A Brand New Personality

A Brand New Personality

“Maybe I’m cynical but I don’t think any of this stuff works for someone who is truly broken. Serves us better to keep barreling forward and hope the demons can’t keep up so you might as well be who you are,” said Cynthia in a matter-of-fact voice.

The man who sat across her in a swivel chair observed her from under a pair of jet-black thick horn-rimmed spectacles. He went by the name of Dr Mathews. He had a long face and large ears that perked up ,without provocation, every time someone spoke, making one almost think like he was eavesdropping. A thick mop of well-oiled and well-set hair fell on his forehead, almost covering his right eye. The skin over his face was pink and taut like someone had stretched his loose skin and clipped it behind his ears. His long, bony hands were covered with freckles and moles. His physical appearance made him look much older than the young man he was. Today he sat in his swivel chair, picked imaginary dirt from his pristine white suit and observed his patient surreptitiously.

She was Cynthia Lal. He ran a lazy eye over her. From top to bottom right from her hair to her shoes, screamed money. “It’s so nice to have money” he mumbled.

Cynthia lifted an aristocratic eyebrow and said in a haughty voice, “Pardon? What are you talking to yourself? Are you perhaps slightly mad yourself? I am here because my crazy family, specifically my mother feels I need a shrink.” She spread her hands on his table and leaned forward dramatically, “You do know who I am right? I am the heiress of the Lal chain of hotels. Many people think everything was handed over to me on a silver platter.”

Dr Mathews interjected softy, without jarring her train of thoughts, “But, that is true, isn’t it? You are a Nepo baby. You did not have to struggle to find your calling or go through all that uncertainty and mental torture young women of your age must go through. You just had to continue what was already well-established.”

His patient spread her hands again. This seemed to be a gesture she seemed to use whenever she wanted to emphasize her thoughts and feelings, “Things are not as they seem. Are they? True that I am a product of nepotism. I am a proud Nepo baby because my connections can take me to places perhaps inaccessible to most. But do you know how much it takes to stay there? All the money cannot for the life of me sustain me in there. Finally, one day, I will be called out. I will be mercilessly plucked out, uprooted, and thrown on the streets. Ah sir! What would you understand the struggles a heiress has to go through?”

The good doctor looked at the notes he had taken and glanced at them, while pretending to look at her, “Hmm” he muttered to himself again, glancing at his watch, “My next patient should come in anytime soon…”

“You are muttering again,” she said disapprovingly.

Dr Mathews, this time, sat back in his chair and noted every feature of hers unabashedly as if memorizing them.  A long oval face, double-lidded eyes, a regal aristocratic nose, a love spot right smack in the middle of the nose and full kissable lips. Her complexion was wheatish and her bleached, well-groomed long hair fell in a sheen, down to her waist. “I am sorry if my muttering is bothering you. It is a longstanding bad habit I am trying to get rid of. Ignore it, please. Now let us forget your circumstances. I am interested in the statement you made when you entered my cabin, “You said something about what serves us better is to keep barreling forward and hoping the demons can’t keep up so we might as well…You know I am curious to know who are your demons and who you really are?”

“Ah, now you are talking sense. Hmmm,” She said scrunching up her mouth, “My mom thinks someone is taking over my mind and I act like a totally irrational person sometimes. That is why she has been taking me to so many doctors and so many healers. Does not seem to have worked. Otherwise, why would she continue parading me around, attaching a disease that does not exist? From what I see, my mom is my biggest demon who refuses to believe I am normal and well. She takes me to more demons, paying them through the nose to get rid of the non-existent demons in my head.”

She sighed, looking tired, “I am fed up. I am a responsible heiress, always topped in academics, sports, music. Ever since I have started assisting Dad in his business, you can ask anyone and they will say I am remarkable. I have taken to my work like a duck to water. Everyone adores me and cannot wait for the day I will officially take over the Lal empire. But trust my mom always to screw it up. I am normal and well. Doctor, please, I hope you are on my side. I think she needs help. Will you help me?”

Dr Mathews glanced at his watch again and nodded his head, “Of course. I will have a talk with your mom too. Our session is now done. I will see you next time.”

“Thank God! I was getting bored in here. But I daresay I feel like I can trust you and I think I will be looking forward to meeting you. See you doc.” And flashing him a dazzling smile, she swung her Prada bag and sailed out.

