(A short story by Sidharth Vardhan
First written on March 28, 2018)
From my earliest memories I have had this cusiosity regarding how the experience of this world differs for people with physical disabilities compared to others. Does a person who has been blind all his or her life know what colors are? How do we define the concept to them? Or does the person who has been deaf all his or her life understand the concept of music? And what about someone like Helen Keller! how lonely a life hers must have been, with nothing but touch and smell to make her conscious of other person’s presence. If you ask me conversations are the only most delibrate way in which we feel the presence of other people and enjoy their company; but it is hardly the strongest (that place goes to touch) or most common (which is sight). In presence of right kind of company, words aren’t neccesary to hold a conversation – in fact, best of conversations are often held in silence and words are superficial. That is why the dialogues in dramas and literature aren’t most effective when realisitic – they can only cover a marginal part of human experience. Perhaps this – the fact that our experience of world is not limited to conversations and use of one or two senses, this is what saves lives of people with physical disabilities from going completely dry. In fact, one often hears it said that the disability of one sense is often compensated for to a great extent by other senses becoming more sensitive. This is how I explain to myself, why Helen Keller, despite her misfortunes, seemed so beautifully alive in her autobiography. But even she was lucky (comparitively) to be born in a well to do family in a country like USA where her family could afford her a personal tutor, if she was born in a poor family, she might not have been as lucky.
Those are the kind of thoughts I guess which brought Khamoshi to me as if in a sort of dream. She never met me and was a deaf mute anyway – and yet there she was in the back of my mind demanding that her story should be told. And perhaps I would have made excuse of being too busy if I couldn’t see her dead – her dead body hanging with the ceiling fan. Except for her mother, no one in her family cried. Her copse hanging there seemed to be go well with the rest of room – dark and silent like a void in the universe.
She was born a deaf-mute and her physical disability – forgive me if I lack the neccessary hypocrisy to call it ‘special ability’ or call her ‘specially gifted’ or ‘differently gifted’ (I don’t see why such words are politically correct or compassionate, the only reason people seem to use them seem to me because we, the luckier ones, are afriad to even look at their misfortunes directly) …. her physical disability went along well with her name which was decided upon by her feminist mother before her birth – as a statement on the silence of women in the country. And when she saw the silence that was to greet the life of her daughter, she was filled with guilt – as if she had brought it on her daughter by deciding upon the cursed name.
LIke everyone else, her family too used the words for her physical disbilities that could mention them without actually making them look like disabilites. Except for her mother S., the rest of her family – her father, elder brother and sister, more or less abandoned her. The father would have left her at some orphange or something but for S. ‘s protests. Some of the sympathesizing folks were vulgar enough to use the word ‘specially gifted’ – but S. who lived near her every waking hour couldn’t keep herself from admitting the truth to herself for too long . Her daughter wasn’t especially gifted – S. had learned sign language to be able to teach the same to her daughter when the later would be old enough to learn. When time came, Khamoshi didn’t show any aptitude for the sign language or lip reading or in games or handicrafts her mother tried to interest in. S. realised – as much as like any other mother, she could have wished her child to be gifted with special talents, that wasn’t the case with Khamoshi. Khamoshi wasn’t even generally gifted. Leave alone her hearing and speaking disabilites, she turned out to be skinny enough to be called undernourshed, with coal black skin color and uneven features – she wasn’t going to be gifted with what humans with their limited brains call ‘feminine beauty’. No, S. told herself, she is not specially gifted but she IS special and I am going to make sure she knows it.
Khamoshi might have gone to school and have had a social life if only because of her mother’s desperate efforts to give her one but the trajectory of her life was set by an incident which was soon forgotten by most of actors in it. Her mother had taken her to a park in neighborhood (she was aged six, her mother had made her wear a frock that she was quite heavy for her undernourished body and braided her hair in a way that made the unevenness of her features more prominent) and had asked the children there to let Khamoshi play too. Kids tried their best to tell her what she was suppposed to do through gestures of hand and one of them took her by arm and led her to the place where she should stand (when pointing to the spot didn’t prove enough). But she didn’t catch that round thing (which she didn’t know was called ‘ball’ and was meant to be caught). They let the mistake go by at first, only telling her again from where they were standing what she was supposed to be doing – through spoken words, having no patience to try doing it again by gestures. She wasn’t even looking at the people talking to her and so had no idea that anything was said to her. She failed to catch the ball again and again and this agaiated her team who very soon lost the match.
