The Girl Who Died Next Door - 9

Almost blue.

(Story so far: A new neighbour moves into the vacant apartment next door to Kavya, a television professional. His name is Shayan and he's an artist. The apartment had been abandoned after Suvarna, the teenaged daughter of the family that lived there, committed suicide. Shayan becomes obsessed with Suvarna's spectre and paints her day and night, allowing her to age and live through his canvas. His obsession comes in the way of Kavya's strange fascination for him, and keeps their story from ever becoming something more than a neighbourly friendship.)

I saw Shayan so little these days that it almost felt like I'd gone back to my neighbour-less days. I was almost blue, because I wasn't sure that it mattered whether I saw him or not. Chet Baker's Almost Blue seemed the perfect choice for the moment. As the mellow notes caressed my weary, melancholy soul, everything seemed clearer; all those times Suvarna had averted her eyes from me, in fear I had thought. But suddenly, I was reminded of a woman in the train who bore burn scars all over her neck and arms. Her eyes had held the same furtive, frightened flutter. One might have perceived it as hostility but fear was what it really was and perhaps, a call for help. Was Suvarna's seeming avoidance of my company a convoluted cry for help? Were the rumours about the servant true after all? And if so, perhaps she was having her revenge on me for not coming to her aid; for not hearing her silent, veiled pleas. Perhaps that was why she had chosen to monopolise Shayan's canvas - both physical and mental. That canvas seemed to have become her playground; a sorry substitute for life. Sorry? Really? My mind whispered. It was right of course. There was nothing sorry about the medium Suvarna had chosen. Within his palate, Shayan possessed every fathomable colour; every hue known to mankind. Did life offer such a wide choice? It does, but the tragedy is that much of this choice is out of reach. If our lives were paintings, there would be a dominant spectrum of colours in each but none would boast of every colour in the kaleidoscope. None would be able to say - "I've seen it all." Perhaps, living within Shayan's brush-strokes was not such a bad idea after all. Idly, I contemplated haunting Shayan when I died.


The doorbell rang one Saturday morning, while I was deep in alcohol-induced slumber. In my dream, I missed a step but before I could plunge headlong into nothingness, my eyes cracked open. For a moment, I thought I was suspended in mid-air in a land of no-return. Sometimes I think I had a narrow escape from being marooned in that world of no sensations except heart-stopping dread. My head spun when I stood upright. It seemed that the phantom of last night's inebriation was still determined to haunt me. I decided not to fight it. With the honey-brown phantom's arms wrapped snugly around my neck, I walked unsteadily to my door. When the clouds cleared, quite unlike the stubborn monsoon sky, I saw a dishevelled Shayan shuffling on my doorstep. His eyes simply wouldn't focus on one single spot and I wondered if he could have possibly downed more whiskey than I had the previous night. And then he surprised me by reaching for my hands. "Kavya, you have to help me. She's going to die and I have no idea how to stop it! I simply cannot stop painting." I watched his features contort with pain and desperation and contemplated upon the warmth in his fingers. I like people whose hands are warm and heavy with something pleasant. People with cold, clammy hands make me want to jerk away with a combination of distrust and repulsion. "Show me," I said, and followed Shayan into his apartment. Our hands were still entwined and I had to hold my breath so stop his warmth from seeping into me.

His apartment looked even worse for wear than the last time I had set foot in it. And yet, the blasts of colour that emanated from the portraits carefully stacked all over, somehow made the rooms beautiful. And I hated them for it. I hated the fact that every stroke resonated with careful deliberation and loving perfection. I despised the softness in her features and the dreamy wistfulness in her eyes. I wanted to shut my eyes against the realisation that that was exactly what Suvarna might have looked like, had she made it past the turbulence of her youth. "I wished I'd known," I found myself saying. "Known what?" "That the servant was molesting her. I'm sure of it. She tried to tell me, many times. Not in so many words but in several other ways. I wish I hadn't been blind." If I had bothered to listen, Suvarna would still be alive, Shayan would have never been a part of my memories and he would still be smiling and sane. He would still be himself and not this raging mass of despair that now stood over me, refusing to let go of the comfort of my skin. I jerked my hand away and for a moment, enjoyed the hurt that crossed his face. Of course, that was immediately followed by regret. That seemed to define most of my life - impulse followed by regret. "Where's the last painting?" I asked and followed the motion of Shayan's pointing fingers. There she was, Suvarna, in her twilight days, her beautiful features wizened by the curvature of years and her milky glow dimmed by the shadows of approaching oblivion. "I don't want her to die," Shayan whispered, the thickness in his voice like a coil around my bones, pressing until they threatened to snap. I made the mistake of speaking my mind. "Isn't it a good thing? You'll be free, at last." Bony hands were gripping me by the hands and enraged eyes threatened to set my face aflame. "Free?" Shayan said, the low decibel of his voice pooling at the bottom of my heart like inky fear. "These have been the best days of my life, Kavya. I have never felt so absolutely absorbed in my life and my art as I have felt these last few days. With every wrinkle and silvery strand that I paint, I find my soul shrinking. I fear there may be nothing of me left when she's gone." With a start, I realised that my eyes were moist. This was unexpected. It struck me that Shayan had spoken of Suvarna as though she were his soulmate. "Why don't you ask her what to do then?" I said coolly, wrenched his fingers off my reddening arm and managed to walk out of his apartment without shivering once.

