By Shevlin Sebastian
Anup Gupta's wife died of complications from an intestinal operation. At that time, the Guptas had two girls, Jasmine, 13, and Sangeeta, 10.
Jasmine, a strong and forceful girl, showed talent in public speaking, acting and writing. She won inter-school debate and drama competitions. She also had a keen desire to have new experiences. When she was 15, she went to a discotheque for the first time with some school friends.
"I want to be a modern girl," Jasmine told her father when he had raised objections about her going out so late at night. Her father wilted, in the face of her defiance, and allowed her to go. At the disco, a jean-clad youth, with shoulder-length hair, with whom Jasmine was dancing, put his hand under her very short red skirt and rubbed her.
Jasmine had a mixed reaction: she felt disgusted and excited at the same time. She could feel her panty get wet. She returned at two in the morning and quietly undressed. She looked to see whether Sangeeta was sleeping soundly. Then she put off the light, lay on the bed and quietly masturbated. The boy's crude touch had made her horny.
Near the house where they lived, in Calcutta, there was an international students' hostel. Jasmine got friendly with Roger Carruthers, an American, from New York. He was studying Indian philosophy at Calcutta University. They had met at a stationery shop nearby and had started chatting casually. Jasmine found him cute.
When Roger invited her to the hostel, Jasmine did not hesitate. In his room, Roger went down on her. Jasmine moaned as she looked down and caressed Roger's blonde hair. But it took a month of persuasion before she allowed him to enter her for the first time, albeit with a condom. She gasped as she felt an abrupt searing pain. There were drops of blood on the white sheet as the hymen broke.
After a while, she began to enjoy it. When it was over, she lay on the bed, contentedly smoking a cigarette and said, "I want to go to America!"
"So what's stopping you?" Roger replied, with a grin, "finish your studies, and hop on to a plane."
"I am going to learn French and work as an interpreter in the UN at New York," Jasmine elaborated, caressing Roger's hairy chest.
"That's a good idea," Roger nodded as he got hard once more and entered her.
At home, her father said yes when Jasmine asked whether she could take French classes at the Alliance Francaise. He hoped that this would keep her out of trouble. But Jasmine really wanted to go to America. It was no wishful dream.
"The women are free and independent there," she told her friends, one evening as they sauntered through New Market, window shopping, "they can fuck without any guilt hang-ups."
Anup Gupta also wanted to have a relationship but which woman would look at a portly middle aged man with greying hair and with two children in tow.
While Jasmine lived in her own world of music, cigarettes, French classes and laying Roger, her younger sister Sangeeta, a shy, reserved type, like her father, sat at home and endlessly read Mills & Boon novels.
"Get practical," Jasmine hissed at her sibling, "You don't know what you are missing."
Sangeeta gave a dull look to her sister. Sometimes, in the evenings, she went to the soft drinks shop near the house, to get Coca Cola for her father, who drank his whisky with it. There, she saw the tall and gangling Deepesh, who was studying B.Com in St. Xavier's College.
One day, Deepesh approached her and said, "Hey, what's your name? I see you often."
Sangeeta bit her lower lip. She had dreamt of Deepesh lying on top of her, his mouth sucking her brown nipples.
"My name is Sangeeta," she replied and smiled, as she took the bottles from the shopkeeper.
"Why don't we go for a walk?" Deepesh asked, his hands tucked into the front pockets of his jeans.
"Okay," Sangeeta replied, a little too hastily, "I'll come back after giving these bottles to my father."
With a fluttering heart and trembling legs, dressed in a pink skirt and high heels, Sangeeta went up the stairs to the first floor flat. She deposited the bottles on the dining room table and called out to her father in the bedroom, "Papa, I am going to Shiela's place for a while."
Shiela was her classmate who lived down the road. She went to the shop.
Deepesh said, "You don't mind if we walk?"
"Oh no, not at all," Sangeeta said, looking at Deepesh and wanting to kiss his soft red lips, "I am used to it. Walking is the best way to keep fit."
They became friendly.
