The window – By Sundara Ramaswamy

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Translated by E. Annamalai and H. Schiffman

The cot I was lying on was near a window. I had collapsed on it one evening a few months before. Since then I have been unable to leave it; I never thought I would be confined to bed for so long. Five or six months have passed – it must be more, though I can’t remember exactly. I don’t even know what month it is, or the date, or what day of the week it is. I know only that I have been lying here for a long time on a cot near a window.

My arms and legs are thin as twigs; my body has wasted away to nothing. Once my little sister came to my cot, stared at me for a long time (I don’t know what she was thinking) and said, ”Brother, you look like a lizard,” and ran from the room. That really threw me for a loop – hadn’t seen myself in a mirror for quite a while. No one will give me a mirror, actually. I would just like to see my face once; I’m just itching to. But my words fall on  deaf ears. They probably think that if I got a look at myself, I would fall apart.

I have become so bony that my ribs look like the staves of a bamboo basket, and even the soft mattress grates against my body. My flesh has shrunk away, to such an extent that my collar bone sticks out, forming a cavity so big you could fill it with a cupful of water.

I can’t bend my arms or legs, or even move them. Every joint is swollen. I am confined to lying flat on my back without moving a muscle. Some times grinding pain wracks my body; other times it is as if flames lick my limbs. Tears stream from my eyes. Even so, I don’t make a sound. Over a period of months I have disciplined myself to grit my teeth and choke back the pain.

One day the following incident occurred. A wasp fell from the ceiling onto my bare chest. There  always  used to be someone –  mother, my father, my big sister, my little  sister-watching at my bedside. Strangely enough, that day  there  was no one there. What was I to do?  That wasp had fallen right in the center of my chest. It crept around in circles a while and then began   to  climb  up my neck. I lowered my eyes, trying to locate it, but I couldn’t. I could only feel it creeping around on me.

There was no one else in the room. I could have tried to shout, but no sound would have come–my throat is all swollen. The result would not be sound, but only pain.

Advancing at a crawl, the wasp neared my ear. What  if it goes into my ear! ”Mother!” I tried to shout. Only a rasping whisper came from my throat. The tears streamed  from  my eyes, drenching the pillow. At my young age, I have already shed so many tears. I was almost brought up on tears.

What invisible power prompted my mother to come rushing to me at that moment? She came as if the room were afire, as if someone were dragging her by the arm.

Having reached my nose, the wasp was proceeding across my forehead. ”Mother!” my voice rang inside me. At that moment my mother appeared at the door. Crying, ”My son!” she rushed over to my side. She fanned my face with the end of her sari and mopped my brow. Tears were bleeding from her eyes .

I’m sick of this room. How long can I go on looking at that same yellow wall? I have been observing four dark spots on that wall. In two places the plaster is bulging and is about to fall at any moment. At another spot it fell out two months ago. The same will happen to these. At another place, just level with the cot, someone has blown their nose and wiped the snot on the wall. Every day I vow not to look at it. Every day without fail I end up looking at it. There is a stool beside my cot. I could touch it if I could stretch my arm. On it are arranged all the sickroom articles. Where coffee cups have stood there are rings on it. Two are rather indistinct.

There are eleven beams in the ceiling above me. In those beams–never mind, I won’t go into it. I am so fed up with this room. The same scene, the same arrangement, every day; I hate it.

But – my cot is next to a window. You couldn’t say it was a very big window. But it isn’t small either. However, for my eyes that window is enormous, of immense importance. There are four bars in that window. Outside there is a lean-to awning to shade the house from the sun. I look at the bamboo poles of that awning. There are many perforations in the round sturdy poles. Who could have made those holes? One day I counted the holes. There were seven. Ten days went by. I counted again. Now there were ten. Fancy that! What is this enigma? I watched every day. One afternoon someone came. No one else but a cricket, a very dark fellow. (Aha, so you’re the one who’s responsible. You’re the big shot.) With much chirping and flying about, the cricket had been making these holes for quite a few days. (Now I get it.)

Near the bamboo awning is the wall of the compound. Beside that wall there are two rosebushes, one big and one small. Mother rosebush and baby rosebush. When I wake up in the morning I count the rosebuds. The next day those buds are in bloom and waving gently in the breeze. If it rains in the morning, the rose takes its bath and then miles at me. Actually it sort of laughs at me.

One day the milk woman’s daughter came and went up to the rosebush. Her mother used to bring milk. (I know exactly who will pass by at what time. When I hear the footsteps I guess who it is going to be and turn my eyes in that direction. Sure enough, I’d always guess right. I’m rather proud of that.)

