From the small window of the hospital door, I could see mother being electrocuted.
This was the third time in the same month that she’d had to be hospitalised. Since the beginning of the year, hospital visits had become an indispensable part of our lives. But, this does not mean that she was asymptomatic earlier.
Prior to these frequent bouts, there were occasional symptoms.
Earlier, those fears and delusions had seemed more believable and more real. They were a given.
Mother would protect me from ghosts and people who were out there to kill us. We would lock ourselves in our bedroom, especially during the latter half of the day and even the most important of tasks could not persuade us into going out of the prison.
This was not a big situation as this would be the perfect space in which one could read voraciously. Mother would say, “Read and write in the same manner as the freedom-fighters read during their jail terms.”
To my formative mind, her line of reasoning had seemed logical.
Not only did mother protect me from ghosts, but also from Papa. One day as I came back from school, I found my pair of ghungroo* broken into many pieces. Upon asking mother, she told how father had got angry that mother was allowing me too much freedom.
“As a girl of a decent family, you shouldn’t participate in dance.”
I wasn’t particularly upset, as I didn’t place much expectations from father. For me, and with me, he was quite distant. A father who would leave home early in the morning and came home late in the night. So, he was basically a father without much ado.
Few days after this incident when I came back from school, I was really excited that the dance teacher had been happy about my Kathak* training. When I shared this news with mother, she simply made a straight face and looked through me. That expression still haunts me.
My mind was confused at the juncture: who was the bad person- a distant father, or a semi-involved mother. Till date, I have not been able to answer this question.
He left us when I was in grade 7 . To be frank, I was more relieved than disturbed, because the frequent fights between mummy and papa had become exasperating to witness.
“Where is Papa?” I asked her as I came back from school and saw that his stuff and the big trunks were gone.
Mother who sat sewing buttons of her shirts then, said, “Oh don’t bother me Anya! That bastard left me for a prostitute!
I stood there, speechless, numb. “I hate him!” I said as tears formed a knot in my throat.
And, his betrayal sought to reinforce my loyalty towards mummy. I felt that it was my duty to protect her. I felt that I could do so by becoming an important person in the eyes of others, such that no one would dare touch us.
Of course, I was clueless about the importance that I was seeking to establish. In school, the other children- the ones with happy homes (in majority) were able to stand up and tell the world about their fathers’ profession.
“My mother runs a boutique. Err, she is well-known in the area..,” before I could complete the sentence, the whispers of my classmates would numb my brain, and I would start feeling a vacuum in my brain, a sort of brain-fog.
As I moved into higher classes, I started feeling a constant rush- of hormones, acne, and the distortions of the body. I began to hate myself.
I withdrew into a shell.
The good thing at the time was my devouring of books, and the bad thing was the increase in the size of my breasts.
“Look at you, shameless girl! We were so shy! We would keep our chest covered!” mother said, as I changed from my school shirt into a year old t-shirt at home.
I started crying and rushed to the bathroom and changed into one of my mother’s shirts hung on the bathroom door.
I was 11 when puberty hit me.
I remember it so vividly. I was in the restroom when I suddenly noticed blood in my urine.
That the bathroom had a foetid air about it: that it was not only because it resembled a prison cell and she felt like a fettered captive inside, but also because pubescence cobbled its way last month. There she was, in her cubicle bathroom, crouched like a foetus on the brown tiles, as if trying to protect herself from the burning sensation of water stream gushing out of the metallic shower. Within a span of few minutes, the tiles were marked with red and her face drenched in transparent liquid, as water and her tears were mixed to create a bitter taste in her mouth. The rest of the liquid slipped through her body. The residue had a palliative effect on her as she got up, not slowly but with a jerk.
Puberty had struck her at an age when she had inchoate ideas about everything. Not that it strikes other girls differently. She, however thought that it had impinged upon her out of the blue. In her own little world, in which she was the protagonist, she understood puberty differently than her peers. Or may be, she didn’t understand it at all.
The same night I heard a shriek. The shriek that you hear in the middle of the night: the sound that you desperately keep at the periphery of your consciousness, because your mind is busy disentangling the psychedelia that it finds itself trapped in. The exhausted night breeze that met the leaves on its way, irks your skin, and you are terrified of the work it just did, you are scared of the ghosts lurking at your peripheral vision, which is oblivious to the window on your right. You close your eyes tight, and you can’t see the perpetrator of your pain.The eyes won’t be able to block those shrieks, however!
“You’re a whore! Why did you talk to that man?,” papa was screaming.
I could hear mummy shrieking and sobbing.
There was then a slight pause, a cesura before I heard mummy’s moans.
A flicker of light through the window had made its way to me and I tried to concentrate on that, pushing all the distractions into some remote corner of my brain.
Kathak*- a type of Classical Indian dance.
-(To be continued)-