It was the final presentation for their final year project. They (he and his project partner, MK) had wrapped up the project somehow, not so accurately and not with the correct means but good enough to print and present. Now he was standing between the library and main building waiting for MK. It was slightly odd the way things were happening since he left the hostel for this presentation. He had fallen and nearly rolled down the road after crossing the SAC roundabout and just about managed to come up the incline with all his energy spent by the time he had crossed the sick bay. After a struggle he had reached here and was now waiting for MK. The hard bound, gold embossed final project report was like a weight in his hands. It was pulling him down. The weight was growing with every passing moment till he could no longer bear it. He had to sit down. Walking towards wind tunnel he sat on the side of the computer centre and let the weight fall beside him. There wasn’t much relief. That feeling of being dragged down by that black and golden weight remained.
Usually sitting here was a breather worth the value if not more than the missed lectures but today the place was not healing him. He didn’t get better, the feeling of tiredness in his mind and the feeling of numbness and heaviness in the body grew. Surprisingly, there was no air blowing, not a slight breeze through the wind tunnel. The usual humdrum of life didn’t reach his ears. People were walking by carrying there black and gold weights in their hands and they were all carrying heavy weights, the bodies were being dragged along at the expense of all possible efforts. It was quiet. A quiet full of heaviness, of gravity exceeding the gravity. Things were moving but not with freewill.
Finally, MK appeared at his side. He seemed refreshed. Had two coffees in his hands. Four rupees each to carry them through the final lap of this race. He handed sardar a cup of coffee and sat down and when the recently married girl from their batch crossed, with chooda and hina still gracing her arms, MK had something to talk on for next ten minutes. MK spoke but the sound seemed far away from sardar. He could hear the voice but in strange whispers. Like a bad transmission. Slow, shrieky, sharp, and sad. After a while MK did remember that they were yet to go through the slides and immediately picked up the slides and started proving to the world that this is how the world can run engines better, not even one percent convinced himself. And then it was time.
MK got up and moved towards the wind tunnel. Sardar tried to pick up the black and gold weight but it seemed an effort. He struggled but could not. He tried to raise himself but the weight dragged him down. MK looked back after reaching wind tunnel and found sardar sitting where he had left him. He walked back with a concern on his face. When he was discussing the slides he had seen sardar distracted as if something was troubling his head. When MK got to him sardar raised his arm and MK pulled him up. MK picked up the final report and slides and they started walking.
The gust of wind threw him off his feet, sending him down on his fours. It had caught him unawares after such a windless day, yet the world around him was unaffected. When he got grip of himself he saw everyone else moving on, as if nothing had happened. MK stood by surprised but with an extended arm to raise him up once again. He was saying something. But it was distant. Sardar could not hear him. It should have worried him, he should have told MK that something was wrong but they had to do this. Finish this last hurdle. He was more alert for wind this time. He held on to MK’s arm. As he stepped under the wind tunnel the blow hit him again. He gripped MK’s arm harder, half hidden behind him. Nobody else seemed to notice the wind. MK continued to move forward and slowly sardar dragged himself out of the wind tunnel and out of the wind and then they were climbing the stairs next to engines lab. The presentation was next to department head’s office, first floor, second block.
They had reached the room and were waiting for the group ahead of them to finish. Another five minutes to go before their turn. Their project guide came and gave his final advice and encouragement. Why was it so quiet? Even when their guide talked sardar felt the world quiet, the guide’s voice was not like MK’s voice. It was not distant. It existed somewhere but it did not come to existence through sardar’s ears. Sardar could notice how the words were forming from the guide’s mouth, his lips were curling and giving the words shapes for sardar. He felt afraid. He should tell them, tell MK and his guide something was wrong, but what? And they had to get this project through today, if not tomorrow maybe too late. The apparatus didn’t work and they were lucky the evaluators had not come to check and confirm their experimental readings. Everyone had believed them with their results. So far. He had to do it and it had to be done now.
