Finding Me Again – Part – 1

By Sreya Sarkar

Trisha pottered around the kitchen speaking into her cell. “You won’t believe how much we enjoyed Vegas. We went to Grand Canyon for a day from there. Ashok took the mule ride all the way down to the Canyon bed. e He To tell you the truth, I found it a bit scary.” Trisha rambled on with her friend Rina, for what seemed like an eternity, shuffling around the kitchen in her soft slippers and frumpy housecoat.

“No, I won’t be able to go with you to Target today. I am going out with Ashok. Please pick up something nice for Shukti’s house warming party,” she said checking her Facebook account, a scowl forming on her face. She had at least a hundred friends on Facebook, but there were only sixteen “likes” for her carefully posted Vegas trip pictures and almost no comments. “Okay, I will see you tonight at shukti’s.”

Trisha was one of the most active members of the Bengali Association of Chicago. She attended the pujas, the religious and cultural gatherings round the year and enthusiastically injected new faces in the celebrations, every now and then. She was the helpful kind, receiving phone calls from Bengali families moving into Chicago, with a range of queries. They would have acquired her phone number from some other Bengali family they most probably ran into at Devon or Schaumburg, the South Asian neighborhoods teeming with Indian grocery stores. You need a realtor, one who would understand your constraints… talk to her. Chicago schools are a maze. You need someone who can guide you through it…call her. She helped innumerable families find their way around Chicago.

She had left Kolkata, the city she was born and raised in, twenty years ago to join her husband in Chicago. She had futilely tried to convince herself over the years that the yearning she felt for Kolkata, would alleviate with time and she will get used to it, but the truth was that she still missed her city every day.

Her husband was a practical man. Ashok was not sentimental about things and people he had left behind in India. When she had tried telling him initially, how she missed her city, Ashok offered her hope that one day she would come to love Chicago as much, that she should give it some time. He said it with such conviction that she felt that he would never want to move back to India.

After her arrival, her now good friend, Rina, then just an acquaintance, chaperoned homesick Trisha to the shopping malls or friend’s house for tea and introduced her to the American Indian way of living. Trisha found this new way strangely alien, but after wallowing in self-pity for the longest time, she started opening up to it, though with a bit of trepidation. She learnt a lot of new things. She picked up driving, she learnt how to do grocery on her own and cook meals for fifty people, all by herself. She equipped herself with basic computer training to adapt better to the emerging digitalized work universe. In Kolkata, Trisha taught English in a school. Once she cleared school certification examination, she resumed working as a teacher in a Chicago suburb school, and that made her settle down. Her daughter Pakhi, was born in a few years and then Trisha’s life became busy. Her daughter’s play dates, ballet classes, trips to India, family get-togethers, parties, pujas, vacations and her own school work consumed all her time.

But she still had Saturday mornings to herself. Trisha could see her small garden off the back porch, through the fogged-up kitchen windows. It was November and most of the trees surrounding the garden, looked barren, except the Douglas Firs. Trisha loved the season’s nippy air, for it cleared her mind and gave her the energy to manage the upcoming busy holiday season. Mornings were her most favorite time of the day, especially on the weekends. Ashok did not have to rush to office and Trisha did not have to run off to school. She would prepare elaborate breakfasts and brew endless pots of tea while the two of them chatted. She could not recollect when they had stopped having their weekend heart-to-hearts. There were no fixed agendas for those long rambling conversations. They would start talking about the most mundane topics–is Marie biscuit the perfect accompaniment to tea? Whether rain was worse or snow? Ashok and Trisha had come to know each other over these weekend conversations. Favorite authors, movies, actors, secret dreams, awkward incidents that they would love to forget, stories from their childhood, distant relatives who were quite a character—the list was endless. As years passed they stopped talking like that. Life had taken over and crowded their weekdays and weekends with ceaseless engagements. Now the animated conversations were replaced by icy silence—cold and empty. How could they all of a sudden run out of the need to talk to each other? Loneliness grew like a vine around her heart, and not just any kind of loneliness. It was the kind that grew amidst being constantly busy, squeezing with just enough pressure to be a constant pain. It killed her silently everyday just a little bit more, taking what was once her inner light and replacing it with a darkness that overshadowed each moment. The more she tried to shake it off, the tighter it clung to her. It was like a big black hole, that could not be filled up, even by socializing anymore and it was becoming excruciating in the last year.

