Blurred Faces

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Florian Schneider


What am I going to do with all the blurred faces in my head? 

The physics research scholar who was blunt enough to tell me my circuit was wrong, but kind enough to teach me what was right. The other research scholar of the same lab, whose face I can no longer remember, but whose name I still remember and I’ll never know why.

The stranger who made space for me in the crowded bus; the government officer who spoke to me in broken Tamizh because I told him it was my native language, because it’d keep me comfortable; the receptionist who asked me if I could string jasmine flowers together, and upon me saying no, said: learn it, you young girls have to keep our tradition alive.

The uncle who passed by me in a wedding hall and then passed away three years later. Mother says he smiled at me, told me his daughter wanted long braids like mine. I want to know if the little girl still remembers her father’s face, his voice and the warmth of his palms atop her forehead. I want to tell her I met her father. And in silence, I want to braid her hair.

The relatives who love me enough to tell me so when they see me once a year but not enough to call me on birthdays. I don’t remember some of their names; I don’t know who is whose sister, and who is whose father. My father wants me to remember that they’re family—and that word, as loosely held together as phosphenes behind the eyes, is all I’ll ever remember of them.

The friend I made in 2nd grade, the one with no other friends. The people whose photos I’ve seen in newspapers with no land to call their own and no place to seek refuge, forced to dangle in the middle of nowhere, their hands firm, clutching a broken photo frame, a torn notebook, a destroyed canvas, a prayer book. 

Maybe my classmate from 8th grade, who always arrived at class late from football practice, remembers my face in a blur of shades of the same colour. Maybe the florist in Church Street remembers me as the girl who yearned for the flowers on display and left with empty hands. And what of this existence if I’m not a blurred face in someone else’s head?

I move my hands when I speak the same way the woman I met at a concert does. I tilt my head to the side in photographs the way my Biology teacher from 9th grade does. The blurs of the faces I have in my head, they’re strokes of paint over my neck, my arms, my limbs until it’s all I am draped in. I become every stranger I have ever met.

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Bangalore’s Skies

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Kalman Kovats


07:15 AM and Bangalore is wiping its tears on its sleeves, smearing red and gold on its eyelids.

I’m sitting in my college bus. I know it stops at Kasavanahalli, but I don’t know where it’ll take me. When I reach the college, the security guard stops me at the gate to inspect me on grounds of discipline. This moment, it feels significant—to be stopped at the gates of a college I never wanted to enter in the first place.

In class, I watch professors through a white veil. Most of the time, I can’t tell if I’m awake or asleep. I hear words: eigenvectors and matrices and engineering is going to be the best four years of your life. 

Give me a good day and then we’ll talk years.

I’ve seen more tiles than buildings, my eyes always cast down, inspecting the grey and the dirt of the floors. I can’t bring myself to look at the college buildings because every time I do, it’s as though someone is screaming at me from the third floor asking me to leave. Where? I’ve been running all my life but I never know where I’m going. This is what I get for chasing a dream that was never mine.

On the way back home, I glance outside the dusty window with nothing else to do, an ache burgeoning its way through my brain. The sky is a silver canvas, streaks of bubblegum pink and Cornerhouse purple slashing through ebony cotton puffs. In a moment as short lived as a breath, the clouds turn into tufts of charcoal.

It rains until the bus’s windows drown in water.

And as always, after every downpour, the skies wipe its tears. It smears the same red and gold on its skin once again, this time in darker shades. The sun buries itself beneath the clouds, leaving its afterglow shining over pavements, treetops and streetlights. It feels almost like a silent warning.

Us Bangaloreans, we get our resilience from our skies. Countless times we’ve watched our city grieve and then pick itself up in fragments; resurrection is in the air we breathe. I wipe the tears I never knew I spilled, smearing red and gold from my sleeves—the colours of my city’s skies, the colours of war. I don’t know against whom I fight. 

But every battle I’ve fought, I’ve won.

Trance

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Suchita Senthil Kumar


There is blood on Mayil’s silk clothes.

The slash runs from her toe to the middle of her right sole. Just before the dance performance, she had slipped away from the rest of the dance troupe to drink a sip of water. Her Guru had permitted her to leave, albeit with a stern expression, asking her to make sure she returned on time. Mayil had been sprinting along the length of the temple’s stone corridors when her toe struck a sharp edge, which scratched through her flesh, and now there were splotches of blood staining her dance costume.

A voice from the temple speakers—her teacher’s voice—announces the beginning of the Padam. The juniors of the Isai Dance Troupe are scheduled to perform a slow-moving Krishna Padam right before the final performance of the seniors, a grand Thillana, which means that Mayil has roughly five minutes to report to her Guru backstage.

