I lay on a cot by the side of a window.
Months ago, I crawled into it one evening and hadn’t got out of it since. I never imagined I would turn into a part and parcel for the cot for this long. Five months? Six ? Maybe even more. Lost count of the month. The date. Also the day of the week.
I have been lying on the cot by the side of the window for a long time.
My limbs had thinned away and they looked like twigs. My body had become badly emaciated. Once my younger sister stood staring at me for a long time. I don”t know what prompted her but she said, “ You look like a gecko lizard, brother,” and ran away. I felt as though pulled up from the cot to a great height and then dropped suddenly.
For a long time I hadn’t looked into a mirror. No one brought one to me. I did want to take a look. My mind was a maze and what I said no one could hear. They probably thought I would be upset, if I saw myself in a mirror. But I did want to see my face.
My sides with the protruding ribs began to resemble a woven basket and even the mattress I lay on became uncomfortable. My collar bones jutted out of my shoulders and there was now an uply pit underneath my neck. The pit would easily hold a small glass of water.
I couldn’t fold my legs. I couldn’t move them either. There was pain at every joint. So, I was in bed, always.
Sometimes my stomach would roll in pain. My entire body would burn, as though in contact with a burning torch.
My eyes became the source of torrents for tears. But I never made a sound. I had long got used to swallow pain in silence.
This is what happened one day.
A wasp dropped on my chest from the ceiling. Some one would always be my side – my sisters or my father or mother. But fatefully, none was around when the wasp fell. I didn’t know what to do. It had fallen right in the middle of the chest. For a while it circled round a point. Then it began moving over to my neck. I tried to catch a glimpse of it but I couldn’t. The wasp was getting ready to sting, I thought.
There was not a soul in the room.
I might scream but who would be able to hear it? An inflammation had choked my throat and prevented any sound emanating from my mouth. The effort would only result in an excruciating pain.
Now the wasp was up at my ear. Would it get into it?
Tears flooded down my face and soaked the pillow. I had shed quantities for tears in the brief years of my life – I had grown on my tears.
Something uncanny happened; who told my mother? She came running. She ran as thought the place was on fire. As though someone was violently dragging her to me.
The wasp had climbed up my nose and was now advancing towards the temple.
The call resounded only within my head.
My mother stood at the doorstep. “My boy!”, she screamed and came rushing to me.
She fanned my face with the flowing end of her saree. She wiped my face.
What she shed that day, were tears of blood.
My eyes had got sick of the room. How long to be gazing at the yellow walls? I could notice four dark spots on the wall clearly. The plastering had cracked and swollen up at two places and was on the verge of dropping off. And a month or two later it did drop off. That would happen to the other two spots too. Then there was a stain on the wall about the height of my cot. Someone had blown his nose and smeared the thing on the wall. It looked obscene and I resolved never to look at it, but there wasn’t a day I failed to do so.
There was a three-legged stool by my cot. I could reach it if I could stretch my hand. On it, were the exclusive belongings of a patient. The surface of the stool was marked by several rings caused by wet containers. At least two rings were beginning to disappear.
Above me were sixteen rafters supporting the roof. The rafters – oh, enough of it. The same room, the same things, all in the same manner, same every day – I was sick of it all.
The window by my cot.
It was not a particularly big one, but looked large to me. Almost immeasurable. It had four bars. On the outside, it was protected by a thatch shed to ward off heat. Slanting bamboo poles supported the shed and I noticed holes in those poles. Who bore those holes? I counted them. Seven. Some ten days later, I counted again. Now it was ten. What magic was it? I watched even more alertly. At last, one afternoon the culprit appeared. A beetle. Black as night..You do it, eh! Marvellous, I say. So you chaps buzz around spots but actually bore holes, eh! Bravo!
The compound wall of the house ran along the shed. There were two rose plants near the wall. The Mother Rose and the Daughter Rose. Each morning I would count the rosebuds on waking up. They would blossom into flowers the next day and swing gaily in the breeze. Again fresh buds and if it rained in the morning, the roses would blush at me, dripping all over. How they blushed!
One day, the milkmaid’s little daughter stopped by the rose plants. Usually her mother came to fetch us milk and I knew when exactly she would pass by my window. From the mere footsteps, I would guess who it was and whenever my guess got confirmed, I felt greatly elated. But on that day, the daughter came. How was she to know there was someone on the cot by the side of the window? She looked here and there and quickly plucked a couple of flowers and hid them in a vessel. The she noticed the window and her face shrank. I felt miserable, “Don’t worry. I wouldn’t tell anyone!” I made signs with my eyes. She smiled and bolted away.
