Malavika originale – betageri
Her name was Malavika. Her father was a
cardamom merchant in Sikkim. She was studying
in Bangalore, staying at a PG accommodation
near her college.
The strange fact was that though she had earned
good marks in high school and had come to Bangalore
to study she wasn’t much interested in studies. Which
class to bunk and how to procure attendance through
proxy; by cutting how many classes could one avoid
attendance shortage, and which classes to cut to watch
a movie at the nearest multiplex – these were the things
she was very good at calculating. Most of her free time
was spent lazing around in shopping malls, idly chatting
with boys – especially with those having long hair –
and in collecting information about Bangalore which
people belonging to business families like her thought
important. Where to park the car if one went to
Commercial Street for shopping, which are the best
places to hang out in M G Road and which among
them are economical – she either knew these things or
showed keen interest in knowing them.
She walked the campus with the excitement of a
wild animal, the parlour-trimmed hair flying freely over
her shoulders. She tied her hair with colourful grips
and sometimes she would wear one of them on her
wrist like a watch. She would text you day and night
and when you went and sat in front of her she would
get busy messaging someone else. These were some of
the things that I noticed in her.
One day I happened to go with Malavika to Jayadeva
Hospital to donate blood. The doctor there refused to
take blood from her on account of her having a low
count of RBC and this made her very sad. And, as I
lay in the hospital bed, slowly squeezing the sponge
with the hand from which blood was being drawn –
squeezing, so that my hand didn’t go to sleep – I was
astonished to see the sadder side of the super-bright
‘So sad I couldn’t donate blood today,’ she had said
getting into the autorickshaw which was to take us
back to college.
‘The doctor didn’t allow you to; there is nothing
you could have done.’ I had replied.
Thus our acquaintance turned to friendship of a
casual sort. Whenever we met we would stop to chat.
‘You are not oriented like everyone else,’ she said
one day suggesting indiscipline in me. As a response,
I read a poem called ‘Sixteen Lines of an Unconscious
Person’ and tried to explain that it was difficult for
writers to follow the breathless discipline of business
men. But she cut me down in the middle and told me
that I should write and publish books and that I should
seriously consider writing novels. Only when a person’s
capacity is expressed in the form of a product or a service
can one give it the value of money – only things having moneyvalue
can have any value. I realized that this philosophy
was behind all her talk and action. She could not see
any value beyond this value, and even if she could,
like all those who had internalized the decadent values
of late capitalism, she had systematically blunted her
sensibility so as not to allow any of these values affect
her. ‘We should not let our feelings flow everywhere.
Why do we go to the cinema? There are specific places
to express our feelings: we should express them only
at those places.’ Though she never said this in so many
words, this is what she meant whenever she counseled
me about my “emotional indiscipline”. Because of this
attitude of hers I hesitated talking to her. She had doubts
and suspicions about me who didn’t respect these rules
of the market that she so revered.
One day there was a function at the NGO run by
our college. After the function we the volunteers who
had worked for the programme were having dinner at
a restaurant near the college. As I ate, tolerating the
insane jokes of the volunteers, I got a sms from Malavika.
‘I have been crying for an hour now. I don’t know
why. I can’t bear this pain.’
As her PG accommodation was near the college I
sms-ed her back. ‘I’m at Sukh Sagar next to college.
Please come out. What happened to you all of a sudden?’
Her answer: ‘No. You know I can’t come out after eight
in the evening. The landlord won’t let me out. I’m feeling
better. Don’t worry.’
I sent a message saying ‘try to come,’ and immediately
called her up. Her voice was softer than usual.
‘It’s nothing. I was crying just like that. Will see
you tomorrow,’ she said and hung up. That night I
came home and to make her happy sms-ed her a poem.
‘You write so well. Really liked it,’ she replied.
That night I had a dream.
Malavika, like the epitome of femininity, was sitting
in her knitted pullover and jeans. Even as she sat,
blushing and her head bent, filling her full lips with
a silent shy smile, her whole body turned into water,
and she became a cool, tree-covered pond in the clearing
of a forest. The reflections on that pond – the shadows
upon shadows – were slowly dissolving and becoming
one with the deep silence of the waters. As my gaze
took this in, I was seized by an indescribable anxiety,
and teetering at the edge of the pond, unable to hold
myself back, I fell into it. I was so terrified that I could
neither swim nor breathe, and with my head down
and legs up, I struggled in the depth of the waters.
