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Rajlaxmi had been noticing the unhappy vibes between the two. She conveniently decided to play judge and held Meera guilty on all charges for their difficult relationship.
“Drowning is not an option! Fight the current. Stay afloat!”
Meera heard these broken sentences amidst the chaotic rise and fall of her body, in the aggressive river water. She was 14 back then. She had gone for a picnic with her parents. Lost in the charming thoughts of her young mind, Meera had wandered off closer to a river at the picnic spot. She had been pelting purposeless stones into the dancing river, hopelessly absorbed in thoughts about a boy who had smiled at her at school, a day earlier. Meera liked how the river water seemed as erratic as her heartbeat. Almost leaping out at every stone pelted onto its restless surface!
Suddenly, out of nowhere, her slipper decided to be deceitful and let go of its grip on the mossy stone-laden riverbank. Within seconds, Meera had slipped into the turbulent river. She had never been that scared in her life. Her parents heard a loud splash and rushed towards the river.
The current was strong that day and Meera had started to see her entire life before her eyes. The breeze bullied the reeds forcing them to swish and sway to its vagaries, forwards and backwards, this way and that. The peace and calm near the place, from a few minutes earlier had evolved into a nightmare! Her father kept shouting, as he waded towards her through the unfriendly waters – “Drowning is not an option, Meera! Fight the current. Stay afloat!” As she sank in and pulled herself out, Meera could repeatedly hear the broken words in differing volumes- ‘Drowning…not…option’. She had to remind herself – ‘I know how to swim!’. Had she forgotten that she could swim? In those few horrible moments, she had indeed lost all sense of time and logic.
Equpped with this new realisation, Meera emerged with full force this time. Pushing against the current and swimming into her father’s arms. Mud, leaves and a saltless river smell were the badges of honour on Meera’s body that day. She had fought the current and made it back!
That moment stayed with her. Little did Meera know that she would be drowning in more tumultuous waters, during the course of her life. Each time she felt like she was sinking in the quicksand of demands from her life, she thought of this day. She would struggle her way back to the safety of land. She would imagine melting into the cloud of her father’s loving arms.
A few years later, life had turned a new tide for Meera. Her father had passed away when she was 20, and not much later, she received a marriage proposal from the Janakiraman family.
The family was financially stable (unlike Meera’s own family during those days) and the boy had such kind eyes (according to Meera’s aunt, and more importantly, a stable job!). Meera’s beauty and sincere reputation in the neighbourhood had won her this ‘prize catch’ as described by her aunt.
Meera’s mother had felt extremely insecure after losing her husband early in life. It was his first and only heart attack. It swept him away within a matter of seconds. Never having envisaged such a tragedy, the future of her children, her own future and their collective destinies, after the tragedy befell, she felt that Meera’s marriage would be a huge responsibility taken off her checklist. It seemed to her fragile mind that at least Meera had a shot at a brighter life.
The proposal was swiftly acted upon. Even swifter than the heart attack that stole Appa from the family. Meera had no time to think, absorb, or even accept her circumstances. She had barely even overcome the shock of Appa’s death. It felt to her mind, as if her favourite man in the whole wide world was being hastily and sloppily replaced with a new undesirable one. Moreover, she was in her last year of college when she had been stowed away like cattle and tied to the marriage.
She hated Jatin way before she was even married to him. Meera’s cold attitude and distant behaviour troubled Jatin. He felt judged by her and felt that she never really tried to get to know him. However, he was well aware about her struggle with accepting her Appa’s death.
Jatin himself had never wanted to marry that early in life. He had just completed his Chartered Accountancy and he wanted to enjoy the excitement of his first-ever job. His family had been watching his life take flight and they decided to ‘tame’ his ascension by bringing in an anchoring equipment called the bride. ‘It is best to ‘clip their wings early’, his aunt Sudha had once declared.
Meera and Jatin had many rough corners in their relationship that only added to the friction between them. The biggest and most brutal of those particles was Jatin’s mother – Rajlaxmi. Stone hearted, cold, hurtful and rigid! Rajlaxmi had been noticing the unhappy vibes between the two. She conveniently decided to play judge and held Meera guilty on all charges for their difficult relationship.
In desperate attempts to bring her Meera to feel guilty, she would impose routine punishments upon her prisoner! At times, Meera would be ordered to cook lavish meals all by herself for a house party, and at times, she was expected to stay at home and look after ‘the home’ while Rajlakshmi stepped out for leisure. ‘What is the gas cylinder comes? What if Jatin decides to return early? Someone, might try to call on the landline, Meera. You must stay back and take care of ‘the house’.”
Meera would go back to the day of her drowning when she was a child. This marriage, felt exactly like that disturbing, scary and suffocating current of the river. She kept bobbing up and down, gasping for a breath of fresh air, every now and then. She detested Rajlaxmi so much, that she had actually started to see Jatin as a much nobler and understanding individual.
