Sinchan Chatterjee, Jadavpur University, India
“A madman’s epistles are no gospel”
(Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare)
“Thank you so much for taking up the case, madam. She’ll be here in a while. Her father is bringing her here straight from college. Please talk some sense into her, doctor. We’re prepared even for medications, if that is what it takes. Her semester exams begin next month, and then she’ll also have to apply abroad for her Masters…she just won’t sit down calmly for a minute, or talk to us. All she does is scribble weird shapes on her notebooks all day. She won’t even talk to me or her father, except to say those mad things”, Mrs. Das broke down, and cupping her teary face inside her palms, she put her head down on the psychiatrist’s desk and went on sobbing.
“It’s all going to be fine, Mrs. Das. You don’t need to worry”, Miss Sumita Seal tried to console the weeping mother with a gentle pat on her shoulder, although in her heart of hearts she knew she had never dealt with such an intriguing case in a child, in the few months that she had been practising.
After a brief while, when Mrs. Das had recovered her composure slightly, she lifted her head up and attempted to put on a feeble smile. Then, she continued, “We initially thought she was just being a kid…even when she had been younger, she would often say these things. She’d say she could see the future, and smell what was to come, and sometimes she would just stay up all night writing things down or sticking notes all over her wall. She spent all day locked up in her room, reading fiction and all that. She spoke about the stories with so much energy as if they were real.
She said she was preparing for something, that we all must prepare…the time was near. Everything was still under control then – we would laugh it off, or I’d just hug her thinking this was her secret way of asking for affection. You know how children are, right?”
Miss Sumita nodded slowly in agreement. “So, when did things first start to get suspicious?”
A frown came over Mrs. Das’ face. She licked her dry lips and letting out a heavy sigh, resumed, “Sometime around last year, she started acting very differently – she chopped off her hair herself, stopped wearing make-up, woke up very late and skipped a lot of classes. Her scores started to drop, and her teachers complained she hardly studied for any of the tests. All that was still okay, but…”
“But?” the keen eyes of the doctor in the white coat stared questioningly into the elderly woman’s on the other side of the desk.
“But soon…my husband and I, we started hearing strange sounds. Drishti would keep her room locked all the time; but one night, I woke up, startled by the noise of heavy music gushing from her room. I got up and checked the clock, and thinking she might have fallen asleep and forgotten to switch off her music system, I went upstairs to her room. The door was not locked, surprisingly, and I only gently pushed it and it opened with a creak. I was shocked by what I saw, and I started screaming in fear, so my husband had to wake up too and come upstairs.” Mrs. Das stopped, and pouring some water from the flask on the desk into a glass, she drank it in hurried gulps.
“Relax, Mrs. Das. What did you see?” Miss Seal asked.
“Drishti was completely naked. She was standing on the bed, and going around in circles, her head bobbing up and down. It seemed as though she was talking to someone before I came, and she didn’t even have her phone near her. She went on speaking, as if in a trance. She didn’t even notice when I had come in, switched on the light and turned the music off. She went on dancing, as if she could still hear the music. When I held her by her hands and shook her, she fell onto the bed, unconscious, asleep. I pulled the blanket over her and switched off the light. The rest of the night, I lay beside her, but I could not sleep for a second.”
The doctor sat up straight in her chair, and folding her arms together, she pondered over everything the frantic mother had just told her. “I see”, she said finally. “Did you talk to her about it the next morning?”
“Yes. She said she had no memory of it, and denied talking to anybody. She was a little ashamed when she saw me lying beside her in the morning, especially when she realised she was not wearing any clothes. But other than that, she said she had no clue what was up.”
Miss Sumita started biting her lower lip, and narrowing her eyes, she fixed her gaze on the left corner of the ceiling. Turning abruptly to look at Mrs. Das, she asked, “So things never got too out of hand after that, I presume? When did these signs recur?”
Mrs. Das turned her head this way and that, trying desperately to recall something. “Oh, yes. It was last month. She said it herself. Drishti came to me and told me she was hearing things…voices…which told her the truth before time, or something…”
“Did she tell you what voices exactly?” the doctor demanded.
