Power Cut8 mins 207 8 mins 207
Their area was experiencing a night-long power cut. Unfortunately, the inverter was also low on battery and it died soon after the lights went off. It was June, sticky and scorchy. Ira yanked the quilt away as Saahil took off his t-shirt and tossed it away in irritation. He fanned himself with his hands, feeling itchy and sweaty. The room was engulfed in darkness as the lamps of the garden were also off. The only light available was the light of the moon, faintly passing through the polluted atmosphere of New Delhi to reach the surface of the Earth. A few mosquitos buzzed about as Ira whimpered in irritation, trying to slap them dead. She gathered her long hair in a haphazard way and rolled them up in a high knot, airing her sweaty neck. Saahil looked on the side table to lift the jug of water and poured some water in his glass while Ira fanned her stomach by lifting up her t-shirt a bit and flapping its edge up and down, making sure it didn’t slip off her bosom and that only her belly was revealed.
As Saahil sipped some water from his glass he glanced at Ira and narrowed his eyes.
“Why don’t you take it off completely?” He asked plainly. Ira was startled. She glanced at Saahil quizzically through the darkness and grimaced.
“What?” She asked, perplexed. Saahil nodded airily, shrugging his shoulders slightly.
“What should I take off?” Ira asked for a clarification.
“Your t-shirt.” He responded in a calm voice. She raised her brows.
“Meaning? I am a girl. How can you ask me to do such a thing?” She said in an agitated tone. Saahil furrowed his brows, not understanding her dilemma.
“What thing? What’s the problem? There is nobody around, only I am there. If you are feeling hot, why don’t you take that t-shirt off rather than wastefully fanning your tummy.” He explained in a casual tone. Ira felt uneasy, she huffed.
“No! This is not the right behaviour for women!” She exclaimed irritably. Saahil widened his eyes.
“What is the right behaviour for women? To keep suffering?” He commented.
“No! How would it look? If I take off my clothes from my upper body! How shameful! You would get aroused, nothing else! And I would look so weird! Like a monkey!” She exclaimed sheepishly.
“Aie hello! Even animals aren't aroused like that! I am a human being! Are you comparing me with a devil or what? It’s just a simple matter of feeling scorchy and thus removing your top to get comfortable! Why are you linking it up with women, behaviour, shame, and weird stuff like that?” He chided her. Ira made a grumpy face, not knowing how to answer him.
“Oh god! Okay fine! I am not even waxed, I cannot take off my top.” She found another excuse.
“I don’t care!” He replied. Ira raised her eyebrows while blowing some air out of her mouth.
“So, you are okay with me being hairy? You would be fine? You won’t make faces? Won’t you grimace?” She questioned him sharply.
“No! Why would I do that? To have hair is normal. Are you an alien that I would expect you to be hairless all the time, in fact I don’t understand what’s the obsession with this hair removal!” He remarked. Ira scowled at him.
“Once you see me like that, then you will know what’s the obsession! Till now you have only seen me smooth and clean!” She retorted.
“But that’s not a big issue for me! I don’t find you particularly beautiful when you are waxed!” He replied.
“But when I was in university, I heard my male friend say that he would get his wife go through the laser procedure so that she doesn’t get hair as often and remains smooth nearly all the time, and another friend of mine, a male again, he said that if he finds his wife in a state where she has her body hair grown, he will leave her.” She paused for breath.
“When I interjected him, he said that my wife, my wish. In fact, when I was in class tenth, a year before you came to school, I heard a female classmate of mine was talking to her male friend, he was also my classmate, they were sitting beside me only, she said that she hates girls who have hairy arms as she looked at me and her male friend started to laugh. Even though I had very subtle hair on my arms, I went to the parlour immediately the next month with my mom and got myself waxed and threaded. Since then I just have to go to the parlour around every twenty days for waxing and threading....and all those concepts of looking smooth, clean, fair and young all the time which will impress others and you will get a job or a boyfriend as a result!” Ira blurted out her entire story in a single breath, innocently looking at Saahil. He gazed at her.
“You believe those claims?” He asked. Ira nodded in a no.
“You know what? These artificial standards of beauty have been created by some stupid, chauvinistic men to quench their own desires making it all seem in the interest of women. The idea of beauty itself is so hegemonized in today’s world. These are all tactics that the beauty industry uses to sell better. You know how big its market is?” He remarked.
“I know but the idea of beauty is jabbed into our heads since the time we are born. Till the time we reach our teenage years it becomes an obsession to look a certain way and then this notion of a certain standard of beauty gets so deeply seated in our heads that even if we know it's all nonsense, we cannot get rid of it. We are so used to it. I am so used to it. I cannot imagine myself to be a certain way in front of you, even if you insist.” She replied.
“So basically you are saying that your confidence about your looks depends on my validation? And that too is a farce because you are actually not even giving me the opportunity to have a say in what I like or dislike about your outer appearance. You have only decided that you should look a certain way in front of me and that I should admire you through your perspective only. I am not even left with the free will to admire you the way I want to!” He exclaimed. Ira was nonplussed.
“Okay, if you so want to be a slave of my whims and fancies and if you only get your confidence with my validation, then I want you to not wax and not get threaded! And please don’t colour your hair too! I like greys, I like body hair and I like a woman who is unashamed of herself if she takes off her top for the sake of feeling better on a scorching hot night! This is my idea of beauty and that’s what I would admire! Rather than women who would suffer the pinch and pricks of getting waxed every month, get their skin reddened by the sharp strokes of the thread over their upper lips and eyebrows, get their hair coloured to become who they are not and then run after men to get their validation!” He stated with a tone of authority. Ira stared at him, stunned.
“It’s not about being validated by men, I mean yes to a lot of extent it is, but it is also about feeling clean and hygienic yourself.” She commented faintly.
“So, am I not hygienic? I am hairy and you only said that I look better like that! Male hair is sexy and female hair is disgusting, is it? From now on, stay away from me! I will also get myself waxed!” He exclaimed admonishingly. Ira remained silent. A sense of peace took over her. They were both quiet for some time. Saahil wore his t-shirt again. Ira looked at him in puzzlement.
“If you can’t take it off at least I can wear mine back, why should you suffer alone?” He remarked, understanding her question. Ira smiled as she looked down, her cheeks blushed.
“You know, what is the most prized thing with which men are born?” She said, looking at him. He turned to face her.
“Mental freedom.” She uttered.
“The moment a girl is born, first her mind is captured, then her body.” She added. Saahil looked at her.
“I mean I understand, it’s equally difficult to be a man in a patriarchal society, right from behaving according to a certain code of conduct apparently suitable for men to striking the balance in an increasingly feminist world while its meaning remains blurry.” She remarked. He looked into her eyes.
“No Ira, you are right in what you said, a girl is mentally captured the moment she is born. Although I do have quite a number of things to navigate as a man, still, it’s a man’s world, it’s easier for me to survive. I can go on night outs, I can walk around half-naked, I can do almost anything and get away with it just because I am a man. When women stare at me, I don’t feel uncomfortable, in fact, my ego is boosted. I can’t say the same for you in all circumstances. I feel scared for our daughter Seerat too, right now as well as thinking about the time when she’d grow up. Whenever I feel the need to protect you, it makes me feel so helpless in front of the system and makes me doubt myself, whether it’s making you weaker or are you getting empowered?” He commented as his voice faded away. Suddenly the lights blinked back to life as the stabilizer beeped. Ira got the remote control of the A.C. and switched it on feeling relieved finally. Saahil plopped back onto his pillow as she cuddled up with him, switching the lights off.