In Search Of Aasha

Aasha gave me a cultured smile as she presented me the sparkling white china cup with aromatic tea in it. But my joke was worth a laugh, I wondered a little annoyed. What happened to the Aasha that burst into a robust laughter at the silliest of jokes? I observed her closely as she resumed her work in the kitchen with practiced expertise. She was dressed as if she were about to go out; a skinny tight blue jeans with a fancy black cotton top that did not seem comfortable at all. She even had a little makeup on. Her demeanour was calm and composed and her face, expressionless. She had also lost a lot of weight since the last time I saw her. I recalled her telling me that she was joining a gym over a phone call.

This was not the Aasha I grew up with. The girl whose entry was announced by elaborate chiming Indian accessories and a pleasant laughter was not here anymore. Even though I was meeting her after almost two years, one does not expect to meet a completely different person altogether. What happened to the colourful salwars and flashy dupattas? What happened to the impatience of her character and multitudes of fleeting expressions that adorned her face twenty-four seven? What happened to my elder sister in all these years? Even though I was wondering about all these questions, I knew the answer to them pretty clearly.

As I watched the defiant school feminist make lunch for me, I was forced to recall all the articles she used to write for an online feminist portal. Some of their titles swam in my mind as I heard the rattle of utensils like a music I didn’t like.

Being a Woman Does Not Mean Compromise’.

It’s a Man’s World But Women Run It

“Importance of Sisterhood”

“Married, Feminist and Housewife”

I know those words would be accusing her of hypocrisy now and burning a hole in her soul.

The thought made me nauseous and I decided to give up on finishing the tea. The silence between me and Aasha was unsettling for me because I wasn’t familiar with such a scenario. We used to have hours dedicated to pointless banter and numerous stories about each other’s life. There was judging and giggling and even fights but never silence.

Some decisions in a person’s life really take a toll on them. There are some decisions that you want to take and some that you feel like you have to take and it’s always the latter that render you speechless, sometimes for your entire life. The decisions that take your life away from your values are the hardest to make and they leave a lasting impact. They have the power to crush your previous sense of identity and then, you are left in the dark, desperately trying to form a new one. More than often, this new shattered identity that you form is a culmination of bits and pieces borrowed from others.

After that one taxing day in July of 2012, Aasha forgot who she was. On that day she was suddenly thrown into a Robert Frost poem and was facing a forked road in the journey of her previously proud and happy life. She had to choose one out of the two and I witnessed her breaking down in front of those long-stretching and seemingly dark roads; her beliefs faltering, her convictions losing strength and her confidence slowly disappearing in the musty monsoon air, making it heavier on our chests.

Kabir had left his phone at home before going on one of his many Europe tours. Kabir was Aasha’s high school sweetheart. She had never known romantic love outside of Kabir and she never even wanted to. He was the perfect guy in her mind. Respectful, ambitious, caring and even a male feminist. At the delicate age of eighteen, Aasha was drooling over baby socks in kids’ clothing stores and imagining her dream house with Kabir.

She always yearned for a happy family life since we never had one. An absentee mother and a very busy father didn’t account for a family as such. So, we found solace and family in each other. During truth and dares, whenever she was asked what her deepest desire was, she always said she wanted a blissful and coherent family life where everyone is there for each other. I found my mother figure in her and she was trying to be the mother figure she never had.

She didn’t want to become a female President or a CEO. She wanted to become a nurturer. I knew it from a very young age. The amount of blossomed sunflowers in our balcony garden were a proof of her motherly instincts. I was a proof of her motherly instincts. She was determined to prove that a housemaker could also be a feminist. She just wanted to build a home and be the strongest and most supportive pillar of it. But now, only the pillar was visible with all its cemented strength and Aasha was nowhere to be found.

When she saw the texts and pictures of Nadia in Kabir’s phone that day, her world and beliefs crumbled like stale bread and I could do nothing but watch it disintegrate. It was just before I was about to leave for Canada.

Kabir was cheating on her. As she investigated more after her initial shock, she found out that he had been cheating on her for solid eight years now. His business trips were trips to the other woman as well and his love was divided in two.
So there she was with the forked road glaring down condescendingly on her like a strict professor with folded arms, waiting for her to give the correct answer. But she didn’t know what the correct answer was.

I expected my sister to choreograph a big confrontation when Kabir returned to pick up his phone but she wordlessly gave it back to him and wished him a happy journey. I also assumed that she would leave everything behind and accompany me to Canada to start a fresh life. She did ponder upon that possibility for a long time before choosing the road she did. But unlike the defiant rebel she previously was, she chose to stay.

