• mrs. gupta •

• mrs. gupta* •
Almost sixty years ago, to the day, Mrs. Digvijay Gupta was born Menaha Rahul, to be blessed with two great passions: first, with a love for words, and of the names of things, as for life itself, and then, bliss of all bliss, with her ‘birthmark’, which her parents had named, ‘the kiss’, ‘the holy inscription’, and, of all ecstatic ecstasies, the ‘mark of Ganesh’. Her parents had explained to her at a very early age, (with a dance, and a song on their lips, for joy of that which she bore on her doubly-blessed, divine person) about her good fortune: ‘the gift’.
It was a sign. She had been ‘chosen’. It was to be her ‘calling’, they had said, to spread happiness, wherever she went. And, so, for a time, she did.
(In fact, what she had been born with, was a fairly uncommon, vestigial ‘third’ nipple, not unsightly at all; it amounted to little, was hardly more than a pretty dimple, really: how does the song go, ‘Like (a) Lintel on a plate’? Much ado about little, one would think, but, coming from India, as she did, within their mystical world of ‘signs and wonders’, it was, inevitably, highly regarded. There was that. Also, it being, literally, a sensitive area, the brush of clothing, or even of air, made her giddy beyond description: in fact, it turned out that she was blessed with an additional erogenous zone, and as a result, she was just that much more alive for it. One might prefer, for reasons of propriety, to say it was not sexual, this happy adventuring, but, but this would be a lie: in fact, it was, very much so, for her, and happily.
Talk about ecstatic. How she took to it! She would shudder when the wind blew, and you knew. Damn.
Nature was her playground, and she was a pure Naturalist. Indeed, she was the happiest of young women, to be so ‘informed’, spiritually. Within her own society of religious devotees, she shone like a diamond, bringing delight. This is how highly she was regarded, everywhere she went.
And so, as celestial bodies are but aggregates of so-called stardusts and celestial clouds, so also, from the first, for the girl, beauty, and grace and elegance were the aggregates that defined, and illuminated, the consecrated, essential essence of Menaha Rahul.

Her given name, Menaha, so she came to learn, means, ‘celestial damsel’. With her surname, Rahul, came strength, meaning,’Conqueror of miseries’.
In her youth, her knowledge of the former would build her up, and inform her vanity. In her old age, knowledge of the latter, through a time, and a time, and a time again, would accost, attain, and sustain her.
That her two great passions would come to be her Achilles heel, she would one day come to learn only too well. In fact, this would very nearly be the end of her, beginning on the day she was wed.

And so it happened, at the age of nineteen, she was wed to a successful business man ten years her senior, who was punctilious, and laughed little. The marriage was arranged by her parents. She had no say in this.
It was her misfortune that marriage would ensnare her: as an ant to the sand-lion, she came upon a divot in the sand, so to speak, which is to say, a trap. As with the unfortunate ant, in Nature, she wandered into prearranged sands, lost her spiritual footing, fell in, and was dragged down, by what demon, she hardly knew. It had all happened so fast; she never expressed rage, however, she somehow got lost, gave way to a monstrous dejection, her ‘age of joy’ abruptly ending: upon her much loved, former ‘lighted ways’, onto her prayer-praised paths of illumination, a seemingly endless, inextricable darkness fell.

Marriage changed Menaha Rahul, immediately. She was crestfallen. It had seemingly taken away her identity and had presented herself, to herself, as a ‘stranger’.
No longer to be Menaha Rahul, but now, this mysterious, Mrs. Digvijay Gupta. Digvijay, meaning, “who is victorious over everyone”, and Gupta, being “Ruler and Protector”: these names were for somebody else, she protested, quietly, to herself. They suited her husband to a tee, but not she.

In the same moment, she was forced give up her familiar surroundings, her friends, and her family. Never had she been away from her parents for even a single day. Overnight, she was sweeping the slanting hardwood floorboards of a Brooklyn Brownstone, far, far away.
She had been born in India. Now, she was to become an American. America was what everyone called it, even though it was actually the U.S.A. How annoying, that these people had taken the whole of the name for themselves, she thought. Was there not a South America? What of them? “Too bad,” she guessed.
It occurred to her that she was to be, now, of all things, an ‘American-Indian’, but the wrong kind. She could not even say that that was what she was. Good taste precluded it. That, she found really annoying. Did not words mean anything to these people? Meanings here are so general!
“Everything is so different here, in this generalizing American wilderness, of steel, concrete and glass,” said the newly minted Mrs. Digvijay Gupta, “but not in a good way.”
Everything that she had loved in India seemed to have stayed in India, were no longer considered beautiful, and no longer mattered.
Even she, herself, had lost her luster. Now, when she looked in the mirror, she no longer recognized herself. This was a dreadful blow. She had always been at least, herself. But this — this universe did not care about her, or about what is truly true, or about beauty, she felt — only for ‘positive attitudes’, making, always, ‘the right impression’, and for productivity.
“Chin up,” she could be heard to say, to herself, many times in a day. That is, if there were anybody around to hear her, which there never was. There was never anybody, anymore.

