He stood at the bookcase and found his notebook and made a quick pencil sketch of a young woman in an untidy hotel room. He worked roughly, from memory, using a Japanese marker with a fine 0.1 tip, listening all the while to the sound of his wife's voice, Lula's famous Swiss-schooled voice coarsened now by smoke and drink and Hindi curses. He was ready to hide the sketch if he heard her footsteps approach from the next room, but she did not come. The tirade continued. When he was finished he put the notebook away at the back of a shelf stocked with history and biography, books he knew his wife would not disturb. In the notebook were fifty pages of drawings of the young woman in different rooms and moods, in poses both explicit and demure.
Later that night after his wife had gone to sleep he would transfer the notebook to the drawer of her bedside table where household bills lay among manuals and warranties. The sketches were preliminary efforts at a painting he was working on; they were expendable. In a day or two, after he had gone, she would open the drawer to look for the month's electricity and water bills. She would find the notebook and the sketches and understand: after eighteen years of marriage, after threatening to do so a hundred times, he had finally left her.
Early the next morning he will shower and dress and Kuthalingam will take his suitcase and typewriter to the waiting taxi. He will leave the books collected over decades and he will leave the paintings his friends the artists have presented to him. He will leave on the shelf in the bedroom the copies of his own books and the copies of magazines, anthologies, and art journals that have featured his work. He will leave most of his clothes and his shoes, his shelf of bronze sculpture and his collection of Russian icons painted on wood. Before his wife is fully awake he will leave the house. He will not kiss her or take her leave. He does not trust himself to do this without mishap. He will shut the door and take the elevator two floors down to the street and there he will tip Kuthalingam for the last time and step into the taxi that will take him on the first leg of his journey out of Bombay. His flight will land in Delhi in the afternoon and the young woman in the drawings will be waiting at the airport. They will drive into the city and check into an overpriced hotel with an unashamedly colonial past and name. Over the next few days they will discuss the immediate future as they have done off and on for a year. Again he will ask her to accompany him to New York where he owns an apartment and a reputation. She will agree.
But all of that is yet to happen. For now, Sunday night lies before him. As the voice falls silent in the next room he returns to the window and the blank rain that breaks on the dead street; and because the young woman's name is a talisman that will get him through the night he says it to himself, very softly, and then he says it once more.
Excerpted from The Book Of Chocolate Saints By Jeet Thayil with permission from Aleph Book Company. Order your copy here.
(Catch the author in conversation with Ankita Mukherji tonight at 10pm on The Buck Stops Here on NDTV24x7)
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