At the Mouth by Gurmika Mann

At the Mouth by Gurmika Mann is an original fiction podcast brought to you by The Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast

Episode 29e

The fourth story in our 2018 fiction series.

In this episode we talk about

  • “At the Mouth” by Gurmika Mann is set in the southern part of India in the 10th century
  • The narrator for this story is Maya Chhabra
  • The text version of this story can be found here

Listen to this episode here

Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online




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Twitter: @heatherosejones


Links to Gurmika Mann Online

Twitter: @gikhee

Links to Maya Chhabra Online

Twitter: @mayachhabra


please note this transcript has not been edited and is automatically generated meaning certain words will be incorrect

Music] this is Heather Rose Jones with the lesbian historic motif podcast this weekly podcast looks at lesbian themes in history and literature and historic research into gender and sexuality we talk about current historical fiction with queer female characters including fantastic versions of the past and have interviews with authors who write those stories and in months when we have a fifth show we’re proud to present new original lesbian historical fiction for your enjoyment welcome to the fourth story in the lesbian historic motif podcast original fiction series I’ve been so happy with the response to the fiction series and I’ve been delighted to be able to do my part to put more lesbian historical fiction out into the world as you already know if you’re a regular listener I’ll be running a second fiction series in 2019 submissions will be open for the month of January check out the link in the show notes if you think you have something we might be interested in our author Girma kamon is a queer punjabi canadian woman living in alberta she studied English literature and psychology at McGill University when she isn’t writing she loves picking apart narratives in pop culture especially in TV movies and video games her interest in historical culture religion and mythology is reflected in her first published piece at the mouth you can follow her on Twitter our narrator Maya Chara is a poet and fiction writer whose work has appeared in abbis & apex mythic delirium and the Cascadia subduction zone among other venues her novella toxic bloom is forthcoming from falstaff press and her novel let walking on knives is available from less than three press her translation from the Russian of arena sativas fortune was republished in cardinal points vol 8 I’ll have links for both our author and narrator in the show notes this recording is released under a Creative Commons Attribution non-commercial no derivatives 4.0 international public license you may share it in the full original form but you may not sell it you may not transcribe it and you may not adapt it at the mouth vigor me c’mon Romeo was the one who told her after morning prayers the old ladies were saying Jaya is getting married to Raju they were sweeping the temple courtyard together before old man balaji told them to come inside and begin their practice I usually squinted Rogers father owns their house of course he does he owns half this temple to remya clicked her tongue you’re so slow Jaya wouldn’t want to marry him said I use she hiking up her saree to lean over sleeping along the far wall of the courtyard they were getting closer to the gate both of the managing to push along and ever-growing pile of dust grains rice and flower petals that had scattered from the morning prayers tell Balaji I’m going out I ripped a seam in my blouse you’re full of said rum yeah but she was grinning get one of those sweets next to Gia’s house you’re always eating I usually scolded pushing open the gates of the temple and hurriedly sweeping the threshold clean she dropped her broom at Romney s feet smoothed out her saree and dashed away from the temple following the downhill path into the village Cargill wasn’t a big village but it boasted a temple devoted to Indra with six Devdas he’s playing homage to the deity along with a dozen Brahmin that oversaw the complex the temple was situated at the mouth of a river and the jungle spread around it lush and thick as I usually picked her way down the path from the temple gate to the main road of the village the thunderous roar of the river began to fade out behind her replaced now by the clamor of voices as the village got on with yet another day of business I usually passed the sweet shop first where none Denis wrapped up two mala dos and then stuck an extra for her as she pointed to the open window of Gia’s shop did you hear she’s getting married no she’s not said I use Sheba for bidding her goodbye and crossing the road into the open door of the clothes shop there was already incense burning near the open window sill of the shop and I usually thought about kicking it over I you she said Jaya from behind her I you she startled you scared me Jaya left her smile wide and her eyes crinkling if I can scare you then you must be feeling off I’m fine she said Jaya was wearing a green sari today folded impeccably over her waist the long piece coming over her shoulder elegantly naturally her hair was in a long black braid as usual but there were flowers small and white tucked just behind her ear when Jaya limped past her aiyoo she could smell the incense lingering on her skin it was awful so you are getting married Gia’s home was