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Archana Nair
The Evil Eye
Archana Nair

“Sandhya, your father is saying that your planets are not aligned this month.”

I don’t need my father’s calculations on planet positions to tell me that times are not good. I am working late nights and weekends. Somedays, I forget to eat. In the three months that I have moved to Bangalore, I have lost seven kilos.
“Yes Amma, I am being careful,” I tell my mother.
“Did you go to the temple?”
“Yes, every Saturday.”

This is the first Sunday in a long time that I am not working because my manager is on leave. I am cleaning my room as I speak to Amma on the phone.

“Sandhya, come home next month. Your father came up with the muhurtam for your cousin’s wedding. It’s twelfth of next month.”
“Amma, I can’t take leaves, you know that.”
“Guruvayurappa! Your cousin’s wedding this is, Sandhya…”

Amma goes on a rant about my cousin, while I am putting the dirty clothes in the washing machine. After that, I walk to the balcony and stretch my legs. There is a slight breeze and I am grateful for the chilly Bangalore weather, I don’t miss the Kochi heat at all. My house lies in the heart of a residential colony and there are four parks nearby, where old people sit, gossip and sometimes walk. On the days I walk to the office, I pass through the streets strewn with pink flowers. But I dearly miss Amma. Especially the evenings after work that we spent together in the living room, watching TV with her evening prayers.
Krishna krishna mukunda janardhana…look at her blouse, so shameless…krishna govindha narayana hare…Sandhya, stop tapping your feet…achudanada govindha

These days, it’s ten in the night by the time I finish work. I come home to a quiet apartment and sleep without even changing my clothes. I put Amma on loudspeaker and switch to Bumble. I have a list of fifty-two matches and the sheer number makes me feel guilty, like I am hiding things from Amma. There is one in that list whom I like a lot, but he is a north Indian. We have been chatting back and forth for a month now. I know there is no point in talking to him, but the pointlessness is exciting.

“How’s your weekend?” I type.

Weekends are when we chat the most, other days he sends me photos of dogs.

“Sandhya, is my network bad?” My mother’s voice booms from my phone.
“I can hear you Amma.”
“Listen, this house, did you fix the direction of your bed?”
“I checked it, I can’t move it Amma.”
“Look at the state you are in, hardly eating, how will you move a bed?”

The day I moved into the house, my father complained that nothing was pointing in the right direction. The balcony was built the wrong way, the kitchen door opened incorrectly, and the bed was pointing in the opposite direction. He warned me that nothing good would come out of living here.
I took it as his way of saying he would miss me.

“Where is that girl, your roommate?”
“Naina? She is at her boyfriend’s house.”

It’s Naina’s father’s apartment that I live in. He consults my father for everything in life, and this apartment is a charity case for him where he is allowing me to stay rent-free with his daughter, while the rest of his family is in Dubai.

“Her father has just requested for a special pooja to correct her horoscope and look at her. Boyfriends and all.” Amma says.
“Everyone here has one Amma. Don’t worry, I don’t.” I add before she asks.
“Sandhya, I think you should move out.”
“You know what I get paid, I can’t afford a house in Bangalore.”
“I will pay, take my gold, mortgage it, do whatever but get out of there.”

I calm her down and cut the call. The pizza I ordered twenty minutes ago is at the door. When I open the door, both Naina and the pizza delivery guy are waiting for me.

“You are ordering pizza every weekend, how unhealthy.” She walks past me and I receive my order quietly.
“How come you are not working today?” Naina asks. She is in a chatty mood. I slowly walk towards my room, answering her, “Oh, just got a peaceful Sunday.”
She follows me to my room. “Oh, good you cleaned.”

She looks at all my things and walks up to my plants, “Is this new?” She touches the leaves and bends over to smell them. I grunt unhappily.
“I had the greatest night with my boyfriend last night,” she says.

She is short but talks with the confidence of a very tall woman. Her hair is short and straight, and she is always wearing short dresses and big heels. Her tiny hands reach into my pizza box and take a slice.

“He is going to Delhi for a while. I am going to miss him so much. Yesterday night we got drunk and danced the whole night.”

As she dumps me with information about her boyfriend, she removes her heels and massages her feet. She puts her feet on my bed and looks at me like we are best friends.
“I wrote him a letter; he was so surprised. It was a lovely night,” she says.