Mayil attempts to take larger steps to cover the sprawling floors of the temple, but each stride she makes applies force directly to the sole of her foot, sending a searing pain shooting through her limb. She doesn’t want to, and cannot afford to, damage the soles of her feet any more. Dancing will cause enough friction, and she needs to protect her feet for the main stage.

With caution, she makes the decision to stand on her tiptoes, and it’s immediately the wrong move. A section of the slit is situated right on the crease that allows her to push herself onto her toes, and it triggers a fresh wave of blood dripping onto the floor. She balances her right foot on the side away from her toe and limps to the backstage area, slipping into position amongst the rest of the dance group.

“If you were even two seconds late, I would’ve begun without you,” hisses Nandini Ma’am, her Guru, before stepping onto the stage. She announces the marvels of the Thillana and the achievements of her senior students in a clear and welcoming voice.

The stinging at Mayil’s foot and the subsequent pain that twists up her right leg softens with the knowledge that she is going to be on stage in less than a few seconds. A true dancer will dance despite blood and pain, despite sun or rain, her teacher always said. Mayil has an entire legacy clinging to the Bharatanatyam bells around her feet, and she has to live up to that name.

Despite the aching pain, she’s relieved about one thing, and it’s the fact that none of the audience would notice the blood unless they were exclusively looking at her toes. Even if they were, the stain would be camouflaged by the red alta painting her feet, making the injury almost impossible to notice. The same could be said for the blood on the edge of her Bharatanatyam pant—her grandmother’s red and blue silk.

This is Chidambaram, her grandmother’s birthplace. The town where legacies are carved on the gold plating of its temple’s gopuram, the town where secrets lie in the air that wafts amongst the temple walls, the town where Mayil’s grandmother had dreamed of seeing her dance. 

Paati, are you watching me from the skies? Are you blessing me? 

Mayil steps onto the stage, takes her position at the centre, and joins her hands together in the namaskaram. She greets the audience, her Guru, and the Almighty. The music from the violin and nadhaswaram begins the Mohanakalyani Thillana, accompanied by the mridangam and thavil. The sting in her feet numbs away with the music. She becomes one with the breeze, the waves, the stringing of the violin, and the rhythm of the mridangam. This is Bharatanatyam—Lord Nataraja’s cosmic dance.

The Mohanakalyani Thillana, one of Shri Lalgudi G. Jayaraman’s greatest compositions, reverberates off the temple walls. The Carnatic quartet of renowned musicians seem to speak in a mellifluous conversation with one another, letting their instruments converse in place of words. Mayil’s hands and feet move in practised grace with every mudra and every adavu ingrained in each atom of her bones. Her antique ornaments, the jasmine flowers in her hair, and the bells around her feet amalgamate with her skin—they dance with her to the praise of Lord Muruga.

Sundara Mohana Roopam
Vandita Muni Jananandam
Santatam Valli Kaantam
Chintaye Guruvaram Skandam

His beautiful and charming form
is worshipped by great sages to attain divine bliss.
Let us remember the husband of Valli
the magnificent guru, Skanda (Lord Muruga)

Suddenly, the dance ends without her knowledge, the audience’s applause breaking her from her Bharatanatyam trance. She bows down to them with folded hands and walks off the stage. All the dancers gather in a circle to discuss their post-performance joy. 

“I actually injured my leg before,” Mayil says to the rest of the group. “When I went to get some water. There was blood all over the place—it stained my costume too.”

A collective sound of sympathy resouds amidst the group, and everyone agrees that this is the worst thing that could happen to someone right before a performance.

“We should clean your wound or something,” Anitha, her closest friend in the troupe, notes, while the others continue to gush over the temple’s decorations. “Show me how bad it is.”

Mayil bends her right leg at the knee, balancing on her left, to display her feet under the temple light. No blood. She turns her foot around to view the side of her sole. No blood again. Anita shakes her head and returns to the conversation, saying something about the proficiency of the musicians and reminding everyone to take their blessings. 

Mayil continues to examine her feet, only to find no trace of a wound or any blood spilt. She checks her left leg just in case. Nothing. Her eyes follow the path she must’ve taken while walking towards the stage, and there is no blood there either. 

Her eyes rove over the stage, pausing at the sight of a series of crimson gleams strewn across the floor. At the centre of the stage, where she had recently danced, lay a few rubies. 

She looks down.

There is no blood on Mayil’s clothes.

Lost and Found in Sea

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Adriaen Coorte


She had found the seashells by accident. When she was younger, she used to spend her evenings building sandcastles, chasing crabs and learning to write alphabets on the sand only to watch the sea wash away the distorted letters. The memories come lapping in waves with the shells she holds in her hands.

She picks up the natica from the matte plastic box and runs her finger over its smooth shell. She recalls her futile attempt to paint its glossy surface purple and gold, an incident that her friend Anjani had laughed about for days.

