Three days back, Sunday, that was slapped by heavy rains, Sigiriya entered the classroom and after keeping her handbag on the table, went to the blackboard and wrote:
Never trust a handsome man with a pretty
Her back was still turned off the students as she re-read what she had written and she could hear gasps of surprise and that uneasy shuffle which always meant that they were settling down anticipating a lively session. A five feet something 40-37-48 woman can survive a conversation and can manage to come out bloody but breathing only if she has a loyal platoon of words and ideas to lead. She took her leadership seriously and even had a few mercenaries to act as snipers for her. She turned and faced the class of a dozen, coming from all age-groups, professions, and mind-sets, and asked, ‘Where’s the full-stop?’
Her sessions on creative writing always began with upsetting and unsettling remarks. She called this her guerrilla tactics as this action generally returned with scalps, that she called ‘unflinching attention’. She saw Ayan sitting in the third row with his right hand raised.
‘Yes, Ayan, what do you think the full-stop is doing?’
‘It is waiting for the idea to be complete.’
‘Complete it,’ she said as she walked back to the table where her bag was kept. Ayan was the first to blurt, ‘Woman.’ Sigiriya opened her bag and took out an intimidating looking knife that seemed real enough and swished the air with it with words that no one heard but their sound was equally menacing. There were others who suggested words like armour, zebra, bungalow, shirt, chick, smile, and even omelette. Every suggestion had to face the sharp swish of Sigiriya’s knife and her admonishing, ‘Some ideas just don’t deserve to live.’
‘Excellence isn’t a word,’ Sigiriya began once she had paused her swishing and the knife lay next to her handbag, unsheathed and uncovered, ‘but your commitment to follow this word as it discovers and re-aligns itself to your thoughts. The mind, your mind has the power to accept or to kill it. If you accept it, you need to honour the relationship. Or you just kill it. Without delay.’
After asking her students to write their story with the title having their choice of word completing it, Sigiriya stepped out and taking firm strides, walked to the end of the corridor, where inside the room there was an ashtray concealed in a sheaf of hand-written assignments of her students. There was no one else and the college was empty except for the little group of people enrolled in her creative writing course that lasted for six-weekends.
As she sat there smoking she thought of Ayan.
Ayan, the slant-eyed, dark-complexioned, expectedly fluffy and approachable Bengali from Kolkata who wasn’t happy with his job as an HR manager in a company that exported rice. He decided to enrol for this course and, after the first session, followed her to the parking.
‘Yes,’ Sigiriya had stood there uncertainly, ‘aren’t you one of the students in my course?’
‘Yes, I’m Ayan.’
‘Well Ayan, you have a full five days to complete your assignment.’
It seemed Ayan hadn’t heard her and was busy trying to take out something from his back-pack. Sigiriya had said what was to be said, opened her car, and pushed the ignition. Ayan taken out by then a small packet and was frantically asking her to roll down her window. As she did that, Ayan thrust the packet in her hands, with a small hastily hand-written note that read: ‘In my community we give guru-dakshina on the first day of the class. Please accept this.’
She nodded and later in the evening loved the blue silk scarf that had a small hand-painted Ganesha in the lap of Parvati done in the Kalighat style. She had smiled then and carefully put it in her bag quite unlike other gifts that were either given away or kept in the almirah to be given away. She loved surprising herself but never failed to surprise her surprises… because in less than ten minutes of surprising herself she had rummaged in the admission papers, found Ayan’s mobile number and called him.
‘Thank you,’ she said, ‘the painting, is it done by you?’
There was another of those infamous call-drops but not before Ayan had said ‘yes’ or that was what it sounded like. Sigiriya was the sort who would never let go an idea that mesmerized her and her life was soon to be like a sound byte wrapped by a thick fluffy cloud on a lonely mountain road.
We know how thoughts differ from clouded thoughts but those in love do not know this. Sigiriya and Ayan met the next day and their conversation wasn’t the kind you expect between a teacher of creative writing and her student who thought he wanted to write as he was bored and fed-up of his job.
‘I’m surprised you don’t like being in HR,’ she said, ‘you’re always face-to-face with ideas.’
‘Ridiculous ideas, if they are ideas at all,’ he replied, ‘and I’m not facing them all the time. I am face-to-face with excel-sheets with data that is always serious.’ She laughed, took out her iPad and made some quick notes.
‘You find what I say so interesting?’ asked Ayan and before they had finished their second consecutive coffee, they told each other that they were unmarried and wouldn’t mind meeting again. So they met again. After all, what can clouded thoughts do but meet and pray that the gentle wind carries them along together with the same force. The first week saw them meet four times and saw this Bengali student and Tamilian teacher together in cafés, art galleries, movie halls, and even lying on the grass in a park near Talkatora garden but nearer the butcher shops in Gole market. Delhi parks have this strange and yet unknown habit of bringing lovers to them. They lie there looking up saying nothing and waiting for the male to finally make his first bold move… but Sigiriya saw the clouds and said, ‘Have you noticed how clouds meet and then go their own way. They must be powerful enough to defy the dictates of the wind.’
All that Ayan could think of was, ‘And they meet to sometimes mate.’ Sigiriya sat up immediately, pulled out her sharp, menacing, knife from her bag and with a swish seemed to decapitate something in the air.
‘Wh…what was this?’ Ayan asked.
Sigiriya quietly replied, ‘Some ideas don’t deserve to live.’ That was Ayan’s introduction to Sigiriya’s toughness with ideas that don’t work. But evenings with floating clouds can sometimes lead to nights with no moon to brighten it and a happy drizzle has the power to even transform hands held into scintillas waiting to evolve into a conflagration! A meeting converted into a mating that night.
