Vikram, the writer who cannot write, is entranced by his encounter with Malini, the blind woman with something special. He revisits his old habit of writing something for a woman, but things are different this time.
It had started raining a short while after Vikram got up the next morning. He had only had a couple of hours of sleep and his head felt heavy. The weather helped him deal with it better. He always found rain soothing.
It wasn’t a typical Mumbai downpour. The signs of rain had been there for a while, and the shower wasn’t thunderous. It was a welcome change for Vikram.
His housekeeper had arrived just before it had started to rain. Vikram had to convince her to let him beat his cup of coffee, and she was aghast when he offered to beat coffee for her as well. She protested energetically but surrendered when Vikram said he’d let her heat the milk and add it to the paste. He liked beating his coffee. It had to be the right colour or it wouldn’t taste good.
When it started raining he sat on his armchair. He threw the window wide open to let the wind rush in and planted his feet on the window sill, sipping his coffee as the wind blew his curly grey hair. His hair had stopped growing before getting too long. They were slightly longer than most people his age, but it wasn’t a length that annoyed him. Since his hair were curly they kept his forehead and nape relatively free. His long legs and arms weren’t covered by much hair either, and his beard grew slowly as well. He was glad he didn’t have to shave or visit the barber too often.
A few drops grazed his toes lightly as he listened to the serene rain and the sound of his housekeeper slurping her coffee next to him. She sat on the floor with her knees pulled up to her bosom while holding the cup with both hands.
She was different than other maids and housekeepers in that she had graduated from school. Despite being in her early twenties, she wasn’t married. She only worked at his house from morning till evening. She cooked what he told her and how he told her, and did whatever she could to fill her day. The only thing that had prompted Vikram in employing her was his inability to write. Vikram had never realized how many signatures and day to day scribbling are involved in life. She signed for him whenever required.
“Don’t you feel lonely when it rains and there’s no one else in the house?” she said in a pensive voice all of a sudden. Vikram was taken aback by her question but gave it a thought.
“Rain can make people melancholic, but some people like it. As for loneliness, I’m not sure.”
“You should have visitors from time to time. Why don’t you ever have visitors?”
“It’s not like I never have visitors. You haven’t worked here even for a month. How would you know?” he said with a touch of bafflement.
“I’ve seen enough to know,” she said, taking another long slurp from her coffee and nodding to herself. Vikram continued looking at her for a few more seconds before turning back towards the window. “You should have people visit your house from time to time. It makes you feel less lonely and happier when it rains. Rain and Mumbai go hand in hand. To be happy here, you should have visitors, otherwise the rain will drive you away,” she said.
Vikram looked at her again. She never moved her eyes from the window. He wondered if the rain brought back painful memories from her past but decided not to ask and soak some of the loneliness that the rain showered on her.
Vikram felt like writing something after spending a good half hour sitting there. He always felt like writing when it rained. His fingers would start twitching with excitement as soon as he would see the sky turn grim with grey clouds.
He thought about writing the story he had in his mind. He instinctively reached for his drawing book and pen. He had never liked lined notebooks or registers, and notepads were too small for his purpose. Drawing books offered him the best of both. He picked up the book and pen out of habit, but reality kicked in the moment he flipped it open. The poorly shaped characters and disoriented words presented themselves bashfully. His grip on the pen strengthened until his entire hand started shaking. He thrust the pen into the book and threw it away in disgust.
Vikram closed his eyes and tried piecing the story together. If he could form a streamlined plot he could ask someone to do the writing. But years of habit rendered the effort fruitless. The mind doesn’t always think in the same manner. There’s a certain flow that directs thoughts, and without that flow it’s nearly impossible to remember those exact thoughts. Vikram had always achieved the feat by writing down promising ideas whenever they flashed in his mind. He tried penning his ideas into single words which would help him recall them easily, but it proved too difficult a task now. The ideas still came to him, but he was losing the ability to express them. He had always walked with them, talked with them. They talked to him still, but now he was stationary while they kept moving. All he could retain were fragments of what he heard.
Vikram tried getting some writing done the entire day. He delved deep into his patience reserves and tried making his hands remember their usual nature. But his hands screamed the nature of their present predicament and told him how the situation was.
After the first few hours, he thought of writing something for Malini. It wasn’t one of his usual notes. He knew she couldn’t read, and even if she could, he didn’t want her to see his messy handiwork. Asking someone else to write it for him was out of the question. The only thing he could do was write a short story which he could read to her. More than giving him an excuse to see her, it seemed like the right way to go about things.