I can’t meet her eyes as her neck has an array of marks that make me blush. I can’t imagine being kissed this passionately.
I switch back to Bumble, there is a message waiting for me. “I would love to meet you.”

Meeting him makes this Bumble game real and that feels like a noose tightening. But then I look at the marks on Naina’s neck, and a weird thought kicks in my tummy.
“Wednesday, 9 pm, Cafe Rendezvous.” I type.
I stare at his photo for some time. He is very handsome. I am sure he will mock my Malayali accent. I can’t imagine dining with him in a fancy restaurant.

“Sandhya, is that Bumble?” Naina lunges for my phone, but I lock the phone instantly.
“It’s not.”
“Show me. Show me, right now.”

There is no way I am showing this to her. I am shaking a little that she has found something about me that she will tell everyone.

“Does your father know?” She asks.

She has an evil grin across her face, that makes me take a huge gulp. “It’s not Bumble,” I say.


Wednesday is an important day, after three years of busting my ass at work, I am finally getting a promotion. Since they were downsizing during Covid, I had to take a pay cut and do the work of three people. I am also excited about the date I have.

I wear my lucky sky-blue kurta and jeans. I open my jewellery box, take out my golden hoop earrings and don them. The flats are also blue and go with my whole look.

“Krishnaa…,” I call my gods, “let this day be perfect. I swear I will do a Nirmalayam at Guruvayur.”

More than anything, I have to make sure I don’t see Naina today. She has always been unlucky for me. Amma has given me clear instructions on how to wake up today (from the right side), how to bathe today (hair wash, no shampoo), what prayers to say (Vishnu Sahasranamam), and how to step into the office (right feet first). I say a final prayer and get out of the house. I don’t wait for the lift and take the stairs. The moment I reach downstairs, I see Naina coming back from a run.

“Wow Sandhya, is that gold?”
She touches my earrings and I force a smile back.
“I just came back from a run, you should also exercise sometimes.”
I walk past her and out of the building.
“Looking good yeah, important day huh or is it a Bumble date?” Naina shouts.

The auto stand near our house is just a few meters away, and I can walk to it blindfolded any day but today the moment I step out of the building, a cycle jams into my behind and I fall on my knees.

“So sorry Aunty, sorry.”
“Can’t see or what?” I shout at a ten-year-old kid.
“Aunty sorry, I was looking elsewhere, sorry Aunty.”
“Stop calling me Aunty.”

I limp to the auto stand, hearing the last of the ‘sorry aunty’ in the background, and grab the first auto. “Brigade Tech Park, na madam?”

I have scraped both my knees and there’s some blood. It’s stinging, I hold back my tears. The mascara is not waterproof so I have to be careful. Amma had told me to stay away from Naina, all her predictions were coming true.

“No let’s go to the Ganesha temple once, it’s an important day.”
“Madam, that will be 100 rupees extra, madam.”


“Sandhya, first of all, I have to tell you, you are the most hardworking employee we have,” my manager says.

My palms are sweaty in my lap. I wipe them on my kurta and mutter an inaudible thanks.

“Second of all, this promotion is long due. I wanted to do this last year itself, but COVID was brutal. You know it, you know what’s happening inside and you know what they are talking about us outside.”

I brace myself for the bad news. Amma is right, I should have vacated the house. My heart sinks at the idea of searching for another job.

“Everybody is against any kind of promotions this year as well. I know you have outdone yourself. You were the first one to report to the office when we stopped work-from-home. I hope the move to Bangalore was smooth. I am sorry we had to close the Kochi office.”
“It was no problem.” My voice is croaky, I am going to cry.
“So, I have fought with everyone and decided to promote you.”

The tears were for another outcome, but they spill nonetheless. My manager sits slightly stunned and passes me tissues. I am glad we are in his cubicle and no one can see my fat tears. I want to call Amma who has done three pushpanjalis at different temples today. It was all because of her that I could escape the evil eye.

“There is one more thing I need to tell you before we close this discussion, the promotion doesn’t come with a raise, Sandhya.”
“I am sorry Sandhya, it will take us a few years to get back on our feet. Next year, I promise you, there will be a raise.”


