Updated: Jun 22
Image → St. Denis' feet in the Nautch" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1906 - 1908.
Rasa → Śṛṅgāraḥ (शृङ्गारः): Romance, Love, attractiveness. Presiding deity: Vishnu. → Adbhutam (अद्भुतं): Wonder, amazement. Presiding deity: Brahma
Archetype → Lover
Priyani waved at her husband and son leaving for work and school. She turned back into the empty house. It looked and felt like a fresh battlefield. Bringing the laundry out, she sighed impatiently at the sky. This was the third grey day. With no sun to dry the clothes, Priyani’s laundry was piling up. She decided to take a chance and do the laundry anyway.
She washed and scrubbed, shaking her head at the unreasonable dirt on the collars and cuffs. Her hands moved skillfully in a half-conscious, half-autopilot melodic routine between the dirty pile, soap, water bucket and the clean pile. But, when Priyani’s hand pulled out an orange fabric, her heart gasped open and shut like a fish out of water. She let go of it as if burnt. In the next two seconds, as the laundry dance stood motionless in abrupt suspension, Priyani realised that it was just her husband’s new sarong dampened to a darker shade, taking on the distinct orange of monks’ robes. She stared at the orange fabric and felt her skin tingling a memory awake. Flustered, Priyani washed the orange sarong in a hurry and threw it into the clean pile.
Soon, school uniforms, chintz dresses, plain pants, and striped shirts hung row after row. Priyani felt a prickling of the hairs on the back of her neck. Her skin tingled in response to a sensation of being watched. The corner of her eyes picked up the robe-orange sarong hanging, dripping slowly in the breeze. Priyani swallowed the ball forming in her throat. She found herself returning to the day that she went to offer a handful of betel leaves to the temple head-monk Gunasāra. Priyani had just won a dancing competition in Colombo. After seeing her perform at the temple’s perahera ritual, Gunasāra gathered the help of his donors to sponsor Priyani’s costumes and competition entry. Priyani tried not to think about that evening. But, the memory was now rushing in, like a smell escaping through the cracks of a closed door.
It was just after sundown, and a little late to visit a monk. Priyani remembered how Gunasāra sat at his desk illuminated by the glow of the lamp, as she stood in front of him. He spoke at length about her talent and how it could lead her to great things. He promised to continue her patronage. Priyani remembered that strange feeling in her lower stomach when Gunasāra’s eyes lingered a little on her hips as he lowered his gaze to the cash slip that he was starting to sign. The world suddenly grew silent. Only the faint sound of Gunasāra’s pen on paper scratched the quiet. Although Gunasāra had his head bent and his eyes averted, Priyani couldn’t shake off the feeling that something of his was continuing to watch her. Skin tingling, Priyani lowered her own gaze. A thrill that had the same foreboding of August currents in the south seas—the kind that secretly sweeps you away somewhere dangerous—took over. When Gunasāra held the cash slip out, looking directly at her, Priyani neared him cautiously to accept. As she stepped into the glow of the lamp, she felt his eyes take all of her in. Priyani’s skin glimmered jubilantly.
Aghast, Priyani abandoned the laundry and hurried inside. Hands shaking, she poured a glass of water and drank it all in one gulp. Outside, the monsoon thunder drummed a dull, distant beat. Priyani tried to disremember the events that followed her meeting with Gunasāra. But, the deeper she pushed them in, the harder they fought to come out. Chest heaving up and down, Priyani walked into her bedroom and opened the almirah doors. The drumming in the sky drew nearer. She reached for the box in the bottom drawer under the special occasion sarees. Inside it was her wedding necklace, puberty gold, and the old performance jewellery. Priyani looked at the dancers’ anklets with bells. It thundered again. The drums were calling. She put them on. Watching herself in the mirror hanging inside the open almirah door, Priyani stepped into its full view. A low, rolling chorus of thunder welcomed her. The almirah mirror watched Priyani, flooding her with a secret thrill. She felt it drinking her in. Her skin tingled all over. The rain started to patter against the asbestos sheets. But, Priyani didn’t listen to the tame voice that reminded her to bring the laundry in. Instead, she let herself get swept in the August currents.
Priyani started to dance. Her hands and feet moved in strange synchronicity with everything in wild abandonment—like the rain, the sea, the wind, the beast. Her steps followed the pitter-patter on the roof in perfect timing. The thunder crashed right above the roof as Priyani dipped her head down in dance. Her hair clip broke with the oblique weight of her tresses that it wasn’t designed to hold. Priyani felt the memories and emotions she hid behind the closed doors dancing free in the warm glow of the lamp where all of her was seen. She felt how her perfect movements, watched in secret by the averted mirror of the half-open almirah door, were made too divine to behold. It poured and poured. Priyani danced and danced.
When the sky finally finished releasing its shame, Priyani fell breathless. She was temporarily freed until the doors would break open again. She sat up on the floor, glimmers of sweat running content rivers down her skin. Outside, the storm had died and noon was breaking.
Priyani got up and took off her anklets. She put them back in the box carefully, and slid it under her wedding saree in the bottom drawer—where she knew it would remain, waiting.
Priyani cleaned the house, mopped up the leaked water, and opened the windows. Priyani hummed while she showered, soaping her skin in gentle strokes—it was appeased. She put on the blue dress that her husband liked, and went to make herself a tea.