A Woman Wronged And Condemned To Hell, She Wasn’t Going To Let Him Off So Easily…

It was Vishwa she found more difficult to forgive – firstly for being a man and therefore more in control of the situation, and secondly for the timing and object of the deceit.

INSANE AND ABLE
Condemning her to hell
With her wrath he did not reckon
He’d have done well
To remember a woman scorned

Anjana had all the time in the world now to reflect and philosophise. In fact she really had nothing better to do, for her beseeching, crying and bouts of hysterical insistence that she was normal had left everyone at the asylum unmoved. If anything, it had made the doctors and attendants over there even more convinced that she was indeed a mental patient. For all of them knew with experience that every lunatic genuinely believes that his is the sole voice of sanity in an otherwise loony world and thus he makes sure that this voice is heard. In just a few days here Anjana had realised this and had therefore stopped remonstrating.

Forced to be a quiet observer, Anjana had also stumbled upon another ironic realisation – that true happiness was to be found only in the minds of the insane. The insane, who were the sole inhabitants of their own private universes, did not depend on other people for their happiness. Sane people who did were more often than not unhappy. Going by the same logic, Anjana was completely unhappy, and therefore completely sane. She was surer of this fact in the asylum than she had ever been in the world of the sane outside.

Anjana bit her lip at the thought of how much easier she had made Vishwa’s task. That’s what landed her here today … her constant and honest admissions of feelings of inadequacy and inferiority when she had been with him. She looked all around her, as if to belie the disbelief she felt even now at having landed here.

Except for her, each one of the eleven inhabitants of the dorm were fast asleep. The pale moonlight streaming in shafts through the two windows seemed to bounce around the room, reflected by the cream-coloured night suits that each of the women wore.

Ever since Anjana had passed out of boarding school, she had never imagined that she would have to spend a night in a dormitory again. For she had married soon after and this was hardly the sort of place one would associate with a woman who had a husband and a child.

Yet here she was, in the prison of the mind, where sleep had eluded her every single night in these last few weeks, just like it had today. By now she had even lost track of time – it simply stretched in a vast endless sea in front of her, marked only by the ripples of her constant incomprehension at how and why her world had fallen apart in this last year.

It was just about a year ago that she had returned home from hospital with her newborn son Arush. She had hoped so much that Arush would be able to bring colour to their pale lives as a couple and that they would help them finally feel like a family. Arush had made her feel so wanted. He was the first human being who made his preferences for her so loud and clear that she felt like the most desirable woman on earth. In those early few weeks it had seemed that she was nothing except a mother. A feeling she had smugly accepted until that fateful afternoon when she realised that her motherhood had come at a price.

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Anjana had just started nursing three-week-old Arush. She could hear her sister Gudiya, who had come from Bangalore to be with her for a few weeks after her delivery, clearing the vessels in the kitchen after lunch. She herself was sinking into a delicious nap even as Arush continued to suckle at her breast. She was vaguely aware that she must soon sit up and hold Arush upright to make him burp, but sleep overtook her. And it was only when she felt a sticky wet feeling on her chest that she awoke suddenly. Arush had thrown up his feed and spluttered helplessly in his own vomit. A panic-stricken Anjana picked him up and ran, shouting for help, towards the spare bedroom which Gudiya had been given.

She burst the door open and stood transfixed. A naked Vishwa strode upon Gudiya, making love to her as she moaned with pleasure.

Anjana screamed and ran back to her room. She put Arush on the bed and stared at him. He had recovered by himself and showed only telltale signs around his mouth of the mess he had made. Anjana wiped him vigorously – almost as though she were wiping away from her mind the scene that she had just seen. But that was not to be. For the more she tried, the more the import of what she had seen that afternoon sank in.

Now it all made sense to her. Gudiya preferring to manage Anjana’s house rather than attend to her when she was in hospital, the indulgent glances that Vishwa gave his sister-in-law, her insistence on serving Vishwa his meals fresh and hot. It was not Gudiya’s girlish enthusiasm for living up to responsibilities. It was Gudiya’s discovery of passion with Vishwa. The lust of a polio afflicted girl who had not been able to find a timely and legitimate outlet for her desires for want of a suitable groom.

