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Nabanita Sengupta


Nabanita Sengupta: The Game






Her husband locks the room from outside before leaving for school. However the windows remain open; windows – her gateways to the multiple realities called life. For her, realities are not just multiple, they are transitory and often cruelty in disguise. One of the windows opens to flaming krishnachuras in spring. During other seasons it dons various shades of green. Mixed fragrances of the rich flora that thrive just beyond this house wafts in through the window. Her mind often flies out of that window to join the avian population on the other side, their chirpings a source of her music for the soul. The other window overlooks the lotus pond, cradling those fragile and innocent looking flowers in the sway of the mild breeze; just as she, Tara had once cradled all her babies, one by one, till they outgrew the cradle itself. Now all of them have outgrown this little house too. Often watching those pink lotuses bathing in the monsoon showers bring back to her memories from another life, when she used to watch her mother in-law bathe her little ones. Such days generally culminated in nights of brine running down her slippery cheeks. Mornings then invariably came with a heavy hangover and she each time struggled to find out what caused it, the drooping eyelids or an empty heart. The huge gap in her heart suffocates her, threatens to kill her and yet she survives. These windows are her doorways – sometimes to fantasy, sometimes down the memory lane and at times a glimpse into the future.

When Om locks Tara in the house every day, he locks up a bit of his conscience with her as well, a conscience that is quite newly acquired and still sits uncomfortably on his otherwise mundane life. It was ages ago that he had fallen in love with the kohl eyed beauty of his neighbourhood. Her glowing skin, perfectly formed features and an envious figure had drawn Om like moth to fire. He knew he could not rest till he attained her. A mad desire gripped him those days, the flame fanned further with parental opposition. He knew his parents would oppose the match. Despite her famed beauty, the girl was mute. This knowledge of hurdle made him all the more determined.

She wasn't born into muteness. A nasty laryngitis had robbed her of her voice. Suddenly her babbling childhood had turned into a silent one. Om’s parents were aghast. Om was persistent and stubborn - either her or a life of celibacy, he declared. Ultimately they succumbed to his choice and the marriage took place. Even now Tara recalls those days quite often - that brief oasis of love in her otherwise miserable life; the only period when truth appeared to her stranger and more vivid than fairy tales.

As Tara approached her teenage, there was a subtle but permanent shift in her position within her family. She gradually relegated from the centre of family’s attention to the margins of silence following a harrowing bout with that fatal illness. Her hardworking middle class parents, in spite of their concerns and initial efforts eventually accepted her loss of voice as the ransom paid to fate, to have her from the jaws of death. Since they had already given up hope for her life, a loss of voice did not mean much to them then, nor did it exhaust their love for her. If anything, it only turned them more protective towards her. Yet, with two other children to take care of, they did not have the time or resource to take that special care she required now. Since communication with her became an arduous task, the flow of useless chatters which otherwise both defines and cements the closeness of filial bonds slowly dried up, leaving her bereft of any close human connection. Everyone loved her, sympathised with her, yet she was never one of them. She became the outsider within the family. With her lost voice, it seemed she had even lost all agencies of existence. She missed her playmates and her siblings who did not have the patience for her silence. She missed the long evening conversations with her mother but most of all, she missed school.

The attentions paid by Om were like the first rain drops after a prolonged draught and her heart drank them up greedily. She was scared that her searing emotions might cause them to evaporate. In spite all her astonishment and misgivings, marriage happened and the first year was a blur of intoxicating excitement. She felt desired and sought after and that gave her a new lease of life. The honeymoon and its inertia of motion continued well into the second year of marriage too. Slowly, the tide of passion began to ebb and Om's attentions declined. Om had neither the inclination nor the interest to learn her ways of communication or open up other ways to reach out to her. Once his desire to possess her was fulfilled, he felt claustrophobic and tried to look for greener pastures.

