Monday, November 22, 2004


The rain begins to fall fast and hard. Viren struggles with the latch of his bag which decides to not cooperate just now. He hunches over, hoping his shoulders will protect the thick pages from this cloudburst. Water hits the back of his head, the centre of his skull where his hair grows in circles like the rings in a tree’s bark. Little streams trickle in wavering lines along his skull. While he fidgets with the clasp of his bag, a part of his mind quickly draws a picture of the scalp dotted with bumpy growths of black hair and the water, crystalline blue, meandering upon the surface, through the stalks of hair. He must draw that sometime, Viren tells himself. But for now, he needs to protect what he just sketched and the elements seem determined to wash it away. Rainwater worms down fatly from his hairline, down past the curve of his eyebrow, the dip of his eye socket and the rise of his cheekbone. One line of water falls straight as an aroow, down from the centre of his forehead to the tip of his nose. It is raining so frantically that the water does not dangle at the tip of his nose. It simply drips in a single white line. It had rained like this once, long ago, when Sitara and he had just started going out. They had gone out and bumped into a group of her friends. All of them got wet in the rain and then one of her friends looked at him and said, "Off your nose, the rain looks like the pee of the cherub in that fountain in Paris!" They had all laughed loudly, including Sitara. Viren’s skin burned even in today’s wetness as he remembered the cheeky bastard trying to humiliate him. Where the hell did that guy come off saying things like that to him? And Sitara, adding salt to sore wounds, invited them along to see the movie just he and Sitara were supposed to see. Then she sat and chatted with them, bright and bubbly, the entire time. He had never felt more out of place or more tolerated.

"But Viren, I didn’t realise you minded them. I mean, we were just going for a movie and they were planning to see the same one, so I thought that…they would have felt unnecessarily snubbed if we didn’t offer to go together since we were going to the same place. I didn’t want to be rude to them. I just didn’t think –"
"No, you didn’t think. That’s just it. You don’t fucking think when it comes to me! Since your friend, who doesn’t shy of making fun of me, would be hurt, you’re willing to make our date this bloody public affair. You totally ignore me so that you’re not rude to your friend. Are you sure I’m the boyfriend? Because where I’m at it looks more like he’s getting the treatment that a boyfriend should be getting while I get the hand-me-down treatment that a friend gets when you pick him of the road."
"I didn’t do that!"
"So I’m imagining the whole thing? This is what I felt, Sitara. This is what you were doing to me when you were busy trying to make your friend feel comfortable and un-neglected."
"Look, I’m sorry –"
"Don’t give me your bloody pity, Sitara or, so help me God, I really will lose my temper."
"Viren, this is not about pity. I didn’t realise you were feeling this way. I mean, I thought we were going to see a film which is a public thing anyway. I thought it would just be nice to have them with us, that’s all. I didn’t think they would get in the way."
"How many words did you say to me, Sitara?"
"I, well, I mean, we were all talking –"
"I asked you a specific question and I want you to answer it. How many words did you say to me? To me."
"We were talking the entire time, Viren –"
"No, Sitara, you were talking the entire time to your friends. How many words did you say to me? How many times did you turn around, look at me and say something? How many times? Tell me. Let me hear it from you. How many times? What? What? If you did talk to me, I’m hoping you’d at least remember. How many times? How many?"
"I don’t know."
"What was that?"
"I don’t remember."
"You don’t remember. Of course you don’t remember. I’ll tell you why you don’t remember, because you didn’t say a damn thing to me. Not one damn thing to me. I could have not been there and it would have made no bloody difference."
"Viren, I was holding your hand the entire time!"
"Fucking hell, Sitara, what the fuck do you take me for? Your pet dog? That’s what people do with their pets – hold on to the leash so that the animal doesn’t go off somewhere while they do their thing. Don’t you dare give me that patronising shitload! How the hell would you have felt, Sitara, if I had taken you with me to one of my friends’ parties and then just dragged you around behind me, holding your fucking hand, and saying nothing to you the entire time? My god, I don’t believe you! It’s incredible. How can you be so insensitive? How the hell can you be so completely insensitive?"
"I’m sorry. Look, I really didn’t mean to make you feel this way."
"Yeah, well, you did. And thanks. It really made me feel great that my girlfriend needs to have fifty million people attending one of our dates to have a good time."
"Viren, I’m sorry."
"No, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I can’t be the person that you want me to be. I’m sorry I’m such a loser. I’m sorry that you have to suffer my presence each time I come near you."
"Viren, please, stop."
"No, it’s true. I’m the asshole, I’m the bore. I’m sorry but dammit all, Sitara, I love you. You’re the most important thing in my life. I want to be with you and I don’t want anyone or anything coming between us."
"Nobody will, Viren. But please don’t make it difficult –"
"I’m making it difficult? My god, one evening with them and already you think I’m the one making things difficult."
"No, that’s not what I meant. I’m sorry. You’re right, nobody should come between us and nobody will."
"But they already have. They’re already standing between us. Look at you, shrinking away from me right now."
"I’m not shrinking away."
"Yes, you are. It’s like you want a wall between us. See, I take a step closer and you step away. How can you say there’s nothing between us?"
"Viren, please, just don’t lose your temper like you just did. Please."
"Sitara, come on, I didn’t mean anything. I was upset. I still am. In fact, it’s making me even more upset to think you would believe I would – fuck, I hate this!"
"Viren, please. Listen, I’m sorry and it will never happen again. Please, don’t get upset. Can we just not fight anymore?"
"Well, if you really do mean that, come here and make me feel better."