They met every evening and went for long walks to the zoo or the Victoria Memorial or the riverside. Sometimes, they sat on the lawn of the Victoria Memorial and when it got dark, Deepesh drew her to him. He kissed and kneaded her breasts. Sangeeta clasped Deepesh tightly, almost as if she was squeezing him to death.
"Hold it, hold it," Deepesh said, assailed by a sudden feeling of claustrophobia.
Sangeeta explained that ever since her mother died, she was starved of affection. She began crying. Deepesh could just about make out the tears rolling down her face from the light of the street lamp. He wiped her face with his handkerchief.
He was shaken. He realised that she was mentally fragile. He had wanted a relaxed relationship. You know, just to feel and smooch up and later fuck a girl without any emotional complications. But although Sangeeta was good-looking, with oval black eyes and sharp cheekbones and pear-shaped breasts, she came on too strongly.
After a month of dating, Deepesh stopped hanging around near the shop. Sangeeta had no idea where he lived nor did she have his telephone number.
"Where is Deepesh?" she asked Ram Vilas, the shop owner, desperation in her voice.
"Madam, I have no idea," Ram Vilas replied, "I don't even know where he lives."
Sangeeta felt frustrated. She sat on the commode in her bathroom, the skirt hiked up to her waist, and rubbed the clitoris gently. She closed her eyes and had a small orgasm. But it was not as good as having Deepesh next to her, on the grass, his sweaty masculine smell pervading her nostrils.
One day, a month later, as she was returning from Modern High Girls School, Sangeeta saw Deepesh walking in front of her. She ran up and said, "Deepesh, where have you been? I haven't see you for such a long time."
Deepesh replied in a flat tone, "Sangeeta, I am sorry but I am in love with another girl."
She recoiled in shock. She walked away, her back stiff, the eyes wet and sad.
Sangeeta never had an affair after that. Instead, when her father saw her look so sad, he bought her a white Pomeranian dog. They called it Flo-Jo. She took it out for morning and evening walks in the park next to the house. She fed it; she washed the dog in the bathroom; she brushed the hair. Soon, Flo-Jo became the new love in her life.
Meanwhile, Jasmine was becoming famous in the city. She had joined a drama troupe, which staged English language plays, written by Neil Simon and Arthur Miller. The top corporate crowd came for the plays as they had usually sponsored it. There was plenty of coverage in the newspapers and sometimes her picture was also published.
One day, Jasmine went to Manish Agarwal's office in Dalhousie Square and asked him if his tea company could sponsor a play that she was directing. He quickly noticed that she was wearing skintight blue jeans and stiletto heels. The sight excited the middle-aged Manish. Instead of talking about play sponsorships, he asked her what she intended to do with her life.
Jasmine replied that she wanted to go to the United States, although she had not made any concrete plans as yet. She had three months left to finish her degree in literature and her fifth year of French classes. Manish said that he looked after the Rotary scholarships in eastern India. Would Jasmine be interested in getting one, he asked. They could give her one to study international relations at any university in the USA.
"So what should I do to get one of them?" Jasmine asked Manish.
"Well, for starters," he said and looked at Jasmine's breasts, which bulged out in the white t-shirt that she wore.
"You understand, don't you," Manish said, "Then apply to all the universities."
Jasmine understood all right. She got up and went and stood next to Manish. Then she kissed him and said, "Now darling, pull down your zip and I shall keep my side of the bargain." Manish made a quick grab of the breasts and fondled them.
They made love. (Those regular sessions with Roger were paying off. She had become an expert). Like most Indian men, Manish came much too fast. Jasmine got off and then allowed him to suck her breasts for a little while. His face had the look of delight of a little kid having his first lollipop.
"Thanks," he said gratefully.
Satisfied, and also a little embarrassed that he had come so quickly, he declared, "Okay Miss Gupta, you will get a scholarship. I will make sure of that."
Six months later, Jasmine, after a goodbye session with Roger, flew off to America to do a graduate course in international relations at the School of Law in the University of California, Berkeley.
There, she met Ted Smith, a tall American who was also studying international relations. He fell in love with her. She found him charming. He wore steel-rimmed Gandhi spectacles and had an interest in India.
