Maya (05.09.1993)

Are you the one who brought in the parents of that girl?”

A man a few years older than me in a medical coat materializes at my side. The coat looks old and yellow, almost worn out. He introduces himself to me, and while I try to adjust to the idea that someone this young can already be a doctor, he pulls out a pad from his pocket and starts to read it.

“I want to talk to you about — ” he begins, but I motion him out of her father’s earshot. I’ve heard too many stories about people who are unconscious who later repeat back whole conversations that took place while they were comatose.

We walk into the corridor.

“I was in the ER when they were brought in last night,” he says when I tell him that I am not the one who transported them in. “They’re in a complete shock so we had to sedate them for a while.”

He looks at me, this doctor, taking in my crumpled face, my twenty-four-hour-and-counting rings under my eyes, my emaciated body in the dark shirt, and steers me across the hall into a staff lounge. He pours some chai from a thermos into a plastic cup.

“Drink up,” he says, handing it to me.

“No, really, I — ”

“No, really. If you’re not careful, I’m going to have to find a bed for you, and we’re running short on beds here.”

I take a few sips of the tea and look at the doctor again. He’s the kind of guy I should have aimed to become someday.

“Are they going to be fine?” I finally find my voice.

He pauses for a fraction of a second as if debating how much to tell me.

“The truth,” he says. “Okay. The truth is, they should be fine once the shock wears off.”

“What are her sister’s chances?” I ask. I want the world divided into numbers, percentages.

“I can’t make any guarantees. I’d say last night she had a fifty percent chance of survival. Now it’s much higher.” His eyes dart to the exit sign. He doesn’t want to be having this conversation.

I don’t even try to digest this. I open my mouth to ask another question.

He puts a hand up before it leaves my mouth.

“I think everyone here will be fine,” he says. “I am more concerned about you” — here he pauses delicately — “You were the one who was among the first to see the body right?.”

I look at my slippers and back at the wall.

He hands me a card that he has been holding in his left hand for a while, flipping it back and forth.

“You need to go see someone. You really need to. I have called in ahead so she will be expecting you at her clinic in Dadar”

“I can go and see her if you insist,” I say. “I’ll go tomorrow.”

“Mr. Sidwa?”, he looks up after referring to his pad again.

“Yes?”

“Go today.”

I walk down the narrow lanes of Lower Parel railway station, under the old iron circle bridge into the leafy enclaves to a quiet Tudor-styled KEM hospital building shaded by an enormous old tree, its back windows overlooking a small tennis court with a sagging net.

I lean against the side of the gate and try to calm myself. It’s been two weeks since the visit to the hospital, two weeks since I’ve slept without nightmares, and my inner life is like a battlefield, scarred, unrecognizable. I can’t seem to stop my thoughts, whatever they are, from taking over my body. I breathe heavy — Every breath filled with rage, impatience, fear, guilt, regret.

Shaking my head hard, I try to get rid of the images flooding through me. Before I open the front door, I imagine myself, a couple of years younger, standing by the pond talking to her. I walk out from the blazing Bombay summer heat and into the cool stone lobby towards the back of the building, where there are offices — Maya.D, one of the most popular and respected psychiatrists on campus.

I am not sure what I will get out of visiting her. I have resisted the visit for the last two weeks until coming to the conclusion that I need to do this before I go completely insane. I have been so uncommunicative and immersed in my own world that even my younger sister was starting to take notice.

I don’t have a single penny to afford her and my case has been referred to as pro-bono by the doctor who being slightly older than me has taken pity on my mental condition. Even though I think she’ll probably laugh me out of her office, even though I can smell the fear on my own body, I knock on her open door and poke my head inside.

“Come in, come in.”

The wiry sari-clad middle-aged lady hunched over her desk doesn’t look up as she waves me into her office. She’s looking for something on her desk, which is covered with case papers, a Lord Ganesha statue, and incense. There are bookcases lining the walls and knee-high piles of books all over the floor. The room smells as if she’s already gone through an entire box of incense this morning.

