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Was Her Early Dementia A Defence Against Painful Memories Of Domestic Violence?

Posted: February 10, 2021

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That was the day when I got to know that Ma was a postgraduate. A brilliant student who was married off immediately after completing her education.

I was in a meeting when I received a call from my mother’s nurse. “Soni Didi, Ma has gone missing.”

It took some time for my preoccupied mind to ingest those words. “Huh! Come again!” I responded in a muffled voice.

“Ma is missing Didi. I had gone to set the table up for lunch. I had checked on her before that. She was having an animated conversation with a sparrow on our balcony. When I returned from the kitchen, Ma was not there!” She narrated the event word by word.

My face turned blank and I sat in front of my superiors and colleagues like a zombie. They realised something wasn’t right. Shraddha brought me back to my senses with a slight pat on my back. I broke down like a baby as I kept repeating the words, “Ma… Ma is missing,” incoherently.

I dashed out of the conference room. In no time I was honking my car’s horn, trying to wade through the traffic.

**

Ma was all fine till 6 months back when she started showing signs of dementia. It looked casual in the beginning. She would forget words to express herself. Gradually, she began to search for her belongings, having forgotten the place where she kept it last.

She was undergoing treatment, and Geeta had been taking good care of her when I was at work.

A school bus stopped next to me. A wave of relief rushed through my senses as a thought struck me. I dialled up nurse Geeta, “I hope Ma was wearing her I-D.”

To my utter shock, Geeta revealed that her I-D was lying on the couch.

“What were you doing, you idiot?” I pounced on her.

“Didi…I don’t know how to explain.” She wailed over the call.

I cut the call short, and focused on the road. My eyes turned hazy with tears and I found it difficult to concentrate on my steering wheel.

**

“Soni, don’t talk to strangers and stay inside the school premises till I come to pick you up,” Ma advised while putting the school I-D around my neck.

It was my first day to school. I grew nervous and cranky. I was scared to stay away from her.

Ma was warm, receptive, and very loving, but I had hardly ever seen her smiling. Her body would usually be covered with abrasions. She would shriek out of pain when I would try to hug her. Dad hit her almost every day.

As a kid, I didn’t understand the reasons behind his violent temper. Dadi would tell me, “Your dad is nice, just a little short-tempered.”

Once he hit Ma on the head with a glass bottle. She ended up in the hospital with stitches. When my mom pleaded to her parents with folded hands to take her away, they asked her to bear with it. For them, ending a relationship or divorce wasn’t a wise solution.

“Log kya kahenge?” My Nana had questioned my mother.

“And think about your daughter and her life.” My Nani had added.

We both went back only to receive more abuse. Both physical and mental.

Until one fine evening, when everything changed.

**

Ma was busy inside the kitchen when the doorbell rang. I was in the 8th standard and was occupied studying for the half-yearly exams.

Dadu opened the door and I heard him and Dadi sounding strange. There was a verbal altercation between Dadu and Dad.

When I reached the room, I found Dadi sitting in one corner with her hand over her forehead. She was crying uncontrollably.

On one side I saw my mother admiring a newlywed bride. She looked resplendent. Somewhat similar to how my mother had looked in her wedding snaps.

My mother caught hold of her gently while admiring her beauty.

My Dadi didn’t leave even that day to curse my mother. She conveniently put the entire blame of my father’s illogical and unlawful decision on Ma.

“This is what happens when one fails to serve her partner in bed.”

My mom, for the first time, scowled at her.

She later gave the new bride a warm hug. A smile crossed my mom’s face for the first time.

She looked at my Dad and said, “Thank you, for giving me the second chance to live my life. I swear I’m going to make the most out of it. I’m no longer bound to you.”

The next moment I remember is of me, leaving the house with my mother. The smile didn’t leave her face. She took me to Nana’s place.

They got a rude shock when my mom narrated the events, step by step, point by point.

My Nani cupped my mother’s face with her palm and kissed her forehead.

Ma remained sober. She said she wanted her post graduation certificates to start looking out for a job.

When my Nana asked her about the missing sorrow in her eyes, she replied, “What made you ignore my grief for the last 15 years?”

I hadn’t seen my mom like that before. She was smiling, talking, expressing herself. That was the day when I got to know that she was a postgraduate. A brilliant student who was married off immediately after completing her education.

I witnessed Ma, rising from the ashes. She was on a roll, and was in no mood to stop. She got herself a decent job and slogged day in and day out.

She soon invested in a 1BHK apartment and we both moved into our new nest.

With her around I never missed anyone. I was happy to have found my mom back. I could now hug her without the fear of hurting her. Her skin looked healthy, rosy and kissable. Life kept progressing.

We two had our getaways and vacations. We were a complete family, the emotional anchors for each other.

A few years passed when one day, I was shocked to notice my dad’s photo in the newspaper. The news heading stated, ‘A minor boy, smashed his father’s head with a grinding stone. The man died on the spot.’

A part of me sank reading about it. I took it to Ma and informed her.

“I read it before you, in the morning,” she replied. “I won’t utter a word if I find you crying and mourning his death. I understand, it’s human to get emotional.”

I clasped her tightly. I sobbed for one entire day. The following day, I felt better, lighter. Eventually, I got over the tragic event. After that, I never discussed anything about him with Ma.

I don’t know when, amidst all of it, I grew up and began earning. I was enjoying the phase of tending to her needs. Of keeping her happy and comfortable after her retirement.

Then unexpectedly, this dementia got diagnosed. Maybe, it was her mind’s way of erasing those awful memories.

**

A call from my good neighbour propelled me back to the present times.

“I’m at the police station, I want you to come over so that we can lodge an official missing complaint.”

“Yes!” I replied in a choked voice.

Ma, where are you Ma? I don’t want to lose you Ma!

My heart kept repeating it. I soaked my mind in prayers to keep egregious thoughts at bay. They were eating away at my peace of mind.

While my car moved ahead, my eyes kept searching for her. I drove past my building to take a turn towards the police station when I saw a lady flying kites in the company of slum kids.

I stopped my engine and rubbed both my eyes well to believe what they wanted me to see. It was my mother screaming and enjoying the sight of her kite soaring high up in the sky. I walked towards her, “Ma, What made you leave the house?” I asked, raising my voice out of concern and anxiety.

“Don’t make me remember those bruises and that hellish house. I’m happy today, living this moment. Look at my kite, moving beyond those clouds,” She smiled.

I knew from her answer that the disease was slowly overpowering her. But for the moment, I was happy to trace her back, yet again.

“Chale Ma?” I held her hand as we walked towards our car.

Author’ note

Dear readers, it’s shocking to know that there has been a surge in the cases of domestic violence on women during the lockdown, not just in India but around the world. It’s even disheartening to know that not just housewives but even working women are subjected to such physical and verbal abuses.

So high time, parents: raise kinder, considerate, and compassionate sons.

Raise your daughters mentally and physically stronger. And for God’s sake don’t encourage or force your daughters to stay in an abusive marriage. Give them the confidence to take that life-changing decision.

Our civil administration and judicial system, too need to be more empathetic while attending to complaints on domestic violence, sexual assault, and abuse. Give women the faith to share their ordeal without hesitation. Otherwise, there is no point in appointing people for such positions. Most of the time people don’t approach the concerned departments because they fear the mental hardships they would have to undergo in case they decide to open up about their pain and anguish.

The society as a whole has to strive very hard to bring in a radical change in the way things and system function.

Let’s beget humans. Let’s beget humanity.

Image source: a still from the film Kaasav

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I'm a stock trader by profession. A yoga enthusiast and a qualified Yoga therapist.

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