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About Malini

Malini Bhattacharya studied English literature at Jadavpur University, in Kolkata, where she was born and has lived most of her life. She writes fiction, creative nonfiction and (very rarely) poetry. She also translates, especially the work of contemporary women and feminist writers to and from English and Bengali. Her work has appeared in Palette Poetry, Coldnoon Travel Poetics, Litro, Tehelka, Cerebration, The News Minute, The Better India, Agony Opera, Aparjan and others. She has just published her first book of short stories – Irregular Love.

Malini enjoys coffee, world cinema, and traveling in the hills.


He has taken three weeks off to travel in Europe. She couldn’t afford the trip. He didn’t ask her to come, either. He sends her emails addressed to nobody, missives full of Italian women, beer and breweries, cathedrals and museums. She prints these out at work and creases the sheets into thirds. They go into a plastic case that had once held little bottles of nail paint.

Stowing the clean white sheets away in their tawdry quarters makes them heavy with new meaning between readings. She thinks they will pass for commonplace letters that pass between lovers living apart, ripe with hinted-at secrets and not quite-disclosure. It is just possible to make believe that her lover Karim, who is far away from her this summer, aches for the whole woman she is.

For Mira.


Mira has on her walls Plath-and-mirror close together, Diana Queen of Hearts in her revenge dress (cut out of a magazine), a Kandinsky landscape in blues and greens and yellows, and a clock. All severely at odds with each other. She’s hung the clock above the door so she can see it from anywhere, and the poster (unframed) where people see it first thing when they arrive. The clock was a mistake, like a number of other things she bought for the house – this room and kitchenette – when she moved in. Weightless leaf-print curtains that allowed sunlight to filter in. Six paper thin porcelain cups for the white coffee she and Karim liked to drink smashed in the stone sink in three uses.

She hadn’t paid attention when she was buying the clock. She had searched Amazon for “clocks for home”, sorted the results by price, lowest first, jumped to page seven and looked cursorily at items four and nine. She believed these were her lucky numbers, and white and green her lucky colors. She didn’t believe herself superstitious. She picked clock nine because Amazon would ship it sooner.

The clock is round and about the size of a dinner plate, and Mira does think it looks more like cheap tableware than anything of use. It’s face is the color of pancake foundation, and the clockmaker has etched little swirling roses into this base. Around the rim are knots of blue and pink flowers. The numbers are in frail gold lettering, in Roman, and the hands are black.

Karim says the clock is too trashy to qualify for kitsch. He rarely has to look at it. He sees Mira some weeknights, or on Sunday mornings. For a man his size, Karim takes up plenty of room. Mira gathers books, magazines, flying papers, pens and pencil stubs, the odd item of clothing or bits of feminine tinsel in her arms—like children—to give birth to space for him. He settles down, and she flies about around him, arranging for comfort. While he talks, she watches his hands, which are slim and nicely cared-for, and she observes what he’s wearing. His clothes are dark and austere.

He tells her about the television series he’s been watching and the books he’s reading, the people he’s met since they’ve seen each other last, and she lets the grain of his voice come down on her like light rain. She isn’t required to talk, really. She makes noises of assent and exclamation, she nods and smiles and laughs, but not too loudly. She boils water for coffee on the little electric cooking range and stirs in a spoonful of sugar, clockwise. He follows her slapdash movements. Sometimes, she forgets where she put the milk. Or she might spill it.

“Shit,” Mira says. “Shit, why are you watching me like that?”

“I’m not watching you. Don’t swear. I’m looking at you.”

“Same difference.” 

She brings him the coffee finally, but he sets it down on the low table, letting it lose most of its heat before drinking it up quickly, talking, talking all the time. Craggy scraps of his sentences – he’s launched into a genial polemic on the Prime Minister’s management of the pandemic – reach Mira through a cloudy haze, because she has entered an aloof preparatory period before Karim crosses the width of the room and puts his hands on her shoulders, begins to kiss her hair. The preparation itself is somewhat complicated; it happens entirely in her head, and its main object is to turn her attention away from the things that he will do to her in a minute. She thinks very hard about things she finds beautiful – fields of wildflowers, streets gleaming under rain, shop windows done up for the evenings, silk dresses.

