Translated from Hindi to English by Ratnam Singh
Manav Kaul is a writer I recently discovered. He writes simply, and yet his ideas are complex in how they deal with gendered roles and individual egos. As for my process: in theatre, they say that every actor should dedicate themselves to the overall message of the story rather than looking at a character individually. I tried my best to keep the story and its overall message intact.
Can you recall your dreams?
A long time back, I knew a girl who dreamt of turning into a bird. We often discussed our dreams with each other. We talked about usual things, but they felt like dreams to me. She always laughed when I told her that I couldn’t recall my dreams from last night. She’d say it’s not something you can memorize. But she always remembered her dreams. Her dreams were expansive. She even told stories of her childhood the way one narrated dreams.
A bird had made a nest on her terrace. It always made her sad whenever she saw its broken eggs on the ground. Sometimes, when she spotted small hatchlings that had fallen from their nest, she would carefully pick them up without touching them with her fingers and place them back in their nest. She spent many days guarding the nest of the birds on her terrace, a favourite place of hers. One day, she had a dream where she saw herself lying in a bird’s nest along with other baby birds. She felt feathers slowly sprouting in place of her shoulders. But when baby birds around her were ready to fly off from the nest, she was left behind, lonely and scared. But she had decided to fly now, no matter what. She summoned all the strength in her body and mind and fluttered her wings. She tottered to the edge of the nest and looked up at the sky. As she was about to jump, she saw a hungry cat sitting alert below, waiting to pounce. She took a deep breath and jumped from the nest with all the strength she could gather. She had her eyes closed as she leapt, but just then she woke up with a jolt.
We were idling at the bank of a river when she had told me about this dream that she had seen the previous night. Her dreams were always interrupted halfway. She always woke up before they came to an end. And then I would inundate her with questions like: ‘What happened next?’ ‘What did you do in the end?’ She always said that she remembered only what she was able to tell me. She said that you only remembered dreams when they were incomplete. The empty spaces in between the incomplete dialogues. The silence.
I couldn’t recall any of my dreams even though I saw one every other night. My dreams were complete. I was always too concerned with the end—just as I was in life too. I always read a story burdened by the thought of its possible ending. I only liked the story if the end was to my taste. Otherwise, I grew irritated. One day she said to me that I should read the end first. That way I would at least be able to enjoy the story without constantly worrying about its end. I understood what she meant when she said that, but I could never think freely the way she did. I had always lived my life being focused on the future. And she was never concerned about it. The biggest difference between us was our attitude towards our dreams. She liked the incompleteness, and I always wanted my dreams to come to an end.
I still remember her because she left halfway through our journey together. She turned in a different direction while I kept moving in the same one. I had hoped we’d bump into each other somewhere and resume our journey together. But it never happened. And the day she turned in her own direction, I suddenly started remembering my dreams. After she left, I began to see the end of her incomplete dreams in mine.
I had met her when I had reached the age to look for jobs. I used to think of her as one of those girls who lived in dreams, away from the reality of life. I tried to bring her back to reality again and again, but each time, she freed herself from my grip. She used to say, ‘I want to turn 35 as soon as possible. I don’t like this age. I am only living with the hope of turning 35.’
I think I wasn’t worthy of her. She lived the way she wanted to. I think that was the reason I was attracted to her in the first place. I often asked her why we were together. She would respond instantly that we were not.
I began imagining our future together. It came naturally to me. I was always like that—planning the future, imagining what happened at the end. I loved frequenting shops and markets. I would stand in front of them for hours, weaving dreams about my future. I would think about the time I would have my own house, what curtains I would buy and the furniture that would adorn it. My dreams were limited to these thoughts. Sometimes I even noted down items I selected for my future home along with their prices in my diary. Then I took her to those shops to know her opinion. To her, this was childish behaviour, but she always obliged me because it offered her a chance to laugh at me if nothing else. And I loved it when she laughed like that. And so I kept repeating my childish actions.