The wind throws a rainy slap on his cheek and the cold raindrops sting his skin sharply, like needles as fine as cat’s fangs. The bag is opened finally by his wet and near-numb fingers. There is very little point in putting the sketch pad in now though. The thick drawing pad is completely wet and the drops of water dripping from its straight bottom edge are grey, laden as they are with charcoal dust. Viren takes quick, muddy, splashing steps towards an old banyan tree that stands placidly in one corner of the garden, hoping it’s overarching roots will give some respite. It does. His hands shine with rainwater and he opens up the sketch pad just to see how bad it is. Every line that he had drawn has been lost. All the focussed concentration he spent getting the perfect depth of shadow along the curved ridges of the palm trees’ bark has, literally, been washed away. It is like looking closely at the sea while alcohol hummed in the ears and trailed warm fingers along the ridges of the spine, one by one. Grey, black and white swim into one another in wet, slippery waves. Viren looks at it through the rain and, even though he rues the loss of the thing he had drawn himself, the artist’s eye accepts secretly that this which has come out of the harsh, unfeeling wrath of nature is more beautiful than what he had done himself, without any help from his natural models. It is quite, quite beautiful. He will add it to the portfolio he plans to take to the gallery. When someone asks him about the painting, he will speak dreamily about how he is inspired by nature and her tempestuous fury. His eyelashes are laden with raindrops that fall into his eyes with blunt coolness. He blinks a couple of times and then narrows his eyes to look carefully into the distance, through the rain at Sitara’s balcony. There are still no lights. He wonders whether the rain has lashed the balcony. He remembers that night it hadn’t. Even though it had been raining with much more power, he had felt nothing except the gentlest spray of water from time to time. There had been no rainwater pooling around the feet. There had been no wetness at all. There was no light because the electricity had been sparked out by an errant bolt lightning, plunging this part of the city into a power cut. No phones had rung because those cables had drowned. The sea was beyond an opaque wall of rain. There had been nothing that night but rain. But there had been noise. The wind had howled and the rain had pounded walls, glass, the tin covering over the airconditioner of Sitara’s neighbour below. Sound beat its fists and head upon every surface it found, and its screams were loud. Just remembering it makes him shiver. Viren clutches his sketch pad close to his heart and wonders when they will bring Sitara home.

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“Did that boyfriend of hers come?” he asks his wife quietly.
Sitara’s brow furrows and her mother hushes her husband urgently. A light flashes in his pocket. It is his cellphone trying to tell him he has a call. The number is familiar and a call that he must take. She nods to him in understanding and watches him leave the room, closing the door behind him with a soft click. Sitara’s hand is still warm with fever. Her mother strokes the small hand and her heated forehead. She hopes Viren will not spring a surprise on them and suddenly show up. Of course part of her wants him to display the strength of character to stand against what she ordered him to do because he loves Sitara and understands that just now she needs to be surrounded with all the tenderness possible. She knows he won’t but she wants desperately to be proved wrong. She doesn’t want Sitara to wake up to heartbreak; she doesn’t want to have to face the reality that she made such a disastrous mistake when evaluating Viren. She looks up at the clock on the wall. Its hands move with slow decisiveness. He isn’t coming. This is going to be her cross to bear forever.

