Why It Often Rains in the Movies
by Anil Menon
Dear Chitra-ji, I’m married to a kind and loving man. We are the parents of a two-year-old girl. Last year, just after Dussehra, my husband’s body was taken over by the soul of some other man. Everything’s the same, but I know he isn’t my husband. I’m afraid to tell anyone because they’ll take my daughter from me and lock me up. You’re the only person I can trust. Please advise.
“Medical?” asked Chitra.
“Hard to say.” I leaned forward to return the letter. “Could be a case of Capgras delusion. It’s rare. But she’s looking for confirmation, not a diagnosis.”
“Yes, I know.” Chitra sighed, fingers poised over the keyboard.
“She won’t believe me either. And it doesn’t sound like she has much support. Oof, I hate these real psychiatric cases.”
No, not psychiatric. Neurological. The family of bizarre identity syndromes were all caused by errors in the facial recognition neurocircuitry and had nothing to do with being thrown into a gunny sack and beaten with chappals as a child.
“Why isn’t Kiran home yet?” Chitra had resumed typing. “The movie got over ages ago.”
The movie had gotten over just thirty minutes ago, so I ignored the question and finished typing my response on Whatsapp to my friend. A long-lost friend. He’d messaged he would be in Mumbai tomorrow night. His connecting flight was only the next morning, would I be around, etcetera. Sure, sure, I said, come stay with us. Meet the family. Then I returned to perusing the small anthology of poems.
I’d found it by the sofa. Many of the poems involved the heart, but the poet’s heart didn’t seem to be the organ I examined, treated, and replaced in my medical practice. I had no idea Kiran liked poetry. Chitra had been surprised by my surprise. Of course she loves poetry, Chitra had said, Kiran’s read poetry for years. Then being the shrewd agony aunt she was, she’d added, “Don’t feel bad; I know things about her you don’t. You know things I don’t. We’re a team, Lambu-ji.”
The sound of pre-Diwali firecrackers broke Chitra’s flow. She glanced at her cell phone, then frowned. “Eight forty-five!” She sounded irritated but looked anxious. “What is the girl doing? The movie got over an hour ago. Why did you let her go with those boys?”
“I let her go?” I set down the volume of poetry, knowing full well I wouldn’t pick it up again.
“Yes. You didn’t say anything when I said she could go.”
“Are we playing it’s-all-your-fault?” I asked, smiling.
“Very well, I’m sorry I let Kiran go.” I guessed she was still thinking about the wife’s letter. Chitra was fiercely protective of young women. “Relax, biwi. You said you’d met the boys. Sujit and the other fellow—what’s his name?”
“Martin. Yes, Sujit is my publisher’s eldest son. Martin’s in her CAT tutorials. Why do I have to be the strict parent? Sometimes you should put your foot down and be the mean parent.”
“If we are liberal in the small things, it’s easier to guide our kids in the important things.”
Chitra made a face. That was a line from one of her columns.
“That’s all very well,” she said, “but young people aren’t quite sane. Normally, I wouldn’t let Kiran go without another girl in the group, but I had a reason. Now I can’t remember it.”
“I’m all for making her wear a burkha. You don’t know men.”
Chitra rolled her eyes. She gestured at her laptop’s screen. The gesture said, So how do you think I deal with this daily onslaught of human grief?
“So we are in agreement, then,” I said. “Men are rat bastards.”
“Not all men. Are you a rat bastard?”
“Well, if I’d only known.”
I laughed, and she smiled. “Don’t worry, Lambu-ji,” she said. “Our daughter’s very mature for her age. She’s not a victim of her passions. Kiran has no intention of anything getting in the way of her CAT prep.”
What? Chitra was reassuring me now? I decided to give her something else to chew on. “Speaking of rat bastards, you remember Jhanda Mathai?”
“Yessss,” she said suspiciously.
“Well, he’s coming over tomorrow. He’s on his way to New Zealand or some such place. His connecting flight’s next day, early morning—”
“Nothing doing! I wouldn’t trust that Mathai around my grandmother, let alone Kiran. Tell him he has to find a hotel.”
What the fuck? I’d expected some reluctance, but not outright feminine insanity.
“Chitra, be reasonable. He was my roomie. Practically a brother. I can’t ask him to go to a hotel when I have this huge house. It’s just one night.”
“Biwi, it’s happening, so you’d better lube up.”
“Oh, that’s disgusting.” But Chitra couldn’t hide her smile. Then she was furious she was smiling, so her eyes were at war with her twitching lips. She covered her mouth with her right hand. Her expression turned pleading. “Please, Lambu-ji, tell him to find a room. Make some excuse. Any excuse. Please. I can’t stand him.”
