A story by Geet Chaturvedi, translated from the Hindi by Anita Gopalan.



I went up to the hilltop where there was a temple of the Goddess, but instead of an idol, a mere stone was present. On a tree in front, flags fluttered in the breeze.

— Nirmal Verma
 (A Tune Arising from the Mist) 


What I do not understand is why the old man also comes and stands behind me when I stand at the window of the library? Even now I can sense his irksome presence keenly peering out from behind.

I’ve been coming here for many days now. I have abundant idle time on my hands due to finishing my final year college exams, and almost every evening I drift into the library. That old man, the owner of the library, has begun to wait for me, which I can sense from his conversations. The first day he had not even so much as glanced at me. On the second day he sat cleaning the books. I too joined in, sprucing them up. How many books there were, and among them, how many had perished forever! Eaten by termites. Rotting from the water that dripped from above. Reeking of dust and disuse. Together, we worked for two days to get the books back to their proper shape—dusting, scraping mildew, gluing pages and book covers—and then return them to their racks.

Separating out the damaged books I said, “Here, these need to be given to the ragman.”

“Alright, keep them all together at the back.” Those books never budged from the back.

After that I shifted the racks from their places. Rearranged them in such a way that the water dripping from the roof did not fall straight on them. For many days, we stayed until eight in the evening instead of leaving at seven as usual.

And while leaving, I would slip a book or two under my shirt when the old man was not looking. With honest intent to start reading. I was entitled to at least the minimum wage! I cannot recollect whether it was the fourth, fifth or sixth day, but when we were leaving and I had taken the padlock from the old man’s hands to put it on the door, he said, “At this rate the library will become empty, son!” and started grinning. I felt as if he had put his hand under my shirt, pulled my pants down and stripped me naked. Outwardly I pretended to pay no heed to what he said, and bowed my head, busying myself with the lock. Even after snapping it shut, I kept pulling at it, assuring, reassuring myself. When I finally lifted my head, I saw the old man clacking his way out. A stooped figure supported on a stick. A cloth bag slung from the shoulder. Sparse wispy hair strewn on the collar of his khadi shirt waving from side to side in tandem with his oscillating neck. The library was set down from the walkway. The walkway was a ten-foot ascent. The old man was negotiating it, leaning heavily on his stick.

As if in a trance I kept watching him. It was purely accidental that the key had remained with me, and for the next two days, I did not go to that street at all.

I had not an inkling that back home, the old man was getting anxious. Two days later when I returned, I found him reading. Despite the soda-bottle glasses he wore, he had to hold a magnifying glass in his hand in order to read. He looked like an archaeologist, sitting in some alleyway of history, attempting to discover alphabets, incidents, mysteries, statements, and recorded sorrows by enlarging their images.

I posted myself in front of his table, but he became aware of my presence only when I said, a little sheepishly, Whaat Uncle?

He looked up. For the first time I felt how much one could rejoice on seeing someone! The old man beheld me with his mouth open. He did not utter a single word, but behind his glasses his eyes sparkled in such a way, with his lips spread out in a blissful smile, his wrinkles hanging from cheeks fluttered God knows how many times, and his eyebrows raised in such utter pleasure that I simply stared back! And then the fact that my eyes had lingered on him so long embarrassed me. I was unable to bear his extreme, abundant joy.

This had come unbidden. But I began to realize that the old man now waited for me and that he looked forward to my visits.

But I don’t like his following me to the window every time. From here, I can clearly see the yellow window across the street—yellow shutters and yellow iron mesh with yellow flowers chased on it—and whenever I find the girl standing there, among the yellow shutters and yellow curtains, I, too, prop myself at this end. And he tags along. I can never watch the girl without becoming conscious of the old man breathing down my neck. I don’t know why that yellow window girl sneaks into my thoughts again and again. Her gaze wraps around my shin like an amulet. I don’t know what there is in her gaze that makes my shin sting and throb. I have often tried to talk to her using signs and gestures, and I’m sure she would have responded—for she often looks in my direction—but for the old man who keeps standing by my side. I try my best to shoo him away but he does not budge. He comes here on the pretext of giving me coffee, then stands there himself, sipping his own cup. I have come to a firm conclusion, that he is a sly, evil, rotten, dirty old man!