Her husband had never liked Viren but she had and she had her reasons for her approval. The mother in her had noticed how Sitara had changed. Her little girl suddenly turned into a woman. She became more dignified. She was taking more care over her appearance. She started wearing kohl in her eyes and gold earrings. She smiled to herself when she didn’t know her mother could see her. One evening, when mother and daughter sat in the garden nursing cups of tea, she told her mother that it was nice to feel cherished by the outside world.
“It feels warm, do you know what I mean?” Sitara had said, gesticulating aimlessly as the words refused to take on the weight of meaning that they wished them to. “Just to know that you being there makes a difference to someone’s life. It just suddenly makes you feel less of a cog, do you know what I mean?”
She had nodded. She met Viren about two weeks after that conversation and then she understood perfectly what Sitara had meant. There was a vulnerability in him that she sensed the moment she met him. He was so desperately eager for her approval. And he looked at Sitara with a kind of hunger that had enough force in it to feel like something starkly physical. It was in his smile as he watched her bring a glass of water for him. It was in his eyes as they followed her every movement. She saw it clearly: Viren needed her daughter tremendously. He was overpoweringly in love with her. Her mother’s heart exulted at this because she thought he would understand her. Being an artist, he would be sensitive to her needs and her softness. He promised her that he would make her happy, no matter what it took.
Times were hard and Sitara’s mother knew this. It was difficult to blend in and belong to a social group. There were demands made and there were expectations that she didn’t want Sitara fulfilling. She didn’t want to see her daughter smoking at the corner of a street like she had seen her friend’s daughter. She didn’t want her daughter going astray. Viren appeared and he seemed perfect because here was somebody who would give her confidence and make her feel like she belonged, but the fact that he was older and more conservative than the bohemian youth all around, Sitara would not be crowded with all the negativity of her peer group. It seemed to all fall into place perfectly in Sitara’s mother’s mind.

She should have realised that there was something askew in the little world she was putting together in her mind when her husband frowned while changing on the night he met Viren for the first time. She had thought he was feeling unwell or he had a headache.
“Is something wrong?” she asked him when she saw the grimace. “Are you feeling alright?”
“I’m fine,” he replied and went on to unbutton his shirt.
“You don’t look like you’re fine.”
“You’ve obviously met this Viren boy before,” he asked her with his characteristic directness.
“Yes,” she replied. He had asked her so sharply that she had almost stammered. “Why?”
He said nothing for a few moments. She had thought he would say nothing but then he said, turning his back to her as he found the soft, cotton t-shirt he liked to sleep in, “I don’t like him.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t like him,” he repeated. “There’s something that isn’t genuine about him. He’s too eager to please. It’s as though he’ll bend any way you want him to just to please you.”
“But of course,” she had laughed. “He is seeing you as his girlfriend’s daughter. Of course he will be eager to please you!”
“Not to this extent,” her husband had replied doggedly. “It’s almost as though he is setting up a screen so that we don’t know what he’s actually like and we see only the parts that bend and nod according to our will.”
“I think you’re being a little too harsh,” she had replied. “In fact, I think you’re behaving like the classic, overbearing father. No one is good enough for your daughter, but she is growing up now. You will have to accept a lot of things and take my advice: don’t stand as an obstacle. Stay on her side.”
“That’s precisely what I’m trying to do.”
That night Sitara’s mother had shaken her head in mock despair and they had gone to sleep laughing about how intensely protective her husband is.

There are dark circles under Sia’s eyes. Her lips move as though she is saying something. They are dry and seem chalky. Sia’s mother finds a jug of water and dabs her daugter’s lips with the water. The water is sucked in by her dry lips immediately. The child shakes her head weakly and her eyebrows furrow. A small whimper escapes the chapped lips. Tears fill her mother’s eyes. She is suddenly assailed with the feeling that this is all her fault.

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Sunday, November 21, 2004


The song is nearby and soft. It presses against me as it twines the nursery rhyme with the words of another girl’s song. I feel it sticking to my skin even as I stand with my forehead pressed against the glass, watching the rain fall on the slick roads cobbled with the bodies of men below. Walking into an incomplete spider web feels like this. There is a public garden near the place I know as home and that garden has an enormous, winding walking track. Some of the walking track skirts the placid sea that is always in different shades of grey because the coast in these parts is black rock, jagged and hard. When the tide is low and the sea drifts far away towards the blurred edge of the horizon then the bed lies exposed and naked and it is all black rock. I hate looking at the sea when the tide is low. There are people who happily walk into the middle, gingerly walking on the rocks like they are giants stepping on mountain tops. Then they pick up rocks, shells, bits of small change. I always look away when something like that enters the periphery of my vision. They are all cowards. Fools and cowards, all of them. But I don’t say anything. I just turn around and keep walking and when I turn around I walk towards a curve that has a green, fragrant bushes lining it. The bushes are high, taller than me, and they have white flowers that smell very sweet. I’ve seen big rats scurrying along the roots of these bushes. I haven’t seen the spiders but I know they are there. The small spiders, khaki-coloured, sometimes with black stripes. Almost every time I walk past that turning I feel it against me – a single, invisible, slightly sticky strand. I walk into it; I feel it being pulled along the curve of my chin or the bridge of my nose but when I try to touch it and peel it off me, there is nothing there. It is too thin to be held by me. It has probably fallen apart as well. The spider will uncurl another strand like that from its saliva again and hang it out to complete some intricate pattern that has been fed into its insect brain and again I will walk into it and leave the design ravaged.


