By Vivek Nath Mishra
Ask her the most horrible sight and she would say, ‘Lotus’. Lotus that children so much admire. Even her friend Sunanda who used to go to school with her would stop by a pond occasionally, that they encountered somewhere midway to the school, and look at it unblinkingly as if mesmerized by it. All the time when Sunanda felt awed by its beauty and remained caught up in its fascination she kept tugging at Sunanda’s arms and kept pulling her to move forward as if that pink lotus, weak and vulnerable in its beauty and its fragile petals, would swallow her. Sunanda always told her that this was a strange fear, that this wasn’t common and nobody she knew feared a lotus bloom and she should tell her parents about this, but her parents already knew that and there was nothing more to tell them about it. The first time she acknowledged this fear she was one-and-a-half-year-old and now she was thirteen so it had been eleven and a half years since her parents knew that. She had no idea what was the origin of this fear. From where did this fear take possession in her heart and mind and possessed her as a ghost?
She tries to capture in her mind the exact chronicles of that happening when this strange fear had introduced itself to her. Her father was furious at something. It had to be something very foolish and she understood it only when she grew up. People usually do foolish things, oftentimes quarrel over petty matters and mostly kill for nothing. So when her mother brought this plate of food and put it in front of her father he threw it away on the floor in rage and the food got scattered all over the place. The steel plate fell on the floor with a loud clink that echoed in her ears for a long time and it always does whenever a steel utensil falls down on the floor. But where was the lotus in it? She puts pressure on her memory and recalls that this steel plate had fallen over the edge of this fake lotus flower, a plastic one gifted to her parents by one of their friends, and it jumped over her as if it came alive for a moment. It sent a shiver down her body. She was terribly afraid and she tried to shake it off frantically to get rid of this furious lotus which kept falling over her body each time she tried to throw it off. She ducked and lay down in panic; she tried to hold on to something but her father was now numb as death and he looked nowhere. He looked into this terrible vacuum of sadness, disappointment and depression. He, in his blind selfishness, saw only his fear. He couldn’t notice what his daughter was going through. He didn’t see around him. His callousness made him blind. She cried for hours that day. They couldn’t understand what it was. She had peed in her pants and her mother changed it. They gave her gripe water assuming that she might have had stomach ache but she still wouldn’t stop. She refused to get down off her mother’s lap even an hour later. “Gripe water doesn’t work always,” her mother had remarked.
Later, one day when her mother was cooking and her father was reading in his room she kept crying. Her eyes were heavy and she was anxious that she would slip into sleep anytime. She was not ready to be entertained by anything. Her mother gave her a toy to play with, then a TV remote control to have something real as children sometimes don’t like to play with a toy. They sometimes want to have something adults have. But she was still not entertained. She ran out of the kitchen to her father who was reading in his chair and she began screaming to get on to the chair but her father’s callousness was almost equivalent to a government’s callousness towards its people and voters. He didn’t even look at her. She ran out of the room again to the kitchen for she knew only these two places. Where does a child go to be soothed, especially when they are orphan?
She went to her mother again crying relentlessly. Her mother was now irritated but still she kept her cool as she was better at balancing her emotions and was more patient than her husband. She took that fake lotus and gave it to her to play with. However, the sight of it made her tremble and she grabbed the end of her mother’s sari and staggered on her feet in an attempt to get away. She fell on the ground and peed in her pants again. Only then her mother understood that she feared this lotus flower and she lifted her and embraced her. She told her husband about it and her husband wanted to have a look at it as it was something entertaining for him. He showed her the lotus and she grabbed her mother’s bosom and screeched. Her father laughed out loud. It was a new thing for him. He felt it was funny.
So now this fake lotus was a means of entertainment for her father and also some sort of defence against the disturbance she created. Her parents now used it as a tool to make her obey their orders. Like whenever she didn’t eat food they would threaten her with it or whenever she touched her father’s books he would simply keep it over shelf so it remained out of her reach. They didn’t use it only when it was needed because torture, in the human history, has been an agency of amusement also. So her father sometimes used it to amuse himself. He would throw it over her when she would be lying still or when she would be sleeping. It amused him to see her being tortured by something as harmless as a fake lotus. It gave him sheer pleasure to enjoy her weakness. He would keep it in his hands folded behind his back in a manner to give her some surprise and hand over this lotus to have a good laugh.
She couldn’t get over this. As she grew up she tried to conceal this fear. She wouldn’t mention it in her friends. She wouldn’t participate in a chit chat where they talked about flowers because she feared a mention of lotus might come soon and people would know. She protected it as if it was her shattered part: broken but important.
But why does she remember it today? She is now a sixty-year-old and no more in India. She is far from that hot hostile climate. She lives in a place where the climate is approving to a poet’s mind. But she doesn’t write poems anymore perhaps because the surrounding lacks such provocation. She has long forgotten this past. She does not even remember her father’s evil advancements towards this lotus whenever she made a blunder. Now she has a husband who is loving and does not have a savage mind. However, last week he mentioned something that made all these bitter memories come back again. He told her that he wished to dig a pond in one of the corners of their garden and plant lotus in it. He told her that they could also keep a few mollies in it to make it look more colourful. She went silent and after a lot of insistence she confided in him all her bitter secrets.
“But how long will you possess this fear? How long will you protect your shattered part? It’s too long to keep fighting with this one small fear. This world has many more problems, many more fears, many more challenges. You must move on,” he said.
She kept contemplating. She imagined if she could really get over it. She thought it over a week. It was foolish to pamper this fear anymore. She agreed to what her husband had said. It took her time but it was worth it as finally a day came when she gave her consent to him to plant lotus. She convinced herself that a real lotus does no harm.
Vivek Nath Mishra’s short stories have appeared in The Hindu, Queen mob’s Teahouse, Muse India, The Criterion Journal, Cafe Dissensus, Setu, Spillwords, Literary Yard, Indian Ruminations, Prachya Review, Indus Women Writing, and on many other platforms. Some of his stories are forthcoming in Indian Literature, Adelaide Literary Magazine and The Punch Magazine. His debut book is Birdsongs of Love and Despair published by Hawakal.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City and India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Poetics and politics of the ‘everyday’: Engaging with India’s northeast”, edited by Bhumika R, IIT Jammu and Suranjana Choudhury, NEHU, India.