She’s grown to forget the meaning of the word “whore”. It used to sting earlier, quick as a razorslash on the milkbiscuit skin on the insides of her thighs, even before she had formally debuted into the profession; back when she was still in school; still sprawling in the sprawling mansion of her parents, perplexed little Leonora Sahani, polyglotic bastard child of a jetsetting cosmopolitan bloodmingling, never here never there, never finding a gap she could comfortably squeeze into. Back when she still believed in love.
Love! But she has restored her faith in it; she has repaired the squalid word like her face every evening in the resplendent seclusion of her chambers, Chandramukhi, Chanda, bitch, baby, ma chère, mi querida, jaan-e-jigar, you-fucking-little-piece-of-shit of many names and ruses, she believes in love. Love comes to her in a different vessel each night, small grateful offerings that she accepts with pity and compassion. Spread out her legs and with a touch she can heal them – all these gnarly, broken men whose sordid lives have gone far, far beyond the scope of any mundane redemption – she feels like the magic fountain, the cornucopia of life, the virgin bleedin’ Mary, all white with snow and lilies at her feet. She is the great receptacle where these nameless, faceless sinners can ceaselessly spill forth their disgruntled bodies and minds. They give her their sin, their guilt, their disease, the painfully hidden imperfections in their existences. She sends them home with rejuvenation and peace. She is the mother and wife of an entire civilisation.
It’s not much unlike the principle of the lightning rod that she learns at the honours classes she attends during the day. She is the earth, she would take in anything, she would turn it all into nourishment and life. Chanda wonders sometimes at how she had become so passive, so tolerant, so undemanding of life; but no one will remind her that she has always been so. How much did little Lenny want; what little had she known – living out her years like a hothouse flower within her father’s walls – of all the things life had to offer to one such as her? One such as her had never been. Not her father, industriously memorising his Political Science texts and topping school finals as the tumultuous ‘70s quietly bypassed the tranquil mustard fields of interior Punjab. Not her mother, respectable Catholic girl from frosty Winnipeg, attending charity auctions and poetry readings within her own tiny WASP bubble. Not the people she went to school with, not one of whom had a name or a body as alien as her own. Little Lenny had said yes to Taran Yadav because he was the first older guy to ask her out; oh, but also because he represented all the illicit dirt and grime of this country that her upright, cosmopolitan parents had never cared to acquaint her with. Not a trait of sophistication about him but Taran was real, a Bollywood hero, and it was all that he gave her, a sense of belonging, a containment, a shape. If she had wasted herself on him, it had never occurred to little Lenny then.
It strikes Chanda with small amusement these days that of all the people responsible for last year’s great fiasco she finds Taran the easiest to forgive. Oh, he had betrayed her trust, set off the chain of events that this scandalous nation licked up like a hundred million thirsty dogs; but Chanda does not confuse the betrayal with the scandal; the betrayal, for what it is, is a private wound. How ironic is this that the heart heals faster than the reputation, Chanda thinks, she does not hate Taran now for in her heart there is no more affection left for him, no expectation to be disappointed of. He could’ve been another man, another name, another set of habits with barely one lowest common denominator. How peculiar, how ridiculously exclusive is this thing they call love. Why choose this man, why choose any particular man of all the men in the world at all, when there are at least a hundred others more or less quite the same? Chanda asks all her clients for their names, files them away in her memory for the possibility of a future encounter, but she remembers none of them.
And she loves them all equally for they come to her all the same in their self-hatred and desperation: the corporate lawyer who cannot get off without being exquisitely ill-treated by his partner; the popular cricketer whose public image fails to correspond to the size of his organ; the self-destructive prodigal brat too much in love with his love for a woman to ever be able to love her alone. With her manicured fingers she carefully plucks out their flaws and they are all the same colour, she weaves them into her crown of benediction. Chanda forgives these men for the crimes they cannot forget.
The profane body and the sacred mind. The sacred body. The crooked heart that will bend to no integrity nor reason. Chanda stares and stares at the dividing line through her fake eyelashes till it is all blurred together and over the eastern skyline of the disreputable district it is dawn again.