Barely Speaking

For Anin and S who silently spoke about love, loneliness, worm-holes, rainy days, potato curry and sometimes… depression.

Anin came home quite late from the therapy that day. When asked she told she lost her way. The same way which she’s been taking for roughly three months now on every alternate day. I didn’t question her further. I went into the kitchen and started making tea. She came and stood by the kitchen seal and 
started scratching her head. She still seemed lost and a bit nervous now. I asked her, “Do you want 
lemon tea or milk tea?” She didn’t reply. She went towards the refrigerator and brought ginger and  

milk. She took the grater hanging on the wall and started grating the ginger into the milk. It almost felt like she was speaking to me with every motion on that grater. The shredded ginger dropped like inaudible words into the milk.   

The milk gradually started looking a bit gingery in color and I somehow understood what she wanted  

to say. She started humming the same tune which she always hums while making tea. I remember asking her one day, “Which song is this?” She hummed a bit more and said, “I know it as the same tune which my father used to hum while making tea.”   

We took our tea and stood by the window. It was about to rain. She started talking after the first sip, “I 
opened up too much during the therapy today. Things I didn’t know I would even tell myself again.” I 
took another sip in reply. After knowing Anin for all these years, I knew when I shouldn’t be asking or 
talking anything. For Anin, I was that frequency on the radio which she would never change. She liked it on the same station always. Sometimes I would play the songs she likes but most of the times I’m supposed to remain a static noise. And she never minded that. Perhaps, that’s why she came back to this frequency after all these years when she planned to move to Pondicherry from Bombay.  

Anin was really scared when she planned to move here. She told she had been staying there for 2 years now and still didn’t know anyone. On weekdays she would have trouble sleeping and on weekends, she’ll  either pass out alone or pass out with someone else. A different pair of shoes will walk up to her 
tenement room every Friday night and her pair of shoes will be kicked off somewhere in haste. Next day morning, she’ll wake up early and would make some tea for herself while humming the tune. She lived alone in that studio apartment. She always wanted to live alone so that nobody would disturb her while she’s daydreaming or writing poems. Her office journal had more poems and less interviews.  

I think I’ve kept it that way after she moved in here with me. Her journal just has poems now because she left her job. She worked as a journalist in Bombay. After moving to Pondicherry, she said, “People don’t tell the truth when they are asked to tell the truth. So, I want to work in a company which doesn’t involve me asking people about their truth.” And she was happy for a few months after that.  

She’d tag along with me everywhere to understand the city. In a few weeks, she knew the city better than me. She knew when there will be a high tide in the sea and which days of the week the Akka sits by the seashore to sell the fried fish with lemon squeezed on it. She kept a track of the full moon nights and would drag me along to the beach in the evening to witness it. She knew which street leads to the lighthouse faster and which lane has flowers of which color. She knew which prawn shop deveins the prawns properly and where you find the most tender red meat in the town. She knew the town and the town started knowing her. She even learnt to speak some broken Tamil. And wherever she didn’t find the right words, she’d just smile. Everyone understood her.     


I came out at midnight and found Anin making some soup.   

“Do you have cold?”, I said.  

“How do you know?”, Anin replied.  

“You’re making soup.”, I pointed at her hand which was fiddling with the chicken pieces on the side of 
the vessel she was making the soup in.  

“Oh.”, She said and successfully scraped the chicken back to the soup.   

“Shall I make some for you?” Anin said and looked at me for the first time since this evening. Her eyes 
treaded for a quick answer and I nodded. She half smiled and went for the last packet of soup in the 
cupboard.  

We have a very small kitchen. Two people can fit in it only if they don’t mind standing close to each 
other.  And we liked being in the kitchen at the same time. Sometimes we’ll have conversations about 
the reality and most of the times we’ll stay silent about it. Sometimes we’ll just be there to take the 
aroma of what the other person is cooking. Sometimes we’ll have our tea here itself because we liked 
the morning light in the kitchen.    