Jatin wasn’t mean to her, unlike his mother. He had been very understanding of her decision to delay the consummation of their marriage. She had just lost the one man she loved in her life. She was not about to submit herself emotionally or otherwise, to just about anyone, so soon! It had been a month, and Meera had continued to behave aloof as royalty.
Jatin, on the other hand had noticed Meera’s resilience in dealing with the distasteful games that his mother had been playing. He admired the fact that Meera never once complained about the poor treatment meted out to her by a member of the household.
One evening, as Meera was reading her ‘Learn to speak Sanskrit’ book, the word Dvaita-bhava: Feeling of duality, struck her. She couldn’t bring herself to read any further.
She was deeply troubled by the depth of the word. The word traumatised her, it made her question herself. It forced her to face her own reality. Was she not a dvaita-bhava person herself? In her grief for losing a man she loved, she spewed unexplained hate, anger and her own frustration towards a man, who had been nothing but kind. On the other hand she allowed her tormentor Rajlakshmi to punish her, trouble her, suppress her. Meera had never offered a single word of protest.
Meera realised in that moment, that she sub consciously believed she deserved to be punished. She had accepted her destiny as being ill-fated. On the other hand, she had refused to accept Jatin’s hand of companionship, because she had decided to be miserable and unhappy.
Suddenly, there was a vacuum in her mind. All the sounds in the vicinity were muffled. The slow cracking whir of the fan, the breeze gently pushing against the glass window, the bells on the cow pulling a cart on the road outside, none of this was audible to Meera anymore. She saw flashes of light and dark before her eyes, until, the scene of the river flashed right before her eyes. She was drowning. Swallowing mouthfuls of the forceful river water. Everything was hazy, chaotic. The ebb and flow of the current would push her up and down. Like a whale gasping for release, she would throw out the water from her mouth and breathe in some air, before she was dunked in again. She could hear a lot of screaming voices, each time she emerged. But once she was inside the water, she could hear only a gurgling vacuum. In those few seconds when her head was above the water, Meera could hear, repeatedly. ‘Drowning…not…option! Meera! …ing…NOT AN…tion! Meera!
Startled, Meera woke up from her slumber. She was sweating profusely and she shook herself back to her present reality. She had drifted off to sleep. She looked around at her bedroom for some reassurance. She saw familiarity in her Sanskrit book, the cuckoo clock, and the creaky fan. Everything was as it had been yesterday and the day before. The disturbing silence in the room was broken by the cuckoo bird, as it continued its ‘coo-coo-once-is-not-enough-here’s-another’, coo-coo call, pleased with its own poetics, its rhythm unfaltering.
She walked up to the window and noticed that the bullock cart had made it to the other side of the road. She silently admired the lilting sound of the bells.
Meera had an illuminated thought. She imagined Appa holding his arms out to her. She said (almost aloud) – ‘Appa – Drowning is not an option. I will not allow my life to be an unfulfilled one. I will tide through this stormy current, Appa.’ Meera realised that the rhythm of life was unique and unpredictable. In the last few weeks, so much had transpired, yet nothing had changed. She had never allowed herself to overcome the past. She was not living for the present. It was time to bring that change.
That evening, Jatin returned from work to find a friendlier Meera waiting for him. Her eyes were filled with kindness. She had never smiled that whole-heartedly. Jatin observed that Meera could be even more beautiful than he already thought her to be! She spoke to Jatin as if he was a long lost friend. She apologised for her unexplained rudeness in the past. Jatin heard her out and put her at ease, and declared that this relationship was going to make the perfect balance sheet! The two of them laughed together, for the first time ever.
She kept her hand on his and looked into his eyes. She moved closer to him until there was no more space left between the two. Completely out of context, she declared– “Earlier, I wanted to drown, but then I remembered that drowning was not an option. I know how to swim!”
Jatin was confused at the odd reference. But he could see that Meera was now happy. He was glad that the young girl he had agreed to marry had a warm heart and drew out strangely beautiful analogies. As he embraced her and caressed her hair, feeling her soft skin and gentle touch for the first time, he whispered… “What made you find yourself again?” Meera flirtatiously whispered back – “Let’s just thank my Sanskrit and swimming lessons for this change.”
As she invited Jatin into her personal space, she could feel her morbid sense of hopelessness disappearing. She buried her face into his inviting chest. She saw a brighter future for herself. Then she thought of Rajlakshmi. It made her uncomfortable for a moment. ‘But I know how to swim!’ she thought. ‘I will tackle this current too!’
She reminded herself that Appa was always going to be around to remind her that ‘drowning should never be an option!’
This story was shortlisted for our September 2021 Muse of the Month short fiction contest. Our juror for the month Manjul Bajaj says “Straight forward narration of events in flashback. The same story told as it is unfolding would make it a stronger story. More show, less tell.”
Image source: a still from the series Aggabai Sasubai
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My passion in life lies in learning new things all the time. Emotional Intelligence is a way of life for me. I like to mix it with all my areas of interest that include - Psychology, read more...
Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views, individual posts do not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions at all times.
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