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  • Visitation
  • Sukrita Paul Kumar (bio)

Every month when the moon is full she steps out of my nightmare and appears on the surface of the moon. To others she’s merely a shadowy patch. But to me she is solid and substantial. Thin, round, steel spectacles resting on her inconsequential nose, the upper rim merging with her silver eyebrows. Her dark eyes set in deep, dry wells shooting a fixed gaze, emptying my mind of all thought, my heart of all emotion. No, but then my grandmother was not this way . . .

Bhabhoji was in fact just the opposite. Somebody who filled everyone with value and warmth. Everyone came to her for love, for life. Ensconced in her massive lap, I’d coax her to tell me those never-ending tales. She would repeat stories and with each repetition. . . a new story! More characters, different locations, and at times even a total switch of the villain with the hero of the tale. Endless possibilities, unlimited flights of imagination. Eyes popping out, mouths round and open, we’d pull her dupatta and coax her, “Please, just one more, tell us one more story and we’ll sleep.” She always, always gave in. Compulsive storyteller that she was, she also wanted to be coaxed. And after that, another one and then another till we folded and twisted into sleep, meeting characters from all those stories in life and blood in our dreams. Chuckling, murmuring, and even angry or sobbing at times, our sleeping faces, we were told, were more active than when awake. Often Bhabhoji’s affectionate hand patted us gently out of unhappy dreams.

And yet, despite her watchful eye I slipped occasionally into a forest led by someone who resembled her and signaled to me insistently to follow her into a thicket of sounds and darkness. Two steps forward and one backward. The same face, the same body structure, but not quite the same Bhabhoji. A twin sister? Never could figure out. An irresistible pull but also a fear. She’d get me someday, I thought. Something sinister about her. Did she want to take me away from Bhabhoji? The nightmare would never come to any conclusion. Each time it started from the beginning . . . her face, her signals, and my trying to move, to follow her. And, in this very moment of confusion, fear, and . . . and I think a compulsion to respond, I’d wake up and go snuggle into Bhabhoji’s warm bed. The only way I thought I could escape her counterpart. [End Page 45]

The strange presence of the rather diabolic figure stayed with me constantly all those years, except for about two years when she did not appear in my dreams and I thought she had died a natural death or, thankfully, given me up. Those were the years when I found myself a grown-up child and we had moved from Africa to come to settle in our homeland, India. But we were in reality quite unsettled because Bhabhoji was no longer able to pat us out of the difficulties of new life. She had gone crazy with pain. She suffered acutely after she fell off her bed and broke her femur bone. The first and second months she tolerated her pain with the help of medicines . . . more than the medicines, with the forbearance she had gathered so gracefully all her life. But gradually she began to lose her grace, her spirit crushed by the excruciating pain. She was reduced to a thin frame, her wrinkles stretched into a transparency that revealed blue veins digressing in all directions. She was actually driven to hysterical outbursts.

Was it pain? Or was it the memory of pain that her body would not let go of? What made her scream and demand morphine injections all the time? The doctors refused to give her any more. She abused them. She abused and yelled at everyone. Our Bhabhoji . . . was not herself. So how could we be ourselves? She was not home within herself, so how could we be? We used strategies, we lied, and sometimes we’d even give her morphine on the sly. But she went further and further away...