There are days when I felt that Anin and I co-existed in the same house at the same time but in two 
different worlds. Even Anin have felt that way at times. We’ll speak without expecting any replies and 
we’ll listen when no one is speaking. We would walk past each other and you can’t even feel the 
vibrations in the air. We’ll come home any time and leave at our own will. Both had the keys and  

hearing a knock on the door was too rare. Although, Anin and I materialized in this house at the same 
time when any of us would play music. The speaker looked like a worm hole through which we transported each other whenever we played a track. Time travelling was easy and safe. You just need to pick a song or sometimes hum like how Anin did while making the tea.    

Anin suddenly played an old country song on the speaker and the cycle of co-existing iterated. I moved  

to the sink to clear the clutter. The sink was clogged due the coriander leaves which we drained with the left-over daal we cooked in the morning.    

Anin suddenly got a phone call and she went to pick it up. It was her therapist. Why was he calling at 
such an odd hour? Anin was just saying “Okay” to whatever he was saying.   

After a while, Anin stopped speaking. I turned off the music and just to check on her, I went to her 
room.  

  *  

This is Odisha. Summer of year 1999. My father had bought a Kodak camera. We booked tickets to Puri because my mother wanted to see Lord Jagannath’s temple and my father wanted to see Bay of Bengal.  What did I want? I wanted to feel the sand. My friend told me that it seeps out of your closed hands and one could also build castles out of it if its wet. In a week we planned everything and made sure at least 
thirty times that we’re carrying the camera and the film role. This wasn’t a vacation. A middle-class 
family doesn’t go for vacations. They go on such trips to make sure that there is also a world outside 
their 1 BHK flat. The 1BHKs which have a peculiar smell which you find only in a 1 BHK. The doors would swell off every monsoon making tough for families to lock their despair inside.   

We reached Puri at 5am in the morning and after bit of negotiations we fixed an auto-rickshaw which 
will drop us to our hotel. Where was the sea which my father told me about? There were just roads, 
then you take a turn to lanes, then there were by-lanes and then there was a maze of an unknown city.   After 30 minutes, I thought my parents are either wrong about the sea or we’re in the wrong city. They should have confirmed it once before making such an elaborate plan. Shouldn’t the sea be everywhere if that’s what people are talking about Puri? I could see Lord Jagannath everywhere. What Rajnikanth is to Tamil  Nadu, Lord Jagannath is to Odisha. The posters are everywhere!   

The auto took one last turn and I heard a loud roar. And all of us looked towards the east. The small poster of Lord Jagannath along with Balaram and Subhadra in the auto must have felt a bit jealous. It was Bay of Bengal at 530 am.  There was sunrise, sea waves and the reason we came to Puri. We reached our hotel and the auto rickshaw’s horn made us turn our face away. We got refreshed, had cardamom tea and went to the beach with the camera.  

We took turns to protect the camera and click photos while the other person can get in the water. The 
waves never stopped coming. For a 4-year-old, this is a fantasy he or she has never even dreamt being a part of.   

There were not many people on the beach. Probably 10-15 families and a few fishermen busy bringing 
their boats on the shore. I asked my father if I could stand by the shore while he clicks my photograph. 
He smiled and asked me to not go very far. I took a few decently big steps to be as far as possible to  

have the whole sea in the background. My father said cheese, I said cheese and I heard a loud scream 
from the background. I turned and saw a small girl’s face who was drowning in the sea, and I heard the camera’s click. What I remember after that was just chaos and the girl’s family trying to rescue her. The sea took her, and I didn’t go to the sea even once during that trip. Years later, I still remember the look on that girl’s face, her scream and the click of the camera. We still have that photograph where I am looking towards the sea and you can see a face drowning in the background.   

When I entered Anin’s room, I found the same look on her face. The same look which has haunted me 
throughout my childhood. Was she drowning? She is supposed to scream if she’s drowning. She is just 
silent.   

*  

“The soup’s getting cold, Anin”, I said.   

“S. My therapist is moving out of Pondicherry. He said I was his only patient here and he wasn’t making much money. He is moving to Chennai. He told big cities will have a higher number of depressed people and he could help them.”, Anin explained.  

“What did you say?” I asked.  

“I said okay.” She said.  

“He said since his family is still here, he’ll come to Pondicherry once every fortnight. And I can visit him 
then.”, She added. 

“We’ll figure out something, Anin.” I said.  

“Yes, we will. Let’s have the soup before it loses its powers to cure my cold.” Anin replied.  