The next day was the same in all regards. Vikram had to check the date on a few occasions to confirm it was a different day. He pinched himself a couple of times to check that he wasn’t dreaming but stopped doing so when his housekeeper eyed him suspiciously. Vikram’s exasperation only increased. He even toyed with the idea of asking his housekeeper to put the words on paper before dismissing it. He was desperate.
The clear skies on the third morning gave him a ray of hope. But his hands were no good. The weather was pleasant but his mood was in stark contrast. Vikram realized the only way to get over it was to go and see Malini without the story. He spent all day hunting for the harmonica he had bought two years ago. His housekeeper tried helping him on many occasions but she just couldn’t understand what he was looking for. It was like explaining what a colour looked like.
Upon finding the harmonica he inspected it for a while. He blew into it to see what kind of sounds it could produce. The expressions on his housekeeper’s face and the complaining from his ears were evidence enough of his skill, or rather the lack of it. He didn’t mind it, though. He quickly took a shower, put on his blue cotton shirt and brown trousers, and walked out the yard and the gate.
He could hear the sound of a flute being played almost as soon as he turned into her street. At first, he thought he was imagining it, but when it got louder he realized that it was really the sound of Malini’s flute. There were people and vehicles moving about the road, but her flute managed to push its music through the gaps. It didn’t have to wiggle. It simply strolled through leisurely.
It was a beautiful sound, one that he had never heard before, but one that he felt he knew and was dear to him. It was like a lullaby. It doesn’t matter if someone hasn’t heard a particular lullaby. It always takes them back to their early childhood and reacquaints them with a warmth they never knew resided in their soul. Malini’s flute had the ability to draw out that warmth. Vikram didn’t even notice he was grinning while he walked to her house.
His smile vanished when he rang the bell and someone else appeared from the house. Even if Malini hadn’t told him, Vikram would have identified this person as her sister. She was much shorter than Malini – who was almost as tall as himself – but the similarity in their faces was remarkable. They weren’t twins, but they shared a lot more facial data than most siblings.
As Vikram stood there amazed by their likeness, Malini’s sister stood with a question in her eyes.
“Helloooo, what do you want?” she said, waving at him. Vikram snapped out of his trance.
“I’m sorry. I’m here to see Malini.” Her sister raised her eyebrows to ask why. Vikram fumbled with his hands and produced the harmonica from his pocket. He pointed towards it and nodded. He wondered why they were communicating without speaking, but he didn’t think too much about it.
She folded her arms and scrutinized him. Vikram was aware she was deciding whether to allow him in. She could see that he didn’t want to see Malini just because he wanted music lessons. Women have a perception of such things that far exceeds men’s. Vikram knew she was divorced and wondered whether her suspicion of him had something to do with that. He had seen that in some women. But he could tell that her scepticism arose out of sisterly love. Only an elder sister can act like that. He stood still for her inspection. She approved him with a firm nod.
Malini stopped playing the moment he entered. Her long and thin fingers held it delicately but covered its holes perfectly. She was wearing a white top and a blue and green long skirt with mirror work done on it. She stood up and took a step in his direction. Her skirt added another rustling sound to her gait.
“Someone’s here to see you,” said her sister speculatively.
“Hello, Malini,” said Vikram. She smiled.
“He says he’s here to learn the harmonica,” said her sister as if announcing his death sentence. Malini nodded.
“Does he look like he’s here to learn the harmonica?” she asked. Her sister threw a glance at Vikram before smiling.
“No,” she said. The two sisters laughed gaily as Vikram stood there embarrassed. Malini’s sister patted his shoulder before going over to her, continuing to laugh all the while. Vikram realized her earlier behaviour had just been an act to intimidate him.
“If you really want to learn the harmonica, I will teach you. But if you want to spend time with me, you’ll have to read me some of your works,” said Malini when she had caught her breath.
“I’m afraid I don’t have any book of yours. I have heard of you, though. I’m Varsha, by the way. I’d love for you to read us something as well. It’ll be nice to have someone read to me for a change!” said her sister. Vikram could only chuckle nervously. He stood there uncomfortably for a few seconds before pocketing his harmonica and turning away.
“I’ll be right back,” he said. He knew he had some of his books stowed away in his house. He didn’t mind going back to fetch something. He wore the same smile as when he had walked to her house.