The smell of death, the touch of suffering,
The hungry mouths, the tired bodies,
This is reality, wait, its buffering.
This is what it embodies.
The sleep, the dream, the dream in the dream!
I force my memory to return to that day, that fateful night.
I feel so divorced from reality that everything seems to be from a film, some experimental film, where the maker is purposely using disjointed close ups, to display the brokenness of the characters, to make visible the dehumanising of them.
It’s like when I look at advertisements- dismembered body parts of women are made to mimic products, a torso becomes a bottle of alcohol, and two legs become scissors. The woman is not only sexualized, objectified, but her body is not even allowed to remain whole, it is sliced up. What violence!
But here in this scene the filmmaker has perceived of slicing the characters to convey to me that they are somehow not whole, they are somehow disintegrating, they are fading away. The film I see, has a burnt out texture, the whole shot seems to be fragmented; there is an emptiness evident in the mise scene; the atoms are 9.999999999999% empty, so reality is essentially emptiness and I am more not here than here.
The camera is fluid, the shots keep going out of focus and then the subject gets refocused on. Wait, is this some film festival? Nah, it’s my life, more like a snapshot of my life.
I see her face; her mascara is running down her face, she looks like some character from a horror flick. Dressed in torn jeans and a white tee, her feet bare, her messy make up, the alcohol on her breath and her cigarette smoke, they all surface at different times in my mind, like abstract close ups. They help me conjure up that very moment and I am there again.
A few weeks ago we had gone to the Police Station to file an FIR against this bastard. Not much was said that day or the following weeks of what had transpired because my sister was pretty much catatonic and has been since them, but this evening I get a call from her, drunk out of her head asking me to drop by. I ask Frank not to come as she might open up easier without a male presence, so hopping into a rick, I went straight to her Andheri apartment that she shared with Mel.
Anxiously I waited for her to get the door, and the sight that greeted my eyes shocked the living hell out of me.
Zeenia is wearing the same clothes in which she was raped and has painted her face very dramatically, presumably depicting the way she feels. I’m fucking scared. All these past few weeks what seemed like an eternity to me, she had suffered terribly from rape trauma syndrome and it has devastated us. We have all pretty much given up smiling or talking about anything normal, we just eat when hunger threatens to burn a hole through our stomach. Between Mel and me, we supervise her day and night, never allowing that one moment of weakness to overcome her. Slowly, slowly, she began to sleep for a few minutes, which has become a few hours. She’s stopped screaming in her sleep and the hallucinations about the rape have also lessened.
Only on days when we went to court, she’d be pretty much devastated to see the perpetrator sitting across the room, all smug and confident; lying through his teeth. Today the session at court was traumatic and this night is the reaction to that.
The night begins…
There are red Sula bottles strewn round the floor. I’m in Zeenia’s apartment at Yari Road, at least that’s where I think I am, my senses and understanding have abandoned me; we’re smoking spliffs and cigarettes like it’s going out of fashion.
The tiny apartment is smoky, it reeks of that cheap, sweet Sula smell that I detest; never been much of a drinker, in fact I do not care for alcohol at all, but today’s different.
Zeenia is drunk with a capital D and she keeps thrusting the bottle in my hand while petting Bhola, a stray puppy she rescued from the alleys of four bunglows. I keep sipping, knowing that she has something to say, but it is one of those things which can be mouthed out when one is sufficiently inebriated.
So I keep quiet, I drink on; we’re getting sloshed, Zeenia appears to be crying, hugging Bhola who stares at her surprised.
I see her face, a close up shot, her smeared mascara, and her face pale. What’s happened to you, my dearest friend, my sister? Why’re you wearing the same clothes? Why would you wear such ghoulish makeup?
Zeenia breaks down, she’s sobbing her eyes out. Bhola drags himself and sniffs her; he cannot walk as his hind is paralyzed, he carries his whole body weight on his front paws. There is a cello playing in the background, “Nothing else matters”, the celebrated Mettalica tune plays; there are no words, just the haunting tune spoken by the cello. It is spooky, it is surreal; eerily it plays on, the cello is hell bend on making me nauseous.
This nausea is different; it is filled with anxiety, with trepidation, with a doomsday feeling. Something bad is happening, no, no, it has happened and she is trying to tell me about it.
Birds fly high,
Heart as heavy as sinking iron.
