Story Detail

The Arithmetic of Breasts
by Rochelle Potkar
Pages: NA
A man marries a woman for lust...
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Narain always had a semi-hardon when Munika was around.

She had the most delicious-looking breasts he had ever seen on a woman. A supple 38 D cup size for sure. Only after his eyes had gorged enough on those juicy mounds, taking care not to appear like a letch, did they veer towards her navel peeping from her sari, teasing him from a distance.

Her narrow waist led his eyes to her thighs beneath her sari pleats, and then to her firm pair of plump buttocks. Those too were ample when compared to the other women he had seen around, and they somehow suited Munika’s slightly broader frame.

Sometimes even the thought of her face was enough. Her bow-shaped, rouge-painted pout, bordered in pink-fuchsia tempted him as strongly as her kohl-rimmed eyes, lightly rouged cheeks, or slender nose.

Concentrating on only one part of her was not fair, he chided himself with Faustian pleasure. A woman’s eyes were the first indicators of how she felt. If he kept his gaze on them, he was sure she would let her secret thoughts seep through her lashes and entrap him even further.

The next day, the sight of her soft-skinned neck taunted him. She had probably dabbed perfume on either side of it because his nose was teased with stray thoughts of nuzzling into her nape so strongly and palpably that he had to exit the room, his hands itching for a soft grip.

They would watch each other often across the silence of his small drawing room with the large dining table between them doubling as a study table. He knew he would have to go slow with imagining what lay beneath her blouse that dipped into a valley in the most delectable vertical karp reduction symbol he had ever seen.

There was a lot at stake.

Munika was his sister’s friend, and not a best friend who would forgive easily. She was his sister’s friend in the manner of being an acquaintance, and an acquaintance in the manner of being a senior—one year ahead—and a senior in the manner of being a mentor. She and his sister researched and churned out material for their theses late into the night on the advantage of analysis of algorithms over computability theory in theoretical computer science. She was accessible. Not too far. Probably available.

“You do like to dress well,” he said one day to her, smiling softly, trying to keep his words and hardness in check.

She greeted his remark with a blush, shying into her books with deeper attention.

He couldn’t upset the apple cart. Neither his sister’s PhD nor her mentor’s, even though he was hauling breath beneath his quickening chest-beats every time. He thought of intelligent women like Munika—so much smartness coupled with beauty. Had he found The Female Utopia?

Talk to them and get a taste of their worldview, then taste their femininity with other senses, he mused. Not that he could easily execute the second stage of his thought process. He was stuck on the first and that’s why the latter felt hypnotically more alluring.

When was he going to get to her? How much longer? Was she aware of him in “that” sense? Did his drooping eyes convey what his arrested tongue could not?

He sometimes assisted the two of them in their studies before he headed to the Institute of Mathematics Research, where he worked on topology. A math scientist himself, he intricately studied curves, surfaces, objects in a plane, and three-dimensional spaces. Maybe he studied them outside the institute too. He liked shapes anywhere. Oh, didn’t he? The properties of objects preserved through continuous deformation by twisting, bending, stretching, but not tearing, where a circle could be an ellipse, a sphere an ellipsoid. Topology, the study of knots.

At the institute, he and his fellow researcher were working on topologizing broken DNA strands. The applications of knot theory in molecular biology had evolved just 10 years earlier in the 80’s. DNA formed by pairs of molecular strands in a double helix could become tangled, knotted, or broken, which made it difficult for it to carry out functions, and biochemists were looking to determine how enzymes could remodel or manipulate DNA.

Topologists like Narain now used the knot theory and the tangle model to deduce mathematically how broken strands could be bound in a process called site-specific recombination, using calculus of rational tangles and linking numbers.

But when he and his fellow researcher needed a coffee or smoke break, they would talk about the shape that almost ruled the world. The female shape.

“Desmond Morris says that the round shape of a woman's breasts evolved as a sexual-attraction counterpart to the buttocks,’ his friend would muse, ‘A frontal, secondary sex characteristic to encourage face-to-face copulation in the missionary position for the upright, bipedal human being.”

“But what if I still want the rear -entry position?” Narain asked and they laughed, snuffing out their cigarettes, and going back to work.

