listen idly to the deep, resonant whoop of a solitary coucal and then to the throaty
chorus of coucal calls that follow─each bird call starting when one ends. I
sit on warmish grass dampened by freak autumn
rains in September and try to discern their feathered presences among
trees in the pale ribbon of the evening light. I look for their glossy bluish-black plumages, their chestnut
wings and their black, loose, long, tails but they are so perfectly blended within
the dense tree recesses that they remain hidden.
am sitting in my rectangular garden. It that takes over the front of my cottage
on the outskirts of New Delhi, with a line of heavenward-shooting trees running
along each side and a copse of varied smaller shrubs on the inside. I get the
feeling that it is the greenery around that is summoning me
with its full tones.
As the leaves of
the trees and the shrubs shimmer with the moisture of rain, I wonder what their heightened calls give notice of, what
secrets they divulge. A part of the double-dealing cuckoo family, I believe ornithologists when they say, “these coucal calls are
more about what they hide than what they say.”
understand their theatrical masquerades as I understand myself. Dissembling has been among my early survival
skills. The first marker of my oddness. The other being my lonely pursuit
of choices that lie outside the norm.
start with the smoke screen and the peculiarities of my current profession in the
here-and-now of my life. In my early thirties, I work in an intimate market, in
the business of buying and selling secrets. I was
and still am hired by shocked, betrayed wives who find their husband
straying. As a ‘mistress dispeller’, which is my official designation, I befriend
the mistress, woman to woman, invade her life, uncover her weakness or her many
damaging weaknesses to the wife so as to break up the liaison.
As I see it, I excel in my outlandish job, in the ‘private
intel space.’ No one knows better than me of the unbridled excitement of
forbidden attachments. If I know how to nurture such connections then I know as
much about how to undo them with nonchalance. But more of my own earlier life
of sensuality when I unwind the tale of my past from my tale of my today, the
life of my yesterday from the life of my today: To a charming gossip
columnist, Vidya Jain, who I gave an ’in’ to my world.
I confessed, “I, unwittingly and to my
bemusement, also break up a medley of martial peculiar orders and family
arrangements that have come to be in our city’s contemporaneity.”
in her column, spoke of my innate sensibilities
of a spy that aids me in my job. She said, “She has a keen sense of observation, a knack of idly engaging
and finding common ground with anybody, the plusses of a natural liar (you
really can’t learn to lie as you will trip up sooner than later), a clandestine, street-wise ability to press the limits
of rules and regulations to test how much she can get away with, an artist’s
(some would murmur a con artist) ability to talk her way out of trouble and a
preparedness to be adaptive toward changing situations.”
To this, she added, “She even uses technology with
élan, her spy pen being her most useful
aide memoir and infected phones her best spyware, a giveaway of all secrets on her
cloned screens.” She also put in what I reiterated in my talk with her. “I know
with certainty that every application on the phone has a backdoor and that
hacking tools are as easy to access as an Uber cab.”
understandably, did not give her permission to use my name. But I must admit she is as much of a deadeye as I am and as
able to extract information.
Kaul, a freelance entertainment journalist, was not so charitable about my
work. My client foolishly gave him my details, as she was riding on the wave of
petulance and peevishness about her husband’s infidelity. His piece said, “Her dishonourable
undercover work is conducted using a footloose, freewheeling team─an assorted,
deviant, group of hackers, fact-checkers, small-time sleuths, bush-league
citizens with a kinship to the underworld, among many other such outliers─ who roam
Delhi’s socio-economic borderline.”
the piece, which identified me by name, squashed. An editor I knew tipped me of
its scheduled date of appearance. I put my rag a tag gang to work. They came up
with lurid details of his life that I used to silence him and his piece. “Sweet
revenge!” my team exulted.
odd-sort of togetherness with my team, I have managed many a coup d’état. For the past four years, I
have been carrying my burden of deception lightly, and, as a few who think they
know what I do, say, with animation.
my psychiatrist has a whiff of my uneasiness, of how, “I get divided within as
I enter the troubled spaces of others and become part of the storm within their
world,” and how, “the bizarre untruths and dubious acts make me unsure of the
condition of my being, my inner core.”
