Fiction: Catharsis

Asha Choubey
The front room was dark and the light had still not been switched on. With a fluttering heart, anticipating another trouble, Mohesh entered the house. Maybe, Smita was feeling low and could not tolerate light, maybe she was not in a mood to welcome him home, maybe she was not in the right disposition-maybe this is yet another evening and she has yet another complaint with life, with Mohesh, with her parents, with herself and with God. 

Nothing new, it’s all very usual. Mohesh has by now, learnt to put up with her undulating moods. She would, nonetheless, offer him a glass of cold water. And then with a sullen face she would bring him a cup of tea and some fresh, hot snacks. How deft she was in the kitchen! But then, Mohesh would never dare to praise her culinary expertise lest it arouse her wrath even more; “ Yes, sure, that’s what I am, that’s all that I am to you. A good cook. Nothing more.” He had mastered the art of tackling her moods. Simply let her be, and she will be all right in an hour or two. Teatime was not supposed to be sharing time, anyway. The whole house would still be filled with the eerie but pregnant silence that Smita was so deft in cooking up-just like she could cook the best of meals.

Mohesh would not say anything; he would simply keep guessing as to what was to be Today’s Special—this was how he referred to Smita’s numerous complaints. He had come to accept this time of the day as his trial period whenever Smita was in one of her moods. Mohesh, the healer of human ailments, had an ailing wife but no remedy worked with her as her ailment was no ailment but a fancy of her mind. After a long exhausting session with his very demanding patients when Mohesh returned home he was seldom greeted with a smile on the lips and twinkle in the eyes. Most of the days, it seemed that the lady of the house would discover and sometimes even invent one or the other pretext to feel dejected and dissatisfied with her no-good husband. Last Monday Smita was sad because Mr. Kochar presented a lovely necklace to his wife. Oh! the design, and Ah! the intricate carving, and Ooh! the weight, and Ah! the shine. This Monday she was feeling dejected for Mr. and Mrs. Kochar (How he despised his neighbours!) had gone to the evening show of the Hritik Roshan starrer Smita so badly wanted to see. Ah! The Roshan boy, and Oh! the lilting music, and Ooh! The dances and Ah! Mr. Kochar who was so loving and considerate a husband. Then Thursday -or was it Wednesday ?-was again a bad day because Mr. Kochar brought a gajra[1]-What a great fall my neighbor!-and put it lovingly in Mrs. Kochar’s hair and didn’t forget to coochie-coo in her ears that she was easily the most beautiful woman in the town. Wasn’t Smita lovelier? But how long ago it was that Mohesh complimented her on her good looks? Ah! The gajra, and Oh! the romance and Ooh! the compliment and Pooh! Dr. Mohesh. On Thursday perhaps it was Sabbath for the Kochars and thankfully the scene on Mohesh’s end was less tensed. Today was Saturday and Mohesh was well armed to face the grumbles, the accusations, the deliriums and the final denouement.

Not that Smita didn’t love or respect her husband. Dr. Mohesh was a gem of a person and a highly qualified doctor as well. He was doing very well in his practice without resorting to any malpractices and Smita was proud of her husband. She knew people respected her husband for his fair dealing and dedication to his profession. Wherever she went she commanded respect for being Dr. Mohesh’s wife. But then, Smita was human too and those very qualities that made Mohesh a good person also made him a not-so-good husband.

Dr. Mohesh wistfully remembered those early days of his marriage. Besides being a lovely bride Smita was also much praised for the wedding gifts that she brought. Mohesh was on cloud nine but, for Smita the marriage brought mixed feelings. On one hand she was happy that she had such a loving husband and on the other she was down in the dumps that she had to leave the lap of luxury that she was born in. Whenever her friends wanted to pay her a visit she used to put them off under one pretext or the other. Mohesh was quite affable and could not understand Smita’s reluctance to meet her own friends.
However, Smita’s mother, who was her close confidante as well, saw the reason and shared the secret with Mohesh. Mohesh’s was a middle-class family whereas Smita belonged to a status family. Her friends used to be in awe of her dresses, her bungalow, the interiors, her band of servants and what not. But after marriage Smita had come down to their level. While Smita accepted Mohesh, she could never accept his background. This sense of alienation remained within her forever and ever.

Mohesh went on to establish his clinic. He earned not only wealth but name and fame as well. From the dreamy-eyed girl Smita became the proud mother of two lovely children. Mohesh gave her everything that she had left behind when she married him. Everything was fine now but for these intermittent evening ordeals. Mohesh had somehow learnt to laugh away these bouts of depression. Not that Smita and Mohesh did not have their happy moments. In fact, in those moments she could joke about her moods. Sometimes Mohesh would ask her, “ Why don’t you tell me beforehand what is going to be your Today’s Special, so that I am prepared for the same?” And at such moments the sun smiled on them as Smita joined in the laughter. “With your laughter Smita, the clouds disappear. My spirits feel the warmth, the glow of your laughter.” But then, next evening again comes as dull, as heavy as the previous one, thought Mohesh. What to do? How to cure Smita of her Kochar Syndrome? Sometimes Mohesh sympathised with Smita but he failed to see what was so laudable, so enviable about the Kochars. If they were richer, there were so many others who were poorer, if Mr. Kochar had enough leisure for his wife it could hardly be a bone of contention as Smita, being the wife of a doctor must be prepared to allow her husband a little busy schedule.

