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  • Robert L. Giron

Issue 176

This issue features


Mario Loprete


Ukrainian Ice Cream - concrete sculpture

Copyright © 2023 by Mario Loprete.



Concrete Ice Cream - concrete sculpture

Copyright © 2023 by Mario Loprete.


Fuckovid - enamel on surgical masks




Copyright © 2023 by Mario Loprete.


About the Artist

Mario Loprete works exclusively with concrete sculptures. For his concrete sculptures he uses his personal clothing. Throughout some artistical process, in which he uses plaster, resin and cement, he transforms them into artworks to hang. His memory, his DNA, his memories remain “concreted” inside, transforming the person that looks at the artworks as a type of post-modern archeologist that studies his work as if they were urban artefacts.


He likes to think that those who look at his sculptures created in 2020 will be able to perceive the anguish, the vulnerability, the fear that each of us has felt in front of a planetary problem that was covid-19 ... under a layer of cement, there are his clothes he wore during this nefarious period. Clothes that survived covid-19, very similar to what survived after the 2,000-year-old catastrophic eruption of Pompeii, capable of recounting man's inability to face the tragedy of broken lives and destroyed economies.


In the last 5 years about 400 international magazines have written about his work turning on the spotlight on his art project, attracting the attention of important galleries and collectors. For more details visit:


Carlos Cardoso

Translation by Daniela Tupy de Godoy


First Sentence


And how to speak in any other way?

To cut and reformat the future,

and thus, to want and be without equal.


Why be pure form?


So much color amidst dubious airs,

rusts, and sly customs

of maintaining asymmetrical shadows,

like that of thinking before being,

like that of writing and walking

among chairs

that border intangible limits,

forms without abdomen, without retina.

I still want a first sentence, naked, slightly whole.


Copyright © 2023.



The Tram of Silence


It's already night and the tram of silence

remains intact.


On the streets, people watch

the birds flying over

the streams.


And everything remains intact.

The lovers, the Gods, the statues.

Only poetry wanders.


Perhaps the verses walk agile and

unnoticed.


And everything remains intact.


Copyright © 2023.



About the Author

Carlos Cardoso, of Brazil, first book of poetry Sol Descalço [Barefoot Sun] debuted in 2004, which was followed by Dedos Finos e Mãos Transparentes [Thin Fingers and Transparent Hands]. In 2017, he published Na Pureza do Sacrilégio [In the Purity of Sacrilege]. Writer and literary critic Silviano Santiago penned the book’s preface and declared that Carlos Cardoso’s poetry approaches that of Fernando Pessoa and Octavio Paz.


About the Translator

Daniela Tupy de Godoy is a scientific communicator and has several works published in international journals such as Transfusion, Malaria Journal, The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, among others.




Isaac Goldemberg


Translation by Sasha Reiter




MÁSCARAS

_______________________________________

La paz

que el yeso

de las máscaras

aparenta,

da falsa

impresión.

Un niño

ha visto

morir

a su madre.

No aguanta

el rigor

del sol.

No se sabe

si se derrite

o si llora.


Copyright © 2023 by Isaac Goldemberg and Sasha Reiter. From El gusano saltarín y otros poemas / The Leaping Worm and Other Poems (Buenos Aires Poetry, 2023). With permission of the author and translator.




MASKS

_______________________________________

The peace

portrayed

by the plaster

of the masks

gives a false

impression.

A boy

has witnessed

his mother

die.

He cannot stand

the sun’s

harshness.

You can’t tell

if he’s melting

or crying.



Copyright © 2023 by Isaac Goldemberg and Sasha Reiter. From El gusano saltarín y otros poemas / The Leaping Worm and Other Poems (Buenos Aires Poetry, 2023). With permission of the author and translator.


GRAVEDAD

_______________________________________

El padre

carga al hijo

al hueco

del fondo,

a la derecha.

Le dice

esta será

nuestra casa,

nadie mas

vivirá en ella.

Dentro,

un ciprés

crecerá

hacia abajo

y de las raíces

colgarán

fugaces

estrellas.

La vieja casa

será polvo

blanco

y un solo

girasol

alumbrará

la entrada.

La nueva casa,

chuecas

paredes



Copyright © 2023 by Isaac Goldemberg and Sasha Reiter. From El gusano saltarín y otros poemas / The Leaping Worm and Other Poems (Buenos Aires Poetry, 2023). With permission of the author and translator.



