Love, the Monster

Love, the Monster

In the semi-darkness of the living room, two pairs of eyes were intently watching the small screen. Sharukh Khan, the protagonist (or the antagonist?) was superbly negative in his role and the diva- Madhuri, in her pristine beauty, waved her magic wand, not only over the hero-villain Sharukh but also across the living room and……. another pair of eyes that strained to get a glimpse of the TV screen. 

Sonam clutched her husband’s hands in fear and repugnance as Sharukh haunted dear Madhuri in her sleep and her waking hours. Life was like a snare he had spread for her; his caring was unbearably sick and his love was no less than a torture. 

The characters portrayed by them were so engrossingly lively that Sonam and Sharath felt the silver screen actors come alive in the roles. 

The negative traits of Sharukh are blotted out and the audience are compelled to sympathise with the wheel-chair bound, helpless, desperate character. He is no more than a vegetable, to be pitied. The audience is dipped in a whirlpool of mixed emotions- hatred and sympathy for him; the shocking transformation of the dainty heroine into an unsympathetic, savage, vengeance-seeking character is as unbelievable as the hero’s sudden disability. Nemesis?

As the movie reached its climax, Sonam and Sharath gasped for breath. Ah! What a revenge! 

The pair of eyes behind the closed doors felt a surge of shocking emotions stifle him. Manav clutched his throat as though trying to relief himself from the suffocating feelings. He let out a deep breath and choked on an incoherent ‘Aahhh…!’

His heart was thumping against his thin cotton shirt and sweat beads gathered on his forehead. He swiped his hand across his forehead and held his chest as though trying to pace down the heartbeat. Manav, who turned thirteen a week back, was caught captive in a pool of weird emotions as he watched the fiery passion of the male on the screen and the rejection in the mesmerising eyes of the female. 

On hearing the footsteps of his parents, he tip-toed towards the staircase and vanished into his room. His mind was instructing, “Don’t get caught.” 

Manav tossed and turned in his bed till the wee hours and slipped into a disturbing sleep.

***

“Manav, get up. You are getting late.” His mother’s voice sounded at once harsh and soothing to his ears. He peeped through the thin bedsheet and saw her folding clothes strewn all sound the room. 

A strange look crept into his eyes. Clad in a pink saree, with a few strands of her wet hair falling across her beautiful face, she looked like an angel. She turned around, ruffled his hair and whispered (or so he felt), “Get up dearie, you don’t want to be late to school, right?”

“Moooo….” He failed to utter the word mom!

“What’s that Manav?” 

“Not… nothing,” he rushed into the washroom.

At the dining table he heard her talk to Sharath in low tone, as though she did not want Manav to hear their conversation.

The mischievous smile on Sharath’s face and the blush on Sonam’s face tugged at his heart. He felt a sudden dislike for them.

What was this unusual feeling? He pondered for a while. It scared him. He wanted to run to his mother(?!)……..oh, no! Mother… no it was not a child’s affection he felt for her, it was different… this feeling was consuming him, it was draining him. 

What? Why? Oh! Why?

Manav’s pulse raced again, he tried to dodge this feeling that terrified him.

He had noticed this strange emotion growing slowly over the past one year. His mind was going haywire and all his efforts to stabilise himself had flopped. The more he tried to gain control over himself, the worse it became. His mood swings and his unpredictable temper took better of him. Neither of the parents had noticed this weird change in their son. They attributed his moodiness to growing up phase. 

***

He crept slowly into the living room and hid behind the curtain. He knew Sonam and Sharath would watch another movie and he sure didn’t want to miss either the movie or their reactions. His mouth went dry at the very thought of seeing them together, holding hands, bodies touching and swaying rhythmically to the songs and the romantic scenes. He held his breath lest they should hear the unsteady gasps. His mind was racing at such a fast pace that he felt as though he was being catapulted into an unknown world of fantasy.

He heard them enter the room and turn on the TV. The scenes one after the other shadowed his mind. The curtain was no more barrier for the intent eyes of the teenager. Juhi Chawla and Arbaaz Khan’s relationship was driving him crazy. She was so lovely and he so manly! She so vulnerable and he so strong! He loved her, didn’t he? Why didn’t she return his love? He almost wailed over the unrequited love of the protagonist. He WAS the hero, and she the unfaithful one. 

He looked his parents. They were lost in the movie. He knew after the movie they both would sleep in each other’s arms. He just couldn’t bear the thought Sonam being so close to Sharath.

He waited restlessly for the movie to get over. His tricky mind was scheming. He just won’t let Sonam to go with him, he wanted her to be with him, singing a lullaby, or just stroking his back to calm his agitated nerves. 