Tara could feel that he was drifting away but she was locked in her world. She felt helpless in the throes of her pains from the yesteryears, only, this time, the wound was intentional, result of a selfish desire. Then, she knew that those around her were helpless; now, she felt betrayed and used. Along with her heartbreaks came difficult pregnancies, one after the other; Om, in spite of drifting away, at times did remember his husbandly duties.

She was once again in that phase of life where she wasn't anything more than an important and fragile fixture in the household. Her mother and mother in-law took turns to take care of her physical discomfort that accompanied the pregnancies, but she became more and more alienated within her own self as time progressed. Caught up with her infants one after the other, the ongoing process of her mental alienation and the accompanying degeneration did not become apparent to her initially. As long as the infants depended on her body to fulfil their hunger, she still felt needed, important. It was a glory she revelled in – as the only source of nurturer to the tiny lives. Alas, it was a fleeting glory, not to sustain her for long and once they lost this dependency on her, they too moved away. It was she who suffered the most during the weaning of each child. The children soon accustomed to their new habits while she bled inward. Their daily needs were taken care of by their grandmother, or other members of the family They came home to their grandma; to her they narrated all their stories, to her they felt dutiful and grateful for their achievements in life. Their mother was just a presence in their household. They felt pity, sympathy and even responsibility towards her but she was not a part of their daily lives as grandma was.

She missed those little fingers fastening tightly around one of hers or the smile of satisfaction on the toothless mouth after the feed. Those short lived memories pursued her relentlessly and all she could do was to look out of her windows, her only faithful companions.

Hers is a tricky state. She feels a lot, lot more than others around her. But her feelings, unable to find any verbal outlet, gnaw each other for space within her mind. Often two contrary thoughts scuffle in such a way that she becomes helpless. When she was younger, with lesser number of thoughts accumulating in her mind, she could keep them under control. Her thoughts have turned parasitical, feeding upon the mind that hosts them. Often when the clamour within her grey cells become too loud to bear, she wailed and lashed out at anything that fell within her arms' reach. .

Om, the once besotted lover, is now scared of his wife. After years of neglect and infidelity, he has woken up to the mess that his home has become - a marriage almost non-existent, children far away from their home, time slowly taking away the elder members of the family and the worst, a degenerated wife. These days, guilt feelings often make their presence felt and nudge his conscience. Lately he has started spending more time with Tara, perhaps trying to outdo the injustices of a wayward youth.

But where is Tara?

Ferreted in her own thwarted desires, Tara is inaccessible to him. The love that could have changed the course of her life in the younger days, is reduced to insignificance against the unresponsive wall that she has lately built around herself.Each morning Om tries talking to her, till it is time for him to leave for school. Each morning, she obediently sits in front of him, her gaze faraway piercing the window beyond his chair. His words, his attempts at conversation become a weary monologue. Each day he leaves a little more helpless. Before going, he locks the door of her chamber. He is scared that in one of her recurring fits she may hurt herself. Perhaps his hands shake a little then, out of contrition, in search of a solution. He leaves the keys with her old and trusted maid, the only one whom she can recognise these days.

Tara looks at Om each day as he gets up after another futile attempt to reach her, perhaps searching for some sign – of weariness, of dejection, or even victimhood; any sign of a mental turmoil, a small price for her years of agony. She draws her gaze away from the open window and smiles a sad smile. It is her private game against herself, her way of punishing the man who has robbed her of her life and youth. In this game, she is the collateral damage, as her heart still skips beat to see Om, she still wants to smile into his eyes or snuggle close to him. Yet she fights a daily battle in her mind and subdues her most natural reactions, putting on a painted barricade around her greedy heart.

Years later, searching through her locked trunk, they would find sheaves of paper recording her conversations with her husband, conversations that never took place. Her little secret, her last weapon, known only to her old nurse, her supplier of writing stationeries, and her partner in her little crime.

She only desires to die before him, which she knows she will; failing health that she mercilessly ignores will ensure that. Till then, she thrives on her imagined vision of his clouded face when he will discover her final and only treachery against his numerous ones; when he will realise that he has been judged and sentenced but without any means of pleading not guilty. She laughs.

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