GRAVITY

_______________________________________

The father

carries the son

to the hole

in the back,

to the right.

He tells him

this will be

our house,

no one else

will live in it.

Inside,

a cypress

will grow

downwards

and shooting

stars

will hang

from the roots.

The old house

will be white

powder

and a single

sunflower

will light

the entrance.

The new house,

crooked

walls



Copyright © 2023 by Isaac Goldemberg and Sasha Reiter. From El gusano saltarín y otros poemas / The Leaping Worm and Other Poems (Buenos Aires Poetry, 2023). With permission of the author and translator.



About the Author

Isaac Goldemberg was born in Chepén, Peru, 1945. In 1995 his novel The Fragmented Life of Don Jacobo Lerner was selected by a committee of writers and critics as one of the best 25 Peruvian novels of all times, and in 2001 a panel of international scholars convened by the Yiddish Book Center of the United States, as one of the 100 greatest Jewish books of the last 150 years. His work has been translated into several languages and included in numerous anthologies in Latin America, Europe, Israel, and the United States. In 2014, the House of Peruvian Literature in Lima, presented “Isaac Goldemberg: Tiempos y Raíces” (Times and Roots), a Homage/Exhibitión devoted to his life and works. Goldemberg appears in the list of “Most Studied Iberoamerican Authors in United States Universities,” compiled by the Gale Research Institute. He was the founder-Director of the New York Latin American Book Fair (1985-1995), Professor at New York University (1971-1986), and Distinguished Professor of Humanities at the City University of New York (1998-2019), where he was the founder-Director of the Latin American Writers Institute and the founder-Editor of Hostos Review, an international journal of culture. He is also a Fellow Member of the North American Academy of the Spanish Language and Honorary Professor of the Ricardo Palma University in Lima, Peru.



About the Translator

Sasha Reiter was born in New York City in 1996. She grew up in the Bronx, where as the daughter of an Argentinian father and a Peruvian mother, she experienced first hand the metaphorical otherness of being both Latina and Jewish. She received her B.A. in English Literature and Creative Writing from Binghamton University (2018) and her MFA in Cre­ative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College (2021). She spent a semester in London studying English history and culture. In 2022, she received the “Bronx Recognizes its Own” (BRIO) Award and a Grant from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA). Sasha has published two bilingual collections of poems: Choreographed in Uniform Distress/Coreografiados en uniforme zozobra (New York: Artepoética Press, 1st edition, 2018; Lima: Grupo Ed­itorial Amotape, 2nd edition, 2018) and Sensory Overload/Sobrecarga sensorial (New York: Nueva York Poetry Press, 2020). Her poetry has been published in English and in translation into Korean and Spanish in various journals in the United States, Latin America, and Europe. She has translated into En­glish two collections of poems: Dream of Insomnia/Sueño del insomnio, by Isaac Goldemberg (Mexico: Paserios Ediciones, 2021) and, with Isaac Goldem­berg, The Gaze/La Mirada, by Pedro Granados, published as part of Amerindi­ans/Amerindios (New York: Artepoética Press, 2020). Presently, she’s working on a new collection of poems.




Shambhavi Roy


Hornyka


In 1996, at seventeen, Monika had an epiphany: she realized how important it was for her to have sex before marriage. What if she had an arranged marriage, like her parents wanted, and then hated sex with her husband? All the women in the novels she read seemed to like sex. She felt sick and angry remembering how, to turn her away from sex, her crafty aunts had done a tremendous job deliberately greeting her first reference to sex with collective stony revulsion.


In her hometown, Bettiah in Bihar, a rural, backward area, sex outside of marriage would certainly lead to violence of some sort—either she would get beaten and locked up by her family or the boy would be thrashed publicly with chappals and sticks or bullets would ring and someone would die. She must slip out of Bettiah if she didn’t wish to meet an unfortunate destiny soonget a husband who might have sex with her at night and snap open the newspaper like a whip first thing in the morning, eyebrows bunched, demanding that she prepare tea and breakfast.


Imagining a metropolis to be a place where people engaged in sex without restraint, she told her parents she wished to go to college in Delhi and study English. Her father said, “No, no, you are not going to Delhi, Monika. Too expensive. Besides, why studies English? It’s just a language.” Bottom line—he didn’t intend to lavish rupee notes on a girl-child interested in the languages, a poverty trap, and risk ruining his good name when she hooked up with a boyfriend and refused to marry within the caste.

