Seated at the back, along with mom, Akshara looked out the window at the seemingly newly set pavement as dad drove through the “surprisingly” traffic-less road. “There were barrels of cement lying around last week, remember?” mom asked. Her eyes were wide with expectation; they appeared prayerful. Akshara shook her head sadly, not wanting to disappoint those eyes. Helplessly, she noticed the muscles on her mom’s face droop in dejection and the excitement fade away as she closed her eyes and leaned her head against the seat’s headrest. Akshara wasn’t sure of what to say.
There was quietness.
Dad turned up the music and “Aasai Mugam“ played interrupting the overshadowing silence. Relieved that her wordless time could go on without the constantly screeching echoes of soundlessness, she continued to stare outside at inconsequential objects they crossed. Akshara hummed along with the speaker as she tapped her fingers to the rhythm. Dad joined her with his incongruous combination of swaram and shruti. “Nesam marakavillai nen-n-n-njammm , enil ninaivu mugam…” Mom smiled with her eyes still closed listening to Akshara; the sangathi she just sang sounded almost divine; gushed out like current in a flowing stream; swirling, fast yet rhythmic. Akshara was fondly called the Saraswati of the family by her grandfather. “Kannan mugam maranthu po-o-onal, intha kangal irunthu payan un-n-n-do-o..” Interrupting the beats, the ambiance moving to them, the music player and two singers – one adept the other somewhat inept, mom sat upright. Her eyes wide again; this time wider – a certain harbinger to something big. Her face, her mouth looked like they were obstructing something they wanted to drive out, something they couldn’t utter. Engulfed by emotion, she covered her mouth with her palm, while staring at her daughter. She then opened her mouth and mumbled a multitude of incoherent words at the same time, words that would have normally been incomprehensible. This time, it instantly dawned on everyone in the car. Akshara had just sung a song she had learnt when she still was a kid in a frilly frock, a song from much before the accident. She had just been able to recollect the song, the tune, the thalam, all of it. The car immediately shed its grimness; there was joy and mirth in the air. All the way home, they sang together rejoicing, just the way they used to.
Dad slammed on the brakes right outside the gate. He looked at Akshara expectantly. It was a routine practice; he’d stop the car, she’d open the gate for him to drive into the garage. This time, she was oblivious to everything in the car; she was still singing while looking at the house eagerly. She seemed to have no memory of the house she had lived in all these years. Taking a deep breath, he drove in as his wife opened the gates for him, praying for some magic to better things.
Akshara walked into the living room, she appeared animated. Dad, seeing her keenness decided to take her on a tour.
One side of the living room had a set of wall-sized windows adorned by an umbrella of hand-painted flowers on stained glass, the other had a marble staircase fenced on both sides by burgundy wood that stood on parallel intricately designed metal verticals, spiraling its way upstairs. The room was large and painted in fresh colors, like spring in a room, having no likeness to the nondescript hospital room she had just vacated. She climbed up three steps and slid down the wooden railing in glee. He showed her the sole antique piece in the living room, the one that stood out awkwardly among the younger walls; his favorite he told her. A bronze figurine that faded into black towards the woman’s feet, a woman with pixie hair and broad shoulders who would require her posture – ladylike, graceful and undeniably sensual – to corroborate her femininity. Akshara nodded politely, keeping her thoughts to herself. The living room’s floor was mostly occupied by three mammoth sized couches: healthy and fluffy with their brown leather gleaming under the light that fell in through the glass windows. Akshara’s eyes darted around, side to side, up and down, revealing delight that as much as was a welcome emotion, it in its way confessed to her dad her inability to remember anything in vicinity. He couldn’t help that it slightly dampened his hopes; he had believed that the house would do the magic.
She wanted to see more of the house that, from what she had been told, had seen more of her than she could remember.
She entered a bedroom that she was told was hers. The walls were a pleasant shade of mauve except for one side that was painted deep violet. The queen sized bed looked welcoming in its purple striped comforter. The rack of shoes stuffed to its capacity told her she might have had a fetish for footwear. She didn’t know if she was as neat as the room looked or if mom had taken up the job during her absence. The study table made her question her academic abilities and scholarly interests. The medals and trophies made her wonder if she was a champion. She had other questions too, some which her parents could answer, some others that had gone away for eternity. Just like that. Like someone had pressed Shift+Delete leaving no trace of her childhood and her life anywhere in the world. She wished she could insert a memory card into mouth to retrieve all her memories and inject them into her brain.
