Monday, June 25

Storm Under the Calm River - 3

You can read the First and Second part here.

As I walk back home, two neighbors pass me. One looks at me and whispers something to the other. I overhear the words ‘poor parents’ and ‘mad’.  If only words could explain the rage that passes through me. It always infuriates me – being a loner and seeing a psychiatrist doesn’t mean I am mad. And I am never able to control my anger in such a situation. I hardly ever get angry, but this makes me lose my cool. Sanchit should know about this all right. After all, he died because of this, didn’t he? My evil face, which remains hidden all the time, erupts again, and, with relish, I muse over how he died.

I have reached home. Ma looks up from her work, but something in my face stops her from saying anything. I walk up to the mirror, and I understand why. My eyes have a nasty glint; I look menacing, even to myself. I wonder if Ma could see the blood on my hands too. I rest my forehead on the cool mirror surface. I decide to end it once and for all. I plan. Somehow planning my own death gave me intense peace of mind these days. An overdose of sleeping pills, lots of sleep, and never waking up again. How tranquil would that be! But I don’t get the perfect chance. I wait on. I decide on this evening. My death is assigned to take me away this evening. And this time I am sure.

I sit and think. In this world of fake love and relationships, only our love was true. In fact, I loved him too much to let him live. He was perfect in all ways. I adored him. But he simply did not get it. I was not mad. Why would he say that to me? He said others called me that, and he said he sometimes agreed. Then why was he with me? Wasn’t he my friend? The first time he said that was when I told him about the snakes. I trusted him completely. I was ready to open my heart to him. “This is not right. I think you might have a problem. Do you want to see a doctor?”  Problem! He called it a problem. The words still ring in my ears. And doctor? What did he mean by doctor? Why didn’t he have the guts to say he meant a shrink? Like that Asmit.

That day I was shattered. I didn’t want him to become like the others. But who was I to fight Fate? He said that he pointed out those things because he cared about me. How does hurting me account for care? Slowly the love was turning into rage, a violent rage. Every time he had something to say. “This is not real, you are imagining it again.”, “Why are you like this?”, “What is wrong with you?”, “Shruti, you are going mad.”

Nothing is wrong with me and I am not mad. I did not want to hate him. I had no other option.  So one day, I killed him. It was very simple actually. He helped in fact. While I was contemplating how to go about it, he planned a trip to Matheran. And then it was a piece of cake, pushing him off the mountain.

Back to my room! I waited for five whole weeks for the police to come. I was his only friend. The police was bound to find me. They didn’t come. The only thing that came was guilt. I realized how much I loved him. I had killed my best friend. Was there any other act more despicable then this? I saw his face wherever I went. He watched my every move.  I saw the accusations in my classmates’ eyes when he did not turn up for a month. I could not stand it. Was I finally going mad? The warden complained that I screamed in my sleep. How could I explain the scratching on the walls to her when I couldn’t explain it to myself? Were my nails actually capable of doing that? I was living my own death.

Then one day, I quit. Now, here I am, back in Jairampur, seeing a psychiatrist when I don’t need to. Sanchit got his wish. Hah!  Everyone gets a dying wish. But why did he have to die? I realize I am crying. Just until evening, I think. I crawl into my bed again. Hushed voices from the adjacent room wake me up. I was always a light sleeper. My Ma and Papa, and I would recognize the third voice anywhere, Asmit. My ears perk up. Schizophrenic? Who is schizophrenic?  I know what it is. I have read about it. People living in their own imaginary world or something of the sort. Who is he talking about? I concentrate.

“There is no Sanchit.” Of course, there is no Sanchit. I killed him, didn’t I? But how does he know?

“…He does not exist. She created him in her mind. Her subconscious mind knew what people were saying about her. Sanchit was her creation to tell her directly what she already guessed. I called up her college. There are no records of any Sanchit studying there during her college span. That is why her classmates eyed her curiously when she thought she was talking to Sanchit. Obviously they could not see anyone.”

Now I am starting to panic. What is he saying? I am sobbing relentlessly. What do they know? I slowly leave my body and float near the roof. I look down at myself. I am screaming and tearing my hair, hurting myself physically. The three of them rush into my room. Amit injects something in my veins as my parents hold me. I fight but soon I drift off to a zone unknown.

