The tiny room near the stairs had been rented by a teacher. She lived in it with her eight year old son. The kid was bed ridden. Had been born that way, it seemed. The teacher's husband had abandoned them and taken a new wife. The teacher's school was nearby. She left her son lying on a mattress in the corridor near the stairs for the day, she came home during lunch break and whenever she could make time between her classes; to check on him. To make sure he was fed and watered and cleaned.

It felt apathetic to cross the boy lying that way on the floor every time any one took the stairs. The landlord had talked to the teacher about this. But she couldn't leave the boy in the room where there was nothing to see. From the corridor the boy could at least look at the betel nut trees sway in the backyard. Or listen to the landlord's TV in the other room.

The landlord and his wife occupied the rest of the house downstairs. They had two rooms, each slept in one. There was another small room where they kept the idols of their deities, in which the wife worshipped incessantly for hours every morning and evening. Then there was a corridor like living room which had a shelf. That shelf, in its several racks housed prizes, medals and cups the landlord's children had won over the years. Debate competitions and annual sporting events and dance competitions. The landlord had a son, but before that his wife had birthed three daughters. Not one, not two.

The son, studious from the crib, worked as a professor in some far off university. The daughters who had started off as librarians and stenographers had eventually had children and stayed home. They visited their parents very rarely. The house began to feel too big and too empty to the ageing couple and they started renting out chunks of it, after setting aside for themselves only what they absolutely needed.

The house now had two such chunks which were locked and waiting for tenants. The teacher rented the room downstairs in the summer. Then I took the room upstairs with the balcony, in the last month of monsoon. I didn't have a kitchen and cooked on a hot plate, which I shoved under the single bed once done with. I had very few utensils, not many clothes. The room was enough for me. Whenever I felt like I sat in the balcony. If I leaned well, I could see the temple at the end of the street. Sometimes people walking down the street stared up at me, particularly the boys playing or girls returning from school. But mostly they leave me be.

I had an arrangement with the landlord's servant who came in once a day. She got me a few groceries whenever I ran out. I also walked up to the book shelf in the living room of the landlord and borrowed a book now and then. But that was that. I never stepped out.


I am living in hiding.
That everything's fine,
With my many untruths and half truths

My axis, although is twisted
I am always losing balance
Because my chest is heavy with weight
And my legs are light with fear

This lying business
Is anything but easy
My nights are comatose
But if I wake up, can't ever get back to sleep

Dawn brings in an unwanted reminder
Of all my lies
And the cracks in my life
Face dug in a pillow, wanna sleep forever

My unsolvable problems
Which are because of no fault of mine
I am guileless, please listen
Just can't anymore, I can't


Summers are harsh. Sometimes, unbearably so.  Hence, a plan was duly chalked out. Nayana's parents' were woefully concerned about her education. Particularly, her father. So when Nayana told him that she couldn't stand the summer heat during the intervals between her multiple tuition sessions during the day, her father had to immediately put on his problem solver pants and get down to action.

March had only just ended and already the sun beat down relentlessly. Colleges and schools had closed down for a generous three month summer vacation. But the tuition classes decided this was an opportunity to finish half the syllabus and increased the frequency of classes. Nayana lived far from the city and took the bus, to and fro. In the intervals between, say tuition classes of Physics and Biology, she didn't have a roof to be under.

Nayana did not have many friends. It was right about that age that she had stopped making friends. The ones in school had gone to separate colleges and had lost touch. The new class mates remained just acquaintances, laboratory partners, bench-mates but were never promoted to friends, probably because of the lack of prolonged one-to-one exposure.

Problem solving pants wearer father, in the meantime found out an old relative in the city, bang at the median point of all of Nayana's tuition locations. It was an old lady, a cousin or an aunt, once or twice removed. She lived alone in a duplex house with a garden and a backyard. Such opulence, Nayana thought when they visited her for the first time to make acquaintance and ask for shelter from the summer. The aunt was delighted. Nayana and her father were relieved.

The old lady didn't have much of immediate family to boast of. Her son was married to a white woman and settled abroad, probably divorced, with three children. Her daughter was also married off, to someone in the merchant navy. The aunt's husband had died long ago. She basically spent entire days tending to gardens, going to temples and cooking a small meal for herself.

Nayana didn't strike a friendship right away, she never does. But with time, there grew a quiet camaraderie between them, they had over half a century between themselves in age, notwithstanding. Nayana would arrive dutifully at about half past ten in the morning, when her classes began as early as eight. Then both of them would savor a lunch together on the aunt's mosaic-top dining table, which would usually be adorned with an ornate vase of fresh flowers from the garden. As the aunt went back to her siesta, or to flip through a magazine, Nayana would leave at around one and be back at three. Nayana took to the aunt's habit of tea and salted biscuits in the afternoon, sitting with her in her netted garden chair and be off for a final class at five from where should would directly head home.

Nayana would be treated by the aunt with glasses of lime juice or lassi to ward off dehydration. Sometimes, Nayana's mother would send packets of sweets through Nayana to thank the aunt. But soon they realized that the aunt was a diabetic and all the sweets were getting back to Nayana's lunch plate.

Some days, the classes would get cancelled, or Nayana would just bunk them saying it was too hot to go out. Together they would lay on the bed, in the moist air of the air cooler and flip through magazines, or watch matinee TV before drifting off to sleep. Though it surprised her parents, on some nights Nayana would just call home to say she would spend the night at the aunt's and go home the next day. Dinners would be special with some fish or prawns. Nayana would read the aunt's Woman's Era magazines till late in the night. Some of them had fiction. Stories about women, young and old, their problems, lives, solutions, joys and sorrows.

Nayana juxtaposed her future with the lives of those characters. At that time and age, nothing was definite, nothing was decided about the future. It never is. But back then, she felt this certain amount of control or say she had and felt that she could mold her life the way she wanted. Her life was definitely not going to be like this aunt's, married off at eighteen, twice a mother at twenty three. But the aunt's life suddenly didn't seem bad at all, with oodles of leisure, magazines and a garden.

Nayana sometimes stayed an entire Sunday or two and helped tend to the garden, loosen the soil in the potted plants, add manure, water them. She plucked drumsticks and papaya, by just standing on the roof. There were bananas too, but those took too long to ripen. There was a once a big jackfruit that ripened and it was too big to eat for just two people. So both of them walked from neighbor to neighbor distributing jackfruit as a gesture of goodwill. Nayana was surprised everyone knew the aunt, despite the fact that she didn't venture out much.

The three months of summer were over in a whoosh. Once college reopened, Nayana couldn't once go back to visit her aunt. Something mysterious stopped her. Probably, she didn't know what she would say now that their time together was a choice and not a compulsion. Probably, she wanted to keep those months of summer untarnished in her memory without any interventions from any other time in the future. That summer, a bounded stretch of lapsed time, she could travel back to from time to time and gape at with glorious wonder.