covered in fabrics wool cotton silk all dyed in bright colors but still uncut an unemployed ‘red from the entrance all the way to the back aiyoo she could see the piles of neatly folded clothes all arranged by shades she had been here when customers came in watched how the new Brides immediately crouched near the Reds next to the windowsill and the mourners who arrived would go to the piles of untouched white near the back door I you she always loved green and Jaya kept it against the wall next to the red said that’s where the Devdas sees like to linger and gossip as they watched the new brides fret over which shade would shoot some best taraj ooh that Jaya as she’s limped out through the door into the back courtyard where I you she knew was her small stove he’s the only one who didn’t ask for a dowry your house is his dowry with Jaya no longer in her sight I usually pressed a fist against her stomach willing the pressure to ease but all she felt was a hopeless terror slowly she made her way past the clothes into courtyard where there was a cot under the shade next to a stovetop and dishes Jaya was already seated on the cot her bad leg propped along the length of the cot as she busied herself portioning out water into two cups to make tea the briquettes in her stove burned hot and I usually could smell the incense here too it made her grimace as she crashed down next to Jaya Jaya I finished your sari for the next full moon said Jaya not looking up while she poured the water from the cups into a pot it’s blue and gold I sewed bells on the edges of the sleeves for when you danced she placed the pot on a flat K of the stove and began to stoke the briquettes with a long stick don’t marry Raju said I you she softly her hands were fisted in the skirt of her orange sari the colour reminding her too much of the fresh marigold garlands Jaya would have to wear at her wedding I put flowers all along the hem of the skirt the white ones you like that grow near in the river Jaya said I you see a little more loudly desperately the water was slowly beginning to bubble your blouse is silk even though you asked for cotton but it will match I put in Hooksett besides in case you get fat with Malad news before you put it on the joke had I usually laughing surprising herself before looking up at Jaya Jaya was moving to put in the tea leaves into her boiling water a pinch of fennel and two pieces of crushed clove I usually usually left by now to get goat’s milk from none they need to use for the tea but instead she felt stuck here watching die his face how dire refused to look at her even when she spoke and there’s fish on the shoulders Jaya sighed as she watched the water darken from the tea leaves and spices I smelled that was much more comforting to I usually than the incense they’re climbing up against the waterfall trying trying to touch you it was the way Jaya’s jaw was clenched so tight I you she couldn’t help herself she reached out kept jeaious cheek in her palm and it was so easy and so familiar Jaya leaned into the touch for just a moment before pulling away to lift the pot off the stove there was no milk I can get some from Nandini Jaya shook her head I can drink it like this do you still yes I’ll have some too carefully Jaya poured the tea out into two cups and they poured some fresh water inside of the pan so the tea leaves would float instead of getting stuck along the inside I have no choice I usually winced holding the cup meant she couldn’t hold Jaya and the distance seemed immeasurable at that moment with her on one side of joyous caught and Jaya on the other Jaya’s bad leg between them tucked under the long green sari I knew started Jaya still not looking at her I knew you wouldn’t understand you don’t have to she said staring at the unfinished chai in her hands Raju didn’t ask for a dowry and he doesn’t mind my leg I don’t mind your leg either I usually stared up at her hopeless just because his father gave you a storefront after your parents died doesn’t mean you need to marry his son Jaya reeled back and her heavy brows drew together in anger I made you that sari for you to seduce some rich Brahmin aiyah you were married to this whatever this is isn’t for ever but you don’t want it it’s not about what I want Jaya shoulders were drawn tight and I usually couldn’t help remembering when she would massage them knowing exactly how warm joyous skin was under her touch how she always grew so tense as she worked deep into the night to get her embroidery perfect on her saris it’s it’s what’s required her small mouth was turned down at the coroners I you she wanted to kiss her let’s run away to Bangalore where the Rajput lives Jaya stared at her but I usually continued unhindered will join his harem and be like Robins wives who kissed each other when they couldn’t kiss them Jaya’s expression was soft with affection but still she seemed so far away silly aiya she gestured to the house this isn’t a story I am to make more sarees for you when you’re married and when you’re pregnant and when you dance for Indra with the other day of Gus’s and you’re going to bless my marriage is the nucleus among gali and you’ll dance for Indra to not pass this leg on to my children before she could stop herself I usually began to cry just tell me what you want first I looking at her hands Jaya shook her head I want to prove I’m the best at clothes at embroidery at sewing I want to show everyone I can get by with this leg ow by getting married for money so Jaya Roli