She used to listen to him with a patience that he had never seen before. Viren remembers those months with such sharp clarity that sometimes, when he is remembering, he almost feels like he is reliving the past and watching himself in an out of body experience. She listened to him talk about work, she listened to him talk about his artist’s block – he always thought it very unfair how only the writers are allowed to have a block – and she listened to him unflinchingly as he raved and ranted about the unfairness of the world that refused to recognise him. Then she would softly assure and reassure him that he would one day be recognised, that all this would fall into the past one day when the two of them would laugh about it with misty nostalgia when they remembered their past days of struggle. This was why he loved Sitara. It was this that made him determined to claim her as his own. He had not ever known this kind of intense warmth and once he had found it, he knew he could not bear to let it slip out of his hands and balm another man’s life. Sitara was his. He would not, he could not let her be anyone else’s because if that happened, then he would be broken utterly. She was his opium and she kept all the pain away from him. He saw the tenderness in her eyes and knew that she would never break his heart. He believed her heart was large enough to hold his sadness and all of him. Anything he needed, everything he wanted, she would give him with open arms.

Like that evening when the sun had set but the neon lights of this garden had not yet been turned on. He was pouring out from deep inside him the stories of how his father treated him like dirt because he was an artist and not a respectable professional like a lawyer or doctor or banker who earned pots and pots of money. He told her about his mother with her narcissism and weaknesses that made her completely oblivious of the fact that she did indeed have a child to nurture. He told her about the times he had sat and waited in school for his mother to take him home until the school had been forced to call his father at work. It turned out that his mother had forgotten she had to pick him up. That was when it was decided he would take the school bus which would, halting at house after house after house, bring him home in one hour even though he lived just fifteen minutes from school. In winters it wasn’t so bad but in the summers, the heat seemed to attack him like a plague of locusts. It choked him. So he scrambled for a window seat but from the open window, along with the hot air came dust and grime. The dust swept into him and rushed out as well, but only after scooping out every part of him and leaving his insides feeling raw and scraped. It also meant that by the time he reached home, his mother was deep in the middle of her siesta because if she didn’t sleep in the day she felt weary by early evening. So Viren would come home and heat his lunch, lay the table and then wolf down his meal. They kept a tool in the kitchen for him to stand on after he dropped the hot dal on his hand. He wasn’t tall enough to comfortably reach the stove back then. Sitara listened to him with shock and disapproval in her eyes. He finished his story and then shrugged. They sat silently on one of the benches, watching darkness settle. There were couples sitting on all of benches. The most discreet of them were holding hands, sitting skin to skin and, when they thought no one was looking, they stole furtive kisses. But of course everyone was always looking. Viren felt a kick in his blood when he saw one girl bite her lip and start. Her boyfriend’s head was innocently tucked in the crook of her neck. The stone slab that made the back of the bench made it impossible to figure out what he had done.
“Viren?” Sitara said softly. “Come out of it.”
Viren nodded absently, his eyes looking ahead at the girl with the bitten lip. He felt Sitara’s hand on his knee. He turned to her. There was almost no space between them.
“Don’t lose yourself in the past, Viren,” she said again. “It isn’t your fault that they were like that.” Her hand was warm on his knee. He realised she thought he had been thinking about that incident. She had never sat so close to him before. He remembered her shrinking back when he had wanted to hold her hand in public a few days back but now she was near enough for him to see each of the fine hairs on her upper lip.
“I know,” he had replied, lowering his eyes from hers. Her lips were wet. She must have licked them while he had been watching the girl. He imagined biting the fatness of the lower lip. “I know I didn’t ask for it but it isn’t their fault either. They wanted to have a better son. Who can blame anyone for wanting something better?”
“That’s not true!” she protested.
He shook his head. “That’s just what it is, Sitara. They didn’t want me. I was never good enough for them.” He laughed shortly. “Look at me now – I can’t even blame them for not wanting me. I can barely stand myself.” He lifted a hand to her face. She stiffened but she didn’t move away. “I don’t know how someone as special as you lets someone as ordinary as me around her,” he said quietly. It had the effect he wanted. She said, “But you’re not ordinary, Viren. You have so much in you that is wonderful.”
“Do you really think so?”
She nodded her head eagerly with the naïve intensity of a sixteen year-old. It was dark. He could barely tell her black hair in the darkness. But her face was light and her lips glinted in the twilight.
“I think you’re the only person in the world who actually believes that,” he said.
She bit her lip. He leaned forward and kissed her. For a moment she felt like cardboard. Her hand lifted as though to push him away but then, an agonising moment later it fell back. He felt his blood sing loudly while he kissed her deeper.
She gently moved her head away and said, “Viren, there are so many people…”
“I’m sorry,” he said immediately and shrank back so that they were far from touching. “I’m sorry he said again.”
He didn’t look at her but he knew she was aghast because she thought he had taken her reaction as a rejection. He also knew he now had the key to Sitara’s heart.