After the initial shock, Anjana came to terms with the fact that she might be able to forgive Gudiya her sin. She was so young after all, and more importantly she was her own kin. It was Vishwa she found more difficult to forgive – firstly for being a man and therefore more in control of the situation, and secondly for the timing and object of the deceit.

Forgiveness as an issue however did not even arise, as Anjana was soon to learn after the discovery. For having discovered a certain magic of passion together, and already having been damned for it, Vishwa and Gudiya together decided that they did not need Anjana’s lifelong martyrdom. They needed instead to have her out of the way, in order to rework their future together – after all, everything was fair in love and war. And this was both! And so it was due to their efforts that Anjana was at the asylum today.

It was amazing how quickly Vishwa had been able to medically certify Anjana’s “madness”. If she chose to remain silent as to the cause of her prolonged postnatal depression, the doctors would concur with Vishwa that she was in chronic and therefore dangerous depression. And if she took the risk, as she did on two occasions, to reveal the double betrayal as the cause of her shattered feelings, she was marked out as a hallucinating schizophrenic. Either way, Vishwa and Gudiya walked away with all the sympathy, for having to manage her poor son Arush, who now had to be kept away from a “dangerous” mother. It was therefore decided by professional opinion that Anjana should best be kept confined in the interest of both mother and child.

*

Oh, how Anjana ached for Arush, whose birth had brought nothing but trauma in its wake for her. How she longed to hold him upright as she used to and feel the soft down of his head as he chewed her shoulder to indicate his hunger. How she longed for him to grab at her breast and drain her until she felt as dry and thirsty as an Indian summer. Anjana opened the first two buttons of her nightshirt and ran her hands over her breasts to relive the sensations that she had just been thinking about. But her touch was like an insult to them and made her feel even more barren than before. Not only was it impossible to come anywhere near what the real thing had been, it also made her cringe and feel ashamed of herself. What if someone saw what she was doing at this moment? They might be justified in concluding that she was really loony. A lunatic who had to satisfy her ache to be touched by feeling up her own self.

Anjana recalled her last few days at home. In Gudiya’s eyes she had rarely seen the guilt of helpless want. She also still had too many memories of Gudiya as the pathetic little sister of her maternal family that overshadowed the justifiable hatred she felt for her now. Anjana realised that she wanted no vengeance on her own flesh and blood, beyond denying her the one whom she wrongfully lusted for.

But Vishwa? A man who had fed like a vulture on one sister’s faith and another’s vulnerability? His words to the doctor still rang in her ears and burned them. “Imagine the crazy insinuations she makes. She’s certainly a mental case to talk about her own sister like that. She just doesn’t know what she says and does,” he had said, admitting her here.

Anjana wished for the nth time that he would die as horrifically as ready meat for the vulture whose soul she knew he actually possessed. And he deserved no mercy, for his meat was certainly not the same as her own flesh and blood. If only she would get one chance to wreak vengeance on him today she would do so. What stopped her was not a fear of punishment. It was only a lack of opportunity. For now she had nothing more left to lose anyway. Nothing much, except missing knowing her baby Arush growing up.

Would Arush ever know the truth about her? Anjana certainly hoped so. She did not know how, but someday, somehow, she did want to be able to tell him everything. It was the one hope that refused to die in her pining breast. She could not afford to die, if only for Arush and his future alone.

Anjana pulled the sheet up to her neck and shut her eyes. But shutting off the world did not drive away the quiet desperation that was now her constant companion. She soon opened her eyes, got up from the bed and walked to the small window to the left of her bed. She felt the breeze caress her face and teasingly ruffle her coarse hair as though it was attempting to break the morbid stillness of her life. The pages of the calendar fluttered with a crackle and then settled again. Anjana looked at the picture of Gandhi-ji – his toothless, beatific grin looking in her direction, and her eyes fell on the words printed at the bottom of the picture.

“Find purpose and the means will follow”. Easier said than done, thought Anjana, but true nevertheless. She would have to find a focus if she was to last out until Arush came of age, and she would have to find it fast. Anjana searched hard and found it soon enough. Found it in fact the very next morning in the form of Snehlata Deshpande’s new scheme for the women inmates at the asylum.