“See you, Ms. Cynthia.”

He nodded his head and waited for his next patient.

A few minutes later, he heard a demure knock on his door, followed by a hesitant, “May I 

c-come in please?”

“Of course, please come in.”

The lady walked in quietly, her feet making absolutely no noise. She walked as if she was afraid, she would hurt the earth. She paused before the chair he drew out for her and looked at him nervously, “May I -I sit?”

“Yes please,” he said, noting how she pulled her scarf tightly towards herself and clutched it as if deriving confidence and strength from it.

“Please tell me about yourself. And make yourself comfortable. You seem to be feeling hot. Should I increase the fan speed? Should I get some cold drink for you?”

“No no,” she said horrified, flashing double-lidded eyes at him. She could not bear any attention anyone was giving her and she could certainly not inconvenience anyone, “I am very comfortable doctor. Please do not trouble yourself.”

“Alright. Sit comfortably. So, you do remember you had been given a questionnaire you had to answer. Would you like to share your answers with me? We can then discuss each one.”

But instead of fishing out her diary from her Prada bag, her oval face seemed to have become even longer. Deep pink of agitation created blotches across her wheatish complexion, “The thing is, doctor.” She wrung her hands in extreme anxiety, “Maybe I’m cynical but I don’t think any of this stuff works for someone who is truly broken. Serves us better to keep barreling forward and hope the demons can’t keep up so you might as well be who you are.”

Dr Mathews sat up with a jerk observing his patient carefully, surreptitiously but furiously scribbling in his notes.

She must have noticed a change in his expression for her face changed. It looked like she was about to cry, “Doctor, did I say anything wrong? Please please forgive me, if I hurt you somehow.”

And then burying her head in her hands, she sobbed quietly, her shoulders heaving up and down. They were the only sign of her crying. After a while, she looked up and said pathetically, “I am such a messy, horrible person. Aren’t I? Doctor, mother is right. I am sick. Very sick. But I do not know the name of my disease. I only know that I give trouble to everyone. I do not know when to speak what to whom. I am sure I am continuously giving offense to someone or the other. O I only want to make everyone happy. Especially mother. But I am the cause, the only cause of worry for her. Doctor, can you not give me any medication? I feel so miserable…”

The doctor looked slightly shaken but recovered almost immediately, “Do not worry, Miss…?”

“Miss Rama Mathur”

Dr. Mathews raised a brow, “Ok Ms. Mathur. Wipe your tears. The first step is to have faith; in yourself and in your doctor. Even though you may think that the exercises, the activities we suggest may seem futile, you must show some blind faith and complete your tasks.”

The tear-stained face looked up at him intently for a few seconds. He could see something flit past in her eyes and he felt a thrill of dismay in his bones. He looked at his watch. It was not time yet. Would she break character…? But whatever it was, the expression passed as quickly as it appeared and the figure sighed and nodded in defeat, “Okay doctor. I will try…” she said demurely.

The next half hour passed with the doctor asking her a number of questions and skillfully extracting her thoughts and feelings through suggestions and some interesting exercises. Ms. Mathur was very cooperative and obedient and was a model patient every psychiatrist fervently prayed for.

“You are done for today, Ms. Mathur. Next time, please make sure to complete your tasks. I will expect you to have memorized your affirmations and practiced them on a daily basis.”

And then without looking up, as was his customary habit, he started muttering to himself while updating his notes when a haughty voice spoke,” “Pardon? What are you talking to yourself? Are you perhaps slightly mad yourself?”

Dr Mathews looked up at Ms. Mathur with a start but the lady simply swung her Prada over her shoulders and stepped out.

The doctor sighed and called his secretary, “Reema, please give me a break for ten minutes until you send the next patient in.”

“Sure Doc.”

Dr. Mathews placed his head in his hands and took out the photo of his father, “I hope to make you proud of me, Dad. I do not know if I ever can. Are they right? Are they right when they say, “Maybe I am cynical but I don’t think any of this stuff works for someone who is truly broken. Serves us better to keep barreling forward and hope the demons can’t keep up so you might as well be who you are??”

