Upstairs: one way to do it

There are 14 flights. Each one has 12 steps. That’s 168 to climb, because the lift is always out of order.

During the first, I will think of how your breath always confused me, by smelling of stale rum in the evening and meetha paan in the morning.

The second, I will think of my knees and your grandfather, of the half-amused expression on his face when he warned me that they would be the first to go.

The third will make me think of the report that says the 5 year old standing with the armed woman did not sustain critical injuries from the gunshots. They only just about grazed him.

Then I will trip and remember the time an aggressive poet in a bar asked me to give her a topic for an extempo bit. I wrote riot gear in bold before the pen ruptured the paper.

The fifth: I will grow grim as my breathing gets heavier, thinking of there are still no concrete phrases to get at my state of mind on most days. Days when low, groggy, vegetative, indifferent don’t come out of my sedated mouth when you make a how are you call in the middle of your Public Health conference and so I say fine.

The sixth: I will think of alternatives. Shuffle with a split sec of maybe I should turn around.

Next, I’ll summon in my mind an image of the face you will make when you hear. And cringe at the thought of how rage, grief and confused loss will fight to be top of your thoughts every night. How you will continue to take care of Iru. How you had better take care of Iru.

Eight, I will think of the top. Of how when I first learnt about vertigo, it was unfathomable to me because I’d always been full with the impulse to know what rushing to the ground felt like. With and without a parachute.

Nine. I will think of the evening he said deadpan that the only known side effect of the shocks is memory loss. And you made too many jokes to make the mood lighter. Not worthy of repeating, but they did lighten the mood.

10. Double digits finally. By now I will be so tired. I will think of the way you used to be, two decades ago, before the left side of your body was paralysed by the stroke. When we came home from the hospital your eyes looked bullied but you said well could hemiplegia excuse you from cutting the onions every evening? I sat down after putting the bed pan in place on the first night and the rubber sheets felt new in a bad way under my butt. We gradually taught you to write again, but the real killer was making sure you didn’t choke after too big a swallow.

11. I will think of the tram ride where you spat out bloody Naxal. You thought you’d got me bad but the compartment exploded into laughter.

12. I will remember fragments from long ago. The slowness of censor certificate red tape, the long snaky queues. The reel with the lawyer who conflated lepers and lunatics and beggars.

13. About how this time next year this whole thing will be a wound that will hurt more like stomach pangs from gas than an ulcer. And the year after you will smile with only your eyes and think there is something, not much, but maybe something, to the stupid platitude that time will heal.

Anything after 13 makes me go amma yaar don’t do drama.




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Maya Palit Written by:

Maya Palit is a researcher and editor based in New Delhi. She used to study literature and might go back to that someday.


  1. Pankaj Butalia
    September 12, 2016

    Superb, really deep writing. Look forward to reading more from this writer.

  2. Meghna Nayak
    October 5, 2016

    Hmm. This poem is going to be rattling around my head long after reading it. Already is. Very evocative. I’m wondering about the life of the writer and the other lives described. It’s beautiful and sad and all too real

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