One day, I made up a dream to tell her. I never had this dream, but I lied to her about seeing her in my dream. I told her we were in the mountains together as a married couple, and she was flying. This dream of mine had a deep impact on her. I knew she had always dreamt of becoming a bird. She slowly shut her eyes while listening to my false dream, and I couldn’t resist adding more lies to it. I should have stopped before it was too late, but I couldn’t. I kept making up such dreams regularly. Every other day I told her a new dream, and every time she closed her eyes to imagine it during my telling. I never felt closer to her. She was with me, very close.
During the time when I started telling her these made-up dreams, we decided to live together. It wasn’t her decision. When she had her eyes closed listening to one of my false dreams, I had brought her to my home. She was lost in my made-up dream, and I had made her ‘mine’ in reality. We hadn’t married each other but started living under the same roof. I decorated my home with all my childhood dreams. All the curtains and furniture she had once laughed at; she now lived surrounded by them in my home. I had thought this would make her laugh even more, but she grew more and more silent.
She had a habit I didn’t like. She left jobs soon after starting them. She grew uneasy every time she saw a possibility of a stable future. She resigned when she got promoted. Unlike her, I held onto the job I started my career with. I often gave her my example to try and show her how successful I was. She never argued with me and instead started talking about moving to the mountains. And I had to change the subject.
I watched her as she slowly became domesticated with me. Whenever I saw her doing chores in my house, it gave me a strange sense of victory. I felt as if I had succeeded in taming a wild animal. Just like when we train a wild elephant to fold his paws before us, it gives a certain and strange pleasure. We always clap with happiness when a lion obeys a command after being whipped. We feel gratified when a wild bird in a cage sings our name. I felt the same sense of gratification.
Then the day came.
It was a Sunday. It was a holiday, and she was making dough in the kitchen when I asked her what she was doing. ‘I am making poories.’
‘Why poories; is it any festival today?’
‘Not really, I am turning 35 this month.’
‘This month? What date?’
‘I don’t know about the date, but I can already feel myself turning 35. I can feel my wings growing.’
I couldn’t hear anything after ‘I am turning 35.’ All I could hear was the sound of her wings flapping. I felt scared. I remembered her dream of wanting to become a bird. She was only waiting to turn 35 all this while.
‘So what will you do now?’
‘I will make poories and then cook potatoes and tomatoes in a thin gravy.’
‘No, I mean after you turn 35.’
‘I will fly away.’
She looked so calm. I got even more scared. I could see the same wildness in her eyes once again. She was only waiting to turn 35 all these years while living with me or let’s say, bearing with me. She would fly away soon. I felt I was standing in front of a caged lion that knew it could break out of the cage any moment it wants. It looked calm in its cage right now though. Making poories. I didn’t know what to do. I could never tame her. It was just my illusion. She could break free from my cage any time, any moment. But what about my dreams? No matter how false they were, I had tried to make them real. I wanted to see them reach their end. I started shivering from head to toe.
‘Listen, I won’t let you go.’
It sounded as if I was saying, ‘I won’t let you fly.’
‘What are you saying?’
‘I won’t let you fly.’
This time I couldn’t resist saying it. I held her very tight.
‘What are you doing? The oil is hot. Let me go. You are hurting me now.’
She pushed me away and I fell on the floor. I could see everything slipping from my hands. My dream. My future. I had a strange burning sensation in my eyes. They were watery. She was scared and climbed on the sofa. I was still on the floor. I thought she was going to jump and fly away. I was waiting for her to fall down on the ground just like the hungry cat. I got up and, gathering all my strength, pounced on her. I wanted to stop her at any cost. She muttered something, but all I could feel was the fear of losing her. I wanted to grab her legs in order to stop her. How could she leave me like that? While we were wrestling, I suddenly felt a strong blow on my head. It may have been one of the cooking utensils; I am not sure, and I fainted.
When I woke up, I found myself alone in my house. She was nowhere to be seen. I searched everywhere but couldn’t find her. I could trap her in my false dreams only for a few years, or she just pretended while waiting eagerly to turn 35. It was only my illusion that I had domesticated her with my love. I thought she had left the world of her dreams to enter my reality. But I was wrong. She never left her dreams. She had once said that those who dream can fly away any moment they wanted. She had flown off.
That was a long time back. Tonight, I really dreamt of her, that she was watching me, perched on a deodar tree in the mountains. By the time I could call to her, she had flown away.
Illustration by Madhri Samaranayake
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