He sighed again and gulping some water, rang the bell, indicating Reema could send the next patient in. He heard her shrill voice and her clumsy feet hitting against his door before she actually entered the door without waiting for his permission, “Hey doc, Howie you doin?” she laughed, throwing her head back and slumping into the patient’s chair, “Long time, no see doc.”

The good doctor plastered a smile on his face, “How are doing, Ms. Kinjal Shah?”

“Never better doc, never better. Here,” she said pulling out an overlarge register from inside her Prada handbag and shoving it in his face, ‘I completed all the tasks you set me. I have been spitting out all the affirmations and all and sundry until all are sick of me and hiding away!” And once again, she exploded into nerve-racking laughter.

The doctor shifted his weight uneasily and force-laughed, “Excellent excellent. So, have the dreams disappeared? I hope if they have, then we no longer have to worry about detecting the identity of that demon who kept haunting you.”

The smile was immediately swept off her face and bending her head, she picked on her love spot, which was smack in the middle of her nose fiddling with her long, bleached hair, she whispered, her eyes filled with fear and dark shadows, “All this is alright, doc. All these tasks and affirmations and all but you know what? I think that maybe I am cynical but I don’t think any of this stuff works for someone who is truly broken. Serves us better to keep barreling forward and hope the demons can’t keep up so you might as well be who you are. Do you think I am right? I mean this all feels like a fool’s errand for me. Mom is worried about me and this therapy and all works. But I feel I am so broken, so hollow, so empty, there seems to be no hope. I feel like an empty directionless boat in a vast, empty ocean…?”

The doctor was spared from answering when a discreet knock sounded on his door. He knew the signal and went to open it after excusing himself from his patient, “I know this is highly unprofessional, Ms. Shah but I need to go out for just a minute. Please go through the affirmations once again. And try to re-write the description of your demon. I see some contradictions.”

“Sure doc. No worries. You go ahead. I will do what you say.” And she exploded into a glorious opera, in that cheerful voice of hers.

Wiping his brow, he hurried to throw the door open. As expected, it was his secretary. Her plump figure with greying hair and the subtle warmth in her eyes calmed his madly pulsating heart. They looked at each other and she patted his heart. She looked at him meaningfully and said in a voice, full of pity, “You love football. You played for the Broncos, right? Kid, go back. What are you doing here? This is more than you can chew. Go, before you get chewed out…”

And she disappeared like she always did. He often thought she might be the harlequin who appeared and disappeared, imparting words of wisdom; always understanding and looking at him with copious piteousness. Dr Mathews felt a sudden lump in his throat. His heart felt too big for his chest. He felt it kicking, struggling like it wanted to jump out. Cold sweat poured over him. He pulled his tie out and loosened his shirt. He needed air, lots of it…

He ran to his right, and took a secret passageway that led to the rooftop. He kicked the door open and ran into the middle of the empty space, sucking in lungfuls and lungfuls of air. He shut his eyes as he felt himself plummeting into the past and voices that belonged to the heavens now, resounded in his ears, “My son will make me proud. He will be an even bigger psychiatrist than I am. He will open not just a hospital but a brand!”

* * *

While the entire hall exploded into mirthful laughter, cheer and congratulatory noises, Dr Mathew saw little Mathew standing in a corner, hating it all, hating everyone. Especially his father, Dr. Samuel Mathews, who was becoming a world-renowned psychiatrist. He was taking the world by storm with his path-breaking methodologies and unconventional treatment. “Will nobody ask me what I want to become?” The little boy had wondered. But nobody ever did. Nobody had asked his 6 older brothers. Nobody would ask him.

But he was not his brothers. And little Mathews had looked towards his unsuspecting father defiantly, “I will become a footballer” he told nobody in particular. “And I will do everything it takes to become one!”

