Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mahira

Mahira was her name. It meant “expert”. And she was. At her favourite game, the only thing she looked forward to every day. Carrom!

It started when she was 6… with much older brothers who had no time for her, and a mother battling with chronic depression and uncontrollable outbursts of rage, she had no company except the old small carom board that her siblings had long discarded. And she liked it like that.

They were not very well off, and lived in a small apartment in Sunshine Housing Society in Mukherjee nagar, Delhi. The only person she really loved was her father, a old looking man defeated by the trials of life. Not only because he was the only one who gave her hugs and got her toffees, but because he used to play carrom with her every evening!

As the years went by, she got a better hang of the game. By 8 she could defeat all her family and friends, by 10 she was fighting off 15 year old champs. No one talked about Mahira's beauty, or her performance in school, but they all noticed her talent at one of the most popular indoor games of the country. And she swelled with praise.

It did not go to her head though. She worked hard, and deserved the praise. At just 12, she was taking part in all local and inter-school sports championships, and rarely came home empty handed. If only people gave more importance to Carrom, she thought, I would be no less than a Sania Mirza! She was almost obsessed with her carrom board, playing with it while eating, watching TV,… Her family did not understand her craze, but did not care much. As long as she was getting decent grades at school.

Finally the day came. Every summer the local Sports club celebrated sports day and held various competitions for children of all ages. Last year, Mahira managed to reach the finals for Carrom, but lost her last game. She had never been more devastated. Since that day she swore she will not lose again in this competition. She practiced more, challenged as many friends and relatives she could find to a game, and worked on improving her concentration skills and hand dexterity. It was all worth it, for that week in June when she would get to finally prove her mettle to all. She had managed to win the initial matches and now was gearing up for the finals to be held that weekend.

She went to the old sports room in the neighbouring apartments where the competition was to be held. With 3 children, her family could not spend on a big fancy carrom board with accessories for her, especially when they had other important expenses towards the brothers. So this was where she came everyday to practice. She had made quite a lot of friends there. An otherwise shy girl, carrom was her only source of friends. They were all impressed by her abilities, and loved to play with her. No one minded losing to her; she was a sweet, fun-loving girl passionate about her game, never haughty and always quick to help the learners. They all looked forward to having her around, and were even gunning for her in the competition. Since the people of Megha Apartments knew and trusted Mahira, they even allowed her access to the room unattended.

When Mahira reached the room, she found it the door wide open and a few lights on. It was a large hall, with some table tennis equipment, and lots of tables for indoor games like scrabble, chess, pictionary, carrom, cards. There was an adjoining room for squash, and 3 huge lawns outside for cricket, tennis, football and badminton. It was a Friday afternoon during summer vacations, so a few 8-yr-old kids were playing table tennis inside (or trying to). Mahira smiled at their efforts to keep the ball on the table, and went on to occupy her favourite table with her favourite board.

Suddenly she heard some noise. There was a small toilet in the corner of the hall, near the carrom tables. It was hardly used by residents, as it was dingy and smelly. The servants, watchmen, drivers etc occasionally used it. At first Mahira dismissed the noises to be that of some servant using the toilet. She was embarrassed to hear the noises, which she thought were not her business. But soon when they turned into apparently painful moans, she could not stand it any longer. Emboldened by the 2 boys playing TT (she was not alone in case anything WAS wrong) she slowly made her way towards the half open door of the bathroom, to see the most shocking sight of her life.

A young guy with a stubble, dressed in trousers and shirt, head tilted towards the ceiling, eyes closed, moaning away, was shaking his hand vigorously near his waist, holding on to something Mahira could'nt see properly. And then it suddenly came into view, as Mahira let out a gasp, and the man let it go in a fright… Mahira had never seen ‘it’ before, though she knew about it. She did not understand what was happening, but in a second she felt sick: she knew something was not quite right. She ran out of the door, the guy running out after her shouting “Please don’t tell anyone!!”

