Love is a Thing of The Cities by Smriti Ravindra

'At first I did not know your grandfather was my husband,' Sawari Devi said and when Preeti looked up, somewhat confused, she added, 'I thought he was a cousin, a playmate. I was eleven. He was fifteen. I did not pull a veil upon my face then and your grandfather and I played out all day in the fields.'


They were on the roof, spreading lentil balls under the sun, and Sawari Devi paused. 'I played with him and with the other wives in the family. At night my mother-in-law slept between your grandfather and me. I did not mind. I did not know there was anything to mind. Besides, my mother-in-law was the closest thing I had to a mother. After your grandfather died it was she who looked after me and my children. Eventually she left off sleeping with us and I remember crying for her and I remember your grandfather running out the room to bring his mother back so I would not cry. But she could not come. There was another bride in the house now, a younger one who missed her mother and needed comforting, so she slept with them …


'With time, I got used to sleeping with your grandfather and then I got heavy with your uncle in me and all the rules began – the veil, the hours when I could talk to your grandfather and when not, at what hours we could be seen together and when not, all that. The last time I looked directly at your grandfather in broad daylight was when he was eighteen. I was fourteen and your uncle was still so small in my stomach I did not know I was pregnant, but every other woman in the family did. That is the face I remember of your grandfather's.'


Preeti stared. At eleven she could imagine love but not marriage.


'After the rules came in,' said Sawari Devi placing one lentil ball behind another at regular intervals, 'I went to bed first and your grandfather remained outside for an hour or longer, waiting for a decent interval before he could enter the room. In the mornings I left before the sun rose and he followed a couple hours later. It was understood that all the women in the village were to be ready before the men stepped out for their baths and so when I came out of my room all the other women would be coming out too, and we would go to the well to wash up. There was something nice about that.' She paused, remembering. 'The rooms were always dark after sunset. I don't know what I saw of him in that dim light, only that he was my husband. I knew him by his sounds, his voice, his shuffles, all that. I don't think I would have recognised him on the streets even when he was alive.'


'Do you miss him?' Preeti asked.


'Oh?' said Sawari Devi, taken aback by the question. 'I don't know.'


After the balls were spread out they remained on the roof. The sun was strong but they did not move. They sat on a mat, playing with its weave.


'I did not know the man,' Sawari Devi said. 'I knew the boy. He was a happy boy, always ready to play. I remember his boy face. He was a sweet boy. He must have been a handsome man. He must have become very handsome.'


She laughed, embarrassed by her imagination, then she looked at Preeti and smiled. 'I have never spoken of him this way,' she said.


Preeti was sad, sad for her grandmother, sad for her grandfather. Sawari Devi was a lean, tall woman, handsome at forty nine, after twenty five years of widowhood. She was twenty-four when Preeti's grandfather died. Her grandfather was twenty-eight There were no pictures of her grandfather in the family. Preeti had not seen her grandfather in any form and had no memory of him, not even imagined ones.


'Oh I am probably exaggerating,' Sawari Devi said, as though apologising. 'I probably did see him many times and probably knew his face very well too. But it has been a long time. Even if I had seen his face every day for every second of those days, I would still not know his face today.'


'You must have loved him a lot,' Preeti said because she did not really know what to say.


'Love,' said Sawari Devi. 'Love is a thing of the cities. In the villages love is a little bit like god. You don't see it or feel it. You just know it is there and go about living your life.' Then she patted off the lentil dried on her palms and got ready for the next chore.



Smriti Ravindra's book, co-authored with Annie Zaidi, A Bad Boy's Guide to a Good Indian Girl was published by Zubaan, New Delhi in 2011. Her works have appeared in the Westerly Magazine, Asia Writes, The New Voices of Nepal, and Telling Tales. She is a regular contributor to a column in The Kathmandu Post, an English newspaper in Kathmandu, Nepal.