I walked into that party with two boys, nay men. I always had men around me and I don’t mean that in some pretentious, arrogant way – but well they were always there, and they always tried. Men. To flirt with, play football with, sleep with, banter with, sing Kumar Sanu with, go to Summer stage with, love, be loved by, play ‘home’ with, be engaged to, be un-engaged from and to hold hands and walk through life with, knotted together too. Who else could one do this with/for? As I sit in the coddled lap of my own ennui, I often have two thoughts – how come I never saw women before and what was it about Her that allowed for me to see more than my accustomed gaze? I think it was Angles, the hidden, the unseen, the unknown, unexpected and downright unbelievable. Yes…angles.
I walked in with them both, one a classic, hood-eyed Bengali Babu and the other an extremely tall Bagel Jew with a penchant for contrarianism. And I. It was, as I knew it would be, a packed Curry Hill apartment with all and sundry literally gup-shupping. It was an artsy/theatre crowd so any available white space was filled with flamboyance, gesticulation and the occasional warbling, matched only by the sultry-ness of Begum Akhtar on a (specially acquired for the night) gramophone. I knew that was where I would be for the night, in the corner, flaneur-ing my way through this mix of brown, white, other and Metropolis. She sang, deep and long and for few moments all was fine. Somebody acquiesced my ridiculous desire for a Campari on the rocks, with an orange sliced in a glass swirled with Vermouth. I am…no, was the type that made demands as tests, like Campari at a Desi event(I would later learn, harshly, that this does not flow well with women – Camparis and demands as tests). Babu and Jew, after both had tryied incessantly to engage me in conversation – had whittled away in search of more responsive women. That had been a thing – apparently I had seemed disconnected, more so recently. I mused on that a great deal. I am prone to melancholia and have a penchant for being coddled in lament. I owe it to being a half-daughter of Heer, Sassi and Sohni. I scanned the room, matching my speed with the Begum. And then I saw Her.
She stood, her back to me; engaged in a passionate conversation with some guy (that I knew as the guy from Literature that liked to use the term ‘intersection’ and ‘Manuvadi’, a lot), her hands punctuating the air with such precision. The guy could barely disguise his desire for her décolletage. That irked me, as did he. She had a singularity and it filled the entire space between us – the rest of the room falling into a dulled noise, interspersed by only Begum Akhtar. I was mesmerized by the angles of her shoulder blades, her neck. I realized I was staring at her, figuring out how to catch her gaze, with a hope that she would notice me. And then, I became cognizant of the fact that she was a woman – why did I want this woman to turn and look at me. That was weird, but not altogether unwanted – a lot of things were building up – questions, deep-set denial, curiosity, foreboding, illicit-ness and a juggernaut worth of butterflies. I gulped all that down with a dirty tequila shot that I had picked up off the table, and walked towards her.
I could not stop staring, guzzling my ‘actual’ drink to try and calm the knot that was coiled in my stomach. Her delicate back was framed well by the angular Mod top she was wearing, her just below shoulder-level hair often parting ways to allow for glimpses of that knot of bone found close to the shoulder. She angled her arm 90 degrees holding her red wine glass into the stale air around the table and I watched it fill up with the ‘gur gur of the laltain’ that abounded. She swilled it, and took a sip. ‘Manuvadi’ saw me, as I gingerly fixed myself another Campari (this time by self) desperate to not touch the slightly soiled gingham tablecloth. He beckoned for me to come over, “This is M, if there’s anyone you should speak to about Spivak, it’s probably her…” Fuck, guilt rose in me for being irked at him. Also, just Fuck! She turned, obliquely, contorted – the wine tilting and I caught a glimpse of her red lips before quickly pretending I was busy – making an elaborate cocktail – from ‘the bar’ which had rum, coke and beer and my prized Campari. This prepping was purposefully languorously, taking a little longer than I should have, feeling her eyes upon me, making her hold that contortion to the point where it was slowly a little too uncomfortable. So uncomfortable, that she was forced to turn. I can still vividly see her face and her eyes. Oof. “Hellow, my name is G…” she said. I’m not sure if the guy wanted to exit the conversation, but he did. Leaving us at angles from each other. I finally looked up with a nonchalance that seemed practiced, she could see it and I could see it in the knowing curl of her lopsided smile. “ Oh hey, I’m M and whilst I do love Spivak, she once kicked me off a elliptical trainer cuz I was the only one that would give her my space. She’s bawse like that,” I guffawed. Guffawed. Bawse. Fuck. Suddenly I spoke like I was from Staten Island. God.
She stood at an angle from me, a hand on the slightly soiled gingham tablecloth that I had not deigned to touch, supporting her lithe body at a diagonal. Her lips lazily rose on one side. Her lips, her mouth and the knot of bone by her wrist, these were the things that I could see, everything else sort of melted into the background. Things I had known but had never seen, considered. Also, the curves of her chest, the flare of her hips, the throaty laugh and her intonation that lay somewhere in the mid-Atlantic speckled with Kolkata/Delhi and days at Cambridge. So much new-ness that was already known but never seen. I realized she had been talking and waiting on an answer from me – her eyes searched mine for comprehension, her lips…her mouth, I was fixated. Weird words like Elektra (strangely), Queer, Sex, Mouth, Woman and Fuck kept running through my head, shouted out of corners, around me. All that, and the angles of her décolletage and the voice of Begum Akhtar almost swilling in to fill in the vacuums of space created just under her neck, and toward the top of her chest – as words, laughs and air escaped her lips. Angles, swilling and trouble.
Trouble, like none I had ever known before.