Conversations With The Unborn – An Excerpt From I Hear You by Nidhi Upadhayay


Week Seven:

This week your baby is about the size of a small blueberry—around 0.3 inches long. The lenses in the baby’s eyes have begun to form, and the color of the iris is visible. His limbs are sprouting, though at this stage they look more like little paddles than the cute hands and feet you’ll love holding in seven months.

Thirty-three weeks to go!


February 16, 2003

Goodman Road, Singapore

It started with darkness. Not the kind that shades everything into grey, but the kind that robs you of your senses and instils a paralyzing fear—a blackout spell that turns everything non-existent.

“Was I paralyzed? Had someone trapped me in this black hole? How the hell had I ended up someplace so dark and morbid?”


Initially, I thought it was a power outage. But then the darkness lingered, enough to indicate something was wrong. With me. It was my eyelids; they were shut like clams. I tried to peel apart the blindfold if there was any, but my hands ignored all the neurological signals my mind sent. I strained to listen, to catch a drift of this place, but the silence around me hinted that my auditory senses were also compromised. I struggled to break free from the spell that had left me powerless and disoriented, but my physical faculties were undermined by a force unseen. Nevertheless, my brain was working fine, overcompensating, pumping fear and panic into every fiber of my being.


Was I paralyzed? Had someone trapped me in this black hole? How the hell had I ended up someplace so dark and morbid?

I had no freaking idea how or why I’d ended up here. The memories that could lead me to my past were wiped clean, leaving me in the dark.


Shivam Rathod

February 16, 2003

Goodman Road, Singapore


The bedside alarm clanged at 6 a.m. In bed, Mahika stirred and fell back to sleep, pulling the satin sheet over her face but not before Shivam caught a glimpse of her glowing face. The color on her cheeks was returning, growing with light. Shivam studied how precisely the satin sheet outlined her new angular thinness. Before the unbearable thrill of touching her could sublimate his other fears, Mahika began to gently snore.


His aching body was demanding sleep, too. But expecting Mahika to wake up and resume normalcy was like pushing water up a hill. Unwillingly, Shivam dragged his fatigued body out of bed to prepare the meals, scrub the kitchen counter and load the dishwasher. An hour later, he placed a cheese sandwich, a serving of pasta, a tea sachet and a hot kettle on Mahika’s nightstand before going to shower.


Mahika was still asleep when Shivam left the bedroom, wilfully keeping his gaze away from the scattered pillows and unkempt bed. The spick-and-span downstairs—the kitchen, dining and living room—was a welcome sight for his sore eyes. Shivam placed his lunch in his work bag and accomplished the last task on his newly curated to-do list: check all the doors and windows. The new number-lock panel on the main door still had a plastic sheet on it. He fought the compulsive urge to peel it off and punched the numbers into the panel. A three-digit code was all it took to lock his wife in.


Shivam drove to work, beginning his day yet again by counting down the minutes. The same old editing of the genes at the university lab had stopped challenging him. He had to spend another morning in a blur of lab readings, impatiently waiting for the clock to strike noon.


‘Looks like your wife is feeling better now?’ Professor Chua, the head of the department, asked. It was lunchtime, and Shivam had strategically placed his lunch bag on his desk. I brought my lunch was the politest way to decline the lunch invites that his team frequently extended to him. Today, Professor Chua noticed the tiny sandwich box that had replaced his usual lunch bag. A plain cheese sandwich was no match for the condiment-loaded meal Mahika would’ve packed. However, it had served its purpose. Shivam had more important things to do than discuss politics and sports over a meal at the food court.



He speedily finished the sandwich and drove to the clinic, his attention shifting between the rear-view mirror and the road ahead. The only thing driving along with him was the feeling of being followed. This suspicion has been gnawing at him for a couple of weeks now, making him turn his head back now and then. If this continued any longer, this neck movement would be permanently coded in his DNA as an extra chromosome.



