Rajesh’s biggest fear in life was sex.
It is difficult to imagine, yes. Throughout history, sex has driven men to outrageous lengths. It has made men build monuments for women they weren’t sure they loved. Sex drove billions of men around the world to do unreasonable things.
But sex was J. Rajesh’s biggest fear in life.
It is difficult to figure out exactly why and how sex became his biggest fear, but when J. Rajesh sat down sometimes in solitude to think things over, he realised it must have been that day in the second year of graduation.
We all have that one day in our lives when we realise truths about ourselves. A fancy dress that reveals that our parents aren’t rich, an encounter with a girl when she smiles politely at you. For J. Rajesh, it was that fated Wednesday.
It was a regular day by all means. He had woken up to get ready for college, and as he finished his bath and looked at himself in the mirror to comb his hair, the truth hit him like a cannonball – he was ugly.
It was the first time he had really looked at himself in the mirror. Most times, we aren’t looking at ourselves, we are looking at the person we want to be. A facial expression here, a tilt of the head there, and we look at ourselves for two seconds and move on with life.
But as J. Rajesh looked at himself in the mirror, the reality struck him like a ton of bricks. He looked at his nose, long and thick, and how it stuck out on his pale face, and how his hair – thin and wispy – fell lazily into whatever direction he chose for the day.
It wasn’t a sudden epiphany. Just a slow, steady realisation that dawned upon him as he combed his hair, and stayed in his head for the rest of his life. Ten years down the line, the thought had grown into an ogre in his head, and it determined how he lived his life, how he made his decisions. It was the reason he avoided company, it was the reason he stayed at home when his friends called him over to drink. It was the reason he stopped watching films, for he knew the leaps of fascination that they encouraged were far out of his reach.
But as his family finalised his wedding to Sukanya, the fear in his heart struck him a final blow. He had to work around the problem.
All his life, J. Rajesh had had friends who went out with girls.
He hated being the silent, quiet, bespectacled friend. He wanted to be the cool friend – the guy who cracked the funniest jokes, the guy who brought friends together at parties. But since the day he had seen himself in the mirror, his outlook of life had changed.
He had stayed quiet through much of his life, looking at girls from a distance, smiling if they spoke to him, and vanishing from the scene quickly. He sometimes wondered what his life would have been if he hadn’t looked at himself in the mirror on that Wednesday afternoon, but he knew no other way of looking at life.
As life sprinted across him, college came to an end and the ‘friends’ he had laid so much importance on, moved on with their lives. They would talk to each other once in a while, but it didn’t take J. Rajesh long to realise that they were all running their own races.
His friends would often speak condescendingly about arranged marriages. They would often tease him saying ‘What do you have to worry about? Your father will get you a bride and a hefty dowry!’ But he didn’t get what his friends had against the institution of fixing matches for children. The way he looked at it, it was the same system that forbade him from approaching women, and the system owed him something in return – that something was a marriage.
Life had moved on since college and J. Rajesh had taken a position as a junior project manager in his office. After working for three years, his parents found him a girl. He had met her once, and learned that her name was Sukanya, but he couldn’t speak to her too much.
Partly because he was shy. But mostly because Sukanya was way prettier than he had expected.
When his parents had told him that they had found a pretty girl for him, Rajesh assumed they were merely being polite. In the manner that Indian families call fat girls as ‘healthy’, he assumed she must just be a regular girl.
But it was when he saw Sukanya for the first that the predicament struck him. She was dusky, with eyes that shone like there was molten coal in them. She was draped in a saree that showed off her features, and when she smiled flashing her teeth, Rajesh blushed and looked down at his toes.
He imagined what his friends would have said if he went out with her in college. In his college days, Sukanya would have been an 8 on 10, a definite catch among the guys. Their plan would entail befriending her friend and then attempting to get to know her.
Rajesh wasted no time in informing his parents that he was OK with the match. When he went back to his room, he looked at himself in the mirror once again, after all these years.
‘You’re an ugly bastard’, he told himself, ‘but you’re a lucky bastard’.
And it was at that very moment, like a bolt of lightning on a warm winter afternoon, his biggest fear came back to strike him.
Rajesh’s biggest fear in life was sex.
As he tore the chapathis in his tiffin box during lunch, Rajesh wondered how sex had become his biggest fear.
It was probably the stories his friends told him – of unreal conquests, of girls who wanted more every single time – the stories were all probably bullshit, but that wasn’t the point.
