Notes to Myself

Faded, whitewashed walls. Stark. Suffocating. Like my life, ever since I was brought here to this mad house. These pages and pen my only companions. Each new day is just like yesterday. I don’t know the date or day of the month. Every day, after the heartless white coats are done with asking me inane questions, prodding and poking and pumping colored pills into me to make me conform to their rules of sanity I sit here to write to you. Secretly.

You, my friend. You whom I have not seen and who might never see me. My only hope is that someday like Anne Frank’s diary, these pages will evoke interest or at least sympathy and redemption for others like me. Yes I am an educated, well read woman.

Then why am I in a mad house? Because they are outside, the really insane ones. The ones who tagged me mad and put me away here. Don’t reveal this, but I prefer it here. The pills, the shocks, the bare walls that close in on me, the door that I can never lock…all, except white coats, are better than them.

Let us backtrack a bit into the world I was forced to leave behind.

Visions and dreams led me here. As a child I once saw Sai Baba in a vision. At that age I was not aware of him and nobody in my family was a devotee, so I had not even seen his pictures. It was much later that I knew he had appeared to me. No one believed me. Then I dreamt of unseen churches and temples which I only recognized years and decades later when I actually visited them. Or I saw dreams that presaged news of death. A few days before the Babri Masjid incident, when the coach of the kar sevaks was set on fire, I had seen a train burning. Only subsequently I realized the portent of these dreams. Any one I talked to would look at me strangely and say “Wow! Really?”

They became more frequent after marriage. Now a strange white light used to forewarn me of death in the family. Sometimes dead family members shadowed me when I was wide awake and alone in the house. No, they didn’t say anything. I just felt at peace.

People tell me that the white light I see is an eye problem. The ophthalmologist says my eyes are perfect. And the dead haunting me? They visit me on and off.

“Dreams. You must have fallen asleep; it must be just the play of light, may be you miss them so much that it is wishful thinking etc.”

I’ll rewind again here.

My father and my husband’s were always good friends, so they decided to become family and that is why I was married off to a man I never really cared for. My dreams and visions were always a source of amusement for him and his friends. Dimly lit minds cannot see beyond the fringes of their warped reasoning.

Once, days after my dad’s only brother died, my father-in-law and papa called me out in the garden to join them for tea. My husband too was there.

“So, beta, weren’t you warned that Uncle’s visa had been sent from above? You should have told your poor aunt,” snickered my father-in-law.

I stood silently watching a spider crawl up his neck. How I wished it were a black widow or even the tarantula! He swiped at it, beckoning me to sit on an empty chair.   Conspiratorial glances exchanged, my father cleared his throat.

“Look, we need you to use your extraordinary powers.”

Eyes narrowed, I smiled sarcastically at him, wondering what had been hatched behind my back. An unholy trinity, I thought shifting my gaze from one to another.

“All you have to do is tell your chachi something. Convince her that your uncle appeared to you in a dream and has given you a message for her.”

“But he didn’t. Why should I lie?”

“Because we are asking you to. Can’t you do that much for me? This is the first time I am asking you for something and I don’t want no for an answer.” A veiled threat?

“Beta, hear us out first. It is just a small lie, but so many will benefit.” That was my foxy father-in-law. “Tell her your uncle wants a temple built to Lord Ganesh at a particular spot. He wants us to handle it, so she should give us funds as and when we ask for them. It was a wish he could not fulfill in his life time so he wants her to do it. For the salvation of his soul.”

“That’s all. The rest you leave to us.”

My grip on the tea-cup tightened and before I knew it, I had flung the steaming beverage in their direction. It didn’t really burn anyone, but I also upturned the table, the tea service in smithereens and began to walk off hissing “Bloody crooks!” Greed had crowded out the last vestige of integrity and decency these men possessed. It had fettered conscience and blackened their souls. They would stoop to any level to add to their burgeoning coffers.

My husband’s restraining hand on mine made me lose it completely. Spitting in his face I slapped him, kicked him and let loose a barrage of vitriol. A crow sitting in a tree nearby flew off squawking disgustedly at us, startling a few mynas in his turn.

Left to myself, I gradually calmed down watching a line of ants busily crawling outside the window of the room I had been locked in. Everything in nature can be so cathartic! And so much in tune with life. Why are we humans this way?

