Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language, violence, and mature content.
It wasn’t often that he felt as a human being. On most days he saw himself as a gunny sack either teeming with disjointed and incoherent emotions tugging and treading in all directions at once or empty and deflated, gasping for air as he struggled to move. Today was different. Today he could feel his legs shaking, his hands sweating and his eyes struggling to look beyond the reach of the sea. He turned his head to look towards the road and there she was walking towards him wearing a blush pink sari with a peach blouse, clothes he had never seen her in. His eyes widened as became conscious of his unironed blue checkered shirt and his unwashed black pleated trousers. She squinted as she moved towards him avoiding the dying glaze of the evening sun. Unsure of the sound of his own voice he asked her, why did you come to Churchgate? Girgaum Chowpatty is near Charni Road. She said “I wanted to walk with you” as their eyes adjusted to each other they stood in silence on marine drive drinking in the smell of salt and sweat, drowning in the swarm of voices that talked relentlessly and yet somehow left everything unsaid.
It was six months ago that he has seen her for the first time. He had just finished school and started working as a ticket seller in the Roxy theatre on Charni Road. She walked in with a man of her age and asked for two tickets of kaalakaandi. There was something in her eyes that he recognized, an impatience of dealing with impending doom yet there was a lilt to her voice that soothed the man that she was with who was petulantly staring at her. As he handed her the tickets their palms brushed, in the center of his chest he felt a lightness he had never felt before. It was as if something that had died inside him had finally found peace and moved on or was ready to be born again. His hands felt heavy while his legs sank beneath the lightness of his chest. He sat grabbing the arms of his chair and asked his friend ae Batla who is she? Batla said that’s meera she works at rangapur, turning to his friend baltla he asked, how do you get there? Batla said shoaib you know that rangapur is a randikhana (brothel), shoaib said yes I know now tell me how to get there, batla chuckled and said then go and ask your father, shoaib got up from his chair and screamed madarchod (motherfucker) tell na. Batla said walk towards the foot over bridge near Charni Road station take a left and keep going for around 500m, there on your left you will see a durga temple, pray there and then take the first right. Why should I pray shoaib asked, ask for forgiveness Batla said.
It was raining when shoaib decided to steal 2000 rupees from his father’s wallet which was lying on the table with a broken leg. The leg had been broken for 10 years now, it wasn’t just broken it had come off the table but every time the leg came off and tried to escape his father put it back to where it belonged after all it was the only table they had. Inside his umbrella he couldn’t hear his heart racing, his feet splashing and his thoughts yapping. He could only see his eyes frantically searching for the durga temple. As he neared the temple he asked himself what will I say, do I even feel things that can be said, can words ever tell her the things I can’t tell myself. The weight inside his chest had returned, beneath It he felt emptiness devouring him. For the first time in his life he felt the fear of losing something he wished he didn’t have.
As he entered the building he asked for meera, while walking through the corridor he saw the bare walls losing color it was much like his own house except the lost color was found on the faces of women standing outside their rooms. Questioning and condescending eyes stared at him, taking him in, distorting him imprecating him for where he was. Meera lived in a room with no windows with drab walls breathing down on a decrepit charpoy. She was wearing a violet maxi with embroidered blue forget me not’s. As she took him into her room she asked.
Meera – how much did you pay?
Shoaib – 2000 rupees.
Meera – they fooled you it’s 1000 for one hour.
Shoaib – but I paid for two.
Meera – you think you can keep it up for two hours?
Shoaib – I…. I can’t get it up
Meera – (laughs) why? Are you a gandu (homosexual), how much do you charge for an hour?
Shoaib – I didn’t take money, he paid my school fees.
Meera – who?
Shoaib – My father.
Meera – so you went to school, what’s the use, both of us are in the same room doing the same thing.
Meera removed her maxi, crumpling the flowers and divulging breasts that couldn’t stand to look at the person staring at them and a waist that was spilling out of itself. She sat on the charpoy and said, do what you have to do.
