She found herself humoring the sweeper as a way of keeping him from retirement. To make sure he didn't retire until he could bend no more, she saw to his numerous medical requirements. At first he never opened his mouth properly to talk, and she was always scolding him furiously for mumbling. When she realized that he was trying to hide the many gaps of missing teeth, she took him to Delhi and ordered a pair of dentures at great expense. This resulted in a sweeper with a permanent false smile, which turned the cook off cooking.
"Those new teeth memsahib bought for you are made from dog's teeth," said the cook slyly.
From that day on the sweeper went back to his toothless mumblings and Jyoti Ma had a new cause for complaint, this time about how the servants were still abusing her "after everything she did for them."
As was the tradition, from the very start of their marriage, Aakash gave his wife full jurisdiction over the house. He had no interest in the profits of Prakriti, so he was happy that somebody enjoyed spending them. However, sometimes he would catch the gaze of his mahout, and then sense Govinda look away, down at the ground, humbled at the thought that he had ever been allowed into the house. Aakash felt powerless to defend his old compatriots who had looked after him through his early bachelor days on Prakriti. And he didn't enjoy watching them stoop to dishonest behavior in response to Jyoti Ma's unscrupulous demands and wage cuts. Yet there was nothing he could say to stop her, so on a silent level he matched their downfall with his despondency, and detached himself from the house and all its inhabitants, including his own wife.
It frustrated Jyoti Ma no end, because after she had gained dominion over the household she wanted to gain full command of her husband's heart. The way things turned out this was never to be, because she could only accept Aakash if she accepted the whole of humanity. And there was simply not enough room in her house. So Aakash, without a word, stood back, an observer. And she forgot to smile at him. It was only when Jyoti Ma complained that she had none of the tenderness that other wives enjoyed, that Aakash dutifully spent a few nights with her to supply a son.
Nine months later, the birth of Ram was celebrated with almost as much spectacle as the birth of his namesake in the Ramayana. Sweets were distributed throughout the village, alms given, and if you looked hard enough, there were surely flowers being sprinkled from the heavens.
And with this, Jyoti Ma's heart softened a little as it sunned itself in the blessings of this god-given birth. She relinquished control over her household for a few months and devoted herself to enjoying these summer days. Ram was her biggest achievement. Her conquest over love. A person who returned her love, gurgling words that seemed to have real meaning as he pointed to the skies.
There was nothing short of worship in Jyoti Ma's adoration of him. An ayah was hired but she was hardly allowed to pick up the child. Her job was to clean the nappies, and for this she was given the highest status in the household, being the servant closest to Jyoti Ma's baby God. The only time she was strictly reprimanded was when she cut short any rules on hygiene.
With a baby to protect, Jyoti Ma's obsession with hygiene developed into a phobia of the outside world. Everything from outside became "dirty." Boundaries were marked out between the two worlds, which were violated by beady-eyed lizards bringing their reptile skins in from the dirt. By shoes, carrying clods of earth. By insects. Try as she would, she could never ban nature from her house. It continued to encroach upon her sanitised vacuum and entered her rooms with the freedom of air.
Once Ram was taken out for a walk and Jyoti Ma saw one of the workers kissing him and pinching his cheek. Immediately she summoned the baby back inside and rubbed his infant skin raw with disinfectant to stop the diseases from being absorbed.
This is a complete excerpt of Chapter 1 from The Seduction of Silence by Bem Le Hunte. Copyright 2003 Bem Le Hunte. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the publisher, HarperCollins Publishers.
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