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Context: Sonia submitted her Hindi movie typewritten script to Khan for consideration.  He stole the script and refuses to give Sonia credit or money. Sonia has come to ask Sashakta for help. Sonia doesn’t know that Sashakta is Khan’s goon. This dialogue takes place in 1980. Homosexuality is illegal in India, even in 2016.

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Quandary of Two

On this Thursday evening, Sashakta’s desk clock shows 5:28:42 p.m. Sonia plays with the gold chain around her neck; Sashakta leans on the rosewood desk; Sonia asks something; Sashakta involuntary nods.

Sonia’s lips widen to display perfect teeth. “I knew you would.”

“You are making assumptions.”

“I didn’t mean that.

“What did you mean then?” Sashakta says, “After, all this time.”

“What do you want me to say?”

“Sorry.”

“A sorry will suffice. For you? Never.”

“Yet, you didn’t utter that.”

“Ok. Ok. Sorry.” Sonia heaves her purse from the coffee table, places it on her lap, and unzips it. “Can we move on?”

Sashakta laughs, “One forceful sorry after–” starts to count on her fingers, “–let’s see, after sixteen years and . . .”

“Eight months. Okay.”

“Oh! Yeah, I know, Sonia–the accountant. Everything had to be calculated to the last paisa.”

“Why are we discussing money?”

“You left me with all the bills.”

Sonia removes a handkerchief from her purse. Sonia unfolds the handkerchief. It is no bigger than her palm. The lilac cotton is edged with matching lace; on the corner, embroidered in maroon is SG. “You earned enough.” She air quotes, “Sashakta–the up-and-coming lawyer protégée.”

“So you admit you were with me for the money.”

“You know it was not like that.” Sonia pats her forehead and neck and chest with the hanky. “I made enough.”

“Hope you have enough to pay me.” Sashakta moves away from the rosewood desk, sits on the office chair, tilts her head on the antimacassar, and gestures to her surroundings. “This isn’t cheap.”

“Don’t be like that.”

“Like what.”

“Like this . . . all talk about money.”

“What do you want to talk about? How you left me without a word? How I looked for you, for months?”

“Is that why you became a detective?”

“You were always good at taking credit for my successes.”

“You said I helped . . .”

Sashakta roars. “Helped me by picking saree designs.” She leans forward and shakes her right index finger at Sonia. “You did that, so you could add the cost of your new dresses to my bill.”

“Are we back to discussing your money?” Sonia deposits her purse back on the coffee table.

“No, we are back to you twisting things for your use.” Sashakta pivots her chair in semicircles and scowls. “I knew before I became a P. I.”

“Knew?”

“I knew you got married.” Sashakta stops rotating her chair. She detects Sonia’s hands tremble and her body shiver. Sashakta’s eyes stay focus on Sonia’s face. “I dated your colleague. Male colleague. He told me.”

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“Who? Akash? Naresh?” Sonia balls the handkerchief in her left fist and crosses her arms across her chest.

“Does it matter who.” Sashakta stands. “I was in the hotel on the day of your marriage.” She traces the shape of the red telephone. “Big lavish wedding. Tall terracotta statues held flowers and spouted rosewater from their mouths.”

“I fell in love.”

“With the owner of your office–the industrialist? How do you go from me to him?”

“What to do want me to say.”

“The truth.”

Sonia sighs. She throws the hanky on the coffee table; it drops to the floor, but she doesn’t notice. “The truth is that I wanted to be free.” Sonia lays her elbows on her lap and cups her face between her hands. “I couldn’t live in secrecy. It was a matter of time; someone was bound to find out.” Sofa’s floral upholstery clashes with her green checked print dress.

“We could have moved to Bombay.”

“Do you seriously believe Bombay would have accepted us . . . two women in bed? It was inevitable.”

Sashakta shakes her head. She walks to the cane chairs, sits, and crosses her legs.

“You, the hotshot lawyer, you should know.”  Sonia puts her face in between her hands; she sobs. “Remember what happened to Rita and Sheetal. Eighteen years, still in jail. Under Section 366.”

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“No . . . Section 377 IPC. Sexual activity ‘against the order of nature.’” Sashakta squeezes her eyes shut.  “Which includes oral sex, anal sex and sex with the person of same gender–” She grimaces. “–shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years.”   She opens her eyes.

“You understand.”

Sashakta uncrosses her legs and rearranges her saree’s folds. “But you left without a word.”

Sashakta hears Sonia apologize, clarify, gesticulate, and talk. Sashakta doesn’t pay attention; she studies the sun setting over the Arabic ocean. Sonia’s gold bracelet moves wildly but it has lost its shimmer. Sashakta opens her office door and motions Sonia to leave. Sashakta doesn’t reciprocate to Sonia’s farewell; Sashakta sidesteps when Sonia tries to hug; Sashakta ignores Sonia’s extended hand.

 

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