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  Looking Back
  Vol II : issue 2

  Amit Chaudhuri
  Cass Sunstein
  Dibyendu Palit
  Vinay Lal
  Only in Print

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TEMPTATION, ink on paper

Amit Chaudhuri

She’d been watching the two men for a while, and the pale, rather docile, wife with vermilion in her hair, who sometimes went inside the small house and came out again. She’d been watching from behind a bush, so they hadn’t seen her; they had the air of being not quite travellers, nor people who’d been settled for long; but they looked too composed to be fugitives. Sometimes the men went away into the forest while the woman attended to household chores — Surpanakha observed this interestedly from a distance — and then they’d return with something she’d chop and cook, releasing an aroma that hung incongruously about the small house.

She, when she considered herself, thought how much stronger and more capable she would be than that radiantly beautiful but more or less useless woman, how she’d not allow the men to work at all, and do everything for them herself. It was the taller one she’d come to prefer, the older one, whose actions had such authority. She liked to watch him bending, or brushing away a bit of dust from his dhoti, or straightening swiftly, with that mixture of adroitness and awkwardness that only human beings, however godly they are, have; he was so much more beautiful than she was. It was not his wife’s beauty she feared and envied; it was his. Sighing, she looked at her own muscular arms, used to lifting heavy things and throwing them into the distance, somewhat hirsute and dark, but undoubtedly efficient, and compared them to his, which glowed in the sunlight. Her face, which she’d begun to look at in a pond nearby, had cavernous nostrils and tiny tusks that jutted out from beneath her lips; it was full of fierceness and candour. But when she cried, it did not evoke pity, not even her own. The face reflected in the water filled her with displeasure. How lovely his features were in comparison!

After about six days had passed, and she’d gone unnoticed, hiding, frightened, and when she was glimpsed, frightening, behind the bush, she decided to approach him. She had grown tired of hovering there like an animal; even the animals had begun to watch her. Although she’d been taught to believe, since childhood, that rakshasas were better — braver, less selfish, more charitable and better-natured — than human beings and gods, it was true that the latter were prettier. They’d been blessed unfairly by creation; no one knew why. Long ago, she’d been told that it was bad luck to fall in love with a god or a human being, but the possibility had seemed so remote that she’d never entertained it seriously. The feeling of longing, too, was relatively new for her, although she was in full maturity as a woman; but she was untried and untested, rakshasi though she was, and uncourted; and this odd condition of restlessness was more solitary and inward, she found, than indigestion, and more painful.

She decided to change herself. She could take other forms at will, albeit temporarily; she decided to become someone else, at least for a while. She went to a clearing where she was sure no one would see her, where the only living things were some insects and a few birds in the trees, and the transformation took place. Now she went to the pond to look at the image in the water. Her heart, like a girl’s upon glimpsing a bride, beat faster at what she saw; a woman with large eyes and long hair down to her waist, her body pliant. She wasn’t sure if this was herself, or if the water reflected someone else.

p. 1 p. 2 

A prominent Indian writer and scholar, Amit Chaudhuri’s recent honours include the LA Times Book Award for 2000. He writes in English and lives in Calcutta