Open 2021 Open Stories - Shirin Kumar


God is Dead
By Shirin Kumari


Manav’s brows twitched as he listened carefully. He felt vibrations ring through his ears, down to the nape of his neck. The faint whispers in his head turned clearer, ever so slowly. He shut his eyes. “She tells me… Uh… Yes, I can hear you. Yes. Okay. I will inform her. Thank you for speaking to me.”


Manav removed his fingers from the temples of the woman and took a step back. He took a deep breath and looked into her eyes. "Sarita, life goes on, and so should you. And to help you with that, I am happy to tell you that your mother has forgiven you." She stared at him in disbelief. Manav gently took her hand and wiped away a tear.

"Now, you need to forgive yourself. A beautiful woman like you, you should be out there, living your life. Give yourself that chance."


He looked towards the audience, as the hall resounded with cheers and applause. "Thank you. Thank you so much," she exclaimed, as she fell into his arms helplessly. Manav guided her back to her seat.

“That’s all for tonight, ladies and gentlemen. As always, let the voice in my mind, “he gestured towards the audience as they shouted in unison, “Bring out the voice in our hearts!” Applause.

Bansi led Manav to his car and they started on their way home. Manav lit a cigarette. “Are you sure you don’t want to talk to Chhote Saheb, Manav Baba?” Bansi asked.

“For the last time, no. I don’t need him to do me another favour out of sympathy for the orphan. Tell him to mourn his brother and sister-in-law and leave me alone. I’ve been great for years now and I’ll be that way on my own,” Manav snapped.

“Alright, son. I’m with you. I know you’re doing well here. I don't know how you do it, though. I mean, your audience –"

“Yes, I wouldn’t want to call them fools, Kaka. At least not outright.” He lit another cigarette and looked out the window. The smoke escaped the tip slowly, forming patterns that seemed to dance with the raindrops on the glass. “After all, I do capitalise on their stupidity.”

“But, are you happy?” Bansi asked, brushing away flecks of ash from the collar of Manav’s blazer. He could always sense Manav being evasive. He had been in the family for generations. He had seen Manav crawl for the first time and Manav had seen Bansi frantically try to cover up his first grey hair. And he had been there with Manav when he received the news of the death of his parents at 20.

“They need me, Kaka. I have a gift, and they need me to save them with it. Think about it, they wouldn’t want to go on if it wasn’t for me. The voices help me and I help them. It’s perfect,” he said, releasing a cloud of smoke in Bansi’s direction. The rain hit the surface of the car almost rhythmically, slightly breaking the silence that ensued. The drive home felt longer than usual and the night felt like it could go on forever.

Month after month, Manav’s popularity soared. His show bagged the primetime slot. A bigger car, bigger house, and bigger study followed, where he spent his evenings around the books that shaped his life, plotting his next master strokes.

It had been a long day. Manav locked the door of his study and sat down. The little piece of blotched paper made his finger look huge. “I’m actually doing this,” he thought to himself. He stared at it eagerly, and yet felt a strange hesitation. He needed something new, something much more intense – an acid trip – to access the voices better. He cracked his neck slowly, put the paper in his mouth, and waited.

Cold. Confined. “Come,” the voice said. It was blue in colour. He got up and followed it.


“She used to say it to you, now who does?” it said. Each word felt like it lasted for hours, yet the whole trip felt like a millisecond. Now it was purple.


Dark. Dusty. A book fell open. It was now red in colour. Each word flew out and talked to him.


“Consciousness. Are you conscious?” Orange. “We can help. You should follow.” Yellow. He felt his mouth gaping. Laughter. Pink. Tears. More tears. Nausea. Green. "Come," it said again. He walked into the balcony.


"It is beautiful. Go see for yourself." White. White light. Flying. Speed. A sinking feeling in the stomach. It had been 11 hours.

Manav jerked awake in a cold sweat. It was almost a quarter past two in the night. He got up to unlock the door and sat on the floor. He rested his face in hands, and gently rubbed his burning eyes.


“Do you want me to bring you a glass of milk before I go off to sleep, Manav Baba?” asked Bans through the crack in the doorway of the room. Manav shrugged. “Actually, Kaka,” he then called out, “Monday onwards, just add a drop of this once a week in the milk you give me.” Bansi examined the bottle, and asked, “What is it, Baba?”

