Gujarati Knock : English Door

Short Story

A Cloud Passing by from the Window

Vinesh Antani
Translation: Harish Mahuvakar*

London. Yes it’s a unique city. But now everything the city and its all splendour had been left behind. The three years of my living, the seasons I saw, unwanted careless rain, terrible cold, the transient spring flower colours, my first ever watching snowfall at mid-night, cruel and cold wind, showy pigeons tottering at the square, brightness after sudden darkness on the tube train way, the English women walking parallel to footpath along with their children in perambulator, galore of shopping malls, and yes London the city of all splendours had been left behind now.

When I looked back, the immigration and security counters that I just now left behind stood between me and the city of London. There was the shadow of my reflection on the glass door. Perhaps that shadow was in between me and the city of London. The shadow of my own part of existence wanted to stay in London. The shadow stood, not this side, but at the other side of the glass panel back, watching me leaving. I tried to see beyond that shadow. I guessed she must be still standing there at the visitors lounge.
‘You should go now, Lizy’, I had told her.

She was startled and looked at me. I thought she got only the sound of the words I uttered but not the meaning. At a time, there was a bit of feelings to grasp what I said but on the next moment there was nothing. Something must be there as I could find her eyes going dry so suddenly. It may be that now she might have got the meaning and hers was a confusing nod of response, trapped in between yes and no. Her face looked flat and glossy. It was glossy because nothing stayed there during those moments. Everything slipped from there – her artificial smile as well as the pain she wanted to hide. I wished Lizy cry so that I can embrace her soft warm body to console her. Once I get that touch I would pull my bag and go inside the boarding place.

But it couldn’t happen. Lizy stood tough and even didn’t look at me. On the contrary she looked at the other people. She knew it that I was looking at her and that’s why she avoided my eyes.

Announcements were made. People on the Heathrow Airport moved and there were farewell scenes. Once again I told her, ‘Lizy, You go now.’ She nodded and let herself down on a chair.

Still she must be sitting over there or may be moving to home in her car. It was Saturday and she had no office. She would remain full week-end in the home. She hadn’t made any plan as I was to go. To kill the time she would go to any super market and wander purposelessly.

We used to stay together on each week-end and it was the habit last couple of years. Now she will have to find out new ways to pass time. She will have to find new friends or revive old contacts. She would be lonely now all this would be very difficult to do.

On the announcement the passengers began to move towards the plane. I too moved. I looked back for a while and everything came to my mind. It was a sunny day outside- the day of soft sunshine. The sky held a few clouds but more or less the day would be sunny. Lizy always felt very happy on such days. Had it been the other day we both might have gone to a beautiful place or remained in the bedroom or come out for a long drive towards any countryside.

I took my window side seat. People came in searching their seats but I was not interested in them. I saw through the little window. The outer sunshine seemed foggy as the window glass stood between us. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath and let the inner air come out to make myself a bit lighter one. I thought I must now think of the time to come, time to think of India, hot dusty noisy days. There would be the summer and its dry perspiring mornings. I would have to pass the nights on the terrace. These thoughts would bring me happiness, I thought, but it seemed that my heart felt empty and couldn’t feel anything clearly.

Even though I was returning to my own country I felt like going to an unknown country. There were feelings like a tourist. Somewhat more I had been used to London and yet so suddenly and with no logical reason I took decision to return to India. The contract that ended might have been extended as the company official too wished my staying over there. Unwillingly they agreed, but suggested resuming my work in a couple of months if I wished to.

I had not informed Lizy about my plans. After some days I informed all this to her on a night and declared,’ I am going back.’
She was startled a bit and looked at me as if she didn’t get anything. She asked me, ‘Where?’
I tried to put myself on a natural course and laughed. Then raised my one hand towards an unknown direction and said, ‘There’.

Lizy at that moment must have realised that I didn’t belong to her country but to India. The thing that I was an Indian and had come to London for some time had almost been forgotten during our two years living together and now it came back again. I thought Lizy would make arguments and like company officials she too would persuade my staying. Instead she only asked, ‘When?’

