Daniel stared at the massive pile that awaited him. Discarded medicines, toxic drugs, hazardous materials and chemical wastes. The stench no longer assailed him. More than three years of drudgery in his job as a sanitation worker at the local pharmaceutical research company had numbed his senses. Joining the group of dishevelled workers, he thrust his large and coarse hands into the garbage and shovelled huge mounds of hazardous material into the disposal truck.
He was barely thirty, yet there was a gnawing void deep within him. Could it be fulfilled by chewing out the flesh from the bones of Pulasa or squeezing Dhanu’s curvaceous breasts? Whenever he implored his newlywed wife to prepare his favourite meal of rice and fish curry, she retorted, ‘Bring home a bundle of notes before you expect me to cook fish for you. I was told you were a machine operator at the factory when I got married to you. What a big lie!’ On every occasion when he made sexual advances towards her, she pushed him away in disgust. ‘How dare you put those stinking hands inside my blouse?’
Every evening he returned home in the hope that she would caress his forehead and massage his back to shake off the weariness of a harsh day’s work. And entwine her voluptuous body around his short, muscular frame in a passionate embrace. And Instead, he spent most nights cursing his fate over cheap country liquor.
Daniel was so engrossed in his thoughts that he failed to notice something burst in front of him. A pungent vapour cloud enveloped him and blurred his vision for a minute.
‘Daniel – Where is he gone?’
‘I saw his disappear.’
There was sudden panic amidst the workers. What were they saying? Daniel was dumbfounded. The shovel was still in his hand, and he could poke into the rubble. He flailed his hands at them, but they all ran away, horror-stricken, into the factory gates calling out to their supervisor.
He dug his hands deeper into his pockets and held the thick bundle of notes; an act he repeated many times since the afternoon. The smell of crisp currency notes on his fingers aroused his mood. He no longer cursed the dirty job that had tainted his body and soul for he now saw life with a broader perspective than before by virtue of his invisibility.
Wasn’t he delighted at the discomfiture of the company directors who were aghast at the unexpected event? Amidst the commotion, Daniel had slinked into the large conference room to witness the researchers argue about the success or failure of the experiment that intended to make an object invisible. Though initially terrified by his new state, he soon realized the degree of power he wielded over them. Their reaction to his invisibility emboldened him further. Would I ever regain my physicality? He thundered. The experts were in doubt if the process was reversible. Concerned that this could generate adverse publicity, the management paid him off with good money.
I am now formless. Figureless. Casteless.
With a newfound dignity and self-esteem, Daniel entered his village and walked through the streets that housed the upper caste people. He scoffed at the privilege of their homes and their sanctimonious behaviour towards others. Even the saintly mendicants stood in awe to seek alms at their doors. At dusk, he reached the temple of the village deity and sat there for a long time without anyone to bother him. It gave him the vicarious pleasure of overcoming many years of discrimination.
He smirked at the absurdity of it all and walked towards his house in the secluded Dalit colony. Dhanu was startled by the entry of her invisible husband who immediately let out a stream of insults at her for her callousness towards him. She trembled in fear at the ungainly sight – or the lack of it – but couldn’t scream for help.
Daniel now felt remorseful towards her and narrated the unexpected events of the day. He drew her closer and said, ‘Don’t you worry about me. I have enough money for us to live for the next six months.’ Dhanu’s eyes widened at the stack of money in front of her eyes.
‘Now, go and stir up the delicious Pulasa curry for me. Tonight, I will devour what I hungered for in the last two months.’
As though cast under a spell, Dhanu acceded to her husband’s demand and began to cook. Conscious of his looming presence around her, she adjusted her saree border that kept slipping off her shoulder to expose her heaving bosom. Daniel’s manhood welled up in anticipation of the sumptuous fare ready to be savoured.
‘The fish smelt awesome,’ said Daniel after he had conquered her. Dhanu did not respond for her body still convulsed in the throes of lust ignited by an unseen mass of flesh and blood. There was neither the smelly body nor the breath of alcohol. As though a mystery man had seduced her.
Daniel hardly slept that night. He looked at her clothes discarded on the floor; the stack of money lying on the chair; and the mirror facing the bed reflecting her nakedness.
I did not have to scrub myself to cleanse my foul body that repulsed her.
Is it the money? Or her true love?
At the break of dawn, his skin twitched, and muscles tightened in slow movements. Dhanu broke out from his arms and sat up with a jerk. ‘Oh!’ she gaped at him for a while, draped herself furtively with the saree and walked away towards the kitchen.
Daniel noticed his physical existence reappear in the mirror. An intense feeling of rage rushed into his head. Once again, the familiar sense of rejection. His wrung his hands in frustration. In a swift movement, he pulled Dhanu by her hair and slapped her tightly on her face. She shrieked in pain, but Daniel’s wails of helplessness sounded louder in intensity.
Pulasa: type of fish found in Godavari river, Andhra Pradesh; better known as Hilsa in other parts of India
Photo By: Armin Lotfi