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Demons: A Tale of Musical Melancholy and Frailty

Whenever I listen to a song, I can’t help but see images, words and even complete stories forming in my mind’s eye; essentially guided by the lyrics taking up the reins of an esoteric narrative, while the music acts as the much-needed web of intricacy which the narrative is built on. This is one of those stories which popped up when I immersed myself into the song “Demons” by the band “Imagine Dragons”. 

When the days are cold
and the cards all fold
and the saints we see
are all made of gold
When the dreams all fail
And the ones we hail
Are the worst of all
And the blood’s run stale

The room smells of a faint mix of phenyl and medication. You do not know which is which, but together they arouse an atmosphere of patience and anxiety. Added with clean white tiles, plastic curtains and a consistent aura of activity and motion, it’s almost like a hospital. Almost. Rakhi is moving endlessly on her chair, her face speaking through her cringing temples. She is in clear discomfort.
“Pappa, how much time more?”
Before my instincts rush to correct her grammar, I feel a tap on my shoulder.
“Mr. Mehra?”, the nurse dressed in a creamy white suit salwar asks. I nod as I get up in a haste.
“Can you please sign here?”, she asks, handing out a freshly printed application. I ignored all the specifications, conditions and warnings spacing above the given box. I had already rummaged my head through them before coming to this decision.
“Done?”, I ask giving it back to her, grasping Rakhi’s arm in a motion to leave.
“Sure. We appreciate your decision.”, she said donning a hospitality smile.
I will never, I thought.

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********23 years later**********

The room smells of a faint mix of phenyl and medication. You do not know which is which but together they arouse an atmosphere of patience and anxiety. Added with the clean white tiles, plastic curtains and a consistent aura of activity and motion, it’s almost like a hospital. Almost. I turned my head to the whitewashed ceiling above, tired. It was gonna be a long wait, I knew. Just then, I heard a screech of wheels approaching towards me.
” Rakhi Mehra?”, the lady dragging the wheelchair asked looking up from a list.
Without a reply, I slowly step towards Pappa with acute realisation. His eyes shone like the north star and lips widened with each step closer.
“Sign here and he’s scot free”
The chair’s handle already in hands, I hastily scribbled to leave.
“Good job!”, she called out as we were departing.
Not so good, I thought.

I wanna hide the truth
I wanna shelter you
But with the beast inside
There’s nowhere we can hide
No matter what we breed
We still are made of greed
This is my kingdom come
This is my kingdom come

Rakhi was pulling me with all her might as we stepped outside the building.
“Come fast, Pappa. Today is Sunday. My idlis are waiting for me!”
A hint of grimace rode over my face. Sundays. Meera waking us all up for a walk, preparing idli-dosa for breakfast and all of us going out for a shopping or a movie for the evening. Like any other family. Not anymore. No breakfasts. No outings. No family.
“Beta, mumma has office today. Next Sunday.”
“Next? So what today?”
I turned my face away, pretending to think and asked myself, so what today? And all the days to come after? How long can I go on like this? Should she ever know?

***************

His smile hadn’t fallen even after we had stepped out. Looking up at me with the same expression which he wore whenever I came home with a medal. The one which engulfed me in dignity. But not today. Today I wished to turn away from that look which was filling me in a pool of guilt.
“How is office going?”, he finally asked.
He was smart that way. Not wanting to flood me with a series of questions at arrival- why are doing this? Why now? Did something happen? Do I need to know? Instead, he was going to start with a casual small talk, knowing that all will unfold in all the days to come after.
The days to come after, I thought. The one question didn’t have an answer for.