Wasn’t she the one who stood by her best friend when she was procuring a divorce on the basis of her husband’s romantic affairs? I remember Aasha stringently counselling Heena and giving her numerous reasons to not stay in a relationship that had no trust or equal emotional investment. So what was different now?

You might wonder why would a girl who never compromised on her ideals and was ridiculously proud of them, not leave in such a circumstance. Wasn’t cheating, in a marriage or any relationship, in the list of ‘not acceptable 101’? Wasn’t staying with the defaulter a form of submission and unhealthy compromise?

I never had the courage to ask the reason for her staying. I never had the courage to bring this topic up again. Being the only one who knew about this limited my scope of verbal deliberation. But in my head I thought of the numerous reasons that might have made Aasha stay.

Maybe it was for her little six year old boy. Maybe she stayed to give Abeer a happy and coherent family.  The Stockholm Syndrome of Motherhood often forced you to make unreasonable sacrifices.

Maybe she stayed because she married too young and didn’t have the financial stability to start a fresh life. How would she support a kid and herself when she was financially dependent on Kabir? She wouldn’t be able to give Abeer the lifestyle he was accustomed to already.

Or maybe it was just fear. Fear of starting over and starting alone. Fear of not having a complete family again. Dread of probably not finding love again. Loneliness can be really scary when you’ve grown up with it. It makes it very hard to leave behind the person who filled in the gap. Probably she even had the fear of society, which was unlikely though. But you can never tell how strong someone’s abstract convictions are until it is time to incorporate them in their intimately private lives.

Whatever the reason might be, she chose the road that led back to Kabir and the enormous empty house that felt emptier since July twenty third. She chose the road of denial; carrying on with her life as it was.

She would never tell Abeer of his father’s liaisons, she once told me. She did not want to taint the superhuman respect Abeer had for his father. Moreover, she did not want to indoctrinate the thought that cheating was acceptable in Abeer’s innocent mind even if she was accepting it.

She never even told Kabir that she knew about Nadia. Everything she was going through was inside her body that had practiced composure to perfection. But I could see her insecurities manifesting in her appearance. She was trying to turn into Nadia now. She had discarded the Indian clothes she adored and her wardrobe was now full of jeans and dresses and tank tops. She had developed a vehement dislike for her own chubbiness which once was “enviable curves” for her. She had given away her loud laughter and garrulous character for proficient sophistication. Probably she had the banal hope of getting Kabir back to herself if she could imitate Nadia. This made me sad. My sister thought that her supposed shortcomings were the reason behind Kabir’s philandering and that shattered me to no extent.

As she came back in hall to sit beside me and ask about my work I heard the message tone of Kabir’s phone as it lighted on the table next to us. We both peered to see Nadia’s name flash on the screen. Aasha’s eyes became blue for a nanosecond before they went back to their trained calmness. She pressed the power button to switch off the lighted phone and turned towards me to resume the meaningless conversation.

My heart sank to my stomach as I searched for my sister while she indulged in small talk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sisterhood

I twisted the head of the tap and the water ceased to flow down on the sink. I wiped the water off my hands with a handkerchief. How long had I been zoned out washing my hands?
The face in the mirror looked unsatisfied and tired. Festivities of this kingdom always were a taxing job. They required me to play the part of the timid, conforming, virtuous girl more efficiently than on normal days. It drained the life out of me.

This coronation was especially depressing. It had malice written all over it. Wasn’t King Duncan just murdered? Yet no one, especially Macbeth, had an ounce of grief. This celebration was tainted and to a great extent, insensitive.

As I was preparing myself to get in character before moving out, I heard someone’s clumsy handling of the washroom door knob. After a few minutes of noisy playing with the doorknob, a tall woman in a black robe stumbled inside the washroom.

“All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!” She shouted and burst into a fit of manic laughter as the door shut thud behind here.

As she tried to walk towards the sink she toppled and fell on her knees still laughing. She was lean with her hair tied in an aristocratic bun, but a few non-conforming strands of it were all over her face. Her complexion was flushed and her face sad. For a moment I couldn’t recognize who she was because I had never seen Lady Macbeth that vulnerable. She was a marble statue at every occasion. An unapproachable figure with a plastered smile and very few, but only kind, words.

I hurried towards her to help her stand up but she pushed me away to lean on the wall and sit awkwardly on the washroom floor. She was wrapped in a repelling stench of liquor. I carefully placed myself next to her to provide assistance which she obviously denied.

“Is something wrong my Queen?” I asked in a whispered tone but it somehow triggered her. Her sad face had angry eyes bored in it and my question acted as a catalyst to that anger.

