Shakuntala Spellcheck

By Mukherjee P

Shakuntala Spellcheck: In Three Movements and one afterthought

Movement 1

Miss Shakuntala.

Wife of King Dushyant

Daughter of sage Vishwamitra and apsara Menaka

Left in the forest. Pushed by Durbasha. Fickle fate. Dancing with death. The diseased amnesia. The insistent insomnia.

Mother of Bharata.

The smell: you can locate a slice of it in Kanvashram—about 10 kms away from Kotdwar, now in Uttarakhand.

Miss Shakutala. Unvanquished. Unending.

Then you hear that sound from a distance. Inching forward. And then you hear the sea.

You hear the sea, the one that is next to your walls. From you window panes, you can see a still colourless light. Slowly expanding itself into the sky. The black sea is still. The body consumed by sleep. Inside a room there’s a stranger

And then you do exactly that. I don’t know why you did that. I keep seeing you doing all that, probably unknowingly. You could probably have left this room, this body. This figure of sleep. Yet you did that. Well, it was different. And that being different is what makes you different. You did that and came back to your body.

Body embody. Body towards a body. Body propelled towards the body in such a way, that one does not kill the other body. One does not eat it up. You go back to the night, you go back to being consumed.


You keep staying back in the room. You keep crying. You think what you don’t know, is what you know. You think you are the only repository of everything that is tragic in the world, of one particular kind of ill-luck. You think all that is happening now, you are the master of that. You think all incidents have their own life.

The stranger sleeps, there’s a slight smile on the lips, waiting to be assassinated.

Your body inside the room of that other body

Sleep on sleep is a full circle. Deep inside, imagination turns to semi-whispers, those whispers climb inside the body and become clearer by the day. Can one man complete the circle of contentment, the idea of being whole, or maybe another man. Maybe many other men.

You cry.


What did you remember of this whole relationship? All that you can remember is a collage of a few sounds which were whispered inside your eyes. Those whispers kept hammering, asking what was wrong with you.

Death. Disease. A lost ring. A found ring. A fishersman. Reclaim. Renege. Renew. Residue.

Very soon you give up and you don’t really search for the other person. Not in the city. Not in the night. Not even during the day. Even after all this, the fact that you’re alive with a lot of love in your heart, is because you can only do this. But each time a relationship knocks at the door, love disappears.


You don’t really need to know her. You’ve seen her at many places. Maybe at the same time. Hotel. Roads. Train. Bar. Books. Cinema. Inside yourself. Inside that you inside you. Inside the heat of your lust when you need to satiate yourself. Inside the vortex of your desire. Or even when you just need a place to cry.

Movement 1 has been inspired by and is partly transcreated from Margurite Duras’ La Maladie de la mort (The Malady of Death).


Movement 2: Shakuntala: memory of my memories

What is Shakuntala?

An interplay of memory. A critique of a historical forgetfulness…

What then would be memory?

Fragments of a still life

A semi-historical narrative of some delicate moments

A transcript of the sepia yesterday

Blurred at the edges, a little burnt and chipped off

Some shards lying at the edge of a hazy narrative

Or the silent moan of a chair without one leg…still trying to get up…still trying to be relevant

For a moment Shakuntala looked at her empty fingers

Long ones

Almost like a chiselled radish

These fingers can walk

Climb trees

Pluck grass from the toxic soil


What then would be memory?

Juggling old collections of passport size photos

(largely black and white)

Taken in that locality studio by a friendly/ hawkish photographer

Brandishing his Agfas

Or sometimes an imported Minolta, Olympus, Nikkor, Cannon or even a spycam

Or found footage from CCTV, bugs and camera deeply embedded inside harmless objects

For a moment Shakuntala flipped at these albums of black and white with a black border-non-photoshopped stills-some posed, mostly candid

These were much before the manicure/pedicure days

These were hers—many Hers—

Yes she did contain multiple multitudes…Shakuntala In Shakuntala Out


What then would be memory?

That old bedsheet

Returned by the cleaners

Crumpled paper napkin from yesterday’s dinner

Dushyanta—his distinct body odour

The trail of his smell cannot just disappear from the sheet

Even if the cleaner used Super Rin bar

Shakuntala held the bed-sheet close to her nose

And tried to smell the memory of that mad night

That nocturne turn of the screw

That private decision of his to allow her on the top

That moment of patriarchy coming to terms with lust

Huffing puffing

across beneath amidst

Someone did reach the pole position



What then would be memory?

A discreet my-fingertip-touches-your-fingertip type old romanticism of the seventies

Or the prehistoric cave-painting type hug where your inside out gets sucked by his outside in

Or a curved line wanting to be straight

Or a blurred picture refusing to be photoshopped


What then would be memory?

All personal is always political

New sunlight is neon

And yes your bottom hurts when somebody pushes you across some digital landscape right in the middle of an active Facebook page

Pings to your left. Pings to your right. Rode the husband. Your posture is determined by his comfort zone.

Shakuntala has many friend requests pending—she’s undecided—about one tangible mind or multiple mind-partners

One night that reflects a snapchat story or a persistent fling that merits a photo-essay


What then would be memory?

That tongue trail across the body

Till your tongue hits the metallic ring on the navel

Memory isn’t just a joystick

or an up to 64 GB expandable memory card slot

Or a 4TB external hard disk memory

Where each folder neatly re-organises the path of the private dilemma

Mostly open

Some password protected

Shakuntala used iPad version pro—she likes to go oral—through Skype


What then would be memory?

