Rusty Lynn and Urmilla Khanna

“Sadistic Love”
Rusty Lynn

Sadistic Love
By Urmilla Khanna
Inspiration piece

Bartan-wali, her name was Bhairavi, came at her usual time to wash the previous night’s dishes and do a few menial chores around the house. The year was 1946 and I was around ten. Mother had just finished her bath and morning prayers and was watering her Tulsi plant in the courtyard. Bhairavi greeted her with a namaste.

Mother looked up in response. “Dear Lord! Look at your face,” she said, surprised. “Why is your eye so swollen and cheek all black and blue again?”

Bhairavi pulled her sari palloo further over her forehead and face. She smiled coyly as she walked past Mother and into the kitchen, wafting an odor of stale sweat and sex.

“What happened to Bhairavi, mummy?” I asked, noting the discoloration hidden under the folds of her cotton sari.

“You don’t need to know. You will understand by and by—when you grow up,” she said.

I was tired of hearing such remarks. I wondered when I would grow up enough to understand. My curiosity about the human body had been aroused at a very young age. When I was four and would swallow an orange seed, my brother could convince me that soon I will have citrus coming out of my nostrils and a strong trunk will grow at the other end. This will root me to the ground and I will never be able to move. He pointed to the orange tree in our yard. Although I was old enough to understand that he was just teasing and that such things could not be true, I was never sure. I wanted to grow up and find out exactly what happens to a seed when it is swallowed accidentally. And now, here is Bhairavi. I am curious why her eyes are dancing in pleasure in spite of the left eye appearing painfully swollen and blood-shot.

I stayed within earshot.

Bhairavi picked up the basket of dirty utensils and crockery from the kitchen and brought it to the wash space in the courtyard.

“Why don’t you tell me? Did he do something again?” Mother insisted.

Bhairavi, seemingly inattentive to Mother’s queries, began to arrange the utensils in the order in which she liked to wash them. She preferred to work on the brass, copper and stainless-steel pots and pans first and then get to the more delicate and breakable items such as cups, saucers and dinner plates. She made a scrubber from the outer strands of a coconut shell and dipped it into soft ashes collected from the embers of a cow-dung-burning-brassiere. She scrubbed and washed the dishes to a bright shine and laid them on a hemp cot to sun-dry. A rooster began to crow and taking cue, the chickens came fluttering into the courtyard. They bobbed their necks back and forth as they pecked at the grains of rice, dal and other scraps of food that floated in the drain at the edge of the courtyard.

“He beat me real good and hard last night,” Bhairavi said finally, bringing up the same coy smile and joining Mother in the sunny courtyard.

Hearing her remarks, Mother was not particularly alarmed, but I was intrigued. Her injured face should have brought on anger or sadness, but Bhairavi was smiling. I wanted to know more. I wanted to grow up, study medicine and understand such behavior.

“You know what I did?” She stood tall beside the hemp cot, facing Mother, her hands on her hips. “This morning, I crushed all the bangles from my wrists and left them at the doorstep.” She showed her brown plump forearms. A few tiny puncture wounds with ruby red beads of dried blood reflected bright in the sun. She had smashed her glass bangles as a threat to her husband that she was leaving him—something customary in the tribal culture. “When he wakes up he will learn his lesson. He comes home late every night, reeks of alcohol, beats me and then sleeps. I am not his property. I can easily find another man.”

“It does sound like a good resolve,” Mother said. “But you have said the same thing a thousand times and have always gone back to him.”

Bhairavi flashed the same coy smile.

She continued to work for us for several years. Her story of taking a beating from her husband repeated itself. When I grew up I tried to find answers. I turned the pages of my text books in psychiatry. I was finally able to give her condition a name—Sadistic Love.


Note: All of the art, writing, and music on this site belongs to the person who created it. Copying or republishing anything you see here without express and written permission from the author or artist is strictly prohibited.