The Purple Line

This excerpt is from my reading at the Hyderabad Literary Festival at the Maulana Azad National Urdu University in 2013.

Zubeida felt a butterfly in her stomach as she leaned over the railing to pull out the clothes that were hanging on two black lines parallel to the cement wall. She was fourteen weeks pregnant. She had had three sons and this time she knew it was going to be a girl. Only a girl can flutter like this, she thought and smiled to herself. Her faded brown petticoat was flapping against the wall. The evening sunlight fell on the folds turning them into golden brown feathers, and she unclipped the animated garment from the line and pulled it out. It was warm, like her heart, like her belly button tucked inside pleats of crumpled sari. She pulled out overstretched underwear and socks. She pulled out shirts and trousers. She pulled out her bottle-green kurta with paisley prints on the border. The paisleys looked like little embryos stacked on a windowsill. Her baby would be crouched like a paisley and pumping blood, about twenty-five quarts a day. She knew this because she had read an article in The Hindu called the ‘Amazing Journey of Pregnancy,’ though she didn’t think that pregnancy was a journey to begin with.

As she folded the misfortunes of mankind neatly into a pile and left hope hanging on the line, she saw a minaret of the Wallajah mosque between a cloud and a patch of sky. She had read that the tallest minaret in the world was in Casablanca. As the muezzin called to prayer, she saw people rolling out their prayer mats in the direction of the Qibla.

Her husband had gone for his evening prayers with his two younger brothers. Ramadan was three days away. Her husband had told her that God exempted pregnant and lactating women and travellers during a journey from fasting. She wished she were a traveller, on her way to Casablanca perhaps, and not a pregnant woman. Then she smiled to herself secretly, thinking, this time, it would be different, this time, it would be a girl and she would finally be the mother she never had. Besides, she thought, her smile widening, she didn’t have to fast this Ramadan.The boys were playing with a toy train on skimpy tracks. There was no one else at home. Ever since her mother-in-law died, she stopped performing the prayers but the men went to the mosque after washing themselves several times and rubbing their heads with water.

The boys were playing with a toy train on skimpy tracks. There was no one else at home. Ever since her mother-in-law died, she stopped performing the prayers but the men went to the mosque after washing themselves several times and rubbing their heads with water.

“The whole body with the nostrils, mouth and head must be washed by a complete bath in any of the following cases,” her husband had told her on their wedding night. “One, after intimate intercourse.” They had intercourse thrice a day. His appetite for sex had shocked her at first, but in time, it became a sort of ritual, like the prayers. She would close her eyes and perform in bed as she had performed prayers all her life: eyes gently closed, thinking about parakeets,

They had intercourse thrice a day. His appetite for sex had shocked her at first, but in time, it became a sort of ritual, like the prayers. She would close her eyes and perform in bed as she had performed prayers all her life: eyes gently closed, thinking about parakeets, parachutes and Paris.

“Two, after wet dreams…” he had told her. She wondered who he was dreaming about when he had a wet dream. Was it a woman in a tight red dress? Or was it a woman in an oversized burqa?

She wondered who he was dreaming about when he had a wet dream. Was it a woman in a tight red dress? Or was it a woman in an oversized burqa?

Mustafa was kind. He was a fair, bespectacled man whose overgrown beard made him look much older than his thirty-six years. He owned a lehenga shop near the mosque and sold silk and georgette lehengas in dazzling colours. His life, however, lacked colour. It was one monotonous sentence punctuated by sex and prayers.He adored his wife. He adored the way she sang in the shower, he adored the way her eyes lit up when he took her to the cinema, he adored her smile most of all. He would never let another man see it.

He adored his wife. He adored the way she sang in the shower, he adored the way her eyes lit up when he took her to the cinema, he adored her smile most of all. He would never let another man see it.“Zoo,” he would call her while making love, his breath smelling of mutton biriyani. “Zoo,” he would call her while sitting at the dining table when he wanted another piece of chicken. He was full of

“Zoo,” he would call her while making love, his breath smelling of mutton biriyani.“Zoo,” he would call her while sitting at the dining table when he wanted another piece of chicken. He was full of zoo, she thought, but he had never been to one. She had been to the zoo when she was a little girl with her cousins, her aunts trailing behind them like baby elephants in burqas. It was the early eighties and they thought the zoo was still in Park Town. They had taken the bus from Royapettah to Parry’s Corner and when her aunt asked the conductor for eight tickets to Parry’s, Zubeida thought that they were going to Paris. Paris, she thought, looking at the bright pink tickets, is just a few bus stops away.
But the zoo was not in Parry’s. It had expanded so much that they had to move it out of the city, and the wolfs, jackals, deer, hyenas, elephants, tigers, lions, panthers, giraffes, camels, bears and star tortoises had moved to Vandalur, thirty-five kilometres away. Zubeida wondered how the animals had gone there. Did they travel by bus with bright pink tickets from Paris?