A Conflictory

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“When was the last time that you woke up so early in the morning?” 

asked a familiar voice to Palak breaking her trance-like condition. The voice was familiar to her to the point of being wary. She was so habituated of having it around that she did not pay much attention to it. Nonetheless, she answered, “Surely not in a while.”

The never-ending sky above; the restless Ichamati tirelessly chasing its pasts towards their salvation, the tiny bees at a tree nearby busily humming around their hive, all spread a layer of tranquil contentment over Palak’s mind. She could not tell if she was awake or asleep. She could not tell if she was in her three-star hotel room, looking into the torrent through the shutters of her window or, in the midst of the mist, formed over it. She felt as if she had known the river for all her life. As if it has visited these banks over and over again, in search of her, only awaiting this moment, to give her a message. Then again, she also had the feeling that she had been there, by the banks of the river awaiting the message for eternity. As if she and the river have been on a journey together for ages and the message would have been delivered long ago, had it not been for the mist.

“Would you like some tea?” 

the squeaky familiar voice knocked her back into the hotel room. “No!” Palak replied.  She was annoyed. Concealing her annoyance from her audience, she added “It’s only quarter past five. Everyone has partied all night and the hotel staffs were attending to us the entire time. They had to put up with a lot last night, no need to wake them up so soon!” in her mind she said, “It’s better this way.” With no one awake, without the hustle-bustle of last night, she could hear the faintest sound that was around. She could hear the villagers walking through the tracks made across the field adjoining the hotel. She could hear one or two words from the conversations of the passers-by and the sound of the dew-bathed grasses reluctantly awakening beneath their feet.

Far somewhere, a cuckoo bird was crying its heart out as if asking Palak to reply. The more she paid attention to the bird’s song, more she found it familiar. She was certain that this wasn’t the first time that she was hearing the song. The bird seemed to know her from her earlier days when Palak would roam across the fields, barefooted; when watching a wildflower she would not reach for her camera instead of enjoying its beauty at that moment; when she would not be conscious about looking weird for replying to the bird. She felt ashamed for betraying her old friend. But what was the bird saying! Palak was not sure if the bird was really trying to convey some unspeakable truth or was it her own desperation that she was attributing to the bird's singing. If only she could divine the placid tune hovering beyond her understanding of the worldly words. She felt the pain of the bird to her bones, only if she could make meaning of what it was singing about.

“Time just does not seem to pass here!” 

again the same voice interrupted. This time it got to Palak’s nerves. She started with a slashing comment in her mind but as it reached her lips she thought better of it and said “If you spend the entire time looking over my shoulder, checking what I am doing, you would naturally feel bored! Why don’t you go back to sleep like the others? This way when you wake up, you would have a better spirit to enjoy the place.”

She did not wait for a reply. She needed to go back to the bird’s song. Unfortunately, there was no song left for her to hear! The bird was gone and so was her song. Everything was silent again. An all-consuming anger began to fume within her. Had she not been distracted at the opportune moment the song would have made itself clear by now! She knew that she was overreacting but it kind of felt good to have some emotional upsurges like a normal person, so she continued to sulk for some more time. Lately, she had stopped reacting to everything, not because there was any scarcity of reasons but because she had been too tired to react.

Her anger did not sustain for long though. Quite dramatically, the river shed off its drapes of mist and revealed itself in all its glory as the sun sneaked out of the dusky cloud. Her spirit immediately took a leap. She just stood up and began to move towards the door when she stopped abruptly on her way and perched slowly at the edge of her bed. Palak had not noticed it before but somewhere on the ground floor, probably at the staff quarter, the caretaker’s wife was busy doing her daily chores. She had met her on the very first day here. She was the only female staff at the hotel. Her bangles, clinking with each other, were busy in creating their own cacophonous metallic melody. That sound took Palak back to a very familiar memory. A long avoided yet, unforgettable one.

Many years back another woman used to make the same noises while wandering around her Ballygunge place house; doing the household works. Palak used to wake up with this sound. Somewhere at the rulebooks of mothers, it had been written in golden letters that the mother had to clean a room, exactly when the child was asleep, with loud banging of objects, here and there! The crucial point here is that the noise has to be loud enough to wake the child up, and when the child is completely woken up, only then the room is to be considered clean and, and the mother is to leave it immediately. She would sense her mother leaving the room behind her closed eyes, following the clinking sound of her bangles. This had been Palak’s morning routine for all her childhood, and look at her now, avoiding even the thought of it; roaming all around the world only to avoid the home! She could not even think of confronting her memories.

But, she is tired of hiding now! She needs to face her demons. She thought it would be easier to face the not so pleasant memories of her mother once she gathers enough of her happy memories. That is why she chose the banks of Ichamati. When she was young, she and her parents used to come here every year for short vacations. She was not old enough to appreciate the nature and its beauty but the vacations here were the happiest of her childhood memories. She thought that it was better to relive those memories first, before returning to her house at the Ballygunge place. Thus, when this place was chosen, for the office trip, she decided that she was done with hiding.