Scallops dominate her shell collection. The texture of its ridges with its repeated rise and fall like waves themselves. In every rise and fall, Leela saw the waves. She could be listening to a violin recital, the highs and lows of a beatpad or her own heartbeat—they were all waves from seas she had not yet discovered.

The banded tulips were always her favourite. They weren’t as enormous as conch shells, and would easily fit in the spaces between her fingers back then. She’d pour water into its curved hole, shake it, and pour it back on the wet sand. Anjani and she had become friends over banded tulips.

“You’re looking for banded tulips?” Anjani had asked, shy smile and bright eyes. “You can have mine!”

“Friends?” Leela had asked. They’d sealed their friendship with a mutual thumbs up and a fist bump.

What could’ve been a breezy summer reminiscence felt like drowning in a maelstrom of tainted memories. 

Other shells, including a single murex and numerous whelks, are also in the plastic box. They all carry hazy memories she can’t quite remember or let go of. She does remember writing BEST FRIENDS on the sand using a stick. She also remembers disappointment crashing over her when the sea swallowed the words whole. 

She shuts the box close.


She blamed chance for her finding the seashell collection shut closed in her murky attic. The second time, she admits full responsibility for hunting down old photographs and regrets the fact that she does not regret it.

When she flips open the album, several grinning faces welcome her. There are photos of a large group of friends, Leela and Anjani next to each other in almost all of them. Although she’s lost touch with the others, it doesn’t hurt as much as drifting away from Anjani. Anjani’s family stopped coming to the shore after the summer of 2017. Her’s followed in 2019. All the families who once lived in the coastside had gradually migrated into the nearby cities.

She continues flipping the thick pages. There’s a picture of Leela and Anjani when they were eleven showing off their nails, each painted in different colours. In Anjani’s backyard, swinging with her younger brother. Anjani wearing Leela’s mother’s earrings, her frizzy mane framing her tiny face. Sandcastles and plastic toys, the waves and footprints,  headbands and sundresses, friendship bands and satin flowers and sunsets she can’t remember.

She doesn’t know whom to blame.


A week later she visits the beach. She wants to go back to the coast, go back to her childhood home, lie down in the sand and bury herself in its roughness. She doesn’t want to tell her parents she’s driving to town, she can visit with them again later. For now, she wants this place all to herself.

Nowadays, their town is more of a vacation destination than a residential area. She navigates her car across streets she has memorised. The turns—left first, right next and then straight until you reach the parking space for the beach—all come to her despite all the time that’s passed.

There are other people here, all tourists. She can hear their distant laughter, squeals of glee from splashing water at each other and the cotton candy vendor’s announcements. But none of that matters. She walks to the beach, runs to the sea.

The breeze ruffles her hair in the same way her father does. There’s sand in her toes, water washing her feet and salt air kissing her face. This is the sea in all its majesty welcoming her home and Leela wants nothing more than to capture the emotion unfurling in her chest and contain it in the insides of a hollow seashell.

She crouches, looking for fragments of calcium carbonate in the sand. Her childhood comes rushing back to her,her fingers knowing just where to look. She doesn’t know how long she spends on the beach, but ends up collecting three angel wings, several alphabet cones, a unique murex and two little limpets. She can see the sun setting from the corner of her eyes, a pale orange blending into the blue sea, and promises she’ll leave when she finds at least one banded tulip.

She wades a few feet into the water and feels the waves gently wash over her. Sinking her hand into the sand, she watches the setting sun as her fingers scour for shells. Nothing. She lets the ascending waves wash over her before pushing her fingers into the sand once again. Again, no luck. She hears the security guards blowing their whistles, letting the visitors know they aren’t allowed into the waters anymore. She tries a few more times until one of the guards personally asks her to leave.

The sun was no longer visible in the sky. Darkness descended over the beach, the stars and the moon swimming in the sea. A vice grip tugs at her ankles with every step she takes away from the waters, away from the sand. 

She clutches the other shells she collected firmly in her hand, allowing them to indent her palms and yet, she feels empty. She stops at the zone from where visitors were allowed to watch the sea at night and closes her eyes. 

“You’re looking for banded tulips?” she hears someone ask from her left. 

She twists her neck to face the one person that knows how much she loved banded tulips. Anjani. She’s an older version of the girl who once wore Leela’s mother’s earrings, ones that would fit her face well now.

Leela is unsure of how to deal with the void separating them. The years they’d spent apart from each other, making new friends—it stretches in front of her. Whom is she to blame? The parents for leaving the town? Or each other for not keeping in touch? How accountable could she hold eleven-year-olds?

“I picked one hours ago,” she says with a guilty smile, stretching a palm with a single banded tulip. “You can have it.”

“Friends?” Leela asks.

“Again?”

They both laugh, the void in between them filling up with the sound.

