By Neerja Singh



Some people can give you both, a nick in the stomach and a stab in the heart. You are never completely sure of the emotion they inspire.

Ira felt buffeted between sour jealousy and an admiring envy around Janice. “What is it about this woman? She enters a room in a cloud of music and leaves it in the debris of despair. It feels like the sun came in and then there is the cloud in her wake.”

The two shared history. Alumnae of the class of 1995 at the St. Mary’s Convent Allahabad, they had gone their ways in college. The sharpest image in Ira’s memory of her years with Janice was of their last day together at the Children’s Park, near their favourite concrete Elephant slide. Janice was twirling and shaking her ‘churmura cone’ in an effort to get the green peas up. Ira was silent with the effort of absorbing the news that Janice and her family would be moving to another town on a transfer.

“I feel sick,” she remembered muttering to herself. They were moving out of the park gate towards the cycle stand. The evening was nearly upon them and there was an annoying anticipation of maternal stress at home, “You must come home before dark, it is not safe on the roads,” their mothers made a habit of worrying themselves to ill health.

The two had mounted their black, lady’s Hero bicycles and were nearly out on the main road when Janice had braked abruptly, almost causing Ira to fall. Ira remembered them pulling over to the side. Janice had stood there on one foot, the other resting on the right pedal. The words would not come, only her eyes shone extra bright. “Are you feeling all right?” she had asked.  She recalled the determined shake of Janice’s head and they were both off, soon enough, towards their respective homes.

Now, a decade and more later, they were back in the same space, two well-trained professionals at the TV 20, a news and entertainment channel. Ira was a writer-cum-production manager and Janice, a highly successful news anchor and analyst. What was missing was their old connection, that sweet sentiment of adolescence, bordering on the romantic. Ira pinched her forearm hard, “Idiot!”

“Hello, but how long is Janice going to take in the conference room, her computer has been blinking on and off with that floral screen saver,” Ira dragged her thoughts back to their office. She drew closer to Janice’s table in an absent minded flow, “I could put the machine into hibernation,” she tapped the cursor pad smartly, focused on the left corner bottom icon. But her peripheral vision caught the bold black letters right at the top of the screen: New Age Online Confessional!

There was an incomplete note, “I confess to almighty God, and to you, dear brothers and sisters. I am told I have a disease and have sinned for I am consumed by a “degrading passion” for my childhood friend Ira. It is a lust that will destroy our physical bodies, ruin relationships and bring perpetual suffering to our souls. I honour your word, seek your salvation and ask for your forgiveness. I understand that I will never inherit the Kingdom of God. I am grateful for your respect and sensitivity. I do not wish to walk on hot sands under a rain of fire. My friend must not so much as guess or else…”

Ira moved back heavily, rubbing her eyes with violence. They had begun to smart with the grit of agonized emotions.