He was standing at the point from where he could only go down. But he didn’t seem to care. He stood still; still like the hills around. Not even the force of the wind at that peak could shake him. He was deafened by the sound it made when it passed by his ears. He could not hear the calls from the people who were standing just a few meters away, but could hear the song from the valley whose distance was immeasurable. He could hear a voice from the past that stood years away from the present.
He said to himself, “Memories… are they? Don’t appear like. Rather, I think, they are the voices from the talks we had in the assembly ground of my school…The glitters down there…do they exist in this moment or they belong to the street and the home lights in the valley behind the assembly ground? That folk song…I don’t understand that language; Marathi it is, I guess. But how does it matter? Neither did I understand Kumouni. The melody of that unmelodious folk song is still the same… The feel of the evening is still the same… I can feel the breeze, deep inside… No they are not memories… Just a reappearance of certain lost moments… A reappearance of the torture of the guilt from my past… But I am smiling. Why? The reason? Who knows! May be, because they are mine, the torture and the guilt; both belong to me. The stones around… they are talking some history, not their, but mine. I never knew them before, but they are narrating the stories of my past… They know me. How? Who knows?”
“Nitin…!” Ragini was calling out his name. Just in this moment, or since many such moments? Only Ragini and Dr. Giri would know.
Mrs. Ragini Singhal had come to Dr. Hridaynath Giri to get her husband diagnosed. For what disease? She didn’t know. What she knew was “Nitin is not normal; normal is general concept of living.”
Dr. Giri had his clinic on top of a hill, in Western Ghats, in the state of
When did it start she wouldn’t know, but Ragini had some instances to quote –
“That day he was working on his computer in the other room. His mobile was lying in the bedroom. I was folding the dried-up clothing. Suddenly, he came running to check out if his mobile was ringing. But the mobile was lying dead, dead without any sound. He went back. After a few moments, he again came running to check out if it rang. He looked confused. I don’t know if he was waiting for someone’s call, in particular; or anyone’s call, in general. When I told him that if it rung next time, I will get the phone to him and he could better finish off his work; he looked at me strangely and went back to his room. I could see his attention was constantly divided. He was not able to work. Though he was humming the tunes of Nothing else matters, a song from Metellica which was his ring tone too, he didn’t appear enjoying it. He shut the system down and came back to bedroom. Lying flat on the bed, holding his mobile in the right hand, he looked up at the rotating fan on the ceiling. He had work which he had to finish. He was working on it. But I don’t know what was it that forced him not to complete it? He was holding his mobile a little extra tight.”
“The reason why it appeared absurd to me was, sir, he never actually enjoyed talking to anyone over the phone. Whenever he received a call, he would force me to talk and if ever he did, he would make faces as if he didn’t care listening to the speaker on the other side of the phone…and that day he was desperately waiting for someone’s call, none of us knew whose call was he waiting for!”
“And the other day, I called him and asked to get some vegetables. We had none at home. He Okayed. But when he got back, he fought enough to defend that I never asked him for vegetables!”
“In whole of his office timings, he would call me hundred times to ask how I was doing and what I was doing; would do all the love talks. But at home, he was a completely different person. He would always talk about his office and how bad it was going. The happy man I was talking a few hours ago would change to a sad and cribbing person. He would smile at me, but his smiles appeared as if they were not meant for me. I could never justify my ownership on them.”
“…And the way he makes love,” Ragini, by now had become used to talking about the details of her private life to the doctor. The cost of such publicity of their privacy was nothing much against the error of that privacy she was living in. “He makes love as if he is sleeping with someone else. He never looks in my eyes. He never stops to know if I am enjoying. He doesn’t care only, I guess. It’s just another mechanical activity.”
“But at times… he would smile; I could feel that when he used to call up in any afternoon and say ‘I love you, darling.’ In those small moments, I felt loved more than what I did in the long nights of love making.”
She called up again, “Nitin...!”
This time he responded. He turned to them and smiled. Then he walked up to them. He tried well, but Ragini noticed the sudden reflex that changed his smile from a kid’s to an adult’s. Dr. Giri had noticed something too.
Nitin asked Ragini, “Are we ready for dinner? I am feeling a little hungry.”
“Oh! Sure darling,” She replied, then turn to Dr. Giri, “Sir, you wanna join us for dinner?”
“Oh, you please carry on. It’s still a little early for me to dine.” Dr. Giri wished them good night and return to his cabin. The couple smiled to each other and moved to cafeteria.
At dinner table, Nitin appeared very happy. Of all the flowery items on the menu card, he ordered Rajma and Rice. Though the order appeared weird, Ragini knew this was his favorite food from his school days and agreed to have it. While eating, Nitin constantly talked about his school days, retelling the same stories that he had narrated on many occasions before, but telling in a manner as if they were being told for the first time; as a kid showcases all his possessions, that he thinks are rare, to his gully friends with a proud feeling of being an owner of such stuff. This was one rare happy dinner, Ragini had with her husband in seven years of her married life. If ever she showcased her prized possessions as he did now, this would be one of them, she thought.