“That’s it,” she mutters, extracting a single sheet of paper from beneath a mountain of pages just like it. Only then does she look up, her brown eyes piercing and kind.

“And who are you?” she asks.

I stutter my name.

“What can I do for you, Z?”

She leans back in her chair, arms on her side. The end of her sari floating down the chair, the fan rotating above at furious speed.

“I was referred to you by Dr. Tambe,” I say.

She smiles, her face crinkling.

“Why?”

Why? I wasn’t expecting this. I feel as if I’m on an audition, but I don’t have a script. What does she want to hear? I’m so used to telling people what I think they want to hear that I have no idea how to talk about my own thoughts and feelings. I feel my cheeks flush, and I wish I’d just sink through the floor and disappear.

“I — ”

I don’t know what to say. I trail off, staring out the open window behind her. Two nurses in crisp white uniforms are waiting outside the ambulance for the driver, on their way to attend to some emergency.

Maya doesn’t take her eyes off me, nor does she help me out. But somehow I know I’m in a safe place. By walking through the door of her office, I seem to have put myself in her care. I remember what the doctor had told me — “You don’t know it yet but you need her more than you understand. Do it quickly and you might just be fine”.

“Well, what have you done recently?” she asks.

“I’ve been out of college for some weeks now,” I hear myself saying.

She raises her eyebrows.

“I keep getting thoughts…,” I say, “and I feel like I need to battle them away.”

“And could you?”

“Sorry?”

“Do you think you can battle them away yourself?”

“Yes,” I respond, and then begin to reel off my list of academic credits until it occurs to me that I’m talking to someone who isn’t going to be impressed by my CAT scores or my engineering pedigree. She probably yawned her way through a much tougher medical college program decades ago.

“What made you decide to come here to see me?” she asks.

“My friend passed away four weeks ago. She committed suicide,” I answer haltingly.

Maya leans forward in her chair, suddenly, completely, focused on me. The room is very quiet. All I hear is the rhythmic crunch of cars on gravel, a few chirping birds outside the window.

“Tell me everything,” she says.

And so I begin. I tell this woman I’ve never met before the story of my life. I tell her about my life with Hetali, how I met her during college, the laboratory and the frogs we saved, the pond we used to walk by daily, the diary she kept with that big cursive H in the right-hand corner. I tell her about the harassment she mentioned, how I downplayed it, ignored it, and about how I got the call that evening from her sister before she herself slit her wrists open, the room I entered into pushing her father aside, those hanging legs, the blur after. She pushes a box of Kleenex across her desk, papers flying to the floor, and she rests her chin in one hand, listening, her open hair flipped to the side like an inverted comma. I feel that she’s actually interested in what I have to say, that I have all the time in the world. There are places in my story where she smiles, others where shadows across her face, her gaze never leaving my face.

“Oh, my dear boy,” she says simply when I’ve finished.

I’m expecting her to refer me to some other shrink or suggest I rethink my college plan. I bow my head, peeling at a piece of wood not covered by glass on the corner of her table.

“My sessions are on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at nine,” she says.

I look up at her.

“It isn’t going to be easy for you. You might have to come to Lonavala with us for a month where we have a safe space for someone like you,” she says. “and you definitely need that. But we’ll work together. Can you come to see me once a week, for an hour before the sessions?”

“Yes,” I answer. What must she see in me? I cannot even begin to ask the question, much less answer it. I stand up, slightly teetering on my feet, and she clasps my hand between her two warm palms, cupping it like a leaf in the wind. The glass bangles she is wearing clutter repeatedly, breaking the silence.

“Welcome home,” she says.

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Life is represented by two distinct sets of people: The people who live it and the people who observe them. These are their stories.

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Z S

Z S

Life is represented by two distinct sets of people: The people who live it and the people who observe them. These are their stories.

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