I saw her while I was being diagnosed with dysthymia – a major depressive disorder - at St. Stephen’s Hospital in Gurgaon. Which is kind of ironic in its own right, seeing the facts and details.
She was old, very old, like a torn up person on her last legs, ready for her release. She had anterograde amnesia - the inability to form new memories - but that didn’t prevent her from latching on to her past. I wondered how she would feel if she was fully aware of reality, but then again not many people were as messed up as I was at that point in my life.
I guess it wasn’t really an interview as much as it was like eavesdropping into a memory house; I didn’t need a key for the lock. Maybe it was the dredging sense of familiarity that made me ask her who she was, and she wasn’t averse to oblige. She was from Jammu, the foggy mornings and distant hills being the only things that she cherished inside her diminishing memory- a child of nature. Three wars and countless sorties of violence seemed to have little effect on her perception, as her eyes grew misty when she imagined her long lost life in the Gurgaon desert, which is when she started telling me about her candy store on McMillan street.
She had been just a little girl back then, with ribbons in her hair and love in her heart, her innocence streaming through the riverine streets of Jammu, winding up into the hills in pre-independent India. I wonder if there was a kind of romanticism in that, but then hindsight is always more faithful. She told me how she would play hide and seek with her friends, and I thought to myself, man, if there’s one game that transcends time, it’s that. She went on in her faraway tone, describing the day when she accidentally barged into an old bicycle store while playing, and turned around to see a curious pair of eyes looking at her. It was a British man, staring at the little girl like she had dropped straight out of the sky, and his kind eyes captivated and intimidated her at the same time. Slowly, he asked if she wanted candy, and being too scared to say no, she faintly nodded, and the big man gave her a bicycle wench. Confused and scared, she just about had enough time to listen to a whispered “come back again,” before she ran out of the place as fast as her legs could carry her. Back home, she had no idea what to do with the wench, and she kept it under her bed, and in the morning she found a cinnamon stick instead of rusting iron.
The thought of going back scared her, but she did, and every time the mysterious man in the empty shop would give her a new item, which would turn into candy whenever she slept, for it was her candy shop, her own place of magical sanctity in the umbrella of misty Jammu. I believed her, there was no reason not to, and I think she noticed that. Then one day, she went to the shop and saw that it was shut, with a closed sign hanging over the entrance, and she stood for hours looking at it, at the sign which was never to be removed.
She trailed off after that, and her eyes grew listless, and upon regaining focus she looked at me like a stranger, and I realized that she had just forgotten everything she had just told me. Her granddaughter came after a while to pick her up, a pretty, modern girl who had grown up in Gurgaon malls, perhaps still having a little of the same innocence bereft of wonderment in her gait, but that’s just wishful thinking. I never saw her again, and I didn’t want to.
Avishek Ghosh is a third-year English Honours student at Hansraj College, University of Delhi. He frequently dabbles in magical realism, and watches too many movies for his own good.