|artwork by Shahid Mirza|
Those who’d seen believed Kamla to be twenty to twenty-five years old. In reality her age
lay somewhere between thirty and forty. The age deception resulted mostly because of her
well-kneaded figure; she wasn't plump or thin, neither too tall nor short. Since white attires sat well
on her lighter skin, that’s what she’d often wear. Although she wasn’t that young anymore, a
man approaching her from behind couldn’t resist getting his fill of her.
Those who toil away in offices have limited words for gossip, bragging. Their experience is
restricted. Heads bowed, scribbling words down on paper isn't worthy of much. Kamla’s husband
Manmohan Lal, however, could brag on account of his wife. His wife stood a class apart on account
of her beauty whether it was at a gathering or a train station while seeing off a fellow officer
being transferred, or some other occasion happy or sad where men and women had gathered.
Manmohan Lal couldn’t contain himself within his clothes.
He was rightfully proud of her. Besides being attractive and well-mannered, her character was
also beyond blemish. Those who kept news did gossip about the wives of others, but never a
word about Kamla. There was nothing to talk. Manmohan Lal went on official trips occasionally
to check on accounts of offices in other areas. Those trips could last awhile. Eight, ten days. Kamla
did feel lonely, bored. The life of a wife is no life without the husband. The house seemed like a
circus devoid of an elephant or a wedding procession without a groom.
It’d been five days since Manmohan went away. Three more days before he returned – days heavy
as mountains, days bereft of taste. The house, food and everything around her was the same as
usual, but Manmohan’s absence turned the days into milk from which cream had been extracted.
An old milkman used to come by to deliver milk, once in the morning and once in the evening.
He’d put down his bucket next to the kitchen door. He’d release the handle of the bucket from
his grip, letting it bang against the metal rim. That’s how he announced the event of his
“Get you milk!” he'd holler. Holding the container, a maidservant would emerge from the
kitchen and he’d start pouring milk into her container. One would then hear the thumping sound
of his slipper retreating and the play would come to an end.