Battered psyche
Aradhika Sharma

The Waiting Room
by Anupa Mehta. Penguin.
Pages 156. Rs 195.

MAYA or illusion... we Indians love to name our protagonists maya, especially if the protagonist is slightly fey, whimsical and tragic. So is the case with the female protagonist of this book, a tragic heroine, being shoved from one experience of abuse to another.

The Waiting Room is the story of a woman to whom life has dealt some tough cards to play with. The story does give credence to the fact that a person who has been abused in early life will fall trap to instances of abuse time after time. In fact, it has been observed that victims of abusive relationships seem to attract or be attracted to people who may prove to be prospective abusers.

The vindicating fact about Maya is that in spite of these repeated instances (there is also a slight hint of an abusive father, which is left inconclusive); she displays a quiet strength of love that makes her pull through. She's open to all sorts of experiences, and many of them leave her further damaged, but some strengthen her. Though some relationships seem to be morally unacceptable in the traditional sense, they are pure because of the love and sincerity Maya brings to them.

The story opens with her old, loved friend Aniket, sifting through the material possessions of the now-departed Maya. Aniket, who had bumped into her after many years and slipped into the role of a beloved confidante, himself in love with Maya, now gets a clear insight into Maya's troubled psyche.

Through the pages of the book, we come across the series of betrayals that Maya suffered. Her relationship with her husband, Sameer, who had been a college sweetheart, was dysfunctional after they got married. In spite of managing to get pregnant with her daughter Sanjana, Sameer was not much of a husband for Maya, who, "longed to put her legs over her husband's shoulders" but was destined to sleep unfulfilled. For, Sameer had other kinds of sexual preferences, a fact that that Maya learnt too late. Not just that but to cover his inadequacy, Sameer blamed Maya and that was the reason that she got pushed into consulting Nayan, a psychoanalyst.

What exactly went on behind the closed doors of Nayan's clinic is a horrifying tale that unfolds subsequently in the pages of Maya's journals. In fact, Nayan's doings come to light when one of his female patients lets the cat out of the bag, and all his female patients discover that they have had a shared (yet individual) experience of the most horrifying duplicity by a doctor. They had all had to suffer sexual and mental abuse by a person they had gone to for succour and stability.

Maya, to set her own demons to rest, traces each one of these women to get their stories and concludes that "Nayan's bid for control over a group of easily manipulated individuals could be seen as an attempt to prop up a very disturbed ego." However, how this helps her is rather obscure in the novel that goes off at a tangent at this point.

There are evidences of a highly-strung woman with a fragile mental state and mounting desperation to find strength and support. Maya goes through experiences of past life regression and tantric practices. She has a series of lovers, some in meaningful relationships, some not. One of them is Mir, "her soul, she professed, was the other half of Mir's," who "lived with his wife but his relationship with Maya was exceptional and ethereal and her love for him, almost spiritual."

Maya's flings with hypnotism into past-life regression are an attempt to search for clear answers to what she suspects are her daughter's ordeals with her father, Maya's ex-husband, whom she suspects of having abused Sanjana. The details of past-life regression are pretty eerie as she is increasingly drawn towards some other dark spiritual pursuits also. These include a clairvoyant, tantric healer, Murshid, with whom she had "out-of-body sexual encounters" even when they were many miles apart.

The book ends with Maya's journey to Istanbul, from where she returns full of "love, longing and devotion to a newfound beloved, a divine force."

Maya's final tragedy was "the burden of knowing and yet not knowing." In fact, that is a bit of the state of the mind of the reader also as she puts down the book. Anupa Mehta's did have the noble idea of researching a woman with a disturbed psyche, in which she succeeds to quite an extent. The flaw in the novel is that the story becomes disconnected at places, making the reader turn back the pages with the sense of, "Did I miss something...?"