He slipped away unnoticed and waited with baited breath. He heard them turn off the Television and walk back to their room. He rushed to the staircase and called out, “I have a headache, unable to sleep….” it worked. She came with all her love and affection and sat by his side.

“Oh dear, dear, what happened? Don’t worry, Mamma is here, she will drive away your headache…” She held him close to her and patted his back. “You look so tensed, what happened?”

“Nothing… nothing, just be here. Don’t leave me.” He pleaded.

“I am always with you Manav. Mother will never grow out of her love for her children. Why do you feel I will leave you?” She tried to sooth his agitated mind.

“No… I mean, be with me. I…. I LOVE you.”

“I too love you, my child. Now off to sleep.”

He slept but the nagging word, my child, kept ringing in his ears.

***

“Aren’t you going to college?” His father’s harsh voice felt like a tight slap across his face. 

Manav turned his back on his father ignoring his presence.

“What happened Sharath? Why are you being so hard on him?” Sonam eyed him scornfully.

“I am quitting. Not interested in that drab of a thing called college. It is so monotonous. I.. I want to be with her….,” he looked straight into Sonam’s eyes. 

“You sound so irrational Manav? Quitting college, indeed! And to be with your mom? Why? Isn’t she there here with you all the time? What’s going on in that fluttering mind of yours? Enough is enough, no more of such talk. Clear that wool gathering mind of yours and set yourself up.” He clutched her hand and led her out of the room.

Soman’s eyes welled up with tears. 

“Sharath, he is at that age where body and mind are going through changes. I feel he is unable to handle these changes. As parents we should have guided him. As a father you have to play significant role in his life at this juncture. The hormonal changes … maybe he is unable to cope with his emotional and physical changes. I wish we had given him more of our quality time…. Hope it is not too late….” she let her thoughts sink into him. 

“Sonam, haven’t you noticed his odd behaviour? It is not insecurity that he is grappling with, it is more of ‘adult behaviour’ that I am concerned about. I can understand a child seeking parental attention but this is definitely not that issue. His is not a teenager’s mind, it is …….”, he faltered, unable to continue with the awkward conversation.

“Shhhhh, Sharath…. Aren’t you over reacting?”

“No Sonam, I am not. He is not opening up and there is some issue that he is struggling to cope with or rather hide from us, especially me. His surreptitious glances, his body language speak of some negative traits that could become unmanageable as the time passes. Don’t ignore, keep a watch. I too will.” The frown on his face clearly showed that his anxiety and worry were not baseless.

***

The room was enveloped in darkness and the aroma of incense sticks permeated his dumb senses. The numbness he felt in his being was agonising. He could not be near her despite all his efforts and that hurt him the most. He was drawn to her not like a son but something else…. It was keeping him awake in the nights and he was so besotted with her looks that he just wanted to hug her and feel her breath. He clasped his hands and beat his chest. 

“Why doesn’t Mr. Sharath let her be with me? I need her.”

He remembered Sharukh Khan and Arbaaz khan, their passionate love for the beautiful women in tier lives and how rudely they rejected love and found love elsewhere. How insulting, how insanely insulting it is to be ignored, to be treated like dirt! Manav seethed with rage at the very thought of being neglected and rejected. 

How was he to confess his true feelings for this damsel called his mother? 

He just couldn’t accept the relationship anymore. He felt spurned and disowned. His body shook with contempt for the other male in the house. 

‘I must do something before HE overpowers me. I have to pour my heart out. This is stifling me. Can’t bear the burden of it anymore. Let it all come out into the open. Why am I fighting with my feelings?” 

“Mr. Sharath, I love her.” He whispered to himself. A devious smile lit his face.

***

“Manav, this is my colleague Mrs. Shanta and her husband Mr. Sameer. He is an artist. His paintings are a treat to the soul. Why don’t you join us for tea on the terrace? The sunset is so beautiful! Come, he is going to paint the sunset. A live session, isn’t it exciting?” Sonam sounded casual, but she was shaking from within. She had to hide her nervousness. Sharath had briefed her about the therapy and cautioned her to be vigilant and alert.

“Manav should not even guess about our plan. Behave normal, look happy and pull him into a conversation. If he has to open up with Sameer, he should trust him. This is a tough phase for us but better late than never, we are moving in the right direction.” He assured her that things could be sorted out and the issue at hand could be resolved. Identifying the complexities involved and arriving at a conclusion would take several sessions and it was imperative that Manav participated in the sessions willingly. 

“Manav, how do you spend your free time? I mean, any areas of specific interest? Reading, writing, or simply going out for long walks? Any friends who stay nearby? Do you hang out with them? You know this generation youngsters use that dude, chill out language and we oldies find it difficult to relate to this lingo.” Sameer plunged into conversation without any delay. He knew keeping Manav engaged in a long conversation would be hard but he just gave it a try.