The dusky twilight of today.
My haiku for the day, as I wait for her.
She is trying to work up the courage to speak about it, yes, something horrific has happened and she’s kept it bottled up for so long. Life as we knew it has ended, even Bhola can sense it.
Zeenia is on all-fours, on the floor, pulling her hair, screaming out in pain; all this while she was holding it in. I want to comfort her, but nausea is all I have. Where is Dadu? Where am I? Obviously not here, this body is here, pissed out of her mind, but where am I?
Am I in her scream? Am I in her pain? Am I even there? Do I even exist?
I just want to type away all this pain, yes, that’s what writers do, don’t they? A fucking fucked up cliché.
He raped me Nina, she’s saying. For the first time, I hear the words, the sinking feeling gets worse, as if it could get any worse. Since that day at the police station, she’d remained mute and unresponsive to everything, but today the flood gates have broken. I think I handled it better when she was silent, seeing her like this, with such a painful rawness is actually very scary.
Chills ran down my spine to actually hear these words- RAPE, RAPE, RAPE, it kept making a din in my consciousness. No, I did not hear it, but why is this word making so much noise, drowning everything else.
You read about rape in the newspapers, you watch it on tele, you see actors getting raped in films, you come across it in novels or short stories; but where do you encounter that word in the comfort of your own surroundings?
Such words do not perpetrate their violence in my mind when it comes to my sister.
As a writer you explore rape through different characters, you feel it deeply, but not like this.
Focus Nina, I hear a voice in my brain. Focus on what she is saying. “That bastard, he’s a fucking doctor, I trusted him…” All these words came to my ears disjointed, like a fragment from a whole dialogue but in the time they travelled to my ears these sound waves had lost most of their substance.
“How do people in positions of power abuse others so badly, I fucking don’t understand, especially women; these cunts create feminazis” shouts Zeenia. Her hands trembles as she tries to cut some white powder into straight lines. She snorts it through a crisp note, her eyes begin to water. She offers me the note; rolled up, ready to aid me in devouring some white powder.
No fucking way man, I did not yet care to fry my brain this instant, and of course the nausea is threatening to take charge. I have to keep it down. How did she get this stuff?
“Tell me all about it Zeenu, forget about the crap his lawyers are throwing at you, just tell me everything, from the beginning; he was about to operate on you, what happened?” I hear a small voice ask.
“Doctors are cunts; they probably rape patients on an everyday basis, who knows? Oh! And so are lawyers, fucking fuckballs…” she vacillates as if in a trance.
“But how, how,” I hear an insipid murmur. “How did it happen?”
“Fuck Nina, you’re just regurgitating the same shit over and over again, I was thinking about the story you wrote remember, about the rape…in the stables,” she reminds me.
I am quietened, I have no words. Yes I am dying to know how it happened, but I must not seem insensitive, as if at this point I can even feel anything. I think I officially know the meaning of hollow inside. I am guilty of writing that rape story in the stables, I am guilty, guilty…just hang me!
Once reminded of my creation of pain, I keep quiet; I know I have to pacify her, to give her some warmth. Why the fuck did I write that story? Oh Dadu, where are you now?
My mind is such a mess that right now even if Dadu appeared and spoke to me I could only materialize a vacuous stare.
Pull yourself together, that voice inside my head would just not shut up.
The scene playing in my mind, this movie I’m watching is boody nerve wracking. I want to shake this character Nina, the idiotic poet, phoo. What on Earth is her problem? Why can’t the bitch just hug her sister?
It’s as if the character in the film heard my cue. I see this Nina person slowly go up to her sister. She hugs her, it’s not a hug; it’s more of surrender. Zeenia had not expected this move, her rigid body turns limp, she surrenders to the power of human touch. The two sisters sob in each other’s arms, it’s perfect. The observer and the observed became one, for a second, I became Nina.
Nina, the writer; no big deal in a country where Chetan Bhagat is a best seller, it’s absolutely mundane now, being a writer that is. It’s officially the death of the intellectual. Besides what does this girl really write? Most would label her work as b.s, too grim, too existential (as if that’s a profanity), basically useless! Entertainment kahan gaya paaji? Fuck, fuck, fuck!
Yes I am a morose writer, a fucking retard, oh, and depressed retard!
Scream of infinite solitude,
Enmeshed in traffic of the soul,
A faint smile.
