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It was the groaning and the moaning and the grunting and the gasping that got to me. I had returned to my home in Delhi after seven years. My bedroom was separated by a solid 10” brick wall from theirs. Theirs meaning Pradip and Manju Gupta’s. I had never heard these sounds—the moaning and the groaning, the gasping and the grunting—from their side before. Pradip was 65, Manju was 57. They were both on the heavy side. Very heavy side. I could not believe that they could be at it like this. They were my first cousins.
The following day I spoke to another first cousin, Chander, about it. He asked me to go tell them to go Hit It. I had never heard of this term before. It seemed to be a typically Indian term that I had missed during my long years of wilderness in the West. I thought better of doing than that. I thought about asking Chander to go and tell Pradip and Manju to go and Hit It himself. After all, he was more their age group than I was. And he was as much a first cousin to them as I was. And finally it was his idea.
Manju and I were ten years apart. She was very fair and always on the heavy side even when she had married into the family some 40 years ago. My older sister, Sumati, used to poke fun at her that she had a double chin. But my sister had her own complexes. She was dark.
Only in my twenties did I start finding Manju attractive. Her arms used to be tanned. I used to love that. But I still was not sexually attracted to her. In 2008, I visited India after three years. I met Manju in front of her husband and her father-in-law. She at once asked me, don’t I look different to you? I was bewildered. She looked the same. Same same as Indians would say. She said that she had lost weight and had quit eating sweets. Then Pradip and she and I went to Lodhi Gardens in Delhi for a walk. Pradip disappeared on the pretext of going to the loo. I later learned that he wanted to gauge if I would hit on Manju. Why? That’s for later.
A strange man was following Manju and me at night that day. He was with a woman. Finally we met up with him at the end of our walk. He was Anil, another and the oldest first cousin of mine. The woman with him was his wife, Meena. I was newly divorced then. Meena said that they were stalking us to figure out which woman I was with. Wow, this was some kind of FBI or the Indian version of it, the CBI. I couldn’t walk in public gardens without having close tabs kept on me. Pradip magically reappeared. Said that he had been lost in the loo. Lost in the loo, ha? For one hour?
We drove back home and I thought no more of the incident. Now it was 2015. I was visiting India after seven years. I had developed a crippling fear of flying in the meantime, so took the boat from the US to India. It took all of two months. There was nothing do on ship except eat and go to the gym. That’s precisely what I did. I must have bulked up. Manju came to my house the day I landed in India. She exclaimed, wow, you have built your body.
I was given a bedroom on the second floor to live in. I was completely disoriented. I knew nobody. I was lonely like hell. I used to get up at 8, have breakfast and then sleep until lunch at 1. I didn’t know how to pass the time. India looked scary. There were people everywhere. They spoke a different lingo than I did. One cousin’s wife, Anju, told me that I had returned to India to protect my inheritance (viraasat sambhaalney aiyey ho). I had never even thought about my inheritance. I had come back to India to look after my aged mom. Such a noble sentiment, right? But in India people didn’t believe it.
Anju further said that I should flick off my American past and turn on my Indian future. Most women in India still leave their houses after marriage to live with their in-laws. I told, Anju, are they expected to forget all that was in their parents’ house at once? But Anju was kinda stupid and stubborn.
There was a knock on my studio’s door. It was Manju. She had come to my place to invite me for the engagement of her son. But she lingered. I knew that something was playing on her mind. A few weeks later she was back again on some pretext on the other. This time she made a pass. I was very lonely too. We made out and she left. I knew this thing was going to go further. But I was scared of Pradip. He was possessive and very hot-tempered. He might even come to blows if he found out what I was up to.
Indian marriages are not like Western. In western marriages, when the passion wanes, the marriage tends to fade. And there is no stigma to divorce. In fact divorce can be worn as a badge of honor. In Indian marriages, there is a lot of stigma towards divorce. It really is a badge of dishonor. So couples tend to cling to one another even after sex seems to taste like stale fish. The men can be a little more adventurous outside of marriage, the women only surreptitiously so.