And so they gathered around her again – first angry at her and then making jokes at her expense. Khamoshi couldn’t hear the jokes and had no precedent by which to know what was happening to her, but their of way of pointing her by hands when they laughed with that malicious expression on their faces made her feel humilated.
Khmaoshi ran to her home, her room crying and never left her house again despite the pleas by her mother and siblings (the father never showed much interest in her life) over next few months. She refused to let her mother console and lied in her bed, trembling for hours till she fell asleep – she even naively put on sheets once when she thought she was shivering because of cold only to remove them when she started sweating too.
All children must discover the injustices inherited in the world someday and lose their innocence but S. was one of those unfortunate ones who had not yet developed memories of pure happiness that can only be developed in that innocence and that are our only salvage from those times.
Since she won’t leave the house again, her parents couldn’t send her to school – neither to normal one, nor to one for those with physical disabilities (for she seemed to get panic attacks as soon as they tried to force her out of the house) – soon they gave up, her father wasn’t much interested any way and her mother loved her too much to see her in such condition.
To help her pass time, S. gave her a personal television kept in Khamoshi’s own room which later used only to watch the cartoons (cartoons made little use of voices and didn’t include humans she didn’t want to see) but then same cartoon series would repeat again and again and it would bore her – so she developed a new obsession. She would carry anything with words written on it – the wrapping papers, newspapers, her mother’s novels, father’s office files, siblings’ text books to her room. It was their indulgence with such things that made her curious – for you use clothes to wear, soap to wash, comb for your hair, food for your stomach and make those weird mouth moments to speak (Something she had realised she can’t and accepted) but what did people do all with all those things they create on paper? And why were those things (letters of alphabet) on everything? They weren’t exactly pictures, why were they so much liked? Her father, for example, spent his morning staring at those symbols on newspaper every morning. What did he see in them?
When these things started going missing, there would be arguments among other members of her family. In the end, her brother saw her carrying a book to her room. Her theft was discovered (if it may be called theft, for she hadn’t yet developed concept of property) and her father gave her a cruel beating – which Khmoshi took not knowing why she wasn’t beaten and not knowing where to hide, for she was already in her room, the only place she thought she could be fearless in.
Khamoshi stopped stealing (after her mother fianlly managed tell her with a lot of efforts through hand gestures she was poor in understanding why she had got beaten) and from that day on, the concept of ‘property’,which she still understood only partially, haunted her everywhere – she would pick an object and show it to her mother, asking her whether it was somebody’s property. It was only with time she learnt that only things she could use with full liberty were those in her room.
The incident wasn’t without its good-effects though. For her mother had discovered that she showed interest in those written things. She started teaching her – first the alphabet, but it proved useless for the letters of alphabet were as devoid of meaning as the rest of the world for her. But when S. drew an apple and wrote its name beside and did so with a few other things, the Eureka! moment hit her and she had learned the concept of names. S. then wrote her name, showed it to her and pointed to her (just as she had pointed to apple previously) and Khamoshi’s excitement reacched new levels when she discovered her own name. Later when her mother was gone, she would stare at her own namefor several minutes ever now and then for whole day – that was her name written there. It disturbed her in some strange manner – she existed. just like the apple and everything else, she had a name too and it meant that she existed – in same fashion as those other things. All of sudden the world seemed a lot more aproachable, she wasn’t something ‘unnatural’ (that was how she felt, though she never could have described it even if she could use words) – she had a name like other things, it seemed something solid. Something to hold on to. This feeling filled her with both joy and a sort of fear. She no longer merely unconsciously from one moment to other, sudddenly she was conscious of her own being as much as she was conscioous of existence of others.
But there was also a sort of joy she felt. The world seemed far more aproachable to her as she realised that anyone who knows how to read will, if he or she look at it, think of her. It felt like magic. Later she would have same feeling when reading about Dan Brown novels – as if he was learning some sort of secrets, and being initiated in a some sort of important society who have their code in form of those Roman symbols.
