Adithi Rao’s Left from the Nameless Shop is a collection of stories set in the 1980s featuring the residents of Rudrapura, a fictitious town in Karnataka. An excerpt from “Wife”:

Their eyes met and the woman smiled, and Maithili wondered how she had thought her to be plain. In fact, she was beautiful. Maithili felt Tayavva stiffen beside her and turned to see the servant drop her eyes uncomfortably. But the other woman’s smile was unwavering, it had gone all the way to her eyes and settled there as she looked at Tayavva with frank affection. Suddenly it dawned upon Maithili who this person was.

She walked across to join her.

[…] ‘How old are you?’ asked Lakshmi.

‘Twenty-one.’

‘Yaava uuru?’

‘Channapatna.’

‘The land of toys! Is it very beautiful?’ cried Lakshmi enthusiastically.

Maithili shook her head, crinkling her nose. ‘Very dusty. All cars travelling between Bangalore and Mysore kick dust onto my town as they pass.’

[…] The two women looked into each other’s eyes and their smiles faded.

‘I’m …’ Lakshmi hesitated.

‘Lakshmi Akka. I know.’

‘Is … he good to you? You’re happy here?’

Maithili’s face fell. Tayavva […] stepped forward then.

‘Come,’ she said firmly to Maithili, putting a hand on her arm. […] Maithili turned in confusion. She heard what Tayavva was trying to convey to her beyond those words. But she decided that it was time for other words to be spoken now. Words between herself and Lakshmi, to be shared in private, without the disapproving (if well-meaning) presence of the family servant and her compelling loyalty to her master.

She heard what Tayavva was trying to convey to her beyond those words. But she decided that it was time for other words to be spoken now.

‘Neevu hogi, Tayavva. I will follow in a while.’

[…] Once [Tayavva] was out of earshot, Maithili turned to Lakshmi and said with an edge of desperation in her voice, ‘He doesn’t speak much, and I never know what he’s thinking most of the time, Lakshmi Akka!’

‘He’s a good person. You’ll get used to his ways soon.’

From the sheer relief of having someone to talk to, Maithili’s composure cracked, and her eyes. ‘[…] Didn’t you ever find it lonely when you … I mean…’ She broke off abruptly, pressing her sari pallu to her eyes to stem the flow of tears.

‘At first it was okay,’ said Lakshmi. ‘My in-la— I mean our in-l— that is his parents were there, and so was Sushila.’ […] ‘Sushila Akka makes me nervous. She is so strict!’ said Maithili.

Lakshmi laughed. ‘I tease her about it often!’

‘You speak to her? Even now?’

‘She’s my friend,’ said Lakshmi simply.

[…] Suddenly it made sense why Shankarnarayana’s sister hadn’t attended the wedding. Maithili said, ‘I’m afraid of him when he shouts.’

Lakshmi suddenly smiled. ‘I had a little trick to make him forget that anger.’

Maithili listened eagerly. The expression in her innocent eyes made Lakshmi feel like taking her hand. She resisted the urge, saying instead, ‘[…] I used to listen to him quietly, then I would put my hand on his lips and the anger would leave him immediately and he would…’ She broke off abruptly with a faint blush.

‘What?’ asked Maithili curiously. ‘He would what?’

‘He would become normal again.’

Maithili looked at her in confusion, sure that Lakshmi had been about to say something else. But the moment had passed, and Lakshmi was saying, ‘He loves reading. […] Would you like to try? You will have something to do in your spare time, and something to talk about with him.’ Her affectionate manner made Maithili reply with almost heroic resolve, ‘Okay, I’ll try. You like to read?’

Her affectionate manner made Maithili reply with almost heroic resolve, ‘Okay, I’ll try. You like to read?’

‘Very much!’ exclaimed Lakshmi warmly. ‘He introduced me to many books and we would always talk about it later, after we had both read it. I’ll bring you one. His favourite.’

[…] Touching Maithili’s arm in parting, she picked up her vegetable bag and went away. Maithili stood watching her, feeling happier than she had felt since her arrival in Rudrapura.

Meanwhile, Shankarnarayana was sitting in Vishwamohan Pandit’s office, listening to the lawyer’s account of what had taken place the previous day at the Sheshadri household.

‘Sheshadri Saab tried to stop her,’ the lawyer was saying, ‘but she signed the divorce papers without a word, without even reading them.’

There was a stunned silence. Then Shankara asked dazedly, ‘And alimony?’

‘She asked for nothing.’

Extracted from “Wife”, in Left from the Nameless Shop by Adithi Rao published by HarperCollins India. Rs 399, 328 pp

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