Through noon until late evening, he would immerse himself in calculus, thereafter heading home, hoping to catch the girls arching their tired backs, cracking their knuckles over reams of working papers, or clicking their pens over epiphanies of logical equivalents, micro-architecture, and data structures in computer science.

He would walk past the drawing room with just the right gaze at Munika, whose lips would part, perhaps, in quick realization that he had arrived home. Sometimes, she would draw her lower lip into the sharpness of her teeth while trying to concentrate, and he would chuckle over this in his bedroom as he drew away his clothes and showered off his work tiredness, getting into casual wear.

This routine of theirs had gone on for long when one day, his sister had an exam and he, a day off. Munika came by for some last minute referencing. These simple events fused like strips of a Penrose triangle, and he found himself sitting across from her with his Sisyphean microscopic gaze over her lovely dunes held in the lace calligraphy of her humble bra and a pink cotton blouse underneath the sheer print of a light mauve sari.

When their silences grew like a deafening drone, they entered into softly-shaped discussions of this and that at the end of which he hinted if she would accept a dinner outing with him. He could hardly remember what she said because he sensed her affirmation much before in the way her nipples grew taut, perhaps like crazy raisins under her blouse. She had watched him watch her, and they blushed; his ears burning hot, her chest heaving.

They met for one dinner and then, the next. On most dates, Narain would be quiet and starkly preoccupied, making Munika wonder if she had said something wrong or was a bore. The noise of the restaurants—upmarket clink and swish or downmarket ebb and din —would always be louder than their fidgety talk and punctuated silences. How disembodied noise was yet how fairly it intruded, Munika would think, watching Narain’s replies, which were only in his gazes.

For him what started when they were dining—the brushing of his hand against hers or a bit of unabashed footsie—continued and concluded only in bed, alone against the nakedness of palm over the smooth rigidness of cock. Then, it was the great unbecoming where the tingling at the fork roads of his thighs conceived in the restaurants would fly like complete birds. Oh woman! He would think, when, when will I touch you, have you, feel you?

Now after those footsie dates and lunch meetings, brunch rendezvousing and park sittings, furtive in-the-taxi groping and grabbing, her family had suddenly come to him with a marriage proposal. Marriage?!

He hadn’t thought of it that way at all. Marriage?! So early in his life and career? He was hoping fervently for a breakthrough in the tangle model. There was a lot of research to be done to substantiate that, which meant many a late working hour every day for years and years. Where was the time and place for a marriage? Or was it that you come home to fuck your wife, and that was a marriage?

How was he to step out of this, now that he had gotten himself into a situation as impossible as a devil’s tuning fork?

He met Munika again, and looked at her rather pensively, not at his favorite part of her this time, but straight into her eyes.

Was she wife material?

They were in the same field of work, yes. She was smart and could earn her own rent on earth, yes. She got along with his sister, yes. She would speak politely to his parents whenever they phoned from their native village from halfway across the country, yes.

And he enjoyed her conversation, didn’t he? Even if he hardly concentrated on them, he had derived that they were interesting in texture and range.

So he agreed.


And just like beginner’s luck, he enjoyed the fruits of his decision during their honeymoon.

Right on the day of their marriage, he set expectations right: “Twice a day, and four times on a holiday.” But it had to be done every day. How could one live without it? He remembered his colleague’s words, “All we need Narain is a desk to work on and a bed to fuck on.”

Now he had both! And he chided himself if he were to not turn all those masturbation energies over the imaginary woman -of-his-mind multiple times over into her, now that she was real and his wife. Don’t be a blabbermouth! Prove it!

But Munika turned out to be a surprise. She was more than willing. Her readiness, as pliable as a donut shape turned into a mug shape, without tearing. Her malleable body ready for the most difficult positions once they got going. She enjoyed their efforts for hours that came to her in multiple reaping. He wondered if she was so obliging because she was in love with him. Or were all women like this, with unending bounty? He had heard that some women could do it only once and tire easily, and some did not even scream during a real orgasm. They suffered it silently. Some did not want it at all, who complained of pain during the act. But here was something truly giving about Munika.

They tried the Catherine wheel, ape position, butterfly and dolphin position, bridge and plough position, suspended scissors, and standing wheelbarrow positions, their limbs akimbo, her breasts dangling precariously.

