It starts when you are thirteen or fourteen, and sitting on the hard triangular seat of the red bicycle makes your crotch tingle. You move uncomfortably ( more like rubbing it hard there)and feel electricity race through your body. Soon you start liking the hard conical seat. 

You like the bathroom mirror too, the one that tilts down, and how your body makes you feel: sexy. The unblemished skin, the curves, the two sweetest cherry tomatoes on your chest, and when your father knocks on the door, you set the mirrors straight, slip into your clothes, and vanish. At school, you meet people, the ones you call BOYS, and you realize you like almost everyone. EVERY SINGLE ONE.  However, the broad chests attract you the most, and you wish to be saved by them, to be your knight in shining armor, to save you from some fictitious torment of life and become yours forever and love you like princesses are loved. You listen to songs(strictly Bollywood) that encourage you to think about love, no about kiss, no about sex, except you don't really know what really happens around the S, the E, and the X. Bollywood doled out only so much. 

One day, while your mother is asleep in the room next to yours, you close your eyes and imagine five men on your body, slithering like snakes. You don’t know why you do that, but you do. A moment later, when your mother calls for you- you pretend to be woken up after a nice nap. Without fail, you mention, I’ve so much homework to do and get back to books. And then you find snakes there. You see them everywhere. But you are an A- grade student, and snakes cannot ruin your track record. You try to focus because your father wants you to become an engineer like him. The snakes go back into their holes, but you soon discover that they are pretty uncontrollable. They flicker their tongues while the teacher explains the Pythagoras theorem, and you wonder if Pythagoras had a broad hairy chest too. They stick their head out while you are in the temple amidst the drums, the claps, and the bells. 

Eventually, you give up. Eventually, you surrender and let life happen. The friends that your older brother gets home bring inexplicable joy to your heart. The moment you see them climbing the stairs of your flat, you slide into a skirt, a skirt that runs an inch below the knee. You soon adjust the waist and pull it up so it is three inches above the knee. With your parents out for their regular and mundane affairs, you sashay around while greeting them, your voice more cheery than it is. Your brother does not approve of the behavior and comes down heavily on you after your parents return. You sob, accusing him of being overprotective and suffocative. To save your snakes, you spill the beans about his transgressions at school. It's ugly. Your parents scold you, hit him, and then life is back to normal. That night the snakes don’t come. Your brother’s friends do- the dimensions of their lips, the shape of their hands, the width of their chest, and your short skirt. You are convinced, all your life, you think, this is the feeling that will stay…forever. Like forever. Like forever, forever. Like salt and pepper, like shoe and laces, like lock and key. 

By twenty-five, you have reached the pinnacle of exploration. You find interesting people in your office parking lot, cafeteria, PVR cinema halls, and overall everywhere. You hook with some, and some hook with you. One day you call it love; the other day, it’s just a fling; the other day, just friendship; and the other day, it’s all over. You applaud yourself for not offering the treasure chest yet because that’s what Bollywood taught you, and like a good student, you wait until you find yourself walking slowly, draped in a red sequined lehenga, towards the bridegroom. You look at him in his sherwani and thank your stars for such a good-looking man with whom you can play snake and ladder all your life- the total number of possible experiences being something like infinity.

You are so determined to keep on having sex that when you find out, twelve years later, sitting in your car, waiting for your ten years old daughter at the RSM center, your desire for sex has started to wane, and you turn your eyes away from yourself.

You haven't hit the menopause button yet, but you have gathered all sorts of information from Healthline and Mayo Clinic, and Webmd about hormonal therapy, rings, and creams, and gels , just in case. However, the door seems to creak when opened, and you freak out thinking about- now what? 

Months slip by; the periods come as torrential rain followed by dryness of a kind that makes your fingers turn into a mace with metal spikes. Sex starts to hurt, so painful that you wonder if it’s time to share it with your still-good-looking man. You talk yourself into sex for the sake of marriage and out of love for your husband, the dryness, the itching, and the burning spills, nonetheless.  While he’s sympathetic,  you have also started to envy him, his youth, and his desire that you cannot keep up with. You soon feel like losing a race while your partner is still going strong. A trip to the gynecologist informs you of a vaginal cyst that requires surgery. 

“We’ll perform a radical hysterectomy,” she says. Her impassive voice makes you itch. Doctors use that voice while prescribing Tylenol for coughs and colds. Hysterectomy is a blitzkrieg on womanhood itself. You want her to see your suffering. She wants you to choose a date for the surgery. In your mind you wish her a cyst too. 

What happens in the next one year is what you perform every year around Diwali. She declutters everything within. There is nothing left to rearrange—more trash than treasure. 

Your vagina has shrunk to a size and a place you do not recognize, which is enough to mortify you. 

“Can I still have sex?” You ask the gynecologist who’s busy scribbling over-the-counter vaginal lubricants and recommends staying off it for three months. 

‘Keep walking,’ she adds. 

Keep walking echoes in your head as you slide from one year to another, as your husband faithfully waits for things to improve. You want to inject tons of estrogen into your body, but you refrain. Your husband performs the act slowly and softly while you count the spider webs on the walls and the dosa batter in the warm oven for fermentation. There is a voice within that informs with an urgency that you don’t love him anymore, and he doesnt love you anymore. The leviathans in your head make you restless as you struggle with the brain fog. It's not about him; it's about you. You don't want yourself- the shrunk self, the not-so-beautiful, the not-so-everything that once was. 

 One day you meet your book club friends. Amidst all the cerebral banter, what you really want to listen to are cyst stories. You compare hair, nails, skin, boobs, and the quality of the treasure chest. Some are sympathetic to your woes, some share their stories of waning desire and how it’ll never be what it was, and some plainly lie, making you feel inferior. You carry a cyst wherever you go. 

Facelift, breast lift, pills, estrogen shots- you find yourself drowning in a dizzying world of how-to-stay-young. To accept that your libido has weakened and the once supple sex organ lies maim is a truth that stands tall and naked. It’s a slap in your face. Was it foolishness to center your life so much around carnal desires? The wrinkles haven't started, but you know they will. The breasts haven’t begun to sag, but you know they will. That is how aging works; one by one, you will age, much against your wishes, efforts, and promises of science. One by one, every organ will become weaker despite the daily trip to the Fitness Center. You teeter until you collapse. Aging obliterates any illusion that youthful bubbles are trustworthy. 

You feel a sense of umbrage and find it hard to imagine being happy about this. But if you listen closely, you are able to tune in to what your body is saying to you- the ways it wants you to be kind to yourself, remove the blinders you have worn all your life, and look at beauty and joy in things that escaped your eyes- the expanse of the sky, the clear gurgling stream a mile from your house, the sonorous call of the barn swallows and the cardinals in the wilderness, the blue perched in the pine tree outside your family room the tiger swallowtails and the gulf fritillary around your house plants, the blessing of your teenagers squabbles over Monopoly and Belgium chocolates, and your husband’s silent companionship that in quiet ways continues to grow. People remember how they are treated in their lowest moments and he, your husband, provides consideration you never expected can come from men. You find it confounding to know that love can exist and thrive without sex fueling it all the time. And while that makes you ashamed of your past obsession with it, it also provides irrefutable peace that while your cyst haunts you, you have someone willing to look beyond the cyst. The garden where you once lived has regrown into a new world. The snakes that once lived have shed the skin and moved on.


Image courtesy-Pixabay


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