With fury in his eyes shoaib pounced at her pulling her panties down to her ankles. He opened his mouth and tasted her face, first with his tongue then with his teeth. He touched her breasts, squeezed them, took them in his mouth and tried to swallow them. With his flaccid penis he tried to enter her. He wanted to get hard. He wanted hear her moan, to scream, to wail to whimper. He wanted her to writhe in the filth of his mind. He wanted her to feel what he had felt. When he finally got hard, he couldn’t push anymore, the fiend in his eyes had deserted him. He lay on her breast, sucking her nipple as semen oozed out of his pulsating penis.
He started visiting her every week. He would walk into her room leaving the door open behind him. Sometimes they sat and talked for the better part of two hours, they talked of the rain and how the room felt warm when it rained and cold when it stopped. They talked of Mumbai, of how the city kept shriveling while the people in it kept stretching of how in this city the windows were always closed but the eyes were always open of how it was a city that never slept but always dreamed. Sometimes they lay in silence gently nestled into each other loosing themselves in the rhythm of rain. On one of these days he said
Shoaib – we will go to the beach when it stops raining.
Meera – have you ever been to the beach?
Shoaib – yes when I was 10 or 11 my father took me, we also took a photo but then I lost it.
Meera – I have never gone.
Shoaib – why!!! You must go, we will go. With the sand beneath your feet and the sun in your eyes, it feels as if you are slowly disappearing to a place you will never reach.
Meera – how did you get these?
Shoaib – I did them myself, with the blade of a sharpener.
Meera – did it hurt?
Shoaib – it helped.
That night when Shoaib left, meera had a dream. She was walking on the beach. She couldn’t tell if it was dawn or dusk the sun was floating in the ocean with parts of it trying to make it to the shore. Meera moved towards the ocean, the sand beneath her feet felt coarse, her legs felt weak and suddenly she couldn’t walk. She looked around for help but everyone on the beach stared at her with disgust in their eyes. She crawled with her knees and elbows towards the shore, where she saw a little girl standing alone, as she neared the girl the sun vanished and the blue ocean turned pitch black. Meera woke up, she blinked several times to remind herself that it was just a dream, as she had been doing for the past 20 years.
They were walking on marine lines with the sun following them. Meera looked at the sea of people. People she had never seen, people who were walking, talking jogging, people with their heads on someone else’s shoulder staring deep into the ocean where their eyes could never reach. Standing midst the wave meera felt as if she a part of it, she was the toddler who was chasing after a dog, she was the student who was sleeping on his bag, she was the woman who was kissing her boyfriend, she was the man who was smiling at his wife without her knowing of it and she was the old woman who asked Meera to click a photo of her with her grandchildren.
Meera – you know I am form Nashik.
Shoaib – oh!!!
Meera – yes. One day I wandered too far from home I was eight or nine. I lost my way and was found by an NGO. I told them that I knew where my home was but I couldn’t find it. They took me to different villages, we found my village in 2 days but when my father opened the door he said that they only had two daughters and that he didn’t know who I was. My sisters looked at me from inside the house but said nothing. I cried and screamed, I called out all of their names but it seemed that along with me they had forgotten who they were. I asked the woman at the NGO that why didn’t they take me in, she said that my father was a farmer and probably couldn’t afford the dowry of three daughters. That woman took me to an orphanage. It was a nice place, there was a playground, a small building that acted as a school and a mess, the beds were nice and warm and the food was okay but there weren’t many girls there. One day about after 8 -10 months, a woman came to meet us, she was wearing a sari like Sharmila Tagore wore in that song “kuch to log khahengay”
Shoaib – oh that song in Sanju?
Meera – No ,Amar Prem, she picked six of us girls and said that she will take us to Mumbai, I had heard about Mumbai from my sisters they said that Mumbai was a place so far away that you could see the ocean from there. I was sad to leave but excited to see the ocean, that woman told us to call her madam, madam brought us girls to Mumbai three of us were sent to Grant road, two were sent to Reay road and I was brought here in rangapur, madam personally runs it.
Shoaib – why didn’t you run away, they let you go out.