The bell rang, and Miss Sumita got up from her chair to open the door. “Come in, please”, she said and waved Drishti and her father inside the room, and then closed the door back. Resuming her place on her own seat, she said, “Please make yourselves comfortable”, and motioned the newcomers to sit on the chairs.
“Hi, Drishti. How was your day at college?”
“I don’t understand why I am here”, said the young girl in a blue top and grey jeans. There was a stern, cold look on her face, almost one of those expressions which children show when their parents take them to the dentist, with threats or with empty lures of sweet lollipops. Drishti had short, spiky hair on her head, and there were dark, brownish circles under her eyes. It seemed as though she had not slept in a long time.
“Calm down, Drishti”, Miss Seal tried to speak in as cordial a manner as she could adopt. “Your parents are just worried you do not get enough sleep. You see, it’s perfectly natural at your age. But…your mother says it’s been affecting your health?”
“I don’t understand how it is your concern…or theirs. I’m perfectly okay on my own.” Drishti got up from the chair and was about to walk out of the room, when her father pulled her back down into the chair.
“Have you been hearing voices, Drishti?” Miss Seal asked coolly, as if hearing voices was as natural as brushing your teeth.
Drishti shifted uncomfortably in her plastic chair. She writhed in discomfort, like a wild animal caught in a net.
Sensing her discomfiture, Miss Sumita asked Mr. and Mrs. Das to wait outside the room while she spoke to the girl. The parents nodded their heads and obeyed.
When they had left the room and shut the door behind them, Miss Sumita asked again. “Do you hear voices? Think of me as a friend, please. I’m not your doctor. You do not have a disease. It’s perfectly natural and human to sometimes hear things… everybody does.”
Drishti’s cold glance suddenly gave way to an altogether fiery look. She spoke in a raised voice now: “You understand nothing. I hear voices of the Truth. I know how things will happen before they have happened. These voices tell me everything – they are my informers, my spies.”
“I understand”, said Miss Sumita, nodding gently. “Your mother told me you said you see things too?”
Drishti did not answer this time. Instead, she looked all over, around the room, carefully examining all that was in the chamber. She then turned her gaze outside, through the window. In the sky, the grey clouds that had been congregating since the morning seemed to grow darker than ever now.
“Please help me, Drishti. I’m not trying to harm you – I just want to know. I won’t tell anybody. Did you ever see anything like that, from the future?” she asked, extremely seriously.
Drishti broke out into a peal of laughter. “You’re making it sound like a child’s game.”
“I’m sorry”, the doctor said as she let out a sigh. Then, thinking she had reached an impasse, she stayed quiet for a while.
The silence was broken by Drishti, who suddenly began to blurt things out. The doctor started to take down notes. “I have visions sometimes. I clearly see images of the future – all the dead lying hand in hand, blood smeared all over the earth. The green leaves turn red, the oceans and seas all turn red. Not one man is left alive; everybody perishes, nothing remains…a barren desert is nearing us. One sandstorm at a time, it approaches. The warriors drop, pierced by their own arrows. All fights end forever – eternal peace. A huge grinder, its plug connected to the Heavens, feeding off the power from the thunder – and all men and women and children flung inside the churning cauldron like fruit pulp – the fibre of their corpse is twisted out on one end, and their impure blood drops from the other end, like red rain from the blood clouds.”
Miss Sumita’s voice choked in her throat. She feebly uttered something she herself could not hear. In front of her, the little girl sat with closed eyes. Her eyeballs moved rapidly, almost supernaturally fast, and her breathing was quick and heavy. She was gently shaking her head, as if to the lilt of some inaudible music, and suddenly, she broke into a smile, and started mumbling things to herself.
“Drishti…are you okay?” she asked.
The girl went on shaking her head – slowly increasing her pace, until she seemed under the clutches of some frenzy. “It is coming, it is coming. It is here. I can hear the knock on the door. Open the door, somebody open the door, or it will be broken down”. There was a diabolical grin on her face that terrified Miss Seal.
