At half past midnight, the veena sounds.
I try and tune the radio, but we are too far south to hear anything but white noise. I heave and pant and soon enough I’m crying, because the last time I heard those strings it was in the car on the way back home, dusk falling over New Town and the chants from the temple drowning any thoughts I could have. The dusty orange of Aruna Maam’s home and the pungent smell of her filter coffee are ghosts in the hostel rooms of bare white walls.
Do you remember the sky that night?
It was painted a dusty maroon and yellow at the horizon, and the eucalyptus trees were silhouetted inky black like in the Mughal miniatures on your room’s walls. I never believed that an evening could be so surreal, forever born and trapped in paintings from five hundred years ago. Then again, I never believed in many things being real, like the pain in your throat you kept complaining about. You should have seen it, the way the lake shimmered saffron and blue in the dying moments of the day and how the mosque’s lights lit up next to it. The drums from a temple behind the building broke the stillness of the night. There were no winds and no clouds in the sky, except for the gradients of grey rising from above the trees. The crescent moon was perfectly aligned with Venus, gleaming white together in a water-washed background.
Only then did I accept it was all real, because such a sight would have had to have been real to be painted so exquisitely. It was pathetically real, the way you were being swallowed into the depths of your own hell. Suddenly, words written in text messages every evening were hard to read, not without my stomach curling at the thought of yours eating away at the rest of you. It takes so much not to scream and want to shake you back into normalcy because its killing you and I cannot do anything but watch.
I can’t watch.
I was in the car on my way back, listening to the first programme on the government classical music station – a Tyagarajada-kruti again. The town centre was bustling below the many textile stores, sarees draped over mannequins caged in glass, sarees which would look sublime on you regardless of whether you can feel your hip bones or your 53 kgs, but I know its not about your weight or frame, its about something else, something more putrid and like ash. It is something I can’t fix as easily as I turn away from the shops’ blinking lights and clothes of silk.
You are one of the watercolour wonders of the world and more precious than the dusk today. Sometime last December we realised that wanting to die so young was not okay. Maybe this December we’ll believe it.
I heave and cry because only now when the veena sounds do I see that I am made of memories from current-homes and once-homes where my parents argued about how the door got jammed, and how my mother couldn’t lock it. It ended as all arguments end – that one of us wasn’t trying hard enough.
My voice is always loud and nasal, like background noise as people’es eyes roam to more important things, but it is not loud enough when they ask for me to say it again. I can’t see anything through this mask in which my face grows hot and my head pounds, the sound of my breathing and gasping roaring loud against cardboard.
(They said that this place would make me more, instead, I find that I am nothing at all.)
Tonight there are no red lines on my arms. It is too dark for it to seem right, but you tell me to wait till when the light comes in the morning.
It rains a little later.
They tell me not to lose myself, to hold on to what makes me, me. They speak as though I ever was anything at all.
But they don’t know, so I let them make the mistake.
Suddenly, we are all not trying hard enough when it becomes only about the best.
7 is when I don’t feel. 8 is when I feel too much.
My hair is falling. Pulling the strands and coiling them around my finger in the shower, I think that if I wash my hair long enough this afternoon I won’t have any left.
In the rain hitting the earth I couldn’t hear the voice in my head change to the voice screaming – Sanjana is going to Berkley and a ghost of her sits here – here open this flap behind my ear and you will find it.
Life is an exam where the syllabus is unknown and question papers are not set. Yet, today I write the last end-term paper for Torts-I and head north before I can feel like I have. I tell myself that this is the end of term, that people do go home after law school – there – your seniors are in the next car.
It feels too much like running away again.
The city was to treat us the way it had two years ago- with China rose hanging over ladies in the street with jasmine in their hair. The white Indica taxis were supposed to be familiar, but the car smells of something between coffee and cigarettes. So then, I think my memory is failing because the city is the calcium in our bones now and the life throbbing in it is bitter behind the teeth. With the sick cold of pretty mornings, they seem to be all the city is anymore.
It is still raining when I pull into our old neighbourhood. Bangalore has changed as we have. The airport is too far away from law school, so I stop over at your place for the night. None of the old suspects can be found on the streets. You’re driving down for the long weekend tomorrow but really, between morning flights and traffic jams at Mekhri circle, the city doesn’t leave us with much left.
There’s something about here that feels dead now. I almost laugh when I name it ‘adulthood’.
At times in the mirror I stumble across short, stocky eyelashes projecting from a rim and a soft white ball with brown and black circles in it.
Near it I find a round lump with two smaller casings moulded on either side, and below it soft, thick flaps-
This must be the face.
I pull on the lower lid of the eye and see red underneath.
It’s been seven years and that little tint of disgust on your mother’s face hasn’t gone.
Just like that I’m twelve again and the sun is beating down on my face while we wait for you in the bus yard.
Maybe its me who smells.
Your house is white and green, decorated like an IKEA catalogue left open.
So I think- ah, this is where you come from.
You have always walked with stars girdled around your waist and eternity crowning your temples, and from my seat in the third row I have only ever clapped you in and clapped you out again. The ink I was meant to scribble down the astronomical equations of my future with slips through my fingers and leaves a trail on the runway behind the clicking of your heels.
The masked glass is splattered with the stardust of the first monsoon showers. The sculptor’s urban hut of blue plastic and brick on the highway is close to collapsing, straw and jute left unmoved at the feet of a clay woman, hands raised in position.
“Raagi dosa, you want?”
Your mother hands me a plate of toast and a cup of tea. Looking at the trunk of the almond tree outside your window, she says,” the barbed wire really takes the charm away.”
I lived two storeys above your ground floor flat, and when the robbers came one night in the summer we went up to my balcony to see their footprints on the ledge above your window. Now, the vines of the money plant crawl over the new paint and into your neighbours’ house, neighbours who know nothing of when the white paint was still the first coat on these buildings and when the fences didn’t have barbed wire over them.
I’ve told your mother she doesn’t have to worry herself with tea, that I had lunch at college, but she insists I eat. As always, she has her way.
Sometimes I wonder how far two floors could be, when every two years we throw out our things and fold memories and sobs caught in our throats into cardboard boxes.
Its the small things, like how the floor to ceiling nets don’t fringe and stick out of their frames and how the books run in series along the walls of your house.
There’s a peace in the silence here, and I wonder how many times in that silence you would have heard the shouting from two floors above.
When it rains your mother makes tea and sits me down on the white canvas chair, and hopes I enjoy it.
I’ve never enjoyed the rain before, but I’m willing to try.
All we have is words, and for once, I have the prerogative to choose what they will be. Today, I write words which don’t have to mean anything in this world. In that, I think, we are allowed freedom. In that, I think, we might find something we like.
Somewhere else, the flowers in my grandmother’s balcony bloom, and she can’t contain herself. She limps into the room and reverentially places the three small flowers before the framed pictures of her blue god.
All we have is words, and with these whispers I sing my prayers.