There was that, and then, her husband had grown disenchanted with her almost immediately. The promised dowry hadn’t come through. Her father had had some severe financial setbacks recently. It was not as if she knew. Still, he shifted the blame onto her.
Things were said. He was soon saying awful things. He suspected her of being disingenuous, all of the time, even in small matters. His wrath, she couldn’t escape it.
“Don’t think you can pull the wool over my eyes,” he would say. Over and over, with this same bitter nostrum. It was at first, merely mysterious, that phrase, and its insulting implications: eventually the thing became monstrous, invading her dreams. Choking her with wool. This ‘woolybully’. Still, she bore up under it, trying to hold on to her dignity, but little by little, it withered away.
She was slow to relinquish her favorite things, but one by one, they fell. No more, the beautiful, musical language of her birth. English, or American, if you will, was the new language. Her husband demanded that she should speak it exclusively, even in her own home. All was static, to her, and assaulted her ears, like barking dogs will. To speak became laborious, and nuance and lyrical expression found no place. She could not even speak of her sadness, in this Kingdom of Optimism, this U.S. of A.. It was the death of conversation in this alien nation.

And so, words died, for her. Her first great passion went away, and the illness moved in. The dead words caught in her throat. That was when ‘the choking’ began. Speaking ever after became perfunctory, and the tiredness had set in.

As to her gift, ‘the kiss’, the ‘touch of Ganesh’, in the marriage bed the night of her wedding, it was rejected. She had never known shame in her life, but soon, it consumed her. She heard for the first time, in reference to herself, the word, ‘goat’. When her husband uttered it, something wilted within her, and something grew in its place. Disgrace.
And so, all felicity, all dance, all song, all that from birth had come so naturally to her formerly ‘doubly-blessed’ incarnation fell away. It had been ‘reduced’, as in some tag sale, to so much dead machinery. Her sacred white elephant, her ‘inner Ganesh’, if you will, became a ‘white elephant’ of another kind, the wrong kind. Even her ‘extra’ erogenous zone had become completely pointless — this random mutation, that had brought her such happiness, was to become a mere statistic of natural selection. She could no longer say how she felt. Deadness was everywhere. One day, finally, she knew she was soon to become extinct. This was the only word for it, she knew, what was to become of her. She readied herself.
“It happens,” she had said, “all the time. Things become dead, then they disappear.”

Decades went by. Every day was much the same as any other. Bit by bit, bits of her fell away; she went away, away, even from herself.

And then, one day, unexpectedly, something happened which would change everything — words came to the rescue. The words that came to save her comprised a simple phrase. They carried within them, transformation, connoting a kind of physics, which she embraced. They simply said, “Everything is a subset of Awareness.” And it made, to Mrs. Digvijay Gupta, née Menaha Rahul, all of the difference.

And so, after that, her awareness once again began to grow and grow. She became aware of some things that, strangely, she realized, for the first time, made her mad. Not the English kind, but the American sort, which is to say, she was pissed –again, not of the British sort, but of the American.

For example, as was said earlier, Mrs. Digvijay Gupta, was born Menaha Rahul, almost sixty years ago, to the day.
She has always had a special love of words, especially for names. The name she was given at birth–Menaha, means, ‘Celestial damsel’, a name which she adored as a child; her surname, Rahul, meaning ‘Conqueror of miseries’, it turns out, is a name, after a lifetime of same, for which she could not have been better suited.
After a lifetime of hiding her pain and regret behind the facade of being the ‘perfect traditional wife’, her love of names has become the keystone to her slow transformation into an arch shadow of debilitating facelessness, of pining spiritual atrophy.
That her husband has not once used her proper name in all these years is to her, to she, who, as a child, when imagining marriage, had dreamed of a perfect love, has been, for her, a continual curse, a wellspring of pain, and a stagnating, septic love-of-life seepage.
It had not escaped her attention, aside from ‘wife’, despite her expressed wish that he not use the diminutive form of her name, that for the last four decades he has exclusively called her, ‘Mena’, which means no more than ‘squawking parrot’!
Also, it has not been for Mrs. Digvijay Gupta, a happy memory that her husband failed to take her part, when her mother-in-law, due to their childless condition, came to refer to her, forever after, as ‘the empty trough’, even though he knew full well that, as a result of a childhood illness, it was he, and not she, who was sterile. This, she could not abide, nor forgive.
Finally, Mrs. Digvijay Gupta, née Menaha Rahul, has come to see that if she is to ever know kindness again, she must come to cherish herself.

And so, the return of herself to herself began. That awakening was five years ago. She is a very different woman today.

Her husband now feels he is dying, and now, as she sits with him, ostensively, to ‘ease his passing’, she has been brooding: sitting on a growing anger, that he should abscond with all he has taken from her, that he should so easily, remorselessly, ‘slip away’. Her anger becomes resolve. Until she gets some answers, “by Shiva, he will be going nowhere!”
~ Tim Burchfield
• woolybully •
a ten-minute tragicomedy}


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