Blank, not Void

Swapna Narayanan

I hate the Sun. Why do they bring me out here?

‘Vitamin D,’ says Jamuna didi.

But sunlight does not do any good to me. I feel that this sunlight blinds me, dampens me, soaks me and irritates me. It burns right through my skin. I love only cool places.

When I am in open spaces, I hear voices that talk to me. Not loving voices but hoarse, rude, and shrill voices. And, the noises. The noise of passing by cars, creaking carts, honking buses, screaming hawkers, wailing babies, jabbering people, all blare in my ears. I cannot filter them at all and all of them come crashing into my ears.

And, the smells. I can smell the sweat soaked shirt of the gardener, Jamuna didi’s ittar, the stink of water logged corner in the garden, the stench of the rotten palak under the pile of vegetables that the sabzi waali brings. Stench, stink or smell, I cannot filter.

I love the cocoon of my room. Safe, comfortable, and cozy. I am at peace there. No voices come and talk to me there. No smells or sounds bother me either.

Ma should be coming anytime now.

I was born different. I did not cry immediately after my birth. Not even after 24 hours of my birth. I did cry, but much later. I was very slow.

Abnormal, all of them had realized.

Dadiji took it badly. She was shocked, pained and depressed to have an abnormal child in her family. Ma was heartbroken. All of 22 years, she did not have any idea on how to handle a normal kid, leave alone an abnormal one.

Dadaji was no more. Papa ran a successful garment business. Dadiji wanted a home maker wife for his only son. She did not want a working woman. She wanted a beautiful life for her son, on her terms.

I became a black spot in that dream of hers.

All the specialist doctors felt that they would be able to diagnose the main problem once I grow up a little bit more.

Grow up?

Dadiji did not want that. She wanted me out of her son’s life, at any cost. Not only out of his life, out of this world itself.

While Dadiji was exploring ways to have me out, Ma had fallen prey to my gurgling smiles and crazy antics. I was 3 months old by then. And according to Jamuna Didi, I looked like that adorable baby in the Murphy radio advertisement. Locks and curls, big eyes, drooling lips, but a blank mind. A mind that could not connect to the world like other children do.

After her initial low phase, Ma had slowly woken up and took note of me and the world around. And felt a sense of life seeping back through her soul.

Dadiji saw this. Scared that a bond may develop, she announced one day that I was being sent to an orphanage of mentally retarded children. What she did not care to mention was that along the way, I would be dumped somewhere on the road.

Papa did not say anything.

Ma did not say anything either. Not because she did not have anything to say. She did have; her daughter is not an orphan. But she was scared. Scared of defying Dadiji. Jamuna Didi, standing there, wanted to say many things too. But knew that she will be immediately dismissed from the house and will be distanced from me. So, she also kept quiet.

But the moment she was in closed confines alone with my Ma, she laid bare her fears. She had overheard Dadiji talking to someone on the phone.

Ma, now much clearer in her head, could smell the act. Aghast that her educated mother in law could think of something this low, unhappy that her husband did not utter a word, and realizing that she is alone in this, she woke up from her reverie.

Why should she live here? Should she leave?

It was pouring that night. As the rain drops fell, so did her hopes to have a peaceful life in that house. Soon the pitter patter of the rain beckoned her to step out. Step out of hell and walk into the unknown, her mind had reasoned. Hell or heaven, it will be at least peaceful, retorted the rain drops. Frightened, nervous, terrified, and anxious; she dared and stepped out of that house.

Ending a chapter and opening a new one.

I grew older, Ma grew stronger and we became inseparable. Initially ridden by the guilt of not accepting me on the day I was born, she slowly fought all her demons and came out of it. I became the center of her life. Life was kind to her and with her sheer hard work she built a good base for herself.

I am now 14 years old. I am tall, and can stand and walk on my two feet. But, I am still slow in all other things. I cannot speak. I cannot eat on my own. I cannot bear most of the sounds, smells and sights. I am still blank but, my unstoppable Jamuna Didi is constantly devising new ways and means to coach and teach me. Her means are the usual, one way chatter ranging from sweet coaxing words, to slight chides to clear hearing downs. I take it all with a grin and smile, much to her chagrin, and eventually she gives up on me. But, only for a few hours. Then she is back with her usual spirit. After all, my gurgling smile still steals a few hearts, including hers. The sparkle in my eye melts her soul and my mischievous grin oodles out love from her.

I am back in my room now – safe and happy. It has one wall painted yellow – the color of hope, with my favorite lily flowers on one side table. I feel bliss and happiness here.

Jamuna Didi switched on the music player. My favorite song came up ‘Chanda hai tu, mera suraj hai tu….‘ and soothed my nerves. Jamuna Didi walked out to get my lunch, humming along. It is her favorite song too.

The door bell rang. There she comes. My Ma!

‘Angry again?’ she asks while walking into my room.

I turn around, fumble a bit and go and sit on my bed.

‘I love you baby,’ she says while hugging me from the back. She starts tickling me.

I start laughing. I can laugh.

‘Your papa called today. He wants to come and see us,’ she said while holding me in her arms.

I stiffened.

‘I do not know what he wants. I do not have anything to give him. I wonder why he is coming back now, after so many years.’

And she went on and on. About her childhood, her fears, her love, her life.

My Ma tells me everything. She has been doing this since I was a baby. She is alone. She talks to me. She thinks I do not understand anything.

But, I do.


*All images used in this article are either Eyra’s own design or widely and freely available on the internet.*

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