The table shuddered under the impact of the fist. The cups and saucers shook violently. The room reverberated with echoes. The violence spread across the face belonging to the fist.
The man spoke, anger making his voice hoarse. The sound is akin to the scratchiness of the thousands of smoked cigarettes.
“No. I do not want to undergo the procedure. I am not going to do it,” said he, pushing the saucers aside.
“But, it is for our own benefit. The treatment will help us out and will…” tried the woman.
“I said no. No one will be touching me or anything that belongs to me,” he screamed, interrupting her.
“Please don’t shout, it scares me,” a feeble voice, cut through the tension.
It came from the six-year-old, Aryanka. Her apprehension rose with the escalating verbal violence in the room. She had experienced the same meltdown several times. It never ended well. She would withdraw further into her shell, till there was no difference between her body and the exteriors of the shell, she hid under.
The man and the woman paused, letting Aryanka’s request wash over them.
The woman placed the toppled cups back onto their saucers. The edges of the cups matched the depression in their saucers. Circle to circle. Perfectly placed. She juxtaposed the plates in neat order. Placing the spoons, next to the plates. All of them, are equidistant. Arranging the crockery and cutlery calmed her down. It helped her to cope.
The man stood up, pushing against the table. Undoing the painstaking effort of the woman. He walked up to the window. The glass was black, he peered out. Failing to see anything, he leaned against it. Feeling the coolness of the glass. Trying, desperately, to let the glass cool his anger. It didn’t help.
“We have had this discussion several times, Avilasha. I am not in favour of the doctor interfering with us. I don’t like her. And I don’t approve of the medicines she prescribes –they don’t suit me. They make me feel woozy. I feel suffocated when I take them. As if I am losing myself in them.”
His voice broke, thick with tears. They rolled down his cheeks.
“I lose control. I feel adrift. Like I am on a rudderless boat,” he whispered.
“I can understand, Guhya. I can totally understand. But, just because something scares you, it doesn’t mean it is a bad thing, right?” asked Avilasha.
“I can’t, Avilasha. It gets too much at times. I can hardly find my voice after it.”
“How about we reach a compromise? We can request the doctor to reduce the dosage. So it is on the threshold. The lowered medication may give you the semblance of control and yet, do its expected job, Guhya.”
“Dammit, Avilasha! I don’t want a semblance of control. I want complete control.”
“We can discuss it with the doctor, can’t we? There could be another solution that may work in our favour.”
“No. I am not talking about this anymore with you. Or anyone else. I am done with it. I have made up my mind.”
With that, he withdrew within himself, refusing to get involved in further conversation. Avilasha and Aryanka tried to include him in their talks, but he didn’t respond.
Aryanka sipped the hot chocolate, taking tiny sips. Her eyes were lowered, her shoulders slumped. Her head sought comfort within. Whenever she got stressed, her movements got slower and slower. Till they barely existed. Till she barely existed. She tried to disappear. She disappeared.
Avilasha sighed. Guhya and Aryanka were behaving in a typical manner. When Guhya didn’t want to discuss something, he stopped interacting. He would remain in his kopabhawan till he could control his anger.
Aryanka, on the other hand, quiet to start with became positively ghostly. In stressful situations, her countenance got grimmer.
It felt in that moment she was living with two silent voices. A complete ghost town. An ominous peace.
Avilasha gave up trying to converse. She moved away from the table, choosing a lounge chair and settling in it. She began to read a novel, placed there by her apparently. She struggled with the bookmark, trying to find the last page she had read. Guhya’s silence, oppressive as it was, was welcome. A brief respite.
A few minutes later, he spoke, breaking the peace.
“The doctor is a prick. She has no experience in dealing with my issues, I think we should chuck her and get a second opinion. A male doctor. Female doctors can’t match up to the male ones, anyway. They are too emotional, and too invested in their clients to treat them with the detachment they need. They deserve. That is why I don’t trust women doctors. It was you who chose Dr. Shah. If it was my decision, I would have gone with her assistant doctor, Dr. Suresh. He appears more competent. A much more balanced head on his shoulders than his boss. But you guys don’t let me make the decisions.”
He spat on the floor. “No. No. Let us not allow Guhya to make any decisions for us. He is too volatile. He is not up to the challenge. He lets his anger cascade into his day-to-day life. Perpetually asking Avilasha to front. She is the host, anyway. She is a woman! What would she know about taking conscious decisions! Decisions where one’s weighted judgement comes into the picture?”
