There is a woman who stands outside my cage, grinning wildly like a tiger which has tasted human flesh. I cannot begin to describe her anatomy. She is stark naked. Her breasts are magnificent and taut, her hips are wide but yet do not remind you of childbearing, and she paces up and down on all fours. Her hair is long and wild and curly, it covers her like a curtain of obscene desire. She breathes a different air- it is pure like liquid oxygen and perhaps as potent. I want to embrace her but I growl instead. She growls back at me. It seems as if we speak the same language.
Would such a woman have a husband? I ask her this question- hesitantly, tearfully, sadly. She asks me the same question almost simultaneously. I nod and she nods. I lose myself in contemplation- we are both at ease in this momentary silence. How can she have a husband? I feel bitter, as if tricked in a game of cards. My body is covered in scabs and sores, my stomach is creased after many childbirths and my breasts have sagged. Had my face been left to nature, it would have showed the lines of laughter and wisdom. I have found lotions and potions to make me eternally young and beautiful. My ringmaster wields his whip and a child is born. My ringmaster wields his whip and I perform for his friends. My ringmaster wields his whip and I, the circus clown, laugh a teary laugh. My face has been untouched by time. You see, my ringmaster knows how to wield the whip cruelly but delicately.
I am sick of my mediocrity. Once upon a time I knew how to paint more than my face. I could make a perfect likeness of what I wanted to be. I painted myself as an astronaut, a dancer, and once (how cleverly) as a painter. Now my fingers are solely occupied in the perpetual practice of cozy domesticity. Every evening I have religiously applied vermilion on the parting of my hair for twenty years.
I look at the woman outside the cage. I ask her a question- “Do we speak the same language?” She asks me the same question, almost at once. It disturbs me. She should not be my echo, she is so different. Her eyes are different. She makes me want to shake my chains off, tear off the gold jewellery that weigh me down toward the earth and bind me to the institution of marriage itself. What marriage is that which has known only a sick servility? It is a farce, a bloody circus. And I- I am a caged tigress- waiting to taste human flesh. I shall eat the iron bars, drink my own blood, and shake my hair wild in a frenzy. I will break the shankha, pala and loha that I wear on my wrists and thus symbolically disown he who has enslaved me. I shall cry and dance and paint, cook the soft flesh of my ungrateful children and then feed it to their sire.
I can do nothing. Thus I part my hair carefully and am about to apply the customary vermilion that I have applied on my forehead for twenty years, without a break, without parole. A strange despair grips me. Those eyes are haunting me and taunting me. She is naked, I am clothed. She is young, I am old. She is a tigress and I am a cat. I hate her. I strike her.
The mirror shatters into a million fragments. Blood trickles slowly from my palm. Before it can congeal, I apply this blood lovingly to my forehead. Only this time, there is no mirror to check whether I have done it right.