Today, as always, the girl retreats after standing there behind the yellow mesh. I become angry and glower at the old man, but he still peers out, unaware.

I get up, walk outside and light a cigarette. The old man straggles after me, dragging a chair along.

“Leave it, Uncle. I am coming in.”

“Let’s sit here for a while—”

He places the chair for me to sit. Then he trudges inside to fetch a second chair. I stop him and fetch the second chair myself.

He sits with me, and after a moment’s silence, he says, “Give me a drag.”

I offer him a cigarette. From here too, the window is clearly visible, but the angle of the view has altered a little. A shrub hinders the view, and I have to crane my neck sideways to see the window clearly.

The old man removes his glasses, keeps them in the pocket and props his head against the library wall, knotting his hands behind his head.

I see gravel-ballast dumps everywhere. On one side there is a mound of sand. And on the other side heaped bricks. Cement gunny bags, stacked iron rods. The ground is soft, with sand strewn all over. During the day, the children might frolic and roll on the sand.

“Uncle, why are there so many things lying around? Planning to take up some construction work?” I ask, grinning.

“No, this belongs to the front people. For their renovation.”

“By front people, do you mean the folks with the yellow window?”


Someone extends a hand and pulls the curtain across on the window with yellow shutters and yellow grill. Behind the curtained window, against the light, a shadow flits across every so often.

His eyes follow the path to the window.

“Can you smell the aroma of guava from here?” he asks suddenly.

“No, not at all. Here there’s no aroma. None at all.” I try sniffing the air.

“You have not paid attention. The aroma of guava comes from that window. That’s why I like that window so very much—–.”

Hearing this, I burst out laughing. It’s like a thunderclap. All my irritation and anger evaporate in the face of this revelation and after many days I am able to laugh again. The old man is embarrassed. His head sinks into his chest and his neck dangles. The old man’s face brings me more laughter! I laugh like a madman. Unashamedly. Even while laughing, I shout out, “And I like that Window Girl!”

And then I laugh louder still.

The old man fumbles for some pebbles in the dark and tosses them. There’s no sound as they strike the ground. The sound of my laughter slowly begins to fade.



What I didn’t know was the truth. In a way, my very presence was a lie.

— Carlos Fuentes
 (The Years with Laura Diaz)


When I reached the library the next day, I found the old man standing by the window. Cupping the stick with both hands. A lone figure made from his own shadow, melded with it. Filling his heart with the song of his own voice. His presence at the window meant either some activity behind the curtains or the girl from the yellow house’s face peeking out the window. I went and stood behind him.

For the first time, a shutter on the yellow window was closed. Through the open shutter, the curtain shivered mildly. The wall was wet beneath the window, and moss grew there. In some places, the plaster had flaked off. The exposed bricks peeped from underneath.

Noticing me behind him, the old man withdraws from the window. Perhaps he doesn’t like my standing behind him either. He dodders off to his books. There are some books still on the floor. For the past few days, we’ve been covering the books with old newspaper. With a thick marker pen, we write the name of the book and its number on the side of the cover. This was essentially my idea. The books would remain safe then, I felt. I don’t know why, but he agreed to it very reluctantly. But ever since he agreed, he has been at it continuously. I cover the books then write the name and number on the side. Meantime he sits on a stool beside me thumbing the pages of some book. When I finish and tell him, he writes in a new register the name of the book and the writer, the identification number and the rack number. Then until I call out again, he goes back to turning the pages of some other time.

I draw my chair closer to the window, take out a cigarette from my pocket and drop an old smallish bowl from the table on my lap as an ashtray. Exhaling the smoke, I slip once again into the same waiting—for the window to open, for her to materialize at any moment and return my love-filled gaze.

The old man suddenly interrupts my lovesick stupor.

“Do you hear the sound of laughter?”

I refocus and try listening to all sounds carefully.

“No,” I tell him.

At least once, every day, he asks me this question and each time I tell him no.

