After a Room full of Muddled Melodies

After a Room full of Muddled Melodies

Mandira Pattnaik

If it’s not Acapulco Moonlight, where the first trumpet’s highest note is an optional E, it’s a room full of muddled melodies. Remember, melodies, like life, can be grooved, with directions or blends of the two; just like formulas charted out might turn out jagged or scraped at the edges. Like light that seeped into your room at 16, Bentinck Street, Kolkata, where the changing but unceasing cacophony lingered in the air until nightfall. When darkness drew an impervious curtain, the squalid, overcrowded conditions slightly abated, as did the raised, frayed tempers of the hawkers just underneath your window; where the pavement was usurped each day by screaming men and women selling everything from tea, jalebis to fruits, steel utensils and cheap clothes.

‘Five bananas for ten rupees! Five for ten!’

‘Best quality steel! Plates, larder, glasses! Get anything for thirty! Only thirty!’

Vans, handcarts, rickshaws, egg-yolk-yellow taxis, rickety buses parked erratically wherever it suited the driver—to pee, or chat, or a cup of chai. You never complained to the man you’d married a fortnight ago. Instead, every afternoon, you paced the tiny room to find something to fill the hours with, then defeated you craned your neck to view, just beyond the grilled window, brick-and-mortar shops rubbing shoulders, standing chock-a-bloc, with pigeonholed stalls stacked precariously like Lego blocks over dilapidated, old warehouses, huddled together, covered in dust and soot, waiting endlessly and hopelessly for an end to their agony. Roots of a Banyan or Peepul pawed unbridled the remnants of a bygone colonial era as they stood in stoic silence. Isn’t silence a pause in music?

You breathed in the grimy air, registered the synchronized melody of chaos, until it penetrated you, your life.

You hadn’t prepared yourself to be holding the pink stick to your indifferent partner. Just like you hadn’t prepared yourself for your husband’s drunken ruckus, and the horrors of the night that perforated the walls of the room. After your baby was born, in the static soundless soul of the night, you sat to hear a distant owl’s hoot, whistle of a night train rattling over the rail bridge and the shattering of something very near, like the place between your breasts.

You thought you heard the fluttering of wings — your soul on flight! You thought you heard a spluttering fire that raced towards the closed door but couldn’t escape.

But the next moment there were other melodies — the cries of your baby on the cot asking for you; the lullaby you sung it to sleep; the murmurs of fleas circling your open wound.

Morning dawned with the sounds of pots and pans at your neighbors and then back to the patterns of high notes and lows.

You lived in that room, as if in trance, rode the crests and falls like you were a feather in the wind, like the blue on your left cheek was the plume of a kingfisher. You thought you heard the sunlight break onto the floor, the moonlight tip-toe to lie on your tear-soaked pillow. You thought you heard your mother’s love when the rains splattered on the broken chimney; you thought you heard the harmonica being played when sparrows lined the window pane.

The first digit of your foot turned backwards; sometimes you found you could coo like the cuckoo; sometimes you shook off the bristles that had grown where your eyebrows were.

You waited. You trained your ears to hear. You coached them to hum a tune, until that night after your son left for boarding.

You heard trills and gurgles of a nightingale, a strain rose above the din of your room, above the crescendo your heart was reaching. You let the blood of the demon in the room soak your tail wing; and with rapid beats you flew to where the bird sang an impaling melody.

Mandira Pattnaik