Friday 15 September 2017

Short Story 2017 Featured Sudha Viswanath

Beyond The Window

The clock struck four times. Even as the world slept through this darkness, it was dawn for Gauri. Each day followed a clockwise routine. She would get up with the familiar insipidness of another restless night and head mechanically to the wash room. She genuinely could not afford to spend some time leisurely in there.  Routine ablutions had to be finished as quickly as possible for she would never find time in the course of the day to come back to the washroom for a bath. The world seemed to be nonexistent beyond this wash room and the house for Gauri. Though she was well aware that there was a world lively and cheerful wrapped in colours of happiness beyond the draped window, that world was not meant for her. 

Her life revolved in this two bedroom flat around her daughter Kyra who turned fifteen only yesterday. After her own bath it was now time to clean Kyra. She would writhe in pain as Gauri slowly tilted the bed to clean her mouth and face. Then gently she would massage her body parts as delicately as possible and give her a sponge bath. How she wished she could take Kyra to the washroom and put her under the running tap water! That may give her a new leash of life, she would often think to herself.  

Well she had always been talking and thinking to herself for thirteen long years, even though Dinesh had been in the house, but from the day before, his physical presence was also gone. He had broken himself free from the rigmarole of this monotonous life, leaving his wife and bed ridden daughter, to start life afresh at 44 with another lady.

Suddenly Kyra’s rasping groans drew Gauri’s attentions, she needed to defecate. It was a more difficult task. Kyra groaned with pain as Gauri gently lifted her buttocks to push the bed pan. The groans continued till the full exercise was over and intensified while Gauri removed the bed pan after thoroughly washing her. 

While most girls of her age enjoyed every moment of their blooming life, poor Kyra lay here like a dead corpse. Dinesh‘s judgement, though mute, declared Gauri as the perpetrator for this situation of their daughter. 

How did all this happen?  Kyra didn’t come to the world like this. She came in as a most beautiful angel, born to Gauri and Dinesh   three years after their marriage. She looked very pretty. The couple had decided to name their first child as Kyra if it would be a daughter or Krish if it was a son. That is how they christened their baby girl, Kyra. 

Life went on smoothly. Gauri, a loving housewife would get ready with her husband’s breakfast by eight everyday and also his lunch box, before he waved her bye at quater to nine. Evenings were spent with ecstasy, either with outings or with a cozy cuddle in front of the television watching some movie or game. Then one day destiny played a cruel game on this household.

 It was a cool Thursday afternoon in the month of November. Kyra had been a bit cranky from morning due to a blocked nose and slight temperature and wouldn’t let Gauri move from her side. Gauri had just put two year old Kyra to sleep on a mat in the drawing room.  

Snatching this moment, Gauri slowly let go the tiny fingers of Kyra that were holding to her sari pallu and hurried into the kitchen. The vessels needed to be washed, some porridge prepared for Kyra. Gauri had found no time to prepare lunch, but it is ok she was the only person now at home to have lunch. ‘Can manage with some salad and some leftover of yesterday’s dinner,’ she sighed. Her husband Dinesh had left in the morning after having breakfast. Since Kyra had been sick, he decided against carrying lunch today, as he usually did. Gauri was too engrossed in handling the child; he saw that and out of consideration decided to have lunch in the office.

After having done with the utensils and cooking porridge for Kyra,  Gauri was busy rinsing Kyra’s milk bottle to be sterilized in the hot water that was kept for boiling in the gas. Suddenly she heard a kind of uneasy thud. Turning back, she was horrified not to find her baby on the mat and then on an instinct her eyes moved towards the verandah and she froze.  Gauri was not sure at what point Kyra decided to get up and instead of coming towards the kitchen looking out for her mother, walk straight to the balcony. The wall in the balcony of their house had a rectangle hole somewhere in the middle of the wall. The child may have play fully placed one of her foot on it to clamber and have a look at the world outside below their first floor balcony.

What followed was more like a dream. Gauri had almost fainted realizing that her baby girl had fallen off the balcony. She was woken up to be confronted by a visibly upset Dinesh, who had been informed by the neighbours. It was a hospital room and pat next to her cot was Kyra with as many as five doctors frantically trying to wrap her up with various bandages. 

Gauri’s head throbbed as she tried to get up from her bed. Nandita, her immediate neighbor, assisted her to sit up. Gauri wanted to ask so many things to Dinesh, but he had walked out of the room. Not only out of the room, as she discovered later, out of every passion that held them close all these days.

Three people began to stay under one roof as complete strangers. Kyra was rendered immobile. She had multiple bone injuries that were somehow put together in the best way the doctors could do it. They gave life to her, but did not realize that Kyra was now a breathing corpse.

No verbal verdict holding grudge against Gauri or calling it her callousness ever came from Dinesh,  but the sort of bitterness in him, the kind of resentment he bore were clearly evident and Gauri knew this would only grow fiercer with time. Gauri realized it would be futile giving him any elucidation. No mother would have made a deliberate attempt to neglect her child. Nothing was going to sound rational at this juncture to Dinesh’s ears.

She resigned to fate, but he was in no way ready to comply. Thus life went on. They lived in the same house, She prepared food as usual, he had it and took his lunch box, would be back home and watch television. On the first of every month he would put an envelope with enough money for Gauri to buy whatever she needed for the house and for Kyra. Sometimes when Kyra had to be given medical assistance, Dinesh would pay more. Not a word was uttered between them. The house had a killing silence for no one spoke. 