This kind of shit is running through my head, fuckity fuck!
The night drags on. It’s funny how when I have a pleasurable time, it’s gone before I can even quantify all the sensations I had felt; but when things go downhill, it’s like karma coming full-force to bite me in the ass.
Finally, we both stop sobbing!
Her voice is small, it’s in fact tiny!
I can barely hear it, although we’re so close.
“You know how fucked up this shit is, I went to consult him for that boob job, my producer finally gave me the cash…so I found him online and went ahead, those D cups were all I had in my head, I’m so fucked up, don’t shshhh me, I’m a dumb bitch. You told me not to go for it, but what was I to do. I needed bigger tits, for that fucking part. Fuck, shit’s really hit the roof. I’m fucked, fucked…” She says.
I have no response, my eyes are closed. I am not watching her face, just imagining her reactions.
I could see every single micro expression, every single movement of her jaws, of her eyes, how the lines creased in her face, I saw all the details without actually looking.
I taste Zeenia’s tears in my mouth or were they my own? I have no answers, I have just feelings. The nausea, the confusion is overwhelming and the emotions are transmigrating as words in my mind palace. I wish to document the pain of the dark night, there was an abundant amount of it and my psyche could not hold all.
I wait with bated breath for her to continue and it looks like Bhola did the same.
Her voice has a far off quality to it, like it echoes from some distant world. I listen as she continues.
“Don’t they have the bloody Hippocratic oath, practise medicine honestly, screw practising medicine, isn’t it absolutely unethical on so many grounds to sodomize your patient,” as she says this I realize she has stopped sobbing, so have I.
My eyes are still closed, I’m watching this scene as the abstract, fragmented film, all those extreme close ups to help the exposition along.
She moves away slowly, I just wait. Our embrace is broken, now we sit facing each other. I open my eyes, I see her eyes.
The pain in them is excruciating, it rips my heart apart. Looking into her eyes I know that no matter how hard I try I will never be able to pen down that emotion, that look will haunt me for the rest of my life.
Zeenia’s my baby sister, I came to the world five seconds earlier, so I’m the older sister; in any case I’ve acted like she was my choto bon.
Shey amar choto bon, boro adorer choto bon…yes, I would piss her off to no end when this song came out of my lips. Damn you Nina, cut out the didi complex, what’s with Bongs and didigiri?
And kobigiri? Kobi kobi bhab, chonder obhak. True that. What’s with all the poetry in my heart, it’d be better off being more prosaic, that’s what the world needs.
Anyway, I protected her, I supported her, I guided her; overall I performed all functions of an older sister as well as that of my mother. Dadu was always there, he was our guardian angel.
Sanity is returning slowly to me, I guess it’s the warmth from my sister’s hug. I’m inclined to ramble on, “Your tits are fine, and why did you even need to go to that asshole? I told you not to, you don’t need silicon in your tits to become an actor. You’re not a bimbo, you’re way better than that.”
Zeenu starts shrieking, “I know what you’re thinking, tell me, tell me. You think it’s my fault right?? You’re probably thinking of some fucking haiku right?”
“Nah re baba, how can it be your fault and no I’m not thinking of a fucking haiku?? Nah re shona, it is my fault. I should have insisted and when you didn’t listen I should have done something severe.”
“What severe? Tied me up?” Her voice takes on a lighter note.
“Probably, fuck knows.” A hint of a smile in my voice.
“I have made Dadu proud, gone and got myself raped.” She laughs cynically. Bhola gets excited to hear her laugh and barks loudly wagging his tail, she grabs him roughly and begins kissing him. What violent love!
“Dadu would have never judged you know that, although your desire for the film led to all this…” I murmur.
A slap is what I deserve; blurting this out was definitely not the right move.
“Desire is the root of all suffering he would say,” she smiles.
I think this night will never end and I don’t know when we passed out on the floor listening to Bob Marley- No woman no cry.
The mind is a funny mechanism, it does not remember everything, yet everything is tucked away neatly in some kind of mind palace. We remember things selectively, otherwise we’d go stark raving mad!
The scene begins to fade away, like a slow fade out. And I remember typing lines on to my laptop…
The smell of death, the touch of suffering,
The hungry mouths, the tired bodies,
This is reality, wait, its buffering.
This is what it embodies.
The sleep, the dream, the dream in the dream!
