By Pradipta Dutta (Copyrights2017)
She was a happy child. I never worried for her well-being.
She would always laugh and giggle and intimidate her playmates. They would follow her footsteps and she possessed a strange hold over them, it was almost like they worshiped her secretly. At the same time, she protected them.
A lot of times, my friends and the mothers of her playmates told me that I was fortunate to have a daughter like her. Mothers know when they see children and they would tell me that she was always the different one, the extraordinary one, capable of attracting all attention to herself with her achievements.
I wondered if she was doing this to merely attract attention and if I and my Husband had somewhere lacked in providing her love and care. But we had been doing everything in our capacity and she was growing up into a beautiful daughter.
She never cried as a child much, she was never cranky or fussy, except when my Mother-in-law would call a barber and shave off her head to allow hair growth later in life.
She disliked being touched, that way.
She kissed the people she loved and sometimes hugged people like they were her children. But she could easily recognise people who held different intentions and did not let them kiss her face or touch her head.
I did not have to give her any toilet training. She was so vaguely independent, learning to walk at the age of 1 and she would drag a chair to the wash basin and get up on it to brush her teeth.
I never had to ask her to study.
She would come back from school, get herself cleaned and go to play. She would sincerely come back after two hours and do her homework, diligently, with a strange happiness spread on her face.
She became quickly popular in the Club where we went – when as a merely small child, she would dance to the tunes played and the whole crowd would cheer her. Her face held a strange absorption and like she was almost possessed by a trance like state, oblivious to the entire crowd. And she would suddenly stop and smile, to the loud uproar of her audience.
People loved her face, and the way she would laugh.
They would hold beauty pageants and she was not very pretty but she always held the first spot with her witty answers to seemingly difficult questions. She made people laugh, and they adored her. Sometimes they would hold plays and fancy dress events and she would dress up beautifully and enact famous dead people and say things that would amaze everyone.
She was doing incredibly well, academically and she always said she was born to heal people.
I didn’t understand what she meant. Children her age didn’t say such words. To be very honest with you, I sometimes feared for my daughter. Because I didn’t understand why she would spend hours perched up on tree tops, doing nothing but staring at the skies, lost in another world. I tried many times to ask her, what was it that she always thought, but I did not ask her. Maybe, I was overthinking as a Mother, and she was so wonderful. If everyone loved her, there would not have been a reason to worry about her.
She would play with boys. They would play in our garden, different games, some of which she would create with them, and then I would watch her play Badminton and Cricket with them.
One day, I saw her scribble something in a Diary and I asked her what it was, and she quickly put her in her closet and locked it.
She did not say anything.
I sneaked into her room when she was away and found the key.
I was very curious as a Mother, to what that daughter of mine held in herself that made her go quiet.
She had written.
“I think, Mother doesn’t find me very lovable but I try to do everything to make her happy.”
I was shocked. Why did she write that?
“I was adopted from Bhutan, is what they told me. I feel like an outsider. One day I will go back to the country of my origin and find my people.”
But that was just a joke her cousins told her, to scare her off. She was our child.
And with those words, there were written many unfinished poems and stories, strange words, I did not know what those things were. And how did a mere 11 year old child write such words?
I was petrified.
When she came back home, I asked her about what she had written in the Diary.
It was the first time she threw up a tantrum at me.
“You have no right to do that, Mother.”
“Why do you write such things? Don’t I love you enough?”
“Come on! That is only fiction. Ofcourse, everybody loves me for what I do.”
“Fiction? You write fiction?”
“Yes. I like writing fiction. It is just that. I write about people. I know everybody loves me.”
A day later, I found her diary burnt away and thrown in the kitchen dustbin.
Was this adolescence? I don’t know.
She had stopped playing with boys. Her hair was cut short. She wore sturdy shoes. She would take her bicycle and go away, I don’t know where. I gave her all the freedom. No. She took all the freedom she wished on, and nobody asked her not to. Nobody dared to ask her not to.
She had changed. She laughed less now. She looked pensive.
What child cycled for two hours? And then one of our friends told us they saw her nearby the River. Children didn’t go there.
I warned her not to.
She did not respond.
“Drunkards will abduct you!”
She just wouldn’t respond. “What will they do, Mother? What can they do to me?”
“You are very young. You have no idea what men can do to you.”
“I know everything. But what can they possibly do now?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, there is nothing special they can do.”
And she mutely went back to her school work.
I don’t know. She was not at all expressive. I tried to search her closet often which was always unlocked now, but nothing came out, except a new diary which contained poems that had meanings I could never decipher.
She had become quiet.
She lost her grandmother. She was fifteen. She always confided in that woman and sometimes I saw them talk to each other in hushed voices.
I don’t know, sometimes I felt slightly envious but it was also comforting that someone held her trust.
Compared to what everyone had told us, She did not mourn that death.
I told her to cry, but she did not. She just sat next to the corpse, quietly staring at her Grandmother’s lifeless face.
Every day after that, was just more of alienation. She hardly ever spoke, except for what she wanted to do in her life.
She did not socialise. She would be lost in the world of her books, which were heavier than her own body weight, and she would quietly stay there.
One day she came to us.
She was twenty.
“I am going to Delhi.” She said.
We thought it was not serious.
“I need you to give me some money. I have a lot of it saved but if I need it in emergency, anything you wish. I will return it when I come back.”
Her Father looked at her.
“What? Why do you want to return money to your own Father?”
She did not answer.
“I want to go to Delhi.”
“Delhi? Why? Where will you stay?”
“I will stay with Rachneet.”
“Delhi is not safe.”
My Husband scrolled through the T.V. channels and tuned into a news channel.
They displayed news about a girl being gang-raped in Delhi metro.
“See? This is what is happening there.”
“Papa. Don’t worry. They cannot do anything. I will be safe, I promise.”
Nobody could have stopped her.
We saw her pack her bags.
My Husband did not go to drop her to the train station. He did not talk to her.
She made no effort to apologize.
We did not understand. She had problems socializing with everyone in our city and stayed locked with her books, in her safe haven.
What of this need to suddenly travel to Delhi?
“Find out if it is a boy.” My Husband said.
“I don’t think she has a boyfriend.” I replied.
“You never know.” Was his solemn reply.
The next day I received a call from her.
“I have reached Delhi. I am traveling to Dehradun now. I am heading to Rishikesh.”
I was petrified.
“What? Are you insane? You come back home, right now. Or else I will send your Father.”
“Mother. Rachneet is coming with me. Don’t worry.”
“No! You are not going anywhere. You return home. Why are you behaving this way? What do you want from us?”
“I don’t want anything, Mother. I wish for nothing but peace. I want to find what I have lost.”
“What do you mean? What have you lost?”
“I have lost everything. I have become someone else. I want to find myself again.”
“You are fine…please come back and we can talk. It is very unsafe there.”
“I don’t want to live in safety. I want to go. Don’t tell Father. I will keep you notified.”
And she disconnected the phone.
To Be Continued.