DR KEDAR Deshpande, Head of Unit IV, Department of Surgical Disciplines, Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. Married, childless. Squat-faced wife, square and low set. Of a scabrous ugliness that has no antecedent history of beauty. Both of them are Maharashtrian Deshastha Brahmins, of the Rigvedi subsect and lacto vegetarians. And from a long line of relentless endogamy.
On a vedic purity scale that’s like having the moon on a stick.
Dr Deshpande is a professor of General Surgery. What he likes doing most are cancers of the mouth and the neck. Large resections of fungating masses involving the tongue, cheeks, lips, palate, jaw bone etc and then reparative procedures to fill the holes in the face with skin and muscle flaps harvested from the chest. His patients, after they’ve been beguiled of their cheeks and jaws and then restored with flesh from other parts, are called ‘Deshpande’s Cyclopes’ by his students. They are his labour of love. He keeps a fat photo album in his desk, of ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs. There was a time when he was steeped in the management of breast carcinoma. Now, for a while, it has been oral malignancies. Kedar Deshpande is a man of middle height, civil gray hair and has a smile that is quite fetching, but is proffered with such frequency that it loses most of its fertility. He wears crisp shirts in pastel shades and ties that are manifestly anachronistic in terms of length and width.
He fancies himself as a Bellovian hero, a man of complements. Oftentimes, he thinks at length about his place in the scheme of things. About the arabesque pose he assumes on the boards of Academia. He is allegiant and truthful to the various factions that make up his life. He is occasionally onanistic and very grateful for the largesse granted by his broadband Internet connection.
He likes videos of anal sex and facials. Sovereign in his fetish is not the anal ramming but the fair, bleached anus. There is something rarified about the pink pucker, the pastel anus.
Otherwise, he is faithful to his wife. His wife, Anagha, has been abidingly non-orgasmic. Their sexual activity, which was largely androcentric, had ceased in the last decade. He remembers in great detail the first money shot of his wife’s pudenda. He had beheld it with the utmost courtesy and rendered it the homage that seemed due to inaugural ceremonies. He now wonders about the Hippocratic definition of hysteria — arising because the wandering uterus (light and atrophic from a lack of sexual activity) pressed upon the heart and lungs and caused a minor constellation of symptoms like shortness of breath, hyperventilation and an increase in heart rate. He has now begun to chafe at her squatty harassed look. He hopes that she will predecease him, carried off by some withering illness…
And there are times when he thinks about happiness, its licit place, and what it takes to be admitted there. Deshpande lives in the small, gated bureaucratic enclave of Pandara Road, on the first floor of one of the double storeyed D II houses that repeat themselves in the vitrines of Lutyen’s Delhi.
A lately kindled appetite disturbs his mind. For some time now he has had a paraphilia. At nine thirty every night, Kedar Deshpande leaves his wife in front of the television and steps out for a postprandial walk. It is a slow-paced ramble through alleys and service lanes that lasts about forty-five minutes.
In the course of his nightly saunter, he looks into other people’s homes. He likes to watch young couples through windowpanes at night. It isn’t standard issue voyeurism but is certainly a variant. The frisson is provided by asexual acts of conjugation. The living room indolence, the cavorting, the cleaving, the meal making, the meal sharing, the reading of miscellanies, the waiting, the greeting, the prattling. Descried with difficulty through partly drawn curtains and permissive slat blinds. Their daily domestic movements excite him: the everyday consorting that is, for every family, sui generis. He waits outside the favoured homes, for fleeting parts of a tableau, as his beloved twosomes become purveyors of their state of domesticity, advertisements of their pluperfection.
It isn’t the incident, precipitate kind of fetish that ends in a hand job. It lies on the periphery, produces a certain kind of warmness. The tepid, pleasurable exudate of self-pity.
RML is the most edificial structure on Baba Kharak Singh Marg, if you discount Gole Dakkhana, St Columba’s and Gurdwara Bangla Sahib because technically they aren’t on Kharak Singh Marg, they just seem to be. RML is a small colonial building with a large central cupola called the Nursing Home, a lowbrow caricature of Lutyens’ other cupolaed erections. It’s middlingly pink — governmental pink — and looks sad as if its days of trenchancy have passed. A well-tended garden accoutered with joyous topiary and a fountain occupies the space between the portico and Kharak Singh Marg
The CPWD sensibility is plainly demonstrable in the physiognomy of the adjacent newer hospital buildings. The Public Works Department endows its buildings with simple and listless sarkari virtues. The absence of form and function is a sine qua non. The OPD block is jaundice yellow. On the ground floor is a vestibular space where patients line up for the OPDs. It’s like a railway platform, thematically, filled with formations of the polymorphously afflicted, welling forth chafing and churning sounds.
On the first floor is Deshpande’s chamber. He spends his afternoons with exegetical tracts on oral and breast malignancies, often bemoaning the smallness of his own contribution to literature on the subject. He leaves at five thirty, when the OPD block is empty Deshpande’s chamber is paneled in the anti-lapidary style of government interiors. There’s a lot of plastic and aluminium, plywood and sunmica and white gilt filigreed sofas and the most anodyne of governmental accoutrem – ents, the white towel on his seatback.