Goddammit. What could I say to that? But Chitra’s face was as implacable as Gandhi on a hunger fast. Fucking biwis.
“All right,” I said. “He’s probably on the plane now. I’ll call him. But for the record, I feel terrible.”
“Yes, he’s an old college friend.” Chitra oozed with empathy.
The sound of the front door opening. A cheerful shout: “Helllo? Whoo-hoo. Daddu? Mum? I’m home!”
Well, about time. Our Shahzadi had returned in time for dinner. We exchanged glances, that special glance of relieved parents.
“Kiran? We’re in the study.” Chitra shut her laptop, stood up, and clipped back her hair, all in one smooth motion. I enjoyed watching her. Perhaps it was the sensual economy of Chitra’s gestures combined with the knowledge I could, in principle, make love to her right now. Lots of men had the urge to mount their women precisely when it was least appropriate to do so.
Dear Chitra, my husband is always groping me in front of guests, friends, and relatives. Like he has to prove something. It is quite chilling. I’m his wife and will do my duty, but please advise on some vegetarian dishes to lower his libido.
In the early days of our marriage, I’d been moved a few times from twitch in the pants to passion, but it was only in the movies that tabletops, walls, balconies, and bathtubs were ideal surfaces for sex. The whole animal thing had never much appeal for me.
“He who hesitates in lust is lost,” said Chitra, with a pleasant smile.
Kiran swept into our study, a short, livid wire of pure energy. She kissed the top of my head, the tassels on her scarf tickling my ears as she swooped. She uncoiled the scarf and handed it to her mother. “Thanks, Mum. I’m starving. Can we eat?”
Dinner was excellent. We ate out on the porch, facing the bean-shaped body of water our gated Pali Hill community called a “lake.” It was warm outside, not hot, and the new mosquito eradication measures must have been working, because we weren’t plagued by any.
Kiran was going through a Paleo diet phase, and when I noticed her meat-heavy plate and told her to eat some more vegetables, she pointed to the fish cutlet and said, “Fish are vegetables of the sea, Daddu.”
As a heart specialist, I was supposed to worry about her chubby frame that could so easily turn into obesity— she had inherited neither Chitra’s high metabolism nor my height but had inherited a fondness for sweets from both of us. Oh well. She was young. I poured her a bit of Chenin blanc, and she said, “Wow, two tablespoons! I hope I don’t get drunk.”
I raised my glass. Now who was being sarcastic?
Kiran allowed her mother to push some salad on to her plate, but left it untouched. We ate in silence for a few minutes.
“This is cool,” said Kiran, with a little sigh. “The guys wanted to eat out, but I couldn’t wait to come home.”
Well, that was unexpected. Chitra and I shot each other thrilled glances. “Dinner isn’t dinner without family at the table,” said Chitra.
“How was the movie?” I asked, rather embarrassed by the biwi’s platitude. “Any mention of the dangers of coronary plaque?”
“Dad.” Kiran rolled her eyes. “The movie was really bad. Not good bad like a masala movie’s supposed to be. Bad bad. This was like a French movie, except everyone was speaking Hindi. John Abraham was totally wasted. He’s so physical. You know what I mean, Mum—”
Chitra was nodding. Yes, yes, she understood perfectly.
Kiran outlined the plot. An urban family drama classed up with an unshaven John Abraham and Hindustani music. One of those New Wave movies. Sindu Zaveri played his wife. Her first role, post marriage, post baby. I felt I disapproved. Yes, I definitely disapproved. Imagine her husband in the cinema theater, poor bastard.
“And they totally wasted his bod,” continued Kiran, “and they made John Abraham sing a ghazal. A ghazal!” She laughed. “And the last scene was so lame. He figures out what happened, but he just hands the gun to Zaveri, and she shoots him in the back when he trudges out into the rain. The end. Now go fuck yourself.”
“Kiran,” I reproved.
“Oh, relax, Daddu. Where the hell did the rain come from? It’s supposed to be a realistic movie. But it’s December! In Mumbai! Why does it always rain in movies? Total fraud. Oh, well. We had fun, anyway. I think the scarf worked, Mum.”
“Vertical lines always make you look taller. How’s Sujit?” Chitra ladled more lentil soup into our daughter’s side bowl. “Still enthu?”
“He’s fine.” Kiran laughed. “He didn’t know Martin was such a good friend of mine.”
