photo: rhea kothari
On that fateful Wednesday afternoon, when I was drying my hair after having taken a bath, I was startled by my son Ritesh’s sudden panic-stricken call for me. With that same astonishment, I lost my grip over the hairbrush in my hand, and it dropped to the floor, with a thud and a clang.
My heart was already starting to pound, and my limbs were growing tight and stiff.
Trying my best to stay calm and not jump the gun, I demanded of him in a low, heavy voice, amidst stutters, "W-What is it?"
"Ma, Sandhya didi is dead!"
Lo and behold! Hell broke loose for me. All that composure and normalcy I was holding on to, came crumbling down, leaving me with a maddening sense of disbelief.
My daughter dead?! That was not possible!
We had sent her off to her marital home a month ago, in the pink of her health. Who could have cast their evil eye on my daughter? What was the possible fatality settling in her, that even her nearest and dearest were unaware of? Why were we not prepared for this? How could it happen so suddenly?
A multimillion questions raced through my head, and I needed answers, to all of them. I craved meeting Ritesh's eyes, and those of my husband Mohan.
I wanted to confirm with them, if this unforeseen calamity that had befallen us was true, or just an illusion of mine. So, I scrambled over to the living room to face my family. Even calling them family seemed wrong -- for if Sandhya was gone, we were incomplete.
Despite my fast pace, every step towards reality felt like I was being pulled into a swamp of quicksand, and to save myself, I had to wade through.
And when I saw the two of them, my heart sank -- it stopped beating, and felt like a boulder in the middle of my chest that was slowly nailing me down into the realms of hell.
Ritesh’s eyes stared sternly into nothingness, and were wide open, full of shock and anger. He crossed his arms to stop his trembling. But he simply couldn’t. His lips still shivered.
Mohan too, was crouched over his sear, his face fallen.
The state in which I saw the both of them, exacerbated my desperation, even when I felt some closure.
With my voice deep, restless, agonised and cranky, I asked, or rather screamed, "How did this happen? Where did she die? Did they take her to the hospital?"
But I didn’t expect an answer. They were in no condition to owe me an answer, when they themselves needed one. I gasped, like someone was choking me. The heavy, stone-cold sensation in my chest was making it hard for me to breathe.
I longed to see my child, one last time, to hold her close to my bosom, to weep and mourn her, to stay with her till I was ready to go.
Pained by the poison in my head, and fatigued by that very pain, I wearily asked Ritesh, "Can I see her, please?"
Without looking me in the eye, he bobbled his head in agreement. On our way to the hospital, we kept mum throughout. The sounds of my pulse, and of my thoughts, dared me to speak over them. My heart was beating like a drum, again. It was hitting my chest repeatedly, until I felt it burn with pain. The metaphorical fire rose to my throat, to form bile, that was threatening to spill out.
Till I finally got to look at Sandhya, my sickness kept troubling me.
When I reached the morgue, and lay my eyes on the lifeless body of Sandhya, my heart felt like it had fallen from a height, and shattered into a million pieces.
I felt a tight kick in my stomach. The hysteria that had pent up inside me, finally found its way out. I shrieked and scowled, till I felt my voice leave my throat and disappear into thin air, taking with it the energy and will to wrestle my misfortune.
Sandhya’s face was devoid of its soft, pinkish colour, and her hands and feet were covered with patches of burns, the ones that overlapped with her wedding mehendi, that hadn’t yet faded.
Her in-laws had said it was an accident in the kitchen that killed her.
I refused to buy that explanation for her death -- no kitchen accident kills the way it killed my poor baby. It was either a suicide or a murder, and it was certainly their fault.
The care and comfort to which I had entrusted my daughter was nowhere to be seen. They had betrayed me. They had either killed my daughter, or forced her to kill herself, as they made her believe she didn’t deserve the love her own family had given her all those years.
And before I knew, I was thrown into a curveball of insanity again, for I was starting to imagine the two ways in which Sandhya could have succumbed to her burns. I couldn’t help but visualise her husband emptying a can of kerosene over her, and lighting a match, then flinging it over her, and watching her burn. Her cries for help, for mercy echoed in my ears, menacing to drain my soul out of me, to suck out every inch of life from me, till I didn’t drop down to the ground.
And if she was the one who killed herself, I couldn’t stop myself from imagining her holding the bottle of kerosene firmly, and her eyeing it over and over, and then giving in to the immense power trapped in a bottle ten times smaller than her. I sensed the fire touch her skin and spread over her. I could feel the same heat engulf me. I could sense the burning stream of tears run down her cheeks. And so, I screamed again. I screamed till my own eyes brimmed with tears. I screamed for the one who couldn’t. I screamed with the hope to ward away the disturbing scenes playing in my head, and the grief that wouldn’t end.
When I was exhausted by all the crying and wailing, I returned home, and went to bed, only to lose sleep.
My thoughts kept me awake -- had she lived, she would be burnt again and again, or she would try to do this to herself repeatedly, till she succeeded.
Because she died, she was exempt from suffering. Why did I have to trade-off between happiness and life for my child? Why couldn’t my child have both?
Every mother wishes her child to outlive her, for in her child, lives the life she couldn’t fit in herself. And because of the life they share, she wishes her child to be happy. As a mother, was it wrong of me to ask God to give my daughter both contentment and life? Any mother in my place would do just that.
And once again, I felt consumed by a need to howl at how my destiny had been unfair to me.