If his father had cared to look into his youngest son’s eyes that moment, the world-famous psychiatrist would have probably been alive today and could have even spared his son life-long trauma. But life has its own course, its own set of rules by which it operates. We are mere pawns, no? …we are to gods like flies to wanton boys; they kill us for their sport…

That night, as Dr. Mathews popped his usual sedatives and slugged a peg of single malt, he knew something was drastically wrong. His throat felt like it had been set on fire. He crashed on his bed, his legs flailing in all directions. He could not utter a single word as he felt like he was choking on his own spit. The last thing he would remember before closing his eyes forever was a pair of eyes belonging to his youngest son…

* * *

A harsh wind brought back the junior Dr. Mathews to his present. The harsh wind slapped against his face and he felt tears streaming down his face, “Sorry Dad! Sorry…I hope I am making you proud. But I am not able to handle it. I do not know what to do. I feel like a fake. Am I fit to take your place? Am I really a psychiatrist? Please Dad, please help…”

He had been gone for not more than fifteen minutes but he felt like a lifetime and he felt extremely guilty abandoning his patient. Shamefaced, he entered his cabin and folded his hands in a namaste, “I heartily apologize, Ms. Shah. I had to attend to the call of nature.”

His boisterous patient slapped his shoulder good-humoredly, “It is ok doc. Life is not so serious. Now, here, see what a good girl I have been! I have done everything you have asked me to!”

Dr Mathews smiled in relief. Nothing terrible had happened while he was away.

But his secretary’s voice kept resounding in his ears, “Kid, go back. What are you doing here? This is more than you can chew. Go, before you get chewed out…”

“I have to make dad proud…” He kept pumping himself as his last patient for the day walked in. 

* * *

Eulogies poured over the unexplained, natural death of the world-renowned psychiatrist. His vast estate was settled amicably among his children, He had never married after the death of the only mother of all his children. No amorous adventures either. No out of couert settlements. Lawyers had hardly broken a sweat raking up all the moolah. Everyone was happy,

The brothers held a conference. The eldest spoke,” Now that the Fuhrer is dead, we can give our little brother what was denied to us. Come on, Junior. You play your college football. Ohio State Buckeyes is offering you a scholarship. In two years, a Heissmann; then, pro ball contract. We all will be supplicants before you. Oh yes, Junior! Play ball!!”

Years passed. Junior had a great run as the tailback. Yards, TSs, MVPs, Cheerleaders. Life was a kaleidoscope until an ACL injury put paid to his dreams. With corrective surgeries and rehabilitations, he got his speed back. The Broncos kept him in the second line hoping to start him in the next season. The fates- they never leave you alone, do they? 

A freak accident took both his psychiatrist brothers and landed the legacy of the good old doctor thrust on Junior’s head. Unluckily, he had done hi Premeds, Md psychiatry while excelling in college and pro football. He finished his residency in quick time. Lo and behold! He had indeed made his Father proud!

* * *

The throwback to those days nearly brought his breakfast to his mouth.  He recovered barely in time to receive his last patient. The doctor squinted his eyes. He did not know this patient. He looked around in confusion. Why had it suddenly become so dark? Had someone switched off the lights? He tried to open the blinds when the figure who seemed to hide behind a shadow, walked in front of him and spoke in a voice that seemed to be crafted out of ice, “Let the blinds be, doctor. I do not like light…”

Dr Mathews felt like an iced knife had sliced across his heart. He felt a strange chill attacking his toes and spreading throughout his body as his new patient approached him, her hips swaying seductively and her full kissable lips shaping in to a smile that was both inviting as well as menacing.

She stepped close to the doctor until there was not much space between their faces. He could see her love mark on her nose clearly as well as the heavily made-up double-lidded eyes and that dear oval face that imparted such an innocence to her already angelic face, “Doctor,” she said huskily, extending her hand, “I am your brand-new patient. Moumita Saha. Do you like me?”

And she threw back her head and laughed.

Dr. Mathews sat rooted to his seat but recovered quickly,” Welcome Ms. Saha. I am afraid I have no clue about your history. You will have to update everything about yourself. You can make yourself comfortable and tell me as much or as little as you would like it. Since this is your first therapy session, I would not mind if you would want to go slow.” 

His patient crossed her legs, patted her Prada and whispered in a voice that could seduce even a saint, “Slow and steady, eh, doctor? I do like the sound of it!” And she laughed.

“Please, let’s begin, Ms. Saha.”

“Right. So, let us begin at the very beginning, Doctor. When did it all begin? Hmmm, it began on that horrible day when Dad threw Bhaiyya out of the house…

* * *

It had been Raksha Bandhan. Our entire mansion had been decorated like a new bride. There was Band Bhaja. All our relatives had poured in. All the brothers had been seated on the floor and we sisters were ready with our decorated Pooja thalis and rakhis `when there was a commotion at our door, “Sir this man just barged in. He wants to meet Raghav Baba!”

