Why Not A full Fledged One

Photo/ Mustafa Quraishi

I begin to offload. Not mere  clothes but  more . . . those  thoughts  hanging  about heavily. Stubbornly unmoving, intruding even now whilst I  am  trying to  cover this nakedness. Flinging  off  the  synthetic  kameez , fitting  my lean frame  into one  of those  nondescript cotton ones that  lies  flung at  one end  of this ageing bed ,which  seems  overburdened   with   the   heap  of   clothes  sprawled  on  it . But  why  go  changing,  from a  this to that ?   I could  go along the street,  towards the  bus – stop, with that  kameez  on me ;  but  no , here I sit  back and  change .And, then, all too suddenly  start  unhooking the  faded brassiere . What’s the  need of this saddling  bandobast  when my breasts lie  shrunk. Hopelessly sullen, in that  ‘giving – up’ format .

Thoughts hit , as I  near  the  staircase .After all , the   same  staircase which  had got me here. From that  bustling city to these  very  outskirts of a  much  smaller city. From those  hopelessly broken  bonds to  another  of  those  turns .

I’d  landed here this  spring .Facing  that broken fence, standing  near the   boundary wall. Not for  long .Up the wooden staircase, towards  this  ‘home’ for the Alzheimer’s stricken. Had heard about this place from my  homoeopath, who’d  admitted his Alzheimer’s stricken wife  in  this  home.

He’d tried suggesting I shift  base together with focus, ‘Try  supervising   the  running of that  home. It’ll  keep  you  busy and  involved  ,  you’ll  have  no time to brood .If you  aren’t comfortable, you can always get  back; it wouldn’t be  a  regular  job  or  something  that’s  formality  ridden.’

Though situated on the  outskirts of Jammu , but the very  pace  of  smaller locales suited my temperament. Also, I was aware of the basic   backgrounders to the Alzheimer’s Disorder, as my father had  sat Alzheimer’s stricken, till  about the time he lay shrunk together with the   memory  cells.

***

The front door led to a   square- shaped  room,  where  sat  a  dozen  inmates and a couple of  caregivers. Also , stood  out   a  doctor of  sorts with a semi- white shirt  on him . Giving  impatient  looks, he’d  begun  to  offload words even  before I could offload the  baggage  on  me. He’d  asked whether I’d  be okay managing this  home for the Alzheimer’s  stricken. Realizing  I should be , considering I’d undertaken this  overnight  train   journey, he’d  walked towards what seemed  a hastily covered  balcony, before coming up with   a  commentary  of   sorts  .

‘This my room  … given a  room to each  inmate. All thirteen  from very   good  backgrounds. There’s  a retired  general, also  one  retired  doctor ,two  mechanical  engineers and  that former police  chief and … eleven  men and two  women.  Prema  madam’s   condition worsening and   Shagoofta  Shah  keeps  sitting   in  her room .  Just two  days  back  a  new  inmate  admitted.  This  man Rahmat  Raheem  was  into some business venture … talks  too  much. His younger brother left  him here …here, these files on  these  inmates. Carrying all possible  details . Read  them later. Now rest …your room  next to the  office . ’

‘Other  rooms  ?’ I’d asked

‘Prema madam’s room  right here .Some rooms that  side  and …’

‘And Sen sahib ?’

‘He’s spoken about you and …’

‘ Haven’t met though been  speaking to him,  even  yesterday before  starting from New Delhi. Actually  my  homoeopath Dr. Guru Dutt knows  him  and   …’

‘That  homoeopath … Prema madam’s   husband  ?’

‘Yes, yes .’

‘I’m an allopath .Don’t believe in  homoeopathy .But  Sen  sahib   does ,  keeps  popping  sugary  tablets ! ’

‘He’s  here or where ?’

‘Just left .Walked  towards his  cottage . There,  that cottage .See from this  window .There , near that Neem  tree. This also  his ancestral  bungalow .’

‘His father’s  and …’

‘ Know those details  ?’

‘His  father  Alzheimer’s stricken and  now …’

‘Now turned  aggressive. Shifted  him  from here …some of these patients get  difficult to handle, others  sit  depressed.  See  if you  can  cope. It   does  get  tough …very  tough .’

