Shruti Chandra Gupta
The sound of newly born droplets crashing upon the greedy earth made her shrink with pain. She stuffed her ears with cotton and squeezed her eyes. Her tiny, child-like body was bundled in a way that tempted to get back into its mother’s womb. After long sleepless nights spent imagining the wicked rains fall down upon the silent earth like blood from the sky, she was well prepared for the onslaught. The battle had started. Her six-decade-old dead mother shivered in heaven. The monsoon had arrived.
“It is raining, mom!” Gokul screamed in ecstasy.
“Shhhhh!” his mother scolded.
“Oh Amma!” He ran to her room and tiptoed inside. The poignant smell of fear greeted him. A tiny wrinkled girl draped in an overused white cotton sari glared at him. He shrank. Tiny drops of sweat were gathered on her invisible brow.
“Are you all right, Amma?” Gokul whispered.
“You can see that,” she said, wiping her brows with the back of her hand.
“Don’t be afraid Amma. It is just a drizzle and it will stop soon.”
“I told you I’m all right. I don’t mind, I don’t mind. It’s not raining. There won’t be floods. No no. Nobody . . . Ah!” Her face cracked with pain.
“Mom! Amma is afraid!” Gokul ran away screaming.
“I’m coming!” Gauri screamed back from the kitchen.
A loud crash of the utensils, a silence and Gauri entered Amma’s room.
“Mummy, did you sleep well at night?” she asked, taking her tiny hand into hers.
“Yes. I’m all right,” Amma lied liberally.
“You will need to face your fear to get over it, mummy. Your fear is irrational. Rain doesn’t hurt. You know that. Come, come with me. First, we will just watch from the window.”
“I don’t want to watch!” she screamed out. “You can do your doctory in your clinic. Don’t tell me what I should do.”
“Gauri is right mummy. You have to get over it. We can’t see you suffering like this for months every monsoon. It affects everybody at home. And Gauri is a psychologist. She knows how to cure you. Just do what she says,” her son, Shantanu, said from the door.
Gauri helped the old woman on her feet. Her baby steps reached the door, then started receding, then they were in the air flapping like terrified wings.
Thousands of obese drops of water curtained the view. Gokul and Garima were in the verandah, flirting with the rain.
“Look Amma. Gokul and Garima are playing in the rain. It is not hurting them. See!”
Suddenly, the flapping stopped. A bright white light flashed in front of her eyes like lightening, making dizzying waves of forgetfulness. Riding on the waves, she floated to another world.
The fading sun is sinking beneath the orange sky. The long-legged creek is overflowing with water. She sinks her feet into it and flaps. Like a sculptor, the rain has cut out her youthful figure into voluptuous art. A swift, white flash and there are deafening screams.
“Dewaki! Let go! I say! Let go!”
Her grip tightens. The flapping of the feet becomes ecstatic and then darkness and silence.
At night, Shantanu and Gauri whispered in their bedroom.
“I can’t believe she fainted,” Shantanu said, lying on his back.
“I told you she needs treatment, but you never listen to me.”
“You should’ve talked to her.”
“I did. A thousand times. But she won’t tell anything. I know there is something she remembers, but she just won’t tell,” Gauri whispered emphatically.
“Yes, she is stubborn.”
“Just like you. You should convince her to get a treatment. I can help her if - ”
Shantanu cut her short. “She will never get a treatment.”
“She had a fit! Do you know what that means! She is in trauma!”
“What can I do if she doesn’t listen to me!” Shantanu screamed.
“Shhhh. Children will wake up.”
In the other room, like a well-nourished pet, fear came galloping towards Amma and bit her hard.
She looked around aimlessly. There was no getting away from it. The noise of raindrops was excruciating. She regained her fetus position like a tiny warrior and started remembering her children, Arjun, Gopala, Shantanu, Europe, Panda, Glacier, Phobaeticus serratipes (later changed to Ram) and Guava. She remembered the hard time she had pronouncing those strange names. Even now, she could hardly recall what they meant. Her husband had started cheating on her after her fourth child was born.
“She is Radha,” Dewaki said when she looked at her daughter for the first time.
“Radha? No! I have abandoned reading those stupid religious books. Dewaki, you don’t know what wonders there are on this earth. I didn’t know the earth was so full of new surprises. I just finished reading a book on Europe. What a wonderful continent! Its weather, its rivers, its people. There can be no better name for our daughter than Europe,” her husband declared, cradling the unfortunate child in his arms.
To Dewaki, it was a funny sound.
“But that is not a name,” she protested meekly.
“You need to wear a diaper in your mind. It leaks as much as it receives.”
The insult dropped down flat. She didn’t know what a diaper was.
Then, again, he cheated on her by dying after their eighth child, Guava, was a year old.
Sitting in the dark room, an army of hatred collected in her heart. With one stroke, he had made her own children sound alien to her. The hateful memory sneaked up to her face and left two more wrinkles on her crumbled cheeks so that in the mirror, she could count the injustices done to her. At eighty-five, she started to mumble in her sleep.
She is saying Amrit. Yes, that’s Amrit. Amrit. Amrit,” Gokul told Garima, leaning close to Amma’s shrunken mouth.
“Is it? Let me listen,” Garima said, pushing Gokul away.
“She is saying ‘Amrit, don’t go.’” Gokul whispered.
“Shhhhh.” She hung her ear close to Amma’s mouth. “Yes. She is saying . . . Don’t go Amrit. Don’t go.”
