Medha



impossible is achieved
one small step every day
a miracle is easy
when you’re just a step away

 

Medha was an organized woman. She lived on a schedule. It wasn’t a conscious diary marked time table, more a practised daily routine.

Having lost her parents very young to an adoption agency, she had been raised with the help of an NGO*, by the agency itself. Ms. Dharini, the able tartar who managed the orphanage, had tried long and hard to get rid of her.

But Medha had nothing to recommend herself to a couple looking for a child to love. She was small and dark and unprepossessing to look at. Her hair was uncertainly curly, a shade of mousy brown that, freshly washed, looked like a dirty crow’s nest. She didn’t smile, showed neither charm of manner, nor cute lovability. She was mostly just there.

And so she grew older and older, if not much bigger, just here and then, just there. Her teenage passed without comment, she studied for an indifferent degree in general commerce and her adulthood bloomed without fanfare.

Medha The Adult stepped into the world during the BPO* boom in Chennai and was recruited as part of a huge drive to rope in every graduate humanoid in the country and crush their spirit. With money in return, of course. Her orphanage thankfully handed her some money and exit documents and turfed her out.

Medha was trained to become Megan. She was the chosen One, to be part of a credit card sales support team of an unknown bank. Unknown to her, and strangely, also unknown to the customers she talked with. They demanded to know why a credit card they didn’t want had been shipped to their houses. They all asked the same question day-in and day-out and poor Megan was in tears at the end of her first week.

Customer support has to be one of the most stressful jobs in the planet. Marketing methods are getting more unnecessary, unethical, expensive and crappier every second and companies are responding to escalating complaints by increasing their customer support base. So there is someone who forsakes their personality and happiness to adopt a fake foreign name and accent, then listen all day to irate people from different continents. Dream job what? But survival is a very strong instinct indeed and when faced with a government that doesn’t give a damn, and fates much worse than death, we tend to make do and not ask stupid questions about “what is the most suitable career for my personality type”.

Medha made do. Having listened to mostly unhappy people all her life tell her how worthless she really was, we can say she had plenty of practice. She learned to tune out the longwinded callers, callous out the abusive ones, and exploit the meek ones.

Besides Medha was naturally organized, and that was a very good strategy to beat the stress. She had a clinical daily routine. 10 am she woke. Fed Poonai*, the neighbourhood ginger tabby, went to the terrace to stare at passing traffic till 12 p.m. Then she cooked instant noodles for lunch on her gas stove, ate it at 12:30 p.m. After lunch, she went to the community room of the ladies hostel and watched whatever everyone watched on TV till 5pm. She fed Poonai again, changed, locked up her tiny room, and went to work, reaching at 6p.m. On her Sundays off, she slept longer.

Medha finished her daily shift at 2 a.m every morning. She didn’t care if the caller wasn’t finished at the end of the day, she was. She picked up her bag and walked out precisely at 2 a.m. She walked to the lift in a straight line, to the cab in another straight line. Like light, Medha travelled in straight lines. When she turned corners, you could take a set square and measure a near perfect 90 degree at the turning. She returned to the hostel around 2:30 a.m and slept.

One day Medha met Harish. Or rather, Megan met Matt. Medha’s experience with the opposite sex was, for want of a better word, non-existent. Not the brightest card in the pack, she had neither beauty nor style, ambition nor charm, organized hopelessness being her raison’d’etre.

But in the mysterious ways of male female chemistry, Harish a nice looking, smooth talking, street savvy bloke took an interest in Medha, that developed rapidly into an insistent tendre. Medha wasn’t sure what hit her, but she was deliriously happy about it. She felt for the first time in her life like a person, part of the world, part of a couple, something bigger than herself, an object of envy and enjoyment, somebody. She followed Harish around like a puppy, did whatever he asked, though never that. He, of course, wanted her to have sex with him.

She was scared enough about losing her virginity and her virtue to refuse. In India, the virtue of a woman is all about being sexually starved. The more starved you are, the more virtuous you become. It’s a linear progression. Medha currently at the pinnacle of virtuousness was unwilling to give it up for an experience she doubted she would enjoy. Harish was nice enough but he slobbered a bit much, and groped her to discomfort. She loved him with a worshipful absorbing devotion, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it.

Harish waited patiently for three months, hoping he would wear her down enough to put out. He underestimated the virtuousness of a disinterested woman. Medha was firm on that point, although willing to concede every other. Harish finally got tired of her and moved on to the next easy target.

Medha was crushed. Crushed, beaten and defeated. Having become a somebody, she could no longer go back to being a nobody with any satisfaction. It never occurred to her to question his departure. She assumed she deserved it. She was grateful he had spared three months of his life for a worthless creature like her.

Her daily routine, though, did not suffer an inch in heartbreak. There is nothing sadder than going to sleep every night knowing the next day isn’t going to bring any joy. After accomplishing this task stoically for twenty years, for the first time in her life, Medha could no longer do it. Her nights were now sleepless and the days that followed living nightmares in aimlessness.