Sometimes I would watch the cluster of plants in the opposite house. They were planted the very day I fell ill and slipped into the cot and so they grew right before my eyes. Grew big. Each plant had turned as sumptuous as the lady of the house. Large leaves. Some even bigger than my bed ? The plants tilt to a side by the weight of the bunches of fruits. Lovely fruits. Butterflies hovered over the plants in the evenings. They made a thrilling sight sucking honey from the flowers. If only I could describe it adequately, just wonderful.
The street of course did not fall within my view. I could only catch a glimpse of the tops of the electric posts and the wires stretched between them. I had noticed them when I first took to the cot. Now the wires sagged badly. I was waiting for men to come and tighten them up. Sometime later I did find them taut as before. Small wonder. How? I asked my mother. She too did not know. She didn’t understand a thing.
One day it drizzled, droplets of water would glide along the wires and drop off. If there happened to be a little sun also, the whole thing would turn gorgeous – a thousand colours in a single droplet. I saw it happen once.
There was always endless traffic in the street, the street that was out of my sight. But if a hay cart passed by, I could manage to see the top of the hay pile. Sometimes a man would be seated on it, as though proclaiming to the world, ‘ I am the lord of all ’. I determined to make a trip on top of a hay cart soon after I grew well. Must get it arranged with the farm hand, Thanumalaian.
A bit of the roof of Iyer’s house also fell within my vision. Crows frequently flocked on the roof. A sort of crows’ academy. A somewhat larger and blacker crow perched itself a little away from the rest. Must be the headmaster crow. It pecked at a little crow. Got to do your homework, boy!
Sometimes a lot of smoke belched out of Iyer’s kitchen. I would be at the guessing game again. About the things being cooked. My mouth would water. Then dribble out. My mother would wipe it away.
Then the sky. I would lie gazing at the sky for hours. What a wondrous sight! A veritable army of clouds set on an eternal journey. Where to? But sometimes they also stayed put in a place in appalling lethargy. Wouldn’t move a bit. I wished I could ride over the crest of the clouds. Grab handfuls of the cloud and throw it all over my head. White clouds, grey clouds, dark ones, ash-coloured ones. They changed their colours and shapes at will, always new and different. A demon asleep. Or a horse in gallop. Or a huge banyan tree. Or a chariot, a golden chariot drawn by six horses. But no charioteer. The chariot sped away. All blown up and disintegrated in a minute.
Once, I didn’t know why, clouds gathered together in the form of a cot and there was a little skinny boy on it. I wept.
I rarely got to see the moon. It would come in a line with the window once in a while. On other days, it just wouldn’t be there. But unexpectedly make an appearance. Just a bit of it, visible at the northern-most corner of the window. I would feel thrilled. Night after day, it would move ever so slowly and somehow manage to reach the centre of the window, to look straight into my eyes invitingly. Then it would begin to disappear. Well after it was gone I would strain my eyes to search for it. But it would be gone.
The stars – you only saw one or two to begin with. But keep looking, a hundred would appear and the number would keep on growing. Squint your eyes a bit, you can see a way of light connecting you and the star. And the star would burst into some myriad flowers in your eyes.
In the evenings, hordes of bees would appear at the window, looking like so many plus signs. Round and round they flew, drawing endless patterns in the air.
For ever and ever I looked through the window to see, to know what I saw , to muse over what I knew. It never bored me. It never wearied me.
One morning, I woke up and the window was gone. There was only the wall. What happened? Where did the window go?
My mother was standing by my side. She said, “The doctor said the draft wasn’t good for you. You were asleep when I came. He had the cot laid along the wall.”
I burst into tears. The whole family hastened to my beside. Father, mother, older sister, younger sister, elder brother, younger brother..
My mother became panicky. “What has happened? What is making him act like this?”
Everybody began to cry.
My father was terrified. “What’s the matter, child? Why are you crying? Tell me. I will get the doctor at once!”
Tears cascaded down my cheeks.
“Why, my darling? Tell me, my child.” My mother was begging me. She placed her ear upon my lips.
I whispered: “ I’m suffocating!”
Everyone screamed, “Get the doctor! Get the doctor!”
( Note: The above story is from the anthology Selected Tamil Short Stories edited by Rajendra Awasthy. The translator’s name is not mentioned for this story alone in the said anthology. )
About the author:
Sundara Ramaswamy (1931–2005), fondly known as “Su.Ra” in literary circles, was one of the exponents of Tamil modern literature. He edited and published a literary magazine called Kalachuvadu. He wrote poetry under the pen name “Pasuvayya.” Numerous of his novels and short stories have been translated into English and other languages.