dragged me to her couch a month ago with this baneful job were the beginnings
of small fidgets of anxiety in my mind that worked itself up into a lather of
fretfulness. I now suffer from a permanent sense of inner discomfort and unease,
impulses that are new to me. My old avatar being one of infinite
self-assuredness. But, as I said earlier, more of that when I tell you of my
Inclined, as a rule, towards guardedness, a dislike
of having to share my private predicaments and given the nature of my job that
calls for me not to be loose-lipped, it took me long to reveal bits of myself
was advised full disclosure if I wanted to heal, I coerced myself to admit more
than I wished. “Until now, I have had no qualms about the shape and order of my
inner being,” I said, “as manipulating situations and people gets me what I
want. As it is the nature of fire to burn, it is my nature to hide what I am.”
knowing who I am as opposed to who I appear to be disconcerted her. I also suspect
that she, who was to render no judgement, did not have kind words for me in her
copious assessment notes. As it was only her medicines, not she, who could soothe
me somewhat, I discontinued my visits very soon.
last assignment for Leela Sahani as a test case of what I do for a living and
as a kind of explanation for my being in this lady’s lair. Leela came to my
office on a cold, foggy morning, in ire, determined “to chargrill her husband’s
lover into juicy smokiness”. “Stop at nothing to uncover the truth of my
husband’s carousals,” she instructed me. “Spy, catfish, break security codes,
procure bank records under false claims, read personal correspondences, keep tabs
on gifts, install spy cameras and eavesdrop in all manner of speaking. Do what
it takes,” she ordered.
world that is lived a lot off screens and technology, I did most of what she
asked for and some more on the ground with the help of my unholy team. My most
invasive technique was to intimately befriend the young, radiantly voluptuous, Ria
Mathur, the ‘other’ woman, feigning similar passions and reciprocal altruism.
went about it with the thoroughness of a method actor, by ‘accidentally’
bumping into her and starting an animated conversation that continued as banter
for months on our cell phones where we glittered on thus. I, in my contrarian
puckishly charismatic way, and, she, in her typical, abrasive, unrestrained,
lippy, narcissistic Delhi way, coating her tongue with an unbearably coarse
accent each time she spoke to me.
believed I found her immoderately charming.
her way into my affections and onto what she called my “classy way of life” buying
sweaters for our iPhone (her iPhone was gifted by Leela’s husband), Guci bags (as
she could not afford the missing c in the name) and oily edibles, all of which found
its way into my bin. I threw some baubles in her direction.
relationship almost took on the contours of an all-absorbing romance. She was
hyper-verbal about everything in her life. “I love gol gappas (round, hollow,
deep-fried crisp crepes filled with a
mixture of flavoured water) and could
eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.” (Yikes!) “My Pomeranian Pinky is my
soul mate.” (A breed that is an apology for a dog, if you ask me) “My boss loves
my button nose and to peek at my cleavage.” “My family is very strict and I am
terrified of my brothers and father but otherwise, I never dodge fights, hold
my tongue or mind the rules with anyone.”
mistook my attentive listening for empathy.
candour about her boozy, seductive liaisons with Neel─Leela’s husband─was equally
cloying in its details. “I was so open and mast
(flamboyant) while his responses were dara
hua (scared and tentative). I love the way I melt in my insides like a maum (candle) in the heat of his mohhabat (passion)and the nasha (intoxication)of his tone when he callsme his jaan (life).”
to dread her phone calls, their clichéd dreariness and the sheer triteness of
took me no time with my dark art to know her vulnerability. It was as banal as
money. I turned in her details and the jigsaw of my team’s findings to Leela who
instantly bartered money in lieu of her soiled husband.
course, my tidbits on Ria’s family life helped. Leela told me, “I fisted Ria and
my husband’s romance in the stomach, once for all, by threatening to tell of
the affair to her family of three giant looking
brothers and I-can-give-complex-to-a-rhino
kind offather. I said to her this is my one-time payment to
you and I want you to never contact my husband.”
outing of infidelity is rarely simple or dignified. The exposed are utterly
unshelled which is what happened to Ria and Neel. While I, in my perfect
disguise, got to keep my camouflage as armour. They never knew the leak came
from me, a fact that holds for all the cases I have handled so far.