Since same signs (letters of alphabet) were repeated in these names, she now retreated to learn the alphabet which meaningless in themselves combine to form meaningful words. This and perhaps the fact that the fact that she understood she could experience more of the world in written language (newspapers, her elder siblings’ books – anything with a roman script on it she would love to read) compared to sign language which she could only use with her mother seemed to excite her passion to master the art of written language – and so, despite her low intelligence, she learned it fast. To take one example consider the fact that for children with physical disabilites, the idea of abstract nouns is often harder to understand but Khamoshi made that discovery by herself.
Devoid of spoken words, she was more dependent upon face expressions of others – which seemed to define her mood state too easily – and thus when a lot of efforts she asked S. why she was so happy when she identified the word ‘sheets’ her mother wrote the word ‘happiness’, she understood happiness is something to be desired. And Khamoshi tried asking whether kissing her at eyebrow like S. did every night made her happy too and upon hearing yes, she understood happiness to be what one wishes for in the world. From then on, there was no stopping Khamoshi. Her mother got the idea of giving her comic books which accelerated her learning further.
For sometime after the infamous beating. she would still come down for meals but then – seeing her father whom she had learned to fear ever since and looking at the faces of her family members talking amongst themselves while not caring to include her in any way and the inability to drive any meaning from the whole experience of being among the people; it all so depressed her that she ended up refusing to leave her room at all.
S would bring her meals thrice a day and carry back empty dishes back. S Cleaned her room once a week and carried back the laundery and would bring back the washed clothes next day (S. didn’t liked being distrubed any more frequently than that.) In fact, the very idea of an ‘outside’ was disturbing to her. And so she ordered that the windows of her room at first floor be shut down too – not wanting even the light from the outside world to ever enter the room.
By this time the siblings had long given up on her first one then the other. Her father could have simply forgotten her – already she was like a suppresed memory for him. He felt guilty for being so careless and cruel towards her. He knew the beating he had given her wasn’t only for her theft and supposed mischiveousness/stupidity but also included his frustration at the knowledge that he can’t make his daughter happy, that he was repelled by mere sight of her and at her disabilities and the realisation that he was struck with her all his life. He felt sorry but he would never acknowledge it. It was just easy to get her out of his mind. S. lasted far longer in her efforts to get her out but, in the end, she too was scared away by the idea of having another violent shake of her head.
Instead, S. ended up gifting her all the books she had and those old text books of her siblings which they no longer needed. She had soon finished her mother’s collection and so later would have to bring new ones every week. After some time, S. got her a laptop (she very quickly learned how to operate it) and it helped Khamoshi to simply download the books of her choice.
What disappointed her mother was the fact that she didn’t show much interest in maths and sciences and still was scared at the mere idea of leaving her room and so there was no hope of anything at all being accomplished through private tutoring. English and Literature was what interested her the most. And if only the studies were limited to that, she would have done her masters before her sblings were finished with their middle school.
Moreover Khamoshi refused to keep to any routines that might permit any such studies. Daylight wasn’t allowed in her room. and electric lights were needed all the time whether day or light – and she refused to have a clock in her room which, like calenders or any such time keeping devices, she found to be a disgusting invention. They seemed to her like dictators wanting to decide what she should do each and every moment of her life. As such, there was nothing to tell her whether it was day or night and more often than not her mother would just have to leave her food on table in her room because she was sleeping.
Appearaces, she thought, were nasty things. When she looked at pictures of things described as beautiful – effil towers or Tajmahals, leeaves, grasses, animals or flowers or teddybears (she sometimes googled things she had read about on her laptop) all such things seemed to gave her no joy. Was Keats lying then, when he said ‘a thing of beauty is joy forever’? She didn’t want to believethat and so, she told herself, she is missing something. Why wasn’t, picture of Elisabeth Bannet drawn on book cover beautiul to her? For she was surely described to beautiful and had same features as one could see in the picture. Yet, she drove no joy from looking at the picture. It seemed to hold that joy from her like a secret, like a tease – but why only from her? The rest of the world surely saw it and took joy in it. Was it to be like music then? Another thing praised so heavily in books that she should be deprived from. She tore the cover to parts.
And started hating looking at things – things that were supposed to beautiful because they were supposed to be shaped or colored in a particular way were detestable to her eyes. Though she loved reading about them since she still wanted to experience the world in completeness and even feel the joy, if only at distance and from empathy with fictional character, which those things gave; she refused to look at the pictures which teased her with idea of visual aesthetic feeling she didn’t feel.