"But what I like most about Indian girls, is their smooth skin and long black hair," he said to Jasmine as he stroked her thighs while they sat under an elm tree on the campus, on a late summer night.
"Will you marry me?" he asked suddenly.
Ted had proposed just three months after they had been going around. Jasmine thought, `Why not?' After all, she did want to settle down in the United States. What better and faster way than to get married to an American? She would become a citizen automatically.
So, one Sunday evening in December, Jasmine got married to Ted. She wore a white gown with lace trimmings and a low back. Most of Ted's friends gazed with frank lust at Jasmine's unblemished creamy back.
They finished their studies and went and settled down in New York. Jasmine applied for a job as an interpreter in the UN. Instead, she was offered the post of Assistant to the Under-Secretary. She took it. Ted started teaching at a local college.
They stayed in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. A year later, Jasmine took Ted to Calcutta. He was stunned at the poverty and the pollution, the dust and the huge crowds.
"How can people live like this?" he said, staring at plastic sheets used as roofing for waist-high bamboo huts on the sidewalk--makeshift arrangements for the refugees from Bangladesh.
Jasmine found Sangeeta moping around.
"What a stupid girl you are," she said, "come to the United States. There are a lot of opportunities there. You can do your degree in literature. I'll send you all the application forms."
Jasmine had nothing much to talk with her father. They had drifted apart years ago. They lived in different worlds now. It seemed so long ago that her mother had died. Life had changed so much. She sat with her father and listened as he spoke about life after retirement. Anup was feeling lonely; he had no company.
"Dad," Jasmine said, pulling on a cigarette and crossing her legs, "why don't you marry again?"
Her father shook his head. "Who will marry me now? I am 60 years old, an old man with grey hair. No woman will look at me." "But there are so many widows around," Jasmine said, although she was not so sure about that, "they will be willing to marry again. l think you should place an ad in the papers."
"Sir, I think it's a good idea," Ted added.
Anup smiled noncommittally.
After a fortnight, Jasmine and Ted flew back to New York. Some months later, Sangeeta got admission into the College of Arts & Sciences at Cornell University at Ithaca, New York. Jasmine had managed to secure a scholarship for her.
Sangeeta was not too excited about going to the States. She was really going to miss Flo-Jo. There was a sudden longing in her for a man. She was still a virgin. She had stayed away from men after the collapse of her brief scene with Deepesh. That was such a long time ago.
But when Sangeeta reached New York, on her first day in class, she met Sanchez Martinez, a curly haired Spaniard with brown eyes and a thick walrus moustache. Sanchez liked Sangeeta because she resembled the exotic Oriental he had always dreamt of having a scene with. They became lovers. Within two months, they were married.
After they graduated, they went back to Barcelona. Sanchez got a job as a journalist in a Catholic newspaper. Sangeeta was pregnant by then; so she was staying at home with her in-laws, learning Spanish and trying to adjust to a life that was so different from the one that she lived in Calcutta.
Back home, their father finally placed an ad in the local newspaper. There were quite a few responses, but the one he liked the most was of Marie Soares. She was a 55-year-old Catholic and had been a spinster all her life. From the photograph, he observed that she had shoulder-length black hair and soft, brown eyes. He replied to her letter.
They met one winter evening just outside her office on Chittaranjan Avenue, where she worked as a stenographer. Anup wore a blue suit with a matching tie and a red rose in his lapel. He liked Marie. She had broad hips, a narrow waist and wore a low-cut blouse. He could see the top of her rather firm breasts. They went into a restaurant to have a snack.
"I never got married because I was very attached to my mother," Marie explained, as she sipped a cup of tea. "My father died in an accident. My mother was just 33 when it happened. I was a year old. She worked as a typist and brought me up all alone.
"When I grew up and suitors came, my mother would get very nervous. Invariably, she would discourage me from marrying. Looking back, I realised that she was afraid I would abandon her, once I got married. She died suddenly two years ago, of old age. I have been very lonely after that, so I thought of getting married."