The magic mountain position, her breasts squashed over three pillows.
The snail, G-force, grip, Y-curve, and shoulder stand position, her breasts jiggling happily.

Sometimes their skins got so sore with long hours on the ledge that they had to stop. Red, raw, burning, Narain would retreat to the peace and cool of a shower, fatigued and famished, and Munika, with her tender, white translucent skin scorched with love trails - footprints of bites, and fingernail dagger marks - would doze off without even a wash.

In the first few years, they had probably tried every position in the dog-eared and withered sex book. Some awkward, tough, outrageously comical where Munika balanced herself over the rim of a sofa, pirouetting over her belly, her breasts like beehives. Swishing midway like a tick over a hammock, her breasts sun-bathing under sky.

Complex triangled over the edge of a running washing machine, her breasts jiggling—bass at a drumming station.

“The breast is a cone with the base at the chest-wall and the apex at the nipple. Both men and women have them from the same tissues, but because of estrogen a woman's breasts become prominent, changing the power game of aesthetics altogether!” his colleague would opine at the institute, and Narain would bring these theories home.

“That’s interesting,’ Munika would say, panting after an act, ‘Makes my breasts feel important.”

Sometimes, even after following all the guidelines in the book, he would get it wrong, and it wouldn’t hit home. There would be wet, frustrating disappointment, and no score. Sometimes, it would be just right when he took her standing in the shower, her breasts pressed like easy fruit over raining tiles.

Some rhythms, asanas, stances, and situations were just out of scope, maybe because of the extra fluff of her buttocks making it impossible to reach from back to front. Or else the length and duration of his engine would play spoilsport. Sometimes his knees ached from carrying her weight for long in a non-human way. Sometimes, her back ached under the pressure of severity. Eventually, they settled down to two or three algorithms that caused no injury and provided optimum thrill. It was like finding their sex voice together.


The honeymoon period was just what it could have been, or should have been.

Then came their settling-in phase—routine, quotidian, the existential reminders of early morning alarm clocks ringing for study or work, doorbells that chimed with the arrival of milkman, sweeper, and maid, right when Munika was packing his lunch box and he was rubbing the bulge in his trousers against the cleft of her sari-clad buttocks, or when his sister came back home from college and continued working feverishly at the dining table late into the nights, and he would feel too conscious to close their bedroom door once Munika had entered its cool, wild darkness, worrying what the sister would think.

Some days his research work would penetrate like a hard one-up- masculine- ship on the feminine-softness of his leisure desires, so much so that all he had time for after a day brimming with analysis and suppositions was to arrive home, shower, dress into fresh clothes, drag on some mouthfuls of dinner and sleep.

No sex, please! And sorry!

Then it was their first pregnancy, when her breast oozed with milk even before the baby was born. He would hold both of those heavy, slightly painful, and distended fruits, licking their nectar, sucking at the lactose dribble, nibbling softly and gratefully on those plums. Ummmm, Nourishment!

He rested on them after he was tired of haranguing himself alone, pressing his head onto them as if they were cushions or stress balls. They had to give up monkeying around before the end of the first trimester after the doctor said it might prove dangerous for her kind of pregnancy.

Thank God, the doctor didn’t know all that they would do, if they could. Over-thinking about knots on some workdays, Narain hoped that Topology wouldn’t interfere with the umbilical cord in Munika’s womb and their baby.

And one after the other, the children were born. First a daughter, then a second one after four years.

Narain enjoyed raising both girls, so much in love with them he was for taking after their mother’s trim features and dark, vivid eyes; he could never stop admiring them during the early months of their lives when Munika breastfed them with herculean dedication.

The sight of her gleaming breast pressed like a dough ball over the tiny baby’s face. The way the feeding baby’s tiny hands clasped her mother’s lactating, nourishing orb like Atlas holding the world in place.

“You know, as the human jaw receded into the face with evolution, the female body compensated with round breasts? If it had remained flat like the chimpanzee’s, it would suffocate the human infant’s nostrils.”

“Is it?” Munika would say, stirring from the trance of feeding her baby, stroking its head.

“Yes. Our human infant’s small jaw does not project outward from the face to reach the nipple, and that’s why the mother’s breasts had to get rounder and larger to become accessible.”