There was no way to get a loan, so she came up with a practical scheme. She decided to take engineering entrance exams, since engineering, most coveted in the arranged-marriage market, guaranteed a quick, dowry-free wedding. Eager as she was to get out, her parents seemed equally eager to avoid dowry payments on her account.


Soon, the abominable formulas and vulgar equations of trigonometry, calculus, and chemistry adorned the walls of her bedroom and even her bathroom, which nauseated her during the daytime and gave her nightmares at night. It was a long, miserable year. However, at the end of it, she outdid herself and was admitted to the Indian Institute of Technology at Kharagpur, an awe-inspiring campus full of laboratories designed to spark technological innovation, ruthless professors grading on a bell-curve and panicky students self-tormented over CGPA.


After her parents left Kharagpur, she breathed in freely for the first time in her life. Hoping to chance upon love accidentally, she roamed the avenues, feeling the wind, sometimes bending down and plucking a leaf from a plant for no good reason except it was there just for her to pluck, so she could tear it and mush it and hurl it to the ground. Inside, she worried no man might like to run his fingers through her hair, dry and crackling like hay about to catch fire. Also, her clothes, formless salwar-kurtas chosen by her mother, could only flatter humanoids made of bamboo sticks with cold clay pots as heads, smiling diabolically in wheat and paddy fields.


Among the few women on campus, she was lucky to find Sheila, who blasted English songs on her boombox, including one that said, “Get into the groove / boy you’ve got to prove…” which made Monika wonder if “groove” was a code word for a woman’s private part.


“You have arrived at the best place in the world to find a boyfriend,” Sheila said. “There are so few girls. And the boys are all sexually deprived.” She laughed and whispered, “They think about sex ninety-nine percent of the time. Even in the middle of lectures, even in labs, even when brushing their teeth.” She was knowledgeable because, in her neighborhood in Kolkata, she was friends with unmarried couples—people actually having sex in real life.


Self-pity made Monika cry for all the years wasted digging through novels that offered meager, insipid scraps and in the company of her parents, who played movies in which dahlias bloomed when it was time for sex. She confided in Sheila that she hadn’t been able to befriend any boy in her class.


Recently, she’d asked a boy sitting behind her for a pen, hoping to start a conversation. While the boy scrambled rummaging through his backpack, she heard hissing voices.


“Guys, she wants his pen.”


“Just the pen?”


“Hey, I wish someone would ask me for my pen.”


Laughter rang out from end to end. Someone whistled. Someone hooted. Someone started singing a vulgar song. “Why won’t anyone ask me for my pen?” someone whined. It went on even after the boy handed her a blue pen till she had made up her mind to never, never, not under any circumstance, not even if she wanted the pen to document her death-wish, ask anyone for a pen.


“These boys need a good spanking,” Sheila said. “I’ll come with a stick.”


It didn’t take long for Monika to fall in love. Satyabroto was in her class, a computer science student with the highest All India Rank in her entire section—seventy-six. Sheila seemed amused when Monika indicated Satyabroto with her thumb, after Sheila burst into her lecture hall during a break. “You told me he is seventy-six rank. You never told me he is extra-large too. Your own personal god!”


According to Sheila, people from backward regions, like Bettiah in Bihar, exaggerated male sexuality by no small measure. Suddenly, shifting closer, Sheila said, “Look at that guy!”


Monika couldn’t figure out who she was talking about.


“The guy is having a hard-on.”


Monika’s glance zooming past the boys saw nothing but a blur.


“Seriously, don’t you have eyes?” Sheila said.

Monika tried looking again. Had she turned blind or was it her sickening Bettiah legacy—the fear that a girl might be shamed, paraded in a public square, and banished from decent society if she were caught staring between a man’s legs?


“Well,” Sheila said. “Don’t worry, you’ll see it soon enough in real life.”


“I barely talked to Satyabroto twice,” Monika said.


“Anyway, you have no competition,” Sheila said, reminding her of her status as the only girl in her class.


Monika pictured a hard-on as some crouching, spunky animal, all muscle and lying in wait, ready to lunge. The electrical professor glared at them from the door, his menacing, parted lips heaving, his open shirt-button offering a glimpse of his hairy chest. No one ever smiled in his class, not even Satyabroto, his favorite student. Sheila ran out. Monika sat back down on the first-row bench for the lecture but couldn’t focus, distracted by visions of warm, passionate evenings.