Monday, June 18

Storm Under the Calm River - 2

Sleep eludes me for a long time. All the while, I stare at the walls of the room. My sisters have not left a single patch of wall bare. All of them are painted over, or have paintings stuck on them. Mickey, Goofy, Donald and a dozen other cartoon characters smile down at me. All of them are my middle sister’s creation.

The eldest always did breathtaking landscapes. There is my river, just as I witnessed it today, painted over the wall just opposite me. Soaked in an orange sunset. Wait! Is that me sitting at its bank? I think it is. How weird that I never noticed it before.

My eyes wander to the only painting that I ever did. I cannot even call it a painting. I was never good with this art, but I did try. This one, unlike the others, has no colors. I used coal to make it. It is a girl, about 12, standing away from a group of friends. When I look at it now, the picture seems not quite complete. The girl’s eyes are hauntingly empty and there is a look of contempt on her face. Her hair is disheveled and flying across her face. There is something about this picture that disturbs me. I have asked Papa to whitewash and remove it several times, but he just does not listen, saying it is part of my childhood memories.

Strangely, the only memory I have of my childhood is drifting away from my friends as soon as I reached the fifth standard. I, somehow, could never fit in, and always found myself sitting alone on the last bench. ‘A last bencher,’ that is what I was and my classmates called me that, hoping it would sting. As if it ever mattered.

It was then that I started visiting and talking to the river. To my surprise, I found this as natural as breathing.  At times, I fancied myself into believing that the river replied back.

The grades kept falling and my friendship with the river kept growing. I can actually think of whole days that I spent by its side.

But then, I also remember my determination to get out of this sleepy little town. I remember how hard I pushed in my 12th standard to get decent grades. I remember my triumphant smile the day I got admission for a Mass Communication course at Mumbai University. Yes. Ironic isn’t it? A loner, an introvert, joining communication studies. But I had always wanted to write. That is what I enjoyed doing. And that is how I found myself in a chaotic city, among skyscrapers, the constant buzzing of the locals and endless stories.  Where newspaper vendors and milkmen woke up to do their rounds even before the people working in night shifts had closed their eyelids. No other words can describe Mumbai better than the famous cliché, (although professors insisted we avoid them at all times) ‘The City That Never Sleeps’. There I was – a single wave lost in the sea of hurried, restless people, trying to fight my way back to my room, my shore, everyday. The city that gave me a lot, including him.

The harsh sun pouring in through the window hurts my eyes. What time is it? I squint at the wall clock. It is 10 am. Quite late according to the town’s standard. I try to summon my dream. I can just recollect it was about him again, though nothing else surfaces. “Sanchit,” I murmur. The day starts with frustration yet again. I dread the day already. I suddenly recall it is Tuesday today, which means another hour with Dr. Kapoor. I still don’t get it. Why do I have to see him every Tuesday? Yes, there might have been a time when I needed his help, but I think I have been behaving pretty decent lately. And since when did such a small town have its own shrink? Ma does not like me calling him that, so I only do in my thoughts. I mean, shrinks are for big cities and big, complicated minds and big, complex problems, not for small towns with smaller households and simpler mind-sets.

Dr Kapoor, as I call him, or Asmit, as he wants me to call him, is, according to me, rather young for his profession. Just out of med school, maybe. Whenever I get ready to go to the doctor, Ma eyes me with a smile on her face. She amuses me. She does not know that I just go through with this unpleasant exercise every week only to keep her satisfied - to make her believe that she is doing her job well.

But, in reality, those hours are excruciating for me. All Asmit does is try and talk about Sanchit. And all I do is dodge the topic. Sanchit remains deep within my existence. No one else is supposed to dwell upon where he lived. No one else is supposed to know what I did to him. Week after week, Asmit tries, and week after week, I change the topic and see him taking the lead in our heart-to-heart .Today will not be any different.

At noon, I find myself sitting outside Asmit’s office, waiting for him to call my name. He has converted one of the rooms in his apartment into his office. My eyes wander to his picture again, taken outside his college maybe. He is togged up in a black robe, a crooked smile brightening up his face from left to right. This smile, just this smile, keeps me coming back to him. Exactly like Sanchit’s. Each and every bend of his face is committed to my memory. I close my eyes and I see the slight dimple on his left cheek, which he used deliberately to impress girls. The unkempt hair, which was his greatest pain. I always told him his hair was like Harry Potter’s. Since he did not like Harry Potter, all I got in reply was a murderous stare. Aah! I remember the gold in his eyes as he laughed. And even though I try to shut it out, I remember the cold, empty eyes when I saw them last.

