Finding Me Again – Part – 2

By Sreya Sarkar

Pakhi was eating her morning cereal when Trisha came down from her bedroom, ready to leave for Home Décor Depot. Trisha took the car keys off the kitchen hook and was about to leave when Pakhi spoke suddenly. “Where are you going this early?” Trisha stopped in her tracks and looked at Pakhi with wary eyes. She was sick of her family ignoring her.

“I am going to Home Décor Depot and it’s not that early,” she said with eminent irritation. “I might stop at Target later. Do you need anything?” Old habits die hard. She always took care of her family’s needs whether or not they acknowledged her. “No, but thanks for asking,” said Pakhi watching Trisha button her jacket.

Pakhi walked into Ashok’s study, cereal bowl in hand. “Dad, did you try talking to Ma?”

Ashok nodded his head. “She does not want to talk about dimma.”

“But you must keep trying. I think she needs counseling,” said Pakhi with a lisp, her mouth full of chocolate cereal.

Ashok looked up from his laptop with a frown. “This is the problem with your generation. You would rather talk to a psychiatrist than reach out to family. We will help her, she needs no professional.”

Since Trisha had left earlier and finished her work she was to do along with Ashok, she had time to make it to Target after all. She thought of giving Rina a surprise and headed towards the Starbucks inside the Target store. She was yanking open her jacket when she heard familiar voices speaking in Bengali. It was always comforting to hear her mother tongue, but this time something caught her ears that made her stop in her tracks. They were talking about her.

“Did you talk to Trisha after she came back from her Vegas trip?” asked someone. “Yes, I spoke to her this morning” said Rina.

“I saw her post like fifty pictures of their vacation on Facebook,” said someone else. There was silence for a few seconds and then peals of laughter.

Rina intervened. “You have to realize that she is going through a difficult phase in life. Call it mid-life crisis or her mother passing away so suddenly or her problems with Ashok…I don’t really know! I am thinking of talking to her but I wonder how I can do that without offending her.”

“Come on, all this crisis tactic is just to get attention. Trisha should really work on toning down the “show-off” dial,” said another familiar voice.

“It’s like she wants everyone to look at her all the time!”

“And how she overdoes everything. Does she want to win the best socializer of the century award or something?”

Rina intervened again. “It’s sweet Trisha you are talking about. Why are you all so mad at her?”

“If she has psychological issues she should go for counseling. We all have our problems, don’t we? She will not get any better by shaming us into activities, saying that it is the Bengali way of living!” said another voice.

“I know, I am sick of her ordering me around. Do you know, she forced me to invite a family I barely know, just because she had bumped into them somewhere and didn’t have time to include them on her list?”

“Yes, she can be overwhelming.”

The cruel words spilled out of her good friends like puss from a long-infected wound. Her head felt heavy with the accusations. Did she appear as horrific as they described her? She took a few deep breaths to steady herself and slowly walked back to her car.

All her friends, with whom she had shared her life, who were saccharine sweet on her face, were complaining fervidly, behind her back. All she wanted was to give them comfort and feel the same returned. Ashok had commented lately about her over-generous behavior, but that had made her defensive. “You have a problem with me because I am nice to others?”

Criticism felt bitter but made her wonder that perhaps her way of thinking was not flawless after all. It took her back to a time when her parents visited her. Pakhi was only seven years old then. Trisha had planned their two-month visit with a lot of care, but Sheela had surprised her with an astute observation towards the end of their trip that was more a criticism than praise.

“Where is the Trisha that had so much talent? I don’t see her at all.” She had looked around Trisha’s beautiful living room and waved her hand around. “Are you sure this is enough to make you happy?”  After a restful stay in her daughter’s house, that was all she had to say.

Trisha had lost her temper and hurled hurtful words towards her. “Just because I am not driving people crazy with my anxieties and insecurities does not mean that I am not doing much in life.”

Her mother had smiled and nodded her head sadly. “Is that what you think of me?”  She had held on to her concern sincerely. “You know, I didn’t choose to write. Writing chose me. I write because I have to, not just because I want to. It was my calling. What is yours?”

Trisha would have rolled her eyes to such a comment on other occasions but that day, she had found herself trapped in a moment when she thought she saw something different in her mother’s eyes. Was it a plea for comprehending what she had not said or could not say? It was a pregnant moment filled with a silent request not to limit herself. But Pakhi had distracted her a minute later and the moment had passed. Now the moment came flooding back to her.

She sat down quietly on the couch in Ashok’s study, where he was working on his laptop. He braced himself for a long and stern lecture about his non-involvement, but as he turned around from his desk, he noticed Trisha staring out of the window listlessly. Slowly her watery gaze turned towards him. “Can we talk?”

Trisha narrated what she had overheard at the store. One thing led to another and soon she started talking about all those pent-up feelings that she had refused to share before. She told him how bitter she felt for have given so many years to become all those things that she thought will give her happiness. She adjusted to her life in a new country in spite of hating the fact that she had to leave Kolkata. All she wanted to do is create her own version of Kolkata. She never meant harm to anyone. Yet, her friends thought she was pining for attention. They were merely tolerating her while she thought that they loved her.