The doctor’s cabin was a small but well kept place. It had a huge window with no grills. If opened, it appeared as if the room was walled from three sides only. The window had a small plain surface on the other side, after which a deep valley followed. Dr. Giri had been a well learnt psychiatrist. He was into practice for more than twenty years now. Even after knowing about many different traits, he could not really associate a single disease with Nitin. While hearing Ragini in several discussion sessions and observing Nitin in all possible conduct, he had recorded a few points in his patient case file. He read and re-read them. He did observe a common thread among the incidences but he could not name it. He browsed through many online psychiatry journals. He felt a little frustrated. He got up and moved to the window. He opened it and moved the curtains aside. Then he rested his arms on the window sill and closed his eyes. He could feel the breeze.
“What is it?” He questioned his own mind.
“He is not able to work when he sits to work… he is not able to read when he opts to read… he is not able to talk when he has to talk… He is not able to love when he wants to love…… Why?”
It was three hours past midnight. Dr. Giri was still standing at the window. Suddenly, he realized that he was shivering. But why now, in this moment only? All moments before this one were as wintry as now! He felt as if he was taken out of this world… to some other world. A world which did not appear to exist, but still he had spent some moments there, right now; just a few moments ago. He knew what happened in the world of his imagination. But how could he know what was happening in the clinic, in his very own cabin, on the window sill, behind the window curtains… could he? He smiled.
Waking her up at seven in the morning appeared to be early when she is on holiday, but he could not wait any longer so he called for Ragini. When she left the suite, Nitin was sleeping.
“Your husband is not ill,” said the doctor.
“You said the same thing last time,” She replied.
“So I am saying it again.” He smiled, “trust me Mrs. Singhal, he is all right. If you understand this…”
“Tell me, what happened in the doctor’s party last night?”
“How am I supposed to know? I didn’t attend it.”
“Okay… tell me, do you know what your son does when you are busy in your kitchen?”
She didn’t find any correlation between the two questions. But she was in no mood to get into the technicalities of relating them early morning. So she thought she would better keep answering whatever he asks. “He is generally engaged playing with his video game or watch television and when I scold he sits with his homework.”
“No… not that way. What I meant was, when you are not around him, when u are not watching him, can you tell what exactly he is doing? Which game he is playing and what are his scores in the game? Whether he is winning or losing and such details?”
“No… not unless he comes running and tell me that he won some game and very happily details me about it. And frankly speaking, I don’t understand much.”
“So you will agree to the fact that to know something our presence at the place of the incident or of someone who can tell us later is not only important but necessary, right?”
To this Ragini nodded in affirmation but she didn’t know where she was being led.
“Does it ever happen with you, Mrs. Singhal that you are sitting in your room, in a bored afternoon, and you visualize heaven?”
“Yaa… I guess I do… at times.”
“And do you remember what happen around you in those moments?”
“I guess not.”
“You do not. Not because you knew and you don’t remember. But because you never experienced those things and so they never existed for you.”
She could not derive the real meaning of the words offered as an explanation and the confusion was prominently displayed on her face.
The doctor helped her understand, “It’s not a memory lapse or forgetfulness, Mrs. Singhal, but just a matter of absenteeism. You just can’t recall what happened in a particular moment, because you were not present in that moment!!” He questioned further, “Tell me, ma’am, which was the subject you just hated to attend the class for, in your school days?”
“Chemistry, I guess. Specially the organic chemistry,” she smiled faintly.
“Now tell me, did it ever happen that your chemistry teacher was lecturing and you spent those hours in day-dreaming?”
“Oh! Very often.”
“So would you know the answer of a question discussed in those hours? What would be your response to such a question if the teacher asked, later?”
“To your first question – I would never know the answer, until someone told me as a favor, but certainly it won’t be learnt in that moment. And to your second – if the teacher asked, I would give out some random answer or say ‘I knew but I forgot’ to hide the fact that I was not paying attention.”
“Exactly!! You will not learn that answer in that moment as you were not present in that moment, mentally though. And you will try your best to hide your psychological absence. That’s exactly what Nitin is doing, Mrs. Singhal.” Both of them remained silent for a moment and then the doctor elaborated further, “Though he was working on computer, he was busy thinking about the call. When you called for vegetables, he might have been busy thinking about some work in office. In office, he is constantly thinking about you and at home he is thinking about something else, may be about the work he could not finish in his day’s time. So the problem is – he is not present mentally in the moment where he physically belongs to! He always leaps to some other moment. This can happen due to two reasons, mainly. Either he is too anxious to be in another moment or he is too bored with whatever activity is happening in the current moment. He is not able to associate himself to this real activity as it is always carried out, devoid of any emotion. For him the emotions, positive or negative, are always attached to the world he imagined and not to the world he lived in. His mind has always worked in a state of duplicity; thinking of something when executing something else.” Dr. Giri took a pause and then added, “We hide our inner self and act to align our activities to the world outside. He does not prefer to act life but to live it and to do so he keeps turning to his inner self, to his imaginations, to his conscience.”
