Why not a full-fledged one!by HUMRA QURAISHI April 10 2020, 2:30 pm Estimated Reading Time: 12 mins, 33 secs
With my father it was different, as blood bonding had taken care of that connectivity with all those murmurs and mutters he’d come up with, as he’d sat all too sad and sullen in the grip of this disorder – Humra Quraishi
I begin to offload. Not mere clothes but more… those thoughts hanging about heavily. Stubbornly unmoving, intruding even now whilst I’m trying to cover this nakedness. Throwing away the synthetic kameez, fitting my lean frame into one of those nondescript cotton ones that lay near-stranded at one end of this ageing bed, overburdened with the heap of clothes sprawled on it. But why go changing, from a this to that? I could go along the street, towards the bus- stop, with that kameez on me; but no, here I sit back and change. And, then, all too suddenly start un-hooking the faded brassiere. What’s the need of this saddling bandobast when my breasts lie shrunk. Hopelessly sullen, in that ‘giving- up’ format.
Thoughts hit, as I near the staircase. After all, the same staircase that had got me right here. From that bustling city to the outskirts of a much smaller city. From those broken bonds to another of those turns.
I had landed here this spring. Facing that broken fence, standing near the boundary wall. Not for long. Up the wooden staircase, towards this ‘home’ for the Alzheimer’s stricken. I’d heard about it from my homoeopath, Dr Guru Dutt, who had admitted his Alzheimer’s stricken wife, Prema, in this home. He had suggested that I shift base together with focus, ‘You’ll have to supervise the running of that place. Nothing very much… not much work. It’ll keep you busy… not sitting brooding. And if you aren’t comfortable, you can always get back. Nah, nothing formality ridden. Only simple supervision… you’ll manage.’
Though situated on the outskirts of Jammu, but the slow pace of smaller locales suited my temperament. Also, I was aware of the basic backgrounders to the Alzheimer’s Disorder, as my father was Alzheimer’s stricken, till about the time he lay shrunk together with the memory cells.
The front door led to a square-shaped room, where sat a dozen inmates and a couple of caregivers. Also, stood out a doctor of sorts with a semi- white shirt on him. Giving impatient looks, he’d begun to offload even before I could offload the baggage on me.
‘This my office… covered the entire balcony for additional rooms. Given a room to each inmate. All from very good backgrounds. There’s a retired general, also one retired doctor, two mechanical engineers and that former police chief and… eleven men and two women. Prema madam’s condition worsening and Shagoofta Shah keeps sitting in her room. Just two days back a new inmate admitted. This man, Rahmat Raheem, was into some business venture till it failed… he talks too much. His younger brother left him here… here, these files on these inmates. Carrying all possible details. Read them later. Now rest… your room that side, close to the main dining area.’
‘Prema madam’s room right here .Some rooms that side and …’
‘And Sen sahib?’
‘He’s spoken about you and …’
‘Haven’t met him though been speaking to him, even yesterday I called him before starting from New Delhi. Actually Dr Guru Dutt knows him and he’s…’
‘That homoeopath… Prema madam’s husband?’
‘I’m an allopath, don’t believe in homoeopathy. But Sen sahib does and keeps popping sugary pills!’
‘He’s here or where?’
‘Just walked towards his home. There, that white building. See from this side window. There, near that turn. This also his ancestral bungalow.’
‘His father’s there and…’
‘Know those details?’
‘Not much… Dr Guru Dutt told me that Sen sahib’s father is also Alzheimer’s stricken but now he’s turned…’
‘Yes, now he’s turned very aggressive and somewhat difficult to handle. Shifted him out from here… some of these patients get aggressive, others sit all too quiet and depressed… It does get tough… very tough.’ He walked away but not before asking me whether I’d be able to manage this home for the Alzheimer’s stricken. Realizing I should be, considering I’d undertaken this overnight train journey, he’d looked somewhat assured, rather reassured.
I’d tossed and turned on this ageing bed. Apprehensive and anxious. Not sure whether I should have come here. Not sure whether I’d be able to handle even one of these inmates. Not sure of just about anything. Yet I’d undertaken this journey! Landed here, on the outskirts of this city!
Thoughts continued to nag: Wouldn’t it be too exhausting to sit amidst these inmates affected with shrinking memory cells, to keep listening to their vague recollections, to keep nodding to those disconnected sentences and hazy bits pulled out from their polka -dotted memory reservoirs?
With my father it was different, as blood bonding had taken care of that connectivity with all those murmurs and mutters he’d come up with, as he’d sat all too sad and sullen in the grip of this disorder.
Restless I lay, even as the sun’s rays came through the bay window. Not ready to face another day. And then sat all too startled, as I’d heard the door open. Opened with force. Ajar. And then more than ajar, as a well-built tall man had walked in with a confident look about him.
‘Sen …Sen sahib?’
‘No, not Sen. I’m Rahmat Raheem…new fellow here…in this terribly boring place. What you think of this stupid place?’
‘Reached here only few…’
‘Told you here to look after us! You some new supervisor or what! To look after us... are we silly sissies! And you still sleeping. Breakfast over and… ’
Taken aback, I’d jumped from the edge of this bed. Only to face him. Stale breath from my un-washed mouth hitting him. Not hard enough. He had continued standing right there. Staring in that persistent way. Unmoving, even when I’d hit out, ‘You that new patient?’
