I was never very fond of the shades they used in the hospitals to create the so called ‘soothing influence’ on the psyche of the patients. The influence it ever left on me was anything but calming. Air tight enclosed wards flooded with air conditioners choked my very desire to breathe. The extremes of cleanliness all over the place threatened to erase every single memory of my childhood in a flash. ‘White’ was a symbol a peace for me before they incarcerated me into the confines of oil painted, well polished white walls they brazenly called as hospital ward.

The ‘white’ did not limit itself to the walls; the uniform they wore, the bed sheets they so warmly provided us with, the paint they used on the iron rods of the minimally designed bed, the equipments they stuffed in our throats or pierced our skin with. It was hard to see a thing bereft of white, the shade they devotedly called as the colour of compassion. Though only purpose it served was reminding repeatedly to me that death was ever so near, denying me the access to even a single moment of what normal people called as hope. But for all their obsession with white, they installed those green coloured curtains everywhere, shutting off every single window with precision, stifling every single urge that originated in some isolated dark corner of my heart trying to make me feel that I am like other normal individuals. And amid all this, the sky blue uniform they gave us to wear found itself wretchedly helpless to convey anything but ‘white’!

Anyway, I am Prithvi, a 28 year old man, a patient at a premier government psychiatric hospital. I have lung cancer. Smoking is not as cool anymore as it appeared 10 years ago.  Doctors say I might not be able to see this Christmas; not that I am very religious! Well, it's January at present. Quite a pleasant month for many; not for me! I am not in a psychiatric ward for cancer of course. It is due to the darkness so graciously associated with my life that I am here. Darkness has been my favorite shade for quite some time now, for it mingles with my life with ridiculous ease. They call it depression, the doctors.

It’s a small five bed ward they have confined me to. My bed is on the leftmost side of the room, with four other beds on my right giving way to the large white coloured door of the ward. The two patients on rightmost two beds didn’t talk to anyone. Sisters told me that one of them was having this delusion of persecution making him to suspect every person’s intentions as suspicious. Any sane person would have labeled him as the most suspicious in the lot. But then, it was not meant to be a place for sane people! One could always question the definition of sanity, if they had any. Anyway, the other one she told me was supposedly a patient of obsessive compulsive disorder. He was relatively happy in the neat and clean environs of the ward, but he did not care to spare a moment for a talk. I wasn’t keen to talk to anyone either. So, that was perfectly okay to me.

The bed on my immediate right was occupied by Qayoom Siddique whom I called as Qayoom bhai, a middle aged individual who was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after he witnessed a violent riot in his home town some two months ago. He looked quite normal to me now. He was the ‘only’ person who would talk to me, well, before something happened!

A girl was transferred to my ward two days ago. Her name was Agatha. She was about my age or thereabout. Long face, fair complexion, big eyes, shoulder length dense black straight hair, thick voluminous perfectly carved out lips, she had everything an average Indian girl would ever strive for, barring one thing, expressions. Her facial expressions communicated very little, if any, about her ongoing mental state. It was amazing how her face expressed the lack of expressions so profoundly!

She had a cancer of mysterious origin. Doctors opined that she was a case of multiple mutations. They assumed that the origin of her cancer lay in her genes, supposedly due to mutations in some crucial segments of her genetic wiring. It was complicated, to say the least. There was something strange about her. She did not feel anything, neither good nor bad. Doctors said that it might be due to the anomaly that she had in her genetic chip. They were trying to find out the exact reason behind her strange behavior. They called her 'The Curious Girl', for she didn't feel either negative or positive about things. She didn't love or hate. She just remained curious. Patients in the ward thought that she was just another crazy girl. I wasn’t entirely sure if they were wrong!

She came to me on the very first evening as she asked the reason for my hospitalization. ‘It was due to the darkness that surrounds me’ I said.

'Darkness amazes me too’, she replied in her gentle, slow and soothing voice. ‘The other day I was sleeping and I woke up due to some noise. I tried to find out where it was coming from. Suddenly a rat bustled from a dark corner of the room towards the window and the bright rays of moonlight coming from the window fell on it. And there it was. I found the reason behind the disturbing noise’, she said with the curiosity of a child, at least that was one expression she could flaunt. ‘But I could not sleep for the rest of the night’, she continued. ‘I was taken by the magic of darkness. It is amazing how darkness absorbs the existence of things and turns them to nothingness. I wonder if darkness is as powerful as brightness. I kept on thinking about it the whole night and couldn't stop wondering why. I still wonder.' 

I was awestruck, taken aback completely by her weird observation. Of course it did not conform to mine by a large distance, but she had stirred my clogged cognitive facilities with her strikingly strange thought process.

I didn’t say a thing to her after that, just kept on looking on those big eyes of her, wondering why they saw things so differently. She looked back into my eyes with a deep rooted curiosity that defied every logic I ever knew of, and definitely the social norms laid down by our ‘sane’ society regarding first meeting with anyone stranger. Qayoom bhai looked at us while we were staring into each other’s eyes like lunatics, justifying our presence in the attendance registers of the mental ward. He broke the continuity and alignment of my gaze as he coughed a couple of times, not even pretending to suggest that it was natural. I broke the eye contact immediately that was threatening to hypnotize me. She turned around immediately without saying another word, making her way to the middle bed of the ward, on the righter side of Qayoom bhai, preparing to go to sleep.

‘Prithvi Miyan, what was happening there?’ Qayoom bhai couldn’t resist his temptation to ask as he whispered to me.

‘I don’t know.’ I replied him politely.

‘Stay away from the girl’, Qayoom bhai muttered ever so slightly. ‘Either she is a crazy girl or a witch’, he warned me with the authority of an elder brother, wearing some fine lines of unambiguous suspicion on his lean, wrinkled and well shaven face.
‘Yes, I will’, I said to him with utmost respect.

‘Time for talking is over. It’s time to sleep’, one of the sisters, who was doing the rounds of the ward said to us with her flashy smile as she caught us whispering to each other. It was hard to differentiate between a hospital ward and a prison. Both snatched away the freedom in the name of welfare. Meanwhile, both of us obliged her without delay, not that we had a choice!  We prepared to sleep, instantly pushing the fettered envelopes of white bed sheets across our deserted faces.

continue here...

The Curious Girl: Chapter 2
The Curious Girl: Chapter 3

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2 Responses so far.

  1. This is a story I wrote almost 2 years ago, but never published. Hope it is liked :)

  2. having read your book, i am already a fan sir. And after going through this story, i am only craving for more.. and this also shows your versatility across genres... Hats off Sir...

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