When she becomes an inadvertent witness to violence against her students, Swara wants to just up and leave.. will she be able to?
By Bhumika R
The weather had been beautiful. In fact, Swara had breathed in the fragrance of quiet, thick rain, sipping her pre-breakfast tea. The quiet, thick monsoon rain of Kolkata continued its work of instilling a sharp stillness in the air while the magur fish cooked in an amalgamation of spices that belonged nowhere expect in Swara’s head. She seemed to think that such random infusion of spices pushed the dull monotone of a colourless routine. And so, a location less dish which tried to confuse the senses which tried categorising or tracing its belonging, cooked unhurriedly in a large wok.
Swara sipped the last few dregs of tea from a floral patterned ceramic mug and gazed at the stubbornly pouring, silent rain from her kitchen window.
An hour later, Sudipto would be joining her for lunch.
Sudipto was a quiet man who only broke his quietness with precise and carefully crafted thoughts. She had fallen in love with his quietness almost a decade ago. His thoughts infused a sharp quietness within her. A quietness which resembled the rain that had been soaking the earth since the previous night.
‘I am thinking of quitting my teaching job’, she had told Sudipto one random afternoon as he sat on a low stool in their small balcony, basking in the sun. She was not sure if he had heard or if his mind was on a journey somewhere. She knew that he travelled a lot like that, in his mind.
‘I almost expected you to say this, Swaru.’ ‘I can see you are not too happy these days. But I know you love to teach. May be you can take a break and we can travel somewhere nearby. Apply for a week’s leave and we can go on our long pending holiday now.’
‘Sudipto’, she said in a quiet tone that resembled him, ‘I feel something has broken inside me and I can’t quite place it. It is like a taut rubber band that has snapped and struck my thumb while playing with it.’
‘I feel guilty and horrible, each time I think of Javed, Vihaan and Jaspreet. How could anyone just let them get thrashed for merely dining with Javed and sharing bits of ‘home’ which their mothers had packed, reminding their children of the familiar flavours which brought in memories of a warm place? They had only just stepped into a hostel and were now bullied and threatened over food and ‘rules’ of sharing and dining by a group of senior students.’
Swara did not tell him how a week ago, the three students had murmured incoherently while sipping tasteless cups of canteen coffee which slowly turned cold as a layer of thick coffee coloured cream formed on it, ‘No one cared, ma’am. Everyone just ate and laughed….’. They had also mumbled something else which their coffee drenched throats had hurriedly swallowed. She had not asked any of them to repeat what they had said and their mumbled words never reached her ear.
‘Have you seen the eyes of those three students? There is an indecipherable sadness that seems trapped in their eyes. I don’t think I have the courage to look at their faces. Their eyes seem to say something I can’t translate into words and each time I drink coffee, their incoherent murmurs seem to echo within me. May be I could have done something? Something to remove that indecipherable sadness that I saw in their eyes on that day.’
She did not tell Sudipto that something undefinable ate her, slowly gnawed within her. She felt nauseous at that geometrical sign called the hashtag. It stirred something still raw within her. ‘Can we do anything more than that geometrical symbol and letters dancing between those symbols?’, she thought aloud in her kitchen.
The other day, she had almost asked her colleague about it while stirring sugar into her after the class coffee. But she didn’t. It seemed as if words were stuck inside her throat, coated with that nauseously sweet coffee.
Today, she wanted to tell Sudipto about it. But those words had already dissolved within her and so she just let it be.
‘Something has snapped within me’, was all she could hear herself telling Sudipto.
‘Can you get me a few empty carton boxes from the grocery store in the lane behind ours?’, she asked him. May be I’ll just pack some of those books and a few other things and bring them home. She wanted to say that most of the other things could anyway never be packed in any carton box. She didn’t and it slowly crawled inside her head.
Sudipto had left saying he had to meet a friend over coffee. ‘She felt guilty. She should have taught just some grammar and soft skills like her colleague had asked her to do. Javed, Jaspreet and Vihaan had requested for a Saturday book reading club. They were just three students and she seemed happy discussing stories and everything under the sun with those three spirited young minds.’
Now she had gone unscathed, leaving behind a thick coating of guilt on her heart.
Sudipto had said he would bring some carton boxes while returning and had asked the size and measurement of boxes. He was very precise and accurate that way. She had smiled saying in her contrastingly vague manner that just some medium or even bigger sized cartons would do. She was vague and Sudipto smiled as he calculated the approximate size that Swara would require in packing some of her books and other trinkets from her office.
‘How would she tell him that she had already packed things which she would never be able to unpack ever perhaps? It had dissolved and wrapped itself within her. How would she tell him that they would simply remain there. A constant.’
Also read: Daughters Of The Valley
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A Ph.D from JNU, New Delhi, Bhumika P. taught English in Surana College, Bangalore and IIT Jammu. She has also contributed articles to Cafe DissensusEveryday, The Hindu and Deccan Herald. She loves to write poetry and short fiction in English and some of her poems have been published in the Visual Verse, platocavesonline; her short story ‘Nameless’ has been published in the borderlessjournal. Bhumika is currently an assistant professor in the school of humanities at Shiv Nadar University, Bangalore.