*  

What according to you is a mature writing? I don’t know. I’m not a writer and I hardly read other  

writers. Famous or non-famous. The last thing I read was a short story by Julian Barnes and I was upset for days. The story was so simple. It was about silence, death and cranes. I could feel the silence which 
resides in our house too and takes more space than Anin and me. And that’s why I started writing about it. A bit about me, a lot about Anin but mostly it’s about silence.  

We finished our dinner and it was 2 am.  I had to finish my thesis which was due almost 2 weeks back. I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish it in time and had informed my PhD guide about it. He’s a good man 
who understands how PhD students forget that they are doing a PhD. So, after every few weeks he must remind me of my purpose in life and the fact that I must submit my final year thesis. Both are mutually 
exclusive.   

I went to my room and stared at my laptop’s screen to see where I left my thesis the last time. Anin 
came and sat beside me with a glass of whiskey. She was scrolling through her phone and would show 
me if she’d come across any nice posts or photos.   

She suddenly went out and got a glass of whiskey for me too. She said, “For your thesis.”  

I smiled and had a sip. Then I wrote an entire page in a flow. Then I wrote another. By 5 am I was done 
with one section of something which I wanted to finish since weeks.   

Anin was fast asleep with the glass of whiskey in her hand. I put the glass away and slept beside her. The laptop’s light illuminated the room.  

“S”, Anin said softly.  

“Anin?! I thought you’re asleep. Sorry if I woke you up.” I said.  

“Can we have some potato curry for lunch tomorrow?” Anin asked.  

“Stop dreaming about curries and potatoes, Anin.” I replied with a bit of forced tone of exasperation in my voice.  

“If only we had a control on our dreams, S. Even if I had a control over my dreams, I’d still have dream of 
potatoes and curries.” Anin said and smiled with her eyes still closed.  

Anin’s lips would look like the last moon of Ramadan whenever she smiled. Perhaps that’s why she had to go a full moon cycle before she could smile again like that.   

“Okay. We’ll have potato curry for lunch.” I said.  

“Something to look forward to for tomorrow.” She replied and turned to other side and slept.

*  

I woke up well past noon. Anin was still sleeping beside me. The table fan would silently take away the 
hair falling on her face and would innocently put it back like it never wanted to do it. Anin slowly opened her eyes. She looked exhausted. The kind of exhaustion you suffer from after having a series of endless dreams where the end of one dream meant the start of another. But that doesn’t stop you from getting involved with the bizarreness of it. Have you ever had a Déjà vu in your dream? That you’ve 
dreamt this dream before? I think Anin woke up at that moment.   

Anin got up and went to the kitchen. I was still lying down. I could hear her humming and understood 
that she was making tea. “S. Shall we go to the town? It isn’t that hot today,” Anin screamed from the 
kitchen.   

“For lunch?” I asked and thought to myself, weren’t we supposed to make potato curry for lunch? 

“Yes, since we’ve slept through our breakfast,” Anin said.   

“Alright. We can also look for a new therapist for you,” I said.   

“Let’s have some nice lunch first. New therapist can wait,” Anin said confidently.   

We had our tea and freshened up to go out. I remember reading a lazy technique about good writing 
somewhere. It said, “If you’re confused about how to proceed with your plot, change the weather in 
your story.”   

*  

It started to drizzle as soon as we left our home. Anin was carrying the umbrella. She’s always hopeful 
about the rains. If you sit close to Anin, you always get a different smell. She didn’t like putting 
deodorants and she never needed one. She sometimes smelt of tea. Sometimes she smelt of black 
coffee. She sometimes smelt of fresh grass. Other times she smelt like dust on the old books. She 
sometimes smelt like curtains which should have been replaced long back. She sometimes smelt of 
turmeric and sometimes she smelt like coriander. She sometimes smelt like the bay leaf and cardamom.  The food sometimes tasted of variety of spices not because there were spices in it, but Anin was around it while it was being cooked. Anin doesn’t know about all this. Anin doesn’t know that on a sunny day she can smell like rain. Anin doesn’t know she smelt of vanilla when she kissed Manu and came back 
rushing to tell me. Anin doesn’t know that she smelt of black pepper when Manu left her for unknown 
reasons. Anin doesn’t know about this magical attribute of hers and I don’t want you to tell her. Anin 
should always smell like something; so that even the non-existent things around her can remind you of Anin.   

