Book excerpt: A Little Kitten, Kamala Das’s short story on marital infidelity
Kamala Das’s short story A Little Kitten is part of a new anthology – The Parrots of Desire – that puts together Indian erotic writing composed over 3,000 years. In this short story, A Little Kitten, Kamala Das looks at marriage and marital infidelities.books Updated: Sep 13, 2017 08:17 IST
When they had finally settled themselves down after weeks of honeymooning in a small flat at Dadar, she told her husband that she felt miserable and lonely from eight in the morning to six in the evening while he worked in his insurance firm at the heart of the city. If only you could get me a pet, she murmured, nestling closer to his chest, a little kitten, even a kitten would be such a comfort... And, he threw back his head and laughed. What a sweet and innocent creature he had married! He tickled her until she rolled over on their double bed and screamed out for mercy. You are killing me, please stop, PLEASE STOP. Then, he began to lick her toes, mumbling, you see, I am your kitten, I am your little kitten.
After three months of ardour, they began to quarrel. Nothing very serious, of course. Just a few probing queries regarding his relationship with Miss Nadkar, his secretary, and his mysterious silences that would last for hours. Speak to me, I cannot bear these silences. Leave me alone, he would say and disappear into the bathroom.
One day, she climbed upon a stool and peeped into the bathroom through the ventilator. He was seated on the edge of the tub, frowning. What are you doing there, she shouted at him. He got up and pulled the ventilator shut. It nearly snapped off her fingers. No wonder she was angry and frustrated.
When they were on the best of terms she used to take a bath in the evening after tea and buy a jasmine strand from the flowerboy to hang from her long plait. She had naturally pink cheeks but on tiring days when she saw herself pale she cheated a little with a touch of rouge which she kept hidden away. When Miss Nadkar was unwittingly drawn into the orbit of their life together, she stopped taking the evening bath. The flowerboy went away disappointed.
Even the old Maharashtrian woman who used to wash the vessels for her in the morning began to wonder what had gone wrong. She had lost her bridal freshness. There was a new crease on her brow which sliced the red bindi in two halves. Pimples began to form on her cheeks. She found herself worrying about her digestion.
Then, one day he came home dead drunk after attending an office dinner. She tore her wedding saree into shreds. She grew frighteningly hysterical. Would you like to visit your parents for a month, he asked her. You look as if you need a change. She was alarmed. She went to look at her face secretly in the bathroom mirror. He was speaking the truth. She had lost the glow which she had before she settled down at Bombay. They were living close to a mill. She felt that the smoke from its chimney was darkening her skin. Yes, I need a change, she told him. But you will have to come with me...
He gave for the first time a birthday gift to his secretary because he had begun to compare her with his petulant little wife. Miss Nadkar was serene. In fact, he had once heard the clerks teasingly calling her Her Serene Highness. He thought it clever of the clerks. When he gave her an ivory figurine on her birthday, Miss Nadkar blushed very nicely and murmured: You shouldn’t have spent so much money on me... He had done it on an impulse. After all, he was not the demonstrative kind. And she was Miss Nadkar to him although once she had asked him to call her by her name, Indira. I heard that you were planning to leave us, soon, Miss Nadkar, he said. The office will miss you. She blushed again. The marriage will take place only in December, she said. My fiancé will come from Canada in October. Still four months to go. And looking up into his eyes, she flashed a smile, a gleaming jet of a smile that made his stomach quiver.
That was their first evening together. They went to dark, smoke-filled restaurants and always took the corner table where they could sit half-concealed behind potted cacti. At home, his wife sulked and lost her looks thinking unkind thoughts incessantly. Once or twice, she put all her silks inside a trunk and decided to go back to Dharwar, but he dissuaded her. What will your parents say, he asked her.
One day, when he came back home, warily crossing the hall to go to their bedroom, he found his little wife seated before her dressing table brushing her wavy hair. She turned her face to smile at him. He was taken aback. She looked so pink and healthy. There was a gleam in her dark eyes, a secret message for the male. He rushed forward to embrace her. You look so pretty, he said. So pretty and happy. Then he saw above her breasts a long red scratch What happened, he asked her. Did you find yourself a kitten? He looked around. Perhaps, it was hiding somewhere in the kitchen. Is it a stray, he asked her. She kept silent. She was looking over his head to a spot in the dusky sky. What are you staring at, he asked her, I don’t see anything there but some clouds, some smoke...
Excerpted with permission of the Estate of Kamala Das. From The Parrots of Desire by Amrita Narayanan, published by Aleph Book Company.