Please Don’t Read This

Written by Suchita Senthil kumar
Art by Noah Black


i.

Please don’t read this because I don’t know what these words are. I don’t know whom these words belong to. 

For the few seconds it takes them to travel from my brain to my fingers—a process that takes nine-thousandths of a second—they are mine. Doesn’t that mean each letter I type belongs to each one of those nine thousands of one second? These thoughts, I don’t know where they’re coming from. But I’ll have you know, they’re not mine.

And since you’ve been reading this, these words are yours too. When you read this, what do you see? The loops of the Os, the straight lines of the T and Hs, and swirls of the Ss. Do you see behind white screen and black letters a writer who has forgotten how to write? 

ii.

You see her in her room at 01:38 AM on a Friday, typing words that don’t belong to her on a Google Document, which also doesn’t belong to her. Here you have two questions. One, why is she so fixated on owning things? And two, does she often refer to herself in the third person?

The answer to the latter: yes.

You see her sitting at a table draped with curtains for a tablecloth. A glass bottle with a money plant sits atop her desk amidst headphones, charger wires and the laptop she keeps staring at. A single branch stretches towards the ceiling, a futile attempt to reach the sun.

You see her raising her hands to the skies, faith in every God she has ever heard the name of. She does not realise light cannot pass through cement. She does not realise surrendering cannot occur until she loses first.

iii.

Please don’t read this because the more you read this, the less it remains mine. But if these words weren’t meant to be mine to begin with, what good does it serve for me to own them? If they were mine, whatever that is supposed to mean, wouldn’t these words stay within me? 

They wouldn’t ring in my ears, an awful sound of wavelengths mismatched and discordant frequencies. They wouldn’t congest my trachea waiting to erupt from my lungs. If they weren’t mine, they wouldn’t have left their grotesque dryness on my fingertips as they begin to appear on the laptop screen.

When the writer learns to surrender, the words belong to the reader.

Your eyes skim through these words, capturing words from the next line even though you haven’t reached there yet. They say only morals, characters and the stories stay back with readers, but what happens to the words? Now they’re just black lines and strokes against a white screen. But if words could transcend into a tangible form, what would you do with them?

You could drop them into glass bottles to place over your studying table. You could string them with red wool and hang them from the nails on your walls. You could tuck them in between the folds of your clothes, in the darkness beneath your eyes and drink them from your palms. 

iv.

You have a silent voice in your head. 

You hear it every time you’re reading a story. The scientists call it subvocalization but you think it’s not poetic enough for a phenomenon so glorious as that. Bold words sound different from italics which both sound different from words underlined. Each voice has a different cadence but they all sound like you in silence.

Sometimes, you hear another voice in a silence so different from yours: please remember what I’ve written, please remember me.

Glasses Lost

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Tony Sebastian


Venkat thrashed against the waves, stretching his arms towards the distorted image of his glasses. When his fingers almost grasped the ends, he was yanked backwards. Air replaced water and he could see Aunt Arivai wrenching him away from the violent waves. She was dragging Alar, the neighbour girl, along too.

“Why would you both do something like that?” she demanded, voice louder than the waves.

“My glasses!” Venkat said, throwing his arms up in defence. He could taste salt around his lips as he spoke. “I was trying to wash them in the water and the waves just took them away.”

“So?” asked Mother, hitting him hard on the shoulders. Once, twice. And a third time.

“Ah,” said Aunt Arivai, separating Mother from him, her harsh grip loosening. “Don’t beat the child.”

“Still!” was Mother’s argument.

“See Venkat,” said Aunt Arivai, clasping his wrist. “What is more important—your glasses or you?”

“Me,” he muttered, tracing circles on the sand with his toe.

“In situations like this, you have to choose yourself, right?”

“Yes,” he mumbled, lifting his head so he no longer looked down at his temporary canvas. “That’s because I almost died. If I didn’t, it would’ve been the glasses being more important for Mum.”

“What?” screeched Mother, hints of embarrassment in her voice. “Say that again?”

“I just said that my glasses are important too because I can’t see without them.”

Mother arched an eyebrow. Venkat took a deep breath, bracing himself for her scolding. He was saved by his younger brother Varun tugging at Mother’s dress and pointing at a cotton candy vendor. She fixed Venkat with a stare before walking away. 

Aunt Arivai dropped his hand and began collecting their stranded beach toys.

“Why did you run?” she asked with a soft voice.

“My glasses—” he began once again only to be cut off by Alar.

“The waves took away my toy.”

Aunt sighed, pressing two fingers to her forehead. 

“What is more important—you or the toy?”

“Me,” she said, glancing at him before she turned to face Aunt again. 

“We can afford to lose the toy. We can’t lose you now, can we?”

