Reading Time: 8 minutes
Sucharita unfolds the dynamics of relationships for an autistic person with sensitivity, for the Special Feature. A Different Truths exclusive.
Maya parks the car, turns off the ignition and sits in the darkness for a moment. Across the road, a vendor hauls his wares off the pavement on to his head and begins the journey back home.
She checks the car doors again and runs her palms over the windows to ensure they are rolled up.
Inside the house, such silence.
Outside, the world spins, haggling, heckling, harrowing. She slumps into the sofa, sitting in the soothing slant of light from the passage, and stretches her legs on the table. In the half shadows and light of the room, she can make out each object neatly placed in its space.
A motorcycle roars past the house, the narrow road and its houses trapping the sound, amplifying it. She is ravenous.
A motorcycle roars past the house, the narrow road and its houses trapping the sound, amplifying it. She is ravenous. How often I’ve told you to employ a cook! Her mother would have scolded again. She’s stopped telling her how the cook created too much noise, but she missed her.
The eggs sizzle in the pan. She adds sautéed mushrooms, spring onions, chilli flakes and a dollop of butter. The chimney hums. She takes out the chapattis she made before leaving for work and the shrimps fried rice, her favourite. She touches the cheese pineapple soufflé with a light finger. Ah! She can’t wait to dig in.
She lays the table and looks at the clock. Twelve minutes to go. Enough time to freshen up and get into comfortable clothes. The pant suit is tight – she hasn’t had any exercise in a while and puts on weight too easily. She has to stop being lazy.
Sometimes, she misses her husband, like now. But she’s managed well alone.
Maya emerges from the bathroom feeling fresh and clean, her hair tied up in a bun. Sometimes, she misses her husband, like now. But she’s managed well alone.
As the clock chimes 8:15, she knocks on the door and gently pushes it open.
He turns to greet his mother, his smile synchronous with the turning of the doorknob and looks away as soon as she smiles. She stands behind his chair, reaching out tentatively to ruffle his hair but withdrawing almost immediately.
He nods, looks at his watch and pushes back the chair.
He nods, looks at his watch and pushes back the chair. She steps aside for him to go to the bathroom, wash his hands exactly two times, wiping them each time. He’ll take four minutes.
On the computer she can make out stick figures; on a piece of paper on the unruffled whiteness of his table are calculations in dark ink. He’s been busy, earning well, she knows. All those designs and calculations. Her head spins from too much of it. He goes on for days at a stretch.
At 8:25, they’re at the table.
The chappati, folded into a neat triangle, is on the left of his plate. The egg is on the right, in a neat tiny semicircle.
The chappati, folded into a neat triangle, is on the left of his plate. The egg is on the right, in a neat tiny semicircle. The fried rice is warm, not hot. The water in his glass is exactly at the halfway mark. She serves dal in a bowl and passes it to him. Break from routine. He shakes his head; she places it firmly on his plate and passes a spoon to him. He looks up for a brief, flashing moment and takes the spoon but doesn’t eat. Go on. Try it, she says and eats a few spoonsful.
So. What did you do today?
He shakes his head.
Hmm. New project.
She passes the dish of fried rice to him. He picks out the shrimps and puts them on her plate. She chuckles. Why don’t you eat them?
He picks out a couple from her plate and puts them in his mouth.
The shared past has been a lesson in living differently.
She wants to hug him. Often at work, she feels the urge to return home and embrace her son. When she had insisted on Advait as the name for her newborn, she’d known, already, what she wanted her child to be. Later, in the unformed days of not knowing so much else, she had faltered, not realised what it would take. The shared past has been a lesson in living differently.
Pari? Who’s that?
Her heart leaps. She presses it down with a trembling hand. Friend! Pari? So, you’ve got a fairy in your life?
Wrong thing to say. Mistakes recur. The consequences change.
Funny, he says but doesn’t walk away.
Mornings are full of tumult. The sound of cars, motorcycles, scooters, the honking of buses, the hawking of vendors… and the doorbell.
Mornings are full of tumult. The sound of cars, motorcycles, scooters, the honking of buses, the hawking of vendors… and the doorbell. It brings the maid and the blasted uproar from outside into the house. The clatter clang clash of vessels – steel on steel, crockery and cutlery, the pressure cooker’s insistent shrill, the grinder’s daily din…
I retreat to my room, shut the door, the windows.
Morning is no time for noise when the mind is fraught with the impending tensions of a new day. The headphones are no good. The clamour seeps into my brain.
A terrible temper flared in my mind one day. It gathered flame. I saw the flame spread, dance, hiss. It circled the house and exploded in the middle of the kitchen from where the maid walked out, banging shut the door behind her.
Sound is meant for a purpose, not to turn it into noise.
Sound is meant for a purpose, not to turn it into noise. White noise. Dead noise. Empty noise. Noise is sound gone awry.