She called her assistants immediately, and prepared to inject the sedative if it became extremely necessary.
“Drishti! Is that you? Are you okay?”, Miss Sumita shook the girl roughly by her arms. Her eyes were still closed. Gathering her nerve, the doctor went up closer to try to get the girl to open her eyes. The moment she touched her forehead, a ripple of current flowed into her flesh, strong enough to electrocute her. Her hair stood on an edge.
Drishti had opened her eyes. They were red in colour, the kind of red that comes on when you haven’t slept in a week. Drishti held the doctor’s hands tightly in her grip, and did not let go of her clutch. When the assistants came in, they had to pull the doctor to tear her away from the girl’s grip. There were white marks of fingers all over her hand. The woman had started crying. Drishti went on laughing madly. She seemed possessed now; she was no longer herself. Her voice sounded different and her face grew pale and her lips turned blue.
“It has happened before. It will happen again – the apocalypse. Everybody was trying to tell you about it – you shut your ears out and pretended it was not happening. I was everybody – I was the men and the women. I came back from time to time, bits of me scattered all over the earth and blown like dust into the wind. I was Jeremiah the weeping prophet, and Muhammad, whose family would be betrayed and slaughtered, and the Messiah that was sold for thirty pieces of silver, the Joan of Arc that my own men left for dead, the Moses that his own brother opposed, the Tiresias whose voice all men heard but whose words none listened to. I was born over and over, but each time either too soon or too late.”
The thunder struck loudly all of a sudden, but the little girl’s voice rose louder and louder like an oracle, drowning the rumbling of the clouds.
“I came back – I was Cassandra in Greece. My lover Apollo gave me this gift of foresight, but my curse was that nobody would believe me. My own father did not trust me, he locked me up in an attic to rot and die like a madwoman. I escaped, and I came to you Grecians for help — I told you I saw my own death, and you just pushed me into it – you let me die. I saw the same signs then — I bleated madly, beating my own heart, bleeding it dry for you to hear my prayer. And you shut your doors on me. None of you came forward to save me. None of you cared to listen, to think, to ask. And that was how I took my revenge – by presaging my own death, I was able to prove the truth of my life. Everybody believed then – when they matched my words with the way I died, the ignominious way they slaughtered me as a slave – everybody trusted me then. But it was too late, too late then – and mankind must pay now. I tried to save them all, and nobody saved me. I gave my entire life for those who would pay to watch me slaughtered at the guillotine, stoned at the gates of the city, hanged in the centre of the city as a spectacle to watch, made fodder for the vultures. I have waded through centuries and swum through futures. I must speak what I hear. I must be true, although I may find nothing in return but closed doors and clicking tongues.”
The doctor and her assistants had managed to hold her shaking body down, pinning it onto the bed. The convulsions were so strong, they shook the entire bed, and the two men had to tie the girl to the bed. She screamed, as if in tremendous agony.
“You shall pay for your sins, all of you disbelieving masses. Your time shall come…”
Miss Sumita had brought out the syringe and prepared the dose – she held Drishti’s arm tightly and rubbing some spirit on her vein with a chunk of cotton, she injected the medicine into the girl’s arm.
Sitting at her desk and pulling out her prescription pad, Miss Sumita’s eyes went back to the red marks left on her hand by the struggle. “Schizophrenia. Positive/psychotic symptoms – hallucinations, delusions, fits. God complex? Test results awaited.”
It had started raining now, and the first, lone drop of rain hit the window pane, and sticking where it had fallen for a brief while, it began to slowly trickle down the polished glass surface.
The raging voice started to die down slowly, on Drishti’s lips, until they stopped moving altogether, and she fell asleep. When her parents were finally allowed to enter the room, her mother was in tears, and her father was trying in vain to calm her down. The mother kneeled at the feet of her child, and touching them with her forehead, felt how cold they were, and how distant.