cries really I okay I usually wiped her face cleaning her tears before putting the chai down and standing up I’ll give you money I you she Jaya snapped I don’t need your charity but I would give dusty I have money I can give you money the rest of us aren’t like you she shouted startling ayushi for a moment sucking in a deep breath Jaya seemed to regain her composure but her entire frame simmered with anger the first of us can’t live like a carefree child like you the rest of us have responsibilities I’m not a child said I you she stung she was twenty a fully fledged day of dusty who knew the sacred dances and could sing Lord indras praises but I’m not so scared to hide behind some man instead of seeing I could be something more I knew you wouldn’t understand said Jaya her fleece flat her gaze turning cold how could a child understand anything of an adult woman’s reality the words felt like a physical blow I usually stepped back in comprehending for a moment still Jaya sat there her back straight her dark eyes under her heavy brows meeting I you she’s as if to challenge her she didn’t want I usually there are you she didn’t want to be there anymore either she left leaving her unfinished tribe behind and returned to the temple before the full moon the woman knew Cargill had fasted all day and arrived just after sundown at the temple for blessings of longevity and happy marriage and healthy children are you Shayan Ramya had been busy all day with preparations cooking and decoration and cleaning the temple along with the other Devdas sees the four balaji and the other brahmins had summoned them to dance in the courtyard as the crowd of women gathered to pay respects to indra and the moon i you she danced the familiar steps listening for the cheers and claps from the audience and was grateful it was over soon she needed to find his mother though the majority of the village crowd were women I usually saw some of the land owning men talking to the Brahmins Balaji was with Rogers father but I usually couldn’t spot Raju himself she knew jaya didn’t like making the walk to the temple in the evening where it was hard to see where to step with her bad leg instead she usually sent her offerings with Nandini who I use she finally spotted standing next to the statue of Indra where the smoke from the burning incense wafted around her moon round face her mother was next to her and I usually ducked around the other day of the Seas to talk to them uh uh nun Deniz mother was just as large and soft as the Malad was her family’s old I usually bowed to touch her feet bracing herself for the conversation to follow Jaya sent me up with her sari for you the Rajput sons are coming to Kargil for the winter solstice I wanted to look my best for them said I oh she did Raju come he’s somewhere around here he’s marrying Jaya nun Deniz mother beamed she’s 22 it’s overdue and Raju is a good boy his family is going to pay so Jaya doesn’t have to worry about a thing now we just have to find a boy for you next and defend my true husband in the road if I if she relaxed his nun Denis and her mother both laughed nun then he crouched down next to the basket they had brought and got out the silk sari for ayushi for you I usually thanked her as she held the silk feeling it slipped between her fingers Jaya is only getting married for money immediately nun Deniz mother clicked her tongue that’s not how women speak I use she but it’s true insisted I you she having braced herself all day for this conversation she wants to continue being a seamstress but she thinks getting married is the only way she can keep doing that aya said nun Denis quietly it took a long time for my Ummah to secure this match I usually gripped onto the sari to keep it from sliding out of her arms we can I can help her she doesn’t have to do this she’s skilled enough to make double what she does now but she lives in Kargil not Siddha / or sagar none Deniz mother shook her head one soft hand cupping are you she’s cheek but that is not how women live aya Jaya said the same thing but she understands now what must be done the topic was clearly too uncomfortable for none deniz mother as she soon moved away to go talk to the other older women men then he stood next to her basket of offerings reaching out to snag one of I you she’s bangles on a finger and tugging her closer Emma had to argue with Jaya day and night to nandhini’s face was cast – shadow and her chin tilted downwards saddened we don’t have any money for Jaya to borrow and Raja was there what if I gave her money are you she asked suddenly turning towards her the saree clutched tightly to her chest then what then nothing said Nandini shrugging Jaya would still get married it’s not about money anymore aiya it’s just what’s done but she doesn’t want it we have no choice none Denis didn’t raise her voice but she stared wide-eyed and imploring it I usually before looking away embarrassed I mean me and Jaya you’re a Devdas see you’re already married to a div I usually looked at and then the news finger still caught around her bangle on her wrist and felt so so tired I’m more woman – yes said none Denis letting go of the bangle now but you’re not like us the Winter Solstice would be coming in less than 1 full moons turn Jaya would get married then just before the Raj puts arrival here with his sons on his tour to see the temples in the meantime I usually tried on the new sari in her room with Romney effort within the temple remya clicked her tongue when she saw