We reached the town and went to a café. We had some kalamari in coconut milk curry along with 
steamed rice. I asked for a bottle of beer. The salty sea breeze added some more salt to our food. Anin explained how easy it is to make such dishes because coconut milk makes everything taste better. Even something as bland as squid. Anin asked me to save the last sip of beer for her.   

We left the café and went to sit near the beach. We found an empty cement bench by a tree. “Is it 
Saturday?” Anin asked me. “No, it’s a Wednesday,” I told.   

“Oh.” She did some calculation in her head and finally when convinced that it was a Wednesday, she 
said “Oh” again.   

Anin smelt of the napkin kept on the table in the café. There are times when I’ve felt that I’m turning 
schizophrenic and imagining smells which aren’t even there. But the smell was too strong to be 
imaginary and it changed too frequently for me to believe my schizophrenia. Anin stood up to walk 
towards the sea. She smelt a bit lemony now.   

*  

My professor once asked me, “What is art?” I expressed, “Sir, If I were an artist and I told you a step by 
step guide to draw something and you followed the exact process but it doesn’t turn out to be as 
beautiful as mine then I would say that you learnt the technique of it. Art is something which was in 
between those steps. Something which you can’t teach or mimic. Something which originates right in 
your gut, rises through your chest and you must let it all out. The way you inhale the smoke from a 
cigarette is a science but the way you exhale it is an art.”   

For me art is how Anin applies oil to her hair. She puts a towel on her shoulder. Like how a man puts a 
towel before he goes to a mosque to pray. This is nothing less than that. It’s holy. She’ll sit on her knees, take some oil and put it on edge where her scalp starts. She would look towards the ceiling/Allah while 
putting the oil. Now for her prayers to reach Allah and the oil to reach her scalp, she needs to be honest about her sins and the amount of oil she’s going to put on her head. Then come the two hands joined 
together and gently rubbing through the entire scalp. It must go from where the scalp starts to where it finishes as she’s already marked its boundary. This lasts for as long as an evening Azaan. And by the time she’s done you know that Allah has forgiven her for her sins.  

*  

We came back in the evening.   

Anin sat down to apply some oil in her hair. I went to the kitchen to make some tea. We found another 
therapist for Anin. She’ll start visiting the new therapist from next week.   

She seemed a bit relaxed. She took bath and went to her room after we had tea. Anin looked different.   She suddenly came back and said she’d ordered pizza for dinner. I went to my room after that and 
started working on my thesis. I wrote about half a page and then started reading a novel. I thought of 
smoking a cigarette to clear my mind and start writing again. Suddenly the lights went out. Anin went to check outside and found out that the whole street’s electricity was gone.   

The pizza came after a while and we waited for the electricity to come back. We stood near the window.   “It was a good day,” Anin spoke. “This felt better than a therapy. We should do this every Saturday,” she added.   

“Every Wednesday,” I corrected her. Anin laughed.   

It was two hours since the electricity went. We were hungry, so we opened the pizza in the dark and 
started having it.   

We finished the pizza and electricity still didn’t come.   

Suddenly Anin screamed, “S. Weren’t we supposed to have potato curry today?!”  
The electricity came back and I saw the look on Anin’s face.  

*  

The light came back and the look on Anin’s face made me realize that I don’t have a story to tell. I might be deeply and madly in love with Anin. But should I talk about it? And what’s love, exactly? “Love is love”, Anin would tell. And I would quote this everywhere. What more you would want to know about Anin? 
Anin is the character from the stories which are never told but are secretly passed on like this. It 
depresses the writers. Writers turn in to poets and the poets turn into alcoholics. Anin is the loneliest  

girl you would find in every party. She would talk aimlessly for hours and would ask you to hold her glass when she needs to use both her hands to explain something.    

  Anin was 17 years old when she realized that she’s depressed. In last 9 years, Anin has met 12 different therapists. Nobody understood why Anin is depressed. How to cure a patient whose depression is not 
an illness but a part of her life? You can only talk about it. But how much can we talk about it? That’s 
why Anin is “barely speaking”.  