And Mahira ran. Ran like crazy. Faster than P.T. Usha! She ran and ran till she entered the gates of her apartments. She looked back to make sure that crazy guy was not following her. He wasn’t. She was relieved. She ran farther to her doorstep, rang the bell continuously till her flustered mother opened the door, ready to give a piece of her mind to the person who was disturbing her afternoon siesta. But Mahira did not have time to listen to yet another scolding from her mother. She ran up straight to her room (thankfully she did not have to share her tiny room with her brothers), and collapsed on the bed. Never the religious type, even on the eve of any match, suddenly she started to chant all the prayers she ever knew, to ward off the evil she carried with her from that room. But to no avail. Even after 15 minutes she was still sweating, breathing heavily, unable to forget the scene which was playing in her mind over and over. She felt sick, but had nothing in her stomach to puke out. Her mother came to her room and on finding it locked, started banging on the door and shouting “What happened Mahi?” But Mahira did not reply. She just broke into quiet sobs, not knowing why she cried, why she felt guilty, when she had done nothing.

She did not emerge for lunch. She did not go out in the evening. When 7 o clock came, they all asked her to come out and go for the final match. But she was petrified of entering that room again. What if that guy was still there waiting for her? She opened the door and mumbled something about not feeling well. Her parents checked her temperature… she was running 100 degrees fever. They decided to let her rest. She was glad that she developed fever, and could avoid the match. She stayed in her room all that week, going out only to use the bathroom or have food. Her parents could not understand her behaviour. They assumed she was just unwell. The boys were glad to have the TV all to themselves. They were happy to get rid of their kid sister who was more of a pest to them. The mother was happy to have one less mischievous child to run after, and the father was sad, to see his little princess so glum. He tried to talk to her a few times, and cajole her to play a few rounds of carrom, but she flatly refused. She was distant and awkward with him. In just a few days they had grown apart and he would never know why. Finally he gave up and went back to his own bleak empty world, alone. And Mahira never played carrom again.

Over the next few weeks, Mahira took up studies with full frenzy, forgetting about everything else. Though everyone was happy to see her dedication towards studies, there were some who missed the passion Mahira had for her game. Especially her teachers. “Mahira is doing well in math, Mrs. Sharma, but she has lost total interest in carrom… Do you know what happened?” Ofcourse I know what happened, Mrs. Mehra thought, she has finally grown up and over her silly obsession and realised that studies are the most important thing.

And so the chapter of Mahira and her carrom was closed. Most people regarded it as a passing phase, a sign of growing up. Her mother was happy the child was not spending all her time on games, and took up this opportunity to hone her home-making skills. After all who wants a sports woman at home, cooking and homemaking are more important skills than anything else.

And Mahira forgot about carrom and spent all her time helping her mother, studying, and occasionally taking a walk in the park. She stopped meeting the few friends she had. After a few days of asking about her, they also gave up. She was afraid to see other people, she was afraid they could see the guilt on her face, that they could look at her and know what happened that day in that room. God knows what torture she went through to avoid looking at or talking to people at home or in school. She kept to herself. Spent all her time in her room, slept fitfully at night, haunted by the dark room with the evil man. Her reticence went unnoticed, since she was usually shy around people.

This went on for a few months, after which they shifted their house to Ghaziabad where they had finally bought their own house. With a change of scenery and people, Mahira finally found the courage to forget that incident and move out of the house and make friends. They cycled around, played various sports and hung out at the happening spots. Her family was happy to see her old self once again, though no one dared to mention the C word again.

And Mahira was happy as this place had no sports room. She never told anyone about that incident, or that she played carrom. Maybe she would find the courage to tell someone some day, maybe after a few years she would forget about it completely. Or maybe she would one day be able to look back and laugh at the incident. But for now she was at peace, having laid her demons to rest. She was free from that room, that man, that moment, forever. Now I never have to play carrom again, she thought, with a grim but relieved smile.

15 comments:

Yashika Totlani said...

Wow... thats one unconventional story! And an awfully sad one!! Okay here's what I thought of it:

People have their share of fright when they first discover facts about... well... human anatomy. And to discover it this way would obviously be devastating. Although, what you did to poor Mahira after that was plain tragic. Why should an incident that happened one afternoon weigh so heavy on her mind till the end of time? Yes, aftereffects do linger... but to not play carrom her entire life?? Thats unrealistic. And then to become a social recluse is even more chimerical. She couldve given up the game for a while, but later should've picked it up from there. Should've overcome her fears and won the championship. And what about the poor dad? He deserved to have his best friend back! And Mahira deserved to pursue her passion for as long as she wished...