Viren sighs as he ambles along the paved path along the sea. There is a storm brewing somewhere which is swelling the grey waves. Each wave is crowned with white foam and the waves come together, like frolicking fairy princesses. The palm and coconut trees in this manicured garden bend over like they are dancing some exotic Latin dance with their invisible dance partner, the wind. It is twilight and all the houses on the other side of the road are beginning to switch on their electric lights. Viren loves this time of the day when it isn’t dark enough for the streets to be lit up but the homes have turned on the warm, yellow lighting. There are too many clouds to tell what kind of a moon there is. He imagines the clouds thinning so that they are only a sheer black veil over the moon’s white beauty. Sitara’s house is just a few buildings away. He can see the balcony of the house from where he is standing now. No lights have been switched on yet. They haven’t brought her home yet. He wonders whether the doctors will keep her overnight but he doubts it. From that balcony of theirs, this sea with his imagined moon would look magical. His breath catches at the mere thought of such a sight. He sits down on the nearby bench and takes out of his bag a small drawing pad and some charcoal. His lines are black and bold. The drawing flows easily from his fingers. It is beautiful and he knows it. He shades and he contours lovingly each thing so that it begins to feel like a real world. Each detail gets his complete attention: the small tufts of grass, the roots of the bushes and the clotted earth at the base. He draws the details of the chips that mosaic the bench. He makes them a delicate grey against which the black chips are pronounced. They almost gleam. He draws the unmoving, straight-spined lamps that have not been lit in his drawing but are flickering on as he draws. He draws lines that are soft but speak of the density of the leaves of the trees. The trees themselves are in the throes of the erotic dance they are enacting with the storm. Clouds darken and layer the sky, making it hang and sink towards the rippled sea. The sea is dark with its unfathomable depths but there are ripples that goosebump its skin. And just one section of the sea is distinctly lighter. It is luminous with the reflected light of the semi-obscured moon. The real wind swells around him, shrieking from time to time but to him, the wind is coming out of his drawing and kissing his face. The page tries to writhe and flutter. He weighs it down with his arm while the other hand continues to draw frenetically. Then suddenly his perfectly-shadowed, bent coconut tree smears. The blackness turns to a murky grey that spills messily out of the boundary lines. Irate, Viren looks up. It is raining. A cold drop, sharp as a needle, falls at the corner of his eye. He flinches.

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Saturday, November 20, 2004


“Doctor,” he asks softly. “Her skin feels quite hot.”
He makes the observation tentatively and Dr. Shahani feels his heart melt at the paternal concern. The man’s concern for his child has almost made him a boy in his voice.
“It often happens,” Dr. Shahani says soothingly. “The body often reacts like this but there is no need to worry. This is purely temporary. The fever will soon subside and she will regain consciousness.”
“There was no complication or difficulty during the procedure, was there?” her father asks with anxiousness making his voice rasp.
Dr. Shahani looks carefully at the small-eyed face before him. The hair is neatly parted and the moustache is neatly trimmed. This is a man who is delicate and meticulous. He plans his life and makes sure his actions and their consequences fall into the design that he has carefully chalked out. Dr. Shahani watches the relief fill up the worry wrinkles on her father’s face, making him look younger and less strained within moments as he spins out the white truths that proclaim this man’s daughter’s health while shielding the father from the dirty, grey truth. The doctor uses for the father words like, “smooth” and “success” and “complete” and “recovery”. He does not mention the words “risk”, “infection”, “haemorrhage” and “uterine perforation”. He does not want to scare the father or the mother. They entrusted, knowingly and unknowingly, their child into his hands. It is not their concern how his surgical shift was wet with cold sweat when he emerged from the operation theatre because with every muscle that he moved he bore in mind only one thought: there should not be a single scratch inside this body to act as witness to what is happening. He cannot and will not tell the parents that for a moment, his hand had trembled when he saw the first small limb – perfectly formed, with five uncreased fingers at their end – come into his sight. He cannot explain how great a victory it is to know that the suction curette has not left a scar upon this girl who can be a mother again without any trouble. He will not tell the parents that each and every time that he has to do this, he does not go home.