Later, in the food-line inside SN Hall mess, crowded with girls sitting at long, rectangular tables on bare, baby-sized wooden chairs, everyone was discussing a scandalous incident. A security guard had come upon a couple, two final-year students, in the middle of sex inside the aerospace engineering building. Both students were suspended from IIT for a year. “They were naked,” a girl said. “Aroused.”

Unable to sleep, scared and excited, Monika and Sheila stayed up till three in the morning, recounting all the scandals they’d ever heard like wild story-telling animals, leaping over gaps, covering up inconsistencies, supplying ready-made facts.


A few days later, Satyabroto was in the doorframe of her lecture hall, chitchatting with other boys, when his gaze hovered on Monika for an instant. She slipped out of her solitary corner on the first-row bench, prudence cast aside. “Hi,” she said.


“Hi,” he said.


All around her, she heard silence falling like a bomb on the students strolling about or sitting. Of the eighty-eight frozen male bodies, some were gawking at the floor, some at the ceiling, some at each other, and some openly at her and Satyabroto—an unmarried male and an unmarried female about to have a private conversation. Like her, boys from rural areas, products of segregated schools and insanely inquisitive about the opposite sex, had never witnessed such a scene in real life. But even the city boys cooped up in IIT seemed to have forgotten the relish of this common appetizer—a couple eyeballing each other in public.


“Satyabroto, have you made any plans for internship?” she asked in a professional-sounding voice, fooling no one.


A few young men snickered. A few others zipped up and down the auditorium, frenzied, humming things. A boy thrust two fingers into his mouth and sounded a whistle. Everyone seemed to know her question was a ruse. Summer was months away. And who did an internship at the end of the first year? If she’d asked him what the homework was for a period she had missed, they would have forgiven her. They were not unreasonable.


A charged smile broke the surface of Satyabroto’s face. “No grand plans. Will learn one or two computer languages at home. That’s all.”


“Which languages are most useful?” she asked, as if he was her faculty advisor. And their chatter continued in the imposing doorframe of the majestic auditorium, designed to fulfill lofty goals, not for trivial banter. Why did she choose to ignore the venomous eyes pricking her back, to turn deaf to the boys ululating their grievance—their hurt male possessiveness of her ready to set the auditorium ablaze?


No fire started between Satyabroto and her—the moment of acknowledgement she hoped for never materialized. Soon, exhausted by the commotion the boys were making, she bailed out and retired to her seat. However, her daredevilry had served as a flashpoint, and the next day, someone carved “Mrs. Satyabroto” in crooked but clear writing into the dark wood of the first-row bench. Why would she favor Satyabroto unless she was his wife?


She tried to hide “Mrs. Satyabroto” with a notebook, as if it were a bad omen or her epitaph. When she expressed her frustration to Sheila, she said, “Even if a male knows he cannot have the only female in the class for himself, it is beneath his dignity to let another boy have her, even if the other boy happens to be the highest All India Rank.”

At least no one would bother Satyabroto and her in the electrical lab because they were lab partners. Most students were busy, desperate to get the readings right and preoccupied with the professor, who often singled out students by shouting, “You!” while cracking his knuckles, which reminded everyone how fragile student-ribs might splinter in his hands.


As students worked in threes in the lab, Gupta, a perpetually coughing and sniffling fellow from Satyabroto’s school in Kolkata, rounded out their trio. According to Gupta, Satyabroto’s mom cooked the yummiest dohi mach in the entire state of West Bengal. And he teased Satyabroto about a girl in their high school, Sonali, a relationship that had never taken off.


She wasn’t surprised Gupta revered Satyabroto. Who didn’t? However, Gupta was also possessive of Satyabroto, never left him alone, and cracked jokes to grab his attention. She waited for Wednesday, but the lab was a waste of time—she did nothing but measure output and input voltages while Gupta’s buttony eyes flashed and clicked like a spy camera upon the slightest motion, even if she so much as moved her lips to speak with Satyabroto in a private tone. As soon as they wrapped up the experiment, Gupta tugged at Satyabroto’s collar, as if guiding him back to his chosen academic path, as if Satyabroto’s mom had appointed Gupta his custodian. “Let’s go,” Gupta said. “Don’t miss your evening snacks.” The boys lived in the same hostel, far from the institute’s main building.


