Chapter 12: But Will You
Some would have called her a child prodigy. She was a little over four, when in a cheerful classroom, while toddlers doodled away, she drew a strange creature. It appeared to be a bull, standing on its two hind legs, with frayed wings on its back and deadly looking horns. As the kindergarten teacher walked around the classroom, she was struck by this child’s work. On any other day, she would have been enthusiastic and proud to announce in the staff room (and perhaps years later, to anyone who would listen), that she was the first person to discover Tara Jain’s talents. But the sinister nature of the picture deterred her. She smiled to the child and said, “Sweetie, this is good. But why don’t you draw a star or a house?”
Tara smiled sweetly in return and proceeded to draw exactly those things.
When Tara was eight years old, her classmates would return from vacations and talk about having visited their cousins or grandparents. Tara’s mother also took her to many wonderful places, but she never spoke about them. She was an introvert and had hardly any friends. But the absence of cousins and grandparents in her life made her curious.
One day, she brought her report card home. Her mother looked at the dismal marks and sighed.
“A+ in Art. Hmph! I wish you focused just as much on other subjects.”
Tara looked at her mother’s weary eyes for some time. Then she said, “Mom, there’s a boy in my class. His name’s Rushit. His marks are way lower than this.”
“Now Tara, don’t tell me who’s doing worse, because that doesn’t make you sound better in any way!” her mother said sternly.
“No Mom, that’s not what I was getting at. Our class teacher said to him, ‘For this PTA meeting, you should bring your father. I don’t think speaking to your mother is helping. I need to speak to someone stricter this time.’”
“So?” Tara did not notice it, but her mother’s voice had begun to quiver a little.
“Mom, what if someday she says that to me? Who’s my father?”
“Your teacher called Rushit’s father, because fathers are strict and they scold and hit their children. Some children are blessed; they don’t have fathers. You tell your teacher that when she asks you.” Tara’s mother thrust the report card back into her hands and walked off saying the lunch is getting burnt on the stove.
Tara sat on the couch with questions still on her mind. Her mother stood in the kitchen, staring at an unlit stove, tears streaming down her face.
A few years later, a twelve-year old Tara was returning from school, when she heard a few catcalls and low whistles behind her. A few unkempt teenage boys walked behind her at a slow pace. Her heart began to thump and felt very heavy in her chest. She reached into her bag and brought out an umbrella, to use it as a weapon if need be.
“Chhatri na khol barsaat mein…” one of the boys sang, while the others laughed.
One appeared on her left and clicked his tongue. She increased her pace; so did he. “Oye sunn toh! Tu uss randi ki beti hai na? Your mother is a prostitute, right?”
Tara had no idea what he meant. Another one appeared on her right and said, “Oye hoye! I wonder what talents you have.” He smiled lecherously.
Tara was momentarily paralyzed. Her mind seemed numb, and her knees seemed to wobble. Tears were stinging her eyes. In an instant of clarity, Tara ran – as fast as her legs could carry her, as far away from the rowdy boys as possible. The laughter she heard behind her would haunt her for days and nights to come.
Upon reaching home, she flung her school bag across the room, picked up a paper and pencil and began to sketch. She sketched on paper after paper – of boys being murdered, of blood squirting from their mouth and eyes, of a monster feasting on them. When her mother returned home from work, she saw papers lying all around the hall. Sketches – fear-instilling sketches. Tara turned to her with a tear-stained, angry face and cried, “Who is my father?!”
“Tara –” she began calmly, when Tara charged at her, pencil in hand, nib poised to attack if she refused to answer.
Tara’s mother saw a wild look in her bloodshot eyes – a wild look she recognized, a wild look she saw in her mirror twelve years ago, the day the man she had trusted enough to naively give herself to, told her, “I am sorry. My parents have already arranged my marriage. Whatever we had was beautiful, but not meant to be. It’s so complicated, especially with our religious differences. You must forget me.”
Tara’s father’s departure left Tara’s mother devastated. She felt each day that she was dying, little by little. She felt that her heart had been physically scooped out, and the bleeding would never stop. A month after he left, she discovered she was pregnant. In a pathetic attempt to hold on to a little bit of him, she decided to keep the child. The year was 1982. The society was as unfriendly as it could possibly be. And yet, she loved him enough to forgive his betrayal. She loved him enough to hold the child, to see what features of his he had bestowed. She let go of her family and was shunned by the society, all for the love of a Keralite Christian man she had known so briefly.
Unfortunately, she did not know the repercussions it would have on Tara. Tara grew up aloof, without any friends, and seemingly disconnected from everything in the world except the strange pictures she drew. She did not quite know how to deal with people, even if they approached her and eventually, they would stop approaching. There were rumors that she had rage issues, that she could even get violent without much provocation. People seemed intimidated by her, as though her presence brought a certain negativity to the air around her.
One such day in college, when she sat and sketched in the lawn, she felt a prick under her right ear. Before she could react, the world spun around her and she felt herself losing consciousness.
She woke up, hands bound behind her, kneeling on the floor facing a strange picture of rabid
dogs feasting on baby Jesus.