Munika’s breasts had shrunk and sagged after a span of breastfeeding both babies, but he could forgive her that. After all, the girls were growing well with their mother’s nurturing, and that was important. Their mother’s breasts had earned stretch marks in waves around the nipples—a sign of their journeys of flesh expansions and contractions.

Once the girls were old enough to move into their own room on bunk beds, he watched Munika massage her bosom with Vitamin E oil for 15 minutes every night before sleeping. She worked well on them. For the first time, seeing a woman in the pale light of a night lamp working on her own body gave him an erection.

Her breasts regained some suppleness; the stretch marks lightened. Wearing uplifting brassieres during the day helped. And soon enough, he took the indication that they were ready to be suckled, cuddled, and careened into reunion with his lips, mouth, hands, fingers, and body.

“You know, a woman’s nipple is the best indication of her age,” said Narain.
“How?” Munika snuggled closer to listen.

“Brown eyes watching you straight are young. The same watching you from declining shyness are older.” “Wah! Wah!” She held and kissed him.

For six years after the second child was born, things were all right.

Their love-making though was now not as adventurous and frequent as a nightly gallop. Even twice or once a week was just as fulfilling.

Then, on finely padded feet, came Munika’s illnesses. First, they showed up like regular back pains that just wouldn’t go away, then persistent neck pains and finally, a doctor-ratified case of spondylitis. It brought a tiny recognition to a deep-sighing Narain, that they were slowly aging, that they were not that young anymore.

Meanwhile, his sister had found a suitable boy through an arranged marriage, and she soon moved to the USA.

Narain was just getting used to his sister’s absence when their mother’s death came as a huge blow. She had been ailing with arthritis for long in their village home—her life a flickering hide-and-seek flame of slow, painful bodily movements alternating with frozen limbs and inaction. It wasn’t that her end wasn’t anticipated, but when life snuffed out of her, Narain felt the gross finality of existence, his sorrow never filling the vacuum the loss had created.

Then came the successes and work-related travels where he had to posit years’ worth of research into fresh theses of the Knot theory to the world. An Indian Math genius, he was! Moreover, living in India! He was in the papers - the talk and toast of the town. Finally, of his own making.

His breakthrough turned out, in retrospect, to be a minor one, but it had set the lead for greater discoveries in topologizing DNA strands. He had a small brush with fame before coming back, and steeping himself into further research.

The children were growing now, one in the 10th standard, the other in the fifth, and Munika was a full-time woman of the house.

Whenever he worked from home for long hours during the day, she would sit in front of him cutting onions or chopping vegetables, watching television at the lowest volume, or seasoning masalas in the kitchen, and swaying to music on FM channels.

Sometimes, his commute for work bothered him. He wasted more time waiting for a bus, rushing to catch a crowded train, or driving into the thick of traffic to the institute that he thought it was better to swallow all those hours—which could be even five on a bad day—into relaxed reading and researching at home, at his work desk in a small corner of the house.

Munika and he lived with each other’s silences. He, subconsciously following her day’s routine without losing concentration on his work. Her heavy shuffling legs in the kitchen, her hurried routine of folding dried clothes in the bedroom, her dreary phone calls with unintelligent neighbors, and mothers of the children’s classmates, or friends. Only once in a while her friends, who were still working called, and it would usually be a one-sided conversation with Munika not having much to add. Promotions at work, breakthroughs in theses and theory, office gossip, politics and grapevine, power struggle and hierarchy, evolving organization structures—all were making no sense to her any more.

Eventually, those calls stopped. She now seemed to prefer conversations with women she Venn-diagrammed most with in common activity subsets.

Narain would finish his work by the time the children came from their tuition classes, and clamored around him to learn Math or seek help in Geometry problems or Chemistry equations. He would illuminate them about arithmetic, algebraic, and geometrical wonders. One day, it would be origami. The next, they would be on their knees fusing curved bamboo shoots into circularity. Narain intended to build a tricycle with square wheels that would ride on that circular surface —their long-drawn playground project.

“Math is the queen of all sciences. See how it will change the world!” he would say every once in a while to the rapt and attentive Aarti or the immersed and open-mouthed Saachi.

