Once upon a time, I used to watch a programme called Satyajit Ray Presents on Doordarshan. At least, I think I watched it. I was the sort of child who tried to stay awake for the nine (or was it ten) pm screening of Karamchand, that gajar-gnawing detective with the gender-community stereotyped secy Kitty and regularly fell asleep at about eight instead. I was a model child, I say. Wonder why my children did not turn out so perfect. Also wonder why their Nani gives me that look of disbelief when I say that.
Satyajit Ray Presents is buried down in my memory right where I store stories from Target magazine (let's revive that, please, I'd love to write for it), strange, chewy, colourful candy that was wrapped around a pole and the candy wallah would pull out strings of the sweet stuff and wrap them around a stick before handing them to children, something that I wanted very badly but was expressly forbidden to ever try. It's incredible how pure goodness for some spell cholera and jaundice for others. Also in the same stock of nostalgia are the leafy bylanes of Dehradun, some of them hedged on both sides and so narrow that only one person could walk through at a time and a school that had a penchant for changing it's name, at that time it was Doon Cultural Center, only the kids studying there would know what it is called these days. It had an Australian headmaster, a large, florid man who was good friends with my father. Someone told me he died a few years ago.
That's the thing with writing about memories. You can never stick to the topic. What I really wanted to talk about was Satyajit Ray Presents and a haunting story therein about light in a window. If you have seen it, you are nodding along right now. It's the sort of thing that stays with you forever after one watch. I forget the name of the story but I do remember that Amol Palekar played the lead. After he shifts into a new house (the previous tenant has died under mysterious circumstances), he finds himself getting disturbed every night by the light in the apartment opposite his. Finally he decides to have a talk with this insensitive neighbour about this light business. Turns out that the man is an artist who kindly invites Palekar to have a look at his work. Chillingly, all the portraits are of people who have died under mysterious circumstances. The last shot, a mind-numbingly scary one shows a claw (I think) and then Palekar telling the artist that he is ready to have his portrait made. Can I just say that it was scary enough to make a lasting impression?
Lasting is right. Our building has neighbours on one side in a regular sort of building, with water problems and rude inmates who shout at the guards every morning. On the other side though is an infinitely more interesting, dilapidated old house. Every morning when I sit in the dining area of my own apartment, I am faced by the shut windows of the house. The house is old and shabby enough to inspire the belief that no one lives there. The windows are dirty, the grills on them nearly falling off due to rust. Only darkness on the other side, making me ask what secrets lurk there, in that unlived-in house.
And yet, every evening, the windows are lit and I can see some activity transpiring behind the cloudy-with-dirt windowpanes. It could well be just people who are away at work all day long, switching on their light only upon their return.
Or it could be a portrait maker.