He will also say something like, “Come here, come here, look at this book (or this room or that window or his sleeve or inside the thermos or the thin mattress on the floor or its bolster), how it smells! Perhaps it is the aroma of the guava.”

I go to him and turn the book this way and that, sniffing everywhere. Umpteen times. Then I grimace.

“No Uncle. There’s just the stink of fungus.” He winces.

“Can’t you distinguish an aroma from a stink?”

“It is a stink… pure, unadulterated stink, Uncle!” I answer, keeping a straight face.

“One day this aroma will haunt you.”

For the first time ever, he delivered a solid line, just like in the movies. Pursing my mouth, I burst out laughing.

“Uncle, this aroma is haunting me already. We have to search for this aroma daily, no?” I was coddling him.

He begins to smile. From inside the soda-bottle glasses, his soft moist eyes are laughing. Small narrow slits. Pitch-black pupils shone in them once. Now the color of the pupils has faded and turned the color of dust. A hint of white encircles their outer edge. If one peeped into these, a heavy mist would engulf the heart. Round, thin lips. And small, even teeth. Pendulous cheeks. Some wrinkles. And around the lips tiny strands of fine gray hair that have escaped the shaving blade.

He withdraws to his chair.

“Does any aroma come from your DVDs?”

I look at him blankly. Perhaps he posed this question because I had once compared the DVDs with the books. After a pause, I ask him smilingly, “Uncle, won’t you offer me coffee today?”

Without a glance, he opens the drawer. He takes out a ten-rupee note and a five-rupee coin. “Go get it. There’s no milk today.”

I come back with the milk, and find him inside, struggling with the stove.

“It’s not working. You try.”

“I have never lit a stove in my whole life, Uncle! I don’t even know how it works.”

He picks up a rag, wipes the soot off his hands, then takes the milk from my hand. It was ice cold. The thin icicles crusted on the plastic packet were turning soft, slowly melted by the sluggish heat from outside and from my hand, and they began to fall off everywhere.

We come back to the table. With an air of “leave it Uncle, let it go” about me, I drift back to the window. The lone open shutter of the yellow window is flapping softly.

He opens a register and calls me over, then asks me to place a call on his cellphone. I do it and then withdraw to my window. After speaking with someone in Sindhi, he waddles over and hands me the cold packet of milk.

“Go along by that window, to the left is a door. The nameplate says Mool Chandani. I have asked them. They’ll heat the milk,” he says, pointing at the yellow window.

The prospect of actually meeting the girl I’m so obsessed with makes me nervous. Really nervous. I protest, “Arré, Uncle! Leave it. I don’t want coffee anymore.”

I hesitate for a long time. Then, finally, I rise to my feet and leave, the milk packet in hand, thinking all along, how weird it would look—!

I imagined that the door was ajar. A gentle nudge and it would open. Inside there would be a mysterious darkness and a sweet fragrance and amidst all this, there she would stand. Before I could imagine any further, the door appeared.

I had to ring the call bell twice before the door yawned open. It was her. No words would come from my mouth. She stood there at the door, but I felt like she was standing at the window. Her lips drooped the same way. Perhaps for entire centuries, these lips hadn’t smiled. The same half-open eyes, as if waiting for a deep sleep after centuries of restless wakefulness.

She immediately took the milk packet from my hand and retreated back inside. I stood in the middle of the open doorway. In front was a room, where an old woman lay on the bed. An old man sat on the couch with the TV remote in his hand. I inched forward. The TV was on, but without any sound. An old-time comedian was prancing around wearing shorts. On the entire black and white screen, only the channel name and the “mute” symbol supplied any color. The comedian on the TV screen was unable to make the old man laugh. He sat straight and taut, like a statue, holding the remote between his thighs with both hands.

Then the girl reappeared before me.

“It will take at least ten minutes. Come back after ten minutes if you like, or else you can come inside.” She retreated into the house again.

I came in. On the right, there were the two old folks, and on the left, a door through which I could see the window. I went straight into the window room, oblivious to the consequences.

