He began to lose his fascination for the bike around the time he went to Tholur to see a girl for a potential match. He barely got a glimpse of her. When she turned and walked away from him, he marvelled at the length of her braid. He wondered if she wore an extension. He had to imagine her face based on the impression her hair had made on his mind. But later he heard that she’d said, “That motorbike looks like a buffalo bull! I am terrified even to look at him.”
He wouldn’t have minded if she had said something negative about him. But she had called his motorbike a buffalo bull. After that, every time he glanced at the bike, he could not help visualising a charging buffalo bull with impressive horns. He started hesitating to ride the bike. He had relied on that vehicle for years, but just because one woman – a stranger – had made a remark, he suddenly felt a distance from the bike.
Even the woman who served as the go-between brokering the marriage alliance said to him, “Why do you need this bike? It is so old-fashioned. No girl would want to sit on it and ride with you.”
Times were such that a girl could reject a man because she did not like his bike. Why not? She had plenty of men dying to marry her; she was spoiled for choice. No wonder she felt entitled.
That very same week, he sold the bike. He bought a new Hero Honda, the kind of bike that young women fancied – women like that long-haired one he had met. But this bike was better suited for young urban men who wore neatly ironed, fashionable clothes. Not for men like him who spent most of their time in the fields, with plants and trees and cattle.
He did not like that bike at all. He likened it to a woman dressed up as a man. But this was the kind that young women seemed to prefer. And still, despite the new bike, he failed to win over that girl whose long hair brushed against her buttocks.
Even though he had only had a fleeting glimpse of her face, he had imagined it for himself on many nights. In fact, in a way it was good for his imagination that he had not seen her face clearly. Now he could change her features as he pleased. But her hair alone stayed constant. The same length. Whenever the old bike cast a shadow on his mind, she too seemed to wander in.
Since she had been responsible for the loss of the bike, he took his revenge by dreaming of having sex with her. She called the bike a buffalo bull. That implied that he was Yaman, the god of death. So he had to show her what Yaman was capable of, didn’t he?
Reflecting on the dream he had just had, he wondered if that was his destiny – to wander endlessly. His grandmother often consoled him. “God has already created a woman somewhere who is meant for you. It is just that we are experiencing some delay in finding her. That’s all.” If god had indeed created a woman meant just for him, why was he keeping her out of sight? What wrong did Marimuthu commit to deserve this?
The vision he saw in his dream, a world in ruins and bereft of women – was that going to come true soon? If he could get married, he would live the way people lived in the old days. He wanted to have at least ten children, and he wanted them all to be girls. The world should never again witness the sorrow of a man like him.
He sat on the parapet wall. The chill of the misty night did not affect him at all. His body and mind were seething in an inner heat.
He could easily understand the body’s signals. Not just now, but for over twenty years, his body had been communicating with him in this exact same language. But he was never able to give it the response it deserved.
His body’s needs were fairly plain. It wanted the company of a woman’s body. Especially on such a misty night. But what he had was an emptiness that would not even allow room for such a thought. He had expected that his body would give up its yearnings at some point, but that didn’t happen. In fact, it seemed to have turned up the fervour of its demands.
Perhaps it was his fate never to be able to quench this desire, but to simply burn and perish in it. There was nothing insignificant about the agony of a thirty-five-year-old body existing without the chance to know another body. It is a sorrow. It is a deep sorrow that cannot be redressed by any other means.
That boy – Kuppan’s son, who’d come and stood by silently earlier that day, looking fragile – even he was fortunate enough to find another body, and he was only seventeen. He didn’t even have a proper moustache yet. Just a faint patch of hair above his lips.
Marimuthu could clearly recall the youthful magnetism of that face. The boy had been so lean, Marimuthu could have grasped him with a single hand. Getting to know another body at such a young age is a sheer blessing. That boy was indeed blessed.
Marimuthu recollected how much he struggled to accept the fact that the young lad was going to get married. In that moment, he had seen that boy as his enemy. How easily his mind turned into his enemy anyone who married young! What he had felt was an intense, jealous rage to physically destroy the boy.
But since he could not do it, he had injected his words with spite: “The little fellow is throbbing to get married?” He had felt some satisfaction in saying that. The boy had felt insulted by those words. He had reared his head like a wounded snake.
At that age, when there is both shyness and yearning, words that refer to body parts can either titillate or humiliate. Marimuthu had experienced such humiliation too. During a land dispute with one of his paternal cousins, Marimuthu had spoken a little too forcefully. And his cousin’s wife, that horrible woman, had responded with spite.
“You puny little thing! You haven’t even grown hair on your thighs! You dare to talk to me like that? Go! Go roll naked on this land, since it is so precious to you!”
It was perhaps her curse that tethered him to the land. Perhaps that was the reason he did not get the chance to care for a woman the way he got to care for the land and make it thrive. Today, he ended up taking that helplessness out on Kuppan’s son. What did he manage to accomplish with that? Postponing that boy’s access to a woman’s body by six months. But what was the harm in waiting six months? Let him wait. In those months, the boy’s anger and irritation would be focused on Marimuthu. So be it.
If Marimuthu had wanted, he could have given Kuppan the money right away. Poor man. He only asked for five thousand rupees. The family would have managed the wedding with that small amount. Marimuthu, on the other hand, would need ten, even twenty times more for his wedding. Was that the reason for his irritation? He was actually quite an attractive boy. He had bright eyes that looked like they were kohl-lined. Defined eyebrows. An intense face that would draw anyone in.
In the cool moonlight, Marimuthu paid attention to his own body. Strong, firm ribs with not a single wrinkle or sag on his broad hairy chest. Indrawn abdomen, like he had been fasting. He may not have the youthful form and sheen of that young man, but Marimuthu was far more attractive than men his own age. They had all grown old, their chest and abdomen blending into one. Even their faces had become swollen and deformed.
Marimuthu had a slightly receding hairline. But baldness had its attraction too, didn’t it? A few grey hairs here and there, but nobody could spot them when he applied some oil and combed his hair down neatly. Other than this, his body was beautiful in its own gentle way. He caressed it with his fingers. That touch only made the body cry out more. That cry he had heard a little while ago from a cow now seemed to come from his own body. An involuntary “Ayyo!” came from his lips. Then he sat huddled in a corner.
Excerpted with permission from Resolve, Perumal Murugan, translated from the Tamil by Aniruddhan Vasudevan, Hamish Hamilton.