All I want is sleep…

It was six in the morning and Taru’s fists moved fast on the dough she was kneading .She was running late today owing to her late night studies.This was happening more often lately and she must get organised to catch up on her studies, she reprimanded herself.Dad peeped in to tell her to hurry up and to inform her that her clothes  was ironed and ready.Kid brother sauntered in looking for some tlc and milk.Taru gave both… and satisfied,  his small frame retreated into the living room and plonked on the sofa to steal a few minutes more of his precious early morning  sleep.

Taru rushed to have a bath and nudged her kid brother on her way so he too would start getting ready for school.After you di ,his replied lazily with shut eyes.She knew his routine by now,he would snooze till she came out of her bath and then a gentle shake later he would proceed to have his bath.She sometimes wondered,whether he actually bathed,his entry and exit to and from the bathroom was so quick!! It wasn’t too long ago,when mother lovingly helped him get ready for school. Minutes later off they went, but not before they waived to their mother sleeping in the next room. Both wanted to believe she acknowledged but neither was sure..Dad finished with the cooking bit and after making sure that his wife had eaten,he quickly left for office wondering and keeping his finger crossed that he and the kids  will be greeted by a  kind,smiling Siya in the evening.

Her presence was sorely missed by the small close-knit family and the physical form curled on the bed was just a shadow of the wife and mother they knew only so well .She had been like this for the past few years and it was getting worse by the day.Medicines ,contrary to what the doctors had promised were making things no easier.It was a struggle to pull through each day with a straight face,projecting that everything was normal when it surely was not.It was telling on their family,social and professional lives.Taru couldn’t explain her grades or lack of them..dad was finding it more and more difficult to come up with excuses to stay away from official tours and the kid often wondered why his ever-loving mom at times looked and behaved so scary.

They were thankful to  Arti  aunty who had volunteered to take care of Siya during the day when they were away.Her husband ,a close friend of dad dropped her off every morning before leaving for work .The arrangement suited everyone.

One evening ,after dinner ,Taru heard a soft voice drifting in the verandah  outside her brother’s room.She recognized her mom’s voice and came out to check. There she found Siya perched on the bed with her son,both intently looking at  a frame.She entered the room longing to be part of it,..it had been so long ago ..and she missed the closeness,the hugs.Taru looked at the frame,Siya introduced the couple in the photograph as Sudha and Sudhanshu. Alarmed ,Taru looked at her kid brother.. he sat there with downcast eyes ,unable to react..Siya was quick to spot the hesitation .With all her might she flung the frame screaming .”Here take them away,my only friends in this world,you think by turning them against me,you can break me?No way..I know all your plans,I can hear them even while I am asleep..” So saying,she picked up a broom and the next moment came down heavily on Taru.Taru yelped in pain  as the kid escaped into his fast approaching dad’s arms.

Her anger peaked for some time and then exhausted she lay on the bed staring at the door.Dad carefully gathered the shattered glass and extracted the photograph that he and Siya got clicked shortly after their wedding .He knew better not to wonder who Sudha and Sudhanshu were.His wife was hallucinating again.

He tucked the children in their beds and closed the door behind him.Tomorrow is another day he consoled himself for the umpteenth time.

Sleep was nowhere close in the three pairs of eyes or was  it four..

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Where the mind is not without fear

Milk was boiling over and Siya kept staring at the pot obviously oblivious to it.Her laughter filled the room but it froze  her daughter Taru in her tracks.This was familiar..The sound had no expression, the laughter was hollow and as Taru approached her mom and gazed at her ,she saw her blank eyes. Siya was laughing  but the laughter did not reach her eyes.

Quickly she turned the gas knob to put it off and poured the milk in the cup.Gently she directed Siya to her bedroom and made her sit on her bed. Siya had stopped laughing and Taru realized that her mom was now staring at her face instead with suspicion writ large on her tired face . Fearing worse, Taru asked her to lie down and rest after having milk and turned to move out of the room.It was within a fraction of her turning her back that she felt a sharp sting on her left ear.She reeled from the attack but hastened her steps to her own room to seek help from her kid brother.

The siblings took charge of the situation , as best as they could .Mom was mumbling under her breath now,calmer than before.They lowered her on to the bed and tucked her in .The medicine which Taru managed to mix in the milk  would soon take over and she would be alright in a few hours they hoped. They stroked her hair till she fell off to sleep and quietly tiptoed out of the room. Worry writ largely on their innocent faces,they huddled together in their room for some time. Taru’s face was wet with tears and eyes brimming with more .

