Saturday, 26 October 2013


Monisha gazed at the building with wilted eyes. Her eyelids were drooping due to lack of sleep, but she with frequent sips from her coffee flask and cigarettes kept herself going.Her eyes narrowed as she regarded the crumbling three-storey house, its paintwork turned to gray, its windows shuttered: the perfect house. Her head swam when she thought of the possibilities.

Suman, her assistant, said: "Do you want me to stay? This place looks all ruffled and weird."

Monisha ran her tongue over her teeth, and said: "Nope. I like it the way it is. Just get the gas and electricity turned on. I'm staying here tonight."

She smiled to herself and then added as an afterthought. "And get a T.V. in there too."

Monisha sat on the make-shift stool beside her car and lit a menthol ciggy, smoked down to the filter and lit another one. She was a tall, pale skinned woman in a short skirt and killer leather boots. She looked feeble and vulnerable.
Suman was lost in his own thoughts, which most often revolved around Monisha. He was strong, or rather looked strong. He asked “You going to stay in there alone?”

Monisha smiled.

The Barsha house was built on a hill that overlooked the small town of Kulantari. The previous owner had apparently taken his own life after killing his whole family, drowning one after the other in the toilet bowl, and then hanging himself.

"Suman, unpack my canvas, paint, sketchbook, notepads and camera."

Suman hopped to, opening the boot of the car and pulling things out.

"Wait," Monisha said.

Suman stopped; his life was all under the orders of Monisha. She was the one who controlled him and he had no authority of his own."Call the gas, electric and phone companies first. I want this place lit up."
She dropped her cigarette to the floor and ground it with her heel.
"I'm going to go check this bitch out."

Suman watched her go, biting his lip. Her footsteps crunched gravel as she moved up the driveway and then climbed the steps. The door creaked like a woman in labour when she pushed it and opened into darkness. She gazed longingly into the gathered must, stared hypnotically at dust motes dancing in the light streaming through the door. Suman was on call making the required arrangements but a sudden scream stopped him mid-way.

The scream was recognizable; as Suman had heard it several times before - it was Monisha. She was strong yet was not unaware of female frailties. A rat as big as a cat standing on its hind legs and staring up at her with yellow eyes and two long yellow teeth provoked her. She realized that Suman was staring at her and to put him off she raised her foot and brought her leather boot down on the enquiring rat with a hollow thud. It exploded in a star of guts and brown-gray fur.

"Ewww," she said as Suman appeared behind her.
"What's wrong?" Suman looked anxious.
"There's rat guts on my boots, Suman.
"Suman looked at her lovingly. "I'll clean them for you, Moni."

This was what Suman called her unofficially. One year back they had been close together but things didn’t work out and now he was just left as her assistant. He got to his knees and fished a pocket-knife from one of his pockets. Monisha lifted her foot for him to scrape away the bits of rat caught in the treads.

"Well why don't you just lick them clean like a good doggie?" Suman and Monisha turned to see an old frazzle beard man with an overhanging belly standing in the driveway. He was looking up at the old house with his eyes squinted.

"Uh, can we help you at all?" Monisha asked.
The man looked startled out of his reverie.
"I'm Subrata Pandit - I'm your nearest neighbour. I live about a mile down the road."
Monsiha shrugged her shoulders. "So?"
"Well, I was just hoping you'd reconsider staying in this place - for you own protection, like…"
Monisha laughed. "Look, Subrata, I'm an artist. I don't do ghosts; I already talked about this at your little town meeting. I deal in vibes. And this place is really strong. Wild horses on anabolic steroids wouldn't keep me away. So kindly take yourself back to your place a mile down the road and leave me alone. Just piss off."
Subrata raised his hands in protest.
"Yeah, this place has strong vibes, Evil vibes. They made Izamail Balil murder his whole family, didn't they? This house should never have been on the market. Besides Izamail was an artist too. Now I realize where the connection lies."

Monisha sighed. "Suman, get rid of this arsehole, would you? Okey thik rastha ta dekhie de."
"Right away, Moni."

Monisha stepped inside and looked around. The wallpaper was a rose pattern; it was yellowing, cracked, and peeling at the edges. An old threadbare sofa stood against one wall. Some stairs led up and out of sight. Monisha could feel the pain, the fear, the anguish; all rushing around in her brain, creatively. A smile spread across her face as she popped another cigarette into her mouth and lit it.

She heard Subrata Pandit shout: "You've been warned, on your head be it!"
And then Suman appeared in the doorway."I got rid of him."
"Good boy." Monisha ignored him, exploring the house instead.

She went up the stairs and into the bathroom, staring momentarily at the bathtub Izamail Balil had used to drown his wife, daughter, and two boys in. She stared at it while she imagined his calm patient face as he kneeled in front of it with his hand on his wife's chest, his eyes patient while she kicked and struggled, her eyes bulging, bubbles escaping her mouth instead of a scream. Then she shivered as she imagined him patiently searching the house for the three children while she lay there with her eyes open and staring.

Next she checked out the three bedrooms, which were nothing special. But the attic was different. The attic was full of thick cobwebs and when Monisha walked along the floor she kicked up piles of dust. One wall bulged out at her. It was full of newspaper clippings, swollen with age and damp, apparently showing miracles from around the world - a Virgin Mary statue in Rio De Janeiro cries tears of blood; image of Krishna and Radha appears on a coin in Balurhat; sheep born with pattern of the Cross on its hide in New South Wales; Allah’s name found inscribed on the arms of seven new born. In the middle of all these clippings was the biggest and most lifelike portrait of Krishna Bhagwan andChrist. It struck Monisha right on her brain and she held her eyes off it. Her head throbbed with pain; somehow she managed to glance again and could swear that it was the most beautiful and unique piece of art she had ever seen.

