Issue No. 4, Spring 2013

Portrait of an Ex-Lover
Sanchari Sur

I knew Sharanya by a different name. In a different time. This was before Calcutta became Kolkata, or before the Communist Party was defeated by the current Trinamul government. This was before I got married, and locked away my other self.

We had met in the dusty somnolence of one of Calcutta’s harsh summers. We were neighbours for a brief period. She was visiting with her mother. They had rented the apartment adjacent to mine.

I first became aware of her when she came over to say hello. I usually left my door open while working. It helped with the cross ventilation. That day I was working on a short story which was already past the deadline. And then, there she was, with her silent kiss on the back of my neck.

She spoke in memsahib English, with a hint of something-else. She claimed it was her Middle Eastern influence, having lived in Dubai for six months.

For a fifteen year old, she knew what she wanted. Sometimes, I would stare at my writing pad, my words failing me. All I could think of was her kohl-rimmed eyes, her thick, dark hair- zulfein, I called them- and the Italy-shaped bruise-like mark inside her left thigh. She told me when it first appeared a few years ago, her mother had thought it was a love bite, and she had received a thrashing. “But you were only thirteen then!” I exclaimed. She smiled, condescending, “Exactly.”

I was always amazed at her traveller’s soul. She seemed worldly, when she was not trying to be her age. I asked her once, “What are you running from?” She only kissed me in answer.

She loved my fish curry. When she ate, she chose to use her hands, just like me. I wonder what her mother said when she saw the turmeric stained hands.

“Teach me to write like you,” she had once said, as if writing is something one can teach.

“You need to be true to yourself, and then it will come to you, naturally,” I had advised.

The day she left, the monsoons had decided to come upon us. It was a welcome respite from the onslaught of the heat of Calcutta summers. The heat that built up slowly and crept into your clothes, your hair, your soul. Crept into your senses in a way that made you breathe it. Live it. You lived the heat till you thought about it every moment. You waited for the heat to break. And, it did. Without warning, the rains came upon you and washed the heat away. Settled the dust of Calcutta, and you could breathe again.

But with her leaving, I forgot how to breathe. Even now, after all these years, the coming of the monsoon pricks at an old wound that hasn’t quite healed yet. And, when my husband looks at me and asks, “Ki hoyeche? Why are you looking so sad?” I shake my head in silence and kiss him.

Sanchari Sur is a Bengali Canadian who was born in Calcutta, India. A graduate student of Gender Studies at Queen’s University, Kingston, she is currently working on her first novel tentatively titled, Blood Red Sky. Her photography, poetry, and short fiction have been published or are forthcoming in Map Literary, Barely South Review, Red River Review, nthposition, Pyrta and elsewhere. Her short story, “Those Sri Lankan Boys,” was selected to be a part of Diaspora Dialogues Youth Mentoring Program in Toronto in 2011. She blogs at