The pleased look on Chitra’s face, Kiran’s “he’s fine,” the conspiratorial glance they exchanged all taken together were like a flash of lightning revealing a darkness in my understanding. So that was why Chitra had encouraged Kiran to go to the movie with Sujit and Martin. Sujit must have gotten the message: You’re just a friend, buddy. A gentle brush-off, which was important considering his father was Chitra’s boss. In an earlier age, she would have had Kiran tie a rakhi thread. I laughed, bowled over by her deviousness.
“What’s so funny?” asked Kiran.
“Kiran, if you weren’t here, I’d make love to your mother right now.”
“Don’t mind your father,” said Chitra, smiling at Kiran’s staggered expression. “He’s just talk. There’s no danger whatsoever.”
“Stop it,” begged Kiran. “Just stop it, people. Think of Sai Baba or something.”
The phone rang. The only people who ever called us on the landline were the security guards at the gate. Kiran picked up the porch phone, shifted to Hindi, then turned to me. “They’re saying your friend’s waiting at the gate?”
It was indeed my friend. Jhanda Mathai had turned up without notice. Well, not without notice.
“He told me he’s coming tomorrow,” I said, forestalling Chitra’s accusations. “I’m as surprised as you are.”
“You promised!” hissed Chitra.
“Chitra, what do you want me to do? It’s almost ten. Does this house look like it’s got no room? It’s just one night. I’ll make sure he leaves early.”
“Uh-oh,” said Kiran, looking first at me, then her mother. “Parent fight. Who’s this uncle?”
“My hostel roomie. He stayed with us a few months. I’d just married your mother, but he sort of prolonged my hostel days. She wasn’t happy. She thought he was a bad influence. But it’s been fifteen or sixteen years. He’s a published author now—”
“Oh, wow. Awesome.”
“Not really,” I said. “We’re not talking Booker here. I think he lives off an old accident settlement from his days in the U.S.”
The doorbell rang. We composed our faces. Even Chitra.
Jhanda Mathai flung his bags into the living room and spread his arms. “Feed the arms,” he beamed. “Feed ’em.”
I’d always liked the rat bastard. Mathai hugged me and gripped my hand in three different ways. He was exactly what he’d always been: short, fat, hairy, and genial. Well, not exactly the same. The potbelly had doubled in size. But there was no change in the general air of asylum inmate that hung about him.
“Sick!” shouted Mathai, pumping my hand. “This is so sick!”
I had no idea what he meant, I never really had, but Kiran, after five seconds of surprise, seemed to understand. I could tell she liked him. I was strangely proud. My daughter, after all. She had an appreciation of people in all their variety.
Chitra edged closer to me, but there was no escaping Mathai’s hug. He was a hugger. “Bhabhi!” He buried his nose between her boobs. Thank God he wasn’t a midget. “Bhabhi, you smell as fragrant as ever.”
I watched Chitra, her arms stiff and as rigid as casket handles, her eyes fixed on mine, transmitting their baleful message: You’ll pay for this, oh, you’ll pay.
We made space for Mathai at the table outside. He’d just spent sixteen hours in a plane, but he was vigorous and frothing with needs. He needed to talk. He needed to eat. He needed rum. What, no rum? No rum? He inspected the wine label with a sommelier’s cold gaze. Okay, he could somehow manage with a three-thousand-rupee wine. He needed to eat with his fingers. Be Indian, eat Indian. I ignored Chitra’s has-this-food-gone-bad expression.
The conversation abandoned its nice, linear, leisurely stroll. Mathai made himself at home. He helped himself to ice cream from the fridge, commented on how fridge size was used by the income tax to gauge whom to gouge, and then post dessert, embarked on a third helping of fish cutlet. Kiran mentioned the Paleo diet, and he pulled up his T-shirt and showed us his hairy belly. “Lost seventeen kilos on the diet,” he said, beaming.
At one point, he leaned to one side and farted. Kiran laughed delightedly. Children, being animals, love authenticity. The conversation turned to methane and inconsiderate Indian cows. Mathai needed to drag his bulging scarred beast of a bag into the kitchen, open it, and extract a clutchful of pamphlets on clean fabrication. Tim Cook had given it to him, he explained. They’d met at a TED talk. The open bag revealed he’d brought gifts. A set of six artisan soaps for us, signed by the soap maker for some reason. For Kiran, a book of poems by Lawrence Raab: Visible Signs.
“Chitra said you loved poetry. I think you’ll like Lawrence Raab. Very gloomy, but funny, too. Any movie’s improved by a giant insect. True quote.”
I stared at Chitra. What the fuck? They were pen pals?
“I may have mentioned it in a column,” said Chitra stiffly.
“Thanks, Mathai Uncle!” Kiran grabbed the book, flipped through the pages, then burst out laughing. It turned out the very first poem was called “Why It Often Rains in the Movies.”