And then the door to the presentation room opened. Two of his batch mates came out with blood dripping from their eyes. They had wings of birds in their hands, wings bound in black and black embossed in gold. And then came a white man with a black name and red horns and then came short man with long tail, and there came a fat man with thin legs and there was a tiny little thin lady professor with her hair touching the floor and then came the sound of children crying and there came the sound of girls laughing and then came the sound of hammers and horns and there was a horse and elephant and birds and the door was still only opening and all wanted to come out and all wanted to come to him. The girl with choora and hina on her arms, the recently married batch mate crossed by and he felt MK’s pull on his arm. They were getting late and the professors inside the room were looking at him and the door was open and MK had setup the slides and he could see the title of their project and their names on the white sheet. And the rest of them, all of them that he had just heard and seen had left and it was him and MK and professors and slides and projector, and black and gold weight. MK gave another pull on his arm and slowly they moved in. The door closed on them, on him.
MK started speaking. It was the same shrill in his voice, a distant cry. Eeeeennnggggiiiinnnnnnnnee. DDDDDiiiiiiiiieeeeeessssssseeelllllllllllllllllllllll. The words reached sardar and caught him and shook him, trying to wake him from the slumber he was falling into. MK continued on, as was the plan he went ahead with the first ten slides. Ten as sardar could see the slides come and go. With every changing slide he wanted to say one, say two, say three and count till his turn came, say those words so that he can find the sound of his words, listen to them but nothing came and then it was ten on the projector and ten in his head and he knew that he had to find words and somehow speak them and tell the professors all about his project. Now it was eleven. MK moved aside. He was looking at him. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, and ten. It was eleven now. He had counted the numbers of the passing slides in his head. He had tried to say the words to find his voice. He had tried but the tongue did not lift from the bottom, never twisted, didn’t touch the top of month, the lips didn’t find the shape they were meant to find, the air did not turn into the waves of sound it was meant to be and none of the eardrums felt the words that were to make them turn and turn and turn and thus make them part of the sharing, of the forming and of the listening, hearing, fading away of the sounds. And it was eleven and MK had moved aside and sardar had to say something. Something. Engine, diesel, piston, area, efficiency. Something. Direct, indirect, air, fuel, intake, combustion, power, exhaust. Something. Say say say say something. One two three four five six seven eight nine ten. The seconds were coming and seconds were going. Seconds that don’t need tongues and lips and sound and ears to make and break themselves. The seconds were ticking, he could hear the ticks in his head, clear and distinct. No shrillness in ticking, it was a clear sound, one, two, three, all formed individually with unique identities. And then it was eleven. And then the slide on the projector was for him. And then it was eleven, the passing second. And then it was a minute.
Ssssssppppppeeeeeaaaaaakkkkkkkk. Along with the ticking of seconds he could hear a sound. It was saying ssssssspppppppeeeeeeaaaaaaakkkkkkk. A command, an appeal, a request, a threat. Ssssssspppppppeeeeeaaaaakkkkkkkk. He raised his head. MK’s lips were forming that sound. There was it, in his eyes, the anger, frustration, surprise, and fear. Sardar knew he had to lift himself out of this weight, the weight of the golden words, the weight of the winds, the weight of the sounds, and the weight of existence. He was in the corner. He gathered all his remaining energy and tried to make his tongue move. All he could do was look MK in the eyes and make his head move. A negative. That was all he had in him. A nod, a nod in negative. The nod saying he can’t do it, the nod saying it’s you or nobody, the nod saying help him, the nod saying that it’s only MK who can open those closed doors. And then his head fell. And then MK took over.
It was eleven and then twelve and shortly it was twenty and then it was the end, the end of the presentation. There were questions which MK answered, the professors had looked concerned but the department head made them move on. This has to be finished. And then the others appeared. With their projects and slides, and black and golden books. MK in his slow forming words told sardar that he has to answer few questions on the project only then the evaluation of the project will finish. Only then yyyoooouuuuuu will pass. And people kept coming in and going out through the closed door. The door never opened but they kept coming in and going out. Then it was over, the last of the presentations. It was time for him to answer the questions.
MK helped him up, and he was standing next to the projector. One of the professors said something and MK put a slide up. The professor’s lips moved. Here was it. The question for sardar, to take him through to the finish line. He had to catch the question and walk along with his answer to the finish line and then that would be it. He would be a graduate. End of the race. The professor looked at him. He tried the same lip movement again. Probably repeating the question for him. Sardar could not hear him and MK didn’t repeat the question for him else he might have heard it, slowly word by shrieking word and he could not tell this to MK and he could not find his voice and then they started leaving, one by one, all the professors were gone. His guide came to him and said something. He had a worried look in his eyes but those eyes seemed to say I tried, I did, and I have done so much already to keep you in this college, can’t help you get out of it, this you will have to do. It was his eyes and then the eyes were not there. His guide went out through the closed doors. MK was still there. Collecting the slides and the remains of the project. And then the dark took over.