The lines disappear…
Another more menacing scene replaces this one. It has an ominous overture; the sound of water fills my ears.
You know the sound of water running in a shower.
Zeenia is inside and she is scrubbing herself furiously. We’ve lost the court case, after months of painful hours spent in court, the verdict is out. Dr. V is officially not guilty. It’s somehow proven that my sister’s the slut, apparently they had consensual sex. So the case is blown to dust, like a lamp extinguished with a puff.
That night will be embedded in my psyche forever. We’ve returned home after another god-awful day at court, and today was the last day. We have lost in the Mumbai high court. We may decide to challenge the verdict in Supreme Court, but that’s something we’ve got to decide together. For tonight, it is just silence I seek.
Melissa is Zeenia’s partner, they seem to be in love. I quite like her, the girl seems to have her head on her shoulders.
We were talking softly about nothing exceptional, in fact I did not even want to talk, but had to, Mel needed to talk and I was there.
So we spoke, sipping coffee and taking turns to pet Bhola.
I had insisted that Zeenia leave her bathroom door open, she had one too many episodes recently. The breakdown of her psyche bit by bit was becoming more evident and today in court I saw the look in her eyes- the look of defeat. It broke my heart.
I heard the water run in the shower and the words to her favourite song floated out. We kept on talking, the water kept running, the beats marched on. It was as if time was set in a loop. I registered nothing from the conversation with Melissa, I’m sure she didn’t either; we were both trying to keep from breaking down.
Then she politely asked us to leave her alone and went for a bath which seemed like ages. We also wrapped up and I went to see her to kiss her goodnight. Yes she was in bed, smelling wonderful, hugging Bhola. Kissing her I left, Mel went into the shower, finished up and crawled into bed.
That night I saw baba and ma in a dream, it was prophetic. I ran after being woken up by my dream and the thoughts that followed. I went into her room.
The air had turned chilly, if that was even possible in a city like Bombay; and I miss you like the deserts miss the rain, said the song.
We ran. I saw this happening in slow motion. My life in film- we ran to the bed, and what I had expected greeted my eyes.
She lay on the bed, all snugly hugging her Bhola who was not making any noise.
Mel shrieked Frank ran in; I don’t know what happened after that. Some sort of primeval hardwiring in my brain took care of things.
Zeenia’s mouth was wiped dry, she had to be changed into jeans and a sweatshirt; after cleaning her up, her clothes sat snugly on her body as we put her down in the couch.
I remember seeing her face, all the troubles had vanished, and she seemed to be in deep sleep. I remember Dadu singing “Amaro shone chandero kona, bhubone tulona nai re…”
He sang this song sometimes; it was apparently our mother’s favourite, her mother would sing it to her when she was a child.
Where is she? I barely remember her now, but she’s there somewhere in my psyche; sometimes I hear her sing, her smell, her touch, for a micro second I remember.
Today she had come to see me, in my dream. She had told me something which made absolutely sense- you are her, she is you…
The reality was beginning to fragment again, my head was spinning and I could hardly focus as parts of my dream danced around my mind.
I imagined her last moments; she kept her pills hidden somewhere, maybe in the cistern. I see her take out a fistful, while her tears and water all get mixed up, you’d know she’s crying if only you watched the agony on her face.
She stuffs the pills in her mouth, chokes on them but swallows them down. Reflex action, she feels like throwing up. But she clutches her mouth, forcing them down.
I cut back in my mind to another scene, we’re sitting in the bathroom floor, she’s fallen flat on her face, she’s hurt, purple blue bruises adorn her face.
“Please Zeenu, stop taking this shit. Are you trying to leave me alone, do you want to kill yourself?” I tell her.
Suddenly a smile breaks free from all this torment; she whispers softly, her voice like silk.
“Nina to be something I am not is also a form of suicide, listen I want to hand in my resignation from this fucked up life, before I get fired.”
I hear her laugh softly as if this idea had amused her.
“Quite the philosopher, to be or not to be,” I say.
“Has always been the question,” she says definitively.
“Don’t do anything stupid ok, remember what Dadu would say, all this shit is unreal.” She sensed the urgency; the request in my voice touched her somewhere I know.
She looked at me long and hard, “I’m the fucking poster girl for stupid at this moment,” She thinks, probably about Dadu as her face softens. “I doubt Dadu would quite put it like that, but I get the gist.”