Alar bobbed her head up and down. Aunt smiled and motioned for her to walk along. Alar picked her slippers instead of wearing them and it struck him then that she had run into the sea as well. She still held the toy she had run after. His glasses, however, weren’t with him.

The trio walked towards the footpath lining the beach. Venkat observed the people around, his eyes solely falling on those with a coloured frame around their eyes. He felt empty with the weight of his glasses missing atop his ears. Beside him, Alar stood on her toes, swivelling to look at the beach. She dropped to her heels, face scrunched in annoyance and advanced a few feet forward before she turned to look back again. She repeated this ceremoniously and Venkat had to force himself to not say something unkind. 

“What are you trying to do?” he asked unable to keep it any longer once Aunt Arivai had moved ahead of them. He tried not to sound too friendly since he didn’t want the little girl anywhere around him. His friends had mentioned how this neighbour of his was a complaint box, always telling the elders about their pranks, always trying to be Miss Goody Two Shoes. 

“I’m looking for your glasses,” she said as though it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“My glasses?” he scoffed. “You honestly hope to see my glasses from all the way here? We’re not even standing on the beach anymore.”

“I know we’re on the footpath,” she said, pointing down. “But what if the waves decide they don’t like your glasses and drop them back on the sand? We could go pick them up.”

He was baffled by the childishness of her words. Another surge of annoyance flared in him. 

“How old are you?” he asked. 

“Is that a rhetorical question?”

“No, really, how old are you?”

“Eleven,” she said, hopping and turning around to face the beach behind them. She went on her toes and scrutinised the beach before dropping back to her feet.

“And you think the waves will drop back my glasses onto the sand because they won’t like it?”

“Yes,” she said, starting a game of hopscotch on the footpath tiles. “They look hideous.”

“Looked,” he corrected before jogging to catch up with Aunt Arivai.


Mother and Aunt Arivai decided on an early dinner in the beachside restaurant. His head hurt from trying to read the minuscule letters on the menu, because of which he ordered the usual chapatis and paneer. Everything blurred into shapes and colours like Varun’s drawings—as though the colours were made to fit into the shapes by a little child.

Mother was probably guilty about her outburst in front of everybody else and tried to serve him but he made sure to snatch the flatware and do it himself. Alar spent the whole dinner playing Rock Paper Scissors with Varun, something Venkat found irritating. Both of them seemed to have bonded over dinner, this being the first time they all spent more than ten minutes with the girl next door all because her parents would be late from their office. 

After dinner Alar suggested, with Varun looking at Mother and Aunt Arivai with puppy eyes, that they stand at the beach for five minutes only before leaving for home. Mother thought it was a brilliant idea and Aunt Arivai was easy to persuade anyway.

Varun’s hazy form ran to meet the waves, yelping as the sea touched his toes. Mother and Aunt Arivai laughed, wide smiles plastered across their faces as they watched him. Alar crouched to the sand and Venkat couldn’t make out what she was doing. He yearned to run to the sea, wet his clothes all over again and play with Varun but heard Mother’s reprimands from earlier in the back of his head, and thought it better if he stood alone. He hoped she’d notice, call him, apologise for shouting at him and make him feel better about losing his glasses.

She didn’t.

With no watch in hand and nothing else to do, he began counting numbers. At 50, his feet lowered into the sand, at 67 Mother laughed looking at Varun, at 126 Alar squealed in excitement and at 127 she was bolting towards him. His head hurt from trying to focus his eyes but he could make out the blurry navy blue and white of her dress.

“Aunty! Varun!” she shouted as she made her way towards Venkat. “All of you come here!”

His insides squirmed in anticipation of what was coming. She was going to complain about him standing alone, or maybe something he did when playing cricket. His friends’ words rang in his head, a cacophony of voices with Alar’s excited squeals presiding over them. 

She stopped when she reached a few feet away from him and waited with her hands tied behind her until the others arrived. Every step Mother took towards them felt an eternity long. He remembered how he had knocked over Alar’s cycle with his football a few weeks back. That was the only bad he had done to her. He had been wearing the same green shirt then as well. Maybe that prompted her to remember and she was going to—

“Look at what I found!” she exclaimed, thrusting a blur of black and blue in front of his eyes. A familiar black and blue. 

His glasses. 

He snatched it away from her, wearing them in a flash. It was his glasses, no doubt. Brown spots and dried salt caked the lenses allowing him to view an ugly image of the beach and the people around him. It was the most beautiful sight he’d seen all evening.

“Thank you Alar,” said Mother. “Thank you so much, dear.”

“It’s nothing,” she replied, hopping and twirling on her heel. 

“Good girl. Now Venkat has his glasses again,” remarked Aunt Arivai patting him on the back. Venkat felt warm for the first time the entire evening. “Can we go home now children? We spent about five minutes already.”

