Open 2021 Open Stories - Soumya Doralli


The Nuances of Spaces
By Soumya Doralli


I was in a dilemma whether to rest my dark grey cotton hand bag on my thighs or on the stairs, as the muscle cramp in my right knee tried engulfing me with pain, for always having cruised through the stairs of the metro station and rushed in a zigzag manner through the crowd to make my way out and get into the metro. This routine was something that I had got accustomed to and now was left at the mercy of self-neglect as far as my health and workaholic inclinations were concerned. I sat on the stairs placing my bag on my thighs and when I looked at it, it felt terrible for finding it in a worn out condition.


As I uttered a deep sigh, which I thought was better than rolling out tears of disgust accompanied with immense physical pain, I tried recollecting one of the experiences of my commute.


It was that particular day of winter in Dervan, when the sunshine seemingly appeared to play hide and seek as far as the receipt of its warmth was concerned. I rushed into the metro, panted looking downwards with my eyes busy scanning through the shoes and sandals within the range, at the same time making sure not to get them too strained. As my breath had lost all the focus it had grabbed, by getting back to normal, I had a self-assured smile. And as I stood holding one of the poles of the metro, it was time for some observation, as the announcement for the next station ‘Prakash Nagar’ got played out.


As the door opened, some smartly dressed, some familiar faced, some poised, and the rest seemingly queer ladies, who were heading in to head out, got inside. I usually waited for the fellow commuters to settle down and conversed with few of them for sometime during my entire journey of forty five minutes and spent the rest of the time clinging to my headphones.


Only that day it was different. I dwelled into a playful activity of finding the best colourful scarf out of the lot, that some of the ladies present had adorned. The one that caught my eye right away was a scarf that was an ensemble of red, grey and black colours, with an off-white polka dot laden red coloured body that was bordered with grey colour adjacent to the black, seeming as if it had layered itself perfectly on the teal coloured sweat shirt, the one without a hood. After having stared at the scarf longer than usual, I quick started the conversation by asking, ‘Hey! Where did you manage to buy this scarf?’ I was replied with a smile, that already seemed to be aware of a compliment coming its way, as the lady flaunted her husky vocals and said, ‘Jugnu street’. Those two words off her mouth, made me blink my eye out of a slight spark of admiration for her, and continue the conversation saying ‘Its elegant!’.


When I was replied with a ‘Thank you’, I immediately asked her ‘How much did you pay?’ trying to fit the conversation into an all-girls talk. She said ‘One hundred and eighty rupees, brought it down from two hundred. You get some real good stuff at Jugnu street’.


‘Yes, I have been there. On every visit, I can’t help spending an entire day, in spite of it being over crowded‘. The conversation went on from apparel and accessories’ shopping to books, and ended up in discussing profession and the responsibility that came along. Ms. Tara Sharma, a MBA graduate, working as a Business Analyst at ‘Cave-Ins Private Ltd’, one of the leading IT firms, emanated a simplified significance when she said, ‘A lot happens amidst the rush in a haste to get there and very few manage to make it to the finishing line.


I believe in attaining an eventuality gradually, trying to stay unfretted in the meantime.’ With this, we had to end our conversation as the announcement played out ‘Vilas Nagar’, the station where Tara Sharma got off the metro and turned back and waved with a warm smile that managed to come across and left me pondering about people and their impactful encounters.


One of the passer bys, a lady, the first in the span of about fifteen minutes of I being seated at the stairs, asked me if everything was alright, to which I replied saying ‘I have a muscle cramp’. The lady, who had adorned herself in a peacock green cotton saree, emanated an aura of grace that sprang out effortlessly. The lady stooped slightly and asked,

‘Are you sure?’ and left me all by myself after having assured her that I could manage. But honestly, it was not the knee pain, but the pain of having had a glimpse of the pinnacle of success and not been able to sustain it, that troubled me.


I had started showing a keen interest in pencil sketching at the age of fourteen. I began by sketching famous movie actors. I portrayed those expressions that I considered innocent.

I began receiving encouragement from my family and friends. Whenever asked as to why most of my sketches had the actors’ eyes looking down or sideways. this is how I described to all of them saying, ‘Whenever I watch a movie, I feel, the innocence of an actor is the most appealing trait that as far as my observation is concerned, enhances their effort to pull off their respective characters. And, if I am able to convey their innocence which at times seemingly sways across the fine line between the tangible and the intangible to its observers, then it would fall into that particular zone, which would offer a visual treat to its artist’.


As I got bugged staring at my off-white sandals, bought by my sister from the ‘Scarlet Square’ store, the peak hour of the metro had passed. The noise along with the crowd had subsided. My eyes started wondering in search of light and while doing that, caught sight of the security guard, who managed to remain oblivious to the stealthy stare of few of the commuters who in spite of the hurry they were in, managed to bring that out.


I decided to check on the condition of my knee which seemed a lot better. So, I hung my hand bag over my right shoulder and stood up taking the support of the railings with my left hand. And as I looked down at the stairs, suddenly it appeared as though a tunnel ran down, deep and narrow, and fearing if one could ever get somewhere if one took it, I gave up the idea of getting home and went back and sat on the bench.


I quickly opened my bag and looked for the cartoon that had quick started my career, in the newspaper ‘The Other End’, which had offered me my first job as a cartoonist following graduation. I took the newspaper out and held it wide open where its lightness lay heavy with emotions on both my palms as it got wet with my tears. It made me sigh as I held it close to my chest.


