Cloaks of Uncertainty

Diwa Shaw

© Copyright 2018 by Diwa Shaw


Photo of a girl in a mortar board.

The squeaking of the asymmetrical fan had settled in the earlobe as indifferently as the dust who had been the local occupant of the fan since the cleaning break, last summer. The mirror in the center, and our impetuous young lifestyle, required a modest frame and some scrubbing. The disheveled room was a transient set from a movie. Timeworn almirah, casting its silvery skin with negligible patience level, rested in the two corners of the room. The fourth wall of the room comprised of an enormous plastic pane for a window, and a wooden door that opened out to a contemporary balcony. There was artificial grass and glistening pillars in the narrow verandah, overlooking a lonely lamppost that had uninvited moths buzzing around it at night, and a park fit for the location of a horror movie. It had an odd vibe, and it felt like the furniture was going to be moved to the different places that it originally belonged to. Accumulated garbage of the room rested peacefully underneath three same sized beds that were equidistant from each other. A tunnel like tube light of a dazzling white color illuminated the room, making it look strangely white, almost like a new color altogether.

The summer of 2014 remembers me as the reckless nineteen-year-old who understood maturity as giving away life for love and friendship. I shared this unkempt room, echoing with laughter and infinite possibilities, with two friends of mine who I would later recall with nostalgia as my best friends. The cotton shorts and t shirt from the flea market fit my petite structure perfectly, and I see myself thumping the ground, as we laugh uncontrollably, like we knew we would be remembering such a hearty laughter for the rest of our lives. Life protected us with this shield that kept all kinds of stress and monetary issues at bay. It felt unfair to know that it was inevitable for the shield to break, once we graduated. We prided over being the backbenchers, and for only two days before the exam we witnessed a life that was not made up of our hobbies. There was an unusual contentment like a green tree oblivious of its naked plight during winter. Fragile dreams with vague trails hovered in the air, as frequently, as the airborne pollution in Delhi. I would meet my roommate’s sister for the first time that summer.

There were distinctive categories of children in a middle class Indian family. The highest bid was on the prodigy that would crack the marvelous academic code to bring the family to the highest state of nobility and security, known to a humble middle-class household. The mediocre children had prospects of excelling in academia by often being compared to the hard-working prodigy that were dwelling in the similar kinds of households. The last group of sluggish offspring were often reminded of their hopeless future, and their inappropriate timing for being born in a class that could simply not afford laziness. My life had been a struggle, I had tried fitting in the genius category during my school days, but unfortunately, I soon embraced to my own mediocre position later. My other two friends and I were quite gratified with spotting unique outlets of food, getting exclusive garments at the cheapest prices, and making an adventurous trip to exceptional places nearby. The daunting potential of belonging to the hardworking middle class had never altered the unruffled lines of our forehead, but then my mother said that it was because we had altered theirs. Navi, my roommate, had told me that she was the younger sibling, and her elder sister was studying in one of the most esteemed institutions of Delhi University. The name of the institution itself was enough to enlighten me with the forthcoming life of her sister, like the name of a famous actor is enough to get us excited for the movie sometimes. While mopping the floor with the gossip of the neighborhood, Neetu di with crooked eyebrows and a frowning smile, had mentioned how Navi’s sister had scored a ninety eight percent in her board exams. We often just relished hearing the rumors and the scandals, and how our maid had an account of such detailed personal information, always remained a mystery to us. ‘One must never ask how the food was cooked while enjoying a meal at a restaurant', said my friend, and so we often trusted the most unreliable sources to entertain us. There was an unspoken feeling of admiration that we all had for Navi’s sister even before we had met her, but then you don’t have to live inside the royal palace to feel the wonder and glory of it. I remember Navi mentioning it casually that her sister had been elected as the president of the history department. The admiration for her post was equivalent to the position of the prime minister at the time. I often wondered whether the blossoming branches of her sister had cast a shadow that sheltered Navi tranquilly from the sun, or rather threatened her from soaking its dazzling light. Her sister was only a year older to us, but we often felt that there was a huge age gap marked by her intellect and prestige. Navi struggled finishing essays for her assignment while prominent newspapers published lengthy articles by her sister. Her achievements were like a red-carpet reverberating with the sound of the people who were unapproachable to us.

Once while reading, I heard sniffles from the other bed, and when I looked up I saw Navi sobbing uncontrollably. As we sat in an awkward silence that was interrupted with her weeps, I wondered if I had said something rude to her in anger. My brain kept tormenting me of my blunt tongue, until she softly spoke of the burdening conversation she had with her father. Her elongated face was soiled in black eyeliner, and her small pointed nose gleamed of a sharp red color. The vivid picture of her long, unthinking hands fiddling with her toe carelessly, comes to my mind when I think of the incident now. I can never forget her wandering eyes as she told me, ‘When there is a glowing flower on the top, people often forget that leaves are also responsible for photosynthesis.’ It had sounded more philosophical in Hindi. This incident like many others had taught the nineteen-year-old me that sometimes tragedies did not require any plot of murder and death.