He raised his fist and smashed into the black panelled window. The glass cracked but didn’t splinter. It bravely held on. Multiple webs of cracks appeared on it, tiny white snakes. They fragmented the glass. Parts of a whole, split but held together by tenuous threads. He gazed at his handiwork. Then looked at his hand. It hurt. A swelling began to slowly appear. He blew at it, trying to reduce the pain.
The echoes of the glass coming close to shattering startled her. Avilasha found herself on the table again. She couldn’t remember how she moved from the lounge chair to the table. She must have blanked out. It happened. Surprisingly, quite often. There would be periods when she couldn’t recall what happened. While watching a movie, one she would be enjoying, she would find herself on the toilet. No recollection of the movie. Did she leave it midway? Did she see it to the end? Was she even watching a movie?
Such blackouts scared her. They made her doubt herself. She had already surrendered her driving license. She couldn’t risk it anymore. What if an episode occurred while she was on the wheel? She was a potential danger, more to others than to herself.
She gazed at the cracks spidered across the window. Shaking her head, she knew it was Guhya’a doing. Aryanka couldn’t reach up to the window. And, she lacked the strength she needed. To top it all, Aryanka was a sweet girl, not prone to violence. She was someone who steered clear from it. She was fearful of the savagery.
Avilasha wondered how she could rein Guhya’s anger in. At times, she was scared he would start to self-harm. Traces of it were already evident. Small scratches and cuts appeared on the arms. Sometimes under the feet. Between the fingers. Places one wouldn’t suspect or look for. His oscillations between depression and anger were becoming unpredictable. Who knew where the pendulum would land? Which emotion would emerge stronger?
She was apprehensive for Aryanka and her sake. If anger was the obvious emotion, he could force himself, jostling himself in the front. Pushing Avilasha and Aryanka deeper inside. He could take control. And that would be an unmitigated disaster.
This was the reason she was pushing for the treatment. Sometimes, the medicines calmed everyone down. For days together, not a peep could be heard from Guhya. The mood stabilizers and the antidepressants would really work.
But she didn’t have any faith in him. She couldn’t trust him to ingest his medicines. In the past, there were incidents where he would take them. But most of the time, he would pretend to swallow them and spit them out later. Until she switched and took control of the medication aspect. He was untrustworthy.
She placed her head delicately on the table. She had rearranged it. Movements would disturb the settings. She kept her forehead on the edge. She always felt there were voices in her head. They were speaking, sometimes all together, screaming. Fighting for control. Trying to be the main identity, the main voice of reason.
A bell could be heard somewhere in the vicinity. It had a high-piercing shriek. It petrified Aryanka. She cowered at the table. Trying to lose herself in it. The sound of the bell stressed her out. When she was younger, it was the constant sound in the background. It drowned her screams. Its bellows subduing her wails. As she had shrunk within herself at the touch of the penetrative hands. The tolling of the bell was an unwavering companion during the events.
She covered her ears and shut her eyes.
No! I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to think about it. Tra-la-la.
She began to chant.
Ice-creams. Waffles. Chocolates and I. We all share something. And I will tell you what. We overpower the aftertaste of what has happened. Leaving behind a memory, sweet and bright, she sang to herself as she drifted.
She relinquished control of her thoughts, seeking her protection in Avilasha.
Avilasha was dazed. The switches were happening at dizzying speed. She couldn’t keep track. One moment she was here, and the other she was a goner. The wisps of a bell could be heard in the background. She shuddered. A cold whisper down her back. It seemed like a harbinger. She felt someone hiding within the corridors of her mind. Someone in the wings. A menacing, silent, unknown presence lurked within.
A flash of him holding a pair of scissors dripping with blood raced across her mind.
What had Guhya done now? she asked herself. Was it Guhya?
She looked at the cracked window. They reminded her of herself. Fractured, disjointed. She leaned against the chair, giving in to the siren call of sleep.
The person on the other side of the ruptured window made notes in her diary. The camera had captured everything in the room. The switches between the alters, the differences in their personalities. The only thing that more or less remained constant was the voice. There were mild alternations to the tenor, it either deepened or softened. But the body language, and the demeanour were so interesting. She turned to her colleague and asked him.
“What is your prognosis, Dr. Suresh?”