It never occurred to her that any other man might be interested in her or that there could be life beyond the man-woman relationship. It was the only relationship she had ever had, the only one she had known and it was over.

Gradually Medha came up with a plan. She marked her calendar with a big red marker, borrowed from her office. 31st March would be the dress rehearsal. 1st April D-Day.

There was an apartment building near her hostel, a high rise of 15 floors. There was a grassy patch where one would land with minimum mess. Yes, it was all really quite easy, she didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

Medha had always been curious to know how death was different from life. Death, as we all are raised to believe, is the opposite of life. Perhaps she wanted to experience the opposite of her unhappy existence.

After a bit of enquiry amongst the more daredevil of her colleagues, she discovered an amusement park, optimistically named Summer Dreams* in the outskirts of the city, that provided a bungee jump of about 50 feet.

31st March at precisely 9 a.m, the park’s opening time, Medha was outside watching a woman sweep the entrance. She sat quietly and waited as they opened the park at leisure around 9.30. She was by then joined by a few couples getting an early start on the day’s romancing. They all stared curiously at her, a small huddled figure in salwar kameez* who had come to an amusement park all alone. Maybe boyfriend would join later.

Medha went straight to the bungee jump. A young man with minimal clothing and a cheerful air of superior-cocky was inside the booth, just settling himself for a mid-morning snooze. She looked in

“I want to try bungee jump”

He jumped off his chair with a clatter, and stared at her in ludicrous amazement. A small dark solemn girl with neatly tied braids in salwar kameez. She looked like an overgrown schoolgirl. His rare customers were either rich wannabes or young, mostly male, thrill seekers.

“WHAT? Why?”

She shrugged “Just want to know how it feels anna*”

“It costs 2000 rupees. Not safe for ladies!”

“Is it not allowed for ladies? The sign says both ladies and gents” she asked a little belligerently

“No no its allowed, but I am advising you…”

“Don’t worry anna.I will be fine.” She carefully extracted four neatly folded five hundred rupee notes from her purse and stuck them out at him.

His doubts receded somewhat. He was still inexplicably afraid of letting her jump, but he had no more grounds for objection. He led her sullenly to the artificially ancient 60 foot bridge over an artificial stream and strapped her into the harness and lifejacket, fastened and double checked the bowlines and the rope.

Finally Medha stood at the edge of the bridge ready to go. By then, a crowd of curious onlookers had gathered. The early-bird couples had abandoned their discrete lovemaking to come and watch, whispering to each other “She just doesn’t seem like the type. Very strange. Could be some mental problem! “. Medha was a little intimidated by all the attention. She had not realized bungee jumping was a big deal. She looked down. The water was waving lazily at her from down below. There was a man below on the shore wearing a life jacket. The water didn’t seem very far way to look at.

Medha felt no fear, just a gentle anticipation. She looked at the operator. Two more able bodied young men who looked like his twins had appeared magically by his side. The operator gestured to her, half-daring, half-uneasy, “jump”

She looked down and stepped off the bridge conversationally. It was painful. And exhilarating. This was how it felt to fly. Her arms were stretched out unconsciously as she rose at a terrific speed. Her right eye throbbed once and then it was over. The rope went taut and jerked her down, back to earth. After oscillating lazily a few times, she came to a hazy stop, and was pulled up slowly by the three men on top. Her body was very still. They untied her harness and tried to shake her awake.

She regained consciousness in a daze. Her face was wet. She wiped it with a groping hand. Someone had splashed her with water. She looked up the bungee jump operator and smiled. He suddenly wanted to hug her and cheer. Instead he looked away and stepped back to let her get up.

She stood up and walked shakily away from the stunned watchers, shaking her head vigorously to all offers of help.

The trial run went perfectly. Now she was dead. Almost. She felt hungry. Dead people did not eat, right?

Medha walked slowly out of the park. When she reached her humble abode, and unlocked her room, Poonai miaowed piteously. She looked down and decided to ignore him. Dead people did not notice or feed hungry cats. She went straight to her bed and lay down very stiff and straight, as she imagined a dead body might. She then tried to stop her mind from wandering.

She wanted ice cream. Wanted to pee. Her back itched, right between the shoulder blades. It was hot. The salwar material was abrasive. She wanted to switch the fan on. The sound of Poonai miaowing got on her nerves. Her eyes kept drifting to the clock to see how much time had passed. Barely any, the minutes were crawling. There was a complaint she was supposed to follow up with today at work. There was a yearly bonus due in a month or so. Was that the smell of gas? She tried to remember if she had shut off the gas before she left. All her money was in her account. She hadn’t even spent it before dying. What a waste. What if she had let Harish do what he wanted to her? Would she become pregnant? What would it be like to have a child?