It was their head security guard. And superseding him was a tall, young man with arresting features. His face was agitated and he ran to my elder brother, Raghav Bhaiyya, “Raghav, is it true? They are marrying you off to some girl?”

My brother looked shocked, “Of course not. Who told you? I love you, Bunty! There can never be another ever in my life…”

The entire congregation stood in silence as if they had been slapped. As the two men hugged each other, an uproar ensued. Babuji did the only thing he knew; punish! He slapped Bhai and immediately disowned him. And and….”

Moumita Saha sighed, “I became the sole heir to Lal mansion and to the entire mansion.” Her eyes welled up with tears, “Bhai never returned. He said he was going to be happy. But I felt so guilty and fake. I had no interest in the business. I had no interest in taking his place…”

Moumita sank into her chair and her bleached hair fell all over her face, covering it.

Dr Mathews sat still, not moving at all. He waited. He knew what he was about to witness. Though he was not sure if he was ready for it, if he was capable or qualified enough. Now he was in the thick of it. Reema’s warnings resounded in his ears, like a refrain, like an echo. But it was too late now. He would have to stay and hear and see…

* * *

His thoughts were interrupted by a soft, demure voice, “Doctor, that day Rama Mathur was born. I hate myself so much. All that is mine today is bhai’s. I cannot imagine how parents can just disown their kids in the blink of an eye. He was the most ideal son of theirs. And because he chose to love his way, he was plucked like a thorn and discarded. They have tried not once to find him. If he lives or died…

This has made me very angry doctor. Every day, my anger grew. But, what could I do? I had to fill the void that he left. I had to grow stronger, and braver, to fulfill all the dreams that were his. Of course, I was a fake. I had no clue of anything. But I had to do this for Bhaiyya…”

And right in front of the doctor’s eyes, the sorry figure stood up straight like an arrow and tossing her hair and rubbing her oval face, she glared at Dr. Mathews,” And do you know what Rama Mathur did, doctor? She transformed into a true heiress, Cynthia Lal. Ruthless with a great business acumen, shrewd and haughty. O Babuji lapped it up! He is so proud of me. But all this is Bhaiyya’s…”

And for the next few minutes, the room resonated with sobs. A thunder sounded outside. And the figure slumped on the chair now stood up and laughed boisterously at the Doctor, “Hey doc! You do know, who I am right? Of course, you do! I am Kinjal Shah. My job is to keep the girls happy and crazy every time the stress gets to them. Someone has to be the comic relief, right?”

And she threw back her head in laughter and broke into an opera. Suddenly, her face became gloomy, “But doc, there is someone else who has come into our lives. We are all scared of her.

She is very frightening. She wears only black. She is as if she is the night herself. We are all scared of her. She is the demon in my mind Doc. I try everything you have suggested. I have tried to keep her out. But she keeps resurfacing. She is becoming stronger. I cannot do right by my others anymore doc…looks like she is winning…”

And even as she spoke, Ms. Shah swooned and fell down. She was immediately taken to a recovery room. Meanwhile, their mother walked into the cabin and looked at Dr. Mthews worriedly, “Is there any progress, doctor?”

“It is becoming complicated, Madam. She was managing her four personalities very well. Now it is as if Dr. Jekkyll has taken one dose too many and Mr. Hide is taken over. She is dangerous.not only to herself but to society. She is a killer, She is not fit to be in society nor in a rehabilitation center. No one but me can handle her. 

“I have a chalet in Swiss Alps. I have necessary clinical facilities. I think I can merge her personalities and bring back your original daughter.”

Things moved at breakneck speed. 

* * *

Swiss Chalet. Six months later 

“Cynthia,” Dr. Michael shouted. A waif appeared before him. Cynthia was a pure angel. Michael smiled in satisfaction.  “Now, we can return to our lives. I have done my father proud ‘and you, your brother.”

There was silence. There were rapid color changes in Cynthia’s face, Her curls burst out of her careful hairdo. She burst into an opera.

With hysterical laughter, she plunged the icepick right into the good doctor’s heart. 


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Aarthi Karanam
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