S***

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“They… they’re saying you’re such a slut…”

I was thirteen, and the above line was murmured to me by my then-best friend, whom I’ve rather lost touch with and I hope is doing well. At thirteen, I wasn’t very shocked; not because I’d heard worse, but because I didn’t know what it meant.

“Papa, what’s a slut?”

“It’s a sexually promiscuous woman.”

Well, I didn’t know what ‘promiscuous’ meant either, but rather than talk more during a tense CSK match, I sought out the next best source- a dictionary.

In the columns of the gigantic, moth-eaten Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary Of The English Language, I found that I’d been termed someone who has sex with any man who asked. Please don’t run for the dictionary; that’s not how it’s phrased, but my copy’s halfway around the world.

Which, I reasoned, was rather ridiculous, because we were thirteen; who wanted to have sex anyway? It sounded like an uncomfortable business.

(It had been the late Khushwant Singh who had contributed greatly to my sexual education. I don’t recommend it)

That’s not to say it didn’t sting, of course; which teenager doesn’t dread being gossiped about? On the other hand, a whole new world of insults now opened up before my slightly-shocked eyes, although it took three years for me to actually use any. When I did, though, it was to a boy: with the air of someone delivering her coup de grace, I informed one of my classmates that he was, in fact, a man-whore.

“You should say gigolo.” He replied. I was late to the party, it seemed, and not fashionably.

You might wonder why I’m writing this now. And yes, while there’s a part of me that’s gleefully typing up words like sex, whore, gigolo, for all and sundry, I still feel something like a bee-sting when I type the word slut.

There it is again.

That’s one word I try not to use. It may have slipped out at some point over the years, but I try. There’s something particularly filthy about it- and even, I feel, something maliciously female. I can now easily call a man a whore without tacking the ‘man’ to it, but slut always seems so pointedly female.

Slut-shaming. I hate the term. I hate the practice. I hate the casualness of it, how easy it is when the target is a ‘she’.

A sexually promiscuous woman. But a man is just a playboy. A Man.

This isn’t a rant against slut-shaming; honestly, I don’t quite know what this is, even. I don’t often dislike words in and of themselves- even stuff I’ve made my peace with. But slut is one thing I’ve never been able to find middle-ground with. Maybe it’s personal. Maybe society’s ease with it. I don’t really know.

At any rate, it’s a good word to dislike.

Ankle Bells

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The Tamil word is hard to write in the Roman script. The Hindi would be ‘ghungroo’: the upgraded, louder cousin of the anklet.

I flow. I pick things up and leave them, as and when I please. I drop them easily, and they float away. Or maybe I do, carelessly, Few things really leave lasting impressions on me.

I should have realised, though, that after so many years, dance would be more important than I had thought, that it would have left a mark of of some sort. I really believed I could do it. Let it go, drift away, as I’d often done before. Ignore the little pangs when an old favourite played. Surely critiquing others from the audience would be enough.

It hit like a punch to my chest. I opened the red box, and there lay the anklets: silent, ever-so-innocent, and recently dead.

Something stirred feebly, painfully, in my stomach. My ankles itched.

In but minutes, I had hunted out all my dance jewellery. The gorgeous temple sets. The nettichutti (a sort of pendant that dangles in the centre of the forehead, attached to a chain that runs along the middle parting of the hair), neckpiece, and bell-earrings. Red and green stone set in gold, edges with little pearls, the ones that catch your attention without screaming for it. The broad, clanking gold belt, with Lakshm (goddess)i designs on each segement. The rakkudi (a brooch that goes at the back of the head), round and red-and-green, innocent and pretty and old-fashioned. Demure, with attitude. The fake hair. The kunjalam (think of them as three round, fluffy, decorated balls that hang at the end of a braid), black and topped with gold.

And the ghungroos. Oh god, those ghungroos, just lying there in that box, the only pieces that had once had a voice. That had once said something. That had once been alive.

The pieces that had been the most wronged.

I haven’t quite got round to making amends to my ghungroos for the neglect, but I’m getting there, I think.

At least, it’s a start.