End game

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on March 10, 2018 Published on April 07, 2017


For the past 18 months, I’ve been working on an illustrated book. Throughout this period I’ve been telling my very patient editor in Chennai that I’m almost done. Just one more week. Except for my Sukiyaki deadline. And then there’s the trip to the hills. Okay, so maybe one more month ...

On and on, for a year and a half. But now I really am at the end. All the drawings are complete except for very tiny details. A hand here, a foot there. One character has silver bangles on page six and zero bangles on the following page. The cat’s whiskers are missing on page 10. The Taj Mahal, which appears in the book, needs a little extra white on page 15. It’s small stuff, I tell my editor, it’ll be done. Really and truly. I promise. I swear on my MacBook. This is the final week.

Just then, as I’m dreaming of next Saturday or maybe Sunday morning, when the book will be complete, Bins shows me a game he’s downloaded on his phone. “It’s called KAMI 2,” he says. “Extremely easy. But wait! You’re too busy, right? Look away!” Too late: I am hooked. Brain-dead-with-a-bullet-in-my-tonsils-hooked. A pattern of coloured paper triangles appears on the screen. Clicking on one of the triangles causes it to change colour. The aim is to change all the triangles until only a field of solid colour remains, in the least number of attempts.

“Stop playing!” Bins says to me, using his Mortal Kombat voice. But nothing can cut through the thick fog in my mind. All I can see are little coloured triangles that look like folded origami paper. All I can think of is how to get the colours to flip. “What’s the matter with you?” Bins wants to know. “Why can’t you just enjoy the thing for five minutes and go back to your work?” I can’t answer because I am sure that I can complete all the puzzles on this page, thereby unlocking the next level.

The triangles have evolved into hexagons and parallelograms. The range of colours has increased from yellow ochre, wine red and indigo to include sky blue and sea green. I no longer sleep or bathe, because I use that time to work on my illustrations. At all other times, I play the game. Bins munches in sorry silence, surviving on bagels and packets of Italian bean soup. I snack on tortilla chips, fresh air and coffee.

“When will this end?” Bins wails plaintively. He has no one to blame since he’s the one who introduced me to the game. “When I’ve run out puzzles to solve,” I say tersely, as I flip a saffron pyramid to petal pink. Alas! A turquoise blue rhombus remains stubbornly in view. I start again. Bins says, “Supposing I grab your iPad away from you and smash it into little bits? Then you’ll have to stop, won’t you?” “Hush,” I say. “I see a brown chevron that’s just dying to become a green bar except for the black triangle in its path.”

“Supposing there’s an earthquake or a nuclear war? Then will you stop?” asks Bins. But an orange zigzag has snagged my attention. Sounds fade away. I am lost to the world.

Manjula Padmanabhan , author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

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Published on April 07, 2017
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