loose jackets and bend down She remembered his ugly smile, but her ear shut out what ever he murmured into it. “You should start wearing half-saris …” The teacher moved ahead. Suseela’s face turned red with shame, and tears welled up in her eyes. She could no longer think about numbers. The consciousness that blossomed and spread while she worked on the math problems had now contracted and wrinkled with shame. Her body was hot as if on fire. It was that day that a blend of shame, humiliation and wretchedness first appeared in her looks. Her mind was blank. The numbers in the book threatened her like stinging bees. They no longer had meaning. She rolled her eyes down hesitantly to look at her jacket, but shot back in alarm. She looked around to see if anyone was watching. Suseela remained anxious and worried throughout the school day. She retuned home confused as to how to tell her mother about the incident. By then, her Sankaram maamayya had arrived. Suseela had been peeved at this maamayya. Whenever he came, he would drag her close and seat her on his lap, keeping her from going out to play with her friends. “What is the matter? You look like something serious has happened?” he asked, taking her hand in his and pulling her close to him. She snapped out of his grip and moved away. He lifted her chin and jerked his head up asking Suseela what was wrong. And then, all of a sudden, he kissed her on her pursed lips. Before she could pull her head back in revulsion, his hands were on her chest. Suseela wanted to scream, but remained tight-lipped in fear. “Not wearing a bodice yet? You are growing up!” he said, with a disgusting smile, lifting her up and pressing her tender chest against his. Putting her down, he called out, “Sister!” and went into the house pretending as though nothing had happened. Suseela went onto the terrace and cried her heart out. She cried, looking at her chest that still ached from the rough squeeze in the hands of the wicked mavayya. She cried, cursing her growing chest and calling it names. Fear and humiliation filled her heart, and she cried until her lungs hurt. The next day, reluctant to wear a bodice, she stayed home from school. She told her parents that she had a headache. She took one of her mother’s bodices into the bathroom and tried it, but it didn’t fit her. After the morning housework was over, her mother settled down to pick out stones from rice. Suseela sat down by her side. She broached the subject by saying, “Mother, yesterday the teacher asked me to wear a bodice.” To this day, she doesn’t know why she did not tell her mother what the teacher had done. Her mother was irritated. “Doesn’t he have anything better to do? This stuff starts already when you are only eleven? Chee! It is a curse to be born a woman. There is no escaping these things coming one after the other.”

          quite well the day she had worn to the tradition, her first onnee as a gift. Suseela also remembered quite well the day and one for the first time. According to the tro mother’s brother should bring her the first onnee a Sankaram maamayya brought the onnee for Suseela. her with his usual lewd jokes. Suseela had the urge to tie the onnee around his neck and anole him, but what would that do to his wife Kanakadurga attayya? She was a good woman who patiently put up with all of his abuses with a smile on her face. Attomia taught Suseela how to wear the onnee. The pamita should not slip off the shoulder, she cautioned. Over the bodice and blouse, she arranged the pleated onnee in the front. While attayya helped her dress, Sankaram maamayya laid his hungry eyes on her chest, ripping through the layers of the onnee. This onnee wouldn’t be needed if someone could poke his eyes blind, Suseela thought wishfully. The kongu, the end of the onnee, hanging at the back over the shoulder, came in handy not only for Sankaram maamayya but also for the husband of the pinni next door and the rogues on the street. One day when Suseela went next door to see pinni – she turned around in fear as soon as she realized pinni’s husband was home alone. But he grabbed the long kongu of her onnee and pulled her close to him. removed the onnee and tried holding her tight, but Susee collected her nerves and hit him hard on his neck. Startled,  he tried to pull away her hands covering her chest, but writhed out of his hands and ran away. After that, she never went alone to the neighbors nor could she help loathing men. Another day, she was at a girlfriend’s house and her salwar kameez. At her own home, she wouldn’t be allowed to talk about such clothes, let alone wear them. She had been told that they were for indecent girls, girls who destroy the good name of their families. Suscela removed her onnee and langaa, and wore the kameez over her bra and bodice. She held the chunni in several cascading layers on her chest and pinned it to the kameez on the shoulders. Looking in the mirror, she was pleased with her own beauty. Her friend also said she looked nice. The two girls amused themselves around the house. Soon they exhausted themselves running around in the backyard. Her friend went into the house to get something to eat. Suseela sat down in the backyard to get her breath back. Her heart was still pounding from all that running. Suddenly, her heart stopped! Two steely hands came from behind her, and squeezed her chest covered by the layers of chunni, the thick kameez, the bodice and the protective bra. Suseela screamed! The hands and the person behind them vanished instantly. She was in a daze. Was that real? Who was that? She could not describe the person to her friend. “There is nobody in the house except my baabaayi. Would he do something like that?” her friend wondered. Suseela changed back into her langaa and onnee and went home crying. She cried that whole night in humiliation. She cursed her chest for attracting the interest of men. To cover it better, she learned to wear a sari. She was careful not to let the pamita drop from the shoulder; she made sure the chest was always covered under several folds of the pamita. In spite of all of this, the creepy looks of men were always on her. Suseela gradually got used to hating both their and her own chest. Hands and bodies were eager to touch her there when she traveled by bus. Ugly hands flashed from bicycles passing by to grab her chest. They shot out of autos passing by to hit on her chest. Occasionally Suseela would grow uncontrollably angry and wish to scream at them, “You dogs!” and tear them apart. She often wondered if it was healthy to live with all that rage in check, but did not know of any other alternative. There was no use crying until her lungs gave up. In the end, she became so hardened and dull, as if she had no chest, as if she could not feel any touch. Those looks did not pain her anymore whether they were at home, in the street, on a bus, on a train, or anywhere; nor did any touch give her any sensation. No sense of touch, no tenderness, no goose bumps, no shivers down the spine. She had turned into stone. After she was married, Suseela loathed it when her husband touched her chest. He never paid any attention to her, but would forcefully and brutally squeeze her breasts as if they did not belong to her, as if they weren’t a part of her. The humiliation scorched her. She was disgusted at his behavior, at his eagerness to disrobe her. The thought of havi.si to live with him for the rest of her life drove her to com template suicide. But she learned to live with mortification, to die in humiliation once every day.