Instead he crawls into the underbelly of the city to a girl who is a familiar now and the girl picks up a thick, leather belt and beats him with it. She is a woman now. The first time he had given her the belt and promised to pay her for hurting him she had been a girl. A scared girl who had been taken aback by the strange demands of the young man. Today she knows why he wants this pain. She also knows that he has done it so many times that the tag of ‘murderer’ does not haunt him anymore. She has known for a while that it gives him a secret pleasure to be a victim.

But all that is later. Right now, Dr. Shahani thinks of nothing other than the words that are calming down the girl’s father. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees the mother biting her lip as she sits at the edge of the hospital bed, apparently watching her daughter’s feverish breathing although Dr. Shahani knows that she is actually watching him. There is taut concern lining her posture. Dr. Shahani remembers the paper spectacles he had got with a comic book when he had been young. It had been to watch a 3-D movie, the rage of the time. They were young then and he, with his friends, had ascribed to the glasses many superpowers, including being able to detect the invisible. If such glasses truly existed, Dr. Shahani knows for certain that he would have seen the enormous bundle of shame the mother bears upon her shoulders. He wants to go up to her and tell her that it is not her fault. Not just that, she is not as alone as she imagines. Forty percent of girls between the ages of fifteen and nineteen have undergone one abortion. There is no badge of shame she needs to carry. It is a frightening number and remembering the statistic always makes the skin of Dr. Shahani’s hands sting and burn. Perhaps that is where the shame comes from, Dr. Shahani thinks with a smile – the fact that she feels only relief that the ordeal is over. He wants to go and shake her and drag both father and mother out into the sunshine and laugh out loudly. It is for their sense of relief that he has spent all this time. It is their sense of relief that will give him a good night’s sleep tonight, after his back has been bloodied. They have no idea how they save his soul with each moment that they feel relieved. He told the girl with the belt once that it would probably take just one look into a post-op patient’s eyes, light with the calm of having weathered a storm with anaesthesia, to rid him of his guilt. The girl had looked at him for a moment and then laughed, “You’re such a fucking, self-centred prick! Maybe she would hate you for having killed a part of her without even talking to her. Do you ever talk to your patients? I bet you don’t. You just talk to your patients’ parents, don’t you? You don’t give a fuck who the person you’re going to work your scissors on is like –”
“Don’t be silly,” he had protested. “I don’t use scissors.”
“Whatever,” she had dismissed with careless harshness. “Do you ever talk to them? Are they anything to you but a gaping cunt?”
He had winced at her language and told her to shut up. Obediently, she followed his orders. When he was leaving that night, he tried to explain it to her.
“I wouldn’t be able to do it if they became people for me. Do you understand that? If I knew the person, then what is inside them is a person too. I can’t do that. For me, it’s a case. I take it and then I go on. It’s a –”
“I understand.”

Her father says the same words that girl with the belt had said to him that night. But one had truly understood. Dr. Shahani looks at the progress chart and signs at the bottom. His back twitches. For the first time in many years, Dr. Shahani allows himself the luxury of looking at the patient who is lying on the hospital bed wearing the pale green shift. Her hair is black and strands have come out of the ponytail. He is not surprised at the blackness but the fact that it is fine comes as a surprise to him because he can still see before him the thick, dark blue lines of hair waiting to come out from under the finer, stretched skin of her crotch. He had expected her hair to be thicker. Her skin is pale and her face is pinched. Her lips move from time to time and he finds himself stabbed with curiosity about what it is that she is mumbling wordlessly. He remembers her legs bent like those of a dead cockroach. There is a needle sending the healing fluids into her body from the inner elbow of her left arm. The skin there has purpled. It is fresh, soft, young skin. He wants to touch her. He wants to run the back of his fingers along the curving line of her cheek. He wants to cradle her lolling head against the crook of his shoulders and sing the old lullabies that his grandmother used to sing for him when he was a boy.
“Your daughter will be fine,” he says assuringly again to both mother and father.
There are questions in the mother’s eyes and he says again, “She will be absolutely fine, in every way.”
He makes to leave but her mother holds him back. “My daughter isn’t going to die, is she?”
“She just has fever,” Dr. Shahani says to her. “It is absolutely normal. Please, do not worry.” He is quite certain that the mother has not told the father exactly what was done upon his precious child which means he has to find a way to assuage her fears without using the dreaded word.
“You have been a good mother and your daughter will be a good mother like you,” he says quietly. “Have no fear.”
Her eyes fill with grateful tears. “Thank you so much, Doctor. I don’t know how to thank you, but please, you have no idea how much gratitude I bear you for my daughter’s health.”
He wonders if he should tell her the signs of force being used that he has seen upon the patient. Then he decides to forget. Her tears and her rushing words dam his own words. He cannot tell her because faced with this relief, he has not the heart to bring a pall of worry on her.
“Tell your daughter I will be here any time she needs me,” he says with emotion clutching his throat. “She can call me if she wants or just visit me. I will be here.”
He knows she will never return. He also knows this is just what her mother needed to hear. Dr. Shahani shakes her father’s hand and walks out. His back twitches.

