My daughter lies on a hospital bed at this moment. Her entire body has deep red marks that have seeped inside her skin like a poisonous wasp’s sting. Doctors are trying their best to heal the wounds. My daughter, she is only four. She looks at the tik-tok of the clock to pass her time. She does not look outside the window, although her bed is near it. My daughter lives in paradise. She hates paradise. She refuses to see the paradise. She refuses to see me, too.
25 years ago, I had fifty three sisters. Even before I was born. I had met them already in hell, since that is where they lived, and where I visited secretly. I promised to free them if only they maintained patience. Their patience was awful. They did not scream then, because I asked them not to. I promised to keep their daughters safe, once I was born. They departed and gave me the responsibility of their off springs like a mother gives her daughter her ancestral jewellery. They left because my fathers and brothers who wanted to make me safe in the four walled homes; they robbed the triangles of my sisters. Their sisters, also?
I have a bad memory. I had forgotten that I made a promise. Also, I was an innocent child, how could I remember? My innocence gave me an escape. A good, excusable escape. Perhaps I was also four when I forgot it completely.
I remembered till three. I played home-home (ghar-ghar) with my one old sister who survived. We made our homes using chatai (baamboo mat) and Kashmiri mats. The mat beneath and the chatai over it, like a triangular prism. We would hide in our homes and wait for each other to take turns and come over tea. One day, a new visitor came to my home. I invited him inside to have a cup of coffee. He smiled broadly. I liked his smile. He praised the tidiness of my little place. I blushed and said, “Oh no! You have seen nothing yet!” And, I took him to my old sister’s breath taking tent.
I knocked at the door, and my beautiful old sister came. She let us in. She made delicious Rogan Josh for us. The visitor almost sucked his fingers after having it. He looked at the inside of the tent. The snow clad mountains, the house boats, the serene lake, the meadow of flowers, dark blue waters, dusk brown land, the lush green forests- the beauty of this earth imprinted on a tent. He turned his gaze towards my sister, towards her curves, and non-curves. He smiled wickedly. My old sister did not blush.
Days went by and I forgot my sister. Even when she came into my mind, I never cared to see her. After all, she never came to my home after that visitor came. She cheated, dumped me. She said that we are not sisters, that I never cared, that I was so mean, and that she wanted divorce. Divorce! Separation! Freedom! We lost track of each other, forever, until now.
I do not have a daughter, but I remember faces. I remember the face of my sister. My pretty sister. My pretty chained sister. My pretty jailed sister. Yes, she went to jail a number of times. Like a traveler goes to motels. She said that I locked her up in that tent! She deserved jail, for that. I loved my sister dearly. I wanted to keep her with me, always. She made me feel proud, for her beauty, and chivalry. She was my helplessness’ outlet. I felt at ease upon knowing that I have her, I own her. I never understood how painful it is to be owned, purchased by someone.
I could not understand. I was an innocent child. 4?
The hospital bed smells of rotten blood and burning flesh. It also smells of Rogan Josh, but this time, I have made it. For my daughter. For my sister’s daughter. For my sister’s daughter only, not that visitor’s. But, she refuses to eat it. She says, “You killed my mother.” She stares at my sharp nose, dusky complexion, salwar kameez, and red threads on my arms. She scratches her skin where the pellets hit her. She presses her skin. My hands reach out to comfort her. She declines. Moves her legs away. Protests. Like a protestor hurls stones. I move away. Not like a jawan shoots pellets. Because I love my daughter really. Enough to let her protest. Enough to let her be free.
Nikita Azad is a writer, based in New Delhi.