“So how are we doing today?”

I see the doctor has come out to greet me. He is flashing his lopsided grin again. Real charming! Hah!


I realize I was just gaping at the doctor. Feeling stupid, I get up, a fake smile adorning my lips.

“I am very well, thank you. How about you?”

Uggh!! What happened to that real cheeky response that I thought of in my head? He smiles. Maybe at my formal tone, but I always feel he reads my mind.

“I am doing well too. Why don’t we step into my office?”

I roll my eyes. Here we go again! After some basic formalities, he starts getting into his act. I can sense where he is heading today- my childhood friends.

“So tell me more about your friends Mitali and Priyanka? These are the only two friends who ever met your parents, am I right?”

So he has been talking to my parents. I don’t like it. I notice I have clenched my fists. But a smile crosses my face when I realize that today also my guess was right. He did want to discuss my childhood friends. Maybe even I should try and become a psychiatrist. Maybe, just his. I understand him so well after all the sessions.

“What about them? I don’t even know where they are. As my parents would have told you, we stopped being friends long back.”

It does not take a psychiatrist to catch the icicles in my voice. His tone becomes less professional and friendlier.

“Yes indeed! They told me. But they also told me that you never brought a friend to your place ever again. Why didn’t you take Sanchit with you? He was your best buddy, right?”

“He is.” I hope he does not catch the panic in my voice.

“Yes I am sorry. So why didn’t you?”

“He did not want to. And I never forced him. And I never asked him why he did not want to so don’t ask me about him again.”

He stares at me deeply, X-raying me again.

I try so hard but the memories engulf me again. The first month of college in Mumbai had crawled away with much difficulty. Fitting in was still an issue. And then, one day, Sanchit happened. I had noticed him before, sitting alone like me. So one day, I gathered the courage, walked up to him and asked if I could sit next to him. I recall some of my classmates giving us queer looks. I was uncomfortable in the start, but eventually we got used to it. Over the next few years, we became inseparable. He was everything that I needed him to be- a guide, a sibling, a parent, a lover and above all, a friend. A very close friend. He became my river in the city. But this river grew so much that one day it drowned me.

And as it is, the hour with Asmit is over. Aah! Another week of peace. While we are parting, he takes my hand in his and squeezes it, looks into my eyes and says, “Shruti! You can fight it. I know you can.” I shrug as if I do not understand him. He knows about my depression too. Great!

Wednesday, June 13

Storm Under the Calm River

This story is not in whole my work. The basic skeleton, characterization and plot were mine, but the writing is my sisters’. However, I have changed the names as most of them were close to her. So go ahead and enjoy – I hope this makes an interesting read.

As I sit by ‘my river’ this evening, I think of all the happy times that I have spent by its side. ‘My river’ with whom I have shared all my secrets, who knows me in and out. Over the years, I have poured my soul into this river, and now this river is me.

The giggling river brings back memories of my first picnic with my best friends, the walk with my first crush, the lazy evenings that I had just wasted away staring at the majestic mountains and the unmoving rocks.

Everything still looks the same. Nothing has changed. I can still hear the bees buzzing near the flowerbed. The fireflies are starting to show up. The deep orange of the setting sun is reflected in the water.

The only difference this time is that, today, I am sinking along with the sun. Could my river, my companion of so many years, know that I am thinking about ending my life?

The water glitters and snakes its way through the vast riverbed.  Each ripple holds back a secret of mine. I ask for advice, but my confidant just gushes away, my questions lost in its currents. As always, I slide forward and try to catch the ripples in my hands. And as always, the answers evade me as my hand closes upon nothing but a smooth wetness.

Before I realize it, the orange glow disappears and is replaced by the pearly sheen of the moonlight. It is one of those unusual nights. The fog, the stars, and the bright moon play curious light tricks and I feel the night has already come to an end. I close my eyes and I can still see the brightness. One of those nights, I smile. I breathe in the heavy scent of the green grass, the brown earth, the Blue Mountains and the white lilies, all of which are watered with a dazzling silvery radiance.

The loud reverberation of temple bells from across the river breaks my reverie. Concurrently my phone rings. Even before I take it out of my bag, I already know who it is.