Meera – they let me go out because I am 37 re no one comes for me anymore except you. Besides madam is like my mother she kept me when everyone else sold me off.
Meera told shoaib to wait near the sandwich shop while she went to the loo. Meera looked around the trees and went to the place madam had told her to go to, from behind a board that read Mumbai is upgrading came a tall man with soft features, he was holding a girls hand. Meera went to him and said here is your 2000 the man said, but madam promised me 4000, meera said look Radhe don’t fuck with me or I will call madam right now and she will fuck with you. With a defeated look on his face radhe handed the girl to meera. The girl was seven she had a nice round face etched with the aloofness of a child. Meera took her hand and asked her name the girl said Anwita, Meera asked where do you live Anwita, the child said, churchgate station. Meera walked with Anwita to shoaib and said
Meera – let’s go we need to go to churchgate.
Shoaib – who is this, and why churchgate, there look at your left do you see the beach, you wanted to go there right?
Meera – look we will come to the beach later, we need to take her home.
Shoaib – why but, who is she, do you know her?
Meera – look if I don’t take her home, Rangapur will become her new home do you want that?
Shoaib – okay, let’s go we will take the train.
Meera – Come Anwita we will take you home.
Anwita - are you madam, my mother said that a madam will come and take me to school where they will give me food and clothes and books to read and write. my mother said that I will study and get money and from that money I will build a house for us because when it rains we get dirty from the water.
Meera – no Anwita I am meera and I will take you to your home.
Anwita – but I don’t have money to build a house in the rain.
Shoaib – houses here are too expensive anyways, go beyond Dahisar, the rates are cheaper there. or Navi Mumbai is best, the houses are big there, here the houses are like matchboxes but they cost like lighter.
Meera – go and buy tickets.
Shoaib – but it’s one station no one will catch us.
Meera – here take this money go and buy.
Shoaib – yaar we could have eaten a vada pav with this
Meera – here take this 50 rupee note keep the change and eat a vada pav
The desperation on Anwita’s face was too familiar for meera to ignore, the desperation of finding a face in the crowd that reassured you of yourself. She could feel Anwita receding into herself. The eyes that were fervently searching for a face in the crowd were now staring at the dust on the platform. Meera knew what would happen next she knew that Anwita’s brain will search for a memory that was pleasant enough to replace the reality, she knew that, the memory will repeat itself so many times that the past will become the present while the present turns into a nightmare.
At the churchgate station people were either coming back or going to their homes. The night had arrived and the streets were gloaming in yellow light. As they exited the station a dog came running towards Anwita, he started licking her and running around her in circles. Anwita was delighted to see sheru she sat down with him on the footpath and started playing with him. Meera looked around and saw steam rising from behind a bus stop, she saw a woman with a toddler on her lap. The woman was cooking rice, meera pointed to Anwita and asked the woman, do you know her? The woman said yeah that’s Anwita, where did you find her, her parents left today morning and the said that, they sent Anwita to some school somewhere with the help of those NGO people that keep coming here to celebrate our kid’s birthday. They came yesterday night, where did you find her? Meera said, at Charni Road, but do you know where they went, the woman said, no they said they are going to back to their village. Where are you going to take her now the woman asked, Meera said to the police station, the woman said, okay give this cake to her It was leftover from yesterday.
Meera – Anwita, today you come to my house, tomorrow I will take you to madam, ok?
Anwita - but sheru will also come.
Meera – we need to take her to your house.
Shoaib – what? why? Give her to her parents.
Meera – they sold her off and with that money they left for their village.
Shoaib – so let’s go to the police.
Meera – are you mad, who is going to listen to a (randi) prostitute.
Shoaib – but they don’t know that you are a (randi) prostitute.
Meera – (screams) but you know na!!!!!!!, you know everything.
Meera – what about your father, is he home?
Shoaib – yes, but he mostly sleeps now days, doesn’t do much else.
Meera – ok let’s take a taxi we can’t take the dog on the train.
Shoaib’s house was on the second floor of an abandoned building the walls were cracked and frayed. The windows were sealed shut. There were two tubelights, one in the hall and one in the only room. Once you were inside, nothing from the outside world could reach you. It was only you inside your head, squirming until you found the perfect place, a place where even you couldn’t reach yourself.