Only when I told my probable day of leaving, I realised that only a few days had been left. I started to prepare everything speedily. I could shop only on week-ends and all the time she stayed with me. I bought a pipe for the Daddy and some articles for my brother, sister and their children. When she passed through the shopping list she asked me, ‘What are you taking for her?’
I looked at her. Even though I knew what the meaning of ‘her’, I turned a stranger and asked, ‘Who?’
‘Swati’, she said. She always spoke her name in English ascent rather than in Indian manner that differentiates the last syllable. She never found the Indian one much suitable.
‘Nothing. I won’t take anything for her,’ I said.
‘Why,’ she asked.
‘Now it doesn’t make any difference.’ She was unable to digest what I said. ‘You are going back after three years. Still you are not divorced. May the three year separation have brought a lot of changes in her. It’s possible that she may be waiting for you.’
I shook my head. ‘It’s impossible Lizy. Before my coming over here we had taken the decision. It was only because of my broken relation with Swati, I had decided to come to London’. As if to understand my point she fixed her wide open eyes upon me and asked, ‘Won’t you meet her?’ I flung my arms wide to indicate my mind and said, ‘I don’t know...really I don’t know.’ I saw that there was something on Lizy’s mind but she didn’t let it out. I asked her but she said nothing. After a while she said, ‘You people find it very hard to take that sort of decision, no?’
‘Which decision, Lizy?’
‘Of divorce.’
‘Yeah it’s really a tough one and especially it was indeed a tough one for me. I wished to take on my marriage life to a longer stretch. I really hoped it too. May it be that after so many years of married life I was habituated to Swati but somehow....’
‘Why don’t you try again?’
With a faint smile I asked her, ‘What about you Lizy? Did you try it yourself?’
She shook her head, ‘But for me it’s a different story.’
‘No it’s the same one my dear. You too have separated from your husband.’
She laughed and responded, ‘Okay, but after that I have often met him. We have maintained friendly relations. Moreover he knows you are my... In...friend.’
‘Did you tell him about us?’
‘No. Once he had seen us together. Then he rang me up and asked me who that Indian fellow was. I asked him if he was jealous of it. He said he really was.’

After two days Lizy presented me a beautiful silver broche and asked me to give it to Swati. To this gesture i had laughed. ‘When I am not taking anything for her why did you buy this one?’
‘But I can understand her position.’ I refused to take it. ‘You don’t know Swati. She isn’t that simple as you think. She’s a different personality. I can’t take this broche. I will not take anything for her.’
‘But this gift... I am sending. My dear you are simply a courier. You are not giving. You just have to tell her my name.’
‘But suppose she asks who this Lizy is, what should I say?’
‘Say a woman, a divorcee woman, who loved your husband.’

The flight was ready to take off. At any moment I would be lifted up from the soil of this London city. I thought it would bring me heavy pain of departure but why it is so that I don’t feel anything like that? The bygone days of this city after my arrival, Lizy the woman who worked with, slowly developing relation with her- initially friendly and then at a night we found the concrete proof of our ultimate bonding. When I am looking back at all these, I feel they have happened with another person, not me.
‘Will you write to me?’ I asked Lizy to which she had refused. I asked another question ‘Will you wait for me?’ This one also was denied.
‘All this is absurd.’ She said. Remember someone, wait for someone, hoping something to happen... all this is absurd and it’s not in my nature.’
‘But Lizy, I would never ever forget you. Never.’
She laughed. I was looking at her. Was she really laughing or was it a fake one? Was she really the person that I had come to know or was a different one hiding her originality?

If things were really like this, and Lizy was a different person contrary to my knowing her, then what would be the meaning of our last two year relationship?

When I asked her, she had turned very serious. ‘Of course there’s always the meaning of relationship, but our relationship was not meant to have any specific meaning. When I realised my relationship with you, I knew it’s temporary, would not go for long.’