“What do you mean no money? Then what does the promotion mean?” Amma is angrier than I imagined.
“It’s like a designation change and some more responsibilities.”
“More work? Guruvayurappa! when do you have time to pick more work?”
“I don’t know Amma, I feel so lost.”
“Did you see that witch’s face in the morning? Did you not do the things I asked you to do?” She asks.
“I did everything.”
“You must move out of that house, take my gold.”
“Amma, stop it.”

Amma is right about bad times, I feel like there is a dark cloud sitting over my head. My knees hurt from the fall in the morning and my headaches from the conversation with my manager.

“Sandhya, what is Bumble?” Amma asks suddenly. I stop in my tracks and try to find my voice.
“Nothing, why, what Bumble?”
“Oh, your father was saying something yesterday that I didn’t quite understand. Listen you relax today, we will talk later.”

I grow so mad that I am not able to focus on all the congratulations sitting in my email inbox.
My phone dings. It’s Bumble.
“I hope you are coming tonight.”
“Can we meet early?” I reply.


Cafe Rendezvous is quieter than I imagined it to be. It’s a small cafe and two girls are sitting in the corner, other than us. They are just scrolling through their phones without a word to each other, and I am worried that they can hear us.

“So, tell me something about you,” he says.

I am afraid if I talk too much, I will spoil this. All my anger dissolved when I saw his face. He is so real, nothing like the two-dimensional photos I stared at for the whole week. His lips move when he smiles, his eyes slit when he laughs and he also has a hint of a dimple on the left cheek.

“I don’t know what to say,” I say.
“Okay, uh, I got promoted today.”
“Congratulations, where do you work?”
“Nothing big, a small firm.” I bite the straw of my cold coffee.
“Why so mysterious, I hope you are not a serial killer.”
“Yes, I just got promoted at that but without a raise.”
“Ah, murder business has been on the decline.”
“Covid, you know.”

He is smiling, I am smiling, he looks away, I look away. It’s been like this for an hour, both of us are too shy to look at each other for more than a minute. When the bill comes, he refuses to split.

“I will walk you home.”

As we are walking, we are smiling again. We don’t talk much, but the same things catch our eyes — a supermarket, an ironing shop, a big tree full of red flowers. Suddenly he pulls me closer behind the big tree. I panic and look around, there is no one on the street.

“Relax,” he whispers.

I try to but I can’t. My eyes are darting everywhere. It’s too dark and it’s too quiet. I am surprised that Naina’s face pops into my mind. I remember the hickeys on her neck, I also want them, but I can’t bring myself up to it. He puts his hand on my shoulder to calm me down, but I can’t stop fidgeting.

“Okay, Okay,” he takes a step back, with both his hands raised and I look down, ashamed. I bite my lip, frustrated.
He takes my hand and we walk on.

“You are a little old school, aren’t you?” He asks me.
I smile and look away.
“I like it, I like you.”

He is being nice, but I can’t even say it back. Damn Naina, she is still in my head, rolling her big eyes at me. I need to get away from her. My father’s words about heavy doshas that cast a shadow on your planet come to mind, nothing can be done till the positions change, and the planets move.

“You live in this building?” He asks as we turn a corner.

I am upset and relieved that we have come to the end of our walk. I nod.

“Are you sure?” He asks in a small voice.

Suddenly his palms are sweaty as we near my apartment. He stops and looks at me restlessly. His cute face is scared, all the shyness and smiles have washed away. He is staring at a spot near the elevator.

“Anything the matter?” I ask him. I follow his eyes to find Naina standing by the elevator. She turns at my voice.
“Manav? Have you come back from Delhi early?”

She is asking him the question but searches my face for the answer. She looks at our hands and her eyes fill with rage. She slowly walks towards us, as Manav withdraws his hands and wipes his sweaty hands on his sleeve. I stay still.

“Manav, what’s this?” She asks again.

There is shock and anger on her face, but mostly it’s my shadow that covers half her tiny stature that catches my attention. I must move.



Issue 114 (Mar-Apr 2024)

    • Annapurna Sharma: Editorial Musings
    • Archana Nair: The Evil Eye
    • Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay: Crowd
    • Emanul Haque: Wind! Wind! (Translated by Ketaki Datta)
    • Meenakshi Gogoi: Monsoon Flood
    • Padmaja Sriram: The New Bride
    • Payal Priya: A Family Reunion
    • Suzanne: Grown-ups