"Weird," she said, running her fingers over it.

Christ had been made with painstaking beauty. His eyes were turned upwards, tears of blood at the edges. Blood also ran from the crown of thorns on his head and the spear hole in his side, and the nails running through his hands and feet. Krishna Bhagwantoo looked life-like and resembled a lot like Christ. His pale bluish skin had a strange glow, which emanated a sense of fierce pain. Tears of gold seemed to be flowing down his cheeks, and his hand held someone in the background. Was it Allah? And what is He crying at? Questions struck Monisha but she couldn’t ponder long as her head burst in rounds of frenzied thoughts.

Monisha closed her eyes and imagined the scene: Izamail Balil pacing back and forth in this room, paranoid, anxious; sometimes turning to look at the cut-outs, maybe because he was looking for the goodness in himself? Maybe?

A message scratched into the wall told a different story:

The wicked must surely die.

"Well I found my studio," Monisha hushed, lighting another menthol and looking through the porthole shaped window that looked down on Suman unpacking her stuff from her car.

After he had set up her easel, paints and television in the attic, Monisha told Suman to go home.

"Aww, but, Moni, why?"
"I work alone, Suman."
"But in this house?" Suman said, glancing around. "Who's going to keep you safe?"
Monisha rolled her eyes.
"At least let me set up a bed for you."
She shooed him away. "I won't need one, I'm going to pull an all-nighter."

Suman paused, looked at her deeply, and then lunged forward head first. Monisha side-stepped before the kiss landed.
"Suman, don't do that again. Ever!"
She lit another menthol cigarette.
"You'd have more luck trying to shag the pope."

Suman looked wounded. His eyes were red rimmed and watery. "Fine. I'll see you tomorrow." He walked to the door, pausing to say.
"Moni…I'm really sorry about that. I…”
"Just go, Suman."

She heard his footsteps descending the stairs and then the front door slammed. She breathed a sigh of relief and set up her paintbrushes, staring at the blank sheet of paper.
"Izamail Balil, how'd you like to be my muse for the night? Wish I had seen a snap of yours for inspiration."

The house's silence crowded in on her, exerting force on her eardrums. Monisha nodded appreciatively and started to paint. Brush to canvas, stroke, stroke; dab in water, mixing a different colour every time. She believed that art came from the sub-conscious. Like other Greats she believed good artists should "just paint". They didn't think about what they did, they just got on with it.
“Leave symbolism and colour schemes to the college people, those guys needed it,” she mused.

After a while a picture began to emerge in mostly shades of grey, black, brown and blue. Monisha started to hum tunelessly and as the painting took form so did the song. She gave it words:

"Aamar Bhitore Bahire, Ontore Ontore Aacho Tumi, Hridoye Jure…"

Monisha wondered why suddenly was she singing a Bengali song? Old memories fought for space in her brain but she dismissed them, her painting needed her attention right now. Monisha set her brush down and looked at the painting. A normal person would have been disturbed; she though gazed at it with detached wonder. The canvas showed a man in his forties, balding, with a crooked nose. His face was expressionless and full of deep shadows as he crouched over a bathtub with his hands out of sight. A single clawed fist reached up past his head, dripping water.

It was Izamail Balil in the act of murdering one of his children.

"The eyes," Monisha whispered. "Looks like he's watching the Discovery Channel."

Izamail Balil’s eyes were dull, bored even as he glanced down at his out of sight victim. The fact that a man could do something so insane and look so logical was a paradox that turned Monisha on. She lit another menthol and hummed "Aamar Bhitore Bahire, Ontore Ontore Aacho Tumi, Hridoye Jure…"

That's the song he sang when he killed his family.

Monisha stopped humming as the smoke from her cigarette drifted up. In her mind’s eye she saw Izamail calmly singing that song as he held his oldest son (Murtaza) under the water. Murtaza was kicking water all over the place. The floor was drenched. But Izamail Balil kept on singing that song and looking bored. She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was true.

She went to the life-size portrait and drew her fingers over the figures’ body. "I can feel the vibes," she said to herself.

She felt a low thrumming coming from the walls, like standing under electricity pylons. It buzzed gently against her fingertips. An idea struck her and she went to the easel, setting the canvas down carefully - she intended to sell her works to the Manzil Market for a six figure sum - and set a new canvas on the easel. Within minutes she was painting again, wielding the brush like a sabre, slashing at the canvas.

An unknown time later she stopped and giggled madly. Her hair was covered in paint, streaks of black and gray among red. She was grinning wildly but her eyes were dull and lethargic.

The canvas showed Izamail Balil with that same expression of bored indifference standing on a chair in front of the new-clippings and the life-size portrait. He was calmly tying a noose to the attic's rafters.

Monisha looked up and could swear she saw a frayed line in the rafter above her.

She set the canvas next to the bathtub drowning and started on the next. She painted like a madwoman, rushing, sometimes giggling or humming, "Aamar Bhitore Bahire, Ontore Ontore Aacho Tumi, Hridoye Jure…" She used a lot of red paint and had to switch on the small over head bulb because the sun was going down.

It was midnight by the time she finished.

She stepped back and studied it, her face paling. The canvas showed her own mad frenzied face labouring over a canvas; her hair was covered in streaks of black and gray; her face covered in shadows. Izamail Balil loomed behind her, his eyes bored, his lips puffed as he whistled.

The hairs on Monisha’s neck rose as she heard the whistling. It was - Aamar Bhitore Bahire, Ontore Ontore Aacho Tumi, Hridoye Jure.

She turned her head and screamed.