Bold and evocative

Bold and evocative

There was no escape for me from my life of captivity. I was never going to be allowed to leave and there was no one to understand my anguish—the pain...

There was no escape for me from my life of captivity. I was never going to be allowed to leave and there was no one to understand my anguish—the pain of being an alien in one’s own home. My sorrows were my own to nurture in loneliness. I was sure the other doctors at Mitford were undeniably astonished and annoyed army unexpected absence, but there was hardly anything I could do about it.

I had lost the reins of my own life to someone else and my inadequacies were chasing after me, hounding me, crushing me and making me feel tiny and insignificant. I wanted to cry, I wanted to talk to someone, but I could do neither. I could only groan like wounded animal throughout the day.

I was beginning to feel like Bakuli, the girl from Tikatuli who could not speak. She had come to the hospital once with her mother, obviously their first time since neither of them knew where to go, whom to ask for help or where to seek treatment. On my way to work I had noticed them sitting in the corridor of the outpatient ward—a sixteen or seventeen-year-old girl with a woman of around thirty.

Such people could be found a dime a dozen in hospitals but as soon as I glanced at them my eyes had strayed to the young girl staring at me with her big eyes. Did she know me from before? I had simply assumed they were old patients and had gone about my business attending patients waiting in the outdoor gynaecology ward. In the afternoon, on my way out, I was surprised to find them still sitting there. Unable to help myself had gone up to them and asked, ‘Who’s the patient?

'Is that her name?’
‘Yes, she’s my daughter. Bakuli.’ The woman had placed a hand
on the girl’s back.
‘What’s happened to her?
‘She doesn’t speak.’
‘What’s her disease? Isn’t that why you are here?’
‘Bakuli doesn’t speak.’
‘I understand that. I’m asking what ails her. Stomach issues or
breathing trouble perhaps? What have you come to get her treated for?’
‘Please get her voice back. So that she can speak like she used to.’
‘Since how long has she not spoken?’
‘It’s been nearly a month.’
The girl was still staring at me, her big round eyes unblinking and
so very beautiful! All I could think of was if I had had eyes like her! Her hair was all over the place, a few strands sticking to her sweaty forehead. She was wearing a plain blue sari, slightly dishevelled.
'Why doesn’t she speak?’

‘I don’t know why,’ the woman had said in anguish and turning to her daughter continued, ‘Bakuli, say something. Tell us what happened. Please speak, please say something. Only once, just once, please say something, Bakuli.’

‘What happened to make her stop speaking? Did something happen a month ago?’

Glancing sideways, the woman had got up, come close and leaned in to whisper. 'She was found by the river. They came and informed me and I rushed to bring her back.’

‘Why was she lying there?’
'Who knows! Some people had abducted her. She had gone to work at the factory in Jinjiria but did not come back home for two days. Then some people brought me the news.’

When she was found was she conscious?
‘Yes, she was. She got up and came home with me. I asked her so many times to tell me what had happened. But she didn’t speak. She hasn’t spoken since.’

‘Did something bad happen?’
‘They said those men raped her.’

The woman had been crying by then.

‘She was born in autumn and her father passed away the next...’
I did not have time to listen to her story so I had stopped her midway and told her, ‘Bring her to the ENT specialist tomorrow. Maybe there’s something wrong with her throat.’

Having said that I had turned to leave. Suffering people came to the hospital every day and she had been one among many. A question addressed to my departing back had stopped me in my tracks.
‘Aapa, will Bakuli never speak again?’

‘I really can’t say.’
‘Aapa, wait a moment, please. You are very kind. Please help me

so Bakuli can speak again. Where will I go with her, what will I do?’
While walking away, I had replied, ‘Come and see the doctor tomorrow. See what he says.’

I had come out of the main gate of the hospital and found a rickshaw. Bakuli was still sitting like before and her mother was staring after me. The entire way back her words had kept echoing in my head.

‘Bakuli, please say something.’
The next day I had checked the outdoor corridor again but there was no sign of them at all. There were so many patients, but neither mother nor daughter could be seen anywhere. Neither were they there the day after. Perhaps they had come back to the hospital, perhaps they had consulted the doctor as per my advice and perhaps the doctor had informed them there was nothing wrong with the girl’s throat.

Surely the mother must have kept on imploring, ‘Bakuli, please say something.’

From that day I always searched for Bakuli in the hospital. I would try and locate her face among the crowd of people in the hospital every day. All I wished to know was if Bakuli had indeed
spoken again.
One edition after another was being commissioned, but I remained in my prison like a convicted criminal. Even the vilest criminals were perhaps not abused as much as I. Guests who came to Abakash would peek in to see how I was doing and so would the dogs and the cats.

I would stare out of the window at the hens and ducks in the courtyard, wishing I could walk freely in the open like them. During my captivity also learnt the true meaning of enslavement. Racked with despair I would scream and keep screaming out loud—everyone listened but no one came to help.

I had nothing except what I was wearing: the sari I had arrived in. Unable to bathe I soon began to stink. There was not a single book I could read, no television I could watch, nor a machine I could play music on. There was not a single person I could talk to…

Extracted with permission.

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