Chapter 9: Saree Shopping with the Boys

Pinky woke up that morning, her bed soaked in sweat.

Moments before drifting off to sleep the night before, she had imagined what she would wear, and Scotty’s expression when he saw her. Would he be dazzled at the fashion of her denim skirt, her cream billowy blouse. She’d laid it all out on her bed, before lying down.

But the night had been cruel with visions of Jalaja’s dogs chasing her through the woods. When the German Shepherd pounced on her, it turned her over like a puny doll, saliva dripping all over her face from its tongue and bare fangs. She’d woken up with a shriek at her throat. Clearly, Afreen had a tendency to get to her. And the morning got her thinking.

Why had Scotty invited her to lunch? Was he leading her on? She could imagine Scotty and Jalaja and Julie having breakfast together, placing bets on how quickly Pinky would fall head over heels in love with him. The question was, why. Why would they do that? Was it just plain jest?

She got out of bed with a firm mind to get out of this stupid lunch. And realised she didn’t even have his number.

So how was he planning to take her out for lunch, with no way to contact her? Somehow, that confirmed that he was just joking, throwing bits at her to see her jump at it like a pathetic dog.

But what if he just sauntered up to her door? What would the neighbours think? Did he even care? She pressed her balled fists into her face. She had to get out. Get the hell out. She brushed her teeth, and dived into the stupid skirt and blouse on the bed, grabbing her bag. She would go somewhere. Anywhere. Far away.

She opened the door, and almost bumped into her path of her father.

“Why are you running? And what are you wearing?” He said, his eyes disapprovingly paused at the length of her costume.

The door bell rang, and she felt her hands go numb and cold. Was it Scotty, already? And Appa…he’d probably think she was dressed up for Scotty. Her breath was growing short as her father walked to the door, and her vision grew small and hazy. Her father would kill her. She should pretend she didn’t know Scotty. Her throat was growing parched. Who would believe that Scotty had turned up on his own accord. Her relatives would call soon, asking her father why he was letting his daughter loose….

The door opened to reveal the Major and Vishnu. The Major bungled in, dressed in an outlandish Pink-white sherwani, while Vishnu in tow, wore something white and painfully gold, which was only less garish in comparison. The Major wet his lips, his eyes surveying the hem of Pinky’s skirt for a long drawn moment. Then he looked up at her, rubbing the sweat that settled at his moustache, “You are ready for your wardrobe change then?” He rasped.

The relief she felt at not seeing Scotty, was replaced with outrage. Had she really heard right, she thought, looking at her father for some kind of confirmation. Surely, her father could surely see? But Appa was grinning? This man was literally stripping her with his eyes, and her father was standing by grinning?

“I like what you have done with your hair” he nodded, as he trudged and seated himself at the sofa, “A bit unruly. But I like women looking natural.”

“What have you done with your hair?” asked father, a bit confused.

“You really need to be better clued in to your own home…” smirked the major.

“It’s a hair cut, Appa,” said Pinky hurriedly, wishing her father wouldn’t look so clueless. “And I got it just yesterday.”

Major had the expression that seemed to say that if this was his house, the damn haircut would need his approval. Instead, he looked at the clock, as it struck eleven, and he said, “Well, Rajkumar…have you told Pinky?”

“Well…yes, yes…we have a surprise for you Pinky” Appa said, avoiding her eyes. “The major has kindly agreed to sponsor a gift from Vishnu…” said Appa, “Vishnu is buying you a saree. But we think you should choose it. Because women have choices….and so…we are all going now….”

Pinky’s rubbed her eyes, her mouth falling open, “What?”

“You, me, Vishnu and Major…”

She heard the ding of the elevator through the open door, and realised that if Scotty turned up now, things would look even worse. She would have to deal with both her father’s wrath and the Major’s. The man would probably assume she was having an affair. Or put her down as something worse. He could be vengeful.

“Where were you guys planning to go?” she said casually, knowing that this was an escape route that she would regret. The discussion ensued on where to go, Nalli being her sister Jisha’s favourite according to her father, and Major favouring Kalyan’s for its priority treatment of his now-dead wife “We were so regular, they’d give off season discounts to us,” he said, as if that was one of his wife’s life achievements.

Vishnu’s eyes were glued to a random wall, and Pinky wondered how she had descended from saying, No, I am not marrying Vishnu to actually accepting a gift from him. Between all that shoe-gazing and anthropod-loving, was Vishnu even aware of how his father was shamelessly eye molesting her? Or was this some weird house where the daughter-in-law was fair game for all?

She sighed saying, “Let’s decide in the elevator?”, and they trudged, the three of them, the two fathers earnestly comparing saree material from Thanjavur and Kanjeevaram. She pressed the lift, praying to any goddess responsible for electronics to not betray her. Thankfully, the lift opened to nothing spectacular, and they descended to the basement parking

“Are we taking my car or yours?” asked Major. And Pinky felt a pressing desire to jump in front of an oncoming car and finish this torture forever. They (the Major) decided that they would walk all the way to the Major’s apartment, and take his car, because it was bigger, and better, and would fit all of them. Pinky said, “But our car is right here. We can go immediately!” And the Major decided that she was being cute, “Someone is in a hurry to get her sari! Rajkumar, I blame you. You should have made Indira teach her some good dressing.”

Pinky did not bother to fume, as they trudged from block A to F in the full view of everyone, Any moment now, Scotty would pop up, Pinky knew. It seemed fate had bestowed on her a kind of torture whip, and it would keep whipping her mind until she collapsed in tears, and fell at the Major’s feet, pleading that she was indeed not having an affair, with Scotty or anyone else that may turn up.

