Continued from Dawn: The Charioteer (V)
I could see that he was surprised, but he held his tongue. Waving his cup, he indicated that he understood the significance of the statement. She nodded and continued.
“My mother passed away when I was two years old. She was very young when she died. It was a combination of malaria and jaundice that took her. The malaria was detected too late it seems.”
Damini spoke evenly. It was obvious that her pain, if any, was that of a healed wound. A healed wound is one which leaves a scar and stabs with sudden pains at unexpected moments. The pain is neither real nor in the present but is an abstract pain- in the past tense.
“My father had loved my mother very much. He was completely and utterly lost without her. I don’t think it occurred to him to remarry. He looked after me himself with the sporadic assistance of a whole army of maids who passed through our home like a river in spate. They stirred up the placid top soil of our existence and uprooted the small comforts we had planted around us. Sometimes I wonder how he stood that constant chaotic movement. It must have been so difficult for him, especially after the idyllic and peaceful life he had experienced with my mother.
“I don’t remember much of my mother. From what he and others said of her, she seems to have been a very serene woman. There were times, years after she passed away, that I could see my father wearing her serenity like a cloak around him. She never really left him. Innumerable times I heard him talking to her… sitting alone on the swing on the terrace… singing the songs she loved him to sing to her. Once in a while his fingers would move upon his knee… as if caressing the long tresses of a beloved head that must have rested there many times.
“He loved me very much too. It wasn’t one of those stories you see in the movies where the father hates the child for reminding him of his lost love. You must be wondering why I am telling you about myself in such elaborate detail. I have a reason for it, but still tell me, do you mind listening to the long tale..?” Her head tilted slightly towards her right shoulder, she looked solemnly at him. I knew she asked the question genuinely. Whatever Chetan might have thought before she asked the question, the fact that she asked it- and the manner in which she asked- was so endearing that even a disinterested man couldn’t have told her he was getting bored. For Chetan, strongly attracted as he was to her, it was impossible. I am sure he was more than willing to sit listening to her for eons.
“Please, don’t worry about it. I am sure you have a reason for talking to me in detail. I happy you trust me enough to share your story with me. I have all the time in the world”, he said.
The words ‘for you’ hung suspended in the space between them. She lowered her eyes and her dimples came alive demurely. She patted down her already disciplined hair with a fluttering gesture. The gesture was not lost on Chetan. He leaned forward slightly. His eyes took on a warm glow which she noticed, and turned pink. The dimples went berserk. It was fascinating to watch the play between them.
“If I look back on my childhood, the images seem diffused and dim. Their colors seem faded. Even the sounds seem to echo faintly, as if it came from an un-traversable distance. But one image stands out in bold contrast, like a stark sketch done with the blackest charcoal on the whitest paper. The image is of the mantle of sadness my father was not conscious of wearing. It covered him like a shroud, that deep melancholy. When his ready smile spread over his face, it made his sorrow visible from under it. To his credit, he tried very hard not to show it. Unfortunately, the effort showed- at least to me.
“My father was like God to me. Through the years of my childhood and adolescence, my only obsession was to make him happy. I was a docile teenager. The thought of doing something to bring him more pain was abhorrent to me. He hardly ever needed to scold me; I didn’t even want to give him the pain of having to do that. I don’t know why, but I felt it was my job to ease his feeling of loss and loneliness.
“I am sure you can make out that I was completely wrapped up in him. Today I wonder why I felt guilty for his sorrow. I wonder why I felt it was my responsibility and a sacred duty to make him happy again. It hardly seems logical or remotely reasonable to me today. Yet I lived with that guilt for years.
“My father began depending on me more and more. I am sure he didn’t intend it that way, but there came a time when he began to consider it only his right that I should put him first in every decision. By imperceptible degrees, he went from hoping that I would consider his feelings first… to taking it for granted that I would… to a stage where he would have considered it impossible that I could wish for things to be any other way… and finally to the place where he felt it only his right to demand that I put him first- no matter what it did to me.
“I don’t know when I came alive to what was truly happening. I don’t know when I began to chafe at his assumptions. I wonder when I gained a mature, reasonable perspective and a 360degree panoramic view of the situation. I was appalled to see myself sunk to my chin in a quicksand that was as treacherous beneath its benign surface, as it was powerful. It was only a question of time before I would disappear under that mud, leaving no trace behind.
“I realized that he was drunk on the power he wielded over me. So much so that he was no longer aware of the ways in which he was trampling me down. I wish I can tell you how sad it made me, to see him so desperately try to control me. I had already- and voluntarily- accepted the responsibility of his happiness. I was more than willing to put him first in everything. Why did he then feel this obsession to crush me- just for the sake of crushing? Something that was already his, given as a gift in humble homage, why did he have to make it ugly by demanding it in such a nasty manner?
“I began to resent his demands on my time, his control over my choices. I am sure it must have been a rude shock to him. It was as if the earth reversed its spin so that the sun rose in the west. Perhaps he thought it was a passing phase and if he just put his foot down a few times I would settle back into our familiar groove. He became autocratic in his effort to contain the damage. Knowing the state I was in, it was a bad move on his part.
“I still remember the shock in his eyes one day. I was fed up with the way he kept trying to push me in a corner. That day I pushed back. He couldn’t take it. It infuriated him beyond tolerance. It was my first taste of freedom. It felt GOOD to assert myself. I felt as if after years of subsisting on the strictly rationed, dank and putrid air of a dungeon, I had been thrust on the sunlit slopes resplendent with the breath of pines. Oh, the intoxication of it! I was a giant… I was powerful! I wanted to fly and to laugh uproariously at nothing. I wanted to live…! The desire to soar was so fierce, so compelling, that it took me aback.
“Have you ever felt like that Chetan?” She was trembling with emotion.
To be continued…