The Scent of a Bird : Madhavi Kutty, Pakshiyude Manam, 1961
‘…. Once upon a winter, a bird got trapped in my bedroom. It had pale yellow and rusty hues. Something like your sari’s shades. It pecked against the glass windows desperately; then flapped frantically trying to break down the glass. All in vain. Finally it collapsed on the ground. I crushed it underfoot, of course.’
After a few moments, he asked her , ‘ Do you know the scent of death?’
She raised her eyes to meet his own; but could not even whimper out a word. She knew the answer. Who knew about the scent of death, indeed the various scents of death better than her? It smelt of festering wounds, of sweet orchards, of sandal wood agarbatis…
Inside a small, dark room, her mother lay on a cot on the plain ground. ‘ I am not well my child…I am not in pain…but I am not feeling well…’ White maggots had wriggled from within the wounds on her mother’s leg. Yet, her mother said, ‘ I am not feeling any pain…’
Her father. When her diabetic father had collapsed one day, she had felt that a breeze had blown in from the orchards…The scent of sweetness had been so prominent…It was the scent of death too.
She wanted to say all that; but her tongue had weakened by then.
The young man seated in the middle of the room was muttering even then.
‘You don’t know that, do you? Death smells like the feathers of a bird….You will learn that shortly enough. Do you want it now? Is there a time that you prefer most? This world lies shamelessly naked beneath the stare of the sun : would that time suffice? Or do you prefer twilight? What sort of a woman are you? Courageous or prone to timidity?’
He got up from his chair and moved towards her. He was a very tall man.
She said, ‘ Please let me go. I never intended to come here.’
‘ You are lying! How many times have you wished to reach here! You have wanted an easy end for such a long time, have you not? Are you not like a languidly flowing river which wants to simply merge with a deeply sighing sea that is filled with gentle waves? Tell me darling, don’t you yearn for that endless caress?’
‘ Who are you?’ She struggle to sit up. The man’s fingers- she felt a loathing pull towards those.
‘ So you have never seen me before?’
‘ I have come to you many times. You were hardly eleven the first time around. You had jaundice and was exhausted. When your mother opened the windows, you said, ‘ Amma, I see yellow flowers every where.’ Do you remember that?’
She nodded in agreement.
‘ Only your eyes saw those yellow flowers. I was standing amidst them. I was waiting to take you away…But you did not come with me that day…You did not know about my love for you. You did not recognise that I am your guide- not just yours, every single person’s guide and philosopher…’
‘ Love? Is this love?’ She asked querulously.
‘ Yes. Only I am capable of revealing the perfection of love. You will offer to me every single part of yours: your red lips, your dancing eyes, your seductive body…all of that…every cell shall be offered to me… As a reward for your sacrifice, I shall grant you freedom. You will turn into emptiness, but you will become everything.
You will be in the hum of the seas, and you will move in the old trees when they sprout new lives in the rains. When the seeds cry in birthing pangs beneath the sodden earth, your cry shall arise along with theirs. You will turn into wind, into rain drops, into specks of sand…You shall become the beauty of this world…’
She rose and stood still. All her tiredness had vanished. With a newly acquired strength, she said, ‘ Perhaps you are right. But you have got the wrong person. I am too young to die. I am only twenty seven. I am married. I am a mother. My time has not yet come. I came in search of a job. It must be around twelve thirty now. Let me get back home.’
He said nothing. Opening the door for her, he gave her permission to leave. She hurried forward, searching for the lift. Her footsteps echoed balefully all around- or so she felt.
She stopped near the lift. The peon who operated it was not to be seen. She got inside and closed the shutter, before pressing the button. With the initial rumblings of a break down, it jerked to a start and then shot upwards. She felt that she was in the sky and that it was thundering loudly somewhere. It was then that she saw the board dangling inside the lift: ‘ Lift is under repair. Danger.’
It became dark all around. It was a darkness which made sounds, and growled ferociously. She never had to get out of the lift again.