Anyway, the milk woman’s daughter went over to the rosebush. How could she have known that I was lying at the window? Looking around furtively, she plucked two roses and put then in her milk pot. When she raised her head, she looked toward the window. She flushed. I was embarrassed, too. I signalled with my eyes that I wouldn’t tell on her. She smiled and ran off.

Sometimes I look at the banana grove in the yard of the house opposite. They planted the seedlings the same day I fell ill. They got big before my very eyes. Now they are as robust as the lady of the house. The leaves are big, even longer than my mattress. One day bunches of green bananas appeared. Nice bunches. In the evening, bats fly around the banana grove. The scene of the bats sucking the nectar from the banana blossoms is really beautiful. I can’t express it. It’s just beautiful.

I can’t see the road, but I can see the tops of the electric posts and the wires that run along them. I noticed them when I first got sick. Now the wires are drooping lower than before. I thought that people would come to tighten them. One day I looked and the wires were taut like they were originally. It was quite a surprise. I couldn’t understand it. I asked my mother, but she didn’t know why either. She said it was some sort of mystery. When there is a light rain, drops of water run along the slack wires and then drip off. If the sun happens to be shining a bit, the effect is beautiful. In one drop of water there will be thousands of different colors.  I saw that only once.

The carts go by all day. But I can’t see them. If a cart is loaded with hay, I can see the top of the load. Now and then someone will be sit- ting on the top, just as proud as a king. I have decided to go for a ride on top of one when I recover. I had better tell Tanumalayan (our tenant farmer) to make plans now.

I can see part of the roof of the Aiyer’s house. Sometimes crows gather there. It looks like a school for crows. The biggest and darkest of those dark crows sits apart from the crowd. He’s probably the headmaster. Once while I was watching, this big crow pecked at a smaller one. That’s what you get for not doing your homework!

Sometimes there will be lots of smoke coming out of the roof of the Aiyer’s house. A fine fragrance comes from their kitchen. I try to guess what kind of curry is being prepared. Then my mouth will water. Sometimes it happens that the saliva runs down my cheek without my realizing it. Mother comes and wipes it away.

I look  at  the  sky  for hours on end.  Ah, how beautiful!  The clouds travel in bunches.  Where are they heading?   Now and  then they get lazy and lie right down. There will be  no  movement. At times I wish I was lying on one of those clouds; sometimes  I  feel  like scooping them up in my arms and heaping  them over my   head. They come  in various disguises – now in pure white, now in pale gray, then  in darkest black, in ash gray – here like a reclining monster, there like a flying horse, now like a great banyan tree. One moment, a golden chariot: six horses, but no driver.  The next minute it dissolves into nothing.

One day, for some strange reason, one of the clouds took on the shape of a bed. A skinny little baby was lying on it. When I saw that, I broke down and cried .

I can’t always see the moon.  Once in a while  it becomes visible from my window. In a few days it disappears again. Then some other day it reap- pears at the northern corner of the window. On that day I rejoice. Then it moves toward the south until it reaches the middle of the window. On that day my happiness knows no bounds. It’s as if the moon were beaming right down at me, as if it is beckoning me to come along. In a few days it again begins to disappear. For a day or two I strain to catch a glimpse of it. After that it’s gone completely.

At night, only a few stars are visible at first. Then as I go on looking, more and more will be visible. If I squint, it’s as if there are rays of light radiating from the stars directly to my eyes. Then they seem to twinkle right inside my eyes.

At dusk little cross-shaped dragonflies hover around my window. They fly around making different patterns in the air.

From the moment I awake in the morning until I go to sleep at night I look out the window. I never get tired of it or bored by it. It was the window which gave meaning to all those passing days.

But–one day when I woke up, I looked towards the window. There was nothing but a blank wall. What is this? Where is the window? My mother, standing beside me, explained: ”Last night after you went to sleep, the doc- tor came. He said the cool breeze is bad for you and told us to move the cot over to the wall.”

I burst into tears. The whole family came crowding into the room – mother, father, big sister, little sister, big brother, little brother. ”What is wrong with my child,” cried my mother, wringing her hands. Everyone else began to cry.

”Why are you crying, tell me what’s the matter? Tell me, tell me! I’ll get the doctor,” the words tumbled from my father’s mouth.

Tears were rolling down my cheeks. My mother pleaded, ”Why are you crying, tell me, my darling, tell me!”

I could barely speak. My mother put her ear near my mouth. ”I’m suffocating,” I managed to gasp.

Everyone shouted, ”Doctor, doctor!”


 

Acknowledgement

The above translation first appeared in Mahfil, Vol. 4, No. 3/4, TAMIL ISSUE (Spring and Summer, 1968), pp. 77-80. Published by: Asian Studies Center, Michigan State University.