Taru new she was in charge in dad’s absence .She loved her mom but lately was scared of her.The fear stemmed from the unpredictability of her behavior.She knew her mother was not like everyone else’s.Siya was different.Each day ,each hour,each living moment with her was a challenge .Fate had thrown them in front of this challenge and they had only two choices,face or run away.They chose the first .

Dad will soon be home di-Taru’s kid brother reminded her.She nodded,wiped her tears and dragged her twelve year old frame to the kitchen. Dinner had to be put together and she wanted to help as much as she could before dad came in and took over.She felt reassured with the thought .It was one of those days and this too shall pass…they said to each other as if in prayer.

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Its not my fault…

Summer holidays were near and she was excited.It was going to be one fun filled holiday with her favorite cousins.She had not met them in three years and she was really looking forward to spending the long summer afternoons playing board games  and pleasant evenings exploring the dense thicket around their colony.She was around for twelve summers and her three cousins a few summers older.

They came with their parents,her paternal uncle and aunt and she noticed how tall and awkward her cousins looked.”Look at you !Oh my God I wouldn’t recognize  you if I saw you on the road.You look beautiful young lady ,not like  a kid anymore!”-Her aunt exclaimed and hugged her tight.The younger cousins ran down to play with her kid brother and the eldest ,all of twenty,got busy shifting the luggage.

There was not a dull moment for the next few days .Tina ,when she was not busy playing or reading, helped the ladies in the kitchen.She loved to cook as much as she loved reading .She was a happy kid ,very popular amongst family and friends in the colony.Other parents often compared their own kids with her .Very few people knew about her fears and inhibitions.She was like that, exuberant most of the time but very very private at other times.Not so long ago ,she had lost her zeal to excel and and it took her years to come out of her shell.She was healing and life was looking good.Her mom was her best friend and she felt secure and protected once again.The scars did bleed at times but the pain was almost nonexistent. She loved being a good hostess like her mom and her guests were impressed to say the least.

She was reading a book one afternoon when the eldest cousin ,all of twenty ,came in .”Why do you read such heavy stuff ?”-He said,looking at her Ayn Rand book.”At your age you should be reading all light ,breezy books.” Anything about books always had her full attention and she asked him to recommend a few.Soon they were exchanging notes about books.She liked the fact that he shared her interest and she took him to her local library to help him borrow more for the coming weekend.

Summer days in her city were fiercely hot  and it was only during the night that they felt some respite from the scorching heat.There was this daily ritual of ‘chhidkaav’ on the terrace every evening after sunset that she simply loved .She roped in her eldest cousin to help her and together they sprinkled water on the parched terrace with their lotaas. She grew up doing that almost every summer evening but the sizzling of water as it touched the surface at an angle through the slits between her fingers partly covering the lotaa ,never failed to amaze her.It felt almost as if she was quenching her own thirst…It had to be done two to three times till water didn’t evaporate too quickly and then they arranged the beds .Ladies of the house at the farthest end,the last row,followed by rows of beds for the kids and lastly beds for the men near the door of the terrace.Crisp white sheets,neatly arranged pillows,thin cool summer sheets to cover ,a table with a jug of water ,a torch , pack of cards and of course books..perfect setting for a peaceful summer night under the star studded sky.

They giggled till dawn ,and as her mom and aunt were bitching about some distant relative, she slipped into a deep slumber.She snuggled closer as she felt her mom beside her .Mom always slipped inside her covers every morning when she came to wake her up.She looked forward to that cozy feeling and the satisfaction of sleeping a few minutes more while she stroked her hair and pressed her eyelids with her cool , soft palms gently.Sun was up but she resisted opening her eyes and then she felt it..the roughness of the palm, as it slid inside her blouse .The intense stab in her heart was the same she felt few years ago ..except that she was stronger now.She jabbed the person with her elbow as hard as she could,with all her might.She turned and kicked.  The offender,her trusted friend,guide,cousin, her own bhai scampered away.The smirk was the only thing missing ,everything else was the same..The pain in her heart was unbearable, sharp ,stabbing kind .She clutched her bosom and let the tears flow .She narrated the incidence to her mom that day,she knew she had to,and by evening the house was empty.They never discussed it later.

Tina had learnt to protect herself , she was a big girl now.What she was not aware was her steadily increasing weight and the feeling of guilt when someone said she looked beautiful.

“It is not my fault,”-her mind said ,but her heart didn’t agree.

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And she never wanted to be a winner again…..

She shifted with her family to this new city in summers.She was all of nine and pretty excited about the change.Little did she know that this change of city was going to change her life for ever.She had her parents and younger brother for family .It was a close knit family but  sometimes she felt ,something, somewhere was amiss and it would  not be anywhere  in near future that she was going to find out about that.

