Other Wordly – Neerja Singh

Illustration by Garima Pur
Illustration by Garima Pura

The diary entry went back seven years. Reema fluffed up her favourite bolster and settled down with the camel coloured journal, inviting her daughter Chehak to the space besides her on their well-loved sofa bed.

“Sitting in gyan mudra under the Terminalia Arjuna, I felt scrubbed clean. My skin hummed in the light streaming down from its leaves. The red of my blood swirled into their luminescent xylem. I had just finished reading about phyllotaxis. Placing the book aside, I looked up at the canopy to see how the leaves were arranged on a stem so as to intercept optimum sunlight for photosynthesis.  The longer I gazed, the brighter it became around me. It began to feel unusually warm. The brilliance in the air exploded like the 1000 skyshot, with its multi-coloured Diwali flare. I lost all sense of life and limb. The only certainty was about being where I floated: in the nucleus of the sun! There was no fear; just a tiny niggling worry about the Ethnobotany semester exam the following day and what missing that would do to my semester grades. It felt unconstrained, quite unlike my claustrophobic body. Sensations of expansive connectedness alternated with an effervescent lift. There were no lungs to fill and yet I breathed in deeply. I saw no form but my arms spread wide to embrace the indefinite space radiating from my centre. I was the centre and the circumference. It was finally fun being me!”

Reema drew a ragged breath and looked over the journal sheet at her newly wed daughter. Muted sounds of domestic appliances were the only other signs of life in the green home library, outside which, the world went about its daily business of self-delusion.

“Ma, I have left my body twice since this episode.”

Reema leaned back and crossed an arm over her eyes, the journal nestling on her sternum. Her mind went back to Chehak’s school days. The English TGT Mr D’Costa, during one of the parent teacher meetings had asked to see the parents in private, “Ma’am, your daughter is an evolved soul. I don’t know how spiritual you consider yourself but she often voices concerns about the nature of existence. I think she senses I am open to metaphysical debate and feels at home challenging views of reality in my presence.”

Other frames crowded Reema’s feeble attempts to fight them off. She grabbed Chehak by her hand, taking care not to chafe the bridal red bangles. The air between them blistered with unexpressed anguish; “You have just entered a new phase of life Chehak ….the last thing you need right now is to go any deeper into that head of yours. This is the time to be laying the foundation of a happy home so you can start your family soon and fulfil your social role.”

“Mum, don’t worry. I understand that completely and am entirely up to it but you wouldn’t expect me to wish away the Tunganath temple darshan last week now, would you?” Chehak protested calmly. Reema released her arm and fell back on the comforting upholstery. There was no denying the event that had happened in that tightest of sanctums high up in the mountains and barely a week ago. The groom was walking away after the obeisance but the bride stood rooted to her spot facing the deity. As Reema made to prod her, the priest held up his hand with a look of warning. Reema remembered well his ring finger frozen in a crook, sandal paste dripping as he waited. Unknown to the rest, Chehak was in the grip of a most personal tête-à-tête with Lord Shiva. “It was like a faucet of twinkling blue tridents hailing over me”, Chehak had recounted dazedly to her stunned family outside of the precinct. It brought a smile to Reema’s face, the memory of the priest’s hand finally coming to rest on the devotee’s broad forehead for the anointing. Several eyes had seen the tilak turn strangely fluorescent in the shivery air.

Chehak drew patterns on her henna covered hand, “Mum, it is a continuing conflict but you must relax. I may be detached but I have no desire to run away from my humdrum commitments! I am here, right beside you.” The two hugged each other, bound by their wondrous disquiet at these brushes with the unknown.

“It has puzzled me to see how people fight shy of looking into each other’s eyes long enough, other than the smitten folk of course”, Chehak felt emboldened enough to add further:.  “Have you tried holding someone’s gaze? It is shocking how revealing it can be. A strange energy circuit builds up and all barriers dissolve. It feels like everyone is connected in some form of shared union. And yet, there is something discomfiting in that fluid intimacy.”

“There is coffee in the percolator, Malabar blend. Let’s get some,” Reema pulled herself up from the couch, casting about mentally for a sane resolution to this spiritual intrusion in their family space. She cursed herself and her husband silently for discussing the fifth dimension, cellular transformation and TV serials like the Fringe and X-Files at the dining table with their children. What’s more, it had often been said at home, within earshot of the siblings that the fundamental sanity of Indians sprang from a belief in the afterlife and the notion of destiny!

They had been foolish in their parenting. Reema winced at the taste of coffee.

“Mum, I need to segregate my stuff; can’t take all of it to my married home. Where are my school papers….all the teen letters and the slam books?” Reema pointed Chehak to the garage and meanwhile laid out the coffee mugs. She debated a visit to the Parapsychologist, “No point discussing this with anyone else, they will think we are crazy!” Lost in an intense reflection, the metal grip slipped off her hand, spilling hot milk when she heard a jubilant shout from the backyard. Chehak entered the roomy kitchen, holding aloft a red coloured diary: “Look Mum, read this note from Padmaja…you remember her of course, my closest friend in college. I had forgotten all about this. Here, read please.”

Reema ran her fingers under cold water, taking time to wipe them dry before reaching for the book. IIt said: “Chehak dear….as long as I live, I shall remember the day you returned from your study hour on the hill. You were shining like a brilliant lantern. I wanted to ask you where you had been but the dinner gong went off and then events took over. Remind me when we meet again to get to the bottom of that unearthly glow around you. I am surprised they didn’t call the fire brigade. Always in memory of your radiance that oddest of days, Padmaja!”

Her mind now made up on meeting a professional, Reema got down to assist Chehak with her packing. There was nary a household item she did not want her daughter to have. The two were kept busy until post tea when she finally stood waving a white handkerchief at the receding tail lights of Chehak’s car in the distance. She was just about turning in, wiping a tear when the front gate clanged open with the rudeness of familiarity. It was the family doctor, on way home from his evening health run, having decided to stop by for a hot cup of beverage.

“Don’t tell me, are you crying?! Here, let me see. Already missing our Choosy, are you now?! Come here, give me a hug,” Reema allowed herself to be held, feeling conflicted and emotional. In that weak moment, she decided to come clean with the dear doctor on Chehak’s other worldly experiences.

The doctor took no time and did not mince his words: “It is dehydration, plain and simple. The weather is turning; these modern kids do not drink enough water. Plain hallucinations! A parched brain deactivates the visual cortex which in turn ignites the part that drums up kinaesthetic imagery. Send your maid along when I leave. I will give her a dozen ORS packets. Drown her in the oral rehydration solution. But first your spicy cardamom tea; two spoons sugar please.”

A teacher, blogger, speaker and writer, Neerja Singh has worked in advertising, public relations, documentary film making and feature journalism. A lifelong learner and a keen watcher of the evolving social dynamics, she maintains a blog at http://confessionsofanambitiousmother.blogspot.in/

One thought on “Other Wordly – Neerja Singh

Leave a Reply