Anup stared at Marie's face with unblinking eyes, as he began to narrate his life story. As he was speaking, he decided that he would marry Marie. He finished his account and proposed.
Marie said that they should go around for a few months and get to know each other better, before deciding whether to take the plunge or not.
"I know I am quite old," Anup said, "But I am fit. I don't smoke. I don't have late nights. I go for a regular walk in the park."
"It's all right about you being old," Marie said, "I am not young either. But the important thing is that I like you."
They had a courtship of two months. Then Marie said yes.
Anup called up his daughters. Jasmine said that she could not come as she had used up all her leave to go for a vacation to Mexico with Ted. Sangeeta said that since she was pregnant, she was in no condition to travel.
They had a civil marriage. The ceremony was over in fifteen minutes. He gave a tip to the grey-haired woman who read aloud the oath, as they repeated it, in a whitewashed room with wooden benches. Anup felt happy after such a long time. Marie looked ravishing in a blue silk saree. They kissed after the ceremony.
At night, they made their first attempt at sex. Marie was a novice. She was quite scared and nervous. It took quite a while of trying before Anup managed to get going. In the end, they had a nice time.
But after a month or so, it became clear to Marie that Anup tired easily. He would poke a little, and then the perspiration would break out over his forehead. With a sigh, he would come to an orgasm. Marie felt disappointed but she did not show it.
Anup said mournfully, "I am sorry Marie. I can't seem to last very long."
"At my age, to get this much is a bonus," Marie said diplomatically. But if truth be told, Marie liked the feeling of a man inside her. She dearly regretted that she had married so late and missed so many years of sex. ‘But that's life,’ she thought, as her husband snored loudly beside her, `full of missed chances.’
In Barcelona, the baby girl was stillborn. Sangeeta started crying. But Sanchez consoled her by saying that they could always have another child. But it turned out that she would never get pregnant again.
At this time, her father sent her a letter stating that Flo-Jo had died. Sangeeta cried some more. She did not explain to Sanchez why she was so sad over a dog's death.
They were getting a little tired of each other. There were no kids to bring them closer. Sangeeta wondered whether it was time to get another Flo-Jo as she gazed at Sanchez who was watching a football match intently on TV. He had sex with her so rarely now. She could not remember when was the last time she had a full-blown orgasm.
"I am bored, sitting at home, doing nothing," she complained to her husband, one morning, at breakfast time.
"Why don't you get a job? You have a degree," he said, as he scanned the newspaper headlines. He was now Assistant Editor in the newspaper.
Sangeeta applied for a few jobs and finally got one in an English publishing firm. She became friendly with Juanita, a colleague, who had a tawny, lissome figure. Juanita took her home one evening and made love to her, licking her body from head to toe. Then they got into a bathtub and Juanita scrubbed Sangeeta's body gently with a foam-like brush. Sangeeta felt loved and wanted after a long time. Juanita stood up in the tub, reached out and took out a dildo from a medicine cabinet on the wall. She shoved it inside her friend. Sangeeta was already so excited. She came in a huge rush with a loud groan emanating from her throat.
Juanita whispered, "Oh my sweet darling," as she slid her tongue inside Sangeeta's mouth and kept moving the dildo in and out. Sangeeta was amazed that sex with a woman was so much more fulfilling than with a man with his far too aggressive and one-sided `wham bham, thank you maam' attitude.
In a gesture of friendship, Juanita exchanged her tiny red panty for Sangeeta's yellow ones. "We are one baby," Juanita told Sangeeta. It sent a shiver of pleasure down Sangeeta's spine. From then on, Sangeeta swung both ways.
In America, Jasmine was having problems with her marriage. They had no children since they both didn’t want any. "Ted is too possessive," she wrote to Sangeeta. ‘If I spoke to any other man, Ted suspected that I was sleeping with him.’
He was right, of course. In the UN, Jasmine was having an affair with her boss, a six foot four inch Ghanian by the name of Richard Mbwanga. "Oh God, oh God," she screamed in ecstasy, as Richard took her on his office table on the 16th floor of the UN headquarters. There was no doubt in Jasmine's mind about one thing: for sex, black men were better than whites. They lasted much longer.
