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Niharika Negi

FINDING MRS. SHAH

It was broken. Gone. From the moment Mrs. Shah started


talking, my silence and my peace of mind went –whoosh, right
out the window. Now don’t misjudge me, I like Mrs. Shah, I do,
but from a distance, like the sun .Only Mrs. Shah doesn’t have
the sun’s warmth and glow- the rest is all the same.

As I sat in the waiting room of my therapist’s office, I had


hoped to get some peace and quite, you know, some me -time
before I was expected to go in there and lay my soul bare in
front of my shrink - who by the way genuinely listened to me,
for exactly quarter of an hour or sometimes a little more, if
I cry too much. I guess that was too much to ask for.

Somehow, Mrs. Shah‘s appointments were almost always at the


same time as mine, no matter how hard I tried for it to be
otherwise. Sometimes, I feared that she was stalking me. Why
else would the woman be there everywhere that I was?

Anyways, about Mrs. Shah. Mrs. Shah is one of those morbid


human beings, who feels the dire need to state the obvious -
all the time .I mean, here I am, sitting in this sorry excuse
for a waiting room, drowning in a pool of my own sweat, with a
non-functional fan hanging over my head, seeing mirages of
chilled beer cans everywhere and she just has to go ahead and
say, “Arre Kantabain! Eet ij sho berry haut nou tooodayy.”
The funny thing is that my name is not even Kantabain.

Mrs. Shah is as great a talker as my mum, whose innate ability


was almost never hindered by sobriety. Although, Mrs. Shah was
not much of a drinker, she was always high on life. She spoke
extensively on topics related to her family, her marriage, her
sex – life, her servants, her pet’s sex- lives.
But of all the topics that she spoke about, she loved to talk
about her tonsils. ‘Her pooor little enoceent taunseels, her
enphlaaamed taunseels’ which caused her throat great pain or
so she claims. I personally believe that the pain was caused
by her inability to keep her mouth shut even for a second, for
the fear of being left alone with her monstrous thoughts.
The woman was so much in love with her tonsils, that if left
to her own devices, she would take her tonsils out for a
candle –lit dinner by the beach and then, later, check into a
cheap motel and make sweet passionate love to them.

One hour past and Mrs. Shah was still talking.

“Arre! You now baat, my little children na, they are in the
US! Yees! And my sun, no, he ij ackting een aa mauvie, bith
low- budget ,sho they are nooght bering annny clothes.. arre,
Niharika Negi

to sauve money. Sho dey aree ruanning around een their


nuddies. I usjed to louve running but now waat haj happened,
no, that my knee painsss, and my left taunseel- Chinku, he ij
in shooo mauch paiian…”

I responded with the usual civilities – the nod and the fake
smile and the ‘yes I understand’ comments, but she continued
talking.
I tried to look up, I tried to look down, I tried to look
away, I tried to look dead, look anything but interested,still
the tape played on.
That is when I had one of my violent urges to smash her face,
but I controlled myself. Past experiences had taught me that I
couldn’t turn my back on all the bad things in life and expect
them to be over soon like a bad Aishwarya Rai movie. It would
just come back to haunt me. So I persisted.

There were times when I wished that my life was like a sitcom,
where I owned a plush apartment in New York city and my
friends kept visiting me at odd hours of the day and at the
end of the day, we would all solve one major crisis in our
lives, all this while making witty conversations.

But, considering the present situation, all I had was Mrs.


Shah. I turned to look at her and for the first time I
actually saw her. She had a face which only a mother could
love- if she was blind in one eye and had a thin milky film on
the other. I was taken, not by her beauty, but by her
loneliness, for in that respect we were similar.

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and tried to muster up


all my courage to say those two words of gratitude, those two
words, which might lead to the start of a new friendship,
those words which had only needed a moment of truth to become
so clear.
As I reopened my eyes to look at her – she was GONE! Gone like
alcohol form my refrigerator, poof, like this (click). Filled
with an overwhelming sense of loss, I decided to turn to the
receptionist for answers.

“Excuse me, would you by any chance know where the lady
sitting next to me went?”
She looked at me incredulously and said, “I’m sorry madam, but
there was no one there.”
Annoyed, I responded, “Really? Well then who the hell was I
talking to?”
Very quietly she said, “Well madam, now that you’ve mentioned
it, that’s exactly what I’ve been wondering for the past two
months.”
Niharika Negi

THE LABOURS OF SISYPHUS

My greatest fear is that there will be no desserts in the


after-life or so I discovered as I felt my soul depart,
sitting cramped in a 3 feet by 3 feet aluminum bin, waiting
for the play to end.

For someone who had never heard of absurd theatre till 6


months ago, performing it at Thespo was quite an experience.
Legend says that in Endgame, Samuel Beckett had conceptualized
this bin based on the Spanish inquisition chambers that he
himself so longed to be in, but legend is often known to lie,
like the time when he told me that his sister got epilepsy
because she used too much toothpaste while brushing.