‘Patient! No patient! Dumped here! My brother thinks my memory cells shrinking. Had this head checked! I’m no bloody AD patient but he’s getting paranoid. Just lost my way once or twice but that doesn’t mean I’ve lost my head! Certain he wants to grab all our family property and so me dumped here! Okay let him walk away with everything! Who cares! My memory okay!’
In that unwashed and uncombed state I tried moving backwards but he was there. Speaking with amazing fluency. Narrating complicated moves, leaving no gaping gaps for any detail to be side-tracked.
And not just that one day. But every single day. Over what seemed unending walking and talking sessions. Never before I’d heard such long-winding tales revolving around his one broken engagement, his failed take off with another of his women friends, his fall-out with the who’s who on the political circuit. And by the time each tale ended he’d look about agitated. As though definite deprivations had left dents. As though he had been a misfit on the circuit, a failure at the networking games, side-lined for times to come.
During those offloading sessions, he’d clasped my hands. Strangely or not so, I’d begun to reciprocate. I’d begun to feel happy. For his clasp didn’t relay lust and nor love. Just about some sort of support. Perhaps, that emotional support I’d been craving for, yearning for, all these years. Never ever finding it. Not even in that marriage that had throttled my urges, killed those emotions.
I’d blushed as he’d stared at my face. I’d sat in a daze as he’d gaze at my hands and arms… furthering his gaze as I sat listening to him. And as he would accelerate those detailing sessions, several inmates together with their caregivers stood close by, hearing those intricate details to his outpourings – official hangings together with unofficial burials, villain climbers cum sleepers simply walking away with the dead in the dead of the night, and the alive no longer breathing with the viruses of all hues and shapes hovering all around!
There’d be an abundance of characters fitted in each one of his tales, ranging from the rogue rulers to the political mafia of the day. First names accompanied by surnames. And to top it all he’d exclaim, ‘What’s in a name!’
And on that particular day when he exclaimed, ‘What’s in a marriage!’ he’d looked right into my eyes, with emotions dripping from his eyes, uttered the eight - letter word.
‘No, no, no marriage!’ I had screamed. A couple of the inmates together with the caregivers rushed towards us, fearing there’d come about a deadly twist in Rahmat Raheem’s offloading sessions. More so, as he had come up with an additional one- liner, ‘Obviously a re-marriage for you! For me first time!’
Made me laugh and cry. Made the others in that room, that is, those whose memory cells were not yet shrunk, look about so very enviously.
Till about the next noon when I’d decided to go ahead. Marry this man.
Those warnings and forewarnings, sometimes shrunk in a haze of words or much too obvious, had not come in way. I did not allow them to come in way. I wanted to marry this man. Determined I was. After all, I had fallen in love with his childlike ways and with that earnestness holding out in his eyes.
But before his hand could clasp mine in that ongoing way or before I could reciprocate any of his romantic moves, this Alzheimer’s home seemed turned into a fortress.
He was dragged out. Towards a police van, thrown into it as though he was nothing but a bundle of bones . To be silenced and thrown aside, for offloading names and surnames with big designations and even bigger allegations to them.
I had tried running after that van, screaming hysterically, ‘He wouldn’t ever speak out… he my new husband. My new husband… we just married. He wouldn’t blurt anything now… I’m telling you all… he wouldn’t speak out!’
Once dragged for interrogation, there’s that dead - end. To be stacked amongst those whose names are scribbled in sarkari registers. Shut and closed. Never ever to appear or reappear.
Leaving me with the half-widow tag dangling along with my name. Prefixed for times to come, even as I go from one detention centre to the next, from one interrogation centre to the next, from one jail to the next.
To try trace him, to meet him, to prove his innocence, to see him - either alive or dead!
Married, to be precise re-married, for one single day. Thrown in the half-widow category the very next day, when he was thrown in the police van parked close to this Alzheimer’s home.
Even now as I’m readying to go down this staircase, to hop into a bus, to locate my ‘missing’ husband, those thoughts don’t leave. Hover around mercilessly and endlessly. And as I throw a faded dupatta on my breasts, I stare at my chest. Heaping some more from those bygones. After all, right from the teenaged years when my breasts began sprouting on this chest, the two seemed to keep abreast with the emotional phase I’d been going through.
My breasts looked ‘all there’ the first time I had fallen in love. The inevitable breakup made them droop. Not for long. Changing their very look, getting back to form as soon as I was attracted a second time. But not before long, the two lay listless along with the rest of the form, as I’d lay sad and sullen in an ongoing state of melancholy, heaped on me by that mismatched marriage. Unmoving I’d lay. Night after night , Sunday to Saturday, to any of those sorrow-saturated days that followed in quick succession. Till I’d cried aloud. Pack-up time of that marriage that traumatized me each single day.
Winding it up.
From all those bygones of that big city’s big-paced settings.
Towards this smaller city, with small-paced settings, where I’m now sitting with the half -widow’s tag pinned on me.
As nobody is sure whether Rahmat Raheem has been left alive or quite simply silenced for times to come!
Today there are no full- fledged closures. A