“Just a little something to help with the voices." Bansi pursed his lips and stared at the bottle. Manav got up and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry, Kaka. Come on, it's me," he said. Bansi smiled softly and took the bottle away. Manav had found his edge, he felt.

A week passed. The studio lights burned into Manav’s ill-rested eyes and his hangover brain throbbed inside his head and made his skull rattle, as the theme music played and Manav somehow blurted the introduction and welcomed his guest. The sweat on his forehead glistened in the spotlight.

She sat across from Manav, and gushed, “I’m so glad I’m here, Manav,” she smiled. “How was your day at school?” Manav’s head throbbed harder. The woman became faceless. “Excuse me?” he said. “You have some ketchup on your face, here let me help you.” Manav’s face flushed red.


His eyes darted across the audience. “What’s wrong with you?” A man spoke. Nobody in the audience had a face now; it was all colours. His head began to spin. Visions, he thought. Faceless people ran towards him.

Manav fell to the floor.

It had been almost 36 hours since Manav regained consciousness when Bansi gathered the courage to go see him in the living room after the doctors left. The TV in his living room blared, as he scratched his hand at the base of his IV drip.


“We all support Manav Desai, no matter what,” a woman cried. “He has been with us all this time and now we will do the same for him. He is a God to us all.”


Manav smirked. Another man protested, “He’s a colossal loser. And we’re going to expose him for the fraud he is.” Manav scoffed, almost hissing at the screen. It was his final test. And it was going to take everything he had.

Months passed. Manav’s show had been on hold for five months now, and Manav himself had been holed up in his lab for three of them. It was one in the morning when Bansi entered the cold room hesitantly, with a glass of milk in his hand and noticed the small device emitting a soft blue light in Manav’s hand.

“What are you working on, dear?” he asked, wondering if he even wanted to know.

“It’s state of the art, Kaka, and it’s finally ready. You see this little thing?”


The device shone directly in Bansi’s eyes. “I’m going to implant it in my brain, right here,”


Manav gestured to the side of his forehead, “It will help me create a projection of the voices and stay conscious so I can actually interact with them. It’s going to be revolutionary,” Manav beamed. His eyes lit up with passion.

Bansi’s stomach sank. “Baba are you sure? All of this, it’s just not sitting right with me. You don’t need to do all this! The show is already cancelled, you can finally contact Chhote Saheb, start a new chapter, Manav. He only wants the best for you,” he persuaded, his hands quivering in desperation.

“What the hell are you talking about? I have to do this, Kaka. It’ll make everything better. You have to trust me. Imagine I’ll be able to converse with the voices! It’ll be like nothing that’s ever been done before.”

“Beta, please. This is all getting too much now. You’re already rich, famous– why do you want to put so much pressure on yourself?”

“I know how to do it, Kaka. I’m going to make a comeback and the world will watch.

“Manav, I can’t let you do this. You’ve seen what the stress did to you, so why do you want to take on more than you can handle?" Manav's eyes darted across the room and then pierced right through Bansi's, as he retorted, “I’m putting my foot down, Manav. You need to stop now, or else –”

“Or what, Bansi? What are you going to do?”Manav stood up. “You know I pay my way and yours, right?” Manav barked. Bansi’s gaze shifted, and he crossed his arms. Manav took a step forward and held Bansi firmly by the shoulders.


“Now look, you’re forcing me to say all this. I have done amazingly well so far and I can’t let what happened that day define me. I’m doing this for us, and the sooner you understand that, the better.”


Bansi fidgeted with the furrowed ends of his moustache and reluctantly gave Manav a disapproving, yet anticipative look. A hundred scenarios flashed through his mind. Bansi knew he had to be there for Manav now more than ever, and with this discernible weight on his shoulders, slowly shuffled out of the room.

Manav slammed the door shut, and stood in front of the mirror with the injectable implant his hands. His eyes were vacant, and his nostrils flared. He tilted his head, and clenched his jaw as his temples ached with the pinch of the injection; his face was stoic. He shut his eyes and concentrated, just like he always used to do to listen to the voices.

A young boy appeared in front of him. He looked around 11, maybe 12 years old.

“I can hear something,” he said. “What is it?” Manav asked.

"They want to talk to me, but it is too hard. I don’t think I can do it. I don’t want to do it. Please.”

Manav stared at the boy in disbelief as he turned around.


“No,” he murmured. He saw a woman now. She looked back at Manav. “You want another blanket, darling?” she said. Manav couldn’t believe it his eyes. He was finally meeting the people who had been living in his head for his entire life. He sunk to the floor and watched the figures form and disintegrate before him in awe.

