Swing by Harsh Snehanshu

It used to be her favourite sari. Father had gifted it to her during their honeymoon, just before they’d boarded the first airplane of their lives. Air India flight number AI 4386 from Patna to New Delhi, July 1986.


It’s 1996 now. Mother is standing atop the bed, trying to hurl the sari – its colour faded, its creases crushed, like their marriage – across the fan hung on the high ceiling of our ancestral house in Patna. The door is bolted. The window that opens to the verandah outside is open. We, five-year-old sister and nine-year-old me, are the witnesses standing at the window. Sister is wailing, I am screaming. ‘Ma, don’t! Ma, don’t do this, please.’ I don’t remember where father is. He’s in the house, otherwise mother wouldn’t be doing this. He’s the supposed audience.


Our persistent wails have attracted the attention of the neighbours. They are out on their balconies, idle men in their banyans and gabby aunties with their saris tucked behind them like dhotis. They crane their necks and babble amongst themselves, careful not to whisper. I see Gyan among them. He thinks highly of me, for having things – Rubik’s cube, Meccano, UNO and carom board – he’d want to buy for himself were his parents richer. For a minute, I am distracted, worried what I would tell Gyan when I go to his house to play carom. That father and mother had a fight and mother decided to take her life. Just like that. I won’t go, I decide, in between my mindless cries. Not for a week at least. A month if mother actually dies. Not until my shaved head bears some hair. I don’t want to be ridiculed for my tonsured top.


Mother has accomplished her mission. Her favourite sari is now flung across the fan. She’s tugging at its two ends to ensure that it will bear her weight, a meagre fifty kilos. She ties its two ends together with a knot, descends from the bed and grabs hold of a sturdy stool, my makeshift study table, and places it on the bed. Our cries have become louder. The suicide is imminent. The neighbours are at our gates, eager for the entertainment. Father begins to knock on mother’s door, loud, vehement banging, the bolt loosening a little with each blow. At first I am glad father is home. An instant later, I am not. Had he not been at home, nothing like this would have happened. We wouldn’t have to hear mother yell, ‘Two motherless kids will make you happy. Celebrate my dead body with your mother.’


Father breaks the door open. He enters like a hero and takes the stool away from the bed with a finality I never saw in him before. I like his machismo. Mother complains, ‘Nobody even lets me die in peace here.’ Our wails stop. The neighbours are disappointed. They leave, scratching their hairy bellies, picking white lint from the navel. Sister rushes to mother’s room, her tiny feet trembling as she runs. No one cries anymore. Is this happiness? How long will this happiness last? Father goes for a walk scrunching his forehead. Mother is in kitchen drinking water with sister. I look at the neighbouring balcony. Gyan waves and mimics hitting the carom striker. I ignore him and walk to the empty room where mother’s sari is hung and tug the ends that are tied together. It’d make a good swing. I don’t trust the fan though. The bed sheet is rumpled, the four feet of the stool have left pockets of muck on it. It’s eerily quiet, as if someone actually took their life. I am scared of the silence. I wish for Gyan’s carom strikes, the sound they make at every collision. I go pick the carom board, dust it with the ends of the hung sari that, given what it has faced, will be turned into a wretched wiping cloth. Shoving the board against my armpit, I march towards Gyan’s house, prepared to act all cool.


Gyan welcomes me with sympathy. His mother is at their bedroom door, behind the curtain. I can see her cracked heels beneath. My mother doesn’t have cracked heels, I remember.


‘Is everything alright?’ Gyan asks.


‘Yes. It was just a normal fight. Like your parents would have,’ I shrug. The cracked heels retreat. ‘They don’t,’ he says. Even though Gyan doesn’t have a carom board, at that moment I feel envious of him. He also would never have a swing in his bedroom.



Harsh Snehanshu is the author of four popular novels and two short fiction anthologies, most recently of Green Mango More: Short Stories from Childhood, Rumour Books, 2015. As a freelance journalist, his works have appeared in The Caravan, The Hindu, Tehelka, DNA, Forbes India, Thought Catalog and Kindle Magazine among others. Currently, he is the co-founder of YourQuote – a mobile platform for writers to host their quotes. He is based out of Solang Valley, Himachal.