Tuesday, September 4, 2012



Sarojini Sahoo

 (The  original story is included in author’s  Odia  anthology  DUKHA APRAMIT (ISBN: 978- 81-7411-483-1) under the title ‘PRATIBIMBA’ and  is  translated  by Arita Bhowmik  and  Dinesh Kumar Mali in Bengali and Hindi  respectively  with same title and have been  included  in  author’s short story collection Dukha Aparimit (ISBN 978 984 404 243-8), published from Bangladesh by Anupam Prakashani, Dhaka and  Rape Tatha Anya Kahaniyan (ISBN: 978-81-7028-921-0) published by Rajpal & Sons, Delhi.)

Nipa was otherwise occupied when the familiar stranger appeared. In one hand, she held some toast and in the other hand, a glass of water. Whilst standing around the dining table, she gobbled down the toast and gulped down the water.
Generally, after Nipa finished her morning chores, she took her sandals from the shoe stand, strapped on her watch, told the maid a few tasks she wanted done, locked the bedroom door, and left the house. Her mind always seemed to be racing ahead of her body in these moments. When her body actually kept pace with her mind, any sort of outside disturbance like a shout or the telephone ringing would set her off. Normally, she asked the maid to answer the phone and left, but if ever she answered it herself, incongruent answers would spout out; the conversation would end; and she would leave. But this time, she saw him standing in the doorway, and she couldn’t leave.
“Namaste,” she took her bag off her shoulders and beckoned him inside.
He asked, somewhat disappointed, “Are you going to work?”
She replied respectfully, “Yes.”
“Isn’t Diwakar at home?”
“No. He left for his office about15 minutes ago,” she replied.
“I hope I’m not disturbing you. You said it’s time for you to go to work as well, right?”
“Not really,” she laughed. She wondered what her “not really” actually meant. Did it mean she hadn’t made a mistake? Or he hadn’t caused her any trouble? Or was it just politeness? He wasn’t really a relative of hers nor was he really her superior, or Diwakar’s superior for that matter. Their family didn’t even really have any sort of ties with him. But still, he would sometimes come around, talk for a bit, have a cup of tea, and then leave. This had been occurring on and off for about 15 years now.  So would today be any different?
Nipa asked him, “Would you like to have some tea?”
 “Are you going to make tea? But I thought you were leaving.”
“Yeah, it’s all right. I’ll make some,” Nipa responded.
She then went to the kitchen and boiled water for the tea. As quickly as possible, she put a heated mixture of tea leaves, milk and sugar along with a few biscuits, and placed them on the centre table. He left the tea on the table for it to cool. Nipa sat on the sofa and impatiently waited thinking of all the things she had to do and where she had to be.
“Are your kids not here?”
“They went to school. How are you today?” Just as soon as she said it, she realized she had made a mistake and shouldn’t have tried to extend the conversation. It was getting very late and she needed him to go right after he had finished his tea.
“Same old, same old. My left side has pins and needles all round.” His lips moved lazily and words couldn’t really be clearly heard or understood when he spoke. “I’ve left the town.”
“Yeah, your brother told me,” she said.
He sat up, surprised. “Really? He phoned you from our village? What did he say?”
“He said to make your kids understand.”
“Who are you to make them understand?”
“Yeah, something like that. That’s what Diwakar was saying, anyway.”
He laughed and dipped his biscuit in the tea, ate it, and then took a sip of the tea. Nipa nervously looked at the clock on the wall. After looking at it and noticing the time, she got up and thought to herself, ‘By the time, I get to the office, I’m definitely going to be late and I’m sure Mr. Swain will have a few words to say to me.  He would say, “It’s not just about asking for a promotion, Mrs. Mohanty. You need to be more punctual and on top of things.”’
He had lifted up his cup and was drinking his tea. She could see, as he was drinking his tea, his hands were shaking and as a result, the cup out of which he was drinking seemed to tremble in concert with his shaking hands.
Nipa really felt quite bad. She opened up her bag and wiped to face with her handkerchief. She retreated into the kitchen, under the pretense of some work, and then came back after a while. He had finished his tea by now; however, he still hadn’t moved.
She said, “You must be tired. Why don’t you take some rest?  I’ve got some important assignments to do at office. Some work needs to be finished and sent to the managing director today.”  She paused, then asked, “Shall I go?”
“Yeah, I’ll get up as well,” He said in response.
“Where are you going, if you don’t mind me asking?” she asked.
