Minal had first left the city after school, when excellent marks and a fortunate impression at an interview assured her a place at St Stephen’s, the college to die for. She would be sharing accommodation with six other girls in one of the boarding houses near the university.
The whole family insisted on coming to drop her, brothers, sisters-in-law, mother. It was love being demonstrated. And to fight against love was to be ungrateful.
Initially the pull of home proved strong, for she ran back at every opportunity. The brothers’ wives were disappointed. This was tame behaviour in one who had always caused trouble. “Why so quiet, Mina? Met someone?” they would ask, vicariously savouring the life of an independent young woman. “Otherwise what use is co-ed? And you’re doing something about your appearance. High time.”
“I’m not quiet,” said Minal angrily. She was fond of her sisters-in-law, but their small-town preoccupations confined conversation to how is Delhi, how are you, and you and you, when are you getting married, and what do you want for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
Now she tried to tell them about the protests over the Mandal Commission in which she had gotten involved. “My friends think merit should be the sole criteria for admission. Why should a student with ninety per cent, who has slogged all year round, make way for sixty, even forty-five per cent because they are SC, ST? Arre, improve the educational system from nursery up. Make sure government schools function. Why ruin higher institutions with quota students, ruin the civil services with quota candidates? One student, Rajiv Goswami, was so agitated he set himself on fire at the AIIMS crossing.”
The sisters-in-law were shocked at Rajiv Goswami’s extreme behaviour, his poor parents, and bored by the Mandal Commission. “Mina, you have become very serious in college. This is not like you.”
But to tell them about Anthony D’Souza, the organiser of most of these thoughts, was unthinkable. She compensated by writing his name in her diary. Anthony. Anthony D’Souza. Then she wrote Minal D’Souza faintly in pencil and drew a heart around the two names. Minal D’Souza didn’t sound right, but what could she do? This was where fate had chosen to direct her gaze. His brilliant mind, his wit, his multiple talents . . . would her mother and her brothers be impressed when she introduced them, or would they just see a church looming in the background? Her family was very narrow-minded. She would cross that bridge when she came to it.
She had met him in the first month of college. Join me for coffee? Anthony D’Souza, second year, debater, actor, poet, mathematician, who wouldn’t join him for coffee?
He led her towards the university café. “You wear no rings,” he said as he held her hand.
“My fingers itch from the sweat. Though my mother is always after me to wear jewellery. She thinks I dress too plain.”
“Is she right?”
Was her mother right? They had both assumed she was.
“I don’t know,” she said slowly.
Within a few weeks, Anthony announced they needed to take their relationship to another level. This meant borrowing a friend’s place. Was she willing? Of course, she said as anxious quivers ran through her. Would they go all the way? She desired him, as much as he desired her, his Rabbit.
Once in the room, he took out a thick towel from his satchel and placed it on the bed. Ignore that, he said, we are going to take our time. And if you want to stop, just say.
It took an hour and in that hour she lost her thoughts, her mind, her will.
She could only nod.
“It will hurt,” he whispered, positioning himself above her, “but after that I promise, you will love it.” It was just as well she was swimming in a sea of pleasure, for as he pushed against her tightness she wanted nothing more, whatever the pain, whatever the consequences. He moved slowly, taking his weight on his hands. She drew her nails down his sweaty back, feeling like a woman of the world, for here she was giving and bearing the marks of sex. Deeper she scratched and harder he bit till she cried out and then he stopped, smoothing her hair away from her face, kissing her again and again, looking at his tenderness.
They became closer. She was completely his, and he, he surveyed his domain with the eye of a lord and master. For two years it was Anthony who went with her to buy clothes, Anthony with whom she smoked and drank, Anthony who supervised her reading, Anthony who tried to rearrange her thoughts about sex and marriage. So antiquated to link the two, separate them and see how free you feel.
In the last year clouds began to appear on her horizon. Paper clouds, made up of brochures with names of American universities on them.
“Don’t you want to apply?” he asked.
“You still have a year in which to start the process.”
But she had neither the inclination, nor the stamina, nor she thought the brains.
“My mother wants me to get married.”
“You, Rabbit, are destined for greater things than marriage.”
Minal tried not to look bewildered.
“You have a fine artistic sensibility, you are always dragging me to this or that exhibition.”
“Well you drag me to plays and films.”
“Exactly. A relationship of equals.”
“That can continue even if we are married.” He looked his pity and turned her mind to her equal, essentially free status.
“Mama’s telling me to do an MA in Art History from Chandigarh. Apparently, it’s quite comprehensive, covering both Indian and Western till the present day,” said Minal to her lover sometime later.
“What passes for the present day in Punjab University?”
“Yes, it’s not bad. DU doesn’t even have Art History.”
“All the more reason to go for it then.”
“You don’t sound very involved in my choices,” she said finally.
“Baby, don’t be unfair. Of course, I am involved.”
But how involved could Anthony be when he had just been accepted with a full scholarship to a master’s-cum-PhD programme in maths at Urbana Champaign, University of Illinois?
“You are just pretending. I get it. You’re leaving, and we have no future.”
“Baby, baby, don’t spoil our last days,” he said, sliding his hand up her leg.
“I have decided to never marry,” she announced at home. “Marriage is the tool of patriarchy.”
Her sisters-in-law giggled and said that Mina was too-too much. “You cannot develop if you are married. Look at you two. Your life revolves around your husbands, your sons.”
The sisters-in-law giggled again. “Come on, Mina, one has to get married. Otherwise one has no place in society. No one respects you.”
“If everybody thinks like that, how will anything change?”
But marriage and children were part of one’s passage through the world. It was simple and straightforward. All this thinking interfered with the chances of a settled happy home.
Excerpted with permission from The Gallery, Manju Kapur, Penguin Vintage.