One of the favorite targets of women is their younger brother-in-law, like I was to learn with Manju, and earlier with another sister-in-law (much more about that later). Anyway my trysts with Manju were horny and very short. No not my dik, but the length of the encounter. My mother lived on the first floor and never ventured up to my studio. Manju would come to meet my mother on some pretext or another, then disappear upstairs to be with me for 10 minutes. I must say that my encounters of the fleshy kind with her helped me acculturate to India.
But it was all getting too much. If Pradip found out, he would throw Manju out and maybe even shoot me. There were servants everywhere, eyes everywhere, and even the walls had ears. Our trysts had to stop. But how to make it look like they had never even started?
Manju was renovating the same room from where the sex noises emanated. She had two big, black servants called Shankar and Jaikishen. They were brothers and very scary-looking. If you knocked on her door and they opened it, you felt like running away. So Manju and I invented a scheme. I would create a fuss that her renovation was breaking the wall on my side. My ma would call her, and she would do nothing to redress the issue. Then, out of frustration, ma would call Pradip. He would send Manju over to my room with one of her black bull dogs. This was all to show to the world that she was not willing to enter a bachelor’s pad like mine all alone. I would remain completely nonchalant when she entered my room. Her bull dog was sure to tell the world about our interaction, how scared she was to enter my room, how unbothered I was in her presence. This would kill all rumors. And they did.
I asked Manju about her moaning and groaning, her groaning and moaning with Pradip. Fake, fake, fake, fake, she said. She had been faking it all through her marriage. He was only six inches when erect. Not enough to fill her up. I on the other hand was nine inches. More than enough to satisfy her. And Pradip had this nasty belly that always got in the way. She loved my washboard stomach. But now we had both had our fun, and we had put a stop to it without anyone any the wiser. That’s what we thought!
My father’s older brother’s wife, Saroj, was exactly the same age as my mom. They were both army wives. They even shared the same name. Everyone in the family thought that they got along like sisters. Nothing could be further from the truth. They hated each other. My mom had seduced me into coming back to India. She had called me at 10 pm every night urging me to return. She said that I would have her driver at my disposal all day, that we would travel all over India, that I could get to stay on the floor of my choice. I chose the smaller third floor because it was furnished, and it had an airconditioner and cable TV. The much bigger second floor was completely bare.
When I reached the UK from the US by boat, my mom called and said that I should stay on the second floor. I rebelled. I knew that, unlike my older brother who too lived in the States, I was not really the object of my mom’s affections. My bro apparently wanted the third floor as a vacation home for himself and his family. I knew that my mom wouldn’t furnish the second floor adequately for me. I told her if I wasn’t getting the third floor, I was returning to the States. She started crying and said that she had fallen and had been hospitalized for four days.
Turning back in any case wasn’t an option. I had clocked out of the States and left. I had nothing to return to. And then the next ship to the US was a month later. I had no choice but to proceed to India. When I reached home, I was allowed into the third floor, but then my mom started to get a settee made for me to sleep on the second floor. I protested. I felt I would fall off it while I was asleep and break my bones. But my mother insisted that I move to the second floor.
My brother called, in a very threatening tone. I had stayed with him for two and a half weeks when I took ill. But he claimed that I had stayed with him for six months, and wanted me to vacate the third floor for him. This was all getting too much. I turned to Saroj, my aunt. She spoke to my mother, who agreed for me to have the third floor. But the damage to the relationship with my brother had been done. He had become an enemy.
Manju had foreseen it. She told me to sleep on the floor of the living room. There was only a very small bathroom attached to it. My mother occupied one bedroom on the first floor. The other bedroom was my dad’s, but the servants had taken it over. The driver even lay on my dad’s hallowed bed with his shoes on. I am sure they used the attached bathroom, so there was no way I was going to use it. I spoke to Manju in as orthodox Hindi as I could muster that what was going on was incorrect. She didn’t deny it. She was only trying to seek a compromise but one I couldn’t live with.