Their mother would soft-pedal her presence around this father-daughters’ hullabaloo, careful not to intrude into their bonding time. She had swelled around her waist and buttocks. Not a lot, he noticed, but just enough to give him no hard time in reaching out for her in the dark. The bark of her tree still sensuous. Her face earning maturity and fine lines in the engrossed upbringing of their children, in her attention to every detail of their lives.

He had grown old himself, heavier on the shoulders, arms, and stomach, a bit hunched over the years, a crescent of scalp over the horizon of his skull.

Now, during the lengthy school hours when the girls were away, Munika would narrate the lesser-known stories of her childhood: the genesis and end of her best friendships, her close bond with her mother, the troubled relationship with her father, her unfulfilled teenage dream of becoming a classical singer.

And Narain would ruminate about the days long gone. Going down memory lane was so infectious of late, he noticed.

“When I was young, I was a brat. I wouldn’t have completed my matriculation had my uncle not been strict with us. In those days my father had lost his job and we were facing hard times. He would leave home early in the morning to find work, and come back only by night, tired and disappointed. I think he would drink on his way back, who knows. He didn’t care about Preeti’s school affairs or mine, and if it wasn’t for Raghu Uncle’s efforts, I would have gone astray with the school dropouts, playing marbles and cricket in the gullies.

The factory my father worked in eventually expanded its operations, and called him back. That was the same year I passed my SSC exams with flying colors.”

“It’s so strange that I never realized you too could have had a tricky relationship with your father,’ said Munika, ‘I always thought I was the only one.”

They had had no time for the nuances of their memories all these years as newlyweds; chasing a career or raising restless toddlers, managing 36 odd things in 24 small hours. It was only now when life slowed down from world tours, now when the children got their bearings at looking after their own needs faster than exponential, that Narain realized he had the time not only to talk, but also to observe other things about his wife.

Her back pains, the irregularity of her period, her fondness for mango pickle and garlic papad, the way she forgot to close cupboards after she was done digging in them, or how she left sugar in the corners of the kitchen for ants. Her habit of saving outdated masala packets in the fridge for him to find on his mind-clearing-cum-clutter -cleaning routine. The way she fused together the last bits of soap into a new one, or stitched a patchwork quilt in geometric shapes for all of them starting one day in late June and completing it by November, the way she still could play hopscotch with the girls, or how she could deep fry onion or banana fritters in a matter of minutes.

He once had the complete opportunity to tend to her fever for five whole days and nights.

“This whole sense of being a person,’ he told her, ‘is the adding up of our mundane and magic moments.”

Then one day, without preamble—just like that—a small lump appeared in her left breast, ignored in the drudgery of the younger girl’s board exams. The doctor later posited it could have been a centimetre in size initially.

In only weeks, the seed had ambitiously blossomed into a fruit of about two centimeters with symptoms of nipple discharge.

Stage one cancer (10 billion cancerous cells, already!) demanding immediate surgery. Munika’s recurrence rates of tumor were gauged to be high, and hence a mastectomy was decided upon. The breast was scooped out, gangrenous and whole.

All this happened so quickly from diagnosis to treatment that it was difficult to decipher what had hit them.

Narain shifted his work hours, starting mid-afternoon and continuing through the night, keeping his mornings for handling household duties with the help of a cook and a maid. He would order the day’s groceries, work out with clarity the hourly instructions for the staff, take charge of the children’s tutoring and other activities, take care of Munika’s radiation and chemotherapy appointments, and his own work.

Munika had been sucked into a black hole of listlessness, losing patience with herself, her situation, her lack of physical strength. For weeks on end, Narain took to fending off the brash brunt of her mood swings emerging from self-piteous tempers and skewed philosophical reflections over a grim future. It always ended with her feeling extremely tired.

He brought her out of it by reading to her from her favorite novels, presenting an array of film and lifestyle gossip magazines, DVD collections of rare art films, and sangeet CDs that she would listen to for hours.

Though this lasted for six months, each day in honor of the disease, it felt like years had passed by. In those six months, they had grown so much! Even the girls seemed five years older than their actual age.

Narain couldn’t quantify how much he himself had changed, playing ‘The Calming Effect’, ‘The Rock of Gibraltar’, ‘The Pillar of Strength’ every minute of that time.