If she had hoped to have Sheila as a source of comfort whenever she needed, she learned to reset her expectations soon. Weekend mornings, Sheila had a sophisticated city-girl routine that included softening her hair with raw eggs, pinkening her lips with beetroot juice, and smoothening her skin with turmeric and curd. In the evenings, she had male visitors whom she hosted outside the SN foyer, freely exchanging notes, graph papers, smiles and jokes. Although men were not allowed inside the girls’ hostel, the lady-guard at the door informed girls when a male visitor showed up in the foyer by functioning as a loudspeaker. “So-and-so, veezeetar! So-and-so, veezeetar!” In the evenings, Monika heard the lady-guard’s incessant chant as boyfriends dropped by, smelling of bar soaps and shampoos, looking rough, dry, and gray—none of the boys had heard of or could afford moisturizers back then.


The precincts of SN Hall seemed like a safe zone for lovers, the dimly lit spot just outside the foyer serving as a perfect backdrop for a novice girlfriend and boyfriend to kiss each other shamelessly and, sometimes, when the yard was empty, duck behind a tree trunk or a bush to do more.


After every satisfying tête-à-tête with a male visitor, Sheila knew where to find Monika—in her room, on her cold metal chair, nursing her untethered heart, staring at the green expanse of Jnan Ghosh Stadium like a vagrant cow chewing leaves. Sheila lay down on Monika’s bed as if it were her own and narrated little anecdotes, which Monika stopped hearing after a while. Although Satyabroto’s memory served as a sluice gate that opened at any time to soak her cells in heady contentment, although he was more than a husband in her mind—she wished him goodnight before falling asleep and woke up in his imaginary arms—Sheila’s story, full of ordinary specifics about men, plunged her life into deep turmoil.


Only when Sheila leaped off the bed, shook her, and asked her a question did she come back to her guiltily and nod, as if listening all along.


One day, when Gupta sped toward the bathroom, Monika decided to use the opportunity to invite Satyabroto to SN. She told him she was too tired to read for the upcoming test. “If you give me an overview of the theory, Satyabroto, I’ll be able to finish in no time. If you have half an hour in the evening, do you mind coming to SN?”

A brooding smile on his lips, Satyabroto said, “Getting an A is very important in this class, if you want a good CGPA.”


How naïve of him to not see her invitation to SN as a nudge to set the two of them afloat. Offended, more so because everyone seemed greedy for his help to secure an A in electrical, she said, “Satyabroto, don’t worry. I just remembered, my friend in SN has finished studying. I can get her help. I should be fine.”


In the evening, she rode to the Tech Market with Sheila to buy a few essentials—soaps, shampoos, graph paper, and spicy mixtures. “Don’t feel too bad,” Sheila said. “IITans are extremely competitive, always thinking about grades. And he is seventy-sixth rank. His ill-considered statement shouldn’t be a surprise.”


Monika was riding on the unpaved shoulder, crunching dry leaves, when Sheila, laughing, jumped off the road and swerved so close they nearly crashed and fell. “A guy in my class was staring at my boobs,” Sheila said. “And then a second later, bam, he’s having a hard-on.”


Boobs were assets Monika was only beginning to appreciate. In Bettiah, a girl was supposed to hide her breasts if she didn’t want to turn into entertainment. So she’d stepped inside SN Hall, shoulders-scrunched, wearing a sturdy innerwear, a kameez of solid fabric on top of the innerwear, and another thick shawl-like dupatta cloth draped in layers around her torso, so no one would take her for some up-for-grabs entertainer.


Every time Sheila’s bike lurched over a bump, her breasts bounced like a pair of winsome, neighing horses, ready to leap across the finish line. That night Monika collected all her sturdy innerwear, stitched by her mother, tied them in a bundle, and gifted them to her washerwoman, who’d been eyeing them for some time.


The next Wednesday, the day of her electrical lab, a blistering hot and windy day, Sheila and Monika ate lunch in the mess—spicy sambhar curry and rice—and grabbed their bikes to hurry back to class. Outside, the wind whooshed, cracking branches, banging windows, kicking up dust and dry leaves. With the wind against them, they struggled to keep their bikes racing forward and straight. At the institute’s main gate, three boys collided in their rush to reach class on time. Everyone stopped till the fallen bikers picked themselves and their belongings up and cleared the way.