Sigiriya thought of what she would teach the next day as she lay naked next to her student and now her lover. Would it be sessions on writing a romantic story? Her mind decided that this would suit her as her synapses were full of joy and… and she turned and planted another kiss on Ayan’s open mouth but he was exhausted and in deep sleep.
The creative writing sessions of the second weekend were thus all about a state of mind that see the world in all its glory. The senses were thrilled and go about humming songs and linking every colour with every other colour and deciding that every output was full of joy. Romance is not about nervous disbelief and hesitant steps into obscurity but about finding a fulfilled yearning even in a fallen leaf during autumn. The assignments for this romance writing weekend had a buoyant verve that made Sigiriya experience orgasmic pleasure but Ayan’s story was neither happy nor looking forward to happiness.
She asked him why his interpretation of romance seemed nervous and afraid and he replied, ‘I’m flying to Kolkata and will be back only a day before the next class.’ Ayan turned and walked away, without even letting their hands meet. This appeared unusual. Sigiriya muttered, ‘Lovers don’t go away for three days without a parting hug.’ But three days passed by without hurting anyone and so long as no thoughts with an evil intent invade the mind, all was well with life. The interesting trait of creative writers is that they can sometimes summon the sort of thoughts they want and Sigiriya was intent on opening the door to only the romantic ones that week.
The fourth day was a Friday and it came with anticipation… but no call from Ayan. So after waiting the entire day she called up his number and someone accepted her call after some delay.
‘Hello Ayan,’ she said, ‘are you back?’
There was silence, then a confused tinkling of bangles as the phone probably went from the left to the right ear, and finally someone said, ‘Ayan is in the bathroom. I’m his wife. Can you call later please?’
All her years of teaching a creative writing course couldn’t help her helplessness and she didn’t know how to respond. Her mind seemed like a satellite that has left its path and gone hurtling into the deep black space… and her heart fell soundlessly but with an impact that made her eyes droop making her world appear hazy and translucent. After what seemed an eternity, she was able to say, ‘What?’ But her question tumbled into the dustbin of eternity as Ayan’s wife had disconnected the phone by then.
All her confusion and questions and the rising anger could have led to her rushing to where Ayan had rented a two-bedroom flat, but seethed with a feeling of impotent frustration as she read his explanation on Whatsapp:
“I wish I had never gone to Kolkata. But being face-to-face with my father made me agree to all that he said and I had to marry Piya, the girl he had chosen for me. I could not tell him anything. There was no time and anyway no one was even listening to me. I even wrote that I wanted to marry you but he kept that letter on the table saying he will read it later because my marriage was more important than my letters. And then I saw my dog eating it.
I am now married and I hope you will forget me.
I will be there in class tomorrow.”
Sigiriya thought, ‘A dog ate his note. He wrote a note and couldn’t tell his father. This is so disgusting.’ She shuddered and wept and then slept for hours before waking up to swish her knife a couple of times and deciding to teach thriller writing that weekend.
Ayan was present in the class… but despite his eagerness to answer, Sigiriya noticed that he had questions in his eyes. But Ayan didn’t dare to talk to her though he wanted to know how she would complete that prompt that she had written in the session on thriller writing… so he followed her as she drove away after class. Sigiriya stopped at the butcher’s shop near Gole market and selected the chicken that she wanted slaughtered.
‘Can I kill my chicken myself?’ she asked.
‘Sure,’ said the butcher and held the poor chicken by the neck. Sigiriya pulled out her knife and made the first real killing of her life… and Ayan saw her doing this. Sigiriya turned and was face-to-face with Ayan. She wanted to hug him but couldn’t as she had a blood-stained knife poised suggestively between them. She suddenly wanted to kill him but then she heard him ask, ‘How will you complete the prompt?’
She thought, ‘Prompt? Ah! So he wants to know how I will complete it.’ So she said aloud, ‘Lie,’ and then kept the blood-stained knife in her handbag without wiping it clean. He walked out and walked towards their favourite park near Talkatora garden, but nearer the butcher shops in Gole market. He had asked his wife to join him for the evening. Sigiriya didn’t know this, but had watched him go there through the window in the shop. She looked down at her bag and the knife it had and seemed to decide something.
Later, she sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf. She had been sitting there for more than an hour and had swished her blood-stained knife a couple of times. ‘Some ideas don’t deserve to live,’ she muttered with vengeance written all over her… and that was when her phone rang. Without looking at the screen she took the call and heard panic in a voice, ‘Are you the person I talked to yesterday morning? I am Piya. Ayan’s wife.’
Piya. She had not met her yet but for some reason loved the panic in her voice. Sigiriya asked, ‘Yes, what can I do for you?’
‘Ayan is nowhere and I am also unable to contact him. I’m in some park near Gole market. Can you help?’
She said, ‘I’m coming.’
They went round the park and then Sigiriya asked Piya to go back and wait, saying, ‘Those who want to write sometimes just go after an idea. You can only wait.’
The next day’s newspaper reported the killing of Ayan in the park next to the butcher’s shops in Gole market. The killer had slashed his throat with a knife and had thrown his body in a ditch a few feet away from the jogger’s track into the dense bushes. The police suspected daylight mugging as the money from his wallet and his smartphone was missing. Sigiriya read this, sat up and said to no one in particular ‘Some ideas just don’t deserve to live.’ And then she scoured the paper for some other idea for her next short-story… and her next session on revenge as a theme for stories.