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Sunday
, March 24, 2002

Life Ties

Guilty of being talented
Taru Bahl

SUPARNA was a perceptive child. She read people and situations, picking up stray signals and interpreting behaviour, analysing their actions and words before putting the jigsaw together in her mind. Her interpretations and deductions were bang on target. She would, in a matter of fact manner announce that their newly married neighbours shared a discordant relationship or that her fatherís colleagueís seemingly well-behaved son was actually a problem child or that the most sociable lady in her motherís kitty group was a compulsive liar.

Initially, her parents felt she was precocious but as she grew older and her mind probed the dark and mysterious secrets of the mind, they became unsure of how to handle her. It didnít seem like a medical problem and seeking psychological help would mean admitting that the child was not normal. The parents did what they thought wisest. They kept quiet about her unnatural gift, deciding not to give credence to her loud thoughts. They dismissed her prophecies and gently shooed her away. Gradually Suparna learned to deal with her disturbing thoughts by either penning them down in abstract form in her diary or turning them into short stories.

 


The day she discovered that her short story, a fictionalised account of her teacherís sadistic behaviour, had found its way into the pages of a prestigious magazine, later getting her a handsome cheque, she got the encouragement she had been quietly seeking all along. She no longer articulated her feelings and observations to people around her. She just put them down on paper and shot them off to an obliging editor. However, she took her talent completely for granted. The exercise was not so much to boost her self-esteem or to earn pocket money but to find a medium which legitimised the way she felt, thought and observed.

Writing became her private domain. The hours she spent poring over books, magazines, diaries and journals were spent in complete isolation, shut away from the world around her. As she immersed herself in the world of make-believe, fairy tales, fictional characters and distant locales she began to lose touch with reality. During waking hours she would fantasise about her stories and while sleeping she would be plagued by dreams and nightmares, depending on the thoughts occupying her mind prior to drifting off to sleep. Since she never slipped up in her school and college grades, no one found anything wrong. They knew she was a committed bookworm who preferred the company of her novelsí heroes and heroines to the silly prattle of children her age.

Suparna turned out to be a shy and sensitive woman. While she didnít take the initiative to cultivate new relationships, she preciously guarded those that were dominant in her life. A few close friends, some favourite cousins, her parents and brother meant the world to her. Somewhere her absorption in the world of fairytales and stories had taken away the ability to confront reality especially where they mattered. Although she was perceptive enough to know the truth about them she never owned up to the real picture. For example, she knew her brother resented her ability to write so effortlessly and to earn a handsome amount while his spoken and written English was not even passable. She also knew that given a chance her parents were more liable to boast about his cricketing achievements than her writing prowess. When her precious file of story ideas was untraceable, she was distressed for days. There was deathly silence at home as half-hearted efforts were made to look for it. One afternoon, she hunted her brotherís cupboards and there buried under his cricket equipment lay her diary, torn and maimed beyond redemption. More than losing her ideas, what hit her was the hatred and deceit the action denoted. She found the thought so unbearably painful that she instantly banished it, blocking it out of her mind completely. The scar lay buried somewhere in her chest. She never brought up the subject and convinced herself that if she did not think about the ugly episode, it would go away and not haunt her forever. Her family loved her and would never do anything to thwart her capabilities. She pretended as if nothing had happened. Subsequently whenever she found their response lukewarm she put it down to their being mentally preoccupied or to their inability to express feelings of pride and love. She never addressed the fact that they hated her for constantly throwing up comparisons during family gatherings. Given a chance they would rather grab that spotlight from her and put the brother under it.Suparna became even more unobtrusive about her writing. She didnít talk about her published stories, not even when she won a prestigious literary award. When her best friend stole her only pair of gold and ruby earrings, although all circumstantial evidence pointed towards her, Suparna refused to accept it. She knew if she did, she would be devastated. Not only would she lose a friend but also the confidence to make a friend ever again. She would much rather let her lost earrings be a forgotten story than to let it throw up unpalatable facts. In the years that followed, she silently kept coping with the hurts that these people piled on her. Being intrinsically mean, selfish and devious they could never give her the positive loving strokes which she silently craved for.

She was lucky to convert all her disappointments into words on paper. She was happy to just have them in her life, especially when there was no one else. Even if it meant making excuses for them, justifying their bad behaviour and pretending that all was well, it was definitely better than pushing them away and being completely alone and unloved. The blow came when she realised one day that she could not write. The dreaded writerís block had afflicted her and her thoughts froze. She could not convert them into smooth flowing words and sentences. Page and after page was destroyed as she determinedly tried one more time. But things didnít happen. She knew intuitively that this time she would not be able to pull it off. The more she thought about it, the more worried she became. Her panic and fear isolated her further from the people who closely inhabited her world.

None of them could understand her pain and hopelessness. In this moment of grief and desolation not one of them offered a positive stroke, a genuine word of comfort or reassurance. And this time round, try as she did to make excuses for their insensitivity she could not do so convincingly. When she tried drowning herself in her huge collection of books she found that though she was turning the pages, the words were not registering, images were not getting formed and she was unable to escape into the fictitious world of make-believe. For the first time she found her real life excruciatingly painful. Having to confront the situations and people who had inhabited her life all these years and to find them so far removed from her inner self came as a big jolt. Strangely, the more she thought about it the stronger she felt. She didnít collapse like she feared she would. She realised for the first time how much effort she had made all these years to banish the negative thoughts and vibes she had received from them. Why had she not seen them for what they were? She had been such a perceptive child, she knew they resented her talent and yet she had not wanted to acknowledge it. Why had that realisation spelt a death-knell for her. Had she confronted it at that time, she would not have turned into the recluse she was, always pushing herself into the background and scared of forming new alliances. She decided to take a break from writing and hunt for a job so that she could finance her dream of studying creative writing in a US university. For once, she would think of herself without feeling guilty. And she would not expect her family to stand by her, simply because they never had. She would take her life in her own hands and create her own brand of happiness.

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