She was deaf-blind from birth, it seemed she was now delibrately developing a sort of color blindness. It started with book covers, then came her refusal to watch television at all. Comics or books with pictures were next to go, being replaced by her mother’s novels. In the end, it became so bad she asked her mother (they now communicated by writing on a notepad, which proved far more comfortable for them both – her English was becoming more and more Elizabethian due to time spent in reading classics) that the television as well as the mirror in the room be taken away. She sometimes googled things but learned to completely ignore the pictures most of the times.
And so, now Khamoshi had reduced her world to black and white pages of her books for most part. The only things she could ‘rest’ her eyes upon, except pages with roman alphabet were pale pink walls, brownish white roof of her room and pale yellow ceiling fan – all the rest including the sight of her mother, the sight of food she must eat to survive disturbed her eyes. The hatred she had developed for ‘talks’ or conversations early on in her life even when they were with her mother (she didn’t even try talking to others) because she must use sign language for them to do, had persisted even now she could use written language. She even started disliking being hugged or kissed by her mother though she knew it gave later happiness because it started appearing so artificial to her – the whole thing. There seemed to such a distance between them that no hugs or kisses could ever fill.
What Khmoshi didn’t realise was that this difference arose from the fact that there was so much in her that needed to be said and it was this that seemed to have rendered all that her mother seemed to say with those kisses and hugs superfical. Even if Khamoshi had realised it, she would have been at a loss to know what it was that needed to be put in words and effort to put it all in writing would have been too much for her anyway. Anyways, she lacked time for it, busy as she was swallowing the whole of world – one book at a time. Talking to her was like talking to silence, and it is never easy. Soon, S. gave up trying to indulge her in any conversations at all.
Khamoshi’s atitude towards the world was of intellectual curiosity. Even when she sought to feel the things the way other people do – it was because that is the only way one can understand the feelings. At age of nine, she had already learned about sex. A few novels she had read were very explicit with their descriptions. It might make sense to want children but all the wildness that surrounded the act seemed ridiciulous. Was this at the root of everything? So many times she had thought she understood the world and so many times she had proven wrong – first she thought it was property, then she thought it was happiness, then for a while it seemed God whom they praise so much in the world, but she had googled the word ‘god’, read arguments in favor of and against believing in God and decided she was aethist, and God was replaced by love – another thing so greatly admired by poets and now …. now it was this ‘sex’ because surely sexual intercourse is what love leads to. Was then this that described the motivations of the world? It was these sort of questions that made her curious. And when she googled on the subject, the description of male sex organ tempted her and she made one of few compromises with her self-imposed censorship regarding seeing anything not Roman alphabet to see what it looked like. The picture disgusted her and she told herself that may be it is beacuase she couldn’t find the Keatesian joy in beautiful things.
For five years, she didn’t realise how lonely she had made herself. It was only age of eleven and half, that it hit her when she made the error of reading Passoa’s Book of Disquiet. She loved the book because there were almost no conversations, nor too many interactions (verbal, physical or even visual). Most of the time, the narrator talked about himself only and his loneliness but it seemed to her that he was talking about her though unlike him, she never went to work. Yet whenever he talked about his loneliness, he seemed to be describing what she was feeling most of the time, though it never occured to her to put words for her own feelings. This realisation hit her all at once and in its completeness and she felt a pain in the middle of herchest, some sort of heaviness in her throat (the thoat that was so often cursed by her father for not being able to produce voice- curses which she, fortunetly, never heard) and she knew that she was having an anxiety attack, much like the one she had years ago. Her disability meant she couldn’t call anybody but she would have stayed silence even if she had suddenly learned speaking, for she had long given up on the world.