was, however, not completely exempt from downsides. I had to continue to hear
Ria’s inane chatter and despairing wails of being discovered for some more time
to keep my work’s tell-tale features hidden. For ‘plausible deniability of
involvement’, as we call it in our professional parlance. And, two, I had face
up to the fact that my head was no longer as steady, no longer as inured to the
risks and the insanity of my profession, its masterful puppetry of plying and
pulling of others’ life strings. Just to be clear, I was not bothered with my subterfuges
arose from my hair-trigger paranoia of my psychological stability. I was
assailed by a sense of losing myself, of having gone too far down the void of a
rabbit hole, of not being in control of my
life and my person, something very unfamiliar and frightening for me. I
would never have believed such a thing probable in my life when in my twenties
and would have laughed in anyone’s face if they said I would be seeing a shrink
in my life.
always found camouflage to be a wonderful thing as
I am sure you have inferred by now. My seeming to be someone else while
concealing who I really am has been a captivating game for me from childhood. I
have lived in my shadows of subterfuge for so long that my disguises are now a
part of me. They have never felt wrong or dysfunctional but fun like play-acting.
early years, my father often worried about me growing up without a mother, the
lack of her influences and anchoring. He would point me to a picture of the
wheel in our drawing room, say that it should
remind me of living my life from the centre. “When we live our life from the
rim of the wheel, we focus on externals, what you can see with your eye or hear
with your ear. Externals will never make you strong in your inner core,” was
something he repeated to me often.
Did he sense my secrecy and cover-ups even then? My
little manipulations and the small contradictions in my stories? Was he
worried that what he permitted could turn into what he promoted? A number of
times, I felt in my bones that he seriously
disapproved my lack of a blood bond to him and my tenuous attachments to
friends. His constant urging me to “grow more affection and altruism” confirmed
his dim view of my lack of filial and fraternal fidelity.
Conflicts of my amoral outlook did register in my
furrowed brows at a young age. At fourteen, to the confession priest in my
school’s church, I said, “Father, I worry about why moral perfection is not
burrowed into my sense of the world. I do try time and again to lean towards
goodness, but I fail.”
All he said was, “Mend your ways, child. Find your
path towards God.”
The holy water he gave me was supposed to help. It
simply died when I reached my twenties. The subterranean hum of my true nature
became voluble by then and I began to accept the freefall of my basic tendency. One that was to maximise
my utility at the expense of others, sometimes even at the risk of bringing
about negative outcomes in other’s lives. At this point in my life, I
came to a clear understanding that I have been involuntarily
following my innate instincts all through my
life and that I will continue to do so as this is the only way I know how to
elite life in New Delhi, ten years past the turn of the millennium, was, hence,
an indulgence, unbound by any ideological
mooring, one persuasion or another. I overheard one girl say of me, “She is
simply interested in getting as much as she can for herself, her personal
interest acting as her sharpest spur to action. She sees inventive dissembling
in the guise of simple naiveté as a good
way of getting by as being strategic in choosing
when to cooperate.”
was not wrong.
While at the campus in the northern part of the city,
doing a post-graduate course in economics, I never bought into the argument
that my economics professor would tout, “that it is in understanding the
interests of others that we are able to fulfil our own.”
My counter was, “attempting idealised perfectibility
and equality in personal, political, economic and social spheres will always
fail. The dark mirror of utopias, dystopias, will show up in fallen
social experiments, stringent political regimes and controlling economic
These beliefs may sound Machiavellian to some but I had
yet to read him at length at that point. My beliefs sprung from my own
interpretations of the world around me. It surprised me then as it does now
that my old professor held on to human goodness while I ingested the meaning of
utopia to be ‘no place’ both literally and metaphorically. And that I have always
believed that disinterest in gathering personal resources is ideologically
So as I was saying, life in my twenties was a
time of riotous springtime joy. My diary noting for this period says, “My life
now is a seemingly eternal season of silk cotton fluff fluttering in a breath
of wind. A time when ‘adventure’ is the ticket. A time when it feels beautiful
to be in my body when a golden heat flows skin-deep, vital and shining. A time
to allow passion to take up space within my body’s clear effusive warmth,
changing the balance, making ripples in the air that it passes through. A time
to throw away the cultural scripts written for women.”
was easy for me with my erotic loveliness and with my umbrella shadow of luck
and privilege to flit fast from liaison to liaison within New Delhi’s gilt-edged,
closed-in community. I went on thus compulsively and in secret for eight long
years. As I sought transitory physical
attachments and never emotional closeness that tended to feelings, my many past
lovers were put one by one where they belonged, out of my life and in the past.