Shivam steered the car into the clinic’s basement. The relatively uncrowded car park brought a trickle of relief. He parked his car closest to the stairway door and waited for the only people in the car park—the pregnant woman and her husband—to walk back to their car. He beelined to the stairway door, hastily unlocked it, rushed in and hissed out a slow, steady stream of breath. But walking down the dust-laden staircase felt as dangerous as being spotted in the carpark. Keep walking, he told himself.


The excitement Shivam had felt the entire morning reached its peak as he unlocked the expansive steel door at the stairway’s landing. But then the eerie silence in the lab made his heart flip.

Shivam pushed away his sense of foreboding, put on his scrubs and lathered his hands with an alcohol rub. The minor knife cuts on his fingers came to life with the sting of the astringent, making him edgier.



The infant in the cage looked like a lifeless stuffed animal. Shivam slid his hand between the bars and checked the infant’s pulse. Nothing. His heartbeat was absent too. Shivam studied the log sheet clipped to the cage. He had been fed two hours ago, and his vitals had been recorded an hour ago. What had gone wrong?

‘I’ve put him to sleep. His inane blabbering was too loud,’ Dr Steven said as he walked in. Dr Steven pulled the infant chimp from its cage and dumped it into an orange biological waste bag. He placed the bag near the bin and asked, ‘How’s your wife doing?’

His pager started beeping.


‘I’ve got to go. I’ll clear the cage later. We need more counter space for the new incubators.’ Dr Steven flashed a smile that accentuated his blue eyes and rushed out of the lab. Shivam stayed back in the lab to grieve for the chimp, but his mind yet again steered to places it shouldn’t have gone to.



What if Dr Steven decided to view every sample through the same lens?

Shivam rushed out before the lab’s silence could drag him further down. He peered through the narrow opening in the stairway door, quickly stepped out and locked the door behind him. He took a moment to catch his breath, as no one was in the car park. But then he saw his car trunk partially open, which punched all the air out of his lungs.


Shivam examined the boot. Someone had meddled with the order of his cleaning supplies in the caddy tucked in a corner. He restored their order and checked his glove compartment. Someone had meddled with his tissue packets and wet wipes. He was about to check the car papers tucked under the shotgun seat when a tattered piece of paper stuck to the dashboard caught his attention. He peeled it off, reading the note scribbled on it.

Hide and seek part 1: I found your lab.


Mahika Rathod

February 16, 2003

Goodman Road, Singapore


Mahika opened her eyes, and a tear rolled down her cheek. It had been trapped behind her eyelid like a bee accidentally trapped in a flower for a night, waiting for the first ray of light to free it. She brushed away the tear and drummed up her courage to start afresh. The receding sound of Shivam’s footsteps and the gentle thud of the washroom door had been a signal for Mahika to open her eyes. But in her bed, under this duvet, was her safe haven. Safer than her husband’s embrace, which she had rarely received in the last couple of years.


While Shivam cooked and cleaned, Mahika pretended to sleep until sleep did overcome her, monopolizing all her aches, yet again blurring the boundaries of day and night. Hours later, Mahika woke up to her stomach rumbling, and she wolfed down the meticulously packed meals on her nightstand. The fluorescent pink Post-its that labelled them as breakfast and lunch bore no significance to her. Although now that she’d devoured them as a single meal, a strong wave of queasiness threatened to bring everything up. And with that, she began her quest to survive another day.


Excerpted with permission from I Hear You by Nidhi Upadhyay

Publishing/ Penguin Random House India (2023)

You can buy your copy here.



Nidhi, a bestselling author renowned for “That Night,” her debut work published by Penguin Random House India and Penguin Southeast Asia in April 2021. The title achieved national bestseller status in just eight months, with over fifty thousand copies sold, still maintaining its position as the number one horror bestseller on Amazon.

Recently, Nidhi unveiled her second enthralling novel, “I Hear You,” seamlessly blending domestic noir with a touch of science fiction. In a remarkable feat, “I Hear You” surpassed ten thousand copies sold within a short span of four months. Acknowledged by the National Art Council of Singapore, Nidhi secured a grant for both “That Night” and “I Hear You.” Beyond her literary endeavours, she showcased her versatility in “Shankh-Naad,” a captivating play featured in the multicultural theatre festival “DASTAK 2021” in Singapore.