When Monika entered the lab five minutes late, she disturbed the professor, who grunted, knuckle-cracking, appearing to gather saliva in the front of his mouth. To her surprise, Gupta wasn’t there. “He has the flu,” Satyabroto said. Wondering for a guilty moment if she had cursed the malady upon him, she forgave herself soon enough, remembering his sniffles and coughs. After the professor finished explaining the experiment, a study of electrical circuits, Satyabroto sidled up to her, and they stood together, apart from everyone else. Other students didn’t take note as they sighed and murmured that the experiment was too difficult and the professor no help.


Together, Satyabroto and she spread the instruction sheet on the tabletop, studied the schematic, identified the components, and traced the circuit, fingering the resistors, twisting oscillator-knobs, fumbling, accidentally brushing hands and shoulders. Once, as he cast a pointed look at her fingers, his mind seemed to come to a dead stop. A frisson of pleasure jolted her body. She spent the next two hours in a surreal state, hardly aware of herself, barely following the experiment. As the class ended, Satyabroto suggested they stay back for an hour and finish the calculations. That way, they wouldn’t have to struggle individually and waste an hour remembering the experiment on Sunday.


“That’s a good idea,” she said as the other students collected their backpacks and began to file out of the room.


“Hey, Satyabroto! Come here,” some guy screamed from the doorway of the lab. Satyabroto told Monika, “Give me two minutes,” and ran out.

She readied her notebook and calculator and reviewed the lab readings to make sense of the experiment so she wouldn’t sound too dumb in case Satyabroto had a question for her. Meanwhile, the other students continued to clear out of the room. Even the professor left. When the last three students strolled out, she was all alone. Soon, he would come. She ran to the door to check on Satyabroto. There he was, down the corridor, in a conversation with two other students. When he caught sight of her, he waved. “Two minutes.”


She ambled back in. Alone in the lab, she was seized by a sudden panic, wondering how she looked. If only she had a mirror! To perk up her breasts, she jiggled and mushed them alternately. It didn’t seem to have any effect, so she popped open the top button of her shirt and stationed her palms on the desk to give her breasts a natural squeeze. Another terror gripped her—was she wearing one of her old raggedy panties? She peeled open the top of her jeans. Thank God—a new one, white with little red hearts. She let out a laugh. Every Wednesday, she did make a point to wear new ones. The tip of her tongue flicked out urgently to moisten and soften her lips. Her palms back on the desk for the desired squeeze, she waited to feel his lips on her mouth, the grip of his arms around her waist.


He strolled in flipping the pages of a book, not looking at her. Then, as he neared the table, he looked up and saw. His chest seemed to quicken.


Her body arched, eager to close the gap.


He didn’t move. He smiled, acknowledging the presence of someone to her side.


There was someone! A hunched boy, Ramakrishna, who wore earrings and a sacred thread over his shoulder. She had somehow missed him. Or was he hiding, spying? Ashamed, aware of her body and face that left nothing unsaid, she snapped out of the state.


“Actually, on second thought,” she said in an even voice, “I want to go to my hostel and rest for some time.”


“Should be fine,” Satyabroto said.


She grabbed her stuff and left.


The next day, when she stepped into the lecture hall, she discovered her new nickname. “Hi Hornyka” was written in excellent penmanship across the blackboard of Bhatnagar Auditorium. There it remained for the entire first period while the substitute math teacher distributed a worksheet and students got together in small groups to solve problems. After the period, she stepped out of the auditorium and bunked her classes.


In the mess at lunch time, Sheila said, “Let’s go to the professor right now. We should teach these guys a lesson.”


“They’ll forget it by tomorrow morning.”


But the mockery didn’t end. Even the next morning, the air around her seemed rife with stinging smiles, malicious whispers and giggles, and a slow but steady chant floating out of invisible mouths. “Hornyka, Hornyka, Hornyka, Hornyka…” Angry, she turned around but couldn’t spot the culprits, so she bolted back to SN, changed into her pajamas, and read Premchand the entire day. What made it worse was not knowing where Satyabroto was—she didn’t have the courage to look around for him. Was he also at the receiving end? Was he not there in the class? Given that he already knew how she felt about him, wouldn’t he come to SN soon?