There was more to her loneliness than she would like to admit. Trisha’s mother had suddenly passed away two years ago. Sheela had gone to Lake Market to buy Trisha’s favorite Tyangra, a silvery fresh water fish. Trisha was reaching Kolkata a day after, for a four-week vacation. Her father had just bagged the cleaned fish when Sheela started feeling uneasy. By the time, they reached home the uneasiness intensified. Arindam had called their family doctor who lived just a couple of blocks away, but that could not save her.

Sheela was a fiction writer, a very good one and lived mostly in her imaginary World. She was rather awkward when she was forced to come out of it, to deal with the real-world chores and responsibilities. She was affectionate but not cut out for leading a conventional domestic life. Arindam was the opposite of his wife. He was the true captain of their household ship. A busy news reporter and later the Assistant Editor at Anandamela Patrika, he could miraculously juggle home and career. Post-retirement he continued writing opinion pieces and participating in political talk shows, and was still an involved husband and father. He had understood early on in his marriage that his household would come to a screeching halt if he did not take charge, but what made him so endearing was how did it cheerfully, without an accompanying grudge. The idealist in Sheela would come up with the most impractical ideas to save the World and Arindam would patiently explain to her why they could not be carried out. Once after visiting an orphanage, Sheela had instantaneously decided to turn the third floor of their house into a crèche. She had brought in infants and arranged for ayahs to help. Arindam had informed her that they had to obtain permission from the government to do such things, which was a rather lengthy process. He had even promised to help with the registration of the crèche but by then she had grown out of the idea already. “The children need care but they are driving me crazy with their non-stop crying. How can I write like this?” And that was the end of the matter.

Sheels’s eccentric ways made Trisha fume at her at times. She would never come back from school to find hot food. Her arrival would make her mother jump to her feet and start towards the kitchen. She would put together a hurried snack after causing a mess in the kitchen, which often included burning or breaking something. Trisha had to witness this daily confusion with a growling stomach. Simple everyday chores were a challenge to Sheela. When they went clothes shopping, she would spend hours in a store and then leave abruptly without picking up a single dress. Trisha had promised herself secretly that she would never be such a disorganized mother when it was her turn. Perhaps she had not become like her mother later on but, Trisha’s idea of marriage and domestic bliss was shaped by what she witnessed between her parents. She was surprised when her own marriage turned out to be such a neat communion where everything was immaculately organized, for she thought marriages were more of an adventure, like meandering treasure hunts without a proper map to help one discover the hidden jewels of joy.

Ashok walked into the kitchen with a big loud yawn, contorting his face just the way Trisha had asked him several times, not to. “You are done having tea already?” he said stretching his arms over his head. He was wearing a frayed old T-shirt that Trisha hated. In spite of not controlling what he ate, Ashok never put on weight, and Trisha seemed to add pounds even if she guzzled down a glass of cold water. This was so unfair! He opened up his laptop and started fidgeting with the Keurig. Ever since he bought the single-cup coffee maker he had started bringing home all sorts of gourmet coffee. “I need to work for a few hours today. Did you have anything planned for the morning?”

Trisha had kept postponing her visit to Home Décor Depot for the last couple of weeks so that Ashok could go with her but now she will have to go alone. “I thought we would go to look at some tiles for the kitchen backsplash but, if you are busy, I can go alone.”

Ashok looked up at her after a pause. “Sorry what did you say?”

Trisha had been asking Ashok if he could go to Home Décor Depot for the last couple of weeks and he had asked her to postpone it every weekend. Last evening Ashok had agreed to help her choose tiles this morning but now he had forgotten all about it.

“I said that I will go to Home Décor Depot alone this morning.”

“If you insist on going alone, that is fine with me,” said Ashok distantly.

Trisha wrapped her fingers around the cup a bit too tightly trying to control her temper. “I did not insist!” she said through gritted teeth and plonked her cup in the sink.

“You said that you will go with me but now you have changed your mind.” She marched upstairs to douse her disappointment.

