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And I later realized that this was why my parents had kept us apart, fearing that you’ll influence my already troublesome behavior. Their pragmatic methods!
Our Muse of the Month series this year focus on stories that pass the Bechdel test, and are written on inspiration from a new prompt every month. This month, the prompt was “I’ll Always Find My Way Back”. The story should pass the Bechdel Test, that is, it should have at least two well crafted, named women characters (we differ here slightly from the classic Bechdel test, in that we require these characters to be named),
The fourth winner of our November 2018 Muse of the Month contest is Sangeetha Jaganathan.
Shakuntala Patra-lekhan isn’t adorning our living room wall today. Today isn’t a day when a Ravi Varma original acquired from the Duke of Buckingham, where Shakuntala is penning her love letter to Dushyanta, would evoke the viewer’s participation. Today, you’re the masterpiece, grandstanding everything and everyone else around you.
I had decided on your picture, one of my favourites, a private one unlike those professional stock photos of you. You’re leaning on some ornate iron fence overlooking the water below, sun-kissed face, hugging your shoulders, your billowy green dress sashaying gently to the wind and the opal dangle earrings dancing to their own tune. There is a surprise in your eyes, as if you had just then realized that you were in love, and the world around you is beautiful and content.
I wish I knew the person who captured this moment of yours. In fact I wish we had more time to know each other better. None in our family protested when I arranged a blown up canvas of your picture to be placed on an easel at the center of our living room. Anyways, they had more important things to attend to. Like coercing all return favors from the Indian government folks to buy the silence of the French government in the name of bilateral relationship. Our pockets indeed run deep and money truly has no borders, and they were able to mask your suicide as an accident.
We are the epitome of social graces, even on a day like this. My dad is out at the entrance sans his entourage, receiving guests streaming in to pay you their respects and your dad is seated few feet away from you, acknowledging their sympathies with the quintessential Indian nod. The air conditioner whirred gently, muffling the steps of the people milling around. They were all in white, as is the custom. It was white all over that it practically hurt my eyes. It apparently is meant to bring clarity to the people left behind and help them cope up with the loss. Am not aware of the others, but I sure am seeking answers.
“Did it hurt?”
The covert post mortem report explained that height doesn’t matter – a weight dropped from a height will achieve terminal velocity – it cannot fall any harder than it is already. So, you were of course dead when you fell 12 floors down, but you weren’t splayed, only a bit of your intestines were out when the paramedical team showed up.
“Why this fatal means? Why not make it easy by digging in a bottle of pills?”
Dr. Uncle explained that it could have been the most accessible method to you at your moment of ambivalence. You must have just wanted to get done with it, leaving no room for second thoughts.
“But why did you do it? I thought you had it all”
The French media kept quoting that even in death you had that certain je ne sais quoi, like the homes you had designed. Was it this quality that always enticed me? Or was it that my parents weren’t letting me get to know you, that drew me even closer to you? I’ve read all your articles, checked out the mentions of all the exhibitions you’ve been to, conferences you’ve hosted, but little did I realize that that wasn’t entirely you. I was seeing the same thing that you let the rest of the world see of you. You were my aunt and I should have known the real you. Or at least should have tried to.
“Is this why you didn’t build a family for yourself? You didn’t believe in this one and didn’t want to burden another one?”
Mom insisted that I view you before they take you away as it would be the last time that I’ll ever get to see you. I honestly don’t have the courage to look at your frail, lifeless face. A silent argument ensued, not that there was any dearth of loud arguments in our house.
No sooner did the news of your suicide reach us, I noticed that I was only one shocked by it. It looked like everyone else in our family knew that this was coming. If not that day, someday soon. All they argued was on how to contain the cross-border situation and the media storm. They bundled up all your medical records, medications, to stow it off somewhere safe, a place where no one could lay their hands on even by mistake. You were dead to them even before your body reached the house. They aren’t cruel people, they’re just being pragmatic about life, I guess.
Talking about life, it feels like an eternity, but it has been only a week ago, when we had met for the first time.
I had snuggled under the sheets in your bed while you and dad were seated on the sofa beside the bed, catching up on lost time. I appeared to be distracted with my mobile, but I was attentive to the ongoing conversation. You had this ease with dad which he clearly didn’t reciprocate. His responses were measured, even strained.