It was probably all the porn he had watched – black men with penises longer than his arm – and the way the women’s eyes lit up when they undressed. He remembered going back to his room to measure his own penis, and the results saddened him like Shah Jahan on his deathbed.
It was probably because he had waited for love to strike him unexpectedly, to sweep him off his feet. It was probably the slow realisation that it was never going to happen, as every girl he mustered the courage to smile at seemed to look right through him.
And as he scooped up the remains of the aloo curry with the last piece of chapathi, a thought struck him. A plan that would help his case.
Lord Ayappa, at that moment, became his favourite God.
When Rajesh’s cousins came visiting during holidays, their grandfather would narrate stories of gods. Each of them had a favourite god, and Rajesh’s favourite god was Hanuman. He liked the adventurous streak in Hanuman, and all the stories ended with a huge climactic fight.
With a quick apology to Lord Hanuman, Rajesh began working out the plan that involved Lord Ayappa.
Among South Indians, Ayappa Deeksha is a 41 day long ritual that involves celibacy of the highest level. Rajesh had seen the followers a number of times – walking barefoot, dressed completely in black, addressing everybody around them ‘Swami’.
He had heard about the rules from a friend, and as the beautiful plan found shape in his head, he smiled and thanked Lord Ayappa.
His parents had begun finalising the date for his wedding. The initial plan was for September, but he cited office-related reasons, and it was pushed further ahead. Finally, the family pundit found a date mid October, and when Rajesh learnt about it, he smiled and thanked Lord Ayappa in his head once again.
As the date grew nearer, the house began to transform into a mental asylum. Relatives dropped in, children began running from here to there. Clothes, jewellery, food, and utensils were being purchased on a daily basis, the entire house seemed to buzz with activity right from the morning, till late into the night.
With a week to go for his wedding, Rajesh’s resolve was stronger than ever. When he realised his wedding was on a Wednesday, he smiled. It was God sending him a signal. Days zoomed past, and his wedding went by in a blur of yellow and saffron.
It was on the night of the wedding, after all the rituals had been observed, his relatives had stuffed themselves with food, the pictures had been taken, and the ceremonial fire had been put out, Rajesh called his parents to the room, and announced it in front of Sukanya.
‘I’m going to wear the Ayappa mala this year. It starts from day after tomorrrow’.
His mother held her hand to her forehead, she looked like she might faint. His father’s eyes were large and round, completely bewildered by the decision. Rajesh couldn’t muster the courage to look at Sukanya yet, and walked out of the room.
He could hear his mother wail, as he closed the door behind him.
The Ayappa Deeksha is a torturous ritual for the faint-hearted.
For six weeks, the devotee is expected to refrain from worldly pleasures. He is expected to wake up and bathe before sunrise, eat only satvik food, and dress in black. Vibhuti is to be applied on the forehead at all times, and there is to be absolutely no contact with anybody.
No touching your friends, so touching your wife was out of question. ‘Swamis’, as they are called, have to live by themselves, they are to wear no footwear for the 41 days, and sleep on the floor, no mattress (not even that soft Kurl-On that Father had bought for their wedding night!).
You are to refer to every man as ‘Swami’, and every woman as ‘Amma’. You are to harbour no feelings of hatred, anger, or lust. The 41 days culminate in a trip to Sabarimala to seek the blessing of Lord Ayyappa in person.
Of course his parents knew all of this. Which was why they stood shell-shocked long after he left his room.
As the madness of the wedding settled, and his relatives began to leave one after the other, Rajesh began to realise the gravity of the situation. It is a sin to take deeksha and then not fulfil it. Legend had it that those who strayed from the path ended up being maimed and handicapped, such was the wrath of Lord Ayyappa, the warrior God.
And there was no going back now. He had told his family about it, and going by the sorry looks his relatives threw him, the word had spread. Rajesh wondered if he had over-reacted. When his thoughts creeped up to Sukanya, he quickly drove them out of his mind.
The next few days were a hazy blur.
He woke up before sunrise, dressed up in black, and left for office before 9 AM. Sukanya had woken up and stood by the door, but he didn’t so much as look at her. When he reached office, he was called to the HR cabin about his outfit.
He spent the rest of the day going about his work, furtively working, refraining from anger and jealousy, especially when he saw how his colleagues spoke to women in the cafeteria. A few of them stretched their hands out to congratulate him on the wedding, but he folded his hands and replied, ‘Thank you, Swami’.
When he was done with his work for the day, he opened Facebook to check out Sukanya’s profile. Her DP was a teddy bear with a heart shaped ‘Love’ written on it, but when he clicked on ‘Photos’, three more opened up.