We sit in silence on the cold, wet tiles, we embraced our tears instead of suppressing them and calm washed over us.
“Some fucked up illusion this is…why can’t something good happen to me for a change? She blurts out; I feel her heartache. “At least your Muffin has nine lives right, can’t he give me a couple?”
I smile. Do cats have nine lives?
Mel is touching my hands, she is trying to bring me back to the present moment. I cut back to the scene in front- my sister’s body is stone cold, she finally did the “stupid” thing.
Was it so stupid after all? My grandmother also handed her resignation and so had her father; after all we share the same mitochondrial DNA.
Somehow this incident had made Zeenia hate herself, it made her hopeless; I did not understand what could make her as full of despair as to end her life, not just hers, but end our lives.
After Dadu’s passing, she is, I mean was all I had. I’m still not used to referring to her in the past.
I can still feel her vibrations; our feelings exist as vibration along the nervous system and we feel what another feels. I feel my sister.
I hear the sound of an approaching ambulance; she will be taken away soon. Bhola is whining, his tail stiff and he just keeps licking Zeenu’s hands.
Mel was ready when they walked in, thankfully she sorted everything out. She tugged at my hands and nodded, signalling it was time to move.
I got up zombified, it was time.
The journey to the hospital is hazy, a blur in my mind.
I remember her body being carried in a stretcher, with tubes all over her nostrils and face.
What the hell were they doing to her?
It looked to me like some scene from a D-grade horror; hospitals sicken me to the core. It’s a bloody phobia-
I had this phobia all along which is why I had googled it; it was at least a comfort to know I am not alone.
They say that the fear essentially arises from the fact that one has no control over their lives once admitted.
A control freak, I’m not! It didn’t take me long to realize that nothing is under control and in fact nothing can ever be.
All I can recollect is sitting on a steel bench in the corridor; it’s flooded with lights, the walls are white, and everything smells disgusting! The Doctors in their garbs, mouths covered, the nurses in their uniforms, hair tied severely in a bun, they all looked scary and ugly; all the action was happening in slow motion and it looked like they were experimenting on humans. Maybe they’re aliens, who even knows?
Something about the smell in a hospital, a mix of Dettol, bleach, blood, sweat, puke and faeces; you can also smell the fear, the anxiety, the devastation disease and bodily suffering brings.
And then it just goes blank- fade to black.
Nothing else exists- not matter which is just a form of energy in a matrix of probability.
I see Dadu, his big, white beard swaying in the dark; a fire seems to burn in front of him, I can hear the wood crackle, I can see the fire dance in his eyes. He begins to look like someone not quite like Dadu, but he is him.
Dadu’s face began to morph into the face of Sanyal Mahasaya, his gurudeva. I knew that face only too well; it had been a part of my life as seeing it as the first thing in the morning cemented that face forever in my brain.
Sanyal Mahasaya looked wrathful, fearsome and terrifying. His voice was booing in my head, “Actions or karma can cause bondage, it can also liberate, in the one BEING, the ONE ALL, everything is connected to every other thing. Good and evil are subjective…the Universe is both positive and negative, like the atoms bouncing in your body…it is the whole series of contrasted qualities- NOTHING IS PURE GOOD OR PURE EVIL.”
I saw her face again; the song is playing louder now that the monologue is over, like the sound designer turned it up a notch!
“Now you’ve disappeared somewhere,
Like outer space,
You’ve found some better place
And I miss you…
Like the deserts miss the rain
Could you be dead…
By now the words had begun to scream at me- could you be dead??
It hit me hard- she is dead!!!
I will never hold her again, I will never laugh with her again, never share my life with her again; the same way I can never see Ma or baba or dadu.
It’s over, finito, kaput!!!
I see her again, frothing from the mouth, her body all twisted and blue from the poison, I feel the nausea swimming in my head.
I think about the observer’s paradox, this concept that the observer decides what to observe. What if I am observing all the wrong things??? There are infinite probabilities, so why is this option playing itself out??
Am I in some bizarre twisted way responsible for this? Can I take the blame for this?
I am ready to do pretty much anything at this point to suppress this immense pain; absolutely anything! Muffin where are you?
I’ve got to write, the words are coming, but not as fast as I’d like them to.
I shout, I see it, I hear it,
The pain, the atrocity, it exists….
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