As life came back to sardar’s limbs he tried to move. MK was still there trying to raise him to his feet and to take him to the hostel. He lifted him and moved towards the door. Sardar saw that the door was closed but MK kept moving. Sardar wanted to tell him that open the door first, you are walking into a closed door. The words never came to him and MK kept walking through the closed door. He was half out, completely out and as sardar reached the door MK felt the impact. Sardar was lying on the floor. He had hit something and fell. MK could not understand. He went back inside and tried to drag sardar out but he could not, sardar’s body did not cross the door. It has been a tough day on him and he was also beginning to feel the tiredness. He sat for a while on one of the chairs in the room and then he went to look for some food and help.
It was dark. Seconds turned into minutes, minutes into hours. Sardar lay there. The evening dissolved into night and night gave way to day. The day turned into night again and so on it continued for him. As the day would rise he could see the light come in through the door slits, through windows and with night the dark would take him in. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months, he lost conscious, came back to it and lost it again. Yet the words for help never came to his lips. He was lying in the corner of the room, behind the closed doors. He could not move and he could not shout and the help never came. There were attempts to open the door. Some distant sounds reached him every now and then. He had felt that there was someone trying to open that door, sound of friends initially, probably sound of someone from his family later on but the doors never opened. The cycle of dark and light kept on and May turned into June and June turned into July.
July was the month he was to join his job. He was trying to say that someone should help him, let him out he had to join the job, he had to travel to another city, his days in this place are over. The help never came. It was mid of July and the corridors outside starting teaming with life. His shouts never came out of his throat. Noone came inside the closed doors. It was end of July. He was to get his first pay-cheque from the job he would have joined, the salary that was much needed. He cried but the tears never came, he needed the salary. His family needed it. He had the responsibilities of the loans to be paid back, of the tuition fees and the admission forms required but the words, the tears, the cries had all deserted him. August came and yet he lay there. Then there was the second weekend of the August. There was that weekend arriving, an unusual Friday passing, a Friday with more life than usual. All his batch and all the staff were out there rehearsing for the big event and then the light went out of the doors and it was night. Darkness.
The light from the windows woke him. He was alive but how and why he didn’t know. The light came to him today just like it had done every day for last three months. It was a weekend, the quiet and calm life of a weekend morning. And then he heard the bells. He heard the bells clearly. Unlike the sounds he had heard these last few months. The bell’s ringing was clearer. The ship was reaching an island. They had reached their destination. A batch of passengers was ready to disembark after their long journey. He was meant to be one of them, member of that cruise that lasted four years, he was meant to be a part of the celebrations. It was their graduation day. The graduation bells were ringing. They were calling him to life.
The bells went on. Unlike the graduation bells which sounded only for a minute, these bells went on. Then he saw the light, the bright glow of the light coming through the white curtains and glass panes. His eyes slowly took in the place and his ears heard clearly. A fire engine was close by and the lights of the city were coming in through the window. He was where he had slept, on the same bed and inside the same four walls where he has been sleeping for last three months. He came back slowly to his existence. Slowly the light glowing from the curtained glasses and glow of the city brought him back to the real world of quiet and emptiness, of an existence which he wasn’t sure off. He looked around and the door was closed. He was still behind a closed door.
He could not decide which of the nightmares was worse.
The cover of Annie Zaidi’s ‘prelude to a riot’ carries in red letters – ‘A white-hot novel about today’s India.’ White hot! Hotter than red-...
The first time I wrote about a female working with SLB, the article made it to INM Masala Pipeline. Lakshmi enjoyed a very short lived (o...
She is done with the morning’s cooking and cleaning. “Listen, you take the rest of the month off. We will let you know when to start aga...
From the first words, ‘Je ho ji tu samjhe mahiya, Oho ji main hain nahin’ ‘What you know of me, my dear, I am not that’, as the epigram to t...