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Out of Mind

Short Story - By Stuti Jamwal

It was happening more often now, this day dreaming that would suddenly possess her. Sometimes for a few minutes and sometimes for hours at a stretch she would forget the present completely. What she had eaten, whether she had taken a bath, what was she doing, what she was supposed to do with her day. Events and people kept slipping out at odd moments, sporadically, as if they had a mind of their own and would not succumb to her efforts at recall.

And yet, it wasn't a blank slate, as the past kept intruding into her present life, and her recollections became a curious melange of memories old and new, springing from somewhere deep within her subconscious and creeping in at odd moments into the conscious mind.

It wasn't just memories that were failing her, it was life itself. How meticulously she had saved every piece of remembrance, every little titbit of the past, to build up this warm edifice, inside which there was the comfort of knowledge. The awareness that whatever else might go from her, however incapacitated she might physically become in the future, in her mind she would still be able to revel in the reminiscences of her good old days. Glimpses of childhood still came to her, blindingly vivid, flashing in the unlikeliest of times and transporting her to another age. But the comparatively recent past, the most significant years of her adult life eluded clear recall. Marriage, the birth of children, moving out of their home of twenty years - those glaring milestones which defined her life were disconcertingly relegated to some remote part of her brain now, either irretrievable and out of reach or overlapping like a jumbled up puzzle that didn't make sense.

Of all the people, it was Vinod she felt most ambivalent about these days. Vinod, who she had been married to for four decades and had borne two wonderful children. Vinod, who had been through life's ups and downs with her, with whom she shared the largest trajectory of her life. Strangely, being so close, he sometimes seemed to her the farthest, an indefinable distance having taken her away from not only her own life but his as well. He misunderstood her little lapses as something deliberate and malicious. Any disorder about the house annoyed him. Little things like her leaving the kitchen window open at night or forgetting to boil the milk as soon as he'd got it from the grocer's made him snappish, forever complaining and it frequently drove her to tears. What she couldn't understand was that to him, this gradual but certain change in her was as bewildering as his irritable behaviour was to her. And more than bewildering, it was frightening him.

It was so unlike Deepa to neglect to do the dishes after dinner or not remember family birthdays and anniversaries. The very thought seemed wierd to her family, and Vinod, so used to her immaculate housekeeping all these years, was finding it tough to deal with this new, changed Deepa who had stopped reminding him to take his pills for blood pressure or get his morning bed tea. But as these common chores never came to her mind on their own but were reminded to her with snippy comments and a reproachful glance, she blamed Vinod for constantly bellyaching.

It was the little things that were slowly pulling them in different directions, leading to useless arguments and mindless bickering. And since he'd asked her to seek medical help, they'd grown even further apart.
'You want me to see a shrink?' she'd asked, in a heavy voice, suddenly losing all confidence in herself, the day he first brought it up.
'I said psychiatrist, Deepa. They are doctors. There might be a perfectly easy treatment for this.'
'I am perfectly all right. Just being a little forgetful doesn't qualify me as mentally ill,' she'd said hotly, annoyed at his patronising tone.
Her words stung him.
'I never said you were mentally ill. Don't put words in my mouth. And what do you mean by being little forgetful? Forgetting you have two grandchildren and remembering only one of them is a little thing for you? What about forgetting that your son has been married for seven years and trying to find a match for him? What do you think that was? Just normal forgetfulness? And do you even know how hurt Reena was when you'd suddenly remembered Vikas' girlfriend of ages ago and couldn't stop singing her praises for days?' Vinod had almost shouted at her, his face red with an inexplicable rage.

Deepa had found it unbearable. She couldn't explain to Vinod why those things had happened, she didn't know herself. The worst part was she couldn't remember those incidents herself afterwards. It was only when they all told her about it that she came to realize how deeply she must have hurt her family on these occasions. Still, it didn't mean she needed psychiatric treatment. Unless she exhibited any physical symptoms of illness she was vehemently against it. The thought of becoming a medical liability to her family was agonising. Besides, she knew she was getting on, going on sixty now and at her age a sieve like memory was nothing unusual.

But she did realize the need to get some measure of control over this situation. She began writing down things in a little black diary, jotting down everything she did after rising in the morning and until she went to bed at night. She would scribble what she cooked that day, if she visited a neighbour or someone visited them, the tiniest of details that she would refer to the next day and feel good to know even though she didn't remember half of them. She had all the family events and birthdays listed in chronological order and would look at the calendar several times in the day to keep reminding herself of the date and day. In a few weeks she became quite proud of it and felt her confidence growing. She would show off to Vinod hoping it would make him happy.

'Tomorrow is Adi's birthday,' she said to Vinod one evening as he was switching channels, trying to remember which number was Zee news set on.
'Remember to call him in the morning, we haven't talked to them in ages,' she continued, in a smug tone, the way she used to earlier, bustling about him with a sense of urgency in her voice and taking charge of those little parts of his life like an efficient secretary.
'Hmm,' he grunted, still obsessed with the remote but some part of his brain had picked on the subtle hope that she was, perhaps, getting better. Maybe it was just ageing, the mind losing its suppleness and resilience with the passing years, nothing serious to be fretted over. Involuntarily his fingers relaxed on the remote as he settled for Star News, the stubbornness about finding Zee news, gone out of his mind.

In the morning they could not remember about Adi's birthday but she had made a habit of consulting the little black diary every few minutes so she reminded Vinod, as soon as he was back from his morning walk, handing the phone diary to him.  While Vinod got engaged in a long conversation with his brother in the States she decided to make something special to mark the day. She'd been meaning to have sooji halwa for days and thought it would be a good change from their daily breakfast of poha or brown bread toasts with tea.

She roasted a cup of semolina in a dollop of butter, measuring out the same quantity of sugar to add to it later. Soon the sweet aroma of fried, golden semolina filled the air. She took the pan off the heat and served it into the new china quarter plates they'd bought last month. Suddenly she was racked with a strange numbness. She knew she was forgetting something but couldn't remember what. She looked at the plates, spooning the fried semolina, checking it for sweetness. It seemed fine. And yet, she was aware of some lack, something undone. Even after she'd chopped some dry fruits on it she didn't feel fully convinced but decided it must be something she'd wanted to talk about to Adi's wife, some trivial family gossip perhaps.

She took the plates out in the dining hall where Vinod was sitting, glancing at the newspaper spread in front of him on the table.
'What's for breakfast,' he asked as he spotted Deepa coming out of the kitchen with the tray in her hand.
'Sooji halwa. Doesn't it smell good?'
'Yeah. That's why I asked.' He seemed pleased. Taking the tray from her hand he said, 'Let me serve. I can hardly wait.'

The story Out of Mind continues here ,,,