He laughed. “I don’t know where I have to go.”
“Then why don’t you stay? Diwakar comes home at lunchtime. You can meet him, have some food, and then go. I need to go though, okay?”
He nodded and picked up a newspaper and started glancing over it. She took out her moped and got ready to go. He still didn’t get up. Nipa felt there was something strange about the situation but there really wasn’t anything she could do at this point; she had to go.
She thought, ‘Soon the maid will finish her chores and leave. She can’t lock the house since He was at their home. All alone, in the house, what would he do by himself?’ She began imagining him sitting alone in the house.  She saw him turning the same pages of the newspaper, time and time again. He didn’t even venture out or turn on the TV. She wondered, ‘When she and Diwakar get to be His age, what would they think about? Just time; nothing but time in their hands.’ She continued wondering, ‘would they just basically start thinking about death and beyond in these times? Like a cow chewing its cud, would they basically start chewing over their experiences and incidents in their life?’ However, Diwakar will come back in the afternoon; they’ll heat the food up and they’ll eat. After they eat, they’ll probably engage themselves in conversation but Diwakar probably won’t have anything to say. He’ll just sit there and be a sympathetic listener.
To be fair, He didn’t really come around to Nipa’s house that much anymore. He would come once or twice in a year, talk about his infirmity, and then leave. She remembered though, when she was first married, he used to come at least once or twice a week. It was the same ritual every time: he’d drink a cup of tea and talk for at least one or two hours. However, his family or domestic matters were never mentioned in these talks. Politics was his favourite topic, and as such, he used to know quite a lot about famous politicians. Sometimes, Nipa would come around and listen to his and Diwakar’s conversations. And even though he had such an interest in politics, he  never stood in an election himself and never used his connections with leaders to gain anything for himself either.
On the other hand, when Nipa would visit his home, the only possessions of his she could see were a few pieces of furniture and a couple of beds with some bed sheets thrown over them. A middle-aged woman would sit like a stone in the house, her face reflecting neither happiness nor grief. She would be listless, sitting almost as if she was meditating or in a trance. She was his wife. Their three children, ranging in ages 16 to ten, would go about their tasks. One of them would always break from his tasks and serve them with two cups of tea. Nipa later found out that for the treatment of his wife’s mental condition, she had to take medicines whose after-effects seemed to leave her in this perpetually listless condition. Half the time, the children would survive on snacks such as aloo chops and boda. The situation seemed to demand such measures. They hardly saw their father; their mother rarely moved. His two oldest children had grown up, each doing some sort of job or running some sort of business. Each of them had married to partners of their own choosing from advertisements in the papers. Then there was the youngest son.
 Four or five years ago, one of the sons had demolished their ancestral property and rebuilt it a new. During that time, hehad been living in the MLA quarters in Bhubaneswar. Therefore, there hadn’t  been much opportunity for them to meet. During the times of the elections, he often came back to their neighbourhood.  In those times however, he was usually so busy that even if a chance meeting did occur on the streets, she wouldn’t usually get to say more than a few words. Almost always, he would be surrounded by people. Moreover, he was not a really a friend of Diwakar and therefore, courtesy calls seemed to be out of the question. After the representative from his party had lost his seat in the local election, however, he didn’t visit Bhubaneswar anymore but stayed within the small confines of his town.
 His youngest son had grown up and had become quite unruly and undisciplined. Midway through college, he had stopped attending lectures and could usually be found in the company of paan vendors.He had tried counseling his son and had even persuaded the principal to let his son back in to the college. However, the situation didn’t improve much. Even though his son attended school this time, he soon fell into bad company again and got addicted to alcohol and soft drugs. So whenever he would meet Diwakar on the streets, he would only talk and complain about his youngest son’s behaviour.
Diwakar used to try and console him. “All your life, you haven’t worried about your children.  Why are you getting so worried now?”
He had laughed, saying “Everyone else has matured and done something. It’s just the youngest that can’t seem to get it together. Sad, you know? What else can I do but worry?”
His youngest son had once demanded, “Give me money and I’ll go to Dubai.” He, the son, kept saying that visas and passports were not the problem; it could be arranged any how. At that point, He was fed up of succumbing to his son’s daily demands of 25-50 rupees. His son would just tarnish himself in the pursuit of drugs and alcohol. He thought to himself, ‘if this child wants to go out and do something better, let him go rather than keep him cooped up here. Anyway the guy  has to fend for himself someday.’