***

I’d tossed and turned  on this ageing bed. Apprehensive and  anxious.  Not sure whether  I  should   have come here .Not  sure whether   I’d   be able to   handle  even  one  of these affected. Not sure  of  just about  anything  .Yet  I’d undertaken this  journey.

Those  thoughts continued to  nag  :  Wouldn’t  it  be  exhausting cum  irritating to   sit  amidst  these inmates affected  with  shrinking  memory  cells , to  keep  listening to their vague recollections, to  keep  nodding to  those  disconnected sentences  and  hazy  bits  pulled  out  from their polka dotted  memory  ?

With  my father  it was  different, as  blood  bonding had  taken  care of that  connectivity with those  murmurs and  mutters he’d come  up with,  as  he’d  sat  sad  and  sullen  in  the  grip of  this  disorder .

Restless I lay , even as the  sun’s rays  came through  the  bay window. Not ready to face  another day… And then   sat  startled , as I’d  heard  the  door  open. Opened with  force. Ajar. And then  more than ajar  as  someone had walked in  with  a confident  look about him.

‘Sen …Sen sahib ?’

‘No, not Sen . I’m Rahmat Raheem .You  here to  look after us!  You a  caregiver or caretaker ! We sissies ! And you still asleep !’

Taken aback, I’d jumped off from the edge of this bed. Only  to  face  him. Stale  breath  from  my  unwashed  mouth hitting .Perhaps ,not  hard enough. He had  continued  standing  right there. Staring  in that  persistent way. Unmoving ,  even  when  I’d somewhat  yelled  ,  ‘You  that  new patient  ?’

‘Patient or  impatient ! No  patient !  Dumped here !  My  brother thinks  my  memory cells  shrinking. No, its not even  dementia . Had  this head checked. I’m  no  bloody  trickster  but  he’s  getting  paranoid. Thinks I’ll   walk away with  his  stuff. Just  lost  my way  once  or  twice  but   that  doesn’t  …’

In that  unwashed and   uncombed  state I’d  tried  moving  backwards   but  he was there. Speaking with amazing fluency .Narrating complicated  moves,  leaving  no gaping  gaps for any  detail  to  be  sidetracked and  bypassed .

And  not  just  that  one day. But  every  day.  Over what  seemed    unending  walking  and   talking sessions .Never  before  I’d    heard such long-winding tales –  revolving around  his one broken  engagement, his  failed  take  off with another of  his  women friends ,  his  fall out with the  who’s who . And   by   the time each tale  ended  he’d   look agitated. As  though  deprivations  had  left  dents .As  though  he  had  been   a misfit   on the  circuit  , a  failure  at  networking games  , sidelined  for times to come .

During those offloading  sessions, he’d clasped  my  hands . Strangely  or  not  so, I’d  begun to  reciprocate . I’d   begun to  feel  happy . For  his clasp didn’t  relay   lust  and  nor  love .Just  about   some sort  of support. Perhaps, that emotional bonding or  anchorage I’d  been craving for , yearning  for   all these  years. Never  ever  finding  it , not even in that  marriage that   had   throttled  my urges , killed  those   emotions.

I’d  blush  as  he’d  stared at  my  face.  I’d  sat  in  a daze as  he’d   gaze   at  my hands  and arms  …furthering  his  gaze  as I  sat   listening  to his tales. In fact,  as  he’d gone about detailing   , several  inmates  together with  their  caregivers stood  close by  , hearing   those   intricate  details   –   official  hangings together  with  secret  burials, villain ‘climbers’ cum  ‘sleepers’  walking  away with  the dead ,  the alive  no longer breathing  with the   political smog spreading  around. There’d  be  an  abundance of names of   rogue  rulers and  political  mafia  of the  day. First  names accompanied  by  surnames. And  to   top it all he’d   exclaim , ‘What’s  in a name  !’

And  on that  particular day when he  exclaimed, ‘What’s in a  marriage !’ he’d  looked right  into my  eyes  and  uttered the  eight – letter  word  .

‘No, no marriage !’ I had  screamed .A couple  of the  inmates together with the caregivers rushed  towards us,  fearing there’d come about a deadly twist in Rahmat  Raheem’s  offloading  sessions. More so as he  had come up with  an  additional  one – liner,  ‘Obviously  a  remarriage for you !  For  me  first time !’