Once in the car and safely out of the apartment, she felt the wind in her hair, and relaxed, feeling trifle stupid. Had she wanted Scotty to come and ruin her life? How would that turn out? He’d probably say, with a careless flick of his hair, “So what? I want to be with you, and I don’t care who is in my way. Major or whoever.” She sighed. It would have gotten these two jokers out of her life, at the very least. What had she done?

Twenty minutes later, divested of most of her clothes, and standing in full view of three grown men, she decided that everything that was happening to her, was her own fault. She made a mental note of killing her father. She shivered in the air-conditioning, wearing a weird skirt and a shapeless blouse that seemed stitched into place from left-over fabrics for an anorexic, that pressed her naked belly into a three-tier wedding cake. She avoided the mirror that painfully reflected what everyone could see, and stared instead at the giant mutated giraffe of a woman that loomed before her, “Madam, shall I wrap this around you?” The lady said, pointing to the nine-yard snake saree. She nodded hurriedly, wishing nothing more than to be covered at the earliest in that hideous costume.

Vishnu, she noticed as the drapes curled around, had zoned out. Out of this gift-giving sham, and perhaps even his life. Not that she wanted his interest. The major was paying enough attention for the both of them. The giraffe lady, assuming that Pinky was one of those stereotypical Indian girls who had little to say, had taken the liberty of propping Pinky up on something that was more mini stools than heels.  With one end of the saree weighing down on Pinky’s hands, she stood like a handicapped model, in what was largely perceived as a fashionable pose, considering Major’s approving hums.

The Giraffe lady urged Pinky to twirl, so that the Major could get a complete perspective. “Hmm….” His hum entering a more disapproving frequency, his bushy eyebrows were squished as he turned to perceive her father, “Rajkumar….do you think pink makes her look fatter?”

Her father knew better than to answer that. He told the lady, “maybe something more sober?” And the major nodded, “Yes, something that reflects the ancient and respected stature of the family she is entering. Maroon perhaps? With some gold leaf patters? Sumathi used to love that”

Had Pinky’s hands been free, she’d have divested herself off those heels and thrown one at the man’s head. But she just burnt her father with her glares, as a shades of red descended like a bloody rain from the shelves around her. Later, Maroon, made her ‘look darker’, and purple made her look like a ‘woman of questionable professions’, green made her look ‘shorter than she already was’ and by the time they entered the blue side of the color spectrum, Pinky had clear doubts on whether Sumathi, the major’s fondly remembered wife, had perhaps killed herself on one of these shopping expeditions.

Her father continued to nodded weakly, displaying an uncharacteristic and painfully permanent air of a dumb-mute, with his mouth half-opened in a protest that never seemed to voice itself. She did not know if this could be considered progress, but she decided, this was her moment. She was ready for showdown. She would show this male chauvinist pig what she was made off.

She took a long breath, and the words tumbled out in a single breath….“CanIgotothebathroom?” she said, her eyes flitting at the Major, almost like she was in school again. The major in turn observed her closely, as if this would reveal if she was playing truant. “We need to wrap this up and go for lunch,” he said slowly, “Your mother must be waiting.”

The silence was heavy, and perhaps it was the stunned look of the giraffe lady that helped. The major nodded, permitted her to leave, when the giraffe lady said, “Its at the back of the store. And I request you to change first?” The ladies eyes seemed to suggest that Pinky would pee all over the saree. Pinky trudged her humiliating path to the bathroom, grabbing her clothes like they were all she had left, and stomped into the back room, across the knitting ladies, into a roomy back room, where she divested herself of the weird costume, and slipped into her clothes.

When the veils of heavy silk left her scarred body, it was like she had shed so much more. She stared at the mirror in the changing room, at her naked self, examining the scars on he feet, the scaly skin on her back. She straightened herself so that the unflattering flabs that hung at her belly like waterbags would kind of flatten.

Standing there, before Vishnu and Major, had rattled her. If an old fart like the major found so much at fault with most of her clothes on, what would happen if someone saw her like this? This was why she never wanted to get married.

She put on her clothes, even as the tears streamed down. She wasn’t going back there. She may not be able to stand up to the man, but she could slink away. She caught a gust of fresh air from somewhere behind. There had to be a back door. A staff exit. She dumped the saree, the blouse and the heels, in the changing room, imagining her father’s face when he saw she’d escaped. Well, he deserved it, sitting there, without saying a word. If only her mother had been there. She’d have slapped the shit out of him…and maybe even the major.

She glided through the dark curtains, and the plastic smell of covers, the door awaited her, and she slipped out. Then she realised that she was as barefoot as a street urchin on that hot dirty street.

She looked around for a rick, but the street was deserted, the back door of a store not r an attractive location for rides. Going to the front of the store was a terrible idea. What if she was caught slinking away? They’d come looking for her soon.There was no time to be dilly dallying.

Perhaps she would just wing it. Just walk away. This was not easy. Every step on the painful concrete had to be endured as if for a masochistic temple deity that was nowhere in sight. She winced and squealed, but managed to move a few inches away, at least far enough to hide for a bit in the sorry excuse of a shade of an abandoned rickshaw, that stood there and mocking her. She felt her chest heaving, her throat parched, at her pathetic state, when she heard a honk.

It was a biker, his hands and body and head covered in leather black. He looked like the perfect caricature of a rapist, especially given the deserted setting, but she didn’t care, she flagged him down, planning to beg for a lift if needed to the slipper store, perhaps after he’s molested her. It was a bike, she could jump off, couldn’t she? Somewhere where there was a shade?

When the biker stopped, and he lifted his helmet.

“Scotty!” she shouted, at the impish grin that stared at her.

“Your mother said I’d find you here.” He said, and accelerated, as Pinky slumped behind him.