Ashok sighed. In the last two years, he should have tried harder to reach out to her. Every day she was sinking deeper into a strange darkness, behind a veil of fake enthusiasm, appearing a bit too bright, a bit too happy. The time had come when he had to be truthful to his wife.

He said gently, “Trisha, you are depressed, but not willing to talk about it.”

“Ashok. I am not depressed. I am trying my best to be fine!” said Trisha defensively.

Ashok covered her soft hands with his. “But why are you trying so hard to be fine? If there is something that is making you unhappy, you should tell me. I know I have not been very involved lately, and that was wrong. I am sorry!”

Trisha looked at Ashok with glazed eyes. “What do you think is wrong with me? When did I become so unbearable?”

Ashok took her in his arms and gently stroked her hair. “You are fine. Just a bit lost, that’s all.”

“Now, listen to me without interrupting.”  He sat Trisha down in his study.

“I married a smart and sweet girl who had her life figured out,” he said. “You wanted to be a good home keeper and wife. You were gregarious and warm and everybody loved you, but you were also simple back then. You were unpretentious and comfortable with yourself, with time the simplicity disappeared and you started seeking more and more attention. The continuous socializing—parties, assembling new friends under your wings, obliging others to follow your conduct—you became overpowering. You didn’t realize that you were being pushy.”

Trisha looked upset. “So, you think that I am not a good person, that I do everything for accolades. This is your impression of me after twenty years of adjustment and sacrifices. I don’t like living so far away from Kolkata, yet I live here with you, don’t I?”

Ashok looked at her bewildered. “Who has asked you to sacrifice so much Trisha? Did you ever tell me that you didn’t like living here? Did you ever try to explain why you wanted to go back to India? You just assumed that I would never go back, right?” said Ashok.

“This is what I get for not being selfish,” Trisha lashed out. “You did not want to go back—that is the truth—have I ever complained about it?”

“Why didn’t you complain? How would I know otherwise?” Ashok’s eyes settled on Trisha as he remembered how he had fallen in love with a girl who had a mind of her own and a flair for writing, when he had gone for a short visit to his aunt’s house in Kolkata. Back then, Trisha was a different person. She could write eloquent scripts for plays within a matter of days for her neighborhood drama troupe. He had assumed that Trisha would be happy writing, like her mother but she had blocked that side of herself from blossoming.

“You have so much talent and energy in you. Don’t waste it trying to please others all the time. And you need to grieve for someone in a proper way, it has been too long now.”

Trisha’s face grew pensive. “I see her in my dreams sometimes. But I can’t get myself to talk to her.”

“I know you are hurting, Trisha.”

“Will I ever come out of this constant pain? Will I ever heal?” asked Trisha in a shaky voice. Ashok tightened his arms around his wife. “Yes, you will heal. You are still my brave Trisha who won over hundreds of Bengalis in Chicago. Now you just have to win yourself over.”

Trisha was not sure how she could reverse what was happening to her. “I feel so empty Ashok. A lot of things that I have worked so hard for, is not making sense anymore.”

Ashok’s voice was light. “You have to go to Kolkata. There is a knot that you have to untangle there.”

 

Trisha sat writing at her mother’s desk, on a pleasant winter morning, and soon the morning spilled into afternoon with her hardly noticing it. Arindam rolled his eyes dramatically as he came in to the room with a cup of tea. “Hello Sheela part two, here is your fifteenth cup of tea!”

Baba, stop exaggerating, it’s only my third cup!”

“First Sheela bugged me for endless cups of tea and now you are demanding the same. Go, ask your husband to make tea for you,” said Arindam grumpily. He looked like Santa Claus with his round glasses and scruffy silver tinged beard. “Baba, you know that you make the best tea in the World.” said Trisha.

Disha came in to complain about the mess he had made in the kitchen.

Arindam held up his hands in defense. “I had only promised to make tea, not clean up after that. You girls have no manners— making an old man work so hard.”

Trisha let out a heavy sigh as she watched them squabble with each other. Arindam and Disha had embraced her right away, without asking for an explanation for her absence in the last two years.

Once she got over the initial hump of making herself come to Kolkata, she realized that she had been afraid for no good reason at all.

Trisha had to get away from Chicago to feel sane again. She had no clue what she was looking for when she left for Kolkata, but once she arrived, she found herself and her mother unexpectedly. She had gone through Sheela’s things one by one. Her cotton sarees still smelled of her. Her box of glass bangles still waited for her touch. Her pens, her unfinished drafts, her desk, her room–looked sad and lonely without her. Trisha had wrapped herself in one of Sheela’s shawls and cried herself to sleep, amidst a heap of tangled sarees. When she woke up, she read through Sheela’s unfinished novel sitting on her shelf, covered in dust. It was half finished. After reading it thrice in a row, she decided to write the rest of it. It could never be like Sheela’s but, Trisha was not too worried about that.

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. Dr BikramSarkar says:

    A touching short story .In Bengali the definition of chhotogalpo is ” ja shes hoiao hoilona shes.”

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