However, the moment she set her feet on this town, all her memories seemed to elude her. When she failed to bring back the happy memories, she thought of summoning the traumatising ones, in hope of finding peace after going through them. She thought that once she stops resisting them, the memories would organically fall at their places, but it appeared that her memories were as hostile towards her as she was towards them. She prepared for them, arranged for the unpleasant reminiscences but had no success. Initially, she thought that due to the presence of so many happy and excited people, around, she was having trouble in mourning but, after trying to summon her memories at her solitary strolls across the bank, at her lonely hotel room and at the morning serenity of her facing balcony, she became restless. It was already time for them to leave and she had not managed to gather any significant emotion about her mother that could help her to survive in front of the storm of resistance that she would have to face on her way back home. She was desperately searching for something to refuge on when she heard the voice,

“Are you thinking of me? Are you planning to leave me behind and move on?”

“No,” Palak lied.

“Why are you so hostile towards me?" 

“I'm not...” she carelessly began only to be interrupted at the middle of her speech. 

"I am not the only one here! Unlike others, I don’t trouble you either!"

“I know that!” this time she did not hide her irritation. 

 Then why are you so brutally desperate to leave me behind?” With every word, the pitch raised a little higher. Palak had to struggle to recognise the last few words. 

She had had enough!

“Because you are the only one that I cannot avoid! Because you are the reason why I have begun to hate my best friend!” she continued shaking frantically, “Because it is you, because of whom I cannot mourn the death of my mother! She added, “My perfectly loving mother!”

Perfect with but one mistake, she thought, A mistake that I could not forgive, even when she was on her deathbed!

Palak’s mother suffered from schizophrenia, which she hid quite successfully for the major part of her life. It was only when Palak reached teenage that her father began to notice certain behavioural anomalies in her mother. She would constantly be worried, which took a toll on her temper; and repeatedly accused people of troubling her. Finally, when her father observed her grow intolerant towards Palak, he took her to a psychologist. The psychologist could only identify the occasional incidences of rage and disoriented thoughts and wrongly medicated her, which further added to the problem. This episode distanced her mother irreparably from the rest of the family, the result of which was only to be discovered after the incident of Palak’s fourteenth birthday.

The following morning of her fourteenth birthday, Palak, as always, woke up with the clinking sound of her mother’s bangles. However, the sound, that day was different from that of the other mornings. It was disorganised to the verge of being violent. Her sleep infused state vanished quickly as she felt the traits of struggle beside her. She opened her eyes only to witness the horror of her mother trying to suffocate her best friend, Pari, with a pillow. Pari was trying hard to fight back and to make any possible sound but, Palak’s mother’s sudden attack, took her completely by shock, leaving very little scope for Pari to fight back. Palak instantly jumped over the other side of the bed and began to push her mother back with all her strengths, shouting in hope for more help.

"Why do you keep going back to that day?" 

Palak was taken aback by the stillness of the voice. The unnaturally calm voice rammed at her heart, marking all its traits of melancholy at Palak’s face. This time she could not muster the courage to reply. Instead, she drowned further into the memory of that day,

An inhuman strength descended over her otherwise timid mother and long before her father reached her room and they succeeded in parting her mother from Pari, Pari’s resistance relaxed. They took Pari to the hospital only to see their biggest fear turn true. Pari was long gone. 

In front of the cops’ interrogation, Palak’s mother claimed that she heard Pari and her daughter conspiring against her many times before. So she decided to remove them both from her path before they could take a toll on her. She confessed that she arranged the entire birthday party only to make Pari stay back after it because she needed them both together to finish the task. She further accepted that had she not been caught at the middle of the act she would have killed Palak too that morning.

Palak’s mother was sent to a mental health care centre instead of jail after being diagnosed with several traits of schizophrenia. Her father sent Palak to her aunt’s place to keep her away from this traumatic situation.

Only a few days after she was sent to her aunt’s house, Pari arrived.

Though Palak could not see Pari, her voice followed her everywhere. The more Palak tried to ignore her, more voices joined. By the time she met her psychiatrist, she was already living with over a dozen of these voices, crowding her hearing whenever she is around people, manipulating her thoughts at the time of stress. 

Most of these voices still live with her, but it is the voice of Pari that troubles her the most. Though she is the least violent one and comes out only when Palak is alone, her voice never lets her rest. Palak cannot have a solitary moment of peace without Pari lurking at the corner of her conscience. Although she asks Palak not to think about the happenings of the morning after her fourteenth birthday, the mere presence of Pari’s voice serves as a constant reminder to Palak of the gruesome acts of her mother. 

Although now she understands the trouble that her might have gone through before submitting to her demons,it still does not let Palak forgive her mother. Even, after so many years, it does not let Palak mourn the death of her mother or remember her without the guilt of being unjust to her friend. This constant pressure of being honest with her best friend has been making her hate Pari. This hatred has long replaced her love for her best friend.

A knock at the door brought Palak back to her now brightened hotel room. With a burning migraine, she walked across the room and opened the door to find her entire crew waiting at the corridor with balloons, cakes, and cells of confetti. One of her colleagues came forward, pulled her outside and with a false complaining tone asked, 

“Why didn’t you tell us that yesterday was your birthday!” 

Before she could answer, everyone hurried into the room leaving only her and Pari outside.



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