Dear Future Readers, I can’t wait to share the whole novel with you, but here’s a tidbit
Love is an enigma, but marriage is serious business. Girls can only leave home when they marry. This is well known. Any girl or young woman who does otherwise is, of course, ruined.
Before marriage girls have to wait somewhere between bliss and hell. All girls. Prem and the raggedy girl who once loved her included.
There hadn’t been many cozy spots for Prem between hell and bliss in the village in 1914, in the days before all the marrying started, except in the love and the loving of that raggedy girl. This girl’s name was Kanan. Prem and Kanan would meet and day-dream as often as possible by the placid, stagnant pond behind Manohar Mishra’s farmhouse. Though this was a community pond, it only came alive at mid-day for about two hours when women came to wash and bathe. The last bathers left only an echo in the air and a ripple at water’s edge. The rest of the time the pond was quiet, shaded by the spreading and interweaving branches of banyan, mango and saal trees.
One afternoon — all bathing and washing ended for the day — Prem and Kanan set their heist of stolen fruit on the pond’s crumbly edge. Beetles and ants hurried away in frenzy. No one would see, so the girls loosened their saris around the waist, to ease the bruising from the petticoat cord, and hitched up the hems. The saris, which they had to wear tucked into petticoats tied tightly at the waist and covering the legs entirely, made them sweat and itch. Boys could just run around and shimmy up trees anywhere, anytime, clothed or bare-bodied.
They didn’t really know any boys. Something called a Great War, they heard, was taking some village boys to faraway places, but generally boys were as much a part of their daily lives as enchanted forests and flying horses. Aimlessly, they rooted up tufts of grass. They soaked their feet, shivering and squealing lightly with pleasure as inch by inch they lowered them into the chill water. The water was like cool, green limeade. Their pale feet unhitched from them under water. Prem fiercely bit into a whole mango — they never let her do that at home — and juice streamed down her face, chin, neck. It was bliss, that lawless afternoon, Kanan with her, by the pond.