The first was a picture of Genelia D’Souza smiling coyly, uploaded in 2010. The next was a picture from a college picnic, where she had on a white cap and blue salwar-kameez. There was another girl, and three guys. Rajesh looked at the guys…and just as evil thoughts began to spring up in his head, he logged off and shut down his laptop.
If his colleagues thought he was weird, they never walked up to him and said it, so it wasn’t very difficult for Rajesh to go about his life. He was a shadow, and shadows have neither friends nor enemies.
But it was when he went back home that the actual turmoil began.
Sukanya hadn’t questioned him about his decision, but she didn’t seem displeased either. She woke up before he left for office, bathed and dressed, and gave him coffee. Rajesh barely spoke to her, but everytime he looked at her, he shot a silent apology to Lord Ayyappa.
This was going to be tougher than he had imagined!
In his grandfather’s stories, there used to be rishis who embarked on years of penance to please the gods.
More often than not, the gods would send apsaras to test the rishis’ resolve. While the rishis would meditate in the forest, anthills growing on them, the beautiful apsaras would sing and dance to distract them. Those who were tempted failed the test, and those who remained steadfast were rewarded with a boon from God.
Rajesh thought of himself as the rishi, and Sukanya as the apsara. As his mind conjured up the image of Sukanya, dressed like an apsara, dancing in front of him, Rajesh quickly banished the thought from his head and shot another prayer of apology to Lord Ayyappa.
The mornings were the toughest.
He wasn’t allowed to touch her, but touch is only one of the senses. He saw her everyday, and thought about her when he was at work. He could smell her perfume when she served him rice, and he had to pull his eyes away from her.
Rajesh couldn’t fight his body’s urges, and the sound of Sukanya walking about the house, her anklets clinking and jingling, drove him crazy. It was during these days of celibacy that Rajesh noticed little things about her.
Like how she would hum Illayaraja songs while bathing. Or that when she let her hair open, it reached well below her waist. Or how when she changed into new clothes after her bath, he could see…forgive me, Lord Ayyappa!
Three torturous weeks passed by, and Rajesh had acquainted himself to the routine.
His parents gave him no more grief, as they knew questioning his decision could invoke the wrath of the Lord. Since he wasn’t allowed to touch his wife, they hadn’t gone out anywhere, not even to a zoo or a park.
The only time they spent together was during dinner, when Sukanya would serve everybody in the house, and then have food herself. When she asked him if he wanted more rice, her eyes would dance like a sprightly child. When she hummed Illayaraja songs while taking bath, Rajesh would sometimes sit up and listen to her voice.
She had caught him staring at her as she left the bathroom once, and stood and smiled at him. His thoughts went back to the time when the girls in the videos would …forgive me, Lord Ayyappa!
It was on Day 37 that Rajesh’s world truly fell apart.
It had now been five weeks, and he was to leave for Sabarimala the next day. He had returned from office early, and was watching the news on television when he heard a faint whisper – ‘Swami…’
He turned to find Sukanya dressed in a green saree, her large black eyes moist. He stood up from his chair and walked towards her, as Sukanya quickly walked into their room and asked him to bolt the door.
She sat on the bed, looked down for a few seconds, and then back up at him again.
‘Swami, I am going to my parents’ house. I have spoken to Amma about it, and she has agreed’.
Her words came out slow and measured. Rajesh sensed the time and effort that had gone into mouthing those words. He couldn’t bear to look at her any longer, and quickly looked away. But he could feel her eyes boring through his soul.
Rajesh looked for the right words, frantically scrounging the insides of his head, but finding nothing.
He looked up at her, and saw tears streaming down her cheeks. He stretched his hand out, and quickly pulled it back again. Sukanya noticed this, and stood up to leave the room.
In a flash, Rajesh stretched his hand out to hold her. Sukanya turned around, and the two of them fell on the bed. The next few seconds flew by like a blur.
Rajesh held her in his hands, and kissed her lips. In a flash, their clothes were off. His fingers grazed her neck and his hands slid further down. Tears were still rolling down her eyes, as her hands ran across his chest.
He smelt her skin, and tasted her tears. They lay on the bed, frantic hands and furtive fingers, exploring each other. Sukanya slowly reached out and felt him, and Rajesh could think no more. In the next few moments, his fears and his desires fused into one single monster, as her tears and moans merged into one.
After what seemed like an eternity, Rajesh lay upon his wife, exhausted, as Lord Ayyappa flashed in his mind.
The Lord wasn’t unhappy.
The Lord was smiling.