“But we can’t live like that, Doctor. We just can’t live like that. He…,” Ragini was about to break down but she control herself, “he was fired from his job two months ago. And he is still searching for a new job. And if he doesn’t get one soon, we will be in real financial crisis. I have already started work from home but don’t get paid well. I don’t know what to do. But then we can still manage with that… what I can’t handle is… the fact that… he is… I can’t…” she didn’t finish any of her last few sentences. She just looked down and up and right and left. Then she pointed her eyes on the doctor. She could feel the moistness in them. “Is there any cure, sir?” she asked in the gravest voice Mr. Giri had heard coming from her in past few days.
“A cure is always devised for a disease and as I told you, Ma’am, your husband is not ill. Not by the books of psychology and psychiatry. This is still not proved to be a real mental disorder, though a group of scientists are working on this. What they are studying is called Absentia. The research says it exist in almost every human being. It’s nothing but our day-dreaming, the temporary mental absence from a situation or a place that we do not like. After living few moments in our imaginations, we tend to return to the world which is broadly perceived as normal by majority. But some people do not. They keep swinging from one hypothetical world to another. It can also happen that their world of dreams can appear more real to them than the real world around them. So even if they get back to reality, it remains unreal for them. Your husband is one such case of Absentia.”
“Can you help him, doctor?”
“No,” said the doctor. Ragini pointed her vision into his eyes. It was fear, he noticed, that was dancing on her face. He said, “But you can… and only you can!” She did not say anything but her expressions meant, “How?”
“You will have to create a world of his dreams around him - A world where he would love to live and not the one where he is forced to live. For this you will have to understand him… and his dreams. And you will have to understand it deep down into the deepest secret of his dreams. If the secret is a mystery, you will have to help him solve that. If it is guilt, you will have to help him come out of it. If it is worry, you will have to help him shrug it off. If it is happiness you will have to help him multiply it… and if its mere lack of love, you will have to love him like anything. You will have to make him enjoy the life with you, whichever world he lives in. And then slowly and gradually you can introduce him to the real world, to your and my world, where he will know that he has you to face any fear he had of this world.” Pausing for a while and then after pouring some water for himself from the filter, Dr. Giri asked Ragini, “will you do it for him, Mrs. Singhal?”
Ragini could not speak out. She moved her eyelashes too hard to stop the drop inside. When she knew they won’t come out, she looked up to the doctor and said, “Thank you, doctor. May I know what the withdrawal formalities are if I want to take my husband back home?”
When she came out of the doctor’s cabin, she had not known what she is going to do next. Even the steps she was taking, she felt, were not part of her decision to move. She found they decided to move towards her suite. When she entered the room, she found Nitin still sleeping. She sat besides him. Moving her fingers around his open palms, she thought, “For whose sake?”
The seven years of their marriage flashed in her mind, zipped in a short memory format; event by event – Their marriage, their honeymoon, their first kid and the only kid, their fights and their persuasions, their highs and their lows. She thought of a Saturday night, she had always remembered after its occurrence. They had played for long with their son, who had gone to sleep a few minutes ago. It was a full moon night; they were sitting on the front porch which opened to a big, green lawn with beautiful lampposts. She was sitting resting her back on railing. He was lying on the floor resting his head on her lap. Looking at the moon that night, Nitin had asked her, “Tell me, what if we have a terrible fight someday? Will we divorce? And if we divorce, who will keep our son?” She had asked, “For god’s sake, Nitin! Why do you talk such rubbish at times?” To which he had jokingly replied, “Because I talk rubbish at times, you may feel like leaving me some day.” She had looked at his face in the moon light. He was smiling mischievously. She had replied, “I love you with such an intensity that I can’t live without you, Nitin. And if ever we separate, I will leave our son with you as our separation gift.” He had said to her, “we will not have to give such gifts to each other ever, darling.” And they sealed this agreement, and the moment, with an eternal kiss.
Looking at him now, she offered an answer to herself, “If it be, it has to be for my own sake... I love you with such an intensity that I can’t live without you, Nitin.”
She walked up to the window, looking out at the open sun-filled scenery, she answered a question asked some time back, in a low but confident voice, “I will, doctor.” She felt free. She had not closed her eyes which she did as a general behavior to feel her dreams, to imagine her heaven. She could do it, now, in this moment with her eyes wide open. She could see a world where she lived with her family with a full understanding of every moment they lived by, a world where she owned each phase of her life, where she understood the reason of everyone’s presence.
Suddenly, she felt someone’s presence around her. It was Nitin. She didn’t realize when did he got up and arrived at the window to hold her. “Good morning,” he said. She pulled her hands from the window sill to hold his, turned her face to him and smiled, “Good morning, Darling.” She smiled to the realization of her return from the state of Absentia.