However, the problem was the fact he didn’t have such a large sum of money to give his youngest son. So he figured he might ask for money from his other sons and help his youngest son on his way, but it never was going to be as easy as it sounded. For instance, the two elder sons hadn’t replied to his letters, and when he called them up, their responses left him despondent. His eldest son proposed that instead of Dubai, he should ask his youngest son to set up a coffee shop on the crossroads. His second eldest son had suggested “Why does he need to go to Dubai? Just let him go and farm.”  In the end, he sold a bit of his land and gave his youngest son 50,000 rupees. Taking the money, his son disappeared for a while and reappeared after one or two months. He seemed to have fallen on hard times. His clothes were dirty; his hair was a mess; and he had lost a lot of weight -- you could see it in his cheekbones. And if he asked about his son’s time in Dubai, he got a different answer each time. If you asked about the money that had been given to him, he’d fly into a rage and instigate a quarrel.
After these incidents, misery overtook him whilst his youngest son couldn’t care less. Every day, he would threaten his father and take more money from him. If he didn’t give him any money, his youngest son would take anything -- watches, cycles, tape recorders. One of his brothers who was still living with them got so irritated that he left the house to live in rented accommodations. Now left in his house were one lifeless woman, one old man, and one unruly son. The son, would roam around during the day and then in the evening, would come home quietly and go to sleep. They never had the courage to ask about what he had eaten or taken during the day, if anything. His father would feel sorry for him and leave some food and water for him to eat in his room. Then the parents would worry about how their son would be going to sleep in such heat since he had sold the room fan long time ago. In real distress, he bought a ceiling fan for that room only to discover a few weeks later, the new ceiling fan had disappeared.
He then queried his son, “Look here son, who did you sell the fan to? How much did you get for it? I had bought the fan thinking you’d be feeling hot and that the fan might alleviate it. It didn’t even last the month.”
The son angrily replied, “You’re not giving me any money. What do you expect me to do? I need to get money somehow.”
Upon hearing his son’s answer, he became very irritated, swallowed it, and then went away. He didn’t even pay any attention to his youngest son for the next two days. But after the two days, he again started to feel restless and worried seeing his son’s way of life. This time, he placed a hand fan in his son’s room.  When he looked around, the only other thing in his son’s room was a rope bed.
One day, he saw his son with a shovel digging out the divots for the window. “Why are you digging at the window?” the father asked.
“I’m going to sell it,” the son replied.
“What? Has prosperity left you, or something? Why the hell are you selling the window? Tell me how much money you need.” But the son didn’t listen. The father, left with no option, went to the police. He thought to himself, ‘if the police were to threaten his son, he’d stop digging at the window.’ The police, after having consoled the father sent him back saying they couldn’t come. Upon returning home, Namaste discovered the window had been removed, leaving an unprotected hole in its place. He locked the room from the outside so the entire house would not become vulnerable. After this, his son would enter and exit the room through the open window.
One day, he had a huge fight with his son and fainted, falling as if dead on the floor. The son leapt out of the window, saying as he leapt, “Stop pretending.”
Their close neighbour took him to hospital. All of his sons were told that their father had fainted but none of them responded. When Namaste came home from hospital, the son who was still living in the same town as his parents, fearing for social stigma, came for a few days and looked after his father.
He had come back from death’s door, it seemed, just to face even more miserable times; fate just wasn’t with him. If he had died, it would have been a respite but alas, it was not to be. He was stuck between two states of being; he couldn’t come back but he couldn’t go all the way either -- kind of like navigating the river Styx. Now in the winter of his life, he was literally waiting for death to come and take him.
One day, he had come to Nipa’s house and was shivering. His face looked like a worn-out coin. His words were not coming out clearly as he told his woes to Diwakar. Nipa was busy in the kitchen, and she was thinking to herself, ‘Doesn’t he have anyone to talk to that he feels compelled to come all the way here to tell about his sorrows? Moreover, Diwakar has never offered any help to him, at any time. So I wonder why he comes?’
He lamented, “In this world, we’re all alone. I was planning to go live with my eldest son but he said I wouldn’t be able to live there as the way of life here is very different. I stayed for five days at my second-eldest son’s place and it was like I wasn’t even there. No one spoke to me. I felt very bad and came back. And you know what my youngest son said when I returned? He said, ‘if you die, a burden would be lifted up from us.’ And the youngest son continued, ‘if I would kill you, the police would be after me.’ He could employ a person that could crush him  under a vehicle of some sort, but sadly he’d have to pay 10,000 to 15,000 rupees to accomplish, money he didn’t have, he further told his father. Please tell me, Diwakar, have I really become a burden for the world? I want to die and death won’t come to me, and I don’t have the courage to commit suicide.”
