— Rahul Dandekar
The setting is a medium-sized room with a wooden cupboard, a writing desk with a laptop and quite a few papers and books lying on it, and a bed on which Rahul sleeps shiftily, uneasily. The room is bathed in a shade of bright green from a lamp. The windows show morning shining dimly outside, though, and the clock had just passed seven o’ clock.
Suddenly offscreen, offstage, a faint ringing sound is heard, as if from a phone. It continues unabated for a while, during which Rahul gets increasingly shifty and finally wakes up. Then he sits upright on his bed – no it’s not the cellphone – then, legs over the edge of the bed, slides slowly outwards and reluctantly gets up. Looks out the window, gauges the direction of the ringing with his ears, goes out to look for it, but returns disappointed. Sits down and tries to cover his ears, but grimaces as the ringing continues. Displays a general annoyance at life, and shakes a fist at God.
I’d say he was coping well – I would’ve jumped out the window. A ringing phone might be one of the most annoying objects in the universe. If a cellphone with an absconding owner rings in my office, I compulsively go and pick it up, though I hang up immediately since I don’t know what the hell to say. Unless it’s a wrong number, in which case I say ‘wrong number’ and they call back after two minutes. The point being, the ringing irritated Rahul as much as it irritates me. And it is going to <rrriinng!> throughout the screenplay, so sorry about that. But Rahul better get out of there and go to his workplace.
The scene cuts to him sitting in his office. The office consists of about five or six oddly-placed, disjoint, cubicles, each occupied by a more-or-less smartly dressed person. Rahul would be one of the ‘less’ today. The persistent phone is still uncomfortably offstage, like a lighthouse beacon missing its mark. <rrring!!> Rahul’s head is lowered with his hands over his ears in an effort to block the ringing, probably for some time now. He suddenly raises his head, turns to Kushal on the neighbouring desk and asks, “Do you hear a… ringing?”
Rahul: A ringing. A phone ringing, I mean. It’s somewhere here, but I can’t place it. Although it might not even exist.
Kushal: Nope. Um… Are you okay?
Rahul: Not at all.
Kushal turns back towards his computer. Rahul’s head slumps in his chair. Voiceover: “No, it has to be audible to somebody!” He gets up from his chair as if summoning everyone’s attention, and all the others turn towards him and shake their heads in denial. “Dammit!” says the voiceover, and Rahul takes his bag <rrriinng!> and leaves the office, leaving everybody to look at each other in wonder, and then go back to work, or whatever it was they were doing.
Night. Rahul’s bedroom. The offscreen phone is still alive and kicking and Rahul lies with a pillow over his head, sobbing. Suddenly: ‘Riing!’ Rahul gives a shriek, but it’s his mobile this time. Exact same tone. He looks at the mobile screen for a whole minute and then picks it up, his voice trying to feign stability. “Hi, Mom.”
Mother: Rahul… Are you sick? Where are you?
The ‘where are you?’s are always bit irritating. And constant. Like that offscreen phone, eh. Which is NOT a metaphor for them.
Rahul: I was just trying to sleep. And I’m in my room! Where will I be at this time of night?
Mother: It’s 6 o clock in the evening, Rahul. Are you okay, dear?
Rahul: Nothing, nothing, just feeling a bit… feverish.
Mother: Take care of yourself. Take some Crocin, and…
Urgh. I have no wish to continue this conversation. She will talk for five minutes giving him detailed instructions on avoiding everything from flu to the bubonic plague and then spend five more confirming that he understood all of them.
A psychiatrist’s office, with Rahul cowering in a chair opposite the shrink. The office is small, and on the desk are an appointment book, a few notepads, and a glistening gold nameplate with the name ‘Dr. Kumar Galota’ on it. The RRIINGing gets even louder as the scene progresses, and, somehow, more frequent.
Shrink: You do realise it is imaginary, don’t you, Mr. Kamath?
Rahul: Make it go away. The ringing is clawing at my brain. Bits of it might have fallen off by now.
Detective Galota: There must be some reason for such a sudden onset. Did anything happen the day before?
Rahul: Nothing. In fact, that’s actually the case. Nothing is happening in my life.
Shrink: The ringing should go away soon enough, then. I can’t imagine that it’s a great hassle.
Rahul: No great hassle? Yeah, sure. The bright side. Atleast I haven’t turned into a cockroach or anything. But every damned time I hear the ring my subconscious thinks Shasha’s calling.
Detective Galota: Shasha?
Rahul: Manisha Shah. My ex-girlfriend. She stopped calling me a few weeks back. Since then I’ve been slightly depressed. But nothing to go mad about, I thought.
Poirot: Hmm. I zee.
Rahul: I have been wanting her to call me. Not to get back together. No, I’m pretty sure that’s not it. But I have to tell her about lots of little things that… (pause)
Rahul: Matter. Never mind. Just give me some damn pills.
The lights are turned off. Rahul is lying on his bed and has covered his whole body with a shawl, in a way slightly reminiscent of a corpse. The RIINGs are louder than ever. Almost, frighteningly real. Monologue, with slight subconscious pauses every time the phone rings, and slightly longer pauses every time it seems to take longer than usual between rings.
“I just can’t bring myself to kill myself. The thought itself scares me. But this ringing is not doing wonders for my mental health. I feel as if I might snap any moment now.
“Will this ringing stop after I die, or will it follow me to the afterlife?
“Don’t be silly. It might just be Shasha, like the doctor says. But why did the ringing not start before, then? Has something in me snapped already? Maybe I should’ve brought matters to a proper conclusion with her. Hello, Shasha, let’s have a nice post-break-up chat. Settle things. I’m sorry I said that thing when we went to Dominos. I’m sorry I joked about that song you liked. Not because it would change anything. Just because such memories are eating up all the other, better ones.
“The ringing, ringing, ringing, is eating up all else.
“But, of course, she hasn’t called either. She never did anything wrong, she thinks. Or she tells him every little thought now.
“Is there any trace of continuity in my thoughts?
“It’s this damned ringing. My thoughts, memories jump at every offstage ring. This ringing is teasing me by being slightly offstage. Off bounds. Off colour. But only slightly. So very slightly. The ringing is tormenting me because it might not be real. Only might.”
RRRING. That last one seemed so close that a chill goes up Rahul’s spine – he flings off his blanket hastily, and sits up, listening. It is coming from under his bed.
He stoops and looks below the bed, and takes a white landline phone out from under it, though of course this particular one isn’t connected to any line. He puts it on his bed, sits listening, wondering what to do. Finally, he picks it up, doing so quickly before his resolve wanes. But there is just silence. A tormenting silence, since the rings have ceased.
The phone says nothing, and neither does Rahul. He starts to put it down, but he cannot, and stops in mid-motion. After a second or two, he puts the receiver to his ear again and speaks into it.
“I guess I have nothing to say too.”
The receiver goes back on the cradle. Fade to black.