Varun protested, leaning towards the sea and in a moment, trotted away from their group. Aunt Arivai was quick to catch him by the arm.

“We’ll come back next weekend?” she offered and Varun stared for a moment after which he wore his slippers without whining.

They strolled on the footpath once again, this time searching for a cab. Alar was playing her game of hopscotch on the tiles, trying to persuade Varun into joining her. The gratitude slipped out of his mouth effortlessly. 

“Thank you,” he announced.

“I told you the waves wouldn’t have liked your glasses,” she said nonchalantly, hopping from tile to tile. “They dropped it back.”

“Yeah,” he said, smiling at her for the first time. “Glad to know the waves think like you.”

The Orchid Woman

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Europeana


The Orchid Woman. That’s what they call her in the news one day. 

“Why orchids?” her twelve-year-old daughter asks, pointing at the words on the TV screen. “Don’t you get tired of making them again and again? They’re everywhere.”

“But everyone in the world loves them!” her ten-year-old son shouted excitedly. “You embroider them, you make 3D models out of paper, you paint them on canvases…”

“You embroider them, you make 3D models out of paper, you paint them on canvases,” counted her ten-year-old son on his chubby fingers. “And everyone in the world loves them!”

“Tell us Ma!” her daughter prods again. “Why orchids?”

Roja smiles.


The orchids were a gift from Aunt Mullai who had returned from the city for the holidays. Roja knew of jasmines, roses, hibiscuses–she thought she knew every wildflower. But she had never heard of an orchid before and decided anything with such a name would be beautiful. Vaani, her elder sister, disagreed.

“Is it an aar-kid?” she asked for the fifth time that day. “I think they’re dangerous for kids like us. It’s in the name!”

“Do you really think Aunt Mullai would gift us something dangerous?” Roja asked, gathering her skirt and walking faster over the muddy floors.

“She said it was for father,” Vaani Akka said with a sigh. “Not us.”

“Well,” said Roja, pretending to think. “Do you think Aunt Mullai would gift Father something dangerous?”

“No but-” 

“That’s it then. Let’s go see the flowers, Akka.”

“What if it’s dangerous and-”

“Ah my lovely little girls!” greeted Aunt Mullai, placing a kiss on both of their cheeks. Vaani Akka was forced to shut up and Roja was thankful. Aunt continued speaking, but Roja didn’t bother to hear a word because her eyes had landed on the flowers. 

The orchids had flat petals in a shape she didn’t know how to name. It was not a circle, it was not an oval. It was not a square or rectangle because grandfather mentioned that flowers don’t come in those shapes.

There were layers of petals just like the paintings of flowers on the temple walls. Three petals first, two on top and then three tiny ones in the centre. They had two colours in them–purple and white–as though a child had painted the insides and forgot to outline the edges. 

“Oh it’s so pretty!” exclaimed Vaani Akka, pushing past Aunt Mullai to take a closer look.

She crouched on the ground, careful not to let her skirt touch the dirty soil. Roja couldn’t care less and dropped on her knees in front of the orchids. She drifted her fingers across the petals and over the leaf where a sticky liquid met her skin. She moved closer and took a long sniff of the flower’s fragrance and—

“Achoo!” she sneezed. 

Aunt Mullai and Vaani Akka burst out laughing. Roja could only sneeze in annoyance and it amused them further.

“I hate this flower,” she said when the sneezing was slowly subsiding. She rubbed her nose with a large frown. “I don’t like it one bit.”

By the evening, her fingers had rashes where she had accidentally touched the sticky sap from the leaves. Grandfather applied turmeric paste over her skin to reduce the burning and itching. This ache was lesser than the heaviness she felt in her chest everytime she thought about how she was forbidden from nearing the flowers. 

Mother couldn’t understand how Roja was worried over something as silly as a flower. Father only patted her head before asking her to go study. Vaani Akka was too busy gushing about the orchids to everyone else like a parrot on loop to even listen to her fretting.

The next evening, Roja watched her friends and siblings play around the orchid patch. She knew they weren’t dancing around the flowers in circles just to trouble her. It didn’t stop her from wondering how nice it would’ve been if Vaani Akka was the one with the allergy. Initially, it was she who had hated the flowers, who thought they were dangerous. It would only make sense for the flower to be angry at such accusations and blight her skin. 

Trying to forget about the orchids, she sat on the floor amidst the wildflowers on the unpruned side of the garden waiting for her friends to return. She plucked blue flowers, then white and then yellow. She bunched them together in a thin bouquet and was tying them with a long piece of grass when she realised someone was near. 

She tore her eyes away from the bunch in her hand to see her grandfather walking closer, decked in his white shirt and veshti. He sat next to her, not caring about dirtying his clothes.

“This is our soil,” he had told her many years back. “It can never be dirty.”

