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EXCERPT, KALA PANI
BY MONICA MODY

FIFTH WORLD TRAVELLER
Once there were two sisters that lived on a boat. You see, they each had a boat, but loneliness takes great practice and so they sometimes lived on the same boat. You see, they usually lived on land but sometimes took a day off their claustrophobia. You see, some days were like any other. I once took a leaf out of their bags. The khaki one jumped out at me because it wore a catsuit. You see, ambience is alright, and location is everything, but some scenes are riotless. The sisters were

Sameshape & Othershape and they were not good at stitching conversations together. So their conversations were in tatters.

SIXTH WORLD TRAVELLER
If truth is brittle oh so brittle, would you want to believe it? Once upon a time I tried to add it up on a blackboard. Truth

Plus truth plus truth plus truth plus truth. Any time they intersected, I crossed it out and started anew. In this way, many years passed. When I was four and stood with my back to the door, facing the blackboard, chalk in hand, Ö walked in. At the time she was just a mysterious stranger.

Eh, truth is brittle only on the inside. Eat it up.

SIXTH WORLD TRAVELLER
I hesitated.

MYSTERIOUS STRANGER
Eh, eat it up, I say. Finish it.

SIXTH WORLD TRAVELLER
I ate the piece of chalk. Nothing happened. Nothing changed. The sizes around me remained the same. The school ayah rushed in, kettle in hand, and swiftly took

The mysterious stranger away. I lay down on the wooden bench and closed my eyes. Then I heard the lovers

SAMESHAPE (O.S.)
(querulously)
I asked you to anoint me with flower leaf patternings. What is taking you so long?

OTHERSHAPE (O.S.)
(philosophically)
Our hearts will always be hollow.

SAMESHAPE (O.S.)
It is good to have space.

OTHERSHAPE (O.S.)
But you, my queen, deserve to be anointed. With every ceremonial balloon from this jungle. After all, who can sing like you?

SAMESHAPE (O.S.)
I do not admire my own courage, but I do admire yours.

OTHERSHAPE (O.S.)
If your beard grew longer than a cataract, I would still love you.

SIXTH WORLD TRAVELLER
I lay still as long as I could till my back hurt. I lay still willing the bench to turn into giant, squishy ears. Then I sneaked to the window. There, by sharp moonlight, I saw a deserted junkyard. Ext. Junkyard Ė Night. An environment where pins could be shortchanged for coins. Ten year old rickshaws and twenty seven year old cars embellished the world. Engines. Coke bottle caps. Canisters. Cabinets. Computer parts. Extra clothing. Catfood. In the foreground, a Maruti 800, 2003 model

Frame rusted, windows smashed. Cats crawling all over the car and Inside, behind the windshield, two women holding hands. The breeze brought in a strong whiff of engine oil & grease & rotting things, and I staggered backwards [pricked by sudden conscience].

These immortal lovers needed a chronicler, I thought. These important lovers needed a raconteur, I thought. And here I was, still just learning to make chalk marks

On the blackboard. I almost walked out in the moonlight and declared myself to the lovers, almost pleaded for forgiveness. But something held me back. Later, ribbons appeared at my feet securing them in place. So this time it wasnít that.

FOURTH TRAVELLER
At the beginning there was, love.

SIXTH TRAVELLER
I heard much, much later that Sameshape & Othershape stayed together till riceflakes fell off their eyes. At the time, of course

FOURTH WORLD TRAVELLER
The sisters Sameshape & Othershape I know of each lived in a bottomless jug. One in a jug of milk, the other in a jug of ink. They lived seven seas apart. Both stayed at home and were bereaved. One never smiled. The other did not smile. Both watched tv all day long. Both found

Themselves separated on distant lands and painstakingly cried and quested and bribed and cajoled and finally managed to get webcams installed in their apartments. Now they could at least see each other, though they still could not communicate. The webcams, which had long lashes, had been programmed, perhaps by the new government, to relay ten second snippets every seven hours, then freeze. Sameshape & Othershape tried to be vigilant about catching the camerasí eyes at the right time. They sometimes managed to say something

Meaningful. In the intervening hours, they ate. Sameshape was deeply, forlornly bloated. Othershape shrank under the bed. Int. Bottomless Jug of Milk Ė Day. Interesting objects are placed in this world. A chopped up sofa against a chopped up wall. On the wall, chopped up artwork. Along the wall, a chopped up bookcase with chopped up books. In the centre of the world, a chopped up dining table with chopped up salt & pepper shakers, and chopped up plates and bowls and glasses containing food and drink in various stages of empty.

