o it was just another day when I saw my wailing aunt knocking our bamboo gate with her four year young son in tow. This was not the first time I am witnessing her entry in a complete disheveled state but now I was matured enough to understand that my aunt was unhappy.
Make no mistake please, I was a little girl of eight then. But all I understood was that my mother was unhappy with my father; the very baba (father) of mine who slogged the whole day catching up with a little or no sleep in the night and this mashi (aunt) of mine who was equally unhappy with her counterpart. I would tremble in fear when I would witness an angry maa (mother) of mine fighting either with baba or mashi. Unable to satiate the rage inside I too was at the receiving end of some blows showered by maa when I tried to intervene and stop her. Mashi would cry, baba would leave, my cousin would continue playing and I would choose a corner to pray to my God to stop all these fights. I could no longer bear the ugly drama which was very common at that in our household.
“Didi (meaning elder sister) I can no longer tolerate the atrocities,” would be my mashi’s opening sentence the moment she reached our house.
On the other hand I would flee to my baba and ask him, “Are you going to fight now?” Baba wouldn’t answer but I knew he was deeply hurt. I couldn’t approach maa as I could not bear the blows so I would run to our Thakur Ghor (place of worship) and utter a silent prayer to maintain peace in the household. But God wouldn’t listen either. The fights grew severe with each passing day and my father drifted apart from me as he thought it was only maa whom I loved and not him. Now that he is no more I tell him each night in my prayers that it was him whom I had loved and needed and not my maa.
My mashi often complained of hearing voices of the dead. Like my dead dadubhai (grandfather) would beckon her, “Come Bulbul (my mashi’s name), join me.” My mother like a seasoned counsellor would say that though she didn’t hear voices from dadubhai but she would always hear voices from her brothers who were alive and somewhat refute to the spirits for causing this problem. I tried very hard to listen to those voices but no, spirits were not at all kind to me. I would pose the same question to my baba and as usual he would pat me on my back and would say these are meaningless. At night I would cuddle in my mother’s arms as I couldn’t get sleep without her. She had become a crutch to a little girl who had completely lost trust on herself. There she narrated the stories of abomination rendered to her sister Bulbul and also those spirits which guided them to follow the right path. I listened. I believed all what she said.
My cousin was a very naughty boy and my aunt would fail to curb his hyper activities. But he listened to his father. In fact he was scared of his father. Oh, I just forgot to mention that my maa would take the boy’s side and beat me up black and blues when it came to punishment. As I said that I was growing up as a shaky daughter with no self-esteem and no power to revolt. I would resign myself, take those severe beatings and punishments and would look helplessly till the house maid ran to rescues me from my maa’s clutches.
Well, I do not want to speak about my maa or myself. I want to go back to my mashi. As I said she was unhappy with her husband and also the very fact she stayed in a joint family with a common kitchen tore her up. Her complaints increased and when I was ten the hell broke. She started suspecting her husband in having an affair with the maid, Bashonti (maid’s name). Did I mention she herself got into multiple affairs herself which would end disastrously? The child was ignored and was totally under his father’s custody when the tragedy occurred.
“99% burns. She won’t survive”, was what the nurse (who also happened to be her sister in law) told my father.
My father would visit her every day in the hospital. My maa had fallen apart. She didn’t have guts to see her beautiful sister. No one from my maa’s matriarch came to visit. It was only us, my maa, me a little girl of ten and my father who were all that mashi had. Did I mention her in laws, husband and her son were also there for her? Yes they too were there for her, a thing which she never acknowledged. Also as a ten year old a fact which intrigued me at that was my mashi never asked for her son or husband. She would desperately ask for my maa but as I said maa had completely collapsed mentally let alone console this sister of her.
“She saw, she saw how Bhanu (my uncle, i.e my mashi’s husband) made love with Bashonti and then Bashonti crawled out of the bed,” my mashi uttered and it was conveyed to me and my father by my maa. While my father refuted with a rubbish note I believed what maa said.
“What does making love mean, maa,” and then I knew everything at ten. Yes I was only ten.
No point now in ranting about it. I duly acknowledge that my mashi (her pet name was Bulbul with a good name Shefali) had doused herself in fire and had committed suicide. I was ten, my cousin was four.
Pro Covid I had fallen sick. My OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) lashed back at me. My maa was dead, my marriage had fallen apart (I had divorced) and all that I had with me was my little daughter and my ailing father. But there was a difference in my maa’s grooming me and me grooming my daughter. Neither would I lift my skirt to show her my private parts (a thing both my maa and mashi did to their respective spouses), nor my daughter had to learn lovemaking at such a tender age. I had understood long back that I was a victim of mental illness with no self-esteem and courage to fight out the odds. And I took help unlike my maa and mashi.
“Acute case of schizophrenia,” doctors at Ranchi mental hospital had told my mesho. My mesho knew but my mashi refused to acknowledge this.
“Save your daughter, run to a psychiatrist before your mother does any more damage,” my counsellor Anjla Singh had cautioned.
My matriarch suffers from mental illness. Though they don’t acknowledge but they are in their unhappy world cursing others for causing misery to them.
I have written about my mother in the book “Book of light,” under the pseudo name Leela Chakravarty (I was scared to be exposed, a fact which I do not care now). The book was published by Speaking Tigers and was edited by Jerry Pinto. You may read it. It’s all about mental illness.
In my closure I would like to say my aim is not to victim blame, slut shame or belittle someone undergoing this tragedy. I spoke so much so that you may cure yourselves rather than sinking in a dungeon with a road of no return. Understand mental illness, seek help and get cured. Just know this, YOU ARE IMPORTANT AND THAT YOU ARE LOVED.