Short, curly hair swaying at mismatched levels flattered her rounded face. Her dark doe-eyes had mastered the art of expression, and a small flat nose made way for her full-sized, sculpted lips. Her small height was not capable of inhibiting her innate confidence that made her appear much taller than any of us in the room. Navi’s sister, Divya, was like the breath of ocean that can be felt from afar and thrill you about the expanse of the sea even when you have not seen it. The only similar link between the sisters was the fact that they were siblings. Navi was lean and tall and had very long hair unlike Divya. Anxiety about sounding very foolish always messed with my meager vocabulary while conversing with her. English was one of the absolute parameters for judging the Indian education system, and her impeccable command over the language was like knowing than an Indian government official was an honest, uncorrupt man. There are some who try building up a good vocabulary, and then there are others who seem to be knowing words like days of the week. My mother had always wanted me to be the latter, but my memory had never shown much interest in working with me in aspects other than that of deserted love.

The first time that I saw London Bridge or the Taj Mahal, I was overcome with innumerable emotions. When you have imagined a place or a person so repeatedly in your head, it becomes overwhelming to decide whether to draw parallels, or experience it like you were seeing it for the first time, but it is almost impossible to encounter it for the first time when it has dwelled in your memory before it has in your sight. Divya had an easy-going manner, and with her sharp wit she made everyone laugh by taking a dig at her docile sister. She had compelling leftist views that tossed around assertively in her discussions. There was profound knowledge that backed up all her arguments like a solid foundation enabling a picturesque tree to thrive. Confidence was often a mirage that made the underconfident believe that the former was born with an extra limb. The world was a jar brimming of encouraging opportunities to people like her. The way her finger was often fidgeting with her flicks unconsciously while speaking is etched strikingly in my memory; the distinct mannerisms of people sometimes contribute so much to their appearance that the brain evokes their image by those very few gestures the next time. I was dumbfounded when she came up to me and wanted to discuss her own little relationship brawl. It felt insignificant that a gifted soul like hers dealt with such trivial issues. Pressing her upper lip, and with her eyebrows knit tightly, she patiently heard my weak voice preaching the sermon of getting over immature boys. A wry smile had escaped her mouth, and I had thought that such petty concerns would make their own graves before the significant goals of her life. She was to prepare for her Rhodes scholarship to Oxford the following month, and a star kid of a middle-class family was to strip off the path of struggle seen by their parents.

As unsurprisingly as the shortening length of the day during the winter season, days at that uncanny room which remembers us as, ‘the three sloshed girls ready to take life with their smile and inseparability’, passed by briefly; it has seen more memories and rubbish: hoarded in our occupancy, than it will ever do in the future. I had had a few conversations where Navi had told me that her sister could not make it to Oxford, but she did get through one of the prime institutions in Mumbai. Once she moved out of the city, I barely heard anything about her. Though a few months later, Navi did talk about how her sister was not feeling emotionally alright, but then sometimes ambitious goals can drain one emotionally. She did mention depression, but as children of middle class backgrounds we were often encouraged to confuse depression as sadness. She said her father felt utterly helpless while understanding the mental state of a daughter who was the torch bearer of the family. The following winter break, Navi told me that Divya was going to visit her for a few days. I was eager to see her sister, and I felt it would be inspiring to know about all her endeavors like it would motivate me to get more focused in life as well.

Dressed in a filthy green t-shirt and loose pants, Divya had tied her hair in a messy bun, and her eyes had dumps of strain and anxiety around it. It took me a while to adjust to the image that contradicted the one on my mind. Her once attentive eyes were drifting aimlessly like a kite that had been cut loose. The weary face muscles looked like they were constrained. Every fragment of her body told me that she was fighting a severe war inside her mind. She looked at me with a careless glance, and her unfocused eyes kept disregarding my presence. She took me to the corner of the room and narrated a tale which I would later know was concocted. She convinced me that her father and a few other men had a conspiracy against her. She spoke so gently as if trying to whisper in an imaginary library. She looked like a new person overall. When we went out to eat later that evening, she clasped my hand tightly, and I saw how the slightest honk of the car would shatter her poise to pieces. My younger self still had to understand that life came clothed in invisible cloaks of uncertainty. Life had bared its starkest reality, and I felt like I was melting away with its unforeseen lathers, unable to comprehend the degree of unfairness life greets each one by.

    I am Diwa Shah, currently pursuing masters in creative writing from Durham University.I am an Indian resident, and my autobiographical piece covers incidents that took place in the summer of 2014 in India.I am twenty three years old and I haven't got any work published before.I am very pleased to submit my story,looking forward to your response.

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