the embroidery was missing on one corner at the hem you pay this girlfriend complete work I you she smacked her arm but frowned she’s never done this before changing back into her other sari she carefully folded the blue silk back up I should get it fixed don’t come back crying like last time said Ramaiya waving goodbye I you she must heard a smile as if to reassure but felt it fade away as she left the temple to make her way into the village proper the days beforehand she had rummy SL off a few of her jewellery in exchange for coin when the Brahmin sent them down for grocery shopping now I use she had a small heavy purse full of coin that she tucked between the folds of the blue sari and she could only hope that Jaya would even see her much less except her her charity still I usually had to try the sweet storefront was being managed by nun Deniz little brother this time he waved to IU she as she crossed the road to Jaya’s home swallowing down her anxiety I usually stepped past the to be surrounded and swallowed by the piles of fabric around her Jo was sitting near the open window sewing the edges of a blouse together her bad leg was stretched out in front of her with a blanket thrown over top and her sari this time was colored a pale yellow like the small flowers that dotted the path between the village and the temple her ruff worked hands held the needle delicately as she sewed her head bent downwards and concentration her thick dark hair braided and neat plaid as usual standing there watching I usually could recall how it felt when her fingers carted through Gia’s hair how it felt like the earth after it had rained so soft so heavy she could even remember the touch of Gia’s calloused fingers even as I use she massaged oil and butter into the skin to soften it scolding her for working too hard Jaya she called out immediately Jaya jerked and surprised head snapping up in attention she had been so focused that she hadn’t even heard I usually come in aya Jaya said still clearly surprised the sari started by you she before the words died away in her mouth Jaya looked down finally to see I usually holding the blue silk before gesturing for her to put it down next to Jaya is there a mistake let me look I usually handed the silk over and joyous precise fingers unfolded the length of it with an ease and familiarity that I usually wondered anyone else could imitate it only took a few moments for the coin purse to fall out into Gia’s lap as she spread the silk and Jaya paused looking down immediately I you she could feel all her awkward laughter and excuses pile behind her teeth trying to come out to pretend this never happened this was the youths indulgence Jaya would get married and I used she would continue to get her clothes done by her and I you she’s frantic attempts to seemingly save Jaya would be just a pebble in the stream of their lives together except Jaya didn’t look twice at the coin purse she found the coroner with the missing embroidery instead I haven’t done this before you haven’t agreed I usually eventually that’s why I had to come see you Jaya looked up a faint smile on her mouth that’s the only reason come sit helpless I usually sat down next to Jaya’s bad legs sliding the palms of her hands over the ocean of silk spread between them I liked the fish on the blouse I’m glad Jaya put down her needle and thread for the other blouse and focused on the saree can’t wait to see you dance in this you only ever come to the temple when I’m wearing something of yours Jaya grinned shameless you she couldn’t stop herself from staring at how beautiful Jaya was in that moment looking perfectly at ease and content with her life bantering with Ayesha as if this was any other day as if there wasn’t a fat coin purse sitting right in her lap Jaya if I take this purse interrupted Jaya looking up at her from beneath her heavy brows if I take it then I can never come back I a part of iU she wanted to be confident wanted to say yes of course I knew that but no part of her was ready she thought back to none the knee and her round face her large imploring eyes isn’t this what she meant that girls like none Denis and Jaya would always have to cave to the wants of the village married off with their own aspirations relegated to the dusty corners of the courtyard I don’t want you to leave if I stay I get married I don’t want you to get married either Jaya side then what do you want aya silly girl fiddling with the silk I usually looked out the window of the storefront I want you to be happy I’m happy with you no you’re not I usually turned back towards Jaya your happiest when you work and I make you the happiest when I can show your work off she doesn’t expect Jaya to reach out her familiar rough fingers cupping I you she’s palms you her face was tipped down now and I usually could see her long lashes cast shadows down her cheeks you’re like the Sun you’re so bright and warm and good you think you could make everyone happier you make me happy please I usually choked out Jaya small mouth twisted in a frown she shook her head but didn’t let go of I you she’s hand after you left last time I was so upset I didn’t know what to do I only knew what I didn’t want I didn’t want you to be angry with me anymore I didn’t want you to be disappointed in me I would never she said quickly tangling their fingers together in squeezing she received a wry smile in return jo was looking up at her her dark eyes bright I’m sorry I might have purposely sent an unfinished hem so