By evening, she realized what she had to do. She had to proclaim her feelings so the boys would stop seeing her as an animal in heat.


Boys didn’t catcall anyone’s girlfriend. There were quite a few “serious” couples on campus, together from morning to evening, leaving each other’s company only to sleep in their respective hostels. So around five, when she was certain Satyabroto must be in his hostel for evening snacks, she called the phone in his mess and left a message requesting him to come to SN as soon as possible.


Then she stationed herself on a chair in the mess hall right next to the phone, pretending to read the newspaper, so she wouldn’t miss his call, or the lady-guard if she announced her name. When Sheila entered the mess, empty save for Monika and the cooking women cleaning up and preparing for dinner, she was in no mood to talk, in no mood to explain why she had missed her classes again or why her eyes sneaked to the lady-guard every time she announced someone’s male visitor. At the food counter, Juntia Amma, in a multicolored nose-stud that stood out against her lustrous black skin and well-oiled white hair, waved at Sheila telling her there was no food. She collected cold tea in a steel cup, the tea canister tilted to its tipping-point, and dragged a chair close to Monika.


“How was your math test?” she asked.


“Monika Sinha, veezeetaar! Monika Sinha veezeetaar!” the lady-guard screamed.


Sheila, wide-eyed, said, “For you! Who is it? Satyabroto?”


Monika’s body froze and her heart leapt out. She nodded, beaming, preparing to run.


At first, her eyes couldn’t locate Satyabroto in the dark outside the SN foyer. Couples huddled around the tree in the center of the yard, and a few stood near the main gate, just before the cowcatcher. Then she spotted the red and white checkered shirt she loved next to the cycle-stand.


“Sorry for being late,” Satyabroto said and explained how he missed her call, how the guard looked for him in all the improbable places except the regular joint for some of them to bhat in the evenings—Gupta’s room.


“Let’s go to Chedis’ if you have time,” she said. “I hate the menu here.”


Soon, at Chedis’ hotel, a cheap eatery for IIT students, the air rife with the comforting fragrances of hot oil, Maggi, and omelet, sitting at a warped wood table on a splintering bench, she savored hot tea served in a sturdy steel cup, Satyabroto in front of her. IITans at another table darted glances at her and whispered; the waiter boys smiled at Satyabroto, exchanging goodwill.


“I eat out often,” Satyabroto said. “My hostel food is brutal.”


“I can imagine, Satyabroto. After your mom’s cooking, anything will be a huge letdown.”


Smiling mischievously, he asked, “So...do you cook?”


She nodded, her heart thumping in her ears, and rattled off the names of many popular recipes, breakfast items, entrees, chutneys and even raitas. In reality, she didn’t know how to cook, mostly because she resented the expectation she must learn just because she was a girl. She hated the platitudes doled out by her aunts that food was the way to a man’s heart. Also, she was bitter about her mom’s suggestions she needed to be alert and eager to pick up any signals, any requests for snacks from the men of her family, sprawled on daybeds and sofas, engaged in grand, never-ending discussions on world politics.


She remembered the girl in Satyabroto’s school he was linked up with and teased him about it. “When are you getting in touch with Sonali?”


Satyabroto smiled. “I’m not the kind to go chasing …”


Delight pealed out of her in chuckles. Of course, Satyabroto wasn’t a womanizer. He needed several invitations just to come to SN.


Also, like her, he must have grown up with the idea it was beneath a man’s dignity to go looking for a woman. Girls’ families reached out to and begged eligible males for marital alliances, not the other way around.


“I was waiting for your call for the past two days,” she said. The pigeons on the asbestos roof above the graffitied walls seemed to commune with each other. A fellow sang in the open fields, watching the sun set.


“I wanted to call. In fact, I thought about coming to SN. Some fellows in our class…I saw you leave yesterday. I was hoping the math professor would clean the board. But then the substitute came. Didn’t write a word.”


She had an image of Satyabroto on the back bench observing “Hornyka,” his handsome, resolute eyes bulging with intelligence and understanding, hoping some teacher would erase the words.


After dinner, Satyabroto rode along with her to SN, then waved goodbye, and left. As she entered the foyer, as she ambled up the stairs and past Sheila’s room with the boombox blaring “Get into the groove / boy you’ve got to prove…,” she was seized by the evil, mischievous desire to test Satyabroto—to wait for him to seek her out before inviting him again.