SAMESHAPE
(irrelevantly)
I am almost sure. Iíll add this to the running list of things I want to say to my sister.
(looking at the webcam)
Oh, itís time!
(urgently)
I am a misanthrope.

FOURTH WORLD TRAVELLER
Int. Bottomless Jug of Ink Ė Day. This world has nothing interesting. It is a plain old apartment like any other apartment. Nothing stands out. A regular sofa, regular walls, a regular bookcase with regular books, a regular dining table with regular salt and pepper shakers on it. Nothing else. Oh, and a cage.

OTHERSHAPE
(irrelevantly)
All my lines are improvised.
(looks at the webcam)
Youíre not a misanthrope, really. There are too many people.

FOURTH WORLD TRAVELLER
The doorbell rang and Othershape scurried under the bed. After a minute she heard the pizza delivery boy say, ďHere it is, your pizza margherita for two. I found your money. See you later.Ē After eleven minutes she crawled out from under the bed and crept towards the door. After twenty eight minutes she looked through the peephole. After thirty eight minutes she opened the door a crack and slid the pizza box inside and

Ate. Enormous bites & every slice. Quick! Quick! mouse. Iíd wound you up! mouse. What do you smell? mouse. What do you taste? mouse. What do you eat? mouse. Stood right inside the door and ate. Tiptoed to the phone and ordered another pizza. Shaking, stole back under the bed and lay on the floor, cheek resting in her palm.

OTHERSHAPE
(to a lentil bean in the cage)
You must decide whether you will speak.

FOURTH WORLD TRAVELLER
The lentil bean did not speak.

OTHERSHAPE
(to the lentil bean)
Why donít you speak? Are you mad at me? Everyone has a talent. This is my talent. I shrink under the bed.

FOURTH WORLD TRAVELLER
The lentil bean lay silent.

OTHERSHAPE
(to the lentil bean)
You must love me for my talent. I am feeling scared that you donít love me.

FOURTH WORLD TRAVELLER
The lentil bean did not reply.

OTHERSHAPE
(to the lentil bean)
So you donít love me, then?

(silence)
(silence)
(silence)

FOURTH WORLD TRAVELLER
Othershape was lonely, but she did not believe that. She turned angry at the pizza delivery boy when he started writing her orders down in sullen pointed belligerent then bored silence, when he started leaving the pizza deliveries outside her door after a knock no words. Meanwhile,

SAMESHAPE
(to the webcam)
Did you order pizza again? At this rate, youíll go broke.

OTHERSHAPE
(to the webcam)
I sold my silver charm bracelet to buy that pizza. Please donít worry.

SAMESHAPE
(seven hours later to the webcam)
Did you really order pizza again?

OTHERSHAPE
(to the webcam)
I sold my silver necklace to buy it. And my gold earrings. Please donít worry.

SAMESHAPE
(seven hours later to the webcam)
Did you order pizza again? Why donít you cook something?

OTHERSHAPE
(to the webcam)
I sold my sapphire ring to buy it. And my kidney. Please donít worry.

SAMESHAPE
(seven hours later to the webcam)
Did you order pizza again? Look at me. Do I ever order pizza? Or anything else?

OTHERSHAPE
(to the webcam)
I sold my liver to buy pizza. And an eye. And a tooth. Please donít worry.

SAMESHAPE
(seven hours later to the webcam)
Did you order pizza again? You have to stop.

OTHERSHAPE
(to the webcam)
I sold my vulva to buy pizza. And my tendons. And my tissues. Please donít worry.