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Friday, November 19, 2004


Is this a game? Or perhaps it is a dream.
I am lying flat on my back. Again. The single bulb with the lampshade dangles above me. The walls are red. The door is locked. But there were stairs. There was a fall. This cannot be a dream. I breathe slowly and the air that enters my body quietly searches for pain within. There, my elbow hurts. The skin has been bruised. Only one elbow hurts but that one elbow feels purpled. My ankles feel numbed, as though they have just been sprained. I move them gingerly. They draw invisible circles in the air easily.

Wake up.
Is this a game?
No game.
I'm awake

I sit up on the bed. The sheets feel the same. Something is missing. It is the same but something is missing. I breathe in deeply. It feels as though the walls are being tugged forward with the strength of my breath. They throb. I turn around swiftly to look at the wall nearest to me. It stands immobile and solid. The red paint looks less glossy, I think. Though perhaps this is me trying to find differences. I look closely at the wall beside the narrow bed, which is precisely as narrow as the earlier bed. I remember the earlier wall looking almost wet, so viscously red was the paint. Now it looks like dried paint. The colour looks almost tired now. I look up at the bulb. My eyes hurt. The light seems brighter. Maybe that is why the walls look faded. Perhaps there was a voltage fluctuation. Perhaps I am where I was and only the light is brighter. The bulb strikes my eyes with its whiteness. I breathe in sharply. It happens again. The walls throb and pain pulses at the base of my neck. I open my eyes. Everything seems the same.

The only way to know for certain whether this is the same room is to explore it.
I know your voice. I’ve heard your voice before.
At least we know you’re not an amnesiac. Of course you’ve heard my voice before. I’ve been telling you to wake up since you refused to wake up.
When was that?
In the other room.
You mean, this room.
I suppose you could say so.
What does that mean? Either it is this room or it is another room.
I know that voice. Where did I hear it before?

The walls seem to heave a long breath. The room is warm.

I remember the stairs and the black void in the jigsaw puzzle that opened into a staircase. I remember the sound of a ring tripping down those stairs. I look at my hand. There is no ring. There isn’t even a mark of a ring. But there are strips of raw skin that have hardened into scabs. I remember dragging the ring out as it sank its teeth in. The scabs are dark against my skin. I feel them. They feel like hard but not scaly. I imagine chameleon skin feels like this. It is strangely comforting to run my fingertip down the length of the scars. I remember pulling it out. I remember the satisfaction and the tear when it did ultimately come out. Then it fell. It almost bounced off one step and then the next and then the next and then into the blackness. I had followed it. My finger was bleeding. It dripped on the step. Maybe it puddled a little. Perhaps that was why I slipped. I did slip. My feet did get tangled with some invisible obstacle. There was a knot of footsteps and then I fell. I felt it happen. My body was pulled down, stretched and dragged down the stairs. Then there was blackness. I know I fell. I felt it happen. I can’t be in the same room.

Where am I?

Nobody answers. I sit. I want to go back to sleep. I feel heavy and lethargic. My limbs feel loosely stitched to my torso. I feel like I am coming apart. There is a hum of noise. I remember this hum of noise. It was there before as well. I listen carefully. It is a low hum that rises and falls but it is so soft that it is barely audible. Something is happening outside, beyond the red of these walls. Is there a window behind my head like there was earlier? I turn my head. It does not hurt. There is a window. I breathe in deeply. It happens again: the walls throb. I haven’t imagined it. It must the noise that I can barely hear. A subsonic thrust, like a booming bass. Maybe there is a street party outside. Maybe if I look out of the window, I will be able to figure out where I am. I touch my palm to the white sheet. It is slightly scratch, like tissue paper creased with watery glue and then dried. It is cool under my palm. I want to go to the window but I am also completely unwilling. It is almost as though I feel like if I go to the window I cannot come back to the bed. But of course I can. That is what I decide to do: I will go to the window, look out and then come back to bed. I must have fallen quite badly. That must be why I feel so tired. I turn slowly, straightening my back and lowering my legs. My big toe touches the floor. It is cold. I lower my entire foot on the cool floor. It pierces the warmth of my skin for a moment and then the warmth settles down like silt on the soles of my feet as well. I get up slowly. I suddenly feel very old.