That was only first of many anxiety attacks to which she soon got used to. They always left her with a feeling that she must be missing on something – what? she didn’t know and had no way of defining but it was as if life was passing away, oh! so very fast, and she was missing on that… that thing. How was she to know about it? Had others felt that way too? She knew from her reading of Dickens, Austen and Brontes – that people in England didn’t feel that way. Their most violent passions (love, arts, patrotism and love for god) seemed to be come from outside sources – and since she, herself, was away from each one of them (except books) she knew she need not worry about personally suffering from fury of such passions. It now seemed a mistake to leave India and England alone and try European Literature. Of all the books she had read, only Passoa’s characters seemed to be feeling anything of sort. A desperate sadness without reason. She knew if she was to try to look at herself from stranger’s point of view (her mother for example) she would put the cause of this sadness to her physical inability, social and emotional alienation … and may be (assuming the stranger was to be informed of same) her inability to find joy in anything beautiful. True, they once bothered her, but surely she has made her peace with the same.
Before ‘Book of Disquiet’ happaned, her favorite character had been Sydney Carton from ‘A Tale of two cities’ – and it wasn’t his big sacrifice that attracted her, but how in one of chapters, he just came home and cried himself to sleep. What kind of sadness had made him do so? He carried this melancholy atitude through out the story. How he just ‘knew’ that he wasn’t worthy of Lucy. Khamoshi didn’t understood what he saw in Lucy. Did her beauty gave him the same Keatisan joy which had been alluding her so far? But … but, she had felt it in herself that desperation – she had felt a strange kinship with him. Didn’t she felt the same attraction to the world (the world she met in books)? The same passionate love, wish to see it her whole life even if she can’t enter in it herself? And Like Cartor, she had made peace with merely looking at the thing of her passion. But why did Cartor wept? Why? Why wasn’t Dickens clear on that subject?
Now she knew. Cartor himself didn’t know. Like hers, it was a desperate sadness without reason. Perhaps Dickens didn’t either.
But perhaps the peace she had made with her misfortunes wasn’t perfect. For she would now-a-days suddenly catch herself daydreaming a sort of conversation, oblivious to the book she was reading, the words her eyes had ran on and pages she had turned absentmindedly, clueless as to what happened in the book world. A conversation …. yes, she was conversing – not talking, she couldn’t imagine enjoying that, but not conversing by writing on notepad either – all those mediums seemed more of obstacles; the conversation she was carrying out was … telepathic? A conversation with whom? She wondered trying to remember who that other person in her day dream was was. with somebody or other. She answered herself with a shrug of shoulder. A man, perhaps because she wanted a change from having to see only a woman (her mother) in life. A man who understands. Yes, that. Someone who would listen to her when she riddle this… this whatever it was that made her anxious in that way. And the man must be patient too for this conversation might take hours, days …. who knows? Years before what needs to be said could be said. And though she would be the one doing most of the talking, he must show he has understood her perfectly. Because … that seemed to be the decesive thing …. that is exactly the point of her wanting to be saying anything, to be understood.
She knew she won’t ever be finding …. nah won’t even try to find such a person and that such a person didn’t exist in first place …. and even if he did, and if by some impossible chance he fell her way, such a conversation would be impossible … the notepad will always be there between them and it would be too tiring. She also understood the obsactles aren’t limited to mediums, and finding appropriate persons but go even further … for both of them must be in right state of mind simultaneously and long enough for the purpose of conversation to be reached. May be his being a man wasn’t important. May be her mother could just do as fine and though there was notepad involved, may be with a bit … correction, lots of more effort, she might make her mother play the role. She had the advantage of a head-start on anyone else for being only person, aside from Khamoshi herself, who knew her at all.
An idea occured to her to write a long letter or a series of letters to her mother and hope that the later will understand. But she discarded it when she hadn’t yet picked up pen and paper for same realising that she had no wish to do the same. She felt as if that just isn’t her – wanting to talk. She had long defined it as one of essentional aspects of her personality… why should it change now.
That perhaps is what is perfect loneliness – there are people wanting to be there with you only a few steps away, but you still do not want to go the distance; you won’t be able to say what must be said to kill loneliness – for no words are enough, what is worst that what makes you lonley is the very essence of your personality. ‘As long as I am myself’ She thought, ‘I am lonely. And as soon as I break this loneliness, I become someone else. So where is the cure of it all? Is it even worth trying at all?’
Did being able to carry a spoken conversation made it easier or at least just probably easy enough for not having to give up hope for same. Was that why people, whether real or fictional, spoke that much. Speaking seemed to be most frquently indulged voluntery activity – for while one may also see or listen all the time but most of the time those activities are involuntarily done. But may be they would never are able to manage their goals for they all did talk so much unnecssarily. And even the relatively quiet characters that she had come across in the world of her books were those that seemed to have given up on ever being able to find that perfect conversation.
