The Darkness

The flower vase was shattered. Water ran down the Persian rug and there were feathers everywhere in the flat. The source of the feathers remains a mystery till this date. Now reader, this story happened about a few decades ago but as a biased writer, I still feel it has relevance.

Imagine the setting to be a dark winter evening. Just the right amount of sunlight streaming into the room and the dust particles glittering in the light. The dead objects in that house were silently moving like the water from the broken vase.

A letter stood proudly on the wooden desk. You could see the pressure marks from where the hands had held too tight.

“Roses are red, violets are blue, your life is mine and I’m watching you.”

The above mentioned line was inked on the parchment. It smelled old and comforting like it had come from a rundown library in kajakistan.   

The letter had come in via the morning post. She had known something was wrong when the delivery guy had not waited for her to sign on the register. He smelled of tobacco and vodka at 9 am in the morning. There was another smell she couldn’t quite place. A whiff of lavender and ethanol.

He looked haggard; a man tired of breathing. He never once looked at her. Just placed the envelope in her hand all the while looking at the floor and left before she could say any more.

(tring tring, tring tring)


“El, what is it? You know I’ve been busy. What is it with 10 missed calls?”

“I need you. It’s happening again. It’s back.”

“Who do you mean?”

“April 25, 1884.”

“Oh God! Not again. Snap out of it El. I know you can. Don’t let it affect you. The darkness is in your head.”

“But it already has. I shall see you in the after. Bye.”

The line disconnected and she stepped out of her window; out in the open; out in the light.



The END.    


Black beauty

Coffee was not always my beau. My relationship with the beverage started out as a disastrous one. I was eleven and it was a Sunday morning. As in most Bengali households, the morning ritual consisted of reading the Telegraph or Statesman and simultaneously sipping on coffee.

My father, a man loyal to his habits, was doing just that. I had woken up and like any eleven year old charged with adrenaline, wanted to engage him in one of my games. I pestered him for a good ten minutes and finally, when he couldn’t stand my goat like voice calling ‘baba, babaaaaa’, he admonished me and asked me to leave the room. In my anger, I flung the coffee mug on the floor and as the glass shattered and the black stained the floor, I fled the scene of crime.

My father is an angry man, by nature. He doesn’t forgive easily and has a memory of an elephant. No, he is not quick to forgive and forget. As a result of this feature, he refused to talk to me for the next few days. “Boro der shathe ayerom byabohar…it’s unheard of,” (such kind of behavior with elders…it’s unheard of) he would remark whenever he saw me. Those times, I would cower like a puppy with my tail between my legs.

As days went by, he forgave me and resumed his normal interactions with me. But that black liquid continued to repel me and reminded me of that incident. My father had placed his morning coffee higher than his elder daughter on the priority list.

His habit didn’t change and the ever present cup with the bitter smelling liquid resembling tar continued to be his faithful companion every morning.

As my limbs grew in length, I was made to shift to a hostel in college. The only thing in their kitchen that could be consumed without giving you a bad stomach was coffee. ‘Coffee kills hunger…try drinking it in the morning,” my friend had said to me.

The first time I had a sip, I almost threw up. It made my body warm and I had to take off my layers one by one. “It is an acquired taste…give it time to work its magic on you,” baba told me over the phone when I asked him how he drank it.

Initially, I had to plug my nose and gulp it down without breathing as if taking a bad medicine. But as days went be, I caught myself relishing the bitter and sweet after taste of it. The smell didn’t repel me anymore and the light brown froth pleased the eyes.

I drank coffee wherever I went- the bookshop down in Park Street where my love affair with Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca began; at night when I had to stay up to mug up pages and pages of text; and at 2 am when I had to write. It became a constant companion which accompanied me to the interiors of my mind palace and helped me make sense of my tangled emotions.

When I went home after my first year, I had my first cup of coffee with my father at 1 am. We were watching the papal elections live and it was freezing cold. We both took our coffee black and unsweetened. The discussion that followed made me feel like my father had finally started taking me seriously.

“You have grown up. I am glad,” baba told me before going to his room with his friend in his hand.

Abosheshey, a film review

Kolkata shudhu shohor noye. Kolkata holo jibon bodh. (Kolkata is not just a city. It is a lifestyle.) It grows on you like a being.”

This is the dialogue by Suchishmita Roy, played by Roopa Ganguly that summarizes Aditi Roy’s directorial debut Abosheshey. The Bengali word Abosheshey literally translates to ‘finally’ in English. This film explores a mother’s wait for her child, the eternal bond between the life giver and the progeny, the matir-taan (the pull of one’s roots) and Kolkata as a city with its own heartbeat.