          By then, Suseela had become a mother. She had heard of women dying in labor, but never imagined how painful birthing would be. In becoming a mother, Suseela suffered hell, crying like an animal in pain. She felt robbed of her modesty, for a professor was using her case to teach house surgeons. The pain tore through her body. She was frightened by the consciousness of excessive bleeding. The life that usurped her body was trying to emerge violently. She felt like she was being burnt in a hellish torture chamber. Suseela stared blankly at the nurse who brought the infant, placed it near her breasts and asked her to feed it. A primitive instinct rushed through her. She remembered the times when she had rapturously watched the tranquil and divine scene of her mother breastfeeding her younger brother in the soft evening light under the guava tree. Tears welled up in her eyes, and milk flowed from her breasts. The infant boy was content suckling peacefully. It was the first time Suseela’s breasts responded to a touch, the infants touch, devoid of cruelty, carnal desire and brute force. But that happiness did not last long. Suseela was vexed and disgusted with her brother-in-law who would eagerly await the breast-feeding times and come sit nearby to watch. Just a month after the child was born, Suseela’s husband rushed her to return from her parents’ home. She packed everything the infant would need for a comfortable train journey. A basket was prepared with soft sheets, cotton, water, and plenty of old clothes.

          Suseela plugged the infant’s ears with cotton so that he wouldn’t be frightened by the train’s whistle. Just as the train pulled out of the station, he fell asleep. When the train stopped at the next station, the infant woke up hungry, crying and searching for his mother’s breast. “Feed the baby,” came the interested entreaty from a fifty year-old fellow passenger. Suddenly all eyes in the compartment turned to her. They were ready to watch her without hesitation, without shame. Suseela did not feel like feeding the infant, who, by then, was crying more loudly. “Feed him. Just cover yourself with your pamita and feed him,” murmured her husband. Suseela unhooked her blouse, brought the infant’s mouth up to her nipple, and covered the infant and her chest fully with her pamita. Suckling at her breast, the infant started to sweat under the cover and began to kick it away. Suseela looked around her. All eyes were on her, some furtively, and some hungrily. They all appeared pleased, secure in a culture that permitted them to shamelessly gape at a mother breastfeeding her infant. Suddenly, she pulled away her pamita exposing the other breast. Startled, the eyes regrouped to watch attentively. Her husband threw an elbow into Suseela’s ribs, commanding her to cover her chest. She sat motionless with her eyes closed. He screamed at her and hit her, but she did not move. He took the infant into his hands and pulled her pamita over her chest. When the train reached their station, she still appeared to be in a trance, so he carried her out of the compartment. After hearing about the incident in detail later, Suseela’s mother-in-law made her wear an amulet to ward off evil, explaining to her son, “This happened to me also when you were born. I was feeding you one afternoon. Everybody was there and suddenly I started laughing for no reason. They were all asking me what happened, I did not know what to say, but kept laughing. After a half hour or so, my mother summoned an erukala woman and had her invoke a magic spell over me. The woman also burnt me here on the wrist and that was when I finally stopped laughing. Everybody believed I was under some evil influence. If it weren’t for something like that, why would Suseela’s breasts go dry suddenly? There isn’t a drop of milk no matter how long the kid suckles. He is used to canned milk now.” Suseela knew why she had no milk. She believed that the anger and revulsion that swelled in her had dried up her breasts. The first time she had to give the infant the nipple of the milk bottle, an ocean’s roar reverberated in her chest. “You may not forgive me for not breastfeeding you, but I will never forgive your jaati for making it impossible for me to feed you.” Her milk dried up, but flowed as tears. “Doctor, I did not breastfeed my two kids. I wonder if that’s what caused this disease. I’m really not worried about losing my breasts. They never gave me any pleasure. I’m not afraid of losing them – but I am afraid I might die.”

          Hema tried to smile as she wiped her tears. “No, you don’t have to be afraid of anything. We pletely remove the cancer spreading in your bica you will fully recover to good health. There’s nothing to be afraid of; you will not die ….. But the full-blown cancer in our society, which threatens all of us, what do we do about it? How do we cut it off? It affects all of us indiscriminately. What do we do about it?” Hema stood up to leave. Suseela took the doctor’s hand in hers, “Tell me, Doctor, is it true that you can get cancer if you don’t breastfeed your children? Is that why I got it?” “No, that is not why you developed cancer; trust me.” A glimmer of light shone in Suseela’s face.


(To be Continued-)


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