When he’s inside her, Mira looks up at the clock, and it’s always under twenty minutes since he rang. Twelve minutes, fourteen on a good day, and Karim’s done.


They are rarely at Karim’s apartment, and things are different when they are there. For one, there is more space, and every object is distanced from others. Here an armchair, here a low wooden table, there a whole rose tree in a terracotta planter that Karim is growing in a corner of the high, vast, white-painted living room, its branches leaning out the window into the air. Not one thing that could be called common, Mira thinks. So much is handmade. The jute rug, the set of bowls for his keys and change. Karim says young urban upper-class people with any semblance of social consciousness have a responsibility to support artisans at the grassroots. Karim is affronted if anything is displaced. Meera also thinks that he is a little excessive in his preoccupation with organizing and sorting and putting things in places that belong to them, but this isn’t something she has mentioned to him. Just as she hasn’t brought up the idea of making love on Karim’s wide floors, or his kitchen counter of deep red granite. They make it on his modern-rustic bed, and Mira stares at the blue ceiling and thinks, this is bloody spartan, this is sex, once in a while he makes me come.

Karim doesn’t like her—or anyone else—mucking about in his kitchen. They order in. Mira finds it easier to let him choose what. He will usually get some kind of red meat and flatbread. Mira remembers the dishes he likes, the exact lighting he prefers in the small dining area, the laudatory phrases he likes to apply—and she is expected to echo with subtle alterations—to rogan josh or dal gosht. Mira is allowed to serve. Before they start, she pulls her hair back and fastens it with a curved pin. Their meals together are long, because it is important to Karim to verbalize his appreciation of the food. He knows about spices and their histories, how different meats are cooked, the distinctions between searing and braising and pan frying.

From his place at the table Karim surveys her. Mira is not tall, not slender, not light-skinned. She has just had bronze highlights put in her hair. She eats quickly, with her fingers, always chewing with her left, always setting aside a little piece of bread or a spoonful of rice aside – unstained by gravy – to finish the meal with. Her fingers are short and the skin on her knuckles have fallen into folds like her crows’ feet, Karim thinks, but her hands are like my mother’s hands (also her careless acceptance of her heft), except she doesn’t wear rings (or earrings or bangles), and Ammi did, Ammi used to wear five—no, seven—rings, gold and silver, more on her toes, and the green and red stones caught daylight and the festive lights at weddings (like Mira’s bright hair) and there was nobody as lovely as her.


His life is ordered, his books catalogued, his music and movies sorted into dated folders. He writes lists, he plans ahead. He owns a Macbook Air, an iPad, an expensive camera, a telescope, and carefully chosen blue chip stocks. He’s beginning to acquire art. He has a round-cut diamond held between linked platinum bands in a black velvet box for an obedient girl, one who’ll make a good wife.

His wants are precise and abiding: efficient sex, brown sugar instead of white in lattes, smart women one or two evenings a week, over good wine, women who dress well, have unconventional interests and decorous refinements and know when the fuck to shut up.

He is drawn to absurd details about Mira: her avid body, her shifts across the six languages she speaks (not one of them European, if you discounted English), her light-hearted, disdainful rejection of religion. But usually her body, her thighs, her legs. The diminutive fleck of brown under her right breast.

He puts these bits of her into boxes. His head is lined with boxes, hundreds of them. Mira’s boxes, and the boxes labelled with the names of other dissatisfactory, discarded women. Boxes for unbridled fighters, lively pontificators, one or two unabashed feminists.

We could make it work, Karim. I’d do anything. We’d each have all the space we’d need.

They wouldn’t hold their tongues. When he wanted some silence, after all the frivolity of the evenings, after the business of fornication. He wanted to read, perhaps, or write a little. Darken his room. Think. He wanted the peace and quiet of night. Peace and quiet.

women and their talk
shrieks when she comes
good legs, silky
opinions, so fucking many of them
irreligious pagan
oversexed whore
doing her
Mira won’t do
Mira Mira…

She’s bigger than the boxes. She knocks them over. She leaks like menstrual blood in the night, she spills like good hot milk in the morning. Mira raises blaring hell in Karim’s head. He can’t get her back into her boxes. He can’t get her out. She won’t fucking shut up.

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