Book Excerpt: ‘The Solitude of a Shadow’ by Devibharathi and Kalyan Raman

Book Title: The Solitude of a Shadow
Author: Devibharathi
Translator: Kalyan Raman
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Number of Pages: 208
ISBN: 978-9354899553
Date Published: Mar. 13, 2024
Price: INR 339

The Solitude of a Shadow by Devibharathi and Kalyan Raman Book Cover

Book Excerpt

Karunakaran had turned up before us like an evil spirit after nearly thirty years.

Condemned to a life of flitting constantly like an imp between good and evil, I had joined as a clerk in that government high school only two days ago. With its facade painted a dull yellow, the school stood on a desolate plot on the outskirts of that small town. The previous clerk had been suspended for embezzling public funds and I had taken charge in his place. The headmaster treated me with utmost caution. He asked me why I wanted to move from the powerful district education office in the capital to this rural school which held no prospect of extra income. When I told him I had no taste for big-city life, he refused to believe me. He might have thought that I was being evasive.

Like a spectral beast, the dark shadow of suspicion emerged silently from his ash-grey eyes and began to claw at me with its disgusting paws. Since I had a thick skin that made me impervious to such attacks, I chose to ignore it. After submitting my joining report, I went over to the rickety wooden chair meant for the clerk. It had been vacant for more than six months, and now it was mine.

I introduced myself courteously to everyone who drifted into view—office colleagues and teachers for the most part. Since I was going to work as a close aide to the headmaster, a man who had authority over them, their surreptitious glances, signaling at once the intimacy of friendship and the distance of enmity, began to surround me.

Meanwhile, the headmaster had called for me. I abandoned the physical education teacher who had just introduced himself to me and started a conversation, and came out of the wooden cubicle that separated me and the headmaster. It was then that I saw the ghoulish figure of Karunakaran. The man who had occupied my vengeful heart for thirty years as the epitome of evil was there in front of me in flesh and blood. I felt disoriented for a moment. Then I remembered my sister Sharada’s brown eyes wandering endlessly like mine in an unfulfilled quest for revenge.

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Even before Karunakaran’s name was squeezed out from my lips reluctantly like toothpaste and released into the room, Sharada had become edgy. Her body was trembling. I was afraid that she might, as happened so often in the movies, drop the coffee cup from her hand, and it might crash to the floor and shatter into pieces. But she did not lose her composure right away. She might have waited for him with the confident expectation that this meeting would happen someday. The smoldering embers of her vengeance had begun to shed the layers of ash deposited by time.

‘When and where did you see him?’

Excerpted with permission from The Solitude of a Shadow by Devibharathi and Kalyan Raman. HarperCollins India, Rs. 399

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