Kochars had become an obsession with Smita. The way they behaved, the way they cared for each other, their luxury cars, their jewellery, their accessories, their this, their that… everything was Ah! Oh!! and Ooh!!! Poor Mohesh who could treat even the most stubborn of chronic diseases had little clue how to remedy Smita’s disease. “Mr. Kochar has some problem. He would see you in the clinic.” This was Smita with a dish in her hand. “What is it?” Mohesh asked while at the same time taking the plate from her hand. “Chronic catarrh, perhaps.” “Can’t you think of anything but Kochars?” Mohesh was a little irritated this time. “But you asked what it is.” “Yes, but I meant the dish.” Mohesh kept munching at the snack that Smita had so generously served. It was tasty and tastier perhaps because tomorrow Mr. Kochar---the great villain in the story was coming under his thumb. Mohesh almost chuckled. Chewing the cutlet hard, as if it were Kochar’s head, Mohesh kept imagining how he was going to vindicate himself tomorrow.

Next day, Smita could not wait for the evening and called up Mohesh at the clinic itself. “When did Mr. Kochar come? Sure! You didn’t keep him waiting. Darling! I know you didn’t charge any fee. They are after all our neighbours, no?” He put up with all her impatient queries quite patiently. Enjoying her restlessness about the darling Kochars he replied in a composed voice, “ Smita dear, It’s nothing serious. Only Mr. Kochar needs to relax. Seems the poor fellow has had to put up with a lot of tension. His catarrh is simply the manifestation of a long suppressed tension.” Putting the receiver down he felt so light he could fly with the birds. Today was a special day. The earth was dancing. The patients were less impertinent, the pharmacist more polite, the Kochars less overpowering and the doctor less perturbed and more eager to go home. Come evening and Mohesh capered his way to Smita. There was a smile on his lips and a song in his heart.

How long back it was that Smita and he had a dinner out! How long ago that they sat locking their palms together in silent yet perfect communion! How long ago that he told her how lovely she looked even at forty! He must take Smita to the Blue Fox today. Agreed, that they have children but can’t they still afford an evening together with only two of them? He didn’t even notice when his car had already entered the gates, so full was he of his preoccupation. But then, climbing the stairs his heart again missed a beat. What was going to be Today’s Special? What if Smita turns down his proposal saying she has a headache? Or what if she simply says she doesn’t feel like going?

By the time he reached his bedroom on the first floor the song in his heart had taken a sombre note. Smita came with a glass of water in her hand and a sugary smile on her lips. Mohesh shivered, What is this? Is she up to something more serious? What lies beneath the smile? “ What would you like to have dear? Coffee or cold drink?” My! My! What has induced this change? Maybe that cunning fox Mrs. Kochar has taught Smita her own crooked ways-Greet your hubby with a smile and then slit his throat when he is taken in. Poor Mr. Kochar! Without even waiting for his reply Smita had disappeared and returned with a coffee tray and some snacks. She sat down to share some moments with him. “It is better not to say anything. The outing can be postponed or even cancelled altogether. Mohesh, be careful not to show any tenderness lest the falcon seize you.”

The disciple of Mrs. Kochar was somehow getting impatient. “Can’t we share our day’s experience over a cup of coffee?” the chain of Mohesh’s thoughts was broken by Smita’s complaint. “Hmm? Did you say something?” Mohesh was secretly applauding himself on his histrionic. “I said why don’t you talk to me? Here I am sitting before you and you behave as if I don’t exist”. “So, this is how she is going to begin today. No way, baby. I am not such an easy prey”. “What’s the news on Kochars’ end? How’s your Mrs. Kochar?”

Mohesh started Smita on her favourite subject. “Poor, Mrs. Kochar, she is going to her parents tomorrow. The man is a swine and he is sure going to repent it. The rascal does not know what he is doing”. “But, what happened? What’s wrong? Has he refused your friend a necklace or is it that he could not get the first day first show tickets of the latest movie for her?” Mohesh feigned ignorance. “Now would you stop this? Don’t you pretend you don’t know anything. Didn’t Mr. Kochar tell you he was going in for a divorce?” and at this Smita drew her chair closer to his, “You are so bad. How could you not share this with your wife?” Smita was visibly hurt. “ But would you believe me? What with their coochie-cooing and their dream- marriage?” “That’s all hogwash. The lady broke down today. She has been suffering in silence for quite a long time now. The swine is having an affair with his secretary and at the same time the fool was putting on such a good show with his wife. You know what he said? He told the poor lady that  you have who advised him to avoid all tensions. He says divorce will mean the end of all tensions for him”.

So that was the reason behind her smile. After all Smita had come to see the emptiness of the blessed, the hollowness of the perfect. The song played again in his heart and the smile on his lips. “ Smita, let us go to Blue Fox for dinner today. The maid can stay with the kids”. “ But I have prepared your favourite Mexican rice and butter chicken.” Smita’s eyes had love and guilt. “ I thought you needed a day’s rest from the kitchen.” “Why should I? I like cooking for you. I enjoy it really.” Ah! The butter chicken and Oh!! The Mexican rice and Ooh!!!the warm smile and Pooh!!!! Mr. Kochar.

[1] A garland made of flowers used by women to deck up their hair.

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