Manav spoke. The voices replied.


The Dubai sun shone through a small crack in the curtains and lit up the hotel room.


It formed a glare on the plasma TV as a reporter gushed, “Famed psychic Manav Desai, who had a mishap on his widely successful show before it’s temporary cancellation almost a year ago, is now healthy as a horse and back in action, and is all set to make a grand comeback to the small screen on the international stage! Tune in tomorrow for an exclusive interview with the God of Minds!”


Manav stared at his hazy reflection in the screen and ran a hand across his hair.

Bansi walked over from the next room and sat at the edge of Manav’s bed. “Manav Baba, how are you doing?” He set the tray in his hands down and rubbed Manav’s feet.

“It’s all coming together perfectly, Bansi. I am going to rule the world soon.” Manav sneered.

“You do that, Baba. But don’t forget your glass of milk. Everything will work out.” Bansi turned at the door one last time before he went back to his room. Manav gulped down the glass and went to bed. Peace and turmoil co-existed in his head now, and he had had the pleasure to meet them, too. After the longest time, Manav felt a strange sense of absolution and ascendancy over his impending redemption.

The phone rang, all of a sudden. “Hello?” Manav whispered. Nothing. Then heavy breathing. The receiver clicked. He noticed his clothes were stained with sweat all over, and his eyes became watery. He felt a lump in his throat.

He turned around and let out a scream. A man stood in front of him. “Who are you?” Manav asked sheepishly.

“Who are you?” The man replied. His face, although familiar, wasn’t quite so discernible, but his voice was similar to his own.

“What are you doing here and what the hell do you want?” Manav took a step back.

“What do you want, Manav? What are we doing here?”


“Answer me!” Manav screamed. “What the hell is going on?”

“This is all a sham. What do you think is going to come of this? You’re better than this. I can help you out.”

“Help me out?” Manav replied. His breath quickened and his entire body was drenched in sweat. He saw colours again. His heart pounded against the walls of his chest, threatening to tear his ribs apart. Manav took a step back and grabbed a blade from the counter.

“This is not your path. Don’t force yourself. I can set you free!”

“Set me free?” Manav’s vision became brighter and brighter. His eyes tingled and burned.

“Come with me, you can get through this. You don’t have to live like this.”

“Get out of my head! Get out of my head!” Manav shouted.

“You can still tap out, and no one will know. I assure you.”

“Get out of my head. Get out. Right now,” Manav sputtered. He couldn’t stop.

“I can help you, trust me,” the man said and put his hands on Manav’s temples.


A cold clutch seemed to form around his heart as the beating became softer. Manav felt his voice become fainter, almost inaudible. His ears felt heavy and warm, and he felt his body collapse into a puddle. He could sense nothing but see an expanse of light ahead of him. His head ached as it would burst into a million pieces, but he had never felt more at peace. Every movement in his body felt absolutely effortless and out of his control. He slowly fell asleep.


The faint blue light flickered through specks of red and slowly died out. The implant was destroyed. Bansi carefully wiped the handle clean where he touched it. He bent down, and with tears in his stoic eyes, placed the bloodied blade in Manav’s warm, lifeless hand.

Bansi suddenly felt his body become weightless like he was falling off a cliff, and he slumped against the wall and sat across from the pool of blood. He closed his eyes and saw a young, dewy-eyed nine-year-old boy come running to him, groaning in pain.


"Kaka, my tooth is all wobbly and it won't fall out!" The voice still rung clear as day in his ears. How could he hear cries of help and not do everything in his power to make sure Manav was okay? He remembered and almost felt again, how his heart ached when he had to yank the tooth out with his hand to relieve the pain in little Manav’s mouth. He opened his eyes. He stared at his hands, then Manav’s pale face, bleeding from the temple where he made the cut.

He picked up the phone, dialled the emergency number and waited. Even the short dial tone made his head throb like it was being hit with a hammer. Finally, a dispatcher answered after what felt like the longest one and a half seconds of his life.
Choked up, he spoke.

“Hello. I’d like to report a suicide.”


Shirin is a Mass Communication graduate from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. Her background in writing, film, and theatre has developed her drive for media and have equipped her with the foundation to further her skills in the industry. She is a published author and loves working on films. She aims to utilise her studies in Communications to leverage the intersection of the private and public sectors and create a catalytic space for development.


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