‘If mother had been calmer, I’d have owned up to my mistake’

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A series on true experiences

CHILDHOOD

WHEN I was a kid, I ate like a pig. There is no other way to put it. I would eat everything in sight. I was plump, not obese, probably because I enjoyed my sports as well.

I also read a lot. Loved it. It was the television of the 1970s. I would sit and read and eat. There was a deep connection between reading and eating. As I grew up, I discovered that I have a compulsive personality. These were the first signs.

My favourite time was probably the night. The house was silent. Nobody was there to tell me I “couldn’t”. At night, I could.

It was one of those nights. My mother had made a delicious mutton roast but we were not allowed to touch it. It was to be savoured the next day. Something about it being tastier that way.

When the rest of the house was silent, I got into the kitchen and decided that I would take just a little piece. I tore off a bit with my hand — why dirty a knife — and that was it. The disease says that the first one does the damage. Next thing I knew I was tearing at it. Total destruction. I just couldn’t stop!

Those days, we had a maid called Fabiani. I did not know or care much about her origins then, but now I realise that she must have been an Adivasi from Odisha or Jharkhand or somewhere. She was young, aged between 14 and 16.

Then came the morning after. My mother was having a fit and that was not good news. You had to be there.

All three children were silent in the face of this anger. I don’t know how it affected the other two, but then they had a clear conscience. They had not massacred the roast in the dead of night, sneaking into the kitchen like a thief. I had, and now I was petrified of the possible consequences.

My mother lined all three of us in the kitchen and asked us. She was really angry.

I have rationalised the next few events, saying to myself that if only she had been calmer I would have perhaps even owned up to it. Instead, I denied everything. To this day, I believe that my mother must have known. Why did she not force me to confess?

Because the consequences were terrible.

Illustration: Samia Singh

Getting nowhere with us and angrier by the minute, she called in Fabiani, who was shivering with fear and looking guilty because she was probably used to being blamed for things she had done or not done.

My mother asked her, asked us, asked her, looked at us. And then told Fabiani that she no longer had a job.

I still cannot believe that I did not have the courage to own up even then, but I didn’t. I needed to get through this time. Just wake up on the other side of this nightmare.

So this 14, 15 or perhaps 16-year-old tribal took the rap for my fear, left the house within minutes. Never to be seen again and quickly forgotten.

Except by me.

More than 30 years later, she persists like a worm in my brain. Whatever happened to her?

My self-centred self-flagellation allows for only the worst. Abandoned by us, falling into the wrong hands out of desperation, my imagination could only create a vision of doom.

That is my punishment. Not knowing. The only reality being what my guilty mind can come up with.

I have many amends to make in my life. There are people I have hurt and betrayed. Yet this one, the abandonment of Fabiani the tribal girl, causes me the most grief.

Because she never had a chance.

Arjun Joshi is 45. He is an education professional based in Delhi.

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