None of these musings saddened her for too long. She took it all in intellectual wonderment even the idea that her wish for that perfect conversation won’t ever be fulfiled. She was almost completely stoic about it all.
Because in next few days it became more and more difficult to be indifferent to this need which seemed to grow stronger everyday now that it got her attention.
She didn’t know whether it was anxiety attacks that had caused this need to be born or whether it was this need that was causing those anxiety attacks.
It was around the same time she mensurated the first time. Her mother had tried telling her about it in advance only to discover she already had read about it. The only thing that bothered her was that she was quirky and could have thrown flower vase or something on wall in frustration if she had one. She was unable to read, unable to focus on books – she didn’t feel like sleeping and was too exhausted to do anything else. And she didn’t know what to do when she wasn’t reading or sleeping. She tried indulging herself into rearranging the books on her shelf but lost the courage halfway.
She realised for first time in years, she didn’t want to look at walls and roof of her room. She hated her body – having to maintain it, brushing, bathing, eating; all those activies were highly monotonous to her; especially when she could hve spent the time reading. And now… this.
And thus after about seven years, she opened the window of her room to look out. It was evening time, and a cool wind and light of a spring came running into the room where they had been censored for years.
She saw birds dancing around thier nest on a tree nearby and they were …. beautiful, yes, they were beautiful, beautiful, beautiful… they filled her with joy, keatesian joy ….. was it … was it possible? But it had to, wasn’t it? Her mind wondered, struggling to accept the idea – so long used to the idea that beautiful things were not for her. Yes, i am enjoying. There is no way to deny it. Perhaps pictures are not enough, one must be in physical presence of a thing to get the joy. Of course. Of course.
After initial excitement, she settled down to have as much of joy as possible from things outside. The bleades of grass, leaves, even the earth seemed to fill her with joy. And beauty wasn’t merely confined to nature – even the faces and clothes of people walking on the street were beautiful. Oh, all this days I had thought that beautiful things were out of my reach when all I had to do was just open the window!
But already merely opening the window wasn’t enough. She felt a strong desire to touch them – birds, grass, soil. The puppy in the street. Oh! she could love to kidnap him – already forgetting the beating which had taught her the concept of property. She remembered that those things weren’t beautiful when she was a kid and did still go out, but perhaps back then I still hadn’t learned how to look at things.
Next she saw her brother whom she hadn’t seen for years and could barely recognise. He was just starting to play some boyish game with other boys of her age (friends?) and one of these boys attracted her attention. Intellectually of course. At first. The curiosity was about her own feeling, her heart beating so fast and her throat going dry. Were those syptoms of love or was it another kind of anxiety attack? May be the first – for she opened her windows again and again one evening after the other and want to live those ‘symptoms’ again and again … something that never happened with anxiety attacks. F
And what about her own defination of herself? Wasn’t she feeling these strong urges to draw his attention. She to whom all the world was a stage … nah, a book and she alone its audience or reader. if that defination was to stay true than her wanting to draw his attention was as absurd as someone from audience trying to draw attention of an actor … nah, that seemed a trick a post modern dramatist would play. More exactly it was as absurd as if a reader pf a novel was to try to engage one of its character – and, so to say, should suddenly feel the urge to write herself into the book. No, the idea of her being involved in any such interaction with anyone at all (even with her mother, consversation was limited to her everyday needs) was absurd. No, this uge must be suppresed.
But… but, the desperation in her argued back to that cold reasoning, you have done that. You have written peaces in which you interact with fictional characters – and all those pieces are still in your diary. What about them?
Yes, it might b so. But those are ficitional characters – a well defined quantity, easy to know as they are limited to be between first and last words of the books. One can know them perfectly, even modify them as per once desire’s by rewriting passages of the book – and once that is done, one’s own passages are as good as that of the author. The newly modified characters are just as real …. nah more real for me than the ones author created. One can … so to say, own those characters. But how does one own the boy in blue shirt (if she remembered the name of color right)? or this here was a real entity … something so well defined (though the defination be unknown to her) rather than some absstract need of who=knows-what that may never be defined. One can’t just write and give him a new personality for he would still be there, more real than anything one might write just because he happened to have that skin or bones. And everytime I look at him, for look at him I must, I will rememember that what I have written is fictional.