I spent the next hour staring vacantly into the morning, from my perch on the balcony, resisting the strange moisture in my eyes.

(To be continued)

In a Bombay train.

Courtesy: Jorge Lascar (Licensed under Creative Commons)

 Loud, cackling women
Erratic. Not in sync
With the rhythm of the
Train’s wheels
Or the drums beating in my ear
Or the fine whirr of the words
Rising out of my book.

Harsh, raucous speech
Abuzz with tawdry, uncontained excitement
Mutating, no longer human.
A foreign tongue
Of a foreign species.
The drums beat harder
The words rise swifter
Their music interspersed with
A voice I know so intimately
A voice I could name in my sleep
The railway announcer’s voice!
Youthful, splendidly even-paced
Like she had been born for this purpose.
For answering that existential question
Of where we are headed
And where we will eventually go.

If my life is indeed a train journey
And I don’t get to choose
Who travels in my coach,
I’d at least like to choose
The colour of my train.

A woman peers at my book
A little longer than necessary.
Frightened, I wonder
If she can see the words rising up as well
If she might want to seize them
Before they inhabit my mind.

Drums have now become
The mellow ripple of a piano
A beggar sings of love, of unrequited passion
The cackling has quietened
Human again
But not yet sublime.
And here we are, at yet another station
New coach members
New scents of aspiration, desperation
Vacant bliss and noisy frustration
I must permit them
The familiarity of my skin
Of the vibrations of my thoughts
Which have now become confused,
Misdirected mass
Of cackles, croons and cloistered cacophony
Rainbow of sounds
Bouquet of annoyance.

There I see men clad in orange overalls
Weathered skin darkened
By the passage of time.
Peering into unexplained mysteries of the railway tracks
And if I peered along with them,
Would my skin become weather-worn and shadowy too?

Buildings struggle to wriggle out of their foundations
And coconut palms strain to kiss the clouds
As we pass
But not a single nod of greeting
Not a whit of acknowledgement
We’re strangers – them and me
But we see each other everyday.
We’re strangers – the world and I
Though we breathe each other everyday.

Valley. Flatten. Fools.

Pic: Ankita Shreeram
The swirling mist
Joined hands with sedate, grey clouds
To hide the valley from our eager eyes
Our thirsty eyes
Our city-weary eyes
Maybe if we’d all dived in
With our city-weakened bodies
And primitive desires
We might have made a hole
In the singing mist
And our laden souls
To allow,
A little joy inside.

Touch and go. That's all it was
But I still believe
At a meandering turn,
I might find you
Holding a smile in your hands
And an embrace in your eyes.
Time will flatten
Like a deck of cards falling
And it’ll be like
We never stopped singing together.

By the door of her stone house, she stood
Unsmiling, watching, sedate
Her sari was a dull maroon
And her children were a happy brown
Their merriness and her silence
Both blissful, yet different
So different
From the unrest in my heart.
They played with sticks and stones
And she, with paddy and hot coals
We’re fools, you and I
We play with people and thoughts instead
And we feel the needles poke in bed
Our sleep as murky as wakefulness
Guilt seeping between different levels of consciousness
Dissonance causing cracks in the armour
We so proudly wear.
I want to be naked
Because You will cloak me
The one I seek
The one I see in the dreams I don’t remember
And walk with in the walks my selves don’t return from
You will show me
That we were never meant to hide.

Alone. Thirst. Economy.

Pic: Ankita Shreeram


Can’t a word stand alone
Before a fullstop?
The way I do
Before the finality of your words.
I teeter
But pride holds me aloft
Your cowardice hems me in
Holding me in place
Unable to move
In any direction but away.


We sipped from each other’s minds
Careful not to drink too much
At a single swallow
So the pool would remain deep
What I tasted intoxicated me
And I wanted more.
I wanted
To feed my insatiable thirst.


Careful, lest you say too much
Care too much
Let your love too loose
You will disintegrate
Bit by bit
Pieces cast into
Dark, uncaring nothingness
And you will yearn
For the softest echo
For a sign
That you are being heard.