‘I am used to gods without sight’

Translated from the Malayalam by Ministhy S, KR Meera’s ‘The Unseeing Idol of Light’ is a haunting tale that explores the interconnections between love and loss and blindness and sight

On the train to Mangalore, inside the general compartment that was teeming with students and pilgrims, Rajani indulged in mentally demolishing and reconstructing her relationship with Prakash. But when the train reached Mangalapuram at ten-fifteen in the morning, unsure of what to do next, she sat on the platform all day long, thoroughly famished. At night, as she slept on a cement bench, two men reeking of burning kerosene scooped her up and dumped her inside a train which had just started moving. Inside the vacant compartment of that empty train, they forced themselves on her. Their repugnant smell made Rajani vomit and when they became immobilized for a few moments, she seized her chance to escape, and ran through the empty bogies, screaming in horror. She jumped out at the first station the train pulled into, and ran ahead wildly. A cycle rickshaw-wallah chanced upon her. Seeing the distress she was in, he mentioned that he knew a Malayali woman, and proceeded to take her to Jyoti’s house.

That night as Rajani’s mind drifted aimlessly between madness and sanity, Jyoti had answered the door. A hurricane lamp was clutched in her hand and mildly crushed jasmines adorned her hair. Gazing at Rajani for a while, she sighed deeply before inviting her inside with a sweet smile.

In the morning, when Rajani opened her eyes to the mooing of cows, she saw the woman walk across the front yard traditionally decorated with sacred symbols carrying on her hips a silver pot brimming with milk. Her toe-rings jingled softly, and a calf affectionately butted against her, seeking the few drops of milk that splashed down from her silver pot.

When Rajani tried to sleep, she dreamt of burning compartments. She was running naked, her stomach swollen, between many empty bogies with blue berths.

For the first time in her life, Rajani’s breasts were engorged with milk. Hallucinations in which her legs were summarily cut before they regrew, again and again assailed her, tossing her in an evolutionary loop between the stages of tadpole and frog.

The woman inquired with a dimpled smile, ‘What would you like coffee with milk, or without it?’

That was when Rajani first suspected that she was Deepti. She sat gazing at her with wide open eyes. The sight of the woman waking up early in the morning, after her bath and prayers proceeding to the cowshed with a silver pot and silver bowl containing water and butter, the cows expressing affection through their suppressed mooing, her return with milk brimming in her silver pot like a bounty of pearls, her lighting a fire in the hearth, the first flame hanging upside down like an unborn foetus before bursting into a wild dance spreading its hands and legs, the woman’s face by that fire dazzling like a goddess being worshipped during evening prayer... as Rajani watched, she underwent the intense devastation of an extra sensory perception.

Perplexing images, sounds, smells, touches and tastes attacked her violently. A sound haunted her of someone bending over a deep well and calling out, ‘Prakashetta!’ A smell enveloped her of kerosene-drenched human flesh burning. A taste filled her mouth of algae, velvety soft and shimmering green. A touch, both warm and cool, became palpable of vertebrae breaking in a hangman’s knot.

Rajani heard her own voice as though emerging from the depths of a well. It echoed in her stomach and in her blood. The black fumes from the kerosene lamp rushed inside her nostrils and her eyes. Her face was scalded. She sank her fingernails into layers of algae to avoid slipping. Bile filled her mouth, tasting like algae. She swayed while hanging from a rope around her neck. Her eyes opened and shut violently caught between two worlds, two stages and two aspects of evolution.

When Rajani tried to sleep, she dreamt of burning compartments. She was running naked, her stomach swollen, between many empty bogies with blue berths. The pallu of her faded sari streamed and fluttered behind her. In her sleep, Rajani screamed, ‘Prakashetta!’ and wept. ‘Love me, love me...’

The woman called Jyoti, awakened by Rajani’s screams, came into her room, radiating the sandalwood fragrance of her husband.

‘Don’t be afraid... I am here. Think of God and try to sleep,’ she said reassuringly.

‘Give me a statue,’ Rajani pleaded. ‘Let me place it by my pillow.’

‘All those with their eyes drawn have been sold...’

‘Give me one without the eyes.’

‘No. Until the eyes are drawn, a statue will remain just a statue it will not become God.’

‘Why is it so?’

‘God becomes God only upon seeing us.’

‘That does not matter. I am used to gods without sight.’

The woman’s dimples deepened as she smiled beautifully at Rajani. ‘The sight is within, my dear.’

(Published from KR Meera's The Unseeing Idol of Light, translated by Ministhy S, with permission from Penguin Random House)

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