Noise Within But Silence Without: Why, Papa?

Posted: August 22, 2019

To appease his conscience, he decided to fulfil what he thought was his parental responsibility by committing himself financially to her education, and saving for her marriage.  

In 2019 our beloved writing contest, Muse of the Month gets bigger and better (find out how here) and also takes the cue from the words of women who inspire with their poetry.

The writing cue for August 2019 is this quote from the poem Stanzas by Emily Bronte, whose 201st birth anniversary just went by –  she was born on 30th July 1818.
“I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading;
It vexes me to choose another guide­:”

The fifth winner of our August 2019 Muse of the Month contest is Shalini Mullick.

Noise Within But Silence Without: Why, Papa?

The large hall was beautifully decorated, and guests had begun to arrive.

Aastha took in the grandeur of the arrangements. The sequins and crystals, carefully interspersed with the embroidered design on her shimmering orange lehnga shone and glittered with the reflection of the lights.

Excited and a little nervous, she fingered the bangles her father had ordered for her when she joined college, as part of her trousseau. The ceremony was scheduled to begin in another 15 minutes.

She looked up at her mother who smiled and took her hand in hers. She found herself wondering what her father would say if he was here. She recognised the irony of his presence in her thoughts coexisting with his absence in the moment. His being absent even in his presence was what she had been used to since she was a little child.

Both parents had taken the news of their newborn child being deaf badly, but he seemed to have taken it as a personal affront; as a reflection of himself. When she was a baby, he had taken her to all kinds of doctors and then, later to many religious places and even godmen in the hope that someone would be able to fix this ‘defective’ child of his.

Powerless in front of the fact that her deafness was truly incurable, he had not been able to find it in himself to accept the child he had always wanted. It seemed that he was more in love with idea of having a ‘normal’ child, than the child herself, and this was the beginning of a tumultuous and ill fated relationship between father and child.

To appease his conscience, he decided to fulfil what he thought was his parental responsibility by committing himself financially to her education, and saving for her marriage. He would give her away in marriage, to whoever would accept her, and then he would be free of her burden. He believed in the concept of kanyadaan, and he hoped it would be his salvation from the misfortune of having born a child who was an aberration from normal. Normal, as defined, and understood by him and his thoughts.

As the years passed, she became old enough to feel the pain of his rejection, but was still young enough to believe that she could perhaps change his responses to her. She would try and communicate with him but the rapid gestures of sign language as well as vocalisation of sounds.

Aastha’s attempts to communicate made him uncomfortable and he forbade these in his presence. On a rare occasion he had agreed to take Aastha out for a social event, and had been very embarrassed and enraged at the artificial sounding sounds of her speech synthesiser.

Home and his wife became nothing more than reminders of the imperfection and defect in his progeny, and he spent more and more time away from both.

Gradually, Aastha became invisible in his routine and his life, as she saw that it helped to maintain some peace in her surroundings. She would spend hours in his study when he was not there, as if, in his books and papers, she would find a part of him.

Aastha had always been strong willed by nature, and as she grew into a young girl and entered her teens, she showed more and more conviction. She worked hard to transform her challenges into her achievements at school. She was soon confident and fluent in her communication and interaction with the outside world, but dialogue at home remained elusive.

Her mother remained the only semblance of continuity in the household and a tenacious link between father and child. She did try to give Aastha the love of both parents, but, often found herself torn when the wilful child clashed with the autocratic father. And that had become more and more common as Aastha grew older.

It was through her mother that she had had to fight her battles. From wanting to move from a special needs school to an integrated one, permission to buy her speech synthesiser, and pursuing a course in fashion design instead of English Literature, in which her father was a recognised academician; all had been tough and bitter battles.

With each of these the distance between her father and Aastha seemed to grow into a chasm that would never be bridged. She gradually faced the fact that for him, being deaf defined her, and the relationship between them. She also accepted that just like she could not change the fact that she couldn’t hear, she could not change how he responded to it.

With her mother’s support she found her inner strength and resolved not to let herself be limited by her inability to hear. Deaf to the external world, it seemed that all she could hear was the voice of her inner self and true nature and she let it guide her.

As is usually the case, it had been the last battle which had been the final one. She had been offered a job with a small boutique in Kolkata itself after she completed her fashion design course. She refused the offer and shared with her parents her ambition to work in the Hindi film industry.

Even for her mother, perhaps, that was the toughest one; one where she found her reclusive husband needing her support even more than the child she had nurtured all these years, and was unable to intervene. Her father’s email on this occasion was the single direct communication he had ever had with Aastha, and it made clear his stand of disowning her, if she did not take the job in Kolkatta and get married within the next few months.

The next day she had left for Mumbai with some saved up money, promises of support from her friends, and her mother’s words of caution.

The next few years had been brutally tough and she had wondered if she had taken the right decision more than once. The film industry was competitive and unfair in many ways and she often found herself getting cheated out of credit for her work and designs. Many people had no scruples or integrity, and her deafness was conveniently used to their advantage. Her mother was pained to see her struggles and reminded her that she could review her decision and return home to her father’s forgiveness.

The ceremony had begun, and she again wondered how he would have reacted to see her here today.

She felt her mother press her hand and stood up. She stepped up on the stage to receive the Rajat Kamal Award; the National Award for best costume design for her work in the biggest Hindi period drama movie of the year. She bowed and accepted the award and medal from the President of India, and typed her acceptance speech onto her speech synthesiser –
“I’ll walk where my own
Nature would be leading;
It vexes me to choose
another guide”

These were the words from the collections of Emily Bronte she had so often seen displayed in her father’s study room; displayed along with the picture of his receiving the award for excellence in studying the works of  eighteenth century English literature from the then President of India.

Far away, in Kolkata, her father watched the award ceremony on televison, and made no effort to stop the tears rolling down his cheeks.

Shalini Mullick wins a Rs 500 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations! 

Image source: shutterstock

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