Nipa’s heart had been thundering inside her chest when he said this. Depression overtook her. A few days after that, they had met Namaste’s second-eldest son who was doing some business in the market.
Diwakar asked him, “Why don’t you keep your father around? He’s wandering around without a place to live. Your youngest brother is misbehaving and is worthless. Where will he go if you don’t keep him in his old age?”
The son had replied, “He can’t live with me; he doesn’t appreciate my wife”
“Why?” Diwaker asked.
“He must be knowing,” the son replied.
“But surely, you’re there. How is this connected with your wife? You should bring him in and try make your wife understand.”
 The second-eldest son responded to Diwakar, “Others don’t have duties or what? My eldest brother seems to be avoiding the situation. Why can’t he keep him then? He has quarters in the town. Why can’t he keep my father? When my father went to hospital, nobody even bothered to visit him. Instead, they farcically advised how to take care of my father over the phone. He’s not just my father to me. What’s he ever given me? My childhood was spent in the care of a half-mad mother. Half of the time, I had to go to school with snacks from the shops. Once the principal had asked my father to come and see him, and my father didn’t get there for a month.”
“Forget it, why talk about it?  What difference does it make now?”
The second-eldest son continued, “Once, someone came to our house and asked my father, pointing at me, what’s is your son’s name, and right in front of that person, my father asked me, what is your name? That day, I had felt I had been slapped; he didn’t even know my name. The person who used to supply tea and paan in his office had arranged a highly favourable loan for me. That was how I started my business, my shop. With a lot of difficulty, I had to pay off my loan and try to enlarge my shop.”
 The son was saying all this in such a tone that his complaint, his hurt, and his anger all seemed to be flowing in a river filled with sorrow. Diwakar didn’t really have the courage to say anything further.
After this long time, he had now come back to their house just as it was time for Nipa to go to work. What could he do? What did he want? To recite new stories of woe? She wondered was it right to have left him alone in the drawing room? Shouldn’t he have left along with her? Then, finally she decided that he was not as busy as she was, so he shouldn’t mind waiting for Diwakar while glancing over the newspapers, or perhaps dozing off, thinking about his past. Both of them could have lunch together and talk over things. And perhaps on his way back to the office, Diwakar could see him off.
It was pretty late by the time Nipa reached the office. Shiva, the messenger boy, met her on the way and told her Mr. Pani was waiting for her in his office.
“All right,” she said, almost resigned to the fate which awaited her.  What did Mr. Pani want this time?  Once she reached his office, Mr. Pani rose, greeted her, and got right to the point. He greeted her with humility and smiled as if seeing her was the crowing glory of his day. He then extended his hand towards her, gesturing her to take the envelope that he held in his hand.
“Madam, will you please take back your money because I’ll spend it if I keep it with me,” Mr. Pani stated.
“What money?” she responded in surprise.
“Have you forgotten?”
“Look, I don’t have much time. What money?” Nipa asked impatiently.
“Don’t you remember? In October, you had given me a loan.”
“I had forgotten” Nipa replied, a bit embarrassed.
“Well, don’t worry, Madam. You may have forgotten the loan since you have so much money anyway, but us poor people never forget loans.”
“Look here, Mr. Pani, you know from before, I don’t deal with these kinds of things. So please take the envelope and give it in the right place.” After this, Nipa went to her work area and opened up her computer to start the day’s work.
Mr. Pani came to her work area a short time later. “Here, I entrust it to you.” After saying these words, Mr. Pani left the envelope on her desk and left. “Have a good day,” he said just as he was leaving the immediate area.
After Mr. Pani left, Nipa opened a file and got lost in her work. Junior associates had been watching from the other side of the room as the drama had unfolded. As they watched, she called her messenger boy and shouted at him. She then walked quietly to the Mr. Swain’s office.
At the meeting, she got burdened even further with additional problems and responsibilities. She then guessed that her wish to take leave in the coming week was not possible any more. At this, she got distraught, and thus the entire lunch hour got spent in shouting at her computer, cursing her destiny, and wondering what kind of job she was in.