She felt like a stranger in her own room, a stranger to herself. Her physical form was the only testimony to her existence. She had no past, at least not one she could speak of. She had a life to live again, from its start.
By now certain that this was going to be futile, dad perfunctorily led her to the dining room at the center of which stood an oval shaped black table with mica surfacing, surrounded by some uncomfortable, scrawny looking chairs. The table was a crammed one; almost knocking over each other were cutlery, water bottles, jars of homemade snacks, bottles of jam, pickle and maavadu, a dish that dad told her, used to be her favorite. Curious, she held the bottle close to her nose, peering through the glass at its contents that looked to her like bloated brown bulbs floating in gooey yellow-brown fluid. Noticing her face squirm into a warped expression, dad urged her to smell it; she cringed her nose as dad brought the bottle closer. The scent wafted its way into her nasal cavity bringing along a settling feeling, one of familiarity, causing her to sniff 6 times in a 60 seconds, causing the cringe to transmute into a pleased expression; one that gave away that the aroma had managed to titillate her brain into recognizing it and loving it again. She was overjoyed; the feeling of familiarity, one that is barely recognized as a feeling, one that’s undervalued and assumed as granted like the air around, was her new favorite. Dad grinned at the idea of maavadu of all other things, having rekindled a scrap of her memory.
Mom insisted Akshara be shown the puja room. The drop of fire at the end of the cotton thread doused in oil in the lamp shone brightly, lending its yellow-orange hues to the room. The smell of agarbathi (incense sticks) filled the room. Dad jiggled the bell that hung from the ceiling, letting it resonate its sound across the room, bounce off the walls thereby lessening its magnitude and echo its way to stillness, somehow in the process, instilling an intense feeling of assurance in the family that looked on. The repetitive and fading alternative dings and dongs and the promising feeling of faith, Akshara observed, did not feel alien like the rooms around did.
Cutting the tour short, Akshara sprinted to the living room and let herself fall into one of the huge, inviting, fuzzy couches. It let her fall, sucking her into its soft marshmellowish self like she belonged to it, as it shrunk under her weight. The leather warmed itself on her touch. It was instant love. It was deja-vu: the plummet, the soft fall – deeper than anticipated, the feeling of the chill of the leather, the detrimental lounging posture. She knew this feeling so well, an ordinary feeling – unfathomable and intangible – yet one she knew as her own.
The previous few months had been a period of uneasy times and weird emotions. ‘Retrograde Amnesia’, the doctor had said, maintaining a grave face, in just two words, so easily consenting to the obliteration of her past like it never happened, signing up for a pastless, storyless life for her, changing her life forever. The days that followed, she was constantly visited by people she couldn’t recognize, they’d cry, she’d stare impassively. She was talked to about things she had no knowledge about, anymore; she’d nod aloofly and smile a smile that’d never show in her brown eyes. Her
otherwise big eyes chose to stay cowered the whole time, dwelling in a pond of grief that the brown concealed. Everybody seemed to know more about her than herself; even her favorite color. She was going to give up, she was on the verge; building hope and watching it being thrashed every time eventually killed it, marring it into pieces that could never be put together again, leaving her hopeless, helpless and clueless.
And suddenly, this beautiful day came along. A song with its swiveling tunes and beats, a bottle of homemade pickle with its aroma, the reverberation of the puja room bell and the echoes ensuing and a comforting couch welcoming her into its abode, lucky charms as they had come to be, magically brought with them a sense of acquaintance, of comfort, of ease and of belonging.
Basking on the couch, attempting to disregard the blandness of curd rice that mom was feeding her, with big chunks of spicy maavadu, singing bits of songs she could remember, laughing at dad’s pathetic jokes, Akshara felt at home; for the first time in months.
This time, her smile reached her eyes; the brown glistened.
The pastlessness would persist, but now she was where she belonged. There was hope again.