The realization

That all things must pan the fetish of listening but not listening attentively

The real/reel time reading of what went in Rodney King’s mind when he was being pounded

Or which page from How to Win Friends and Influence People popped up in Dale Carnegie’s mind when he committed suicide

Or the last thoughts that went in 45-year-old Dongria Kondh activist Drika Kadraka’s mind as he took his life in Niyamgiri

Outside her child played

Love child; old child; wild child; blind child; initiated child, child, child; child who never sleeps and yet refuses to wake up

That afternoon when He-the-supreme-Royal could not recognise her

She didn’t feel bad

After all your looks do change

And when you have hung around that long in forests as a Gandhian civilian non-activist trying to make sense (and failing) to understand the cult of sustained violence from all corners, not surprising

As for the ring that she lost

Jungles are jungles

Rings are rings

Sometimes they do slip off

As if to remind you that obscurity and anonymity are strange bed fellows

They do want to share your bed

They do want to be the only fellow that shares the bed and bod, the pea and the pod


What then would be memory?

Idea of a long-term loss

Of an imaginary scorecard of childhood book-cricket games

Playing truth or bare

Or recalling name, place, animal, things

Even vain love poems

Scribbled along the luscious curves of the folded paper napkin

Or a magical sequence of favourite songs in dialogue with one another

Or your 4GB iShuffle

Or the smell of new paper much before the pdf days—

those days when you could not download attachments…just felt hopelessly attached


What then would be memory?

Remains of the residue

The residue of the closure

The closure of the future

The future of the apocalypse


Or that fatal continuity

Which is doomed










Just a room—

where the windows and doors vanished after you entered


What then would be memory?

Champagne glass curve in sociology classes

Neon-bathed streets of Shanghai

Or that late night stillness of Buriganga in old Dhaka

Where the evening and darkness crisscrosses the canvas

the bobbing boats become a black eerie of curves floating mid-water—

strangers out of a Sultan painting


Memories don’t morph into metaphors

They make themselves available as a temporary tease

a world, which Shakuntala knows—is a large capital market, a supermarket of spiritual solace, a repository of errant memories representing the credit card childhood

the world of bubble and the babble


Movement 3

Memory is not what we would like to remember or what we would like to forget. It is not even about what  stays in our mind space or what doesn’t stay. Memory is like a lost smell, about which we are not sure, whether to keep it or to wish it away. Refuge or the Last Refuge. Sanctuary or Wilderness.

Sometimes it is palpable. I’ll give you an example. You are in Amritsar, going to Jallianwala Bagh, and in that park where the British Police had gunned down Indians, you find bullet marks still on the walls. All of a sudden, the memory leaps out of your history books and enters your blood stream. Or when I’m in Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s house in Dhaka, which is now a museum, I find old stains of blood still on the wall, remembering the moments of genocide when the whole family was killed, including the young son.

So what is memory? Shards? Shreds? Is it the remains of walls and mud after a bulldozer has bulldozed a slum? The next time I stand in front of the multiplex where the slum was located, do I remember those lost faces? Maybe I forget. Because I have learnt to forget. Even that forgetfulness is memory.

Shakuntala is about an idea about a woman on crossroads. We cannot criticize her love for Dushyant, her subsequent falling for him, and her conceiving a son. Because love, in whatever and whichever form, is still an inexplicable emotion. We are concerned about the fallout. And the lessons  we learn from the fallout. So the missing ring of Shakuntala, could be that missing piece of paper by which an exile will always have to prove their citizenship, their land right, the reason why they should not be thrown out of the country, the reason why they shouldn’t rot in jails, the reason why their sons and daughters should demand a better life than just having a manadatory plastic sheets over their heads. The reason why, however dirty it may look, it is important to have them on footpaths, stations, municipal markets, in dharnas, chakka jams and selling cheap items in front of our expensively obscene malls.  They are the evolutionary and we are the ones who are stigmatised.

Hey! Don’t pout

Come on don’t pout

Your insta lips look overarched

Biting them tastes of real cigarette…licking them tastes of stale lip balm sensation

Time for real lips…real lisp

Let me tell you a story. There’s a young girl who lives next to the Dashwamedha Ghat in Banaras. Her family sells wood for a living.  Before you ask which wood, let me tell you, this is the burnt wood from the wooden pyres from the Ghats. The more people who come to get cremated and come to get burnt, the more money she makes. Because, then, she can sell more wood. Her income is dependent on how many are burnt everyday. So let me ask you a simple question. Is she eating death, or is death eating her? Is death delicious?

Footnote: The man sitting next to me looked too large one day. So tall. That he almost touched the sky. So lanky that he’s most definitely unreachable. The same man sitting next to me today, looks very small today. Smaller than a safety pin. I don’t even need a palm to cusp him, fingers will do. So he’s too tall one day, and too short the other. Is it because while noticing him I forgot my height, or is it because he’s changing shape depending on my perception of him? Shapeshifter huh!

Postscript of the Footnote: The rock is stagnant. The pool is stagnant. Memory runs free in unmemoried times. Can you see the stretch marks…in your

Mascara box, midriff, metaphors inside your mind and the mindful act of being consistently mindless.

Stitch in time. Saves nine-and-a-half. I am Miss Shakuntala: Half Wife, Half Widow, Full Mother. Full-time activist. Touchwood.

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