As it happens in all transferable jobs,initially they were given a transit accommodation in a colony where other such families were put up.They shared their apartment with another family for a fortnight till they were alloted their own apartment in the main city.This place was quite far from the main city in a quiet neighborhood ,actually too quiet for comfort.Afternoons were hot,lazy and so quiet that one could hear the most gentle of breeze as it playfully rustled up the leaves of a giant peepul tree in the compound.The Peepul tree looked ominous even during the day as it loomed large almost covering the second floor and its branches threatening to enter the open windows on the second floor.

Once her father left for work, her mom got busy with household chores and with her brother who was a toddler.Tina would be free during the day to explore the neighborhood. One such day she closed the door behind her and ventured out .She saw a few kids playing in the stairway and she decided to befriend them.She loved making new friends .She was a pretty girl and at nine had started to bloom into a young  girl , fair,sharp featured with long hair.She was however absolutely unaware of the increasing glances  that were being directed her way lately.Kids in the building accepted her as a friend unconditionally and took an immediate liking to her.This was childhood in its pure unadulterated form,no pretense whatsoever.

The gang hopped down the stairs when she saw a couple of boys peep through the high ventilators into the ground floor apartment.She followed out of curiosity and saw a young man sprawled on the bed in a large single room devoid of any other furniture except a rack in one corner,and some cooking utensils and a stove in the opposite corner.The man gestured to call the boys inside and she thought him to be quite friendly.In a race to hop down,a few boys pushed the girls and there was a lot of commotion.She continued her survey of the room and soon the corner rack caught her fancy .She spotted some books on the shelves,neatly arranged.She loved books,all kinds.She found them irresistible and she strained her neck and eyes to spot some familiar titles.She suddenly became aware that he was looking and she ran down to join her friends.The door of the ground floor apartment flung open even before she could reach the landing and the man came out.He was tall, dressed casually in a lungi -kurta.He greeted the kids and turned towards her to ask,”you are new aren’t you in this building ?”She nodded.”You like books?”Her eyes lit up before she said yes.”I have plenty ,if you want you can come and have a look”he offered.She hesitated ,remembering what her mother always kept repeating every time she stepped alone out of the house–Do not talk to strangers ,

-do not enter anybody’s house without informing and definitely not alone,

-resist tempting offers from people,saying -“some other time may be”,

Even as the thoughts were racing in her child brain,she caught hold of one of the girls and convinced herself -everyone is here,I can just take a quick look. She soon was flipping through the pages of one of the books.He told her she was welcome anytime to read or borrow books on one condition that she reviewed each one of them for him just to make sure she was indeed reading and not merely turning pages.She liked it,her mom always asked her to do that and she felt very intelligent when she did that.

Outside the kids continued their games and she settled down with her book on the last step and was soon lost in words. The street lights came on and she realized it was time to go home.It was a rule in the house.All kids returned home as soon as street lights were turned on.She stood up,dusted her skirt and turned to go up.She noticed the ground floor apartment door was closed ,what she did not notice were a pair of eyes that followed her as she climbed up.

Mother saw Tina read a new book everyday and wanted to meet the man who loaned them .Tina introduced her mother to him one evening and mother thanked him for the books gently inquiring about his family etc.On her way back she reminded her not to enter anybody’s house unaccompanied.Go with a group of friends and talk less she said.She also said something about not eating or drinking at people she didn’t know well.All this confused her but she liked to listen to her mom,mom talked less but whatever she said sounded correct and plus she wanted to be a good girl.She wanted everyone to be pleased with her,she hated conflicts and she wanted to believe everyone was a good soul.A belief that was going to cause her a lifetime of grief.

A few sessions of book borrowings later,one lazy afternoon while the younger kids were having a game of cards,the man invited them for  a new indoor game that he had learned.Everyone jumped at the idea of a new game.He made pairs and Tina found herself paired with him.She felt strange that a grown up man will be playing with kids ,at the same time felt happy that she could win the game with such a strong partner.He made all of them sit in a big  circle with their backs towards each other and explained that the game involved holding your partner’s hand and hiding it t so no one can spot it.She felt like a winner already,Kamal bhai can hide her tiny palm in his big one easily.The game started and she felt something move and rub against her palm .She turned to see her a smirk on her partner’s face, her hand lost in his clothes and then as she wriggled,the grip grew harder, she was hurting,and she felt like puking.

“You are a winner girl,don’t spoil the game now.”

The game was over and she never wanted to be a winner again ever in her life.

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