In a hushed tone that was full of rage, her words came out from between her gritted teeth, “But everything about this is wrong. HE wears the crown of MY ambition.” And a tiny tear escaped her left eye as she swiftly wiped it off.

“Because I had too many dreams for a girl I was married to an ass-licking, ambition-less man and now look at him! He is the KING! MY GOAL, MY PLAN, MY BRAVERY, and MY CLEANING UP THE MESS; and he gets to sit on the throne with a gold crown on his rather dumb head,” Her voice got louder with every repeated and emphasised ‘my’.

“What are you talking about my Queen?” I ask in a concerned voice even though I knew what she meant. Treachery aside, I knew what she felt at the moment. Wasn’t this my life on a daily basis? Frustration of not getting what I deserve. Frustration of not being who I am meant to be. Frustration of being a woman in a man’s world.

“But you get to be the Queen! You get to sit next to him and wear your own crown.” I give my vague consolation that wasn’t even sufficient in my head.

She winced and laughed sarcastically. “Oh no, I get to be Lady Macbeth. Do you know my real name? Does anybody know my real name? NO, because I am Lady Macbeth. Lady to King Macbeth. That is all I am and that is all I’ll ever be. But do you know what I am should be? I should be Ruler of the Land Gruoch. I deserve to hear ‘All Hail the ruler, Gruoch!’ I am meant to be the power on that throne because I’VE done the good, the bad, and the ugly for it. But…”

As her voice trailed off she stared into the void for a few seconds and abruptly stood up to settle her garment and hair in the mirror. Still a little tipsy, she moved towards the door rather gauchely and unacknowledged my presence altogether. She sent a clear signal of ‘this talk never happened,’ to me and I was more than pleased to oblige.

“I know what you are going through my Queen. Trust me, I know,” I said in a reassuring voice. She stopped for a minute at the door with her back towards me and took a deep breath to fake composure, before finally joining the festivities again.

We all were playing our parts.

Life as a Literary Art and Creative Writing Student #1 (What do you want to explore through your writing?)

It is rather funny and astounding that we are generally enthused and quick to answer fact based questions about this humongous outside world but falter and stutter when we are asked the simplest of questions about ourselves. You know what I am talking about right?
When a new professor in a new class goes on a ‘tell me a little about yourself’ drill and you vehemently hope that he’d start with the other row so that you can paraphrase their answers to form your own or at least borrow some ideas.

Have you wondered what makes us do that?
Well at least I have.

A similar thing happened when our creative writing professor asked us our first question that was simple yet eminent – ‘What does writing mean to you?
An awkward silence spread throughout the room followed by exchange of uncertain glances. One person waiting for the other to answer in confusion. I’m sure everyone had an answer to it but certain doubts and anxieties made them refrain from voicing their answer. Ever wondered what doubts people collectively share that render them speechless when asked a personal question in a particular setting?
Many a times these doubts stem from our inability to articulate what we actually feel or think. Language seems like an insufficient medium of expression making us decide to stick to silence instead. No one has the gift of perfect articulation of internal thoughts anyway.

Nevertheless, sticking to my resolution of speaking up more in class, I blurt out ‘hobby’ as my answer and immediately realize how inadequate that word was to explain what writing meant to me. I wouldn’t be sitting in a creative writing class if it was just a hobby. I was here to pull it out of the shallow kid’s pool of hobby and make it swim in the deeper adult area (or at least height above four feet area).

Later, at home, I sat down chewing the end of my pen and struggling to answer the second unsettling question – ‘What do you want to explore through your writing?’

A lot of potential answers knock on my door but none of them is happily welcomed inside in isolation. I begin to wonder what can be the potential meeting point of all those ideas, ideologies and social issues that I want to write about?
After a lot of deliberation while taking showers and cooking meals I realized that the point of confluence was my own mind or human mind in general. So, I got ready to write my slightly vague idea within five hundred words.

Human psyche or mind is in a constant state of confusion and conflict; a duel ground where two ideas fight with each other to gain prominence. Every single decision we take is preceded by this confusion and since life is nothing but a prolonged act of perpetual decision making; confusion becomes very central to one’s being. I want to explore this confusion and the resolution of it that occurs in a person’s mind before they take any big or small decision; the confusion that resides on the line of control of internal and external worlds.
I want to weave stories inside a characters mind and explore the ideologies, social influences and histories that create these conflicts and shape an individual’s line of thought and hence, way of life.

This exploration of the human psyche will also allow me to unravel the features of such ideologies and social constructs and showcase the dangers of their partial understanding or prevalent misinterpretations.