The Solitude of a Shadow

Kalyan Raman

The Solitude of a Shadow Devibharathi and Kalyan Raman

‘Sharada! Sharada!’ Calling out to her for no apparent reason, he went to the bedroom. Then he came back, with a lungi wrapped around his waist. ‘Is your mother all right?’ he asked and, without waiting for an answer, he shouted towards the kitchen, ‘Sharada, did you give him coffee?’

When Sharada came in with the coffee cups, her face was clouded by anxiety about the residual issues of the day. Without faltering even for a moment, she told her husband about the visitor who had come to see him that morning and the message that he had conveyed. As she began reciting a litany of complaints about their son’s irresponsible behaviour, she even sounded happy.

‘The boy left home this morning and he still isn’t back. He plays cricket all the time. He doesn’t even eat his lunch properly. When I ask him why he is hurrying, he says lunch break is only for ten minutes. Doesn’t touch his books at all. Just you wait. Very soon he is going to earn crores and crores like Sachin and bring it all home.’

‘He is a bowler, di. A spinner like Kumble and Murali.’ ‘What is a spinner?’

Even as he was responding to her, he proceeded to leave the room. Noting that her house had returned to its normal state, I got up with a sigh. ‘Why don’t you stay back and leave in the morning?’ he said to me, but without waiting for a reply, he called his wife. She pushed a tiffin- box that was packed and ready into my hands. ‘What is in it?’ I asked her. Without a word, she walked me to the door.

The Solitude of a Shadow Devibharthi


I started my ancient Bajaj M-80 moped with a mighty kick and was about to take my leave when she came up to me and stood with her hands resting on the handlebar. ‘How many times have I told you to get rid of this piece of junk and buy a new vehicle?’ Asking me the same question that she did every time I was about to leave, she looked deep into my eyes. I tried to avoid getting caught in the mysterious grip of her brown eyes.

‘All right. I’ll be going.’

‘Give me a ring tomorrow.’ The hint of insistence in her raspy voice, bereft of its usual gentleness, was unnerving to me.

Beating the menacing traffic on the highway, my M-80 carried me slowly along village roads humming with the bustle of birds and countless small animals. Still haunted by memories of the past, I stopped at an abandoned temple by the roadside. Sitting amidst the dry brown remnants of neem flowers scattered on its broken pyol, I lit a cigarette.

I wondered what extraordinary feat an indigent clerk could possibly accomplish when he lacked the means to even replace a useless, obsolete vehicle, and had to support an aged mother and a sister abandoned by her husband.

I was unable to decide whether fate, which had exhumed Karunakaran’s stinking body from the death-pit of memory and laid him within arm’s reach, wanted to challenge or mock me.

By then, I had no recollection at all of what I had told that man with the poison fangs and forked tongue as he watched me from inside his coiled body ensconced in the headmaster’s chair, or what he had asked me. The headmaster had apologized to him for my behaviour perhaps. I was staring intently at his face then. I had no doubt that the angle at which I was standing afforded him a clear view of my face. I wanted to remind him of the face I had thirty years ago and of the scrawny weakling who had stood before him holding a sickle in his raised hand.

When the shadow of suspicion in Karunakaran’s eyes began to shift, the assistant headmaster’s hands gripped my shoulder. ‘He is not feeling well, it seems.’ Saying this in an apologetic tone, the assistant headmaster led me away, supporting me on his arm gently. Stretched out on the long table that took up more than half the space in the staff room, I pretended to have fainted, closed my eyes and drew my eyeballs deep inside their sockets. The desire for wreaking vengeance on Karunakaran had begun to fill my heart with its sludge. The embalmed body of that unfortunate day loomed over us like a curse and the repulsive pustules of its memory were floating in that sludge.

Excerpted with permission from Harper Collins India.