“If you can’t have the orchids, make some on your own,” he said now, pulling out a long thread of grass. 

“You mean I should find other orchid flowers I’m not allergic to?” she asked, dropping the flowers to turn to him. Hope blossomed within her heart at the thought of being able to touch and play around those flowers. 

“No,” Grandfather said, looking afar at the children playing. “You’re allergic to all orchids.”

Roja felt her heart plummet to her stomach. Fresh tears prickled at the back of her eye and she tried pushing them away. Maybe if she could start looking at them as just flowers, she’d be able to dull the pain. Maybe she could find other flowers instead. But where would she find flowers with all these layers of petals, with colours as though they were painted by her own hands, with a—

“You could make your own orchids,” Grandfather said, and that was the beginning of it all.

Invigilation

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Museums Victoria


Two pages into the exam and sleep begins to say hello to my eyelids like an old friend I haven’t met in a long time. I press my eyelids and think of the new film releasing next summer, the upbeat song on the radio—anything that’ll keep me awake. 

I look around at all the bent heads and hands furiously scribbling their answers. The students don’t copy and even if they do, it’s over code words and innocently shared erasers and water bottles. My eyes fall over a classmate whose name I do not know and face I cannot remember, hidden by her mask. She’s lying over the desk with her eyes closed.I am reassured, I am not alone. 

The wall next to her flaunts a forest green patch of algae. All drowsiness is evanescent as I shudder at the ugly bubbles and swirls of the algae. I pry my eyes away from it, looking back at the question paper at hand. Question 36 mentions Faraday and I’m trying to recall his laws when a shadow falls over my desk. It stays there for a while before dancing toward the desk beside me. The shadow, it belongs to the invigilator.

She wears glasses, the invigilator, round and large ones. They magnify her dry eyes as they loom over every inch of the exam hall. She looks at the students, observes the wall and checks her fingernails in a sequence of dance steps practiced several times before.

Just as sleep greeted me, boredom greets her. She pulls her mobile phone out of her sequined pink handbag, places it onto the table, and looks around the room to see if anyone catches her in the act. Her eyes lock with mine and I look away in haste, fixing my eyebrows in a frown at the paper in my hands. Moments later, I peek a glance at her stealthily.

She’s checking her phone, eyes crinkling, from a smile or anger—I don’t know. The cloth mask she wears slips down her nose in slow motion, but she doesn’t notice. Even if she did, I don’t reckon she’d bother. Her eyes don’t move from the phone she hides in vain beneath her table. The students take advantage of the situation and she doesn’t notice their mischief even after their whispers turn into loud voices. I turn my concentration to the doodles on my question paper. 

A few minutes later, or hours, I am not counting—I hear a loud voice and flip the pages in a reflex, plastering an innocent face. 

“What is happening in this class?” the voice thunders. It belongs to the invigilator from the next room.

She has her hair curled into a tight bun over the top of her head, sharp nails painted in neon colors with jewels studded in them and a single chain of cockleshells around her neck. She pauses by the door of our room and scans the room with her eyes like slits. I pull a pretence of blinking at her in confusion. I wonder if she’s bothered that the students were so freely copying, or if the invigilator herself was slipping away from her duties and swiping through her phone. 

At that thought, I peek at the invigilator who stands as straight as a soldier. Unlike a soldier who would strap her hands to the sides, my teacher has her hands behind her, hiding a bright Whatsapp screen. 

“Students sleeping during the exam!” the other teacher yells with even more anger at the lack of reaction from her previous statement. “Is this the place for this?”

The student in question, my friend who was asleep all this while, wakes up with a jerk. She stands up, knocking over the table in front of her but catching it in time. She drops her eyes to the floor, out of guilt or drowsiness, it’s hard to tell. 

“One last chance,” she says. “You do this once again, and we’ll have you barred from the examinations forever!”

I could swear that my friend perked up at the last sentence but she morphs her face into a sorry nod before I could be sure.

“And you!” the teacher roars, pointing a well-manicured and yet oddly colored finger at the invigilator. “Teach this student some manners. It’s like I’m the only invigilator in this entire school. Students eating during the exam, students sleeping during the exam, students—” 

With that she’s off, mumbling to herself about the plight of the school and its students. 

“See you shouldn’t do this,” begins the invigilator, her shoulders now relaxed from its previously stiff stance. She places the phone she tried to hide all this while over the table, her charade crumbling. “You shouldn’t sleep in an exam hall.”

“You shouldn’t look at your phone in an exam hall too!” screams a voice from behind, followed by raucous laughter that I lead in volume.