As I saw that the simplicity and security of one
partner was not for me, I cleared each of my lover’s residual impact
quickly to reclaim my sexual sovereignty. For me, the idea of taking on inner
pain in the name of love was needless torture.
don’t think it was my attractiveness that particularly drew men to me. There
were women with far more beauty and feminine mystique. I think what one of the
men in my life said to me explains why men were drawn to me. “You send out
subconscious scent signals that urge a sexual response.” So I will go with my
all-scented wanton, womanly body as the reason for my appeal and as the reason for
why I unwound men.
one connection in particular that held me for very long. I note in my diary
that it was “pulse-pounding, ardent, dangerous and disruptive.” Dangerous and
disruptive as, in our case, we were both married. It was no impediment though, despite
the watched and guarded nature of personal and social lives.
diary entries for this period are uninhibited. “Our lust is on the loose. We
taste the excitement of each other’s lives and yearn for another thousand
faraway possibilities. It is so exciting to carry on our furtive trysts with note
messages tucked into bicycles, furtive calls through the day, midnight meetings
and through the courting each other through poetry in well-modulated cadences.”
folds of our sheets could tell stories of just how truly bad we are,” we would
often joke. Our affair was freighted with lies,
secrets and ongoing deceptions that uncontained relationships like this need. We
risked our delight as there was no license in my marriage or his to open up our
experiences and connections to others. Or to reshape it in any way to our
Thinking back, I realize I must have had holes in my
conscience through all my many relationships post-marriage as it remained oddly
innocent through all the illicit dangerousness. And my middle-class Indian
background, that should have tethered me with moral chastity belts, not even
allowing my fantasies to roam freely, failed in its reign-in.
backlash to our lustful dare devilries arrived swiftly, once we got found out.
His wife called me up. “You rubbishy creature, how could you do this to me and
my child? I can’t think of another person in the whole world that I despise
more than you. You have the morals of an alley cat and I will pray that you
rot in hell in a sludge of substances.”
of emails were far more vitriolic and delivered
a tirade of expletives. She threatened to inform my husband and ruin my
did. My marriage and my double life folded.
life’s deceptions were witnessed by all and my personal stories made public. I
was made to map the extent of my misdemeanours. People, especially women, saw
me as a “labyrinth of many unknown paths” and I
let them live with their belief. I guess because it was true in many ways.
to use indifference as a defence mechanism to counter my powerlessness. It is
not as if I did not hurt from the inside but the
recognition of who I really am insulated me, made me understand that my adventuresome
actions and decisions were in many ways ineludible.
defence of my husband, I think he would have been able to handle “minor
palterings” but he could not cope with my “many flat out deceptions’, as he
termed them. Once my lover’s wife outed our deception, many other women were
emboldened to whisper to him about how I “turned my affections towards him to
is also not as if my husband did not try to understand me or my indiscretions. He
did. But we were toppled over by another awkward trio that came to be─him, the
counsellor and me.
made efforts to cut through the complications and permanent barriers created
but failed. The counsellor felt my reasons for straying and staying were
“delusive” and noted that I “felt no guilt that
most others would feel when engaging in stuff like this, something hurtful to
my husband gave up, saying, “I think there is nothing left to save. Now my entire idea of what the world is, and the truth of
what is and isn’t, feels like it is on a chopping board and that trust between
us is a thing of the past. In fact, I am not certain we had trust to begin
I begged and I pleaded. It was ignominious. “Let’s
start afresh. I promise to be true to you. I will make up for the times I let
you down,” I beseeched. My moment of complete abasement came when I cried,
“Where will I go if you leave me? I have nothing to fall back on, what will I
He remained unmoved. Our marriage came to an end when I reached the age of thirty with two
court hearings and a signature. It purged me of all my relationships and
Looking back, I see that I mostly observed my husband
from under closed eyelids through our eight-year connection. All I can say is
the mild warmth of my marriage at twenty-two years of age and his unrelenting
gravity bored me and I, “could not be demure and domestic,” as my mother-in-law
curtly said in her first assessment of me when my father and she met to, “marry
me off,” as they call the curious social engineering of arranged marriages.
