Silence of the jackals: How the darkness quelled the blackness in my loneliness

Shashank Gupta
Shashank GuptaMay 25, 2021 | 12:57

Silence of the jackals: How the darkness quelled the blackness in my loneliness

When you are in your mid-twenties and your loneliness is the deepest of the darkest, you run away from home for a purpose

Sometimes farm life can be so quiet, it hurts. If you know how to get drunk and gamble or take a tumble in the straw-pile with dubious intent, you can take care of that dark haunted well within. But if you are into books and the finer arts, you’ve had it. Farmers are the last animals under the firmament who read. They don’t sit and talk films, they just watch, laugh and forget the cheap cinema they watch. So, if you are a son of the soil who was sent to good schools in the hills like I was, you’ve really had it. You wouldn’t find a soul even amongst the better richer farming families who will own a book that you can borrow. You do your usual hahahoho with people you bump into, but you want to get over the talk of germination, pollination and local politics and move on to a conversation with yourself and the Saul Bellows of the world.


My brother is a doctor. We lived a mile apart. He once said something I can’t forget. He said sometimes this clean air and simple pure life can get on your nerves. That I found was true. It’s like mothers telling their errant daughters ‘don’t laugh so much, you will cry’. Those in the city cry so much that they think life on the farm is to die for. Visiting for a week or ten days is fine, try staying for a year and you will definitely drown in the dark haunted well.

You are treated to a stillness you can’t describe. That is the signal for jackals to howl. (Wikimedia Commons)

Dawn on the farm is indeed beautiful especially when the sun is preparing to peep over the distant hills. There is dew and there is the chatter of birds. Dusk is lovely too with birds returning to their homes in airplane formations. The aroma of straw and wet soil and freshly cut fodder and wood fire is amplified, and so is the colour in the sky. You can just sit and gaze at the ever-changing palette above you. It is at one point then when someone comes and pinches your soul. Your heart sinks as does the last bit of the sun. The birds suddenly go absolutely silent. Apart from someone calling out to someone or the splash of water gushing from a tube well, you are treated to a stillness you can’t describe. That is the signal for jackals to howl. Hundreds of those beasts cry out. The workers and the landowners must raise a cup of spirit, good or evil, to their lips just then.


For me, that moment of the jackals stayed a while longer and stretched to a couple of months the year when I touched twenty-five. At an age when I should have been hanging out with reckless young wasters, I went about like death. I answered in grunts and demanded work sullenly. The joy of watching crops grow was gone. I empathised with the dark force that stalked women in unlit alleys of medieval London. The ink filling my arteries was no longer maroon, it was blue. My father asked what the matter was, I had no idea. I did have an unfulfilled desire.

I packed a bag and left the house saying I’d be back the next morning. No one asked questions. The look in my eyes probably told them not to mess with the devil. The bus was an old noisy tin but I loved it. The song on the radio was crude, but it made my heart beat. The singer was asking another woman what it was she hid in her blouse, and I thought it was beautiful. At the Delhi border, they checked for terrorists and I was the only one in the bus who was patted down twice since, I guess, I’d started keeping a beard and wore the look of utter disdain. I grinned defiantly at the policemen who suspected me all the more.


The thick vile air of Delhi filled my lungs. I took deep breaths of carbon monoxide spiked with sulphur. A new energy coursed through me. My eyes did smart and water but that too was great. I headed for my destination in an overcrowded bus, quite like an asphyxiation tent. The temple, my sacrificial altar, looked grand. A poster as big as a small house announced what I’d come to watch after travelling for eight hours and three hundred miles: the first in the series of FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH. My big inexplicable desire was to watch a horror movie with fake blood, exaggerated music and gut-wrenching camera dives. I can’t tell what pleasure and relief I felt in the theatre of doom. Like fire eats fire, the darkness quelled the blackness in my loneliness. My muscles relaxed, my ribs stopped hurting and my eyes welled up with moisture as if it was something deeply emotional I watched. Why they make stupid films I did understand that day.

I reached home at dawn. The kitchen door had been left open by my father. He was making tea. The only thing he asked me very casually was if I wanted any, as if he knew where I’d been, in the spiritual sense.

“Yes”, I smiled.

Last updated: May 25, 2021 | 12:57
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