The First Live

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by John Schnobrich


I attended a Live Poetry Reading a few months back for what I thought would be both my first and last time. The poets participating seemed to know each other, and it made me feel as though I was interrupting a personal Skype call. They read their exquisite poems, and I offered a few compliments. They then proceeded to talk about gardening and  their families, and even complained about each others’ bosses. Something about that entire ordeal put me off and I stopped attending Lives. I hoped with all my heart that this Live wouldn’t be like that too.

I join the Live today in the golden moments between ‘you’re early’ and ‘we were going to start without you’. I tap on the heart button to register my attendance and drop an eager greeting in the chat. The little eye icon by the side declared a sweet 26 people watching. I could deal with that. 

The host wears a smile coated with a rare kind of confidence—the one that isn’t intimidating. She greets everyone that entered by name with a familiarity that doesn’t make me feel out of place. Instead, I feel as though I am being welcomed into a big house by lots of beaming faces. 

“Alright, let’s begin then,” she announces while her eyes skim a screen nearby.

I knew at that moment that it was possible to hear one’s own name and perceive it foreign.

“If the poet would like to join us, that would be great!” she says and begins reciting my poem. 

I wipe my sweaty palms on my skirt and take a deep breath to calm the loud thudding of my heart. I am terrible at speaking in front of a crowd. Even if said crowd is only, as the Instagram count indicated, only thirty-one people. The host finishes reading my poem and I am never more thankful that it wasn’t me who had to read it. I just had to hop in, talk a little about my poem, and then leave. What I would say, I didn’t know.

“That was a lovely poem,” she announces and goes on about the details that she found interesting and compliments my diction. I don’t, however, listen to her entirely because of the error message that pops up on the screen.

The message reads: There’s an error. 

I try to join the live again, once more and then another time. It displays the same message through it all like a stubborn child disobeying its parent. 

As though sensing my anxiety, my phone decides to stop punishing me and permits me into the Live. That is when I realise, I am still in my night dress. I quickly turn the camera to the rear-end and hide it. A black screen prevails and I apologise for the inconvenience. 

She asks me what inspired my poem and I begin describing the picture that I had seen on Tumblr when I notice a few familiar names popping in: classmates from 10th Grade, people I haven’t spoken to in a year, a dear friend. The thought of them all stopping by excites me. It does, however, prompt me into mixing up my words and having me lose my pronunciation altogether.

Nevertheless, the host listens with a calmness I can only envy. She nods her head in the right places and gives an encouraging smile every time I pause to stutter. I talk about my poem, and I suddenly realise that  I never had to prepare. I talk about waltzing with death, why an ancient Tamizh instrument plays in the background of the characters in my poem, and agree to a few observations the host makes. With that, I say goodbye and I leave.

I switch the phone off and turn it face-down on the table. My eyes close of their own accord and I take a deep breath—it feels like being born all over again. There is a lightness to my heart that I want to dissolve every cell of my body in. I flip my phone over, unlock the screen and type a quick thank-you note to the host for her kindness. I hope the thankfulness that brims in my heart is evident in my words. That is when I see, two of the friends that hopped in leave cheerful messages. The lightness in my heart is replaced with a happiness that knows no bounds. 

I decide then that I will do more of these Live Poetry Readings.

It’s Your Day, Live It Your Way

Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Betto Galetto


It’s Your Day, Live It Your Way

The words were engraved atop the clay tablet hanging from the nail on the door. From the silence that screamed behind the door, there hadn’t been anyone to inhabit the house since I was two. The doorbell was unwelcoming, dangling loose from its place on the wall. Stray wires were peeking from the plastic, hoping for escape.

My friend, Ritika, pointed at the motivational decoration with an eyebrow raised. Seeing that I didn’t show any signs of acknowledgement, she pivoted the hanging around the nail for emphasis.

I had been wandering around the empty halls of the apartment, filling my ears with the sound of my lonely footsteps when Ritika found me. She rounded upon me in one corner and demanded the reason for my sadness with a stern look. A look that said, I’m not leaving without an answer.

I could think of a good twenty reasons for my numbness, but didn’t know which one to pick. I shook my head and told her it was nothing.

“I don’t understand you,” she had said, eyes dropping to the floor.

I don’t either, I wanted to say.

I gave her a wry smile instead.

It was then that she had decided to point at the decoration to make her point. There was no advice, just a command from her that I shouldn’t give up— and I didn’t. I didn’t then.

It’s been three years and today I stand in front of the same door studying the decoration. It’s just as it had been save for the bone grey strings and the chalky dust that blankets it: brown paint atop the words and sandal beneath, leaves and flowers painted atop the clay, and a single string around a nail. The doorbell hangs loose with wires that fall in grace.

Ritika isn’t standing next to me touching and prodding at the clay tablet, reminding me that it will be okay— I do it myself. She isn’t here to ask what happened and to care even when no answers are received. She isn’t standing next to me today, but it’s only her I see in the words I run my fingers atop.

It’s Your Day, Live It Your Way.