Made me laugh and cry. Made  the  others in that room , that is ,those  whose  memory  cells  were not yet  shrunk , look  about  suspiciously.

Till about the next  evening  when  I’d  decided to   go  ahead . Marrying this man .

Those  warnings  and forewarnings ,sometimes  shrunk in a  haze  of  words or  blatantly  obvious , had  not come in way. I did  not  allow  them to come in way. No , not  even as those  suspicious  looks  gained  momentum.

But before his hand could  clasp  mine in  that  ongoing  way  or  before  I could  reciprocate  his  passion – dripping  moves  , this Alzheimer’s  home  seemed  turned  into a   fortress .

He was  dragged .Towards a police  van , thrown  into   it  as though  he  was  nothing  but a heap of  bones .To be silenced, for offloading  big  names with   big  designations and even  bigger allegations to  them.

I’d  tried  following that  van, screaming,  ‘He  with little memory .My  new husband  …just  married  .He wouldn’t ever again blurt those names , he  wouldn’t  speak about …’

Once dragged for  interrogation , no  getting  back . To  be   stacked amongst  those whose  names are   scribbled in sarkari   registers . Shut and closed . Never   ever  to  appear or reappear .

Leaving  me  with the  half -widow  tag  dangling along with  my   name. Prefixed  for times to  come , as I go  from  one  detention centre  to  the  next, from  one  interrogation  centre to the   next,  from  one  jail to the  next. To   trace  him ,  to  meet him  ,  to prove  his innocence ,to  fight  for  his  survival…

***

Married , to  be  precise  re-married ,  for   one   single  day .Thrown in the  half -widow category the  very  next day, when Rahmat Raheem  was  thrown in the  police  van  parked  outside this Alzheimer’s home .

Even now as I’m  readying  to go down this  staircase , to   hop into a   bus,  to locate  my  ‘missing’ husband ,  those thoughts  don’t  leave. Hover around mercilessly and  endlessly. And as I  throw a  faded   dupatta on my   breasts, I  stare at  my  chest .Heaping  some   more  from those  bygones. After all , right from the  teenaged  years  when  my  breasts  began  sprouting on this chest,  the  two  seemed  to  keep  abreast  with   the emotional  phase I’d  been going  through.

My  breasts  looked  ‘all there’ the  first   time I  had  fallen  in  love . The  inevitable   breakup   made  them droop . Not for  long. Changing  their  very  look, getting  back to   form  as  soon as  I was  attracted  a   second time. But  not  before  long the two lay  listless   along  with the   rest  of the  form, as  I’d  lay sad  and  sullen   in  an   ongoing  state of melancholy,  heaped  on  me by  that  mismatched marriage. Unmoving  I’d  lay . Night  after  night , Sunday to  Saturday ,  to any  of those sorrow – saturated  days that  followed in quick  succession .Till  I’d  cried  aloud. Pack- up time  of  that  mismatched marriage that  traumatized  me   each single  day.

Winding  it up .

Moving  away .

From  that  big  city’s  big – paced  settings. Towards   these   settings  where  much  more   than  emotions  or breasts or  those wants  lie shrunk .

Now  sitting with  that  half -widow’s  tag   .

 

Today  there are  no  full- fledged  closures .


This   short  story is from the author’s earlier published short story collection volume – More  Bad  Time  Tales,  published  in  2014.

About author

Humra Quraishi
Humra Quraishi 1 posts

Humra Quraishi is a Delhi based writer - columnist - journalist . Her books include a book on the Kashmir Valley, Kashmir: The Untold Story ; a volume of her collective writings, Views: Yours and Mine ; a short story collection, More Bad Time Tales; a volume, Divine Legacy - Dagars & Dhrupad … She has co- authored The Good The Bad and The Ridiculous : Profiles ; Absolute Khushwant and a series of writings with the late Khushwant Singh . Her take on what’s it like to be a singleton in today's turbulent times is part of the Penguin published anthology - Chasing the Good Life : On Being Single. And one of her essays, The State Can’t Snatch Away our Children, is part of the Zubaan published anthology - Of Mothers And Others . Her short stories have been published in several magazines and journals. Her debut novel - Meer ( Rupa ) was launched in October 2015.

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