Before the light


On the 14th day, when Anju appeared on News Live to talk about her mother's death, she wore a white salwar and covered her head with a dupatta. Maa, Pulakesh mama, and Poornima baido sat so close to the TV – weeping silently and wiping one another's tears – that Baba had to scold them for behaving like lunatics. They held one another's hands as if in preparation for an apocalypse, while Anju stared blankly into the camera and said in a voice, completely unlike her own, that before her father could run to the bedroom to get the blankets, Moromi Khanikar, her mother, after throwing herself onto the burning stove, glowed wildly like an insect held over a candle flame and collapsed on the floor. The whole house had already started smelling of burnt flesh and Boroplus – an ointment her mother liked applying to her cracked soles before going to bed. And now, since Anju had already lost her mother, she could not afford to lose her father. If need be she'd appear in court to say the same and testify against the empty threats from her mother's family. News Live reported it as one of the most tragic suicides of the year: the death of the wife of the much-loved Dr Pritam Khanikar – a powerful candidate from the Hajo constituency for the 2010 state elections.

A month ago, that year, I had just returned home having spent some time at Dr Deepen Kalita's psychiatric rehab in Sonapur and had still not resumed classes at the hospital. I had suddenly developed a pathological aversion to hospitals and couldn't continue going to classes. I had flunked my seventh semester examinations and was almost certain I'd eventually give up medicine. My days were spent sleeping on the cold marble floor of the attic to beat the unbearable summer, completely indifferent to my mother's pleas to resume college. By six in the evening, I'd wake up and sit down to write my unfinished experimental novel – a series of love letters to a future lover in Auvergne. And almost all of them would begin with the same pent up desperation:

Dear X, I'm writing this to you with the sad knowledge that you will never reply back. But then I guess there is, after all, no comfort in the world of knowledge. Also, no eagerness in the event of a reciprocation. Of all shapes, both can coexist, only in the linearity of the line. Where things just leave you. It only follows itself. And never comes back.

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Himal Southasian