lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Monday, March 10, 2008

Think you can write about it?

She heard sounds of stirring from his room. She knew the routine well, now. Six months ago, she'd not have known.

Now, she'd lie there sleepless most of the night, all nights. It wouldn't do to toss or turn and give any indication that she was awake. It would rouse others. It would be inconsiderate. In the silent nothingness her days and nights were now, that was still a no-no, you don't inconvenience others.

They'd talk at her anyway and she was all out of words. She thought she was directing her story; they thought she lost the plot. She thought words ran out of her mile-a-minute to explain; they stole her earlier words to be pored over and raped by random strange eyes and brains. She had no words left for thieves and rapists and voyeurs.

She heard the sounds of stirring and he came out, tripping as usual on the little painted wooden riser decorated with auspicious yellow and red. There might have been amusement once, now there was nothing but holding still, breathing evenly.

He stopped at her bed- the bed she nowadays made with military precision, tucking sheets into knife-edge corners and arranging the top sheet just so. She tried to breathe deeper, to indicate slipping into deep sleep. His hand hovered near her face, not quite at the cheek or the forehead or her neck.

Instead of touching her, he said softly, you are awake. It was not a question or a taunt- just a statement of fact. She stayed mute. She'd had practice in the last six months. As she shuttled from psychiatrist to therapist to her bed to resume staring at nothing, she'd had a lot of practice staying mute.

Come, I want to show you something, he said, and walked into the middle room. Curiosity had no call on her, but conditioning did. She swung her legs out of the cocoon of her sheets and followed him. Out of the front door which he opened only one panel of, down the plinth and across the thatched-in-annex that served as their morning-room to the split-bamboo fence that marked the start of a garden once extensive but now straggly and meagre.

It was dark and the branches of guava, frangipani and the sweet-lime that met and hung over the thatch made it darker. He fidgeted, trying to find a particular spot and said, ah. He moved over, wordlessly inviting her to take the place and see for herself. She had no interest, but conditioning made her look for the spot.

Through the branches, over the low boundary wall, far in the street ahead shone a street lamp. As she watched, a light came on above it. An early riser perhaps, or a night owl turning in, that light floated strangely above the street lamp. She knew she must remark upon it, but she was out of words.

She moved away. Ah, he said again. I wonder if it is a student preparing for exams or just an insomniac. She remained silent, she had to right to do so, she remembered reading.

What do you see, he said. Now that the street lamp and the light were out of view, she could make out dark, the layers thereof. The branches of each tree added a different texture to it, and it was vaguely lit by another unseen street lamp she knew was somewhere behind and to the right of their house.

What do you sense, he said. She could sense daybreak. Their house, she knew, was built strictly according to vaastu. As she glanced to her left, apart from his bulk next to her, further away, at the top of the short flight of stairs to the terrace, in the darkness etched into eldritch patterns by the mango tree and the coconut palms of the neighbours, there was a sense of the sky lightening.

Daybreak, she croaked with her disused voice. His arm encircled her, hand resting on her right shoulder lightly. A feather would have felt heavier.

What do you hear, he said. She listened. It was the month of devotions, and there were matrons and maidens decorating their front yards. There were sounds of double-boilers of milk whistling; there were faint praises to various gods. Day starting, she said, voice sounding clearer this time.

Think you can write about it? She pursed her lips, nodding and shaking her head at the same time, unsure if she had to say anything, but definitely needing to clamp down on the sobs.

His hand squeezed her shoulder for a fraction of a moment. I am going for a walk, want to come along? you can turn back when you get tired, he said. She nodded. Be ready in ten minutes, he said and went back into the house.

She had trouble with his pace. She had trouble with the fact that she was out in the world. She wanted the nothingness of sitting in her perfectly made bed and staring into middle distance. But she walked.

He had many friends who walked the same route at the same time. They stared or averted their eyes. She kept falling behind, trying not to pant, to ignore the burning in her calves, to forget how ridiculous she must look to these dapper gentlemen in the park.

When halfway point was reached, she had no energy to turn back. She sank gratefully on to a concrete bench and watched a world she never knew existed. Think you can write about it, she murmured to herself. Of course I can write about it, she thought, in a rekindling of youthful arrogance she thought was stolen along with the words from her.

One of the walkers, a good friend obviously, jerked an eyebrow towards her in a clear question. My daughter, he said.


Post Script: Sivaram wanted light-hearted poetry and Missus Em shall provide, but this was written before he posted his comment, so there. All things, Sivaram, come to those who wait.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reminded me of Dad & his morning military march. I definitely pretended sleep when he tried to wake us up.

4:48 am  
Blogger dipali said...

So beautiful, Lali.

9:43 am  
Blogger Kshama said...

Nothing they said, when I felt the morning breeze touch me, squeezing its way through the grills of protection.

Poring over books meant to secure future, romance left for past. Distracted I was in this season and books made no sense with romance lingering in the air.

Lalita you reminded me of my beautiful days in Chennai. Margazhi, the month is called, meant for devotion.Chennai, otherwise hot is pleasant in this season.

Beautiful post...

10:05 am  
Blogger Sivaram said...

They also serve who only stand and wait - so says the great poet.
That is why servers in restaurants are called waiters !!

I will wait.

10:47 am  
Anonymous Kamini said...

Lovely. You could have been writing about me - some days, many days, I feel I'm slipping inexorably towards becoming the "She" in your story. It's uncanny how you've captured everything.
Thank you. For now at least, I think I'll take a few steps backwards.

6:07 pm  
Blogger Guruprasad said...

of course, she can write about it. and how!

and i don't care if its a poem or a story or just some thoughts keyed here ...

11:56 pm  
Blogger Sivaram said...

This is a very long pause from you.

I stumbled on your blog quite by accident. In short span, somehow a disproportionate degree of affection for you has built up in me. So i will share -

About four years ago almost to date, I went to the brink, and something saved me. I am well today.

Through this tenuous link of the www, I wish that a similar luck will befall you, Lalita !

1:35 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

People- I apologise for a single reply, but that's about what I can manage right now. Thank you.

Sivaram, going to the brink always reminds me of this scene in Lucifer's Hammer: the mega-wave the California beach boys wait to ride as a comet hits the Earth, and a tsunami is building up. We can be lemmings or wave-riders, I think. And we choose.

11:34 am  

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