Varsha 2020 Issue, Stories - Satish Somasundaram


Sound of the Mountain

By Satish Somasundaram


I was in a remote village that overlooked a mountain when India came to a standstill for the second time. I had come with a group of friends to construct a library for the village children. It was fun for three days. My friends left when it was done, but I decided to stay back for a week.

I went to the stream surrounded by huge trees that seemed to sing whenever I passed underneath them. The sunbeam, like a spotlight, bruised my skin, now and then when the leaves rustled.

I reached the spot where the stream rushed over the boulders. I lay on the icy boulders. The course of the gushing water felt like a divine hand run through my hair, massaging my scalp, whispering a lullaby. I felt like a child in the arms of its mother—safe, fearless. I didn’t want to open my eyes again.

I heard the laughter of a child. The laughter that woke us every morning and also the one we heard throughout the day. It was the librarian’s daughter. A five-year-old naughty little girl called Nirmala.

I opened my eyes and saw her laugh and run behind a butterfly, flapping her little hands, her Appa behind her. I became self-aware, for I was in my undergarments. I quickly grabbed my clothes, walked behind a tree and changed. When I came into her view, she ran towards me, calling, “Akka, Akka, Akka…Come with me, let’s take bath, let’s play.”


She grabbed my hand. I hesitated. The librarian said, “Let Akka go now, she will play with us later.” “Promise me, Akka, you play with me.” I ran my hands over her head; leaves slid through her curly hair.

I returned to the single room I occupied that had no door. I thought my staying back was a mistake. I had none but a naughty little girl and a genteel librarian for company.

I heard her laughter again. I went out of the room and walked to the neem tree under which cellphone towers came to life. But I didn’t want to talk to anyone.

On the tree, I saw a crow feed worms to the hungrier chicks. At a distance, I saw a kid suckle her mom’s teats. Tears rolled down my eyes.

I heard the laughter again. I saw her run towards me. I wiped the tears and smiled. “Akka, come, Appa calling, come Akka, we’ll eat.”

We walked hand in hand. “Akka, stories you tell?”

“No, da, chellam.”

“AKKA, not one also, not one-two-three-fourrrrrrr-ten…fifty stories.”

I smiled. “Akka, catch me.” With that, she pulled her hand away from mine and ran. I too ran behind her. Every time, I was about to catch her, I slowed my pace.
We ate upma.

“It’s delicious.”

“Yes, today, it good-good. Yes, Akka, hmm..tasty tasty it is.”

After eating, I went back to my room and felt guilty. There was a huge broken mirror, in which I saw the disfigured me.“Why are you acting so privileged?” I pointed at the hundred visible distorted faces in the mirror.

In the afternoon, I saw the librarian about to cook.

“Give me the onions. What are you planning to make, Sir?”

“My darling wants sambhar. Sorry, I always think of her. I didn’t ask you.”

“Sambhar is fine with me.”

“You go and rest. I’ll cook.”

“No, no, I’ll help you. Where is Niru?”


I sliced the onions, soaked the daal, cut the tomatoes and the drumstick, chopped the carrots, and skinned the garlic. When I went to my boyfriend’s flat for the first time, although he cooked, I voluntarily helped.

That day I found out hormones shimmer when two lovers cook. A pre-cursor to something that was all about to fall apart.

I stepped back from the librarian and went out to meet the rain that didn’t want anyone to see the tears that streamed. I closed my eyes and lifted my chin up. I felt a small hand clasp mine and tug. I went where the hand dragged me, like a boat swaying to a wave. The hand withdrew. I opened my eyes and saw Niru dance. I ran around her. We both ran around the house.

At night, amidst nature’s orchestra, I, Niru and her Appa sat outside.

“Appa, why so many stars up so highhhh?”

“So you can see them and smile, my kutyy.” He hugged and kissed her on the forehead.

“Can we go to the stars, Appa?”

“No one has gone.”

“Then I’ll go Appa.”

With that, she slept with a smile on her face.

I looked at the numerous stars. I wondered why outside stuff fascinates people. Why does everyone want to find everything about the universe?
People take their own secrets to their grave but think nature should be decoded according to their understanding of it and not according to what nature intended.

“You sleep in our house. I and Niru sleep here.”

“No, no. I will be fine.”

I couldn’t help but ask, “I am sorry, but where is her Amma?”

“I think she is in Chennai.”

The word THINK resonated.

He smiled the smile which many smile but evidently hide the pain in that smile.

I wanted to ask him several things, but kept quiet. I wanted to shout at so many of them to ask several things about me.

I wonder what prevents me from seeking help when I need. Why should I put up a brave face when I am crumbling inside? My mother didn’t give birth to a statue.
The next day I heard him sing a lullaby and narrate stories to Niru.

In the dark, I opened my eyes and saw a star twinkle. I thought it was a dream. Then, I realised it was a firefly. Soon, several others joined it and my room was filled with twinkling stars. I got up from the bed and shadow-danced along with them.

Outside, the moon lit the mountain, and it looked like the moon had paused at painting the mountain in different hues, like a painter undecided. I saw the librarian on the stone bench. He seemed to stare at the mountain. I went and sat next to him. We stared at the mountain.

"Mountains, I love."

"I too, but does this give you solace."

"Yes, my wife and I begot Niru on such a night and we were closer to the mountain, then." He looked at me. "Also, on one such night, my wife went away with another man, I sat like this for a… for a looooong time…" I saw him sit on his haunches.