Partha and Suchishmita both have the same surname- Roy and share a child- Shomya. But their thought processes are vastly different. Partha, who exists only as a ghost figure never to be seen by the audience, is ready to leave his father and his city to earn riches in the States. Suchishmita, on the other hand, refuses to uproot herself from her city, friends and family to settle in a foreign land. As a result, Shomya grows up in the company of his father and step-mother never to know his mother. For him, San Francisco is home and Kolkata, only a name on his passport. After Suchishmita’s death, Shomya is forced to come to Kolkata to settle his birth mother’s affairs and finds himself in a city familiarly foreign to him.

This is the story of a son’s quest to know his mother and his city. Shomya discovers his mother from her letter to him, from the testimony of her neighbor and all those people who were dear to her. Suchishmita is the personification of Kolkata.

She is the quintessential mother figure who gives life and holds on to the memory of her boy for twenty years despite not having heard from him. She believes in the nabhir-taan (pull of the womb) and knows for a fact that her son will be back some day. Abosheshey (finally) he comes home only to discover his mother through other people.

Kolkata is an ailing city. It is often called the city of old people; a place where people come to retire. Roy has managed to make this sentiment of Bengalis towards Kolkata clear through the testimony of a random guy in the bar where Shomya drinks. This nameless character is a frustrated Bengali who knows that the city and the race have gone to the dogs. This man, a Bengali himself, claims to be from Bombay and condemns the Bengali race as a lazy group of people who only talk big and do nothing.

Suchishmita, much like Kolkata, survives on memory alone and a hope that her child will come back to her someday. She is a woman who is adept in the arts- she paints and sings Rabindra sangeet- and is stubborn to the point of insolence. In all her splendor, she is free thinking and a peculiar kind of modern. She embraces modernity at a surface level but remains traditional in her thought process.

Such is Kolkata. Any Bengali who sees this film will relate to it. When I finished watching it, I was left with a taste of nostalgia on my tongue. The familiar sight of Howrah Bridge, Princep Ghat, College Street and Gariahat filled me with longing. In the same breath, I felt suffocated. I knew I would never go back. I would only love my city from a distance.

The film is extremely slow. There were places I found myself yawning and wondering why the narrative was so lazy and haphazard. The answer is probably in understanding the essence of the movie. It talks about a city where everything is so slow and confused that even the rooster takes an afternoon nap. What better way to put that point across but to slow down the pace of the film.

There are some places in the film which are surreal in nature. The film reminded me of the work of Paulo Coelho called The Witch of Portobello. This has the same structure. Suchishmita is seen from the eyes of different characters. She is never given a chance to tell her own story. Such a narrative can be confusing for someone who is trying to make sense of her. But maybe that is the point of the story.

We never try to know people beyond the relationship they share with us. This story challenges that. After all, what can be more intriguing than a son getting to know his mother through the eyes of her cook?


Train of life

Death. The final destination. Baba had once told me that we are on a train. This train has a start and a stop. At the start is a lot of pain, a lot of blood and a scream. We begin with denial. The screaming infant wants to go back where it came from. It doesn’t want to be born.

As we get used to the train’s motion, the tire jerks on a stone and for a moment our world goes upside down and then it’s back to normal again. When we start to enjoy the journey and get used to the sounds and smells in the train, we are thrust out into a platform we had no idea existed.

We are in denial at the end of the track too. We are dead. We don’t want to go where we are taken. We like the train now. But no one listens. We extend a hand seeking help, run towards the moving train, scream for it to stop, but all of that is in our minds. No one can hear us. We are dead.

Death. The final station.

In between the start and the stop comes unexpected halts where other people, whom we have grown quite fond of, deboard. That is when we see death consciously for the first time. The cold hard rubber like skin and the smell of rotting flesh subjected to the mighty fire that rises high into the sky comes first. Follows it is its old friend disgust.

When I saw the lifeless body of my father, I couldn’t recognise him. The mount of flesh that lay on the slab was not him. It didn’t even look like him. It was without essence, without his poise and without character. It was dead. It wasn’t him.

He disembarked and I kept going. After touching death and setting it on fire, I know where I am headed. All I wonder now is when?

My Father

My father is a man of few words. Words matter to him and he uses them wisely. For the last three months, he has not uttered or typed a single one. I don’t think he will do so for a while atleast.