As soon as Meera entered the home she was overpowered with the stench of decay. Sheru started barking at the closed door of the room.
Meera – why is it smelling like this?
Shoaib – it hasn’t been cleaned, and it’s an abandoned building.
Meera opened the door and saw a man lying with his eyes and mouth wide opened, staring at the houseflies coming out of his mouth. As meera was about to slam the door shut, she saw the broken leg of the table. Covering her nose she picked it up to see blood at the sharp end of it.
Meera – (screams) you killed your father, madarchod!!!! Now what will we do ha!!!
Shoaib – what (laughs) he is not dead, he is sleeping, we had fight because he found out I was stealing from his wallet and since then he is sleeping.
Meera – (screams louder) Bhosadike you are delusional!!!, you are mad, he is dead, you killed him, you fucked us all!!!
Shoaib – (seething) stop saying that RANDI (prostitute), stop saying that he cannot die… He made me like this….he cannot leave me in pain and die. (Starts whimpering)
Shoaib went to his father and said, wake up, wake up, wake up, look, I won’t fix the table this time, I won’t, wake up hit me, I will tell everyone what you did………. I will tell….. I will… I (screams) won’t fix the table you fucked me on, it broke because you fucked me on it…….. I won’t fix it… I won’t, (sobbing), why did you do it…… why did you go, (screams) wake up!!!!!!
Shoaib took out the wallet from his pocket and put it in his father’s pocket and said, I stole from you , see, I will steal more and more and more, wake up or I will empty your wallet. Shoaib screamed so loud that that his ears started ringing. He pushed his hand to retrieve the wallet when a Photograph fell from his father’s pocket. It was a photo of them on the beach. Shoaib looked at the photo and remembered that it was his birthday. Shoaib couldn’t remember these people, these people who were smiling at the beach. It was a memory so distant that it almost ceased to exist. Through tears in his eyes as he saw his father smiling he felt the loss in his stomach, the lack of food made him throw up. He crawled towards Meera’s purse took out the cake and shoved it in his father’s mouth. The voice that came through Shoaib’s mouth was merely a whisper and that whisper said, happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday to you.
Meera looked into the room with hollow eyes, her back slid through the wall as she sat down beneath the sealed window. In between the screams she had heard Anwita sob, she looked at her and asked her to come and lie down in her lap. Anwita was unsure of what was happening, the tears in her eyes made it difficult for her to see. Inside her head she was talking to her mother so the voices of the outside felt like a distant thunder. She reminded herself of how she used to hide in her mother’s Maxi when it rained, she reminded herself of her hands on her face, her voice in her ears and the smell of rain. She crawled into Meera’s lap trying to lose herself in the fabric of her sari. Shoaib folded the photo and carefully placed it in his father’s shirt pocket. Shoaib felt the weight of voices leaving his head, these voices that made him feel the things he didn’t want to feel were now outside of his reach. In his emptiness he felt complete. He embraced the grief he felt for the death he couldn’t mourn. He crawled out of the room and laid his head on Meera’s thigh curling up into a ball he lost himself in his newfound emptiness.
Meera felt the weight of her legs as she stared into darkness, she felt her eyes and legs getting heavier until she couldn’t feel them anymore.
The song of ocean was dancing in her ears while the sand slipped through her feet into the ocean. She could feel the cool breeze on her face, her hands and on her legs, which held her firm beneath the dwindling sand. She looked around herself. The beach was crowded as usual, there were vendors selling everything from peanuts to pav bhaji, Crows were cawing and fighting over a piece of half-eaten corn.
All the eyes were breathing in the freedom of their dreams, transfixed in this fleeting moment of transcendence. A little hand tugged at her wrist, she looked and saw the face of a child. It was a face that had never seen the ocean. In her eyes she saw the ocean walking towards them. As the child’s eyes widened in wonder, meera looked beyond the sea of blue, where an orange hue rose and permeated the violet mist.