An excerpt from Rajoshri Chakraborti’s latest book Shakti.
A teenager in Calcutta is discovering the full and frightening extent of the power she has recently been granted, and reaches out to an agony column for advice.
It started, for me, with this message three weeks ago, on Independence Day, as a matter of fact: Tuesday the 15th of August.
Sir, a friend told me about your column because I needed some advice. I love the answers with which you help people. But this letter is not for your column. Please, for my safety, do not publish it.
Yet I would dearly love an answer from you.
Sir, my problem is that I can bring about anything I want. And I mean anything.
I began to be aware of it nine days ago, and at first I believed I had become extremely lucky. But this isn’t luck. Now I only feel afraid.
I must sound crazy, first of all for imagining that I can make anything happen, and secondly for not feeling lucky about this. But let me give you an example — the incident that made up my mind to write to you. You will soon see the other reason why this cannot be made public. I behaved like a monster. I would be arrested. What I did was completely wrong, but I only dared to try it because I was so sure it would work.
Because by now I’m sure that I can bring about anything I want.
There is a fifteen-year-old girl who comes after school to help her mother in our house. Her mother does our cooking, cleaning and other housework. We live in a flat on the fifth floor. Yesterday afternoon the girl had come into my room to sweep the floor, and when she was outside on the balcony, I suddenly picked her up, plunged her right down to the ground floor and brought her back up again. All in one movement that took probably thirty seconds, maybe less. And I never moved from my bed. I accomplished all this with my mind, simply because I wanted to. The girl was unhurt, although absolutely terrified.
This is the moment to mention that I too am a fifteen-year-old girl. In fact, I am seven weeks younger than the girl I hurled down and raised up five floors. Of course she has no idea it was me. As I said, I remained throughout on my bed, sitting against the cushions, appearing to chat on my iPad.
I know I sound mad, but if someone had been watching, either on the ground or from another building, or else from a balcony below or above us, they would have seen it all. What I had planned, and then achieved, was like the activity of bungy jumping, only without a rope. Imagine a bungy jump conducted on an unsuspecting person in which they themselves saw nothing yet felt an irresistible force. My mind was that force.
I executed the move perfectly, just as I had come to expect after a week of wielding this gift. I would not have dared to attempt something so risky with someone else if I had not been 100% confident of pulling it off. I repeat, she was unhurt.
But the tears and the terror that overcame her afterwards made a great impact on me. I realised to my shame that I had put two days of planning into the jump, thinking about the right time and the right person, yet at no point had it occurred to me that (for example) this girl might suffer a heart attack. I had been so confident about bringing her back in one piece that I forgot to consider the other effects of the shock. Yesterday afternoon she managed to run back into my room, away from the balcony, and collapsed on the floor. It took twenty minutes for her mother to get a story out of her. I pretended I had seen nothing. In fact I initiated the suggestion, taken up afterwards by everyone except the girl, that it must have been a touch of the afternoon sun. A dizzy spell, I argued, combined with being on the balcony would have felt exactly like falling.
Today of course she has stayed away. Her mother said she didn’t go to school. Neither did I, although I’m in school uniform right now. But I’m in a café writing to you.
If you are almost convinced that I am mad, meet me before you make up your mind. Let me show you what I can do.
How will you reply, Sir? Right now I am dangerous to myself and to others, and I need your help. I don’t recognise the person who planned yesterday’s stunt so methodically and calmly (the entire time, I thought of it as an ‘experiment’ or a ‘test’), and the one thing she failed to see was another girl just like her.
PS: I hope you understand the main reason why it would be so harmful to publish this letter. Can you imagine the flood of people who would try to contact me in the hope of fulfilling their wishes?
My first instinct was naturally to email. I followed my usual practice of suggesting the names of some psychiatrists, trusted people I regularly recommend to correspondents in cases of depression or any possible form of mental ill-health (via private messages, of course; and it’s not what you’re thinking — I get no commission from anyone).
Then I thought just consigning Shivani to the ranks of the unwell would be counter-productive, especially because she had predicted that very reaction. So I added:
‘Look, these are psychiatrists, but here’s a thought. If you can perform any of your feats in their presence, anything at all that would normally be considered impossible, they will be forced to take you seriously, right? In any case, this is my thinking. It’s not because I suspect you’re deluded that I would recommend seeing a doctor. It’s because even if you have the gift you believe you do, your own letter admits that it is taking a severe toll on your mental wellbeing. The idea that you might scare another girl almost to death only occurred to you afterwards: you yourself confess this. A doctor would be able to help with this aspect — how to manage the burden of such an incredible, unique ability.
‘And one more thing, Shivani. Your letter leaves me with the impression that, as of now, even your parents don’t know your enormous secret. Am I right in thinking this? For example, you don’t say whether they guessed that you were behind what happened to the other girl that afternoon. If this is the case, then an even more urgent request from me would be to please tell them! Once again, show them some incredible trick (nothing physically dangerous, though: promise me). The moment your parents realise what you’re going through, it will immediately halve your burden.
‘Stay in touch, okay? Right now my worry is not that you are mistaken. My worry is that you are alone. It must be terrifying to be alone with such powers. You are an amazingly brave person.’
Shivani replied within five minutes.
So quick and forceful were her words that my first reaction was: Young lady, please take over my column.
So all your concern is only from a distance. As long as you can reply by email, you care.
If you knew my parents, if you spent just half an hour in our house, you would take back the suggestion of sharing my secret with them.
And without parents behind me, show me the psychiatrist who would take me seriously.
You know what I thought while reading your reply? Why doesn’t he take the chance? Then I’ll do exactly as he suggests. I’ll perform a (non-dangerous) feat in his presence. Once he believes his own eyes, I will tell him about my parents.
How will it be, Mr Chandra? Are you an amazingly brave person?
Featured image credit: Penguin