Mamma was upset. She would have to look for a maid again, someone who could work more quietly.
You have those headphones on round the clock. How come that doesn’t disturb you?
That’s music, Mamma.
Of course! Not noise. Right?
Why was she angry?
So much of the world’s conflict can be avoided by doing away with noise, its excess at least.
I went back to my room and shut the door, noiselessly. Every object makes some kind of sound. I only cut off the noise. So much of the world’s conflict can be avoided by doing away with noise, its excess at least. Why’s that so difficult to understand?
The first time it happened was when papa switched on the vacuum cleaner. It’s a passing phase, everyone said. Many children dislike the sound of vacuum cleaners. But that’s wasn’t all. The neighbourhood stray dogs yapped through the night. I walked out to the gate one night and pelted them with whatever I could find. There was hell to pay. Why should I walk out to the gate at night? Was I sleepwalking? Insomniac? Why didn’t I go out and play with the other boys? No more video games, they said.
I play those on mute.
That’s not the issue, papa said.
What was the issue? I didn’t ask.
But there was solace, refuge, where the only sounds that percolated were those that I allowed.
But there was solace, refuge, where the only sounds that percolated were those that I allowed. Muted, they let in the twitter of sparrows’; switched on, they cut off the insistent cawing of crows.
Mamma had hated the headphones at one time.
When papa left, she bought me a new pair.
7 p.m. The door opens before you ring the bell and you fall in love all over again. Of course, the way he looks away disturbs you still. Does he notice what you wear? The shade of lipstick you chose so meticulously for this date? The way you have left your hair loose hoping he’ll find it in himself to touch its texture or inhale its fragrance. But you know how it is. You put out a hand and he gives you his forefinger. A tiny touch that you hold on to. You turn to shut the gate but he does it before you and you don’t hear a thing.
Tomorrow’s Holi…. You won’t smear his face with colour, not even a dab on the forehead, but late in the evening, when the sounds of merrymaking and ribaldry have died down, he wants to listen to hori thumris with you.
Tomorrow’s Holi. You’ll be out with the colours and your friends. You won’t smear hisface with colour, not even a dab on the forehead, but late in the evening, when the sounds of merrymaking and ribaldry have died down, he wants to listen to hori thumris with you. For you, Holi songs are Bollywood anthems, you said. Always a first time, he messaged. Coming from him it didn’t make sense. But you’ve learnt – not everything needs to make sense, not everything can be predicated, like he says.
You’ve marked dates on the calendar – the entire month has been accounted for. What if you break from the pattern? So you ask –Shall we walk down to the lake?
He stops, takes out his pocket diary and shows you the entry against today’s date. You’d convinced him about the restaurant, there’s no changing the plan.
He stops suddenly. Prefer the lake? He asks.
Yup. I do. Next month. Put it down in your diary?
A roadside flower seller holds out a rose.
He buys a whole bunch and turns to you.
You want to kiss him. Perhaps he anticipates this. He steps back, eyes averted.
You want to snuggle into his arms with the rose petals brushing your cheeks. You want to kiss him. Perhaps he anticipates this. He steps back, eyes averted. Your sister’s advice echoes in your mind: Don’t hurry things, Pari. Give it time.
You have time; you don’t have time, who knows. But this you have – the here and now, the roses, the moon, this love that fills your very being. Hori thumris. You’ve read up about them and you know what you want to listen to. It takes some preparation, every relationship, your mother said.
Purple is a difficult colour to wash away. There’s a little bit of it on your face and neck but he won’t look, won’t notice. You drape the white dupatta and let your hair hide some of the purple around the edges of your face.
His mother opens the door, their resemblance inescapable. Today’s Holi, so you bend to touch her feet and feel a sudden tide of emotion that wraps around you.
His mother opens the door, their resemblance inescapable. Today’s Holi, so you bend to touch her feet and feel a sudden tide of emotion that wraps around you. Love, you think, courses its way from heart to heart. She applies a dash of colour to your forehead. The house is an island of quiet in the middle of a chaotic city, after the revelry of a chaotic day.
She returns with cold, raw mango juice: He’s been on YouTube the whole day. Selecting thumris for you.
Her smile is beautiful.
I breathe in the aroma of raw mango. Should I go to him?
He doesn’t allow anyone into his room, but come along. Let’s see if he lets you in.
Low music, as of the stars and the open sky, of longing and joy draws you into the room.
You knock softly and enter. Low music, as of the stars and the open sky, of longing and joy draws you into the room. He senses your presence and turns.
What are you listening to, Addie?
Kaisi yeh dhoom machaayi… He looks at your sandals. There’s purple on your feet too.
He nods and offers his headphones to you.
Maya glides away from the door, leaving it ajar…
Photos from the Internet