Then again, this is just my view on how the story should've ended. Me being me, am a sucker for happy endings :)

Not to mention, I enjoyed reading this one. Despite my slight unhappiness with the direction it took, the flow of text was fluid. You're a good storyteller... clear about the idea and articulate. The story was fast paced and enjoyable. Wouldnt mind more of these on this blog :) Keep 'em coming aditi :)

Sugar&Spice said...

@ YAshika.. Thanks for teh comment, my most loyal reader.
Now to counter it...

Different people have different capacities and strategies to deal with a situation. A shy girl, with not teh best relation with family, Mahira could not atke it well and became a recluse. For her, that room symbolised her passion, and now she associated a horrible memory with it. Since she had nowhere to go, she gave up carrom only. And she became a recluse as she was shy to begin with. The few friends she had was pretty much thanks to the game. Whem she gave it up, she ended up losing teh friends too. But she did not care much about losing friends, she was hit harder by loss of her passion.
And lastly about teh father... well lets say i took some "creative liberties" and made it kinda extreme.
I know its sad and an unconventional twist, but i think everyone has had sob stories turning into happily ever after. What happened to Mahira could easily happen to anyone, my story's a piece of life baby, and life's like that, like it or not!

but thanks again for your frank comments. They only help me in writing better!!

Jas said...

Well written. Young kids kind of go through this sense of fear during that age.

Keep writing.

the lazy knight said...

I think i need to commence this comment with a set of apologies - first, for not commenting on the last few posts on this blog even though i was pushed in the direction of reading them by a certain someone
second, for replying to the comments you left on my pieces a few months back. unresponsiveness is not the best way to build loyalty amongst the readers :)

coming to your piece, i think i shall make two points - one structural and one on content. structurally, i have found blogs to pose limitations to the art of short story writing. my short stories have completely dried up ever since i started active blogging (which is a bit of shame if u ask me) - you can serialize your short stories on a blog but somewhere it tends to lose interest and link of the reader. also, a blog space sort of restricts the narrative and being the measure of instant gratification (or instant outlet) that it is often rushes a writer to a conclusion. i think it was brave on your part to make the attempt and i can say that with some degree of weight because it is a thought that i have considered and often abandoned.

my second point is on content and it perhaps leads from the first - sexuality and how you first experience it, is something that isnt written too much of in indian short stories. i think your piece is relevant, but not deep enough. i wont go as far as to say that the reaction of the girl was extreme - kids tend to do that when they come across something disturbing, they tend to withdraw into their shells. what is missing though is an exploration of the reasons; what goes on in a young girl's mind who lacks a support system to understand the physical changes she sees around herself; i know from my experiences boys are a little uncouth, even though shy, about these matters. girls are generally more sensitive, though how they handle is a subject rich in scope for thought for a writer.

a good attempt...keep writing, and next time, deep dive :)

Sugar&Spice said...

@ jas... thanks, keep visiting.

@aftab.. first of all apologya ccepted, you can make up for everything but commenting and replying more often and i will do the same!!
as for teh comment, thanks for lauding my attempt. i agree.. i prolly dint end it as well as i wd have liked to. the thing is that im a pretty verbose person and i tend to go on n on even while writing. which i wanted to avoid so i tried to be short, and i guess i took it too far... without delving deep into the goings on in mahira's mind. will take care to think through better next time!
thanks for visting and commenting, and keep up teh feedback, really appreciate it!

Cynical Consultant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cynical Consultant said...

This went on for a few months, after which they shifted their house to Ghaziabad where they had finally bought their own house...

To continue... here is my fantasy endingGhaziabad was interesting. The roads were bumpy and narrow. Then even had their own smell. On the horizon to the east, she could see a huge landfill, kilometers wide. It looked like a hill from the main road. Sometimes, against the setting sun, she would see the black silhouette of a dog running across this hill and thousands of crows taking flight.

A kilometer ahead was the Ghazipur poultry market; Again a different smell. When she would return from school, tired and sleepy, she would know exactly where she was just by the various smells. She knew she was almost home when the bus took a right from the leather factory.

