Do You See?
As Tara floats in and out of consciousness, strange sounds keep streaming out as if from a different world. Their reverberations keep pouring over her inert body. It all rings in her head, then forces her to wake up. Why is she lying down? She tries remembering. What had happened?
Rumbling raucously the bus she was travelling in had suddenly come to a yelping halt. She faintly recalled her teeth almost got shattered on the seat ahead. Yes, her mouth ached like hell now. The woman behind, the one with the kid, had tumbled off and hit a metal post next to where Tara fell. Incoherent screams rose around her. Seemed the bus had hit something and tilted to one side. Tara even tugged at the fallen woman’s feet trying to help but the boy lurched on to her lap, crying. Then a tumbling human pile further flattened her. Oh God!
Tara finally comes around, a bored female voice invading her consciousness: “Madam, you’re at the government hospital. There are people inquiring after one Tara from Shahdara. Are you Tara Chibber?”
Yes, she is.
Dizzy images of faces contorted in muffled cries and machines humming ominously in the room crowd her tired eyes.
This evening had discovered a new resolute Tara. She finally chose this date on the dog-eared calendar and hopped out with it. A gamble. Surprised at her own ability to wriggle out from her joint family cocoon to reach out to something or someone. Still a little shell-shocked by her own audacity, Tara realised that she’d have to pick a destination or else the bus driver would think Tara’s crazy, sitting on this loop-route like someone’s forgotten piece of belonging. The driver wouldn’t know why she was here or what happened to her when things happened.
There was nothing new in Tara’s routine. No one noticed her anymore in the house. Only a clock on the shelf top nodded in a familiar tick-tock to her. The tacky old Delhi neighbourhood never seemed to get a makeover. Same lifeless saris drying from paint-chipped balconies, same suffocating incense wafting off, and same footsteps on broken stairs while she wandered indoors. Curtains hanging from window brackets danced absentmindedly while she warmed her dinner plate alone. Sat before the television watching news. The room freshener, rose or jasmine, didn’t change either. Not surprising. She’d been living with these sorts of details for unnumbered days.
Tara looked around inside the bus. Office folks were gone. Others were likely out to shop or pay visits. She too could go meet an old friend, call on a relative or shop somewhere. Only, it wasn’t as easy. She rarely went out on her own.
Meanwhile, darkness was descending upon the city like a mushroom, spongy and patchy with fog. Twinkling city lights began appearing, deepening the falling evening. First a hush, then a gurgling glimmer of lights, and then a broad inaudible swish – sweeping billboards started getting illuminated over the grey skyline. Streaks of cars flashed by and each light post stood guard, staring mutely down at the circle of its own shimmer. The mushroom fell like a cosmic parachute. Midway, it floated upside down, perhaps due to the changing twilight breeze. The earth below palpitated, probably from the fear of bearing the dominating weight of the dusk covering its belly in a rapturous embrace, thought Tara. Staring into the night she flipped through the pages of her life.
Twenty-two: She’s married. Laughter, music and merrymaking.
Twenty-three: She’s as fresh as the chrysanthemum in the living room vase, bursting with secret pride, fed and indulged. Tara, watch your step. Don’t lift heavy things. At the threshold of motherhood.
Twenty-four: A secret test confirms a baby girl. She’s forced to get rid of it. This family wants a male heir.
Tara shut the book. It’s too painful.
The wintry evening whirred like a panicky bug, wings stuck on the frosty glass pane of the bus. Tara clutched a little purse, a testament to her barren fortune. A cheap lipstick for lips that had lucked out of its admirer, a compulsive gambler father’s gift of a lottery ticket, a voter ID card, and a few dry petals from a stale-smelling temple where she had grudgingly prayed for a change in her fate.
Aware of the driver’s stare through the mirror, Tara fidgeted. “Madam, do you have a destination? Where are you from and where do you want me to halt,” he must be thinking. A group of teenagers giggled in a huddle. An old man with a crutch waited to get down. As the bus wobbled to a stop, loud middle-aged men with beer breath boarded the bus almost pushing the old man aside. They kept cracking bawdy jokes that tumbled down their silly paunches, unshaven cheeks, crumpled shirts and sloth manners. Tara avoided looking at them. She is not supposed to be seen alone by strangers in an unknown part of the city. Delhi is bad, often bizarre. Someone might recognise her. At the next stop, a woman climbed up with a little boy of about two years. The child, sitting right behind, kept crying. “Shut up Aman,” the mother admonished repeatedly, breaking Tara’s train of thought:
Twenty-six: She has prayed to all those gods and goddesses nestling in golden domes and heavenly canopies. But she fails again. Tara, not a daughter, no.
Twenty-seven: She’s an apparition of herself. She walks about the house in stranger’s footprints. She wants to be lucky. Tara, it’s for family honour that you must find out who inhabits your womb – a son for our only son, not a daughter.
These days her husband was away to London on a business venture. It could take a few months before he was back.
By that time, regain your health, Tara. The family chants like a pack of crazy priests. Offer food in temples, seek blessings, and eat, drink and inhale the pollen that’ll embed the male fruit in your womb.
Outside, Tara saw the mushroom had long fallen on the belly of the earth and split and morphed into a mass of dark shadows, creating fearful inky whirlpools that kept pulling Tara unto them. She felt like howling. She wished to be free and uninvaded. From those that owned her, from the bus driver’s stares in the mirror, from the drunken laughter around, and the harsh “Don’t cry Aman” of the woman behind her. To go home.