BOOK EXCERPT

No one writes about searing love like KR Meera does, and this novel proves it again

'Shouldn’t women laugh? Don’t you know that you have to make a woman laugh before you...'

I will never forget Lily’s face when she heard his words. Madhav smoothed his ruffled hair, and started putting the cushion covers and carpets back in their places. Silence reigned in the room. Lily calmly opened the door and stepped out. Overwhelmed, I sat down heavily on the settee. After confirming that Lily had left, Madhav locked the door and knelt before me. He lifted my feet into his hands and buried his face in them. His long eyelashes stroked my feet. And I melted like butter.

Later, he took me to bed. “Please don’t be sad,” he implored. Though I felt like crying, I smiled. He made me sleep and then left our home. Afterwards he called up to inquire if I was feeling better. He returned rather late that night and, holding me close, slept contentedly.

In that dingy brown room of the Maighar, hemmed in by chipped walls replete with numerous cracks, as I lay on the rusty cot beneath the sodden, smelly clothes hanging on the clothes line, I could hear the waves of my old laughter.

It was the laughter of a stupid girl who had the arrogance of having found her man.

Later, much later, after Unni and Kanna were born, I had met Lily again. By then several other women had streamed into Madhav’s life – a young actress, a lady politician, a writer, a television anchor and, finally, a dancer – and I had come to realise that jealousy was indeed irrelevant.

“I am feeling so sad for you,” Lily had sympathised.

“Why on earth?” I had retorted, stung by false pride.

“Tulsi, you don’t deserve so much punishment.”

The sincerity in her voice had made me weak.


“I knew that this would happen,” she continued.

“Do you remember the day I came to your home? After asking me to leave, Madhav left the house himself, two hours or so later...? Perhaps you’ve forgotten, Tulsi.”

“No.”

“He had come to my hotel room. He fell at my feet and begged for forgiveness. He washed my feet with his tears.”

Lily’s words had pierced my heart like sharp iron nails.

“He made love to me,” she went on. “Then he called you from the phone in my room. I was half asleep when I heard him ask, ‘Are you all right, Tulsi?’ I threw him out of my life that day.”

She wiped her tears.

“What can be done? No one can hate him...He is simply irresistible.”

“Thank you for the information.”

“Be bold,” she said. “Please do not hesitate to ask for help...”

I had struggled hard to maintain my dignity before her. The dignity of a doormat. She affectionately patted the cheeks of Kanna, who was perched on my hip. I was proud of myself for not breaking down in front of her. I felt the same pride when I secured a place for myself in Vrindavan’s annadanam queue for the first time, and again when I was summoned at night by a priest of the Rangji temple two days after that.

The room that I was summoned to was in a quarter meant for priests. The man moistened his thick lips repeatedly as he approached me.

“Tulsi, you are such a fine girl. I do not like the idea of you living amidst all these tonsured women...You can stay in my home, if you wish. That means with all the facilities. See, my wife is old. As for me, I am not ageing at all...I still have enough youth to satisfy a woman like you...”

His red satin dhoti, the saffron shawl covering his upper body, the long tilak on his forehead, those thick lips with the snake-like tongue flicking in and out – all of these provoked utter revulsion in me. He was fondling himself as he talked to me. I felt like vomiting. Yet, I also felt a cruel sense of satisfaction. When he touched me, I sincerely wanted to oblige him. But my body had turned to stone.

“You are pretty,” he muttered, licking his lips again.

I started laughing.

“Why are you laughing?”

“Shouldn’t women laugh?” I asked him. “Don’t you know that you have to make a woman laugh before you fuck her?”

I had laughed again when he undressed himself. On seeing his flat nose, his protruding tummy and shrivelled organ, I had laughed without stopping.

“Why are you laughing like this? Are you mocking this old man?” He was upset.

“Do not get angry,” I told him gently. “You can rape me if you want.”

Fed up, the old man had let me go. I too was bitterly frustrated.

My body was full of poison. Love’s poison. I did not desire to die. I wanted to survive. To live on, like a horrendous, festering wound. Those who saw me ought to feel this pain. Like Madhav’s love, I too should corrode everything around me.

When the midnight puja bells of the Madan Mohan temple rang out, I stretched out on the iron cot in the Maighar. I was curious about Madhav. Had he suffered a heart attack? Madhav’s heart, I thought facetiously. Madhav, who could corrode lips while kissing. As I lay thinking, Ramakrishna Pandit called my name from outside: “Tulsi mai!”