My cartoon had the caption ‘Winds of change’, that depicted a windmill with the blades represented by the members of the three major political parties, that rotated for power amongst themselves, and were responsible for all the mayhem and ruckus across the length and breadth of the country. The tower of the windmill stood firm on an ocean of currencies. The cartoon had managed to strike a chord with the layman. The news channels discussed its popularity on social media platforms. I felt elated and enjoyed all the new found respect and fame, and as it had called for a celebration, I had taken my family out for a treat at ‘The Lunar Café’, the happening place in Dervan, where I clicked loads and loads of pictures with my sister, Pooja Khanna.


I folded the newspaper, with my nails pressing along the edges of every fold and with a heavy heart, put it in my bag.


I then recollected one of my childhood memories. Whenever my relatives put forth this question to my parents regarding the bond that Pooja and I shared saying, ‘Are they always so well behaved?’ and were impressed by our obedience, my father, Mr. Abhilash Khanna, a gentleman to the core, known for exuberating cheer in our neighbourhood, would burst out laughing, saying, ‘The trouble makers do their job and manage to get away’. As soon as that came out, my mother, Mrs. Preeti Khanna, a talkative woman herself, who had the ability to get an introvert talking, would jump in to carry the task of covering up for us by saying, ‘Oh! They are so adorable. I don’t feel the need to have a son‘


As I stood still with my eyeballs moving left and right, engaged in their conversation, as if witnessing a lawn tennis match, Pooja, sensing and trying to avoid the trouble that might have aroused any which way, caught hold of my hand and dragged me out of the room. We moved swiftly and our feet made the sound as if they tapped to music as we reached the veranda and flung the door open, and were off into that space of our garden, where we were cut off from the rest of the world and dwelled ourselves into the play of making tiny dolls and animal figures of clay. Although it seemed like what kids normally do, we took it with utmost seriousness.


It was routine for me to get the water in the orange coloured mug from the tap that was fixed just four feet behind, as Pooja scrapped out mud, just enough for the day. We then dwelled into our play by making small clay balls, with our hands and eyes co-ordinating with each other, for the eyes instructed and supervised, and our fingers moulded the clay balls with a lot of care. We spent an entire stretch of about two to three hours making the clay models, for once they dried, they had to be painted and placed on the wooden table in our living room, on which similar ones were neatly arranged as they waited for the new entrants. The experience left us with a wide smile as we stood gazing at the ensemble. We paid least attention to the praise and admiration that it brought along, whenever our parents showed them off to our relatives and guests.


The announcement of the metro shook the old memory off my head and brought me back to terms with my present. It was sharp 12.45 pm and I still had no clue whatsoever of whether to get up and get going or pick another page of the book of my experiences. I decided to gather myself up and head home. But, something stopped me from doing that.

Honestly, it seemed as though the deafening silence of the darkness had engulfed me, but what irked me was the scene that ran in my head, where I had taken the political cartoon to the Editor-in-chief this morning, who upon succumbing to the pressure of the incumbent government, rejected it.


I had sketched out a satirical cartoon that definitely would have embarrassed the government from head to toe, during the very same week when I went through the trauma of having lost my sister in an accident and was forced to resign. I closed my eyes and thought about her. I couldn’t even make a phone call to my sister and say, ‘Pooja, I need you’.

Pooja, my twin, whom I looked up to, was that part of me who was always there to pull me out of any sort of trouble. I don’t remember a single day when a fight had taken longer

than five minutes to get us back to talking. I missed her more than ever. I called up my mother, and gasping for breath, said ‘Ma, please come back as soon as possible’. I couldn’t say anything more and cut the call.


My parents unable to bear the shock of Pooja’s death, had moved abroad, but I decided to stay back. The first few days post her death, I retreated to myself by recollecting all our cherished memories, sat for hours together in front of the table staring at the clay models and only managed to get out when the walls of the room started to appear higher than usual leaving me hallucinated.


An hour and a half had passed. I now took the water bottle out and drank the whole of it and as I tried to put the lid back, it slipped off and fell on the floor. The lid was picked by

a guy in blue jeans, and a gray t-shirt, with a black sling bag hanging across his shoulders. He gave me the lid and as I thanked him for the gesture and got busy putting the lid back, I observed the guy didn’t bother to leave. It appeared as though he had something on his mind and before I could find out, I was taken aback, when he showed me this column in the newspaper asking, ‘Do you know the cartoonist of this column, Neha Khanna?’ I couldn’t reply anything as tears filled my eyes. He asked me ‘Are you alright?’ ‘Yes I am’, is all that I managed to say.


He kept looking at the paper and said ‘I am a huge fan of hers. I just hope someday I’ll be able to meet her’. I remained quiet, finding it difficult to reveal my identity. I was making sure not to penetrate too much into his emotions for the fear that lay at the back of my head of falling in love with his innocence. He obviously hadn’t seen me before as I didn’t have a social media profile. He then put the paper back into his bag, and said, ‘Thank you for your time’. I shook my head forcing a smile on my face and once he had left, unable to sit there anymore, I stood up and took the stairs.


As I made my way out of the metro station, I grabbed a burger from one of the eat outs and headed back home in a taxi. Upon reaching there, I unlocked the door, and as I closed it, it felt strange as the door didn’t make a hollow sound. I turned on the laptop on my table and browsed for openings for a cartoonist on Google, taking big bites of the burger.

The first search result that appeared was by the leading newsprint ‘The Vision’. As I opened their website, I found the caption for the post that read, ‘Needed a political cartoonist whose work speaks by leaving others speechless and emboldens the layman with fearless sketching’. And, I was left with a smile as my hands reached out to the pencil that lay at the corner of the table.



Soumya from India has been a Software Engineer, a banker, a self published author and a blogger in India. She has self published her book titled 'Hues of the sky' on Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing. She is a believer in letting your passion demystify truth. She also loves painting, cooking, reading, dancing and travelling.


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