When they brought the matter up again I decided to warn my aunt. We never really liked each other but I couldn’t use my powers for evil.  I didn’t know I was tolling the bell for my freedom. Truthfulness I learnt can backfire on you and principles extort a heavy price.

In the ruckus that issued, I was instigated to violence once more, certified mad and sent here by the scheming trio. My ray of honesty had exposed the darkness and impurity of their intentions. They had to save their shredded masks of respectability.

Shhh…but that’s not why they administered shocks to me here. I must tell you this.

One night, a white coat entered my room. Outside, the sane and insane lay under sheets of dormancy. The latter mostly drugged the former indolent and rusted. The sympathy he showed me in day time spilled into affection. Brushing my hair from my cheek, he said ever so gently, “I know how you must feel here. I can see you are intelligent and so pretty. You need better treatment.”  And his lewd hand slid tracing a scorching line down my throat.

I threatened to scream. His laughter was softly jeering.

“You know what will happen. They will come, tie you down to the bed and give you shocks tomorrow.”

I could see his leer in the dim night light. I knew he was right. I smiled weakly. Then with a cry that would put a banshee to shame, swung my hand and jabbed him in the eye with every ounce of force I could muster. Friends, the pen is mighty in more ways than one. If I had to take shocks, why not for a worthwhile reason?

Naturally, after that they don’t allow me to keep anything in the room. A nurse smuggles these in and out. She says it is my reward from the nurses.

“You have incapacitated that cad for a month at least. Thanks.”

I answer with regret, “If only I could have bobbited him!

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30 responses »

  1. smitaluthra says:

    Very interesting story, Shernaz. I sure am going to look forward to more.

  2. Shernaz says:

    Dear Geetashree, To use the time worn adage, it is better late than never. So happy to see your response. It is very sweet of you and Ibohal to have read this and come back with such positive responses. Thank you very much.

  3. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Dear Shernaz, I was out of touch for quite sometime. That is why my late response. Wonderfully crafted, the story tells of situations with which I can relate to personally. I am very pleased to learn that apart from a sensitive poetess, you are a short story writer as well.

  4. Shernaz says:

    Yes Vimala, you are so correct! It is really chilling to think that there must be perfectly normal people confined within the walls of such places. And all are not there because they have been misunderstood. I have heard of cases where malicious intent of family members has had them imprisoned so. Worse than the walls must be the mental and emotional agony such people have to go through. Thanks for taking the time out to read and respond.

  5. vimala madon says:

    An intense story so well told. And it chills the mind to think, perhaps to suspect, that there actually must be quite a few perfectly normal misunderstood people who clapped within the confines of 4 walls just for being different.

  6. Ibohal Kshetrimayum says:

    Hi Shernaz,
    I was once in a madhouse visiting an old friend. I was lucky she asked me to dance instead. Wonderful story with very down to earth understanding of otherwise bizzare behaviour of the subconscious and its resultant effect on others. I love it. Warmly – Ibohal

    • Shernaz says:

      Hi Ibohal, Very nice of you to have come by here. Yes, you sure are lucky your friend asked you to dance. A good therapy and tension reliever for anyone. So glad you enjoyed the story. Thanks and warm wishes to you too.

  7. Sneha says:

    Shernaz, you seem to be an ardent reader of literature, aren’t you?

    This entire episode of the Madhouse reminded me of the character of Bertha Mason in the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Please pick a copy, if you haven’t read it; and read it. Then again re-read it from a feminist perspective. The white heroines so-called and so-projected ‘sautan’ (first wife of her husband) is a mad woman, trapped in the house. It is she who, with her madness brings the house on fire and thus destroys the male heroes ego, brutality and false pride.

    Your tale was wonderful, evocative, melancholic and if I may give you the parting shot, You’re a very SENSITIVE and a FANTASTIC writer.

    Sneha. Subramanian. Kanta

    • Shernaz says:

      Well Sneha, (Subramanian. Kanta)? I used to be an avid reader and had read Jane Eyre decades back in my student years. But to view it from a feminist perspective I sure will have to re-read it.

      I love your parting shot but I accept it with apprehension. I should be able to live upto the image you have formed of me as a writer (the fantsastic part) and that’s an immensely tall order. I can only do my best always, that’s all I can say. Thank you very much.

      • Sneha says:

        Well, yes, that’s my full name, Shernaz.
        And I meant every word I said. Keep writing, apprehensions be kept at bay!