When you feel my heat
Look into my eyes
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide
Don’t get too close
It’s dark inside
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide

Waiting on the footpath for the car to come, my mind couldn’t stop racing through all what had led us up to this, countlessly. The last year had been a rough ride for me and Meera. What we had thought was love did sway us along the first of our years together but with time and the birth of Rakhi, our relationship had suffered its eventual downslide. As if all these years, we had been dwindling on a countdown. My frustration, screaming at her, disgracing, beating (that one time). Hers, listening, cringing, crying and drugging. My mind rushed back to that day I found her unconscious in her study, the doctor with a grave look, casting light on her recent habits. I, like an innocent loving husband pretending as if I could never see this coming.
I, looking at her like an inanimate object suddenly coming to life, it’s scars and bruises now appearing on to its surface. The end of our games; winning yet losing.
The decision to put her in a rehabilitation had come like a natural justice. To her, maybe. To Rakhi, definitely not.
Looking at that squinting face, I picture her asking the eventual questions- where is mumma? Why has she gone? When will she come back?; and asking myself the same.
Hoping for an answer, if one existed.

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**********************

As I drove him to my apartment, his eyes slowly roamed around all that had once been familiar to him. I paused, letting him adjust. It had been seven years, he deserved this at least. He then took me by my hand, in front of him. Looking up, he pressed it gently as mist started forming at the corner of his eyes. This was a chance for us, for me to get back all that I had missed of him in the last seven years. like an influx of all what I had suppressed in my deepest corners, I retraced my steps. Never had my felt the pang of regret this hard.

After my MBA, getting a dream job in a top MNC drew me to heights unseen. As for Pappa, his little angel who he had nurtured for all these years after mumma was now reaching the skies. Before I knew, my tight schedules left me with no time for him or myself. Young and up the ladder too soon, I was excited; feeling that I couldn’t give him the attention he deserved, he care in his ageing years and without a thought, without a discussion, I shifted him to an old age home. Convincing myself that it’s for his own good. It was only with the passing years that I noticed the filming rust on our relationship. I visited him every weekend, brought him food, recited him stories, justifying my own decision; time and again.
Well, it was only last week I realized where we were being led to. When? When the nurse slowly walked to me in the lobby on a Sunday morning.
“Rakhi didi, just listen, okay? Uncle is having a bad time. in this week’s checkup, we found out, that he is ailing. It’s terminal bowel cancer, didi he has a month or two. It doesn’t come so easily here. We don’t know how………….” I do not remember the rest of her words. Probably reassuring me that it wasn’t a fault of the institution, it came out of the blue……well, so did my realisation. This is when it arises? At the last moments of his life, the thought nailed through my heart.
How do I tell him? Should he be knowing? The questions had been rummaging through my head ever since. Well, all I know then and there was that this was my time, our time. Well, I might not know whether it is 60 or 90 days he stays, I am here with him all through.
To cover up. To make amends.
They say it’s what you make
 I say it’s up to fate
It’s woven in my soul
I need to let you go
Your eye they shine so bright
I wanna save their light
I can’t escape this now
Unless you show me how
Rakhi grabbed his hand instinctively as their car came screeching across the driveway. He held on, tighter even after they were seated inside comfortably. This is how I need us to remain, months, years from now; he thought. Rakhi leaned her head on his shoulder as she gazed outside the window and then asked with a spurt
“Hmmm, arre you know pasta, na? that reddy one with lots of cheese? We can have that for Sunday.” he just looked at her without a word.
“But promise me you won’t make the same mistake mumma made.” his eyes were now fixated on hers, fearing the words about to come.
“Adding garlic!”, she said in annoyance.
Cupping her head in his hands as he brought himself closer to her, he replied
“I promise. I promise forever.”
*****************************
4-30 rhodo 1
On the other side, Rakhi had now brought him to the balcony, opening up to the open grounds of the apartment. After slowly screening through the whole of his surroundings, he asked
“Is Meena auntie still living there?”, pointing at a flat situated in the west.
“She died last year, in her apartment in the evening. It was a cardiac arrest”, she replied mechanically. Later, realising the  true mass of her words. maybe, this is how someone is going to talk about pappa, a year from now, she thought.
“At least with her husband, in her founding home, after her brewing coffee…..what more can one ask for?”, he added with a chuckle, his first after seeing Rakhi.
In a burst of emotions, taking her hand which he was still gripping, over his face, she lunged him into a hug.
“What more can one ask for?”, she repeated
Image Sources: [1], [2], [3]

About Vishakha Khanolkar

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