I watch as she throws these things into the bin, along with the photos of my wedding and ex-husband. Photos of exes are like fresh paint masking the smell of piss. She seems to have found all the ones that I’d printed. I look at my ex-husband for the last time before he’s consumed by the fire: those brown eyes like sand running through fingers, that aquiline nose that bends like whiplash, that smile that curls outwards like a sail too loose, and skin like a dove bathed in honey.
My heart that has been a bird flying from branch to branch becomes still. A small cicatrice is made on my memory. I am healed.
“So, this is what you do at a divorce party,” someone remarks. We laugh.
As the smoke clears, a guest points out an intriguing gift: a condom bouquet. An acquaintance, Richa, takes one out and makes a balloon. The others do the same. My ceiling is filled with condom balloons. Jeet plays It’s Raining Men. Everyone begins to dance.
Just as well.
My childhood friend Sanaya comes up to me, “I think this is awesome, Manu. Best. Party. Ever. And I’m seriously happy that you’re out of that nightmare.”
I blink in surprise.
“She’s been so strong. I can’t even imagine going through what she did,” I hear Jeet say.
To brush the bloom, you have to tear the flower from its stem.
I hug them.
“Sorry, I don’t agree,” Richa interrupts us. She’s drunk. “This party is making me sad.”
“You’re clearly not woke enough, babe,” Jeet says defensively. I touch his arm. His India is not everyone’s India. We have to be tolerant of those who are intolerant.
“Why would you even have a d-i-v-o-r-c-e party?” Richa continues. “It’s inappropriate.”
Where do I begin explaining? I haven’t seen her in years. She can’t even say the word “divorce” out loud.
“Well, I did try to find a pandit to conduct a divorce havan, you know,” I say, “but Hinduism doesn’t have a cleansing ritual for apavitra, ashudh aurats like me – ”
Richa looks at me wide-eyed and turns to blend into the crowd. I chuckle. My sarcasm has rarely got me anywhere, but I go nowhere without it.
I take a deep breath. Of course, I had wondered for a few days – who wouldn’t, after all? – whether having such a party was at all appropriate. In India, failure is rarely acknowledged, public failure never so. And here I am owning to the most public of my failures. Embracing and celebrating it. What if I break down during my own party? What if I begin crying in front of my guests? What if everyone looks at me with pity?
It’s certainly not wise to ignore one’s emotions for the sake of one’s principles. Because there is the bigger issue of my own confused feelings, isn’t there? In my marriage of five years, I had meandered from disorder to chaos, in the general direction of decimation. I had imploded and scattered.
My pieces were everywhere. I resented this time and how I had squandered my love on a man of all things. If I couldn’t make my marriage work, what was the point of my existence? It was the one thing I had to get right. I’d been told this since I was a little girl. Such feelings flap around me, frayed and random, completely out of my control, no matter how hard I try to rein them in.
But I also know that a divorce party, a celebration, is that helpful height from where I can see clearly into my past, present and future. It shows me that I have gathered my pieces back together. I am whole again. I don’t have to pretend to be strong about my divorce because I am strong.
As I stand at my party, a published novelist with awards to boot, eight years after I first met my ex-husband, I decide to not cry because I’ve travelled too far to allow my tears to fall. I will not break down because I’m grateful for the horror and pain. My failed marriage has not diminished me. It’s not been futile. Its collapse has not been a coincidence, but a tightly structured design to lead me, like a magic carpet, into a future that is bright and hopeful. This provides me with great consolation.
My doorbell rings. Sherna opens the door. I can’t see who the guests are. She runs up to me, her eyes filled with laughter.
“There are some gigolos at the door. They’re dressed as cops. They’re asking for you. I didn’t know it was that kind of a party!”
She winks at me.
I look at her quizzically.
It isn’t that kind of a party.
I walk to the door. Clashing thoughts run through my head.
Is this someone’s surprise gift? Or perhaps someone’s idea of a joke? Did the smoke from the bin tip someone off? Is our music too loud? Too raucous? Are my guests too many? Did I forget to get a liquor licence? Or are there actual policemen at my door? Have they come because it’s a divorce party? Fuck.
“Put out that joint,” I tell a friend’s friend. “Burst the condom balloons,” I tell a few others. “Hide the booze,” I tell Sherna.
Of course, the man at the door is no gigolo. He’s a real cop. Tall, strong and fair, with the face of a man who’s never let himself eat a vada pav. There are two constables with him. They’re all in khaki – short-sleeved shirts and long pants.
Nothing in my life has been a coincidence. This man is here for a reason.
He says something when he sees me. I can’t hear him over the music.
“Turn it off,” I tell Jeet. He turns off the music. There’s a groan from the guests till they realise there are cops at the door. Everyone stands to attention. There is complete silence.
“Are you Maneka Sodi?” the cop asks me.
“I am Maneka Pataudi,” I reply confidently, as though I’ve faced many cops before.
The cop looks at me in confusion.
“I used to be Maneka Sodi. But I’ve gone back to using my maiden name,” I say.
The cop doesn’t blink. His eyes are black like a raven’s.
“Miss Pataudi, your husband Suneet Sodi was found dead in Dubai a few hours ago.”
There’s a collective gasp from the crowd.
“Ex-husband, not husband,” someone says loudly.
I don’t react. The cop looks at me like a hawk looks at a sparrow.
“You don’t look surprised. Your husband is dead!”
“Ex-husband,” I say.
The cop squints in displeasure. “Aren’t you even going to ask me how he died?”
“How did he die?” I ask, my voice level, though I’ve never been good at disguising my feelings.
“Would you like to tell us?” he asks.
Frankly, I’d prayed for him to be hit by a truck. A 100-tonne truck.
“Must’ve been his snake,” I mumble instead.
“What did you say?” the cop asks. He’s clearly startled by my insouciance.
I cross my arms and stare at him, then I add, ‘Sorry, sir. I didn’t catch your name.”
This riles him up, as I know it will. I have learnt what riles men up: women they cannot control. I watch as the cop stands up to his full height and says, “Maneka Sodi...”
“Maneka Pataudi, I have come to arrest you for the murder of your ex-husband.”
Excerpted with permission from Boys Don’t Cry: A True Story, Almost, Meghna Pant, Ebury Press.
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