On this cold afternoon, C, the city without daylight, shines like black satin under a benevolent moon. It is murky, but the trees on either side of the road seem to rejoice in their shadows. The branches quiver like wrinkled, bony fingers. Unaccustomed to what winter does to trees in this part of
the world, I think of home, my C, where the trees are a lush green all year round.

Every now and then, there is evidence of life. Two residents of C walk with their dogs, while another rides a bicycle. There are wood pigeons cooing incessantly. They sound very different from the pigeons back home. Melancholic and mournful, their cries punctuate the air. Curious about life without daylight, I wonder what night would be like.

When it was time to choose which city I’d go to for my writing sabbatical, I didn’t have to think twice. Cimmerian as crow feathers, stark and sunless, C stood there, a beckoning crescent moon with its shadowy secrets and allure.

A city, dark and dusky as the bark of a neem tree. A city where day is as promising as night, with all its mystical blackness, this is where I will work on my book. I’d waited far too long for this. And now I’m here.

I walk, suitcases rattling behind me, with the smells of economy class travel. I’m eager to find my flat on the university campus, the flat that will be my universe for the next few months.

I reach the apartment building and confirm the address – 60 C, Pickle Wood. I remember the first time I saw the address in an email from the building manager. In an otherwise matter-of-fact note, this was one thing that made the place instantly inviting.

My mouth waters when I think about the Pickle Wood I would inhabit. And my tongue conjures up the salty sourness of mango, lime, and gooseberries. Pickle Wood. Piquant, warm, and spicy.

Inside the building, a picture of TS Eliot hangs like a lazy spider web overlooking the stairway.

‘If you aren’t in over your head,
how do you know how tall you are?

says a plaque next to it. For the next several months, I would pass by these words every day. Sometimes in awe of the genius. Sometimes in hurt.

‘If you aren’t in over your head,
how do you know how tall you are?’

How easy for him to have said it. I’ve always had a taste for being in over my head. I had outgrown myself already. So, his challenge seems kind of pointless. Still, I accept it. Little do I know that those words would surround me like ants, for years on end.

A pigeon cry startles me out of my thoughts, and I carry my suitcases up the stairs.

On the second floor, the corridor is a narrow, windowless, capsule that responds to my footsteps. With each step, a light comes on, waking up the walls, the floor, and the flies. I’m happy there are flies. Usually, they are condemned to spend their lives in less fortunate climes. But here they are, large
and present as life itself.

I open the door to my flat. My fingers stumble across the wall, searching for the switches, when I realize the light is indifferent to my footsteps.

The room is a far cry from the warmth of Pickle Wood. It is sterile and white like a hospital ward. A single, large lamp lights up the apartment, filling it with white light.

It is a Cyclops and my eyes feel powerless and small in its presence. It will, for the next many nights, be witness to so many words. In a few minutes, everything seems adequate and suddenly spacious. I like my room.

What kindles this unexpected burst of affection is a large glass window. It offers a view of little cottages, the road, and the woods in the far distance. Again, I see the quivering treetops. This time, they seem closer. It’s close to 6 p.m. now. There’s no sunset in C, I remember. How would it be to breathe, eat, and sleep in the sunless air? How does it feel to have no sun? They say the sun makes you happier and your spirit lighter. In its absence, how much harder would the moon have to
work to nourish life here?

I remember his words, like I remember everything about him: ‘Go out in the sun as much as possible. It is good for you.’ He was light and bright as the sun, with a smile that was arrogant yet generous. A smile he lent readily to anybody he met. A kind of perpetual resplendence that never tired him. I remember how he wants me to be happy.

Whatever he told me made sense. It was to make me healthier and calm my mind. He was the father I wished I’d had. The lover he is. The husband he could’ve been. The father of my unborn children. We were partners, friends, hopelessly in love, bound by our fate, trapped in other commitments. But in this solitude, I was free to spend unfettered time with him, if he were to join me in C. He was patient as a tree, unshaken by my tumultuous spirit, protecting the wilderness of my mind, which swung to extremes. So, his prescription that I go out in the sun made sense.

Yet, despite the absence of the sun, I feel safe. The night is where I belong. In its dark alleyways and invisible hideouts.

I remember ‘Vasilisa the Beautiful’, that Russian folk tale I used to read as a child. I recall the page showing a glorious horseman clad in black, riding his black horse, heralding the night, spreading terror as darkness fell. And as night fell, the witch’s skulls would keep watch over Vasilisa. Their glowing eyes would light up the night. How spellbound I was by that page. The horseman in white, welcoming dawn, was not half as arresting as the other one. A scene from that story always
remained with me: how Vasilisa the beautiful found her way through the dark woods — the sky painted black on the pages of the book, the trees grey and shivery-thin at night, half lit by the slice of a green moon.

Day is mundane. Daylight is too bright.

I think of all the times the word, ‘night’ has appeared in my writing. It has lent its wondrous onyx-laced shades to the metaphors and images I have laboured over: the sounds, birds, hisses, animals, and chills. Life and the lack of it. Silence and sleep. They were all there.


Green night, blue night, blue-black night. It is all I need. Where all my fears come alive and dance away the false hopes the world tries to inject into me.

When he tells me to be in the sun, he wishes for its rays to reach somewhere deep within me. He hopes I will be happy. Poor man. I cannot fault him for being that naïve.

I told him once that I seek the dark to stay above the water. He brushed it off as my melancholic drama and just told me I’m amazing. He often does that.

Night gives me wings, the promise of pills, possibilities, and nightmares. I may be better off without the sun.

Eager to feel night on my skin, I open the window. It gives only by a few inches, but enough to let a strong gust of wind come in to sing. Tonight, I will need my pills.


Excerpt with permission from C: A Novel, Anupama Raju, Aleph Book Company.