Why Not A full Fledged One
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.
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