Mother Wit

Nitasha Kaul writes a short story about a woman seeking to escape excruciating pain through the power of imagination.

All night her body had been feverish. Tossing and turning on the mattress, she had tried a hundred thousand ways to distract her mind from focusing on the pain. Every time a big surge of the excruciatingly churning pain came, she started speaking aloud to herself in low tones.

Stay strong. This will pass. Come on, try not to think about the pain. Come with me, come, let us try and be somewhere else. I am strong. She is strong. She is me. I can be brave. I am going to think of something. I can make it detailed. I can try and speak in longer sentences. I can make word pictures. I can spin the roulette in the theatre of my mind and find me a scene.

Their tails forever waving in the air, their feet frozen in the various states of a permanent gallop, there are three horses chasing each other around a carousel with a red and cream crown-topped canopy. She is riding the brown horse and in the mirrors at the centre there is a sequence of reflected cherubs smiling at her. She is swaying her head in delight as the music grows louder and louder. The carousel too turns faster and faster, the horses flying away over every landscape just for her. With her right arm, she waves in ecstasy at the blurred scene. There seems to be no running out of money, no slowing of speed; if anything, the music keeps growing louder and the horses run faster.

Hold on. Be strong. Bon courage and all that. You are not weak. I am not weak. I am going to be well.

It goes on and on until her left grip feels the pain of holding on too tight to stay stable at such speed. Her palm is sweating and the fingers feel tingly. The touch of the polished golden enamel bar is slipping. The serrated edges of her green saddle seat are digging into her thighs. The carousel keeps on turning in a manic frenzy. She is about to faint. Before she can scream for help, she is thrown off the horse and goes hurtling through the air. The sensation of weightlessness makes her nauseous and she is aware that unless she is careful about where she lands, she will break all her bones.

Ah, no. You cannot give in. It is the weakness that comes from pain. Hold on. Be strong. Bon courage and all that. You are not weak. I am not weak. I am going to be well. In fact, I will make sure that I land on soft grass. No. On a cloud. I will fly upwards in an arc and come to rest on a low hanging cloud. 

It is a swirling lenticular cloud. From a distance it looks as if the wavy cloud has been painted by broad brushstrokes. The sun is setting and her piled up circular fluffy seat is all pink. She lifts her backside slightly and tries the bounciness of the cloud-seat. It is miraculously comfortable and perfectly ethereal. She considers leaning over the edge to look down below, but wonders if she should. What if, instead of being an enthralling sight, it gives her vertigo? She might fall. It is safer to stay seated on her cushion in the skies and slowly drift underneath the now darkening moonless skies. She leans back, lies down, closes her eyes. There are stars above. Turning her head from left to right, she scans the skies slowly. She picks out one shiny pebble a little to the left of the centre of her vision. This is her twinkling star. She looks at it, softly, attentively. She hesitates even to blink, in case the star suddenly dies. She knows that stars can be seen millions of years after they are dead and gone, because their light takes ever so long to reach us. In spite of this, she worries that it may have been the end of those millions of years and her chosen star might abruptly vanish. She folds her hands underneath her head to make a pillow and gently sends all her love to the little burning pit so many galaxies away in this bizarre universe.


After a while, sleep finally starts knitting its wool on the needles of her eyelashes. The star looks back at her, softly, attentively. The skies will be dark until morning, when that rich gold merchant sun comes in, draping everyone in his rolled-out reams upon reams of glowing light-cloth. The altocumulus lenticularis is calm. The star still watchful. Sleep is almost done with its knitting on her eyelashes. It might be time soon to take off her conscious vestments, empty all her pockets, and deposit all her waking-related belongings in a tray as she lines up to cross the security-check over into the dream-world. In that dream-world, she will will things. As the formalities are over, she is about to step over to the other side. A shadow behind her, hastening her on, casually asks: Why are you numb? Is she numb? She fumbles to put her coat of consciousness back again. She touches her forehead and arms and feels her back. Yes, she is damp. There are beads of water all over her body. What is it? It must be the moisture from the cloud bed. Yes, that’s it. Or, maybe perspiration. Why ever was she sweating? Was she ill? In pain? Yes, the mattress is soggy from her damp body. She is not on a cloud, is she?