My father has a round face. If I stand beside him and remove the top half of my hair and cut the bottom half extremely short, you will probably not be able to differentiate me from him. I hope the next time I see him, he has hair on his head like he does in the black and white photo in front of me.

My father tells me that he sees himself in me. He will succeed when I do and he would finally have lived a full life. I have 7000 bucks in my bank account as off today. It would suffice to say that he has a lot more to wait for.

My father hugs me tight whenever i get angry. He repeats ‘all iz well’ in my ears till I calm down. He hasn’t done that in a while. But I have a feeling he will need to do that soon.

My father likes history. He tells me of Genghis Khan and Alexander; of Gandhi and of Mandela; of Nizams and of their servants. He has become a bit slow off late but soon all he will do is tell me stories.

My father writes e-mails to me. He writes better than he speaks. He claims to have a monotonous and off putting voice. So he avoids the telephone and sticks to the written word. He hasn’t e-mailed me in a while. But soon he will.

My father is a favourite among his students. He is a hard task master for me though. He never ceases to  point out that unnecessary adjective that I use against my noun. Off late he has been correcting me telepathically.

My father is dead for the world. But isn’t it a happy fact that I don’t fall into that group?

The clock and the black hole

I have a black hole and its name is X!


The night of 28 April, 2017 was spent walking from the living room where the body lay to the master bedroom where I was asked to get some rest. Much like today, every time I saw the watch the hands seemed to be getting slower and more sluggish with each passing moment. Time had become lazy.

Tick tock, tiicckk toocckk, ttiiiccckkk ttoooccckkk,….

It went on and on. The sun seemed to be taking an extended lunch break and the moon seemed quite happy and reluctant to move from where it was.

Sometimes I wonder what I thought then, at that very slowly passing moment. But all I remember is the clock and it’s hand. The rest is blank.

It is 1:40 am, 17 June, 2017. The clock has stopped. I wonder what it could be that made it stop. The battery? The temperature, global warming, apocalypse or just grief?

Maybe not grief. Maybe just a big slice of blank, emotionless space that has dominated my mind off late. Maybe it is the black hole. Maybe it is post traumatic stress. Maybe shock, maybe denial, or maybe nothing.

I asked the ether a question today, a quite serious one and quite seriously too,- what does death mean to the person who hasn’t died?

The ether remained silent. I asked again, and again, and again till my ears became deaf with the silence.

Then I had a sip of my whisky and I turned within and I questioned. The black hole told me- go to sleep, you don’t want to know.

I took another sip and I asked again. This time the answer came louder- Go sleep you moron. You do NOT want to know.

A third sip and the same question lead to a louder, much filthy version of the same answer.

Many sips and same questions later the answer was weaker, quieter- it means grief.

What does that mean?- I asked again.

Look in the mirror. What do you see?- the answer challenged.

I did as I was asked. I saw nothing. There was emptiness where I should have been.

I still don’t get it and I hope at least a minute has passed since!

The clock is still stuck at 1:40 am. I am not too sure of the date and day. All I know is- I need another glass and then hopefully I can sleep!

Just another incomplete story!

Today I woke up early. I felt the numbness suppress the morning trying to ring in my ear. My brain told me that it was just another day- another day of pretension and yet another day of sadism.

I looked in the mirror and saw a face yearning to wake up and a smile that seemed forced. The toothpaste was almost over and the bristles on the brush were pitiable. They were tired too. The watch ticked away as if enjoying the misery it caused to the still groggy soul.

Fragments of last night came back in bits and pieces- the fallen confetti and the half eaten cake. Another year gone by; another champagne bottle opened and another cake cut.

‘What do you want for your birthday?’

A question everybody asked. If only I could have what I wanted!

How did ‘my life back’ sound to them, I wondered.

Could a person be alive on memories alone and not want more?

Well I was late for class and thinking, in my opinion, just led to disaster.

Mrs. Ahluwalia was out and about as usual with her dog Goudi. She looked the same everyday: pink tracks, a white tee shirt that clung to her 50 something sagging body and a smile plastered to her wrinkled face.

“How was last night?” she asked like a good neighbour.

I would generally have engaged in civil conversation, but not today. I felt like shutting her out and moving forward. She didn’t seem to mind. It was just another part of her everyday routine.

The bus was stuck in traffic as usual, moving at snail’s pace and breaking like staccato. Everything was as it should have been. Just with a new number on the calendar.

But I had to see something different, do something out of the mundane. This was not how i planned it to be.

I got off the bus and started to walk- trot actually.



(…to be continued)