There were no tricks here – she must draw his attention, and it was like opening of pandora box – suddenly she wanted all those things which everybody wants – good looks, money, ability to talk or listen; not for herself but to be attractive to him, on an off-chance he might see her … but she had no mirrors in her room; so she looked at her reflection in the glass of window and found it disturbing – unkept hair, unwashed face, clumsy pazamas; nothing like anything described as beautiful in books.
And then there came another anxiety attack by the end of which she was already determinded that he can’t be allowed to know of her ugly existence.
No he won’t know she exists. And she won’t ever know him by touch but at least she will have her fill through her eyes everyday.
She didn’t get to look at him for long. For one day, her brother noticed her staring at the boy like that and complained to her father. In the years of Khamoshi’s self-imposed room arrest, the world had conveniently forgotten her – redundant as it found her. In fact, except for her birth certificate and a tally mark in population census, there was no official proof of her existence. Many of the neighbors who weren’t living in neighborhood last decade won’t have heard of her existence. Many who did, would have only vague memories of the girl. And her own family, with sole exception of S., was no different. Her room upstairs was avoided as if it was haunted or like the disgraceful memory which in her father’s opinion lived in it. And it was easy to forget it. For her siblings it was an uncomfortable subject which their youthful spirits could easily avoid and so they did. For the father, it was something worse and so it was far more convienent to not think about it. And it helped that no noise left the room. She couldn’t speak or listen to music. Even when she was young and watched television, it was always at mute. If someone, for example a relative or family friend (who too never found about her – because they didn’t care to find out what was in that room) – if some such person invited to dinner was to try, really, really try to listen to voices from the room – then they could listen to the silence; mind you not ‘hear nothing’ but listen to the silence, a silence that; once the outsider has listened to it, also becomes like an almost visible shadow that seemed to engulf the four members of the family sitting on the dinner table. And outsider could notice this silence because he or she was not used to it. The family members were long used to this disquieted silence and it was nothing but some background noise for them.
But now this silence was broken first for her brother and then for her father. And her father had long stopped not giving into his famous anger – her looking out at the boy was a mere excuse, the real reason was because the silence, disquieting as it was, was broken and he was once again conscious of her existence, her miseries and his inability to shield her from them. He ordered that the window be permanently shut off while creating a scene in her room. She, who was already too scared of him, stayed in a corner all the time and didn’t dare come near the window again. Opening the window may as well have become the physical impossibility. She wept herself to sleep for days before she was able to make peace.
Her brother who had never thought that his complaint to father would provoke such a reaction from himr made for it by adding to his savings for a few months and then using them to buy a puppy for her and that was how Choco entered her life.
On her brother’s request (who himself didn’t want to face the awkwardness of the situation ), S. introduced Chocko to Khamoshi and told her that the puppy with chocolate furs was hers now. Initially Khamoshi was suspicious but it scratched below its ear with its hindfoot and how can you stay away from that? Khamoshi wrestled it from her mother though later had already offered to her. The joy in beautiful things! she could bet Keats must have owned a dog.
There thus started the most beautiful chapter of Khamoshi’s life. A new color was added to the room, a color her eyes loved. Only for two hours S. would take it away from her for a walk outside and so that its other fans (Khamoshi’s siblings, neighbors etc) could meet it but except for that, it spent the rest of the day with her. A ball was bought so that Khamoshi could play with him -‘thump ‘thump’ the sound of this ball hitting a wall of room would be heard downstairs for an hour or so three times a day like sound of a heart who had suddenly sprung back to life and resumed the old of chore of keeping things alive. Sometimes one could hear excited barks as, with a newly acquired mischievousness, she had learned to tease the dog about ball.
Khamoshi’s little world was alive now – initially excited at every little thing the dog might do. Steadily they got used to each other. Khamoshi got used to be woken up by him (as he licked her face). She realized that now, she smiled more before she has even opened her eyes upon being thus woken then she previously did all day. And Choco (the name was for the rest of the world, they were too close to each other to need names for one other) managed to force her into a kind of routine by asking her attentions at the exact same times every day. She must give Chocko its food at times – her mother brought it to her room along with her own food, but she insisted on being the one who fed it.