Jasmine, to make things easier, always wore very short skirts. She took off her Victoria’s Secret panty as soon as she reached the office and tucked it into her purse. That way, she did not have to waste time pulling it down as they had those random lays, which were of a five or ten minute duration between meetings.
Sometimes, on a particularly good day, Richard did her twice or thrice.
Once when they were having a session on the office sofa, her black stilettos digging into Richard's back, Ted called up on the mobile phone. Jasmine tried to speak as calmly as possible, as Richard kept up his piston-like movements, despite her silent pleas.
"What's happened to your voice?" Ted asked, puzzled, as now and then, there was a catch in Jasmine's voice.
"I have a stomach ache, Ted," she replied. She could feel an orgasm rising up in her. She added hastily, "I have to go to the bathroom. I'll call you up later."
She had barely switched off the mobile phone before she came, her body shaking with the enormity of the orgasm. Richard lightly tapped her face with his palm and said with a naughty grin, "Some stomach ache you have there."
As their marriage grew stale, Ted started to make fun of her clothes, her Indian accent and her job. Jasmine got tired of her husband's endless sniping. Abruptly, one Sunday morning, she told him that she wanted a divorce. Ted was stunned. But finally, he accepted her decision. During that time, he fisted her face a couple of times. "You Indian whore," he shouted, "why don't you go back to your country?"
That was a nasty jibe, but Jasmine gritted her teeth and went through with the divorce.
Around this time, she met up with Roger, her lover from Calcutta. They saw each other accidentally in Central Park, when she had gone for a run.
Roger was a laid-back dope addict who liked hashish but stayed away from crack or cocaine. He was a Professor of Indian Philosophy at the Southern Asian Institute attached to Colombia University.
They became lovers once again, but Jasmine continued her torrid sessions with Richard. She liked the danger and the thrill of sex in an official environment.
Once, there was a call from the security on the mobile as they were lying down on the carpet. Richard's wife Sally was downstairs and she was coming up.
Richard came quickly. Then, they broke away, smoothed their hair, rubbed down the creases on their clothes and had barely sat down at their respective desks when Sally breezed in, dressed in a flowing red caftan with an orange scarf on her head.
"Hi darling," Richard said, as, quite smartly, he stepped out from behind his desk and kissed his wife.
Jasmine smiled although it seemed more like a grimace. She said goodbye to Sally and Richard, as they went out to lunch.
The years went by.
One day, Anup had a heart attack and died. He was 73. The children flew down to Calcutta with their companions. Sangeeta was accompanied by Sanchez and Juanita, (Sanchez did not suspect that there was a sexual relationship between the two) and Jasmine came with Roger. (She had not married him.)
Their father looked peaceful in death. They took the body to the Keoratala Crematorium and watched it being put into the oven. An hour later, they collected the ashes and the white bones. They wrapped it in a muslin cloth and, amidst the chanting of prayers by a young priest, a cousin, as the male, submerged the packet gently into the Hooghly river.
The children were seeing Marie for the first time. She had maintained her curvaceous figure. Her face was smooth and unlined although she was 64 years old.
The lawyer read out the will. Everything was for Marie: the flat, the furniture, the bank savings of four lakh rupees.
"That's sad," Sangeeta said, as the group sat at a restaurant, having dinner, “Papa did not leave us anything."
"But then," Sanchez said consolingly, "if you convert the money into American dollars, it's nothing much."
"That's true," added Roger.
"I agree," Jasmine said, puffing on her ever-present cigarette. "She brought happiness to Papa. He always sounded so upbeat in his letters. So let her keep the money. Marie seems to be a nice person. Why create a fuss? She is alone anyway."
"Yes, that's the right thing to do," Juanita said, as Sangeeta pressed her hand under the table.
They kissed Marie on both her cheeks and said goodbye, and they all went back to their respective countries. And so, by twists and turns of fate, a family was broken up, the roots forsaken and, in India now, there is only one solitary, ageing and vulnerable member of the Gupta family.