I know all of this sounds an easy summation of the
situation or of why I was not as safe or knowable as other women around. My
arguments do lack introspection and show up my inability to face up to the
crucial actions in my life as also my casual, cruel displacement of an individual.
But that is all I have as that is how I am.
Maybe I should have taken my dead aunt Renuka’s notion
of singlehood as a desired way of life seriously and fought with more intensity
against being ambushed into marriage. She did, in her sickness, warn me, when
my father was pushing me into marriage. “Don’t allow boldness of your aspirations
to be bleached into a pastel of family expectations. I know you well and this
is what will happen if you marry.”
No one knows how a thing
like a divorce will strike you before it comes to you. But one thing was certain;
it brought on a dreadful reckoning over which I had no control.
reeled for months under
an unfamiliar sense of insecurity and the harsh realization that I had no particular
skills to make a living. The sniggers of those around who said, “She will probably
allure a whole organization now,” cut to the bone. But at least I had a place
to stay. My father who passed on two years ago, erasing all records of my
childhood, left behind a cottage on the outlying part of the city from where I
could make a new beginning.
In my thwarted life, I chose
to be a mistress dispeller as it fell within my catchment area. I had never known it to be a thing until my marriage
was spluttering and I heard whispers that my lover’s wife had employed one to
peel away my secrets.
I don’t know if she did.
I do know a
woman sought to befriend me around the time of my last affair and that I did
reciprocate, meeting her for an odd coffee or drink. I am not sure how much I
said or whether she was why I got found out but the idea of the job description
stuck in my head. Talk of life’s ironies. It was my lover’s wife in a way who
set me up in this covert career.
So I live my life now with a job in the game of
seduction, one that is heart-in-the mouth, immediate and fierce in its gaze of
the hidden, almost delivered from my societal shame. Or maybe not.
Today, is my new life, four years of age, with
its changed balance in my role as a mistress dispeller, a liberation of sorts? A
validation and affirmation of self-perceived abilities and a balm for injured
self-esteem, as I see it? I earn well, act as a relief worker for many
distressed women, mask my own sexuality and keep my own life and its
engagements denuded to a minimum, almost solitary, to erase my past waywardness.
Or it is really a doppelganger of an earlier existence, a double walk as it
were, on the path of stealth and strategy? One with ethically, morally and socially questionable attitudes
and behaviours, as many say?
all, I do freely admit to the buzz I feel when codebreaking and the power I
feel when I play God and wreak judgement on others’ lives. This even though I
myself have indulged in such a lifestyle with abandon.
If pressed to find language about my current
situation, I would say it is uncomfortable. My idea that the ground beneath me
is solid, dependable, that I can build on it, that I can trust it to support me,
is gone. The gaping hole in my mind, in my life, seems to mock the very
idea of solid ground, of trustworthy geology.
I live off-course, in a state of doubtful
uneasiness in my mind, rolling over peaks and troughs, splayed by them, and struggle
to enter into a stable ground of belief about myself, my life. I look for the easygoing self-assurances of my life in my twenties but they
are nowhere to be found.
strife within the beginning of consciousness?
vertiginously atop of a Ferris Wheel, the
world beneath me, wondering if the wheel wisdom of my father will work out
answers for me.
it help me find my way back to things I can trust? Will it help me find my own
floor? Should I adopt the wisdom wheel, its love and kindness, as my compass, as
a way of coming to terms with myself, as my catharsis? Should I finally now accept
my hubris in thinking I can control my life from its rim?
I need to find out fast before I lose myself. Before I don’t fit in my head at all.
Chitra Gopalakrishnan is a New Delhi-based journalist by training, a social development consultant by profession and a creative writer by choice. With decades of experience in writing books on social development, she willfully exploits several creative genres to bring out the exertions of living in modern-day Delhi, caught as people are in its uneven, messy and riotous surges. She understands that finding one’s balance in the city’s whirlwinds is not easy and considers herself fortunate to be living on a farm with her family, a little away from the city, keeping company with her dog, her many feathered friends and fishes.