It was another two years before Munika returned to a new normalcy, where her spells of weakness shortened. Sometimes, between tears and feeling low she would take a moment to deeply inhale the fragrance of a new soap while bathing with it, its aroma her quickest olfactory holiday on earth. A break from monotony.

Oh, so close she had scraped by the edge that this was regeneration, renewal. She felt like a little green leaf. Her long hair that she so loved had vanished. In its place, a crop of thicker, curlier hair had taken root. But at least it covered her baldness. She wondered how best she could style it and if it would flatter her like her long hair had. There were a spectrum of possibilities opening up in her mind, each of which she gingerly savored for her hair that now required gentle scalp treatments, organic hair color, plant oils, and nourishing proteins.

Her eyebrows had returned too, and she thought of calling home a beautician to reshape them. Oh! Once again she could pamper herself with prettiness. The loss of focus and memory lapses, her chemobrain side-effect from the medicine, had finally beaten an exit, and she could go about doing all that she was once an expert at, reclaiming her life.

The radiation had cleared the numerous lesions, and defeated the biologic aggressiveness of her disease. After combating the continua of ill-health-helplessness and residual sallowness to her appearance, when the cancer did recede, Narain was happy to see Munika’s hair growing back, her skin changing to a fruity, healthy palette like the season of spring.

There was talk of breast reconstruction and implant, autologous tissue transfer using fat from Munika’s abdomen, but that would happen later. Presently, she wore a cosmetic supportive bra that his sister sent from the USA.

From the outside, her breasts didn’t look different, but Munika knew which side weighed heavy with the real her. Her breasts had never been a big deal to her. Yes, they were heavier than those of other women and she had to take special care to fasten them to herself, upholding them into a sturdy bra, but other than that, she wasn’t very proud of them. They did not define her. The one feature she had liked the most about herself was her long flowing jet-black hair. She loved the way it behaved, never knotting or erupting in dandruff, or becoming home to lice or getting dry. The way it was genetically designed over the shorelines of her crown and fell around her shoulders, making her friends run to parlors to get the same effect!

Her breasts? They were good tools in attracting a husband, but they were the best when they furnished stomachfuls of nutrition into her babies’ hungry bodies.
For years, she had almost forgotten about them. They were there, beautiful, well-supported—silent partners of her anatomy in the crime of trying to live a good, successful life.

Now, one of them was just not there. It didn’t disable her. It did not shatter her deeply. She did not, in any major way, feel less of a woman. The surgeon took away the pulp of flesh that had got corroded. If not the breast, it probably would have been a tumor in a more indispensable part of her body, if she was fated to have the disease anyway. It could have been the lungs, or the stomach, the intestine, the throat… i t happened… and to many, some rough ailment or the other. Health was luck. Some hit jackpot, some suffered. It just reminded her of how close to evanescence the human race was, even in its living amnesia. Sickness, the stepping stones to assured death, so much like the algorithms she and her sister-in-law would work on in the days of their PhD, starting at the root and going all the way to an assured end solution.

Now, from a breast vanishing, she had learned about thinking and being positive, the true nature and the strength of love from her husband, the role- reversal of her daughters, of how good mothers they both had become to her, and of her own inner strength. Of how she would never let a disease or mishap ever, ever win over her again. Between the combat of prey and predator, she wasn’t ever going to lie down as an easy victim without a bitter, bigger fight.

Now, Narain could barely remember the way he would palpitate and salivate over Munika's younger

breasts. To him, it was just anatomy—one part of her whole, first what was filled limber like a landfill, and now excavated like a mine, the earth of bruise-skin still being where it was, and the same.

Now when he made love to her gently and almost with brittleness as if she had become too delicate or he had, undoing her special bra off its hook, he would quaintly kiss her dried lips, her dry neck, then move over the centre of her flatland where her left breast was once hoisted, making a clarion call for attention and action. Its absence was as good as its presence, in memory.

Maybe it was the topology of loving a woman or the fulcrum of his life’s work—the topology of everything —that no matter how many times things changed, even with tearing, given well-etched memory and its seasons and feelings, their shape would always remain the same. Intact. Retraceable.

He was so into Munika now even without being inside her that he kissed the cross-stitched flatland of her chest several times.


From the book, 'The Arithmetic of Breasts and Other Stories'.

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