SHE OPENS the door, walks in with little cautious steps and smiles slightly, as a way of introduction. She brings out a folded piece of paper from her side.
Baba has spoken to you about this,” she says in Marathi.
Her own introduction of her condition is precipitous. “I think I have Phyllodes or perhaps a large fibroadenoma,” she says without any sense of embarrassment or anxiety. The annotation ‘Phyllodes’ swollen and ripe from nourishment provided by the Internet.
Deshpande continues to take stock of her. She is Limaye’s daughter. It’s the first time he’s seeing her from close quarters, out of her teens. Anon he shall see her without her optimistic winter clothing.
He rings a bell for tea and asks cheerful prefatory questions about her father and her university curriculum. He then steers the conversation to family and menstrual history and goes through her mammography, MRI and needle biopsy reports. After tea, he leads her to the examining table.
“When did you first notice it?”
She’s without any articles of personal adornment. Nothing on her neck or even in her ears. She has the most beautiful pair of breasts he’s ever seen. Wonderfully avant-garde and tumescent. Prima facie, it’s more than generic, hormonal tumescence. It’s like the nude in art and literature. She raises her arms slightly for the armpit palpation.
An erstwhile lover (who had recently shored up on art history) had managed to create a distinct sacredness around her breasts by comparing them to those drawn by Norman Lindsay, the Australian master. In his iconography and spectatorial consciousness, the breasts on Lindsay’s women, particularly the oriental dancers in the Sultan is indisposed, were qualitatively rivalled only by Eva Green’s in the Bertolucci production The Dreamers. It was breast love at its most devout.
The discovery of the breast lump was in a state of drunkenness, during mammary intercourse, as he squeezed her lubed up breasts from the sides and rubbed himself inside the cleavage. The Bombay roll. After he’d given her a pearl necklace, he rolled over and told her, “The right one feels funny.”
“A year ago,” she says. Deshpande can smell cigarette smoke on her breath. “I was examining myself in front of the mirror. My gynaecologist kept saying it’s virginal hypertrophy or something like that. Turns out that she didn’t know how to palpate breasts.” There’s an ease and urbanity in the way she speaks about herself.
She kids about the mammography machine that had seemed like a one trick pony to her. A noble system but a large investment that could all but limn flattened tits. As opposed to the MRI gantry, for instance, that could do much more. For the first time, her breasts had felt like udders. They were picked up (one after the other) by the technician and placed on the X-ray plate, incarcerated, and compressed horizontally first, then obliquely.
“That’s strange. There aren’t any dilated skin veins. In fact there isn’t a discrete palpable lump. Only a slight fullness on the right.” He isn’t sure if that sounds lame or just inadequate.
He has his way with her breasts, examining them in the supine and then the bending forward position. They’re spectacular when they’re falling forward. She’s going to be his bakunyu girl for a long time.
It’s also colourful grist to his other interest, academic literature. He can see a review article coming out of this, in a hallowed journal of breast diseases, gussied up with this tremendous case report. The case of the non-palpable Phyllodes tumor. The MRI images are brilliant. They show a well circumscribed homogenous mass. In the mammogram, the neoplasm is like the birth of a star in a faraway galaxy. These are images that document the variegation and the glut that make her right breast beautiful. Evidence of the falsification of anatomy. The only thing that he needs now is a clinical photograph.
IN THE darkness, he looks over his shoulder at the Limayes’ house. It’s on the first floor, looking out on Shah Jahan road. They’re not at home. Limaye is a Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Urban Development. He’s the only other Maharashtrian in Deshpande’s immediate neighbourhood and Deshpande’s best chance of acquiring membership of the India Habitat Centre.
The Limaye girl will never come to him for the excision. She’ll probably go to a fancy American Board certified plastic surgeon in one of those big luxury hospitals (referred by Deshpande, treatment sponsored by the Central Government Health Services), get silicone implants subsequently and become hale. But will she be consummate again? Actually, he wouldn’t like to operate on her. He dreads the before and after photographs.
She’ll be his bakunyu milkmaid tonight. Even in its plight, there’s no way her clinical photograph can not be eroticised. Partly because it was taken with such unhealthy relish. He loves the way she sat for it, arms akimbo.
[Cystosarcoma phyllodes or phyllodes tumour is a rare, predominantly benign, but a locally aggressive fleshy tumour of the female breast.]
Ambarish Satwik (born 1976) is a surgeon in the Department of Vascular and Endovascular surgery, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi. His debut work of fiction, Perineum: Nether Parts of the Empire, was published in 2007. Perineum is a rogue and deviant sexual history of the British colonial project in India. According to his wife, it is just smutty historical fiction. She thinks that since he doesn’t have the gilded academic literary pedigree to write the definitive novel on anything, he tends to make his work pornographic. His chestnut is that pornography clearly has its pecuniary advantages.