“Why does she worry so much?” I mumble while hunting for the phone, though I already know the reason. She knows. I sigh once and answer the call.

“What time is it?” She is trying hard to sound angry and harsh, but she can never really fool me. Her concern for me always shows, even overcomes the anger.
“I know it is late Ma. I am by the river and I am leaving now. Don’t worry.”

I get up and head towards the place called home, which is just a five minutes’ walk. I can see the house now. Light filters through the window of my parents’ bedroom. They have not lit up my room, the room I shared with my sisters. Neither of them is here now. Studies and work made all of us go our separate ways. But whenever I enter the room, I miss them and wish they were here with me. Every single time.

I slide open the wrought-iron gate, which groans and creaks. I must remember to remind Papa about oiling it. Before I turn back to the house, a long, green vine snake passes over my feet. I bend down and pick it up. I marvel at the coldness and smoothness of its skin. This one is harmless. Actually all of them are. This house is teeming with snakes. Cat snakes, kraits, vipers, even cobras. They are all over the place, in my bedroom, dining hall, and the garden. All of them scurry around minding their own business. I see them all the time. But it is only me. They are all my friends. They go into hiding as soon as anyone else comes. My parents can never spot them and amusingly, they try to persuade me that the snakes are not there.

“What are you doing over there?”

“Ma.” I almost drop the snake, startled. Leaving the snake on the low branch of a tree, I turn to her. I can see her silhouette against the light in the veranda. She is almost the same height as me, slightly taller perhaps. I walk up to the house, a few feet away from the gate, and hug her. I have not hugged her all day and I know she expects it from me. We both need these little hints and physical reassurances, like hugs and kisses, to believe that someone loves and needs us.

Of her three daughters, I am the one who resembles her the most, both in physical appearance and behavior. Though I do not have even half her flawless beauty, everyone thinks we look the same. Though she would never accept it, I know I am her favorite daughter. The others know it too.

She is mumbling something. Trying to talk to me again. Some words just fly by, some I choose to ignore, and some land on my ears. I hear words and phrases here and there.

“So lost these days”…. “Can talk to us, you know”…. “It is not healthy”…. “Don’t eat properly too”

I ho hum along with her and try to look apologetic. This would finish the whole sermon fast. I know I will be forgiven by tomorrow or maybe even tonight.

She forces me to look at her, into her eyes. I notice the drastic change in her for the first time since I came home after two years. Her eyes look tired and there are more wrinkles than the last time. But they vanish as soon as her face lifts up with a smile. However, the eye bags worry me. I wish to touch her face and make every little blemish and spot fade away, like they do it in the movies.

She has cut her hair. It now reaches her neck. I can taste the bitter disappointment again, which had passed through me as soon as I had seen her short hair. Her straight long tresses, which were her pride once, and mine, were gone.

“Since you are anyway not listening to me, I think you should go and have dinner and sleep.” Her voice intensifies and brings me back to the veranda where I realize we are still standing.

As usual, I skip dinner and crawl into bed. Sleep is the only solace these days. I lie in bed all day hoping that unconsciousness will take over the dark cloud of depression that threatens to engulf my every waking moment.

Oh! There is Papa knocking on the door. No doubt, Ma persuaded him to come and talk to me. He is not good at it, so he is reluctant. The only resemblance between us is our inability to talk about our emotions. He chooses not to talk about whatever he is feeling, but it is obvious that he cares a lot. Maybe it makes him uncomfortable.

When it comes to me, I am impenetrable. I have built a bubble around myself and nothing succeeds in infiltrating it. Apart from my river, no one knows my secrets; no one knows what I am going through. No one cares to find out and I am sure no one will understand. There was only one person who was close to me. Now even he is dead…

He knocks again. I feign sleep. Same reason. I want to avoid the sermon. They are both wonderful parents, but they simply do not understand.

Sunday, June 10

Unspoken Words

Sometimes when you look at me, it seems u can peep though through my very soul and listen to things that I could never say otherwise. The string of unspoken words flow by and all the meaning is understood in its all possible way. I never could understand how you do it but nonetheless conversation happens.

Your lips curve into a sweet smile and your hands hold mine in the most delicate of forms. Your fingers entwine on mine and the conversation of unspoken words happen. You arch your eyebrows to question my thoughts sometimes and then you get the answer right there. Do you know how do you do it?