Mathai wasn’t in the loop, so Kiran explained about the rain in the final scene in the John Abraham movie.
“Ah, John,” said Mathai familiarly, as if he’d breast-fed the boy. “What we mean by the rain and what the west means by the rain are entirely different. We use the rain to say someone’s breaking boundaries. Usually female. Usually the hymen. Hence, all those wet-sari dances. Two words: Sri Devi. For us, the rain is a liberated woman. But in the west, rain suggests a different kind of climax. The falling curtain of water points to the lifting of a curtain in the hero’s mind. Maybe for good; Shawshank Redemption. Maybe for bad; Unforgiven. Note the titles. That’s what rain means in the west.”
“In the movie, John Abraham does walk into the rain,” mused Kiran. “But I don’t think they were trying to say he was a liberated woman.”
The two burst out laughing. Chitra and I glanced at each other. I didn’t know what she was thinking, but I was glad Kiran had had a chance to meet my old friend. And that Jhanda Mathai was still earning the first half of his moniker. He still carried the damn flag, all erect nine inches of it, for all things Indian.
“I think it’s time for bed,” said Chitra, her voice strangely flat. “What time do you have to leave for the airport tomorrow?”
“Too soon. Don’t worry, I’ll call a cab. I’m so glad I visited.” Mathai sighed, got up, and patted Kiran’s head. It was tender. “May you live long, enjoy every happiness.”
Chitra hadn’t had the time to set up the guest bedroom, and she didn’t seem inclined to either. Feeling a little miffed by her lack of khaatir-daari, I checked with Mathai about pillow requirements, fresh bedsheets, and so on.
“What nonsense,” said Mathai. He was already shirtless and in a lungi. A chikoo couldn’t be barer or browner. “Have you forgotten our hostel days? The bedbugs were afraid of me.”
“Here are some pillows.” Chitra popped her head in. “Sho!” She backed out immediately.
Mathai laughed good-naturedly and picked up the pillows. There were comfy chairs in the room, but we sat on the bed and chatted a bit, as we often had in the old days. Between us, something had changed. The change was from his side, I thought. There was a lot of affection, but there wasn’t any intimacy. He wanted to know about my life, especially Kiran, of whom he seemed to hold a high opinion, but he was circumspect about his activities. When I finally suggested turning in, the alacrity with which he accepted saddened me.
Chitra seemed to be asleep, turned away from me, on her side. I admired her curved profile, the swell of her buttocks in its silk nightie, the steady breathing, and suddenly, just like that, riven by an arrow shot straight from Kama’s bow, recalled how we’d gone to watch Mr. India, and during Sri Devi’s erotic rain number, in the overheated, swollen silence of the theatre, my wife had leaned over and, without warning, felt for my cock.
Dear Chitra-ji, I’m married to a kind and loving man. We are the parents of a seventeen-year-old girl. My husband doesn’t seem to find me attractive anymore. When I approach him, he says he’s tired or gets angry, saying I’m putting pressure on him. Is this normal in long marriages? Please advise.
Next morning, when I went downstairs, Mathai had left, and I found Chitra and Kiran sipping coffee and reading newspapers on the sunlit porch. Kiran seemed tired, yawning and stretching. It was still pleasant out, the day’s bruising heat kept at bay by butterflies and the memory of the morning fog.
“Slept well?” I asked.
“Yes, Lambu-ji,” said Chitra. She had showered and looked radiant.
Kiran gave us both a knowing look, quite baffling, then her face broke into smiles.
“Guys, you two really did some bed-testing last night. Wow. I hope Mathai Uncle got some sleep. You kept me awake.” She laughed. “Carry on, parent units, carry on.”
Chitra said nothing, her face hidden by the newspaper’s pages. I stared at my daughter’s innocent face. And saw Mathai’s face. Having seen it, there was no unseeing it. I managed a smile. The poems were all true. Heartbreak was heartbreak. I sat there, dazed, a man that was every man, on the bench that was every sodden bench, under the gray sky that was every misbegotten sky, under the pouring, damning rain.
Anil Menon’s short fiction has appeared in a variety of fiction magazines and anthologies including Interzone, LCRW, and Strange Horizons. His debut novel The Beast With Nine Billion Feet (Zubaan Books, 2010) was short-listed for the 2010 Vodafone Crossword Award and the Carl Brandon Society’s 2011 Parallax Award. Along with Vandana Singh, he’s coedited Breaking the Bow (Zubaan Books 2012), an anthology of non-realist stories loosely inspired by the Ramayana epic. He has a forthcoming novel, The Wolf’s Postscript (Bloomsbury, 2015).