My heart stopped beating for a moment. I was afraid that he had come to give me some news of Madhav. My hatred for Madhav was all-consuming. I wished to smash him into smithereens. And yet I also wished that he would live on. I wanted his beating heart – so that I could corrode it myself. I stepped out of the room. It was a moonlit night. In the dim light, I saw Madhav in the distance. Wrapped in his Kashmiri shawl, he was waiting by Ramakrishna Pandit’s side. I was enraged.

The pandit stepped forward, the beam from his torch lighting the way.

“He walked out from the hospital without permission, Tulsi mai. It seems he has something to say to you. He will leave soon after that.”

I stood motionless. I watched Madhav’s face as if through a sleepy haze. He had greyed a bit. Lost some hair. Grown a beard. The grey strands gleamed silver in the moonlight, as did the long lashes that framed his large eyes. I stared at Madhav as if he was a stranger. He hobbled towards me, one side of his body drooping. With great effort, he knelt on the ground.

Before I realised what was happening, he put his lips, moist and warm, on my feet.

My filthy, scarred, calloused feet. I stepped back as if burned. Madhav toppled over, losing balance.

I ran back to my room and fell on to the iron cot, struggling for breath.

From the grimy walls surrounding me, numerous Krishnas in different postures gazed soulfully at me. I went mad. Someone played the flute right in my ears without stopping. I felt like running wildly through the streets, stark naked.

“A flute note by the riverside! Ah, my shattered heart, what is the relevance of recognition now?”

But my legs did not move. I curled up on that iron cot, sheltering in its cold, breathing heavily. My feet felt heavy. It was as if Madhav’s lips had fused on to them. I rubbed one foot against the other, hoping to obliterate his touch. I did not succeed. I even tried briskly rubbing an old rag on my feet. Finally, I went to the bathroom and, taking water from the dirty, paan-stained, phlegm-soiled washbasin, washed my feet again and again. It was useless. The flesh and the bones had both corroded away. He still had the capacity to dissolve me.

Excerpted with permission from The Poison of Love, KR Meera, translated from the Malayalam by Ministhy S, Hamish Hamilton.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

India’s urban water crisis calls for an integrated approach

We need solutions that address different aspects of the water eco-system and involve the collective participation of citizens and other stake-holders.

According to a UN report, around 1.2 billion people, or almost one fifth of the world’s population, live in areas where water is physically scarce and another 1.6 billion people, or nearly one quarter of the world’s population, face economic water shortage. They lack basic access to water. The criticality of the water situation across the world has in fact given rise to speculations over water wars becoming a distinct possibility in the future. In India the problem is compounded, given the rising population and urbanization. The Asian Development Bank has forecast that by 2030, India will have a water deficit of 50%.

Water challenges in urban India

For urban India, the situation is critical. In 2015, about 377 million Indians lived in urban areas and by 2030, the urban population is expected to rise to 590 million. Already, according to the National Sample Survey, only 47% of urban households have individual water connections and about 40% to 50% of water is reportedly lost in distribution systems due to various reasons. Further, as per the 2011 census, only 32.7% of urban Indian households are connected to a piped sewerage system.

Any comprehensive solution to address the water problem in urban India needs to take into account the specific challenges around water management and distribution:

Pressure on water sources: Rising demand on water means rising pressure on water sources, especially in cities. In a city like Mumbai for example, 3,750 Million Litres per Day (MLD) of water, including water for commercial and industrial use, is available, whereas 4,500 MLD is needed. The primary sources of water for cities like Mumbai are lakes created by dams across rivers near the city. Distributing the available water means providing 386,971 connections to the city’s roughly 13 million residents. When distribution becomes challenging, the workaround is to tap ground water. According to a study by the Centre for Science and Environment, 48% of urban water supply in India comes from ground water. Ground water exploitation for commercial and domestic use in most cities is leading to reduction in ground water level.

Distribution and water loss issues: Distribution challenges, such as water loss due to theft, pilferage, leaky pipes and faulty meter readings, result in unequal and unregulated distribution of water. In New Delhi, for example, water distribution loss was reported to be about 40% as per a study. In Mumbai, where most residents get only 2-5 hours of water supply per day, the non-revenue water loss is about 27% of the overall water supply. This strains the municipal body’s budget and impacts the improvement of distribution infrastructure. Factors such as difficult terrain and legal issues over buildings also affect water supply to many parts. According to a study, only 5% of piped water reaches slum areas in 42 Indian cities, including New Delhi. A 2011 study also found that 95% of households in slum areas in Mumbai’s Kaula Bunder district, in some seasons, use less than the WHO-recommended minimum of 50 litres per capita per day.

