“Is she still crying?” I asked Deepa.
Deepa’s mother-in-law was back in Delhi from a sojourn to her village in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Her family had about a year ago moved to the railway slums, this shanty part of the city, where lived my nation, abandoned by the nation. Her family consisted of her husband suffering from tuberculosis, who worked at a construction site at the railway station road and her mother-in-law, who like Deepa worked as a house-help in the nearby Railway Colony.
The year had been tough for the family. After Deepa’s miscarriage three months ago, the sudden disappearance of her husband had devastated her mother-in-law, who had not stopped crying since her return.
She did not reply to my question. Sensing an abrupt malaise in her eyes, I tried changing the subject.
“Pass me the lighter,” I said.
The attempt went in vain. Her trance continued! I waited for the evening train to pass by, to break the fretful silence impregnating the space. On hearing the sound of the coming train, she sprung out of the bed, and rushed towards the window pane.
“Careful! You might step over it,” I warned.
She paid no heed to the warning and stepped over it. It is hard to say whether it was her intention or negligence that made her act like that. Moving towards the window pane, it was the same naiveté flashing in her eyes, which flashed the first time I saw her.
It was about a year ago, few days after her family moved in the neighborhood. Sundown I saw her, standing, facing the passing train, and removing her tresses that had swept over her face with her emaciated hands. Her romance with moving trains comes from her fascination for ‘movement’. The movement, for which she had waited her entire life.The life which has been stalled since her birth.
“Pass me the bundle,” she said.
She peeked out of the window pane with her bare bosom eating the dust off the wall. She lighted a beedi, inhaling and releasing the fumes in the cold evening breeze.
“Are you done reading that book? I think I could use it. Since he is no more around, I have a lot of time for myself. What was its name again?” she asked, tossing the half smoked beedi out of the window.
“Nirmala it is,” I replied.
I liked where she was heading with this, towards a real conversation, a rarity in the last two days.
“But the book has many words of Urdu too. Do you think you can handle that?” I asked.
“I handled him for a year. Few Urdu verses, I think I can handle that,” she replied.
“It’s pretty late. Your mother in law must be getting suspicious of your absence, wouldn’t she?” I asked and my words were followed with a familiar silence, accompanied by that same unfathomable malaise in her eyes.
“Do you want me to go?”She asked while the evening train went past, signaling the folding of the day.
“I don’t know,” I replied, and the night fell.
Silence, lying thick, in the air.
“I still hear the cries when I am alone,” I said.
She walked towards me, stepping over it again! It was intentional, this time I had no doubts.
“Whose cries, mine or his?”She asked placing her cheeks over my bare chest.
Deepa’s husband Vinod,till this very day, I try hard to link the name with a face,a voice or any mark of existence. I fail all the time.The only evidence that can prove that he ever existed are the marks on Deepa’s body; the body where he is, and will remain, absent yet omnipresent. The body has its own memory, which tells its story, and tells it so well that it is hard to miss it if you ever meet Deepa.
Every scar on her body is testimony to my evening struggles—to avoid a confrontation with her convulsive, captivating sobbing.
I don’t know whose. They are just cries,” I replied. “…I think we should put it somewhere good or it will start decaying,” I said, trying to change the conversation.
“He’s already decayed inside. The external degradation is my gift to him. Don’t worry. We’ll put it on the tracks after the passing of the midnight train. I have it all planned… Anyway, could you give me one of your shirts? It’s getting cold in here. I could use a layer…”She said,crossing her arms and covering her bare chest.
“Please. No more layers. You already have enough…” I said.
Story by Abhishek Kumar, a BA student at CFFS .
Illustrations by Aditi.
Categories: Arts and culture