The afternoon rays peeped in through the windows. Malti’s hair glowed like fire. Her frail, beige skin exuded a fiery effervescence. Opposite her sat Navya, tapping her pen against the spiral notebook like a zealous drummer. 

“What do you want to know?” asked Malti, her lips soaking a bit of the golden brew. 

“I’m here to talk about Rashika. A little information would help my thesis,” Navya sounded croaky. 

Rashika. The name opened a treasure chest. Memories gushed out of her heart. It was akin to an angry river maneuvering the rocks.

Adjusting her thick-rimmed spectacles, Malti spoke, “Radiant, ebullient and diligent. The words are tailor-made for Rashika. She had a certain spark in her. Talking with her offered solace. Despite the age difference, she was my go-to friend. Her smile warded off the loneliness and the pain that came with it. I know it’s strange. I’m a therapist. But being with her felt cathartic to me.”

She paused and stared at the stack of books that lay on the table. 

“Rashika was a bibliophile. She devoured books like hotcakes.” Malti’s voice creaked. 

A subtle shiver ran down her legs. A familiar ache that stabbed her each time she remembered the anecdote gripped her again. It was time to delve deeper and reach the darker part of the story. She interlaced her fingers and braced for impact. 

“But like everything bright, her luster faded with time. It all started postpartum. Responsibilities and expectations were heaped in abundance on her. The constant fear of making mistakes, anxiety, and guilt wore her down. The bawling baby, sleepless nights, and near-to-zero help destroyed her. Her health both physical and mental deteriorated. But she continued to put her best foot forward. She refused to seek help. A smile continued to linger on her lips. She faked it to perfection.” Sorrow swept over Malti.

“Did you speak to her?” asked Navya.

“I did. I told her that it was okay to make mistakes. It was okay to falter. It was okay to let go and ask for help when in need. She heard what I said but couldn’t imbibe it. Months went by. It was her kid’s first birthday. A fragrance of jubilation warmed the hearts of all. Everyone except her. Behind those curly eyelashes, dazzling lips, and neatly done hair was a layer of desperation and desolation. It felt like she had surrendered to an evil force. She had been overcome with postpartum depression for a long time. The demon sucked the life out of her slowly. One day at a time. She stood still letting it choke her.” Malti turned and wiped the stray tears coursing down her face.

Navya’s eyes misted. She stopped taking notes. It wasn’t just a story. It was a saga of suffering. A real one. It deserved attention. She looked at Malti and prompted her to continue.

“I spoke to Tarun. Rashika’s husband. I explained about her condition. It’s unseen layers. But he said that I was lonely and was assuming things. I felt defeated and broken. But I was persistent. Rashika discarded my idea of therapy. I spoke to her in-laws. All my efforts went down the drain. Until that fateful evening. Tarun found Rashika unconscious in the kitchen. We rushed her to the hospital. The doctors called it ‘burn out’. Though late, the incident drove a nail into Tarun’s skull.” Malti felt relieved. 

“Are we moving to the better part?” Navya felt hopeful. 

Malti smiled for the first time. 

“Rashika sought professional help. Not voluntarily. Her family and I coerced her to do it. Though reluctantly, she complied. It worked. A year later, she felt better. Her productivity improved. She smiled more. Three years later, she found a job.” Malti sighed. 

“It all ended well for her. Why does the narrative affect you?” Navya chose her words carefully. 

“Your eyes reflect those unspoken emotions.” Navya walked to Malti and sat by her side.

They didn’t share the mentor-mentee relationship anymore. They were acquaintances now. That was what the tale did to Navya. She felt friendly vibes around Malti.

“Sometimes questions are complicated. The answers are simple. But they can be bitter and painful.” Malti stood up. 

She walked to the cabinet and retrieved a photo album. 

“This is Rashika,” she pointed at a photograph.

Images helped Navya connect to Rashika better. But something was missing.

“You didn’t answer my question,” Navya prodded.

“The session ends here. So does the tale.” Malti was firm. 

Minutes later, Navya excused herself and left. 

Malti retreated to a corner and turned the pages of a book. Words flew, sentences jumped and the story made no sense. Her mind played a movie of its own. 

The room was dark. A streak of neon light illuminated a face. The dark circles around the eyes radiated eerily. Something frothy oozed out of her mouth. The lost soul had finally given up. 

“Lavanya,” shrieked Malti and wobbled her way to the unconscious form. 

The body had turned icy. Skin turned blue. She was late. Life had slipped out of Lavanya. Her daughter. Her source of strength. Tears froze in Malti’s eyes. She sunk to the floor and lay with her arms curled around Lavanya. Until the next morning when she heard the doorknob turn. The domestic help entered and realization sank in. Everything was over. Her life was nothing but a pit of emptiness. 

Days later, Malti found a notebook. Lavanya mentioned that she was being bullied at college. Changes in her daughter were vivid. But Malti didn’t do anything to help her. 

“Teenage blues.” She had told herself. 

Why did she ignore the signs? Would life be different had she intervened? Was she a failure? The questions were complicated. But the answers were simple. If only, she had stopped to find the answers. If only she looked beyond the obvious.

 

Image Courtesy – Muizur

 

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