The White Kettle

              They were never rich. And indeed there was a time when they were extremely poor. The woman would place her bindi on a small mirror before going to sleep, so she could use it the next day. She would use it as long as it would stick on her forehead. Sometimes in the dreary shuffle of an ordinary moment, it would fall. Going to bed she would remember that she forgot to take it off. Her hand would reach her forehead and would search disappointed. She’d switch on the lights and search it on the pillow, on the sheets, on her blouse. She’d sit there blank for few minutes or so. Then, the next day, she’d take out a new one, not without feeling guilty and searching for the old one once again.

It was an impulse buy. It was not something a poor man ought to have done. It was not something a poor man, with a wife and two daughters and a salary of rupees three hundred per month ought to have done. But he did. He was not as brave as his wife. His resolve broke down before a handsome piece of crockery. A white tea set was the culprit. One kettle, one bowl, six cups. All white, with a golden line that ran through the middle of all of them. You’d find it on the handle of the kettle and on its spout. The six little cups wore it like a ribbon. The bowl had it, and so did its lid. It was beautiful, but it cost him more than the rent he paid for his house. What would he tell her wife? She’d be furious. But she wasn’t.

One could have dismissed the cups as mediocre or deemed the bowl useless. But then there was the kettle. If you had a strange day which involved a walk through the lanes of your town, invisible to all, with your lover walking besides you, holding your hand, smiling, looking with wonder at the things you point and at you – at the dallying of your fingers, the commotion of your lips, the glitter in your eyes – and stops you midway in your speech and kisses your nose, your hands, your brows, your lips, and you two make love as the scenery behind changes dramatically, with the dusty roads giving way to a small hill overlooking a misty valley, and tired, you two fall asleep as soon as the mist clears and the sun shines again and then, if you two dream the same dream, that of a white kettle as big as a house (and you two living in it as genies, all-powerful, secure, unanswerable to the world,) it would be the same kettle that the poor man bought. How could his wife be furious?

That night going to sleep the two girls touched the kettle, and felt braver as they did so. The kettle promised something good to their keen hearts. That night going to sleep the man touched the kettle and felt stronger as he did so. He’d make a way to pay the rent that month, now that the kettle was his. That night going to sleep his wife touched the kettle, and felt poorer as she did so. She remembered she had only a bindi left.

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