“It is very fascinating, Dr. Shah. I have never seen a live case before this patient. Are you aware of her history?”
“Yes. Avilasha is a twenty-four-year-old girl. She got recently married. Her husband brought her in. He complained she was acting like a man. Her mannerisms including her gait were manly. When I prodded, and asked him intruding questions, he confessed. The transformation started after he raped her on their wedding night. Since then, her actions belie that of a woman.”
Dr. Shah consulted her notes. “I spoke to her mother, a Ms. Geetanjali Shirke. She said when Avilasha was four years of age, her paternal uncle sexually molested her. He was the principal of the school she was enrolled in. Avilasha had complained to her mother about her uncle physically abusing her when the school ended for the day, but the mother didn’t pay any heed. She assumed Avilasha was a child with an overactive imagination, hungry for the attention.”
“Was this abuse brought to the notice of the father?”
“No. She didn’t inform her husband about it as she claimed it never happened.”
“Do we know how long the abuse continued?”
“No, Dr. Suresh. Avilasha continued in the school till about the fifth standard. Then the school was closed as the principal abused another child, whose parents believed her. The police arrested him and the school was shut.”
“To deal with the physical assault, her mind began to form different personalities to deal with it. They are called alters. She has three or four of them, right now. One is of a sensitive young child, and one of an angry older man. Avilasha is their main identity, she is the host or the system. The fourth alter has not yet surfaced. There may be more.”
“Have you seen the other two?”
“Oh, yes. Several times. Aryanka is a darling, and Guhya as angry as we can expect. At times, unresolved issues in an abused person start to fester and manifest in and as anger.”
“How do we treat her?”
“We can’t. There is no medication to treat Dissociative Identity Disorder.”
Dr. Suresh peered into the screen. Avilasha was sleeping, muttering.
“Are you sure she is not faking it, doctor?” he asked.
“No. Faking it for what?”
“No. Under hypnosis, the abuse has come out. I have interacted with the various alters.”
“I have a feeling there are more of them inside of her. But, they don’t trust me enough to emerge. Yet.”
“Does Avilasha know she has a split personality disorder?”
“She knows about some of them. She hears voices. But there are days when she loses time. When the alters switch at some trigger. A trigger could be a sound or a visual picture. But she can’t control it if that is what you are asking.”
“What would you write in your report to the police?”
“Oh, that? It is a simple case of self-defence, doctor. With or without, the Dissociative Identity Disorder, her husband was an ogre. One abuse too many led to his death. It was unfortunate that it was by her hands. The deep trigger, in this case, was the repeated rapes. It led the volcano within her to burst.”
“Are all those who suffer from this disorder violent?”
“No. Not at all. In fact, they shy away from violence. This is what I said, her disorder is dissociated from the crime. She was hurtling towards it, the disorder just sped it up.”
They looked into the monitor. A face of a murderer as per Dr. Suresh. A face of a survivor, as per Dr. Shah.
Avilasha opened her eyes. She hugged herself, her knees drawn up. She lay her chin on them. In a sing-song voice, she sang.
“Ice-creams. Waffles. Chocolates and I. We all share something. And I will tell you what. We overpower the aftertaste of what has happened. Leaving behind a memory, sweet and bright.
She looked up, her visage full of childish innocence.
“Mama?” she asked.
Kopabhawan: A room in ancient times where the queens went to vent or cool their anger. Kop meaning anger in Hindi.
Guhya: Concealed, name of Lord Vishnu.
Avilasha: A very personal desire and has a wish which is a secret
DID or Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly known as Multiple Personalities Disorder is usually a result of a trauma, where the human mind creates personalities to cope with the abuse. It occurs more often in women. Most of the abuse is said to have happened under a certain age for the mind to create fragments of the psyche. The different personalities are called alters. The person who is the main person, known as the host or system, may not be aware of the voices or ‘people’ living in their heads. The alters can be of any age, gender, or have different sexual preferences. Physical ailments affecting the host affect all alters in varying degrees. The host may or may not be in control. There have been cases where the host has disappeared. Even the alters at times converge with the host or other ones. Unlike shown in media or books, the voices do not change nor do the faces change. There are definite changes in body posture, though.
Some alters never surface – or never control the human. Other alters are aware of each other and what is happening around them. It is like being in a rear seat of a car drive, aware of what is happening, knowing who is around, yet unable to control the situation.