you would see me a laugh came to her unbidden had her watching Jaya helpless holding onto her hand I would have come back eventually that was the truth of it if Jaya thought I you she was the Sun then I you she couldn’t help but think she was the ground beneath her feet the steadiness and knowing every day the Sun would set and the moon would rise and Jaya’s eyes would glitter like the stars in the sky I love you said Jaya softly that should have been the end of it the coin purse should have been ignored they could stay together here I usually would wear her blue silk sari and seduce one of the Rajput sons into marrying her and she could live out her life as a Devdas he’s surrounded by wealth as she practiced her craft and Jaya she would stay here married to Roger the rich son of the village who would let Jaya continue to be a seamstress that would impress are you she’s future husband they would be bosom buddies gossiping and giggling behind veils waiting until one of their husbands was out of sight before I you she could press her mouth sir Jaya and Ravel and how Jaya gasped and pressed back but it wasn’t enough it never would be Jaya would languish under the toil of housework and never have her skill recognized apart from being Roger’s limping wife would the clever hands I you she had her duties to her Lord husband in relative as a div the sea she could not play second wife to Jaya no matter how much she loved her this wasn’t the end I you she wanted for them and it was terrifying but said I you she but I can’t keep you the hurt was clear on Gia’s face her brows drew together and her jaw clenched she tried to withdraw her hand but I usually held on you deserve more she believed it with her entire being as sure as she was of her dance her song when she prostrated herself for Indra Dev in the temple courtyard so you need to go you’ll let me go Jaya asked yes said I you she nodding to the coin purse still in Jaya slep it took a moment for her to recognize the Jaya was tearing up her expression twisted up as she cried pedicure deny you she’s chest as she launched herself across Jaya slap to hug her press her face into the crook of her neck Jaya held on to the skirt of I usually sorry heaving fettering breaths against I you she’s collarbone nun Denis she started none Denis has a cousin in kokanee and she wants she came back from the temple that night and she said she would help me leave if I wanted it took a moment for Jaya to pull back to look up at I you she if I take money I can take my best saris and get the code Connie and then make my way to see the poor I usually nodded I’ll help you we all will Jaya gave a watery smile thank you it was a sweeter phrase than her confession the Rajput sons were delayed by three turns of the moon due to monsoon season the Brahmins were slick in a sheen of anxiety as they made sure to clean the temple as best they could before their arrival the Rajput sons came with an entourage they’re soldiers bodyguards servants slaves and select women from the harem Rama was gossiping with the other Devdas ease when I usually finally got on her blue sari and they crowded together in fascination as the temple gates open to welcome the royalty I you she danced in honor of Indra in honor of the Rajput in honour of the village of Kargil along with the other did the Seas keeping beat with Rama’s high clear voice as she sang the Sun was low in the sky by the time the welcoming festivities came to a close to the bloody sacrifice of a goat and the serving of food the day of the Seas set aside from the Rajput sons and Brahmins but the harem women came over to chat it was only when one of them got close enough that I usually spotted a familiar embroidery of flowers along the hem of one for the women sorry already her heart was in her throat her head reaching out to brush against the silk as the harem women sat around them who did this I usually asked without preamble Ramya smacked her arm she meant your sari is very pretty the other women laughed the one wearing the saree sat next to IU she and looked at the hem it’s strange isn’t it she put fish instead of flowers but it’s beautiful who are you she pressed the woman tipped her head in recollection I got this one when we were in Sagar there’s a seamstress apprentice there who makes strange designs but they’re popular I had to get one for myself Ramya leaned forward Sagar is in south of Sitapur I usually scoffed I know but Romeo was holding her hand now squeezing her fingers and I usually squeezed back that apprentice is going to be famous one day the woman traced her fingers along the embroidered fish before catching the same design over I you she’s blouse her smile seemed knowing then she told me it was made with love I you she ducked her head shy suddenly the Devdas easy ruptured in whispers as I usually looked up to see what the Rajput Sons walking towards where they were sitting his eyes were on her I usually let go of Romeo’s hand and straightened her posture Jaya was working hard to do what she loved I usually wouldn’t fall behind I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of the lesbian historic motif podcast if you want to follow up on anything we’ve covered see the show notes for links and to contact me with questions book announcements or topic suggestions if you enjoyed this podcast please rate it and subscribe on iTunes stitcher or pod bean and consider supporting our patreon and if you’re on Facebook check out the lesbian talk show chat group [Music]