The next time Khamoshi had an anxiety attack, Chocko looking worried leaped into her bed and she, not being able to see the worried expression in its face, took it in her arms and spooned it. It set its head on one of her arm and looked at her with melancholy eyes. Khamoshi, on other hand, discovered that anxious though she still was, she was no longer shivering like she had in previous attacks. Now she had something to hold tight on to so as to make it sure she won’t get blown away.
She also realized by the time attack ended, that she was already far ahead in that conversation which she had long wanted to hold with someone. Only she held it with a dog. But it need no effort from her as she thought she would if it was a person…. correction, a human; for surely Choco was a person. It definitely had a personality of its own.
It seemed to come naturally and it continued to be that way from then on. The noises rest her family heard downstairs were result of only a minor part of their intimacy – for most of their life. As Choco grew matured, it tried less and less to draw her attentions wanting to be played with – and rather enjoyed silences. Only sometimes, it would brush its back with her legs, wanting to be petted. For most part though it would sit near her – stealing occasional glances at her face. She had started sitting on the floor more and more to be closer to him (unless they were both sitting on bed) – to have the feel of its fur on her skin. Frequently while reading her book, she would look up from book, towards it and see in its face that understanding – as if she had said everything she wished to say already and he had heard and understand it. And with a smile on her face, she would return to her book.
She started believing that they were both actually talking. The written language she used with her mother paled in comparision to this langauge of shared silences. Chocko was the only creature she had met all her short life who made her feel comfortable and happy enough to make her want to and actually kiss him. She would sit holding it and later, when it was too big to be contained in her lap, its mouth in her laps; running her fingers over its fur. Nothing short of death could have seperate them.
Khamoshi woke up late one morning and it struck her that Choco had not woken her up. It lied there on her bed near her foot – looking at her with its sad eyes and refusing to show excitement when she called him near herself, as she always did, with gesture of her hands. Her heart was already beating fast and she started panicking when it refused to eat her food too.
When it refused to touch lunch either, S. finally called vet. And this vet became third person after Chocko and S., with whom Khamoshi ever tried to converse since she had hit the teens and since he had no patience to wait for her to describe her doubts and questions on her notepad – she had to return to language of gestures (not sign language which she had never learned properly in first place but gestures of hands and arms) and depend on her mother to interpret the desperate movements of her hands to vat. At first, the vat did try to reply in kind through gestures but she herself was not well versed with such gestures that even people gifted with ability to speak might sometimes use. Khamosh sternly refused with an obvious disgust any suggestions regarding dignified deaths for animals.
The father and the siblings disagreed – for while still alive, he had started smelling like a corpse which resulted in daily quarrels but no one, not even the father, showed courage to take animal from Khamoshi.
Khamoshi didn’t read in the two months Chocko was sick – she spent the time looking after him, even took her to roof top in afternoons and early nights (it was okay with her father because no one was in streets during afternoons or nights) to let it breathe in fresh air now that it couldn’t walk (and thus no one took him to walks). And even if she wasn’t doing nothing for him like feeding him – one morsel at a time or cleaning its shit or pee or giving him bath. She would just sit silently looking at its face in her lap.
There was so much to talk about and they were running out of the time.
And it was once while sitting thus under the light of stars and moon which she hadn’t seen for years before Chocko fell sick , the dog suddenly made an effort to raise its face and look towards her face, she was quickly attentive and moved her own head closer to his as if to let it whisper something in her useless ear, its tongue came out to leak her face but before it reached the face, his head fell back.
Khamoshi touched its chest to check for heartbeat but already knew and was weeping silently. Too weak to stay sitting, she fell backwards, weeping silently and got greeted by the the brutal silence of the stars.
Her mother finding her absent in her room, came checking on the rooftop and finding her lying thus and dog dead, called the rest of her family. The brother took the copse away – stealing only a single look at his sister, finding no words to console her. Khamoshi didn’t show any sentiment other than tears she already had in her eyes when the corpse was taken away. Her mother took her by arm to the room and tried to make her eat which she refused. After failing to console her over next few minutes, S. put her under the sheets – kissing her forehead as later looked at the ceiling fan. Next morning her dead body was found hanging on the same ceiling fan – it seemed to go perfectly with room’s mournful silence.