The onlookers in her office had returned to their respective places. Absentmindedly, she put her hand into her bag, started looking for something, and was soon greeted by the fact that she hadn’t brought her tiffin box today. She called the messenger boy and asked him get her lunch from a local fast food joint with which he returned shortly thereafter. Whilst she was eating lunch, she got interrupted twice by Mr. Swain’s office. He wanted her to go on an official tour. When Nipa heard of this, she immediately tried to decline, her housekeeping duties at the forefront of her mind. Mr. Swain, of course, knew about these difficulties and for the very same reason, would always try and make her go on tour. He used to make such a big deal of her capabilities that she would have no choice but to go. As she returned from Mr. Swain’s office, she was alternating between rage and misery.
As soon as Nipa re-entered her work area, Nandita came over and questioned her.  Nandita was the office snoop and queen of gossip and...Nipa’s supervisor. Nipa was sure Nandita had found out something about the meeting and would smirk at her situation.
“What? Have you not brought your lunch today? Did you order this from the outside? Why didn’t you come over at the lunch hour? Was there an argument or something?” The questions seemed endless. “When I saw how angrily you walked out of Mr. Swain’s office, I thought to myself, ‘let me go and see, what kind of stuff Mr. Swain must have said to you to make you so angry.’”
In such a short time, Nandita had, in that small speech, been able to capture Nipa’s life. Nipa thought, ‘Why can’t I be as smart as her?’ She then crunched up the ‘chow’ packet and threw it in the bin, and said, “I really was in a hurry today and forgot to pack my food.”
“Did you throw it away because I came?” Nandita queried. “Was it egg or chicken?” she continued, twirling a paperweight which had been on Nipa’s desk. “He’s not a good person, Mr. Swain. He shows off a lot. He really likes inflicting pain on others and then laughing about it afterwards. There are these kinds of people who once they’ve got hold of someone, don’t let them go.” Nipa didn’t respond, suspecting that Nandita was trying to trap her into saying something which could be used against her in the future. Nandita, not finding anything else to say, offered, “You know, in front of the office, there’s an exhibition going on with all sorts of electronics goods and more. Want to go there today with me after work?”
 “Yeah, I had look in there earlier but didn’t go inside. If it’s convenient, we’ll go,” Nipa replied, still not really focused on the conversation. Nandrita then left and Nipa returned to her work: preparing an estimate for the branch office. She got engrossed in her work and lost track of time.
Later on, Nandita returned to Nipa’s work area. “How much more work will you do? It’s already three-thirty. I’m telling you, everyone’s going to start leaving now.”
“So sorry.  I lost track of time. I’ve got fifteen minutes more work to do,” Nipa replied.
“All right, after finishing your work, come to my work area, and then we’ll go, okay?”
Nandita had gone away and Nipa again immersed herself in her work. She knew because she was doing her work well, that Mr. Swain still thought well of her. Otherwise, he would have gotten rid of her to some remote place within the interiors. It had taken about 20 minutes for Nipa’s work to be completed and Nandita had been waiting for her. Nipa picked up the envelope Mr. Pani had given her earlier and put it in her bag. They took care of any formalities and then left the office. Nipa looked at her watch and marked it was ten of four when they left the office and came out.
For some reason, Nipa was not feeling very well and felt like going straight home but she went with Nandita to the exhibition all the same. Among the many different things she saw at the exhibition, she was attracted to a certain electronic wristwatch. She examined its many features and then played with it for a while.  You could tell she was particularly fond of it. Nandita then said, “Why don’t you buy it? It looks very nice.”
Realizing she didn’t have much cash with her, Nipa responded, “Maybe another time.” Then she remembered she had the money Mr. Pani had given to her, She could have bought the watch but then decided not to. She figured the money could be better spent buying a scientific calculator for her son. She remembered her son had been wishing for a scientific calculator for quite some time now. She knew he would be really happy if she purchased the calculator for him. After all, she could manage with her old watch; what would she do with a new watch? Making her decision, Nipa then put the watch down, and bought the calculator from another counter. For her daughter, she bought a battery-operated dancing doll. Suddenly, there were many possibilities.
After coming out of the exhibition, Nipa and Nandita both walked with their mopeds together for a while but soon reached a crossroads where they both mounted their mopeds and parted ways. When Nipa arrived home, she was surprised to see Namaste still there in the drawing room.
“Oh, you haven’t gone yet?” she questioned, a bit surprised. He looked uncomfortable when he heard Nipa’s words, and then he stood up straight. Had she said something wrong?