Stop being melodramatic. At your age, you have no idea what feeling old is about.
You don’t understand.
No one ever does. If you expect anyone to understand, then you can’t be feeling very old. It’s only when you’re young that you think there is something abnormal about being misunderstood.
I hate you.
That isn’t very elderly either.

I get up from the bed just to get away from the voice. I will not admit it is surprisingly easy. It is almost a relief to be off the bed. I walk up to the window and press my forehead against it. The hum of noise is much closer now. It isn’t one noise, I realise. Sounds and noises have been plaited together into this thick vibration that makes the glass tremble quietly as it snakes through the walls and into me. There are voices in there. Familiar voices singing familiar tunes. I press my head closer against the cool glass that I’m heating up now. If I am sweating then the pearls of sweat are being flattened wetly. Two songs by one voice. Or perhaps there are two voices and one song. I know these songs. I think I know the voice. But I don’t recognise anything. I listen harder, trying to unbraid strains of sound. Words start unravelling from the thick hum of sound.

I do it for the joy it brings,
‘cause I’m a joyful girl
the world owes me nothing
we owe each other the world.

I do it ‘cause it’s the least I can do
I do it ‘cause I learnt it from you
And I do it just because I want to
I want to…

My eyes feel heavy. I remember feeling like this when I wanted to become thin but when I only ate and ate. I would eat all the things I shouldn’t eat. My mouth would be coated with a furry sweetness and then I would eat some more because it felt as though if I kept eating, I would be able to forget how leaden everything felt inside me. And then, there was a point when I couldn’t eat anymore and all I could do to forget myself was go to sleep. Just remembering that time seems to send me back into that memory. The song keeps weaving strands around me.

Rock-a-bye baby
On the tree top
When the wind blows
The cradle will rock.

When the boughs break
The cradle will fall
And down will come baby
Cradle and all.

Outside there is a neon sign. There is a grey city that sparkles like someone dropped a fine crystal glass on it and the crystal shattered into a million pieces that scattered themselves across the city. It isn’t night but it isn’t day. The sky is light with a dullness that gleams. There are clouds in the sky and it is raining. This is no city that I recognise but it is a city because nowhere else do so many lights twinkle. The streets are wet, slick, murky with little clumps of black and lighter patches. Light bends and curves past the rain, making the streets look like they are slithering. The clear water of the raindrops glint sharply in the light. I look down to see how high I am. The streets are worms at my feet. This room is high up, I realise. I watch a drop of water travel down, catching the light, missing the light, catching it again. It falls on the road. No, actually, I am not so high up. I can see the craning, metallic necks of streetlights from the top with the bulbous heads at the tips. I can see a face squint because a drop of rain fell on it. There is another face near the first and another one. Then another one. A face with a neck and a shoulder. Torsoes with arms and legs and faces. All wet, all wincing in the rain.

Where am I? Which city have I locked myself in where the streets are lined with men lying flat on their backs? I recognise nobody. The scene before me feels like a painting. There was a painting I remember seeing that looked almost exactly like this. A city as grey as this and sparkling like this one with roads paved with men. But there was no rain. Instead, from the cloud-crusted skies there fell women with bell-haped skirts, perfectly poised and floating down with a definite sense of gravity upon the prone men. Their feet were together, ankles so close to one another that you would think they were tied together. They wore closed, pointed shoes; rapier sharp shoes. The painting was called ‘Succubus’.

The rain flicks diamond drops on the glass. I wish it would cool my skin.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2004


“The date is 1st April, 2004, Thursday. The time is 5:30 and I will now begin a reading of the birth chart of the subject named Sitara. May the Gods be with us.”

He doesn’t know why he drones this under his breath each time he begins reading a horoscope, but it has become second nature. Even though he knows that people only bring horoscopes to him when they are in trouble so the Gods are rarely with them. When he has ‘clients’ sitting in front of him, he says it very quietly. But when he is alone, he feels more at ease and the words come out like a protective chant. It was something his father used to do and he does it, almost automatically.