Who is there to listen? Me? S? I would listen. Sometimes I wonder if Anin would be a different person if she’s not depressed. Perhaps I am not in love with Anin but only in love with her depression. Would 
Anin stop smelling like dried roses, the day she stops being depressed? Would you miss her depression? Also, would the  depression just vanish like that? We don’t know. A happy ending of a depressing story is not to give it an ending.    

Anin met her 13th therapist. A new person in her life who would get to know about things only Anin and her past therapists knew. After every 15 minutes, the therapist will look at the clock hanging on the wall behind Anin. Anin must summarize her depression. Periodically, the therapist would look at her through the gap between her forehead and her spectacles. Anin was experienced. 9 years of experience of being clinically depressed gave her an edge over most of her therapists. She could sense if they are good even before the first sitting. But she’ll assure herself about that by visiting them for at least one session. She wanted to see how often a therapist would look at the clock. Are the walls painted grey to match the 
colour of the depression or they are painted cheerfully pink or yellow because they thought it helps.  Will the person forms judgement about her and subtly tells her that, “No, darling you’re not depressed. You just need to change your attitude.” To which without any subtly Anin would tell, “No, thank you.”   

Anin would soon run out of things she thought was of importance and should be discussed. She’s met 
few very good therapists. Who almost cured Anin. Almost. That’s the thing about depression. It resides inside you. It’s like the dirt underneath your fingernail which inconspicuously finds it way. It’s like the 
pimple which can appear overnight. It’s like that smoker’s cough which keeps coming and going even 
after you quit smoking. Just like love, depression is depression. Anin now lives with it. She takes it with 
her when she goes out on the terrace at night. And she wakes up with it every morning. The depression is immune of Anin.

Is Anin even depressed? Can we call it a depression if this is how she is? Or will always be?   

*  

“S. It didn’t go well. I might not visit her again.”, Anin came and announced.   

“I don’t think it can be cured now, S.” Anin said. “I’ll try living with it instead. Does it make sense to 
you?” Anin added.  

“It kind of does.” I said.  

“It’s like those scar marks on your body which you got because you fell down somewhere during your childhood, S. You don’t know how it happened. Every time I visit a therapist, I try to recall it. Ask 
questions to myself. Even interview myself like I interviewed people during my job. And unlike them, I told truths. But I can’t recall anything. Only differences is, it still hurts. Unlike the bruises of 
childhood, it still hurts.” Anin told. 

I understood. I was deeply and madly love with her. And people in love understood. Her scars were the sexiest parts about her to me. Something which I would love to caress throughout the night. She can 

choose to moan in pain or pleasure. This is not getting cured, but I can love it instead. I can remove the  glass of whiskey every time she passes out drunk on the floor and shove a pillow under her head so that   she can dream better. You can imagine that piece of ugly furniture which occupies just as much place in your house that it can completely go unnoticed and then your mother puts an old embroidery cloth on  her to hide it. My love can be that piece of cloth on Anin’s depression.   

“Shall I make some tea, S?” Anin said.   

“Put some ginger too.” I replied.  

Anin started humming as the milk boiled for the tea. Outside it was getting darker. She brought the tea and sat on a chair by the window.   

I took my phone out and clicked her photo. She demanded me to show it to her. She took the photo, 
analyzed it for a second and smiled. She told, “You know during my childhood, I used to be afraid of 
camera flashes. In all my photos, you will find a kid who is just about to cry.”   

I laughed and asked, “And when did you this fear left you?”  

Anin said, “I’m still afraid. I just know how to hide it very well.” To which I added, “Is that adulthood is 
all about? To hide your childhood fears?”  

“I don’t know, S. The photo came beautiful though. Would you post it somewhere?”, Anin asked.  

“I wrote a short story about you. Perhaps, I’ll put it along with that?” I asked hesitantly.  

“A story about me?!” Anin asked. “Yes. Do you want to read it?” I quickly asked.  

“Of course. Is it depressing though?” Anin asked with a smile.  

I didn’t say anything to that. I went inside, brought my laptop and gave it to her. Anin finished reading the story and did not speak to me for some time and just looked out of the window.  

“Did you like it?” I shook Anin and asked.  

“Not a bit.”, Anin said.  

“Why?!” I asked.  

Anin looked at me and said, “It wasn’t depressing enough.”   

***  

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