It was a bedroom. Possibly the girl’s. The computer was on. Pulling the chair slightly away from the computer, I sat on it in such a way that I could see the TV in the next room, and the old man, and the computer, and if I swung the revolving chair to my right, also this whole room.

On the window with the yellow shutter and the yellow mesh, a yellow curtain was drawn on the inside. Very little light filtered through. The wall above it was awfully damp. Flakes of plaster had chipped off. A framed black and white sepia toned picture, like the ones we find in gift stores, hung on the wall—in the picture, a young man, perhaps English, hung from a train on a deserted platform and, extending his hand, held an English girl who stood on the platform. Perhaps the train had started moving and perhaps the girl was left on the platform, and perhaps the youth climbing in first wanted to, perhaps, pull her in now. The girl was clutching a bouquet of roses in her other hand: perhaps she had brought it for the boy, or before climbing in, perhaps, the boy had given it to her. Steeped in this perhaps-like uncertain darkness, only the flowers were colored in that picture.

In the room, there was also a small plastic cooler on which all sorts of almost-used-up thingummies lay idle, including some squeezed up tubes of face cream.

On the computer screen in front of me, the email was open. The draft folder, with a half-written mail. The recipient space was blank. Above, the chat window shone intermittently.

There was a message in the chat from one “my name is Joker” : wru? :-(

I didn’t dare look at the computer. The feeling of someone’s presence in the room watching me read the messages was palpable. But undeterred by my nervousness, curiosity slides the chat box up—

me : but… I don’t want to come. main aana nahin chahti.

my name is Joker : nopes! u’ll hav to :-{}

me : GTH :-/

my name is Joker : u bludy GTH. u’ve to com. aana hai…means aana hai. :-{}

After this kiss emoji from Joker’s side, when “me” did not type any message other than the waiting one, then Joker had, probably in frustration, asked, “wru?” Looked like Joker was calling her somewhere but she didn’t want to go and she had typed GTH. Go to Hell.

My heart beats with wild urgency. I don’t have any courage now to go further up the chat box. I am scared that she’ll know the computer was tampered with. I draw my chair still further away from the computer.

She brings the milk in a small thermos. I stand up to take the thermos from her hand.

“D’you have coffee and cups over there?” she asks.

“Ji… we do.”

She falls silent. I remain standing and gaze at her. The lips are thin. Brown-colored. Accentuated cheekbones. Wheat complexion. Triangular-shaped forehead and hair that falls below the waist, braided into a single plait and brought to the front. Below the nose and on the forehead, fine drops of sweat glisten. From the ears, tiny flowers dangle.

And?” she asks.

“And?” I ask. She bows her head and moves away from the door.

She has worn a long kurta made from white cotton, whose sleeves reach the wrist. The white cloth has been embroidered with white threads. Her eyebrows are thick, and on the forehead between the brows, the space for a bindi is vacant.

“And?” she says again.

“And?… There’s nothing else,” I say with a quick jerk of my head. She goes and opens the door.
“And… and yes… thanks!” I say.
She beams.

I do not look back, but I do not hear the sound of the door closing either. Even after crossing the road and reaching the door of the library, the feeling that she hasn’t closed the door remains—because I know…. I know that the door will remain open, standing wide to the street, and not close, till I walk back again and inside one more time. I stop abruptly at the entrance to the library and turn. From where I stand, the girl’s window is visible. But I cannot discern any motion at the window. The curtain flutters like before.

But now, the other shutter is open.



Then I went back into the house and wrote, It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining.  

— Samuel Beckett (Molloy)



She listened to my silence and giggled. I sat with a bowed head. Before that she had wandered slowly through my hair with her fingers. Before that she had perched before me, while I watched her lip tremble. Before that she had bathed, and a water-drop on her forehead was about to roll down. Before that she was stretching herself, and her body, like some medieval ruin, was cracking and crashing. From the ruin, each time, a brick would fall with a thud, turn into dust, scatter.

Before that she had asked, “Do you know how to love?”

Even before her asking I had declared, “No, I am a man.”

Before my declaration, she had tickled my cheeks with her eyelids.