“I don’t find anything interesting. Hang out with friends? Not really. I rarely go out. I find my people more engaging than other things. He glanced at Sonam furtively. Sameer’s sharp eyes read the longing in his eyes and understood the urgency of the matter. 

Shanta came to Sonam’s rescue. 

“Manav, I was just wondering why don’t we all give this uncle of yours, Sameer, a tough competition? Neither YOUR MOTHER, nor I have ever touched a brush or canvass but it will be fun trying out something new. What say?” She deliberately emphasised ‘your mother.’ 

“Not really. Don’t drag me into something that I don’t reckon with.” He was equally emphatic about his likes and dislikes.

Both Shanta and Sameer understood he was shard nut to crack. 

“Manav, it’s fine with us. Sonam are you game for it?”

“Yes, of course, Shanta.” She tried to sound excited.

“Manav, it would be fun to make this a blind painting competition. You can blindfold us; you describe the scenery and we will sense the colours and paint. As an artist I have never tried this but it will be a skill test for all of us, how well you describe and how accurately we fill in the colours.”

For the first time since they started talking, Sameer saw a faint excitement in Manav’s eyes.

“Making a breakthrough…”, he messaged Sharath.

Manav blindfolded Sameer and Shanta and deliberately rubbed his forearms across Sonam’s chest. She flinched. 

“Sonam…ignore it.” She told herself.

Then began the marathon description of the sunset. It was sheer bliss to hear Manav drop word after word, string beautiful sentences, so lyrical, so rhythmic… he painted with words and they with the brushes.

For the first time in many years Manav poured out his heart not about his mother, not about his obsessive love for her, but the beauty of nature. The serene beauty of nature had awakened the dormant human emotion- love of nature. “Manav, my dear, you have thrilled us to the core. Your words are more artistic than our brushes. Neither the paints nor the canvass can bring alive the startling beauty that those precious pearl-like words have evoked! Bravo, bravo! Amazing talent. Sonam, you have deprived the world this child of yours… unparalleled genius. Wow, and wow!”

Sameer heaped praise on him and knew the impact on the parched soul. 

Sonam smiled at Manav and hugged him. 

“I have always known the hidden talent of my son. Only I couldn’t focus on it when he was a kid because of my job responsibilities. I am sorry beta. Given the right opportunity and space you would have outshined your peers, my fault. Sorry for being an ordinary mother of an extraordinarily gifted son.”

Her motherly instinct touched him. He felt at peace with himself. He felt he was deprived of this affection for long.

***

“What are my feelings for this woman who has given birth to me? Why are my thoughts and feelings so diverse? Do young adults feel this way towards their mothers? Why do I have ‘other feelings’ for her? Today when she cuddled me, it was different. It was not a womanly hug; it was a motherly one. She was so proud of me, her harms around me were so protective and reassuring, as though she wanted to convey that she is there for me always. Is everything fine with me or am I the odd one out in my circles? I hardly socialise, I rarely enjoy outings with friends. What is the purpose of my life?”

He shuddered to think of his behaviour in the past few years. His thoughts and actions must have hurt her. But she never complained. She stood by him like a rock, unwavering. He remembered Sharath’s words and felt a stabbing pain. 

“Manav, how about visiting my art gallery today around five in the evening?” Sameer’s invitation was exciting but he wasn’t in the right frame of mind. Manav felt aloof and lonely. His solitary confinement was now becoming painful and unbearable. His dilemma was deepening, try hard he may he wasn’t able to break the vicious circle that gripped him and pinned him down. He wanted to scream, shriek and confess but his inner self was in a denial mode. The on and off button was non-functional, the switch remained neutral. 

***

“Sonam, he was coming out of the shell, what happened again? He is withdrawing into hallucinating mode. He has held you captive in his fantasy. He has to be in the asylum for treatment and I don’t want to give you false hopes of his complete recovery. His mind and heart are playing havoc with him. His obsessive love for you is erratic. Admit him and be away from him, the less he sees you, the better his chances of recovery. I know it is the most heart-wrenching moment for another to see her child in an asylum. But he has resisted therapy and there is no other alternative but to treat him here.” Dr. Sameer sounded apologetic but was firm in his decision.

Dr. Shanta assure her, “As doctors we never give up. There is always hope. It is sad that a brilliant child, like Manav, developed unusual feelings for you and neither of you identified these queer traits in him. Let us not brood over the past. Future is bright, so we believe.”

 Sharath and Sonam walked in silence, hand in hand, as though they needed each other’s support now more than ever.

***

Looking at them through the window Manav cried out in pain, “She is mine for ever.”

Dr. Sharath smiled at him and said, “Yes, she is yours for ever. A mother never leaves her child alone.”
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