“You shouldn’t be leaving when we’ve just arrived!” said dad.
“Well, you didn’t give me much notice Utpal, you landed here as a surprise. Anyways, am back in fifteen days and wouldn’t leave again till the time your wife gets bored of me! Does that sound fine to you?!”
“This isn’t a surprise Shreya and you know it. Dad and I’ve been thinking about this for a while. Business in the US isn’t the same anymore. The political uncertainty is harming our investments more than what we had anticipated.”
“Iknow, I know! Am not complaining if that’s what you thought. Am more than happy to see your little one. She’s a teenager now”, she smiled at me.
I was glad that the conversation turned to me, but I would have been even gladder, if only dad left.
“Aren’t you jetlagged Anya? Why don’t you let Shreya aunty pack for her trip and we could all get together once she’s back?”,dad was insistent.
“C’mon Utpal, let her be. She wouldn’t be of trouble while I pack. Why don’t you go meet dad before he retires to bed?”
“Fine, don’t stay up too late though.”
I was exuberant when dad left, but I wasn’t too naïve to share it with her. She needs to know that am an adult too, like her.
“So how have you been? India treating you well so far?”
“Haven’t seen much of India yet to comment. But it’s just weird that the servants wait hand and foot for our instructions.”
“That’s one of the luxuries here. You can go for months without your parents and not realize that there is anything amiss in your life”
“Wish this was the case in the US. I would certainly appreciate some me time without my parents!”
“You must be missing your friends. I hope you find some soon here.”
I wanted to tell you right then that I don’t have many friends and that it didn’t matter whether I was in the US or in India. And what dad mentioned about the business failing in the US is a lie.
“So, all the fifteen days in France or across Europe?”
“It’s going to be a hectic trip travelling across Europe, but France is where I’d be spending more time compared to the rest of the cities.”
“Why don’t you plan to settle in France if you’re to travel this much and this often? Whey even live here?”
“Well, this is home and this is where I want to come back every time am out.”
“If I were you, I’ll never live in one place!” and I meant it.
“You would think so now, but when you’re as old as me, you’ll understand the significance of home.”
“You’re old, but not that old. You’re what forty, forty-two?”
“It’s not my forties speaking. It’s the feeling of coming back home and sleeping in your own bed, breakfast and dinner with family, the high of all this is what am talking about.”
“You still like dining with your parents? Yikes!”
“At some point of time in your life, you’ll learn to appreciate the simple constants of your life regardless of their integrity. It doesn’t matter whether they understand you the way you want them to, or love you unconditionally, but they are there, leading their normal lives, and you could find some sense of normalcy in it, even if your entire world is chaotic. And that’s why I’ll always find my way back!” you beamed.
I was so absorbed in my own world that I didn’t try to decipher what you meant. It was all BS to me, when I was battling my own demons. I thought you wouldn’t understand what it meant to live like a shadow in one’s own life. My parents knew this but they’d never acknowledge my truth. They’ve been skirting around their suspicions. When all the girls at school were excitedly shopping for their prom dresses, I was sulking, not even feigning enthusiasm. I was downright despising all of the drama. All I wanted was a good pleated shirt and a tux paired with good shoes. But my parents would have none of it. They had to get me a Versace dress to prove themselves a point. When they learnt that Julia, who they already thought was bad influence on me, had got emancipation from her parents, they were out the door and at the airport at a moment’s notice. The only thing they didn’t do was pack me as well in a suitcase and smuggle to India.
Had I opened up to you that day, maybe you too would have shared your truth with me. You’ve been battling clinical depressions for years and have tried putting a brave front to keep up the family’s honor. And I later realized that this was why my parents had kept us apart, fearing that you’ll influence my already troublesome behavior. Their pragmatic methods!
The unmistakable smug silence hung in the air while they took you away. The people around you were just happy that this drama didn’t happen in their families.
And I felt like I’d lost a good friend even before we got the chance to become confidantes. I’ll hold dear your last words that you’ll always find your way back. I too will find my constants and will try to come back home, no matter how receptive our family will be to my coming out. And I certainly don’t intend to come back in a body bag.
And that’s how I’ll pay my respects to you.
Sangeetha Jaganathan wins a Rs 250 Amazon voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the top winners at the end of 2018. Congratulations!
Image source: unsplash
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