And before that, I had shaken her dangling earrings by blowing softly.

The flame in her ears quivered like the quivering flame of the lamp kept on the doorstep.


She said, “And…”

I said, “And… and I want to stick to your forehead like a water-drop, I am the avatar of Sun that has descended just to live on this forehead, I am the orb of Moon living in your eyes—do you have any idea that I am your eyesight…”


I said, “And… and I am that lone mole on your nape, like the lone star hanging in the sky in complete darkness that defers its fall time after time in expectation of another star… in the flame of your ear I hang like an earring; and in your long tresses as a lock that you deliberately put off untangling… I am an imaginary desert and you a real oasis, I should merge in you—that every particle of my sand would transform into a little green leaf, a fistful of sand would turn into a palmful of water… I am an ancient touch that moistens in its own sensation.”



She said, “And…”

I said, “And… and you are a forest, I blend into like lush vegetation. You are a river, I flow in you like a wave. You are a hill, I hide in you like a velvet rabbit. You are a distance—you draw away from me all the time. You are a closeness—I draw you into me every time.”

She said, “And…”

I said, “And… and your every tress is a long street that I walk through, where I hope to walk all my life.”

She said, “And…”
I said, “And…”
She said, “Yes, and…”

I lapsed into silence. She stood right in front of me. A thermos in hand. From the open thermos, the curtain of steam had stretched stiff between us. Her freshly washed hair emanated the intoxicating fragrance of coffee. In the yellow of her face her coffee-colored lips shone. She lilted deliciously towards the bookrack, took out a book, turned back and beamed gloriously at me.

She said, “And…”

But I remained silent.

She listened to my silence and giggled. I sat with bowed head. She was stretching herself, and her body, like some medieval ruin, was cracking and crashing. From the ruin, each time, a brick would fall with a thud, turn into dust, scatter.

The walls of the ruin had, before crashing, suspended in air for some time. They had suspended in expectation. Like a broken leaf from a tree, they had wavered long in the air before falling to the ground. They had wavered, expecting me—

But I had sat with bowed head.

She giggled again. I raised my head. Laughing, giggling, she turned into a bird. A chirping, giggling bird.

Chirping, wings flapping, she whirred close to my head. I could feel the wind of her claws on my cheeks and its heat.

Even now I can feel her all around—at this window where I stand looking at her window across the street. Its yellow shutters are open, the curtain swinging like before. The meshes are silent like they were and no face peeks from behind them. Sometimes before, there was a glimpse of her; now there’s nothing. She had seen me standing and she had even returned my smile. Sometimes before, she had wandered among the books in this room of the library, lifting each book delicately, turning and glancing at me, then putting it back. She had worn the same white kurta, long sleeves, white embroidery—

Then she transformed into a delightful bird named Giggle. She flew away and sat on the parapet of the yellow window. The rain beats on my window.

I retire to my chair. It is not raining.

The old man hasn’t come in yet. He told me that he’d be late today. Suddenly I hear scuffing and scraping in the gravel outside. I turn and see two men standing at the library door. Behind them, some workers are unloading cement bags from a small truck. The two men come in urgently and ask for the old man. I tell them he isn’t in yet. They hesitate for a moment, but then one of them tells the workers standing outside to bring the cement bags in.

The workers rush thickly in, depositing the gunny bags against the wall beside the books. There are at least thirty to forty cement bags.

“You asked Uncle about this?” I want confirmation.

“Yes, Uncle himself told us.”

A cloud of dust rises sluggishly every time a bag is dumped. When I can’t bear the hot dusty smell anymore, I come out and move to the corner to light a cigarette. In the slanting late afternoon sun, the gravelly-sandy dumps strewn everywhere are clearly visible. Dust hung above the open compound too. I wonder what these Mool Chandanis are up to, piling their materials here. The two men have followed me outside, and are constantly barking instructions at the workers, their voices louder even than the jarring thuds and thumps.

I peep inside. The room is choked in a pall of gray dust. I am upset. I am angry. Why did the old man let these fellows keep the bags inside? With such effort we had cleaned the books and racks. Now they are filthy again.