He responded, “The house was open. I couldn’t leave it without locking it. I could have locked the house and gone but I didn’t know where to leave the key.”
“What do you mean? Didn’t you meet Diwakar?” Nipa responded.
“No, he hasn’t come home yet,” the old man replied.
“Oh God! So you mean to say...sorry, extremely sorry. It must have been really hard for you staying here by yourself. You must have been really bored.”
Nipa’s guest sighed, “My lifestyle is like this,  you know.”
“Why don’t you sit down and eat something? I’ll make you some snacks and you can eat them and go,” Nipa offered.
“No, don’t worry. I’ll leave”
“I’m sure you must be hungry. You haven’t eaten anything since morning?”
“Nowadays, I don’t really feel that hungry”
“Diwakar must have gotten lost in his work or gone somewhere because of his work, because usually he comes home at lunchtime. Did he call?” Nipa asked, a little worried.
“Not really. I’ll leave now,” He insisted, then got up and made his way out of the home where he had taken refuge for that day. He closed the gate and departed. And Nipa really couldn’t stop him. She felt guilty and didn’t know what to do, never having been in this situation before. She sat down with a sense of guilt flowing through her. The children then came home and changed out of their school clothes, but Nipa still sat there.
Her daughter asked, “Mama, won’t you give us food today?”
A bit lost in thought, she said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Go sit down. I’ll be with you in a minute.”
Then she remembered the things she had purchased for her children at the exhibition. Before showing them to her children, she asked them to close their eyes and said they she bought one gift for each of them. “Let’s see, let’s see,” they clamored, gathering around her in anticipation. Nipa gave her daughter her present first, and before her son could grab the doll out of his sister’s hands, she gave him the scientific calculator. They seemed to forget all about being hungry and were playing with their presents.
Nipa took out the food and served it to the children. “All right, that’s enough now. Come sit down and eat.” Nipa then went upstairs and changed her clothes.  When she came back down after changing, the children were still busy with their presents. After she called them five more times, they finally came to the table.
As soon as everyone sat down, her son got up from the table and announced, “The same food again? I don’t think I can eat this stuff again.  I’m sick of it.” Then her daughter got up from the table following her brother with much the same commentary.
Nipa had called them, tried to bribe them, shouted at them, and then said at the end, “What did you want me to do? What things should I have given you to eat then?”
Her daughter said, “I haven’t eaten my tiffin mama.”
“Why not?” Nipa questioned.
Her daughter responded, “Every day, I can’t eat the same tiffin, the same biscuits, and the same mixture. Why can’t you ever give me something different? My friends get new snacks every day. They always get something different like  idli, paratha and upma  from their house.”
“When do I have the time? Don’t you guys know that I’m working?” Nipa responded, a little hurt.
“Whose telling you to work?” her daughter questioned in response.
Nipa had gone quiet. She was used to hearing these kinds of remarks from her children and sometimes, if she was in the right mood, she could make them understand that if she worked, more money would come through, and then they’d live better. But today, Nipa was tired and a bit cranky. It had been a frustrating day.  Then she became lost in thought...
Even though she thought she had done a lot for her children, sometimes her lack of attention and care to them was very obvious. In their rough notes and their twisted letters, this lack of attention seemed to scream from the pages. And just like this, age will take over.  Her children will grow up; her hair will whiten; and she’ll become old and incapable. What will become of her? What will become of Diwakar? Maybe her children would grow up to be something great, but still her children will remember those rough notes and twisted letters, and same boring food. Maybe they’ll say, “What have you ever done for us, mama? We don’t know the warmth of our mother’s lap in winters. During our holidays, we have to have locked doors to protect ourselves from thieves and dacoits as well as from snakes and scorpions. But still, what about ghosts? They could pass through the walls and come through, na? How we must have spent those moments, those moments where we felt like we were about to suffocate in these quiet locked quarters. Those were some hard times, you know. Most of the days used to be spent in waiting. When will you come? When will you reach here? What if you have an accident on the road, what would we do? Who would we run to? Who will we phone? Was it right on your part to leave hours and hours outside, leaving us alone to suffocate in those childhood days?” Then the image of that old fellow, the guest in the morning,  blazed into view, abandoned and on his way to nowhere.
‘When will Diwakar arrive home?’ she wondered.

(Translated by Gaurav Nayak
Edited by Paul McKenna)