Yesterday night we didn’t sleep full night. I had been to her home. I had told her, ‘Lizy, during those two years we never thought of marrying and living together.’ At that moment she stood up, raised the curtain and began to see outside through the glass windows. I looked at her bare feet. Then I went to her and stood close to her. I found the street deserted and lonely. The stillness of the night was hanging on the parked cars on the roads. Only a dim light spread there. I put my hand over her shoulder but she continued to watch outside. The quietness and solitariness stood between us.

She suddenly looked up at me and said, ‘But you never proposed me.’
What did she mean? Had I proposed might she have accepted it? We had never thought our relation in this light. I asked, ‘Lizy, suppose if I propose you right now?’ She began to laugh and said, ‘Tomorrow morning – I mean after a few hours from now- you are going back. What’s the meaning of a few hours’ married life?’
‘Why? You can come to India or I can come back or it’s also possible that I may cancel my ticket.’ She began to move her fingers on my hairy chest. ‘You are a mad boy, Sandip... a gone case. Each relation has a limit and one shouldn’t try to cross it. One should let pass the things that come in between the two. In the morning, after this night I will go along with you to the airport and return when your flight takes off. Till then i will remain seated over there. This much I will do...that will be enough... no more than that.’

I saw that she was crying. I could see her half face against the window light. Her half face was hidden in the semi darkness of the room. Once again I asked the same question, ‘You will write to me, won’t you?’ She responded, ‘No, I won’t write at all. Even if you write I won’t respond. Won’t inform you anything about me.’

The tears on her face made a channel. I moved from the window and stood by the bad. Lizy standing at the window looked like a silhouette, a shadow, standing in the darkness of the room.

Now announcements were being made in the flight. An air-hostess came and explained security system with dramatic gestures. Now I can feel vibration of the engines that started. When I saw outside, I found that the plane had started taxing. I remembered that three years back a flight had landed here on this airport. At that time India had been left behind: my old Daddy cleaning his pipe on the chair outside of our cottage on the Nainital hills, my brother staying in Delhi along with his family, a married sister at Jaipur, and Swati living in Chandigarh. When I left for London she was still staying in our house and was to move to the other place.

Three years back all this was left behind and now London was fading out. When came to this city I was alone. Nobody was there to receive me and now I am leaving Lazy behind. I think she must still be sitting in there in the visitor’s lounge or may be on way to home.

I closed my eyes and tried to bring in her face. Now the aircraft had picked up the speed and at this right moment something shook me from within. Was it from within or outside? I was confused as I found the flight taking off. I didn’t open my eyes. I won’t be able to see London going further down and ultimately fading out completely.

After removing the safety belt I tried to be myself. I tried to see outside. A cloud was passing by from the window. Except that, there was nothing. Nothing around me nor within.


* About the translator : Harish Mahuvakar

He is an Associate Professor in English and Head, Department of English, Sir P. P. Institute of Science, Maharaja Krishnakumarsinhji Bhavnagar University, Bhavnagar. He is a known writer in Gujarati literature. He writes in both the languages English and Gujarati. He has penned short stories, laghukathas, essays, and poems. To his credit there are many critical articles that have been published in various magazines and journals. Till now he has four published books: ‘Prati’, ‘Ame’, ‘Varta Aam Chhe’, and ‘Selected Poems’. Translation has remained his mission. He was nominated for Katha translation prize, New Delhi. He has done a lot of literary and non-literary translation. He has recently won second prize in an open Gujarat essay writing competition, organised by Bhavnagar Gadyasabha.

From this issue we are beginning a new column: ‘Gujarati Knock : English Door’. Mr. Mahuvakar will serve us English translation of contemporary Gujarati short stories. He aims at taking our literature to the English reader and offers them a great unrevealed treasure.

(‘Ame’, 3/A, 1929, Near Nandalay Haveli, Sardarnagar, Bhavnagar 364002, Gujarat, India. +91 9426 22 35 22 /