Water pollution and contamination: In India, almost 400,000 children die every year of diarrhea, primarily due to contaminated water. According to a 2017 report, 630 million people in the South East Asian countries, including India, use faeces-contaminated drinking water source, becoming susceptible to a range of diseases. Industrial waste is also a major cause for water contamination, particularly antibiotic ingredients released into rivers and soils by pharma companies. A Guardian report talks about pollution from drug companies, particularly those in India and China, resulting in the creation of drug-resistant superbugs. The report cites a study which indicates that by 2050, the total death toll worldwide due to infection by drug resistant bacteria could reach 10 million people.

A holistic approach to tackling water challenges

Addressing these challenges and improving access to clean water for all needs a combination of short-term and medium-term solutions. It also means involving the community and various stakeholders in implementing the solutions. This is the crux of the recommendations put forth by BASF.

The proposed solutions, based on a study of water issues in cities such as Mumbai, take into account different aspects of water management and distribution. Backed by a close understanding of the cost implications, they can make a difference in tackling urban water challenges. These solutions include:

Recycling and harvesting: Raw sewage water which is dumped into oceans damages the coastal eco-system. Instead, this could be used as a cheaper alternative to fresh water for industrial purposes. According to a 2011 World Bank report, 13% of total freshwater withdrawal in India is for industrial use. What’s more, the industrial demand for water is expected to grow at a rate of 4.2% per year till 2025. Much of this demand can be met by recycling and treating sewage water. In Mumbai for example, 3000 MLD of sewage water is released, almost 80% of fresh water availability. This can be purified and utilised for industrial needs. An example of recycled sewage water being used for industrial purpose is the 30 MLD waste water treatment facility at Gandhinagar and Anjar in Gujarat set up by Welspun India Ltd.

Another example is the proposal by Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) to recycle and reclaim sewage water treated at its existing facilities to meet the secondary purposes of both industries and residential complexes. In fact, residential complexes can similarly recycle and re-use their waste water for secondary purposes such as gardening.

Also, alternative rain water harvesting methods such as harvesting rain water from concrete surfaces using porous concrete can be used to supplement roof-top rain water harvesting, to help replenish ground water.

Community initiatives to supplement regular water supply: Initiatives such as community water storage and decentralised treatment facilities, including elevated water towers or reservoirs and water ATMs, based on a realistic understanding of the costs involved, can help support the city’s water distribution. Water towers or elevated reservoirs with onsite filters can also help optimise the space available for water distribution in congested cities. Water ATMs, which are automated water dispensing units that can be accessed with a smart card or an app, can ensure metered supply of safe water.

Testing and purification: With water contamination being a big challenge, the adoption of affordable and reliable multi-household water filter systems which are electricity free and easy to use can help, to some extent, access to safe drinking water at a domestic level. Also, the use of household water testing kits and the installation of water quality sensors on pipes, that send out alerts on water contamination, can create awareness of water contamination and drive suitable preventive steps.

Public awareness and use of technology: Public awareness campaigns, tax incentives for water conservation and the use of technology interfaces can also go a long way in addressing the water problem. For example, measures such as water credits can be introduced with tax benefits as incentives for efficient use and recycling of water. Similarly, government water apps, like that of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, can be used to spread tips on water saving, report leakage or send updates on water quality.

Collaborative approach: Finally, a collaborative approach like the adoption of a public-private partnership model for water projects can help. There are already examples of best practices here. For example, in Netherlands, water companies are incorporated as private companies, with the local and national governments being majority shareholders. Involving citizens through social business models for decentralised water supply, treatment or storage installations like water ATMs, as also the appointment of water guardians who can report on various aspects of water supply and usage can help in efficient water management. Grass-root level organizations could be partnered with for programmes to spread awareness on water safety and conservation.

For BASF, the proposed solutions are an extension of their close engagement with developing water management and water treatment solutions. The products developed specially for waste and drinking water treatment, such as Zetag® ULTRA and Magnafloc® LT, focus on ensuring sustainability, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the water and sludge treatment process.

BASF is also associated with operations of Reliance Industries’ desalination plant at Jamnagar in Gujarat.The thermal plant is designed to deliver up to 170,000 cubic meters of processed water per day. The use of inge® ultrafiltration technologies allows a continuous delivery of pre-filtered water at a consistent high-quality level, while the dosage of the Sokalan® PM 15 I protects the desalination plant from scaling. This combination of BASF’s expertise minimises the energy footprint of the plant and secures water supply independent of the seasonal fluctuations. To know more about BASF’s range of sustainable solutions and innovative chemical products for the water industry, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.