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Deepthi Krishnamurthy’s wonderfully evocative entry for January’s writing theme could be any woman’s story.
Deepthi Krishnamurthy, in her own words: I am from Bangalore where I live with my husband. Other cities I have lived in and loved are Hyderabad and Minneapolis. I dreamt of writing my own book when I was 9. I have not been able to muster the courage to attempt writing longer fiction ever since. But I am glad that I did not stop writing. Writing has always been a joy, even if it is just an entry in my journal.
On the wide spectrum of authors I enjoy reading are Jhumpa Lahiri, Chinua Achebe, Haruki Murakami and Franz Kafka. James Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’ was the book that got me excited about writing short stories. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story, ‘The yellow wallpaper’ was what inspired me to write from a woman’s point of view. ‘Stories’ is purely fictional.
Old memories are sometimes like blunt pains from an injury in history. You can’t remember what happened there until for some reason it is touched again. Crimes committed fade away becoming mere stories. But when their fossils are exhumed, they hint at mute tragedies that remained ignored. They sometimes whisper, but thin air is all they manage to convey.
She thought of their Delhi home, of the summer when she went to the new swimming pool nearby. Pink pamphlets – ads for the children’s swim lessons – had been stuck in everyone’s gates and mailboxes week after week. They were not going to do the usual exhausting train journey to Bangalore this year, her mother had declared.
She heard her mother talk to her aunt over phone the next morning, ‘Oh, she’s doing great. She’s putting on weight now. I know, I know, it’s not good for a girl. But you’ve seen her; she’s always been chubby. She’s young but we need to make sure she’s fit, na? What if it’s hard to find her a boy later? Yes, yes, I’ve been thinking about it too. She loves water, so we decided to put her in a swimming class. No no, kids her age can swim just fine- even better when they’re young. The coach is very good too.’
She had begun to hate the lessons and even skipped class one day. Her father had asked her sternly, ‘Do you know how expensive these classes are?’ He turned to her mother ‘Couldn’t we have visited Bangalore instead? This is such a waste of money, I tell you!’ he said. ‘Oh, don’t worry! She’ll pick it up. She’s just being lazy,’ her mother replied calmly.
She didn’t understand why the coach needed to help her with her swimsuit in the shower room every day. Why did he have to touch her? What had she been burying with her silent tears? So many questions had remained unanswered. Now she was too old to remember things. But what she couldn’t forget was beating her legs till they hurt.
For a long time, she believed these were stories that her mind had cooked up. In reality, nothing had happened there. After all, we all tell ourselves stories, don’t we? We exaggerate and feel sorry for ourselves. She had probably been too lazy to go to the class.
Through stressful phases of her life, there had always been those thoughts of being in some great ocean. She was always about twenty feet below the surface. There was a darkening blue all around. Every cell in her body wanted just one thing – air to breathe. Her entire being was ready to suck in, and waited in utter desperation. Her lungs would suck in the salty water around if she let go. She had to hold her breath and beat her legs. ‘Why, oh why,’ she asked herself, ‘Why could I not learn to swim?’ There was the blue of sea and the blue of the sky and nothing else around. The infinite space and the heavy claustrophobia were closing in on her. She would press her eyes shut and pray for sleep, even a nightmare would be great.
The stories she told herself could have remained stories, become more fictitious each passing day to help her live a little better each day or to die a little more. The story of the swimming coach, now old, shriveled and behind bars could have remained a story too.
Today she clenched the rubbery pipe between her teeth and floated thoughtlessly. Striped fish of different sizes swam by and harmless jellyfish bounced off her face and arms. The reef beneath was swarming with life. The blue-green sea was glistening under the sun. A little purple dot swam by – it was a fish. She barely flapped her webbed feet. She listened to the sound of her own breath as it flowed in and out, in and out of a pipe by her ear. The reassuring sound broke the heavy surface of the numbing silence that enveloped. She was floating and breathing – just like the fish.
Vague memories of how she once enjoyed water came back to her. They were memories of her, a little child, playing in the sand and running against the waves.
The image of a familiar hand and blue shorts flickered nearby. The hand reached out to her and she held it. She went back to the surface and took off her snorkel. They heard a cry from a boat nearby ‘Time up love birds, let’s get going’.
She inhaled deeply and opened her arms to the sky as she floated. If she recognized it right, there was a feeling of an old wound dying, withering and floating away, making way for a better life and better stories.
*Photo credit: marlise rodrigues (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)
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