But she was thankful. All these different smells, although unpleasant, kept her distracted. She was also thankful for her new school. No one there knew that Mahira was a carrom champion. To the students she was just another girl. Mahira found her new found anonymity refreshing. She made an effort to speak to everyone. She made friends effortlessly. 6 months passed. Mahira was well and truly settled in. All was well.

It was a Monday morning. Her school used to conduct weekly tests very Monday. Mahira finished her test in double quick time. She had worked hard for it and knew exactly where to shade the Deccan plateau in the map. She handed in her paper and when to the toilet. She entered one of the stalls and sat, quite happy with her test. Then, she heard sounds from the adjoining stall. It sounded like someone was breathless. She had seen her friend Minky suffer an asthma attack and she knew exactly what to do.

Mahira jumped to the rescue. She kicked the flimsy door to the stall like she had seen in so many movies. But nothing could have prepared her for what came next. It was her best friend, Rachna and she was shaking her hand vigorously near her waist. A gagging feeling came over Mahira and she ran out. Rancha called after her, “Mahi..wait..come back”. Mahi didn’t stop. Rachna called again, this time barking an order, “Mahi… stop. Now”.Mahira stopped, but didn’t turn around. Rachna said, “Mahi, lets talk. There is nothing to run away from”. Mahi didn’t say anyway. She wanted to say so many things. But somehow, the words didn’t come out.

Rachna spoke first. She said, “Baby… what you saw isn’t a bad thing. It’s called masturbation and it is healthy. There is nothing wrong in doing it. Both boys and girls do it.” She continued, “My test wasn’t going well and I was panicking. This helps me calm down.” Mahira turned around. Her eyes were red, but she was listening. Intently. She wanted to know more about this phenomenon. She nodded, prodding Rachna on. Rachna said, “Remember how my mom keeps shouting at me and how I run inside my room and lock the door?”. Mahira nodded in affirmation. “It is because I lock the door and …you know… do my thing. Once I start, it doesn’t matter what mother says or how much she shouts. It’s wonderful. You should try it sometime.”And with that best friends Mahi and Rachna trooped out of the loo. Mahi looked at Rachna and said, “Hey… I never asked you. Do you know how to play carrom?”-THE END-

the lazy knight said...

cynical consultant - you v lived up to ur name ;)

Sugar&Spice said...

@akash... hahaha. very funny...interesting tongue-in-cheek comment, point taken. u kinda made fun of mahira, but nevertheless an interestingly unconventional ending to the story. thanks for visiting and commenting after so long!

Cynical Consultant said...

Thank you lazy night and aditi.
Stay tuned for chapter 2.

(2) Mahi and Rachna's first night spend

:P

Aditi Asthana said...

A very well written story! Very well expressed! I strongly believe that parents need to be frank with their chldren especially when they are at such an influential stage of life!
What Mahira was going through was nothing but a phase of shock. Even after seeing that man had she really gone and confided in her mom, she wouldn;t have ever gone into her cocoon. Shifting houses is only temporary, that image is etched in her mind and she should speak her mind out to somebosy may be her mother or someone else she would want to trust!
Its sad to see that she had to sacrifice such great talent in order to counter this incident!

Great job done girl! Well expressed! :)

Sugar&Spice said...

@aditi.. thanks for teh comment, i completely agree that education, especially sex education, starts at home, its high time indians take up teh responsibility of educating their children. ofcourse its a sensitive matter and many have debated for long how much to tell and when. that is an individual decision. but there should be not debate on whether something needs to be told to children. 50 years ago people knew about teh birds and bees when they were adults, about to get married. i came to know during my teenage. but today, with so much media and internet revolving around sex, kids are catching up and growing up faster than ever before. therefore the sooner we address issues teh better.

Sugar&Spice said...

@ akash... $#^%&^$$!!!!

Arslan said...

I read the whole story and all the comments! That itself is a minor compliment.. :)

I like the attempt. I do think Mahi's reaction could've been more positive and as a writer, you could've focused on what went through her mind more deeply.

I've written three very short stories on my blog. I would like it if you checked them out.

And LOL at cynical consultant's comment!! :D

Sugar&Spice said...

thanks arslan.. i agree with you, hope to do better next time. did read a few stories but before i cd comment, i clicked on somethin random and my comp got hit with a virus. will go back and comment. keep visiting!