Her classmates stopped jeering at her because of a new diversion—one of the girls wore a miniskirt, a very short one that offered the boys a glimpse, whether real or imaginary, of her scanty innerwear. The boys put up a poster on the main wall of the institute, mocking the girl, full of filthy comments, including the popular acronym KLPD (Khare Land Pe Dhokha), which translated literally to “Deceit On Hard-On” and conveyed plainly that a woman brazen enough to dress indecently and trigger a hard-on must satiate it, otherwise she was deceitful. “KLPD summarizes the sexual attitude of our Indian subcontinent,” Sheila said. “How well it serves as a springboard from which countless men catapult to catcall, molest, and rape.”


For a few days, the boys seemed so distracted with the skirt incident, Monika had a feeling the rest of them could get away with anything till Sheila looped her arm over Monika’s shoulders in front of the main gate. “Les-bos, les-bos, les-bos, les-bos…” rang the chorus from behind the gate.


They got on their cycles and escaped. That night, Monika had a dream in which she went one step further than the mini-skirt girl and wore a top baring her cleavage to the world. As she stepped inside Bhatnagar Auditorium, whistles sounded like sirens, as relentless and shrill as a missile warning. The math professor frowned at her cleavage, which made the entire class burst into laughter.



She let out a fake laugh, pretending not to care, not to understand what he was talking about.


In the remaining years at IIT, she didn’t fall in love with anyone else. How could she when she saw Satyabroto everywhere—in classrooms, at the Tech Market, outside SN, on Scholar’s Avenue—as if he were a gigantic bird that had shed feathers and enveloped the entire campus? And she continued carrying the foolish hope in her heart that she still had time. They were both young and unattached, still at IIT; the next chance meeting might ignite something real in him.


In the final year, to burn some energy for which they had no use, Sheila and Monika started going to pool for an hour on Sunday mornings—the slot set aside for women. They donned their swimsuits, wore regular clothes on top, and rode their bikes. After changing in the bathroom, they walked to the outdoor pool in nothing but their swimsuits. After they went a few times, they heard a rumor that boys at one of the hostels had set up a telescope on their rooftop to watch girls parading in swimsuits to and from the pool. Elation flamed Monika’s cheeks at the knowledge she was under male observation. Then, an elderly lady, a professor’s wife who was learning to swim, told her she had a great figure, which made her want to cry because she knew no one would touch her—not until her father arranged her marriage. In a sea of eligible, intelligent men, she’d failed to find a mate.

And college was nearly over. She felt devastated by a sense of lost opportunity, as if she had missed some important train and was left abandoned at a station watching the last departing bogie nothing in the world could turn around. Even Sheila didn’t have a boyfriend, despite her circle of friends. One day, she was on Monika’s bed in a contemplative mood, palms behind her head, knees bent and swinging.


“In theory, Satyabroto could have come to SN and had sex with you,” Sheila said.


Monika shrugged on the cold metal chair and hunched into a lump, blaming Satyabroto. It would take a long time, many years, for her to lay the blame on her own shoulders. But at the time, she didn’t realize her own unreasonable expectations had ruined her chance. She wasn’t grateful for the opportunity to love. Never once did she let the thought cross her mind that, a generation ago, women couldn’t dream of love. She’d arrogantly refused love that wasn’t on her terms, that didn’t satisfy her high standards, mocking, without meaning or wanting to, those millions of women who, from sunrise to sunset, cooked and cleaned and nursed in the hope of love.


It would take a long time for her to learn to appreciate imperfections, to realize “ordinary” was a deceitful, layered onion hiding extraordinary at its core. Meanwhile, she’d pretend to hate life and find faults in everything, because life was still full of possibilities—exhilarating, lively, refreshing, pounding within her, all around her, abundant, eternal, like a plaything, a ball she could toss, dough she could knead, a leaf she could pluck and throw.



About the Author

Shambhavi Roy work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Wire, J Journal (CUNY), Western Humanities Review, Oyster River Pages, and The Chapter House Journal, among others. Her fiction has been shortlisted for the 2021 Short Story Award for New Writers of The Masters Review, the Chester B. Himes Memorial Short Fiction Contest, and the Stories That Need to be Told Contest hosted by TulipTree. A graduate of IIT, Kharagpur, UC Berkeley, and the MFA program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, she currently lives and works as a writer in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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