  8. Safiyyah says:

    Hi everybody, Ihave read all the responses and their responses on here. I get Vimala’s point here. When I moved to the UK 12 years ago, I commented to a stray neighbour in a very general conversation that I feared I was going to loose my English staying with my in-laws, and that stray person actually went and told my in-laws about it. And in real life, they reacted in a way thats best left alone. But I know for a fact that even the most educated person, male or female, is very threatened by someone equally intelligent but with added integrity, and it can drive people to murder even… More story material for people interested???

    Thoroughly enjoying this website, and the posts.
    Thanks and regards to all contributors.

  9. sunamu says:

    Dimly lit minds cannot see beyond the fringes of their warped reasoning.

    …. For sure, dim wits can’t see beyond the fringes of their fingers Sher.

    You are transitioning from a story-writing poet to a poetic story teller.

    Great! Congratulations. Any experimenting like there with a twin?

    • Shernaz says:

      Just saw your comments Murty. Great that you found the time to read and respond. Thanks for your praise. No am not experimenting here, only in poetry writing. Thanks a lot.

  10. vimala ramu says:

    Oh, what an intense story, Shernaz. But, while we react so positively to the character in the story, which is so well narrated, how differently we react if we were to meet such characters in real life! A really classy narration.

    • Shernaz says:

      Your response is very gratifying Vimala. And yes, you are right, in real life we do react very differently from the way we often do to fictional characters. Perhaps, because sympathising and empathising with fictional characters doesn’t really compromise us in a way a true life situation would. Self-protection? Thank you for reading and responding.

  11. The pleasure is mine Shernaz. It gives me a lot of satisfaction to be instrumental in getting some great creative stuff and people together.

  12. Dear Shernaz,

    When I first read the story (and I was fortunate to read it before all the others!) it was as if I had turned into the main character itself – her pain, frustration, her anger, her sadness – all just depicted so very well in your narration.

    I could feel it all!

    I agree with Safiyyah and Broca TOTALLY!

    • Shernaz says:

      Dear Shail, My effort in writing this and the wait till it was posted has been worth it. It is so gratifying as we all know when co-writers laud our work. Yes Shail, when fictitious accounts of this kind make our blood boil, we can only imagine what must happen to people who really experience such ghastly treatment! My sincere gratitude to you and once more to all who have read and taken the trouble to comment on the story.

  13. Indrani Talukdar says:

    I agree with the others Shernaz. It is beautifully crafted, well-written and pwerful. What is more, it struck a chord with me because of the subject matter. I have had experiences that I dare not share with anyone for fear of ridicule.

    • Shernaz says:

      Dear Indrani, Firstly I am deeply grateful for your wonderful words of appreciation. Next, I think I understand what you mean by the last sentence in your response. The only true part of my story are the visions and dreams that someone I know experiences. I too used to be sceptical about it, but when a third person remarked in passing “I hope she is not losing it”, this piece of fiction took shape in my mind. Thanks once again.

      • Indrani Talukdar says:

        I thought that was the case, actually. The story is realy very good Shernaz. Keep ’em coming!

  14. J S Broca says:

    A really shocking story,grippingly narrated. I feel,the white coat should not only be bobbitted but his face should be blackened,a garland of old shoes put around his neck,and he should paraded sitting on a donkey to send a message to such criminal minded people.An intelligent mind to be housed in a mad house is a serious crime and the guilty need to be punished for sure.I quote some thoughts on a mad house from various sources :

    “Viewed from the summit of reason, all life looks like a malignant disease and the world like a madhouse”-
    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    Society is madhouse whose wardens are the officials and the police” – August Strindberg

    “We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe.”
    – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    More power to your pen dear !

    • Shernaz says:

      Dear Jitoo, Your response got delayed due to technical reasons, but it is worth the wait. The quotes are worth preserving, for the power of truth contained in them, though all won’t agree. I am going to save them in my collection for future inspiration. Thanks friend.

  15. Sonal Shree says:

    I will echo Safiyyah’s reaction- Oh my God!!! What a story!!!
    Brillaint.

  16. Safiyyah says:

    Oh My GOD!!! What a story!!! Such imagination… Makes my blood boil. Beautifully written. KUDOS. Regards.

  17. Beyniaz says:

    Superb story, as usual, Shernaz.

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