The man whose wife I became (goodness!), turned out to be an okay sort of a chap. When we were left alone by our family members, to take a short stroll in the garden of the Jamshedpur bungalow, the first thing I said to him in a rush was, “Look look look...I have to tell you...I am not a virgin. I mean...I was once a virgin…that is…till recently…Then I was not a virgin. But now, I am a virgin again…you know?”

He creased his brows and said in a genuinely perplexed voice, “No, I don’t know! I am trying to figure it out. You mind repeating it all over again?” His eyes were puppy eyes…big and sad and brown, his voice was soft, his shirt was also soft. I had touched it to feel his back muscles properly. His hair was thick and slicked back with oil, I’m not sure if he used mustard or sesame.

Babuji preferred sesame. I liked his knuckles. They had character. I wanted him to show his feet, because I liked men who cared about their toe nails. A man who neglects his feet is generally sloppy about other things too.

Oh yes...I liked his name. Abudaya had a nice ring to it. Solid. So, I was hoping he’d like me and we’d get married soon. But I had to be frank with him first. So, when he didn’t understand my virgin story, I took him near the edge of a tiny pond, next to the gazebo in the garden. I was looking for a muddy patch and a twig. I asked him to go find a twig while I searched for mud.

He didn’t protest, and was soon back with a sturdy twig from the ficus hedge. I told him to crouch next to me, as I cleared a small mud patch...I drew it all out in simple diagrams, the kind you find in children’s science textbooks. Simple sketches, which explained everything step by step.

He looked thoughtfully at my diagrams without laughing or getting impatient. At that moment I turned to him and announced, “Squirrel!” He looked up and asked, “Where?” I poked him near his heart and said, “Here!” He stared at me and smiled. I think he understood. I looked at my diagrams, picked up the twig and scratched them out. “I will call you Squirrel forever, okay? Even after we get married. You are my Squirrel.”

He held out his hand and I placed mine in it. He looked into my eyes and said, “Promise?” So, it was final, then. We strolled back to the waiting families. They had probably guessed it was a “yes” from the boy’s side. My response would have been of no consequence.

When we reached them seated on the lawns playing “statue”, I burst out laughing and announced, “Meet my Squirrel. We are now engaged.” The families clapped and Buaji came towards us bearing a silver salver with bundi laddoos on it. And a velvet jewellery box. I wondered what would have happened to the laddoos had Squirrel rejected me. Would the servants and durwans have eaten them?

I hugged Buaji as Ma looked on, a small smile playing on her lips. She held up her right hand and I noticed she had crossed her delicate fingers. “Good luck, sweetie,” she mouthed and excused herself.

I whispered into Buaji’s left ear as I snuggled into her ample, warm and rhythmically heaving bosom, “I told Squirrel everything! I drew diagrams when he didn’t get know, that virgin thing. I don’t think he cared.”

Buaji’s tight smile, tightened just a little bit more, “That’s what you think, Srilaa...that’s what you think. Wait! You will find out some day. All men care, take it from me. But for now, there’s a lot of work to be done. Shaadi hai!”

My days as a virgin who was not a virgin were numbered. I found that most exciting! I couldn’t wait to have sex with Squirrel. It was decided by Buaji that we would only meet two days before the wedding. She wasn’t taking any chances, and I was enjoying the anticipation. I visualised a naked Squirrel and fantasised about him frequently. I knew he would be very different from Ruchir from Raipur. But was not sure how different and in what way.

Buaji used to repeat, “All men are the same” every time I talked to her about Squirrel. And I would wonder how she could say that. Men are not the same at all. Babuji was Babuji, right? And Squirrel was unknown to me.

We were allowed to speak over the phone, but Buaji was always present. “Unsupervised calls at this stage can lead to trouble. The less you reveal to Abhudaya about yourself, the better for you. He will dream about you till your wedding night…that is the real fun, Srilaa. Men should never know too much about a woman. You can keep his interest alive only if you hold back. Once you give your body…what is left to give?”

What a funny thing to say, I used to think. As if there is nothing else to me…was I just breasts and skin and armpits and buttocks and thighs and hair and lips and vagina? Would Squirrel stop loving me once he went inside? I managed to ask him that during a phone call.

Buaji had stepped into the other room to fetch a bowl of pistachios. “Squirrel…answer quickly – once you f**k me will you stop loving me? That’s what Buaji keeps telling me. Say ‘No’! Or, I won’t marry you.” I heard Squirrel laugh before he said solemnly, “Your diagrams were very interesting. We have so much to talk about, Srilaaji...”

I screeched, “What did you just call me?” He repeated slowly and carefully, “Srilaaji. You will always be Srilaaji to me. Always.”

Srilaaji The Gilded Life and Longings of a Marwari Goodwife

Excerpted with permission from Srilaaji: The Gilded Life and Longings of a Marwari Goodwife, Shobhaa Dé, Simon & Schuster India.