MIAOWW

Poonai was scratching frantically at the door demanding he be noticed. His claws going scratch scratch against the cheap wood, along with the insistent miaow, gave the overall noise an added fillip in irritation quotient.

It would only take a minute to feed Poonai after all. She had already taken a bus, traveled across the city, walked to her room, why not one more live deed?

She restrained herself.

She must go according to the plan. Suffering was inevitable in life. She was dead right now. No suffering.

Her eyes once again stared blankly at the ceiling.

The ceiling was really dirty. She had never cleaned it in all the time she had the room. She felt a fleeting regret that she wouldn’t see it clean. She wondered what was on TV right then? If anyone in the TV room would miss her after she was gone. What were their names again? Who would take this room next? Would they feel her aura hanging around it? Would there be police to investigate tomorrow? Would anyone in office miss her?

Would Harish miss her? Would Ms.Dharini of the orphanage hear news of her death. Remember her? Miss her? Should she leave a suicide note?

All the people who hitherto had little or no significance in her daily life suddenly rose to consequence, flooding her restless mind with inconsequential memories and tiny regrets.

If only she had been a better person. Or prettier or friendlier or livelier or caring or stronger. What was the perfect kind of person?

Her stomach growled ominously.

She wondered what was there to eat in the kitchen. A slice or two of bread, biscuits. Even a packet of noodles perhaps. Her mouth watered. She relived the plunge down the bridge. Yes, a very satisfactory way to die. Tomorrow, there would be no rope. She would splat in the green patch at the back of the building. Possibly break all her bones. She shuddered. Hoped death would be instantaneous. She should have asked someone how long it would take to die that way…

The matron of the boarding house was vexed. Three people had not yet paid their rent and it was already the third of April. She went and knocked peremptorily at Medha’s door. There was no answer. She peered inside the window. Medha was curled up on the bed, asleep. She banged on the door harder, until it vibrated on its hinges, shouting “MAYDA MAAAYYDAAA”

Still no answer. Muttering to herself, about the new generation of girls, drinking and smoking and getting cozy with total rowdies* in HER apartment house. No decency. She went to her office, fished out the spare key of the room. She fitted the key to the door and turned it. It unlocked the door, but it was still bolted from inside. She banged on the door one last time. No response.

The landlady then extended her chubby hand carefully through the window, fumbled for the bolt on the door from the inside and released it. The door swung open. As she went towards the bed, the smell of death was unmistakable. She went to the motionless figure on the bed and shook it. It was stiff and cold. And blue.

She screamed and rushed out in a panic. Poonai watched unblinkingly from the window. Then he stuck his tail straight up in the air and stalked off. The landlady rung the police. Medha’s body was taken away in a superfluous ambulance.

A small column appeared the next day, in exactly one Tamil daily. A 22 year old girl was found dead in her room at a working women’s hostel. Could be suicide but the police were baffled. The cause of death could not be determined. Looked like she had just stopped breathing, although that was scientifically not possible…

****

NGO – Non-Governmental Organization
Poonai – Tamil for Cat
Anna – Tamil for Brother
Salwar Kameez – An Indian outfit
rowdies – Means ruffians. Not sure of originating tongue
Summer Dreams – Chennai has summer throughout the year, more of the nightmare variety

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7 Responses

  1. Wow ! that was engrossing. Excellent narration.

    Loved the way you got into the mind…or should I say got me into Medha.

    It was sort of grounded in reality – depressing – factual – stark.

    Love the way it went… I didn’t expect her to die… 😦

    as she tried bungee…thought *miraculously* she would have her attitude changed! Why did I do that? 😦

    I miss Medha :((

  2. Hi Estamani, I too thought that till the very end, but there was no other way to go really, there is no silver bullet. This story bummed me out big time 😦

    Thanks a lot for your feedback, for liking Medha :)!!

  3. That is a really well written short story. The character is original and complete and seems very real. The ending was sad but it made the story seem even more complete and true. Great writing.

  4. A pretty phenomenal story my friend. Powerful because and not in spite of it starkness! I did not expect a happy ending though.. and it wasn’t. Maybe I should try bungee jumping sometime 😀

  5. @Paul – Thank you Paul, thats a huge compliment coming from you :)!!!

    @Mia Culpa – Thanks darlin… Good to see you here 🙂 … I too was thinkin of trying bungee jumpin when i wrote it 🙂 …

  6. Apart from the fact that it’s brilliant – It’s your use of (what I think of) colloquial English that really amazes me. ‘Street savvy bloke’. We could live in the same street – not on opposite sides of the planet. But then the internet reduces space and distance to nothing – sort of.

    ~MM – HEELLOO Tooty, I hope you are powering on!! I used colloquial deliberately sometimes i am caught between two worlds, the queens english and my own tongue 😦 … yeah, the interwebs sure makes for awesome connections sometimes, Thank You :)!!

  7. Wow.. Gud one.. Gud Narration !! 🙂 Keep it up.. !!

    ~Thanks Prabha :)!

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