The Learning Curve

To him, they appeared everywhere.

They frequented drawing classes, homework books, newspapers, hotel napkins, the foggy bathroom mirror, sacks of grains at the grocery shop, dirt tracks, shoe imprints, photographs of dangerous ghats in Bolivia that flooded his email inbox, strange buildings, mangoes, blood bank advertisements and so on. His arms were stiff; wrists, though, forever worming graciously.

He drew them at school, at home, on weekdays, on Sundays, at the table, under the bed, in the garden, at the theatre, in the school bus, in the car, at breakfast, at dinner. Curvaceous and angular. Starred and circled. Penciled and coloured. Large and small. Drawn and crafted.

His exam marks shone. That he was talented was undeniable. That he drew was a paisley alone was truly worrisome. Men, women and children alike were paisleys with heads atop. His mother was distressed, sister amused and father oblivious. His school suggested seeing a learning specialist, his uncle decided to ‘talk’ to him. Grandmother had his patrika examined; at the Shani temple, the maid lit a diya.

A little trip might do him good, they all thought. One Sunday, he left for a hill station with his family. Luckily, it was raining by the time they reached the guest house. He was exuberant. His mother was drawn to tears. The city was agreed to have taken a toll on him. He sat by the window, hand stuck out, grasping the pounding rain, shrieking in glee. He sang songs of the rain with his mother, gathered rocks with his father and chased his sister along the pebbled pathway leading into the green. After breakfast one day, he took his drawing book and pencil and set out to draw a beautiful clump of flowers growing around the rear clearing of the guest house. He returned an hour later and sat on the bed, humming to himself.

As they returned, his drawings began to get increasingly absurd. They steadily lost their blithe qualities to make way for large symbols, almost occupying an A4 sheet. His father happily kept bringing discarded reams of paper from his office despite his wife’s much shrill nagging. The paisley sat over contracts, deeds, emails, graphs, charts, bibliographies, notices, family photos, flight tickets, grocery bills. His fingers were tireless, his mind ever-searching.

He started sleeping with a large drawing each day as his family helplessly watched on. One morning, his grandmother could not contain her hysteria anymore and headed for the hills. “Paisley first, whores next!” Alarmed, his sister was made to share his bed in an attempt to maintain a vigil. He unabashedly continued sleeping on his side, the paper being sculpted urn-like by his softly heaving ribs.

Summer arrived and so did heat, rashes, power cuts and mangoes. The drained family took the train to see his aunt. The journey was trying. The paisleys were stocking. A sweet, unassuming man tried to engage him in conversation but was only thrusted with a handful of drawings in return. His aunt greeted them at the station to find her sister howling on her shoulders uncontrollably.

His aunt made a resolve to give him more things to think about. Each day, they opened a new volume of the Childcraft series and read sections aloud to each other. It was engrossing and the women and he took an instant liking to it. His aunt considered it an accomplishment. He traced the paisley on his thighs with his fingers incessantly. One evening, the children had been sent outdoors to play as the adults attempted to soothe themselves by watering the garden patch and have conversations of hypocrisy.

He came home to use the toilet. His aunt cautioned him to not take long so that he could   return to his newly-made friends. As he passed the bookshelf in his cousin’s room, he swiftly picked up the volume number five. His heart began to race faster. Would he get scolded for this? He flipped through the book furiously. His anxiety made his throat dry up. He felt a knot in his chest.

And then, he felt a surge of joy seeping in. The drawing on the page was so warm it made his eyes water. The opulence melted him. His mouth slightly open, he finally felt at home. A mother with an exposed breast was feeding her baby. As his eyes caressed the mother’s breast, he saw the most natural paisley in it. He was trembling now. His fingers were blue and cold. He was sobbing and giggling to himself. It baffled him. His fingers traced the breasts again. Exactly like the paisley. He imagined the large voluminous bottom of the paisley akin to the brinjal-like shape of the breasts. Gently, he brought the book closer to his chest. Shivering, he stole a quick glance at the door. His bladder was bloating alarmingly. Gently, he lowered his shirt and replaced his nipples with hers. The baby seemed to suckle onto him most naturally. He decided instantaneously that breasts belonged on his body and so did a baby. He stood with the book to his chest in his cousin’s room.

About the guest author

Tejas Pande