At least you had a few minutes of rest. Now, now. You are not dying. You will be well. Hold on. Have a glass of water. Take another tablet. Wipe yourself with a towel. Use the bathroom. Come on. Pull yourself together. It’s only pain and fever. It could be much worse on so many latitudes and longitudes. Count your blessings. There. The tablet will soon help. And the dry towel on the bed sheet feels so nice, doesn’t it? Stop shivering though. Are you cold now? Why am I cold now? I’m not sweating anymore. I’m freezing. Brrr. Where’s the convector? Connect the damn thing.

It is a portable white plastic number with black gritted teeth that spews hot air from a trapezoid opening at the front. There is a thermostat control on it, so she can leave it on. As she turns the knob on, she notices the tiny pictogram warning on the top. It is a black painted sign that shows a T-shirt on a square inside a crossed out circle. Don’t dry clothes on it. It’s 2000 W, 220 V, 50 Hz. A basic little warmth-providing contraption. Energy-inefficient enough so that most people using it are probably city studio dwellers. She lies down again, careful to angle the heat at a focused point on her lower abdomen where it hurts the most at this moment. She lies curled up in a foetal position, not taking too much space on the bed. She peers inside the convector window. She can make out a couple of screws, a lot of dusty dirty lint gathered at the edges within, and a complicated maze of thin metal wires arranged in the pattern of intersecting combs that infinitely regress. She expected to see the orange glow of heated filament, the kind you see inside toasters. But this is just dull metal silver. A fast rotating fan in the centre is where the heat seems to be coming from. This fan has a circular vent at the top, behind the pictogram and beside the control knobs. The slatted plastic vent is composed of exactly 13+13 rectangular empty spaces in the middle two rows and 11+11 spaces of varying circular edges on each side. That would be, how many, she calculates, eyes closed, 26+22, so that would be 48 spaces precisely. That’s a lot of spaces to be crafted in a small machine.

Anything that was about origins and succour, a source of strength and support, could be prefixed with ‘Mother’. Why, at this very moment, the convector was her Mother! It was warm, comfort-giving, soothing, taking care of her pain.

Forgetting about her pain, her thoughts drift to computers as machines, their intestinal insides. The motherboards. What a strange juxtaposition: Mother and Board. Yet, why strange? There were Mother Ships and Mother Tongues and Mother…let us see. Yes, Mother Nature, Mother Hens, Mother Earth. One could find other examples for sure. Anything that was about origins and succour, a source of strength and support, could be prefixed with ‘Mother’. Why, at this very moment, the convector was her Mother! It was warm, comfort-giving, soothing, taking care of her pain. As a young girl beginning on her first few periods, when she would lie wracked in pain from stomach cramps, her mother would prepare gramflour sweets and feed them to her with warm spice-infused tea, sitting by her bedside, full of consolation and love. She closes her eyes, draws up her knees further into her body, and gives a look of gratitude to the convector.

Yes convector mother, you will make me well. I will not bear the pains of this abortion night forever. When I get up, I will rise. I will turn around to leave the man who has, as always, slept all night behind me, oblivious to my pain and to my worries. I will then find real carousels and clouds, and send kisses heavenward to mother for having borne me.

Nitasha Kaul is a Kashmiri novelist, poet, academic, artist and economist who lives in London. Her debut novel Residue (Rupa/Rainlight, 2014) was earlier shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize. Aside from fiction and poetry, she comments in the media and has written in edited collections, journals and newspapers on the themes of identity, culture, economy, gender, social theory, technology, democracy, Bhutan and Kashmir. She has a joint doctorate in Economics and Philosophy, is the author of the book 'Imagining Economics Otherwise: encounters with identity/difference' (Routledge, 2007), and has previously taught Economics, Politics, and Creative Writing in the UK and in Bhutan. She has travelled to over 55 countries across 4 continents documenting the strangeness of the everyday and the otherness of the present. More at

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