“I told you,” Gokul said victoriously.
“Who’s Amrit,” Garima asked her mother.
“Amrit? Nobody. Who told you?” Gauri asked, pouring water into the cooker.
“Nobody. What was baba’s name?”
“Nothing,” she said and ran back to Amma’s room.
“Amma has woken up. Let’s go,” Gokul said, disappointed, and left the room with his sister.
Darkness and light rebelled against time. She groped to find her way in bright sunshine and saw clearly in the blind night. The children became floating apparitions, mouthing words she didn’t understand. She lay rigid on a day of darkness, staring at air with shy, fond eyes. Her hand came up to her plait and started playing with it.
“Yes. I go to the creek everyday. In the evening. Tomorrow? What will Ramesh say? Ramesh? You don’t know him. Neither do I. Panda would have been angry, but he is not born yet. Don’t go to the creek, Amrit.” “Yes, I will come to the creek tomorrow.”
The fading sun is sinking beneath the orange sky. The long-legged creek is overflowing with water. She sinks her feet into it and flaps. Like a sculptor, the rain has cut out her youthful figure into voluptuous art. Softly, she murmurs a song to the dancing leaves, dangling her long, wet plait in the rain.
She feels a sharp jerk on her scalp.
Somebody had pulled her plait. Furiously, she turns around. Amrit is aching with laughter. “aaiiiiii,” he mimics her and bursts out again.
She makes a face.
“Okay. Sorry baba. Don’t kill me with your stare,” he says, sitting down beside her.
She shifts aside. He stares at her inquiringly, trying to read her mind. She looks away.
“Have you seen that temple on the other side of the stream?” he says, pointing towards a small, dilapidated structure.
“No. I am afraid to cross the stream.”
“You won’t drown. There is so little water in it.”
“There is enough water to get drowned. And it’s been raining since morning.”
“You are a big girl. How old are you? Eighteen?”
“Okay. Let’s bet. If you cross the stream, I will give you a kiss. If you don’t, you give me a kiss.”
Her eyes widen with surprise. “No!”
He gurgled out a laugh like a baby.
“Okay. If you don’t want to, I will kiss you both times. Let’s go.”
He jumps across the boulders and stands in the middle of the stream. Dewaki looks at the water. It is reaching his waist.
“Come quickly!” he shouts.
With baby steps, she reaches the edge of the stream and stops.
“Come come. Don’t be afraid. I will hold you,” he says, extending his hand towards her.
She clasps a branch and stares at him with low, fearful eyes.
He walks towards her.
“I don’t want to go!” she panics.
“Here. Take my hand. I won’t let go. Do you trust me?” he says, looking into her dark eyes.
She nods and holds his hand tightly.
“Now leave that branch.”
“No!” she screams.
Her hand jerks. Pain strikes through her whole body. She feels as if her body is being ripped apart. The deafening sound of water fills into her. She turns her head. Amrit is dangling from her hand. Blood is flowing from his temple. She grips the branch tightly and winces. His grip tightens on her hand. She holds on to his hand and the branch with all her strength.
“Hold!” she screams at him, her voice dripping with pain.
His grip loosens. He shakes his head. “Let go!”
She shakes her head furiously.
Flash floods turn the small stream into a raging river. She looks around desperately. The rain blocks her view. His fingers are fighting with hers to loosen her grip.
“Don’t do it Amrit! Please!” she pleads.
“Leave my hand and hold the branch!” he screams.
The force of water is too great. Her grip on the branch is loosening. She cannot feel her arms. The water gushes past her like a victorious enemy. Her head drops down. She feels a sharp pain in her palm. Painfully, she pushes her head above the water. Someone is screaming.
“Dewaki! Let go! I say! Let go!”
His fingers dig inside her blood-soaked palm. Then there is no more pain. She clings to the branch with both her arms, half-alive.
“Amma had a boyfriend,” Garima announced to her parents.
“What rubbish! Are you out of your mind?” Shantanu sprang up.
“I heard her. His name was Amrit and they used to meet at some creek.”
“She says anything now-a-days,” Gauri said diplomatically.
“No. I have been listening to her for many days. She talks to him in her sleep. His name is Amrit.”
Shantanu’s face collapsed. Gauri grabbed the reins. “She sees things that are not real. It is all her imagination. Amrit is not a real person.”
“But . . . he is! Isn’t it disgusting? Amma, having a boyfriend,” she said, making a bitter face.
“Don’t talk like that about your Amma. She didn’t have a boyfriend. She is ill,” Gauri said sternly.
“I was just saying - ” Garima started.
“Go to your room and I don’t want to hear anything about it again. Understand!”
“Yes,” she lied, and left the room.
“Mummy . . . does she really . . .” Shantanu’s face twisted like a screw.
“Maybe. Who knows?”
“I can’t believe it. Mummy? My mummy!”
“It is bad that children know about it.”
“I never expected her to . . . she is . . . my mother! What . . . what . . . I don’t know how I am going to face her now. She has ruined it all for me. My mother! That is why she wasn’t telling us. I just can’t believe her. She hiding this awful secret from us. I hate her.”
In her bed, the seventeen year old Dewaki loosened her grip on life, mumbling, “My Guava! Europe! Panda! Ram! . . . Hai my Glacier! Arjun . . . Ar. Gopal . . . Shantanu. My Shantanu. My Shantanu.” Lovingly, death held her hand and she floated away into the white light.
All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Shruti Chandra Gupta.
Published on e-Stories.org on 07/01/2009.