"Aren't you angry with her?"

"I thought of million ways to kill her. Then, I speak to the mountain, it speak with me. It tells me, how you can have someone who is not yours. I was shocked. It whispers, she gave you your gift. That's all."


"Yes, I become both father and mother. I don't know how and where to search who is mine. If not mine, then I become a cage for them. So, stopped searching for another woman. I didn’t know, should I search a mother for Niru or a wife for me."

He got up and walked to his room.

I sat and looked into the night. I heard laughter, the same laughter like Niru's.

The clouds draped like apallu over the moon. The mountain became an outline.

The vagabond clouds moved and carried the pallu with them. The moon glowed and shed its light on the mountain.

From the mountains, I felt someone run towards me. I wanted to run, but I couldn't even move my hands and legs. I tried to lift a hand and a leg. I saw that someone run and run and then I didn't see anyone. I touched my stomach.

The next morning I saw Niru and her Appa walk to the stream. I waited for their return before I could go and lay down on the boulder. I had my breakfast. I narrated to Niru the Vikramadityan stories my Grandma had narrated to me.

Niru said, "If he speaks, Vedhalam flies away, then why he speak? You say he so brave, but Appa says, brave people do more and talk less." We burst out laughing.

Niru asked, "I like you Akka, I sleep with you."

We lay on the floor.

“Akka, twinkling stars in our room.” There were too many.

We tried to guess where the next star would twinkle.

She placed her leg on my thigh, hugged me tight, and slept. I cried. I placed her leg on the ground, got up.

I walked and sat on the stone bench. The librarian gave me something he called herbal chai. I drank it. It tasted bitter. He left me alone.

The moon was surrounded by clouds. Watching the dark was like meditating. It felt good.

I closed my eyes, heard a rumbling, and I shut my eyes tighter. It was as if some giant was waking up; maybe that’s what one hears near an active volcano. Wind caressed my face. I felt as if someone shook my entire body.

I struggled not to open my eyes. With my eyes closed, I saw a thousand illuminated figures, none resembling humans or animals or aliens. They were like humans but not humans. I saw myself walk, trembling.

I saw myself walk through a colourful street seeing colours I have never seen before. Then, from between two colourful floating figures, came a small girl like Niru, the first human I saw.

She came and held my hand. I saw the small girl holding my hand. I saw that it was me when I was a child or could that be the unborn child who would grow up to resemble me.

I heard a voice. I tried to grab my child-self. I couldn’t.

The voice whispered. I closed my ears. But, like the wind, the voice passed through the cracks between my fingers. My dress was drenched from sweat.

No, I shouted, that can’t be me. My younger self trembled, placed her hand over her eyes to stop seeing whatever was making her cringe.

No way, no. I am…I am…I am mean... Yes, I am, so what, so what, all are mean. The voice continued.

I tried to catch hold of my younger self and bring her back. I didn’t want her to see what the voice said. She saw and cried. I cried.

The voice was relentless. I sat and saw everything that I had done, without clouded judgement, without prejudice, as one should see another in life.
Yes, I am all that you say. I was. I was…I WAS… I am not anymore.

Yes, I did it. I am …I get it…I am I.

I saw my youngerself crying. She walked towards me; I opened my arms to welcome her. She stared at me. I shivered. Her eyes. I wrapped my arms around her and felt I hugged myself, my body, my spirit.

I felt someone tug at my hair. I opened my eyes and saw the kid. It ran away to its mother. I woke up on the stone bench, feeling lighter. I was covered in a blanket. I walked to where the librarian was.

“What did you give me yesterday?”

“Hope it helped.”

“Very much. But I want to know.”


The next day, Niru slept with me. I woke the librarian and walked with my cellphone searching for the tower. I got a single line. I dialled the number.

I heard the concern in the gruff voice. "What happened? You alright no, ma?"

"Aaaaapppaaaaa..." I cried.

"Why you crying, ma?"

After a time, I said, "I had always wanted to have a mother, Appa. I always cursed you for not having another woman who could have been a mother."

Did something happen, ma?"

"How can I, Appa, who knows so much pain, think of doing the same?"

"What are you talking, ma?"

"Appa, I was pregnant, I didn’t want to marry him nor carry anything of him."

"How can we love and hate the same person to the extremes, Appa?”

"Because, we know they know us."

"I didn't want to give birth to someone who will curse and hate me before realising the world. I did that to you. I am sorry, Appa."

"Listen to me, ma."

It took me two weeks to let the librarian see me bath wearing my undergarments. Niru played as usual. On the way, Niru sat on his shoulders, her legs dangling on either side of his head and she sang.

After a month, I was ready to leave. Niru cried for 2 days. I promised her to take her to Chennai when she grew up.

As I was leaving, I asked the librarian, "Given a choice between choosing Niru and your wife, whom would you choose. Remember, this should be answered without considering your history with Niru."

He looked at me and said, "Love clouds our minds, dumbs our senses. You know who I choose."

I shook my head.

“That night the concoction you gave me was the same thing that gave you solace when your wife left.”

He hugged Niru and nodded.

“Thanks. I’ll come back when I need it.”

I knew Appa lied to me the night I told him about the pregnancy, but he had always lied because without having lived with a person, one will always lie.
A lie, that always lights up the face of the person hearing it.



Satish Somasundaram from India is an IT professional, an avid reader, traveler, writer and trekker.


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