Intimate Moments in an Indian Apartment Complex

intimatemoments

A look inside the wild pages of Esther David’s Shalom India Housing Society

Editor’s Note: Shalom India Housing Society (The Feminist Press, 2009) is a heartwarming novel about a group of Indian Jews living together in Ahmedabad. After religious riots broke out in that city in 2002, they had moved into in an apartment complex where we and their patron, the Prophet Elijah, overhear their intertwined stories. Below is an excerpt from “Juliet,” the chapter introducing a young Jewish woman who has fallen in love with a non-Jewish neighbor, Rahul, and has just gotten busted by her mom, Rebecca, in a rather inopportune moment.

Juliet was a fun-loving girl, who won prizes for everything from sports to public speaking to fancy dress contests. Whenever Juliet took part in a competition, both homes fell into the project wholeheartedly. Like, for the Hanukah fancy dress party, when it was decided that Juliet would dress as an Indian bride, Sudha lent her wedding dress to Juliet: a brocade ghaghra, silk bandhni odhni, an embroidered backless blouse, and matching jewelry complete with gold bangles. That evening, dressed in the finery, Juliet looked so beautiful that everybody was sure that she would win the first prize.

Rahul even offered to drive them to the synagogue, so they all packed into his father’s Fiat. But even before the car reached the gate, Juliet came down with a stomachache and said she could not possibly make it to the synagogue, but begged her parents and brother to go ahead for the Feast of the Tabernacles.

Reluctantly they agreed, advising her to change, put away the jewelry in the cupboard, and rest. Rebecca even offered to stay back, but Juliet refused, saying she would lock herself in the apartment and sleep. At the synagogue, try as she might, Rebecca could not focus on the prayers or the fancy dress competition. She was upset and annoyed when Yael won first prize. She was also uncomfortable with the fact that Juliet was alone at home.

From the women’s gallery, Rebecca signaled to her husband Abraham that she was going back home and left hurriedly. She found a rickshaw, reached home and saw that Juliet had switched off all the lights; perhaps she was sleeping.

Rebecca opened the door of the apartment with her key and entered the apartment quietly, not wanting to disturb Juliet. She saw that the television was switched on but the sound had been turned down, so she switched off the television and turned on the light, went to the kitchen to get herself a glass of water, and saw that there was a box of pizza on the counter. She was surprised; if Juliet had a stomachache, why had she eaten pizza? She was rather annoyed that the kitchen was in a mess, so she folded the box and pushed it into the garbage bin. Then she went to her room, changed into a nightgown, folded her sari, put it away, unscrewed her gold earrings, removed her gold bangles, left them on the dressing table, and went to the bedroom. On her way back, she saw that Juliet’s door was ajar, so she peeped in to see if she was awake.

Horrified, she stood staring at Juliet’s bed.

In the dim light, she thought she had seen two bodies move. To make sure, she switched on the light and screamed when she saw Juliet and Rahul in bed together.

Dazed, they sat up, staring at her in disbelief, their eyes full of dreams.

Juliet was still dressed as a bride, her makeup smudged, her ghaghra pulled up to her knees, while her odhni and blouse lay scattered on the floor with Rahul’s kurta.

Eyes lowered, Rahul stood up, pulled on his kurta, slowly tied the drawstrings of his pajamas, and left without a word.

Frightened and disheveled, Juliet stood and reached for the blouse and the odhni, but before that Rebecca fell on her in a mad fury, beating her and crying simultaneously.

Juliet took the blows with tears streaming down her face, but when she could not bear it any longer, she held Rebecca’s wrists firmly and shouted back at her, “I love Rahul and don’t you dare touch me.”

Rebecca seemed to have gone deaf; she was staring at Juliet, fascinated that her little girl had such big breasts, with nipples as big as strawberries.

Standing in the doorway and watching Juliet dress, she made an instant decision that Juliet had to be married right away to a good Bene Israel boy. Because if Juliet eloped with Rahul, as she probably would, how would Rebecca ever face the Jewish community? She was always showing off, saying that Juliet was a born winner, and an act like this would immediately make her a loser. All along they had maintained a reputation of being good, God-fearing Jews. She felt ashamed that a daughter of her house had gone astray even though she had been brought up with the best values of Jewish womanhood.

About the Author

Esther David
Esther David was born into a Bene Israel family in Ahmedabad, India, and grew up in a zoo created by her father. The author of four novels, she is also a sculptor, art critic, and columnist for the Times of India.

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