I must have fallen unconscious as I gave up all effort
and submitted myself to the pond. When I woke up
I could see my reflection in the pond. I was a baby
of about three or four months and the pond was
brimming with the happiness of my smile and the
wonder of my eyes.
I experienced the real impact of this dream after
waking up. I felt my whole body breaking into cracks
with primal desire. As if fish-mouths had appeared all
over my body and were gasping for breath. My mind
was filled with a weird pain and longing. I took a bath,
and wrapping the towel around me, sat quivering in
the chair wondering why such a dream had occurred
to me. I was sitting like that for a long time. I only
managed to get my mind clouded with confusion and
couldn’t find any answer.
Next day I met Malavika during lunch break. We
sat on a bench. We didn’t talk for a long time. There
seemed to be a greater intimacy in silence than in speech
which came with its own set of psychological baggage.
At last, it was she who started to speak.
‘Have you ever felt this way? As if life had suddenly
drained of all meaning: as if everything had become
meaningless for no reason… A deep, tormenting feeling
that you can’t bear the burden of living anymore. Do
you understand what I am saying?’
I nodded slowly indicating that I understood.
‘A feeling of insane pain, a state of senseless stupor.
Yesterday I was in such a state. Nothing was making
sense to me anymore.’
Bewildered, and not knowing what to say, I sat
staring at my fingers. This was not something that
required my sympathy. My words were failing in front
of the sheer terror of her existential crisis. But it was
important for her to feel consoled. I looked at her: she
sat there with the face of someone who trusted but
still had her doubts. She was worried about what she
had just said and was quivering with insecurity. I, who
never touched her, caressed her cheek as if caressing
the cheek of a child.
‘Don’t be afraid. This is just a phase that everyone
goes through. You will come out of it firmer and
stronger. Everything will be fine,’ I said and held her
palm as if to assure her.
Though she appeared consoled by what I said, her
face was full of doubts.
‘But why is this happening to me? I’m like everyone
else. I never think too much, or worry about anything.
I am sincere with my work. Why then this suffering
– what am I being punished for?’ she asked.
‘Why? I don’t have an answer to that,’ I said. But
I felt there was an answer. Suddenly I found myself
being pulled inward by a strange force and I think I
actually blacked out for a few seconds.
‘Look, there is a deep lack of love in this world.’
I began in a voice which was strange even to me. ‘Like
most people who have adjusted themselves to the
dehumanizing conditions of the capitalistic system even
you have lost the ability to love someone with all your
heart; to accept someone with all your being. While
a small portion of your brain shows a little love and
sympathy, the rest of your brain becomes busy calculating
like a businessman. You expend more energy in judging
and assessing the ability of a person than in loving
him. This madness goes so far that when you don’t
find anyone to judge, you start judging yourself. We
are controlled as much by our irrational feelings and
impulses as we are by our rational thoughts. Growing
more and more sophisticated, she who holds intelligence
and “smartness” above everything else – by neglecting
all that which essentially makes her human – succumbs
Feeling is not our weakness – it is a sign of our
humanity. Not having feeling does not show our strength,
it shows the barrenness of our heart. Ignoring and
discrediting her emotions she who works day and night
like a madwoman with an exaggerated feeling of her
strength, experiences meaninglessness in this very
intoxication with power. As soon as she starts
emphasizing a part of her personality, and starts ignoring
the other aspects, she becomes psychologically
handicapped. No mania of consumption can fill the void
created by this handicap. The extreme alertness caused
by the pressures of civilization stunts the full growth
of a human being: even as she brags about being ahead
of everyone else she would have lost her inner core
of peace and by the time she realizes, she would have
walked too far down the road of wretchedness and selfdestruction.’
She was silent for a long time. She was tearing small
pieces from the pages of her notebook, and folding them
into ever smaller pieces, was throwing them in front
of the bench. The floor around her feet was littered
with these small, folded pieces of paper.
‘I have begun to smoke; I can only do what I think
I am capable of. What you said…’ she became silent.
‘Yes, it is not so easy for me to love people,’ she said.
I didn’t want to say anything in reply to this. She took
her red lighter, and lighting it twice started to laugh
out loudly. Looking at the moles on her chin, upper
lip and at the corner of her soft mouth, I too smiled.