Kyra’s every need had to be taken care of by Gauri and she single handedly did everything for her daughter. Brushing her teeth, bathing her, carefully handling her each time she had to urinate.  Her beddings needed a regular change and sometimes even twice or thrice in a day for despite of Gauri being very particular to help her daughter answer natures call at regular intervals, some time the girl would pass out without realizing it. It was ages since gauri had slept peacefully. She would get up every now and then at night  to confirm that Kyra’s bed was dry and then sometimes she got up all of a sudden staring into the dark wondering who would take care of her child when she was no more.

Thoughts clouding her head would never allow her to take a peaceful nap. She saw her daughter growing right in front of her eyes but sans any activity. She had been under the impression all this while that Dinesh still loved Kyra  for though Dinesh had somewhat snapped all communications with Gauri, he still walked to Kyra some days and lovingly touch her forehead. He was after all her father, but of late his petulance had been at the zenith. Gauri had been too na├»ve to catch a signal from his behavioral pattern long before. Gauri caught him very often humming an old Hindi film song and also she noticed that he had started liberally using expensive cologne. 

 Gauri was his wife and hence this news that Nandita brought to her about this extra marital affair that Dinesh was having with his secretary, should have shattered her, but strangely this news failed to ignite her emotions. Only those emotions can be ignited that has some fuel in it, her emotions had died along with the fall of her baby. 

Well it wasn’t long after Nandita had conveyed this news that one fine day, that was the day before, Dinesh broke a decade and three years silence to tell her that he was walking out of the house and gave her some papers assuring that enough money had been deposited in her name to support herself and Kyra and if need arose he would send more.  At 44, her husband seemed to be harboring no guilt for having walked out of an eighteen year old marriage, leaving an invalid daughter and a wife behind. It never seemed to occur to him that the catastrophe that had befallen their kid was not a result of deliberate negligence on the part of his wife. That she was going through hell after that day and needed emotional and moral support.

However Gauri did not shed a single tear in self pity, she loathed that. The heart shattering news that her spouse had left her for good in fact seemed very miniscule compared to what the doctor had to say about her reports day before yesterday. She had kept Nandita home with Kyra and gone to visit a gynaecologist to consult about her excessive bleeding. A series of test later, the doctor confirmed that she has developed ovarian cancer and needed to be operated upon at the earliest possible date, failing which might result in fatal conditions.

Gauri could only smile sadly at this. Even in her weirdest of dream she couldn’t think of any treatment to her body that would keep her confined to the bed even if it was for a while. ‘Who would care for her child?’
Back home from the hospital, Gauri had refrained from telling Nandita bout what the doctor had diagnosed. “Some pills that is all, I should be fine. Thanks for being so helpful” she had given an insipid sermon.
When it rains it pours!!! That is how Gauri looked at it when the following day she heard about Dinesh‘s decision to walk out of her life permanently.

Gauri was not the kind of person to shrink in self pity, but anyone with an iron resolution would also melt under this circumstance. A teenage lifeless bedridden girl, an ovarian cancer and a life of a destitute!!! For the first time in thirteen years, with a fury that could not be defined, gauri screamed and let her tears flow, till she could cry no more.  Sensing the frightened look on Kyra’s face, Gauri composed herself and stretched out her hands to check if Kyra had wetted the bed. ‘Oops she had.’ Slowly Gauri turned her to the side even as a she screamed in pain. Her body had become immune to painkillers. 

Then in a flash of a moment Gauri was horrified to see a pool of blood under her daughter. Impulsively her hands reached out to the phone to dial the doctor’s number but her motherly instinct got the better of everything and she suddenly realized that her girl who had turned fifteen yesterday had come to age. These blood strains were the outcome of her having attained puberty. Gauri’s head began spinning in circles. Something that she had never mentally prepared herself for had happened without any intuition whatsoever.

With tears in her eyes she went on with the cleansing activity, dressed up her daughter with the necessary padding and sat beside her exhausted to the core. She did not know for how long she sat there, or had she gone into a trance?  She was suddenly woken up by the groans of her daughter. Experience had taught Gauri to differentiate the needs that her daughter’s grunting conveyed. Kyra was hungry now. Gauri slowly got up with determination.

Bitterness ran through her face as she looked up at the place in her house where the deities were kept. It seemed to her that they were all mocking at her misfortune. ‘For years together you all have been a mute witness to my fate,’ she thought.  In a flash of a moment she embraced her instincts and removed all the pills from her daughter’s medicine box. Then she added the ones doctor had given her the day before. In a jiffy she grounded them into a nice powder in the mixer, while the milk cooker hissed proclaiming it having reached the boiling point. 

Gauri was aware that a couple of eyes followed her through this exercise, but she did not let herself turn back to look at those eyes. Her resolution might dilute if she happened to face them. She mixed the powder to the milk and stirred it well to make it a neat homogeneous mixture.

For the last time she gave a loving hug to her daughter and surprisingly Kyra showed no signs of pain. She sat through the time her mother poured the milk into her mouth.  She drank it as if this was the first time milk tasted so well.  Gauri slowly helped her to lie down. Then sitting beside her as she held her mother’s sari, Gauri consumed every drop of the remaining white fluid. 

Putting her head on the pillow next to Kyra, Gauri laid herself down side ways   resting her hands on her daughter.  ‘God,’ she prayed, ‘you may have brought me to this world. You may have made my life a mixed bag of happiness and adversity, with the later weighing more. So heavy had the burden become that I really did not think it worthwhile to beg you for solace. Defying you God, I have written the time of mine and my daughter’s death myself. Pardon me for this audacity.’

The mother and daughter then closed their eyes never to open it again!!!

The Sun rose as usual the following day and fell on the glass panes of the draped window, making an abortive effort in waking up Gauri and Kyra. They lay their unstirred, invulnerable to its warmth. Their souls had left long before in search of a place beyond this window, somewhere far away to a place with much brightness!

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