Snehlata had been appointed the warden of the asylum only two months ago. Known for her radical thinking, she had declared to all those associated with the place that she believed in finding positive solutions to the most pressing practical problems they were having there. Now she had found one to solve the perennial problem that the asylum faced in attracting staffers to do the poorly paid labour-intensive jobs in running the place. If the inmates themselves could be guided to do the jobs, it would not only keep them fruitfully occupied but also help them earn some money.

Snehlata gathered all the thirty-five inmates of the home in the courtyard one morning and explained her plan. She announced that she would guide and review their work and also make sure that the money they earned was put aside in their accounts, which they could either give their dependents, or save up for themselves to use when they left the asylum to face the world outside.

For most of them gathered there, Snehlata’s rehabilitation plan was just a new rule they would have to follow. It was only Anjana who walked up to her, her eyes full of gratitude and appreciation, for the focus that the plan had just given her life. Snehlata, taken aback by Anjana’s intelligent response, only stared hard at Anjana. Something unspoken passed between the two of them that moment and a bond was formed.

Snehlata knew that Anjana was not like everyone else. And in the forthcoming weeks she was vindicated in what she had felt at that moment, without even once discussing it openly with her. Anjana came to be entrusted by Snehlata with the most trustworthy job at the asylum – that of running the kitchen. In no time at all she took it over completely. From morning until dusk, Anjana rushed about, chopping, cooking, cleaning and directing the five women who had been assigned to assist her. It was something she was used to doing, for she had run her home with Vishwa with remarkable organisation and competence. Until that dark day.

In a few weeks’ time Anjana came to symbolise the success of Snehlata’s rehabilitation scheme. She became a virtual exhibit for both the inspection staff who occasionally visited the asylum, as well as for the few relatives of the inmates who sometimes called on them. She was an embodiment of hope and the living proof that a mental patient could lead a fruitful and dignified life and maybe even recover and heal.

And then one day Vishwa came visiting. Snehlata led him proudly into the kitchen to watch Anjana who sat on the floor finely shredding her way through half-a-dozen cabbages with utter concentration, totally oblivious of their presence. Vishwa watched silently for a few moments. Snehlata prodded him to stop hesitating and they walked towards her. Anjana looked up at Vishwa’s forlorn face. A wave of anger lashed at her. She knew that he had only come to size her up and check whether her condition was conducive to his future plans. She listened quietly as he pretended to brighten up when Snehlata praised Anjana.

The unsuspecting Snehlata told him that at the rate at which Anjana was making a positive impression, she might soon test to be completely normal and therefore be allowed to go home. She added that they would all miss her at the asylum, but that Anjana surely deserved better.

Vishwa looked confused as Snehlata goaded him to go closer to Anjana and talk to her. Snehlata turned to walk away a few yards, to facilitate the hesitant and tender husband-wife intimacy that she thought might follow.

Vishwa had no option but to comply and went closer to Anjana. Snehlata smiled contentedly as she neared the exit door. But stopped dead in her track soon. A bloodcurdling scream rent the air. She turned around, horrified to see Anjana repeatedly stabbing a screaming Vishwa with her kitchen knife, and watched aghast as he slumped to the ground in a pool of blood upon the pile of shredded cabbage.

“This is the man who said I was mad, when I wasn’t. And he’s paying for it now. This proves that I’m mad, doesn’t it?” she screamed as she drove the knife again and again into Vishwa who lay there with a stunned look on his face, feeling the life slowly draining out of him.

Snehlata ran towards Anjana and pulled her away from him as Anjana continued ranting. “It is your gift of madness, Vishwa, which has today enabled me to wreak vengeance on you, without any fear of punishment,” she continued, as she threw the blood-soaked knife to a corner. “I’m a certified mental case. How can I be punished for this when in my madness I don’t even know what I say or do? Didn’t you yourself say that about me, Vishwa? Answer me, didn’t you?” she hollered.

But Vishwa did not answer.

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Image source: a still from the film Mrityudand and book cover Amazon

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