As I sat there, with my 5 feet 8 inch slightly bulky frame


stuffed in a flimsy piece of circular metal, the director’s
words of encouragement ran through my head, “Look at it this
way, in the larger sense, you’re just a speck in the void.”
A fast learner, I decided to demonstrate my adept
understanding of the subject. The director walked away
convinced, nursing a head injury as I flung a metallic lid at
him, in an effort to prove that all actions are in fact
meaningless.

I took up this play based on a mere existential whim, to exist


outside the stone walls of college ,other events comprised of
a failed attempt at becoming an opera singer and posing as
Knuut – a German bear, for my cousin’s show- and- tell class.

The cold metal pressed against my grubby cheek while harsh


realization dawned, 42 – the answer to life, the universe and
everything. Had Beckett been alive to witness this, he would
probably have been a carefree boy playing gulli cricket in his
shorty –shorts instead of being a temperamental writer, who
only left behind a legacy of masterpieces and scores of actors
with rheumatic pain and claustrophobia.

It seemed that Godot would come faster than the end of this
play, as I fought my primal urge to sabotage the last
soliloquy. The final applause provided relief as I limply
arose, wondering if existentialism was just a lousy creation
by misers, hoping to avoid the payment of medical bills.
Niharika Negi

COULD YOU REPEAT THE ORDER, PLEASE?

The problem isn't that love is the answer, but by the time one
comes to it, we've forgotten the question.

Chances are, this is due to my brand of home-grown fiction,


for currently, I stand deeply confused by all that is factual.

We haven't conversed in days and I'm beginning to think I


imagined the whole affair, if one could call it that.

The glitch is in our perception of reality.

'Is love real' is a question best answered by the man on Elms


Street, who just got knifed by his lover. I hear, she was an
expressionist.
'Is pain real' is a question best answered by me, as I pay
heed to my girlfriend's naming ceremony of our ten fictional
children.

The metro-sexual man, for instance, is one of the harsh


realities of post- modern life.
Long-lasting romance, however, falls on the make-believe end
of the spectrum.

Yesterday, I attempted to recall the time, my father first


took me to the gym .It was the beginning of a life-long
affair, as my eyes fell on the beautifully -carved dumbbell,
glistening in the ambient light. Or was it the bench-press?
My childhood suddenly seemed hazy. My integrity compromised.
This was, after-all, a crucial memory of my formative years.

The earliest memory, I now have, is from 6 months ago, when a


black BMW crashed into my Porsche. A lady driver was behind
the wheel. She, vaguely, resembled you.

My computer crashed and I lost all my data.


Another wave of bitter truth, lashed across my face.
My past life was being wiped away and that might take care of
my unpaid bank-loans.

I sense the on-set of an identity-crisis.

My partner spoke to me, at length, about the standard of


the office air-conditioning. We have been together for 3 years
and in our free time, we discuss the weather. The banal small
talk and the usual civilities, might lead to my untimely
demise.
Niharika Negi

Words can not express, the unprecedented horror that is


bestowed upon me, as I regularly sit through hourly sessions
of discussions on an acquaintance's toenail infection or the
dread of that prospective embarrassment that fills me, when an
inquiry about somebody's 'new bald look' is met with an 'I
have cancer' response or to discover that Uncle K isn't that
much of an impulsive dancer, but just a man with unusual
ticks.

I live in absolute fear of committing a major social faux -pas


over the use of dinner-table cutlery or the untoward mention
of exercise rituals, in a bid to keep up appearances - all for
her sake.

My own-self is slowly and affectionately, being smothered. On


the inside, I'm dead and I'm not even English.

I'm beginning to think that I imagined the whole thing,


because the reality of this hasn't hit home, yet.

My, every interaction with you knocks me off my feet. Either


that or your niece keeps pulling the rug from underneath.

You make me real and liberated, almost like a third-world


country on the eve of its independence.

With you, I’ve had the freedom to eat a pizza with my hands
and not to pre-plan.
Time proves it's relativity as we hypothesize over Kant and
discover symbolism, in the cracks in the wall.
The company, I'm beginning to think, makes all the
difference.

They say truth will set you free. But, it will also hunt you
down and shoot you. She, I hear, keeps a shot-gun in her
basement. That, however, isn't the cause of my reticence.
Uncertainty of you response is.

I've had bad and worse days, till you came by and became my
drive. And that is the answer to all queries that might,
henceforth, arise.

It's like the great philosopher Charlie Brown once said,


“Nothing can take the taste out of peanut butter, like
unrequited love." I need peanut butter. It makes my day. And I
can only hope that the analogy goes both ways.

Because, in the end, if love isn't the answer, we might have


to rephrase the question.
Niharika Negi