Ashok and Trisha had a charming two-storied house. Ashok brought home unique artifacts from his around the World work tours. Trisha diligently furniture and color coordinated with those unique art pieces. Everything in their house was exclusive—one of a kind. Their home was something both were equally enthusiastic about, but that had changed in the last couple of years. She had started doing a lot of house chores alone. She had turned towards her daughter for companionship, but fifteen-year old Pakhi, was at that awkward age that made all young adults rebel against almost everything without much reason. It was difficult having a conversation with her these days.

The harder Trisha tried to connect with her daughter and husband, the further they slipped away from her. She remembered how she would pour out her heart when she arrived home after school. She would tell her mother and Disha everything and wait for their comments. Her mother never had to nudge her sister or her with questions. Disha, her younger sister, was a clumsy child. Trisha and her mother would rag her about her innumerable mishaps at school. They would talk and complain loudly about every silly thing. She missed doing that with Pakhi.

Ashok observed his wife storm up the stairs and wondered why nothing he did, pleased her anymore. His once spontaneous wife had become a slave tied to a chain of checklists. What infuriated him most though was that, socializing was a prime item on her check list. He felt that Trisha took it a bit too far when it came to mingling with people and he had noticed this trait aggravate after Trisha’s mother passed away. Sheela had died a day before Trisha reached Kolkata two years ago. Nobody had a clue about Sheela’s faltering health condition. Nothing had come up in Sheela’s annual check-up earlier that year. Apart from occasional spells of insomnia, she had good health.

Sheela had passed away so unexpectedly, that her family was left feeling cheated over the unfairness their fate had served them. Trisha had come back with a heavy heart and never gone back to Kolkata since. She was not willing to talk to Ashok about the episode in spite of him trying to approach her several times.

Pakhi was a reserved kid, not displaying emotions easily, but she cared about Trisha in her own special way. She brought up dimma, her grandmother, several times, but Trisha refused to talk about her. There was a time when Trisha would tell her about delightfully funny stories about her grandmother. She had read Pakhi a collection of her grandmother’s short stories over a summer and she had enjoyed hearing them, but all that was in the past. With Sheela’s death, Trisha stopped reading anything from her mother’s body of work. Trisha could not bring herself to look at her mother’s books. She had not talked about her mother with anyone including Disha. She called Trisha often after their mother’s death. They would talk about Disha’s husband and her eight-year old son, their father, Kolkata’s weather, the upcoming Durga Puja, the shopping malls that were crowding Kolkata now–anything and everything other than their mother. Disha had tried to pry but Trisha had clamped up. She felt the need to guard her emotions from everyone. She feared that, if she did not lock away her feelings, they would overflow and ruin the well-balanced life she had built in Chicago. It would create a crack in her carefully constructed World and somehow make her yearn to become like Sheela, unbridled and impractical.

She remembered Sheela’s suffering. Whenever she started writing something new, she would remain awake all night and cry herself insane over her imaginary characters. She felt their pain and joy more than real people’s. It made Trisha jealous sometimes. She would ask her mother when she was little, “Why do you cry for them? Do you love them more than me?”

Sheela would flash her big toothy smile. “I don’t cry for you because you always make me happy, never sad. I love you the most!” Trisha did not want to suffer like that, wrapped in imaginary emotions, slave to a fictional World. She wanted to live and experience a real life, and love real people. But after Sheela’s death, the distinction between fact and fiction had started dissolving in her mind. Now when she talked to others, she often caught herself slip out of reality and think of them as characters in a fiction, like she was looking at them from far. Her disconnect with others made her uncomfortable. She thought it will pass and everything will go back to normal.

About the Author: Having spent her childhood in a civil servant family surrounded by voracious readers, Sreya nurtured a wish to write from an early age. She did her undergraduate studies in Political Science from Kolkata’s Presidency College and post-graduation from JNU, New Delhi. After her second Masters in Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania she worked in U.S. think tanks and published non-fiction articles and op-eds for newspapers. More recently she has penned short stories that have been published in print and e-magazines in India and the U.S. Sreya currently lives in Chicago with her husband and seven-year old son.

One Comment

  1. indira bhattacharyya says:

    Looking for the continuation part 2 of ‘Finding me again’…I wish you luck.

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