Monday, June 21, 2021

The Little Girl With A Little Thesaurus

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CHAPTER 1

Today, ten-year-old Anisha jumped out of her bed at 5 am and rushed straight to her parents’ big bedroom, upstairs.

“I saw Jesus Christ in my dream tonight!” screamed Anisha, waking up both of her parents.

“Did Jesus say anything to you,” asked her mother in a drowsy tone, while slowly pulling her daughter into her warm lap..

“Well, he said that, his own heart had been a stranger to him, had been in oblivion, since millions of years.

“Anisha, you have not been speaking to us properly for two months. Maybe that is the interpretation of your dream,” said her father, moving closer to his daughter and putting his hand over his daughter’s head to caress her hair.

Anisha threw her little body onto the bed and wondered whether she should share her interpretation of the dream with her parents. She decided against it and quickly moved out of her parent’s room.

Anisha, ten years old, living in Delhi, was one of a kind. There are misogynists and misanthropes and misogamists – but what do you call a little girl who hates the whole adult population?

Thanks to the Coronavirus outbreak, her boring school was now shut. Online classes were a menace. Closure of school did not mean freedom from the teaching faculty and their lectures and, she hated even the most amiable of her teachers. She refused to be tutored by her parents, as well. “I will handle all school assignments myself” – that was her stubborn principle.

This day witnessed a diary entry by Anisha:

Man loves Woman. Jesus was a Man. He had forgotten to take care of the women of the world. That is why we have gender inequality in this world.”

It was spring – Anisha’s favourite season. She went to the lawn of her house with a little thesaurus in her hand. She loved learning antonyms. Somehow, the ten-year-old girl was fascinated that everything in this world had its own opposite. Obedience and rebellion. Submissive and assertive. Conformity and non-conformity. Words were relational, she realised at an early age. Male had meaning only because of the existence of its opposite- female. Good was significant because of the presence of evil.

Staying at home meant watching animated films on Netflix with her elder sister Nikita all day. Nikita made that compromise. Nikita did not find Disney movies interesting enough. But the 17-year-old Nikita wanted to inculcate a love for life in her sister. Love for films. Love for debating. Love for writing.

But today, it was Anisha’s turn to make a compromise. Nikita followed American politics instead of following Indian politics. Joe Biden. Bernie Sanders. Definitely not Trump. Today, Nikita made her sister sit with her and re-watch the US Presidential debates. Anisha was too young to understand the debates.

“Trump is funny,” said Anisha with a naughty smile. Out of all adults out there, she had chosen to be Trump’s fan. Nikita was exasperated at her sister’s choices. Nikita made her watch videos showing Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (AOC), hoping that Anisha would get a sense of what good politicians are like. “AOC is a fool!” exclaimed Anisha. Nikita gave up.

But, one more binary was added to Anisha’s knowledge, thanks to Nikita. Democrats and Republicans.

Today, Anisha got a call from her English teacher Ms Astha. Now, Ms Astha was fond of Anisha as she was impressed by her extraordinary vocabulary. Anisha topped in English all the time. “Screw it,” Anisha said loudly after hanging up the phone.

“What happened,” asked Nikita.

“I lost two marks in a question because I wrote that Africa is a developed country instead of writing that it is an underdeveloped one.”

Nikita smiled. This girl is dealing with too many words.

Nikita was 17. Today, her parents called her to the drawing room at 12 noon. Anisha went trailing behind her sister.

“What do you want to study, Nikita?” asked Nikita’s mother.

“I want to study Economics at St. Stephens’ college”, replied Nikita promptly.

“I want to study at School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London” Anisha piped in. The whole family was astonished and stared at Anisha. Anisha gave that marked naughty smile of hers.

Orient and Occident. Nikita did not know the meaning of these words, but ten-year-old Anisha did. But, how is that possible?

CHAPTER 2

Her room started shaking. Must be an earthquake tremor, thought Anisha. She observed the furniture around herself and to her shock, it was raining inside her house. It was a warm sunny day outside. Out of everything, she wanted to save the Little Thesaurus first. She grabbed the Little Thesaurus which was drenched with water.

Two white balls popped out of the black book cover of Little Thesaurus and a white chalk etched itself vertically in the middle of the book cover. Then there were clouds and snowfall in Anisha’s room. As she gasped at everything, four little white chalks cracked through the pages of the book and now Little Thesaurus looked like a live robot. It lacked lips though. Anisha painted a white lip on the book immediately.

The rain had stopped. No more clouds. No more snowfall. But, a rainbow. “Yes, a rainbow!” exclaimed Anisha. All this was extraordinary, but not extraordinary enough for Anisha to run to her parents and show them everything.From all she knew, she thought that after all, things had to turn out this way. It was this way in all the Barbie movies she had watched. A painting, a floor, a wall, a cupboard, anything could lead to a magical world. At least this was the way in all the fantasy films Anisha had watched with Nikita.

And then the rainbow disappeared. And Little Thesaurus was not a live robot anymore. It was the same black hardcover static book.

Anisha sighed. She must get to the bottom of all this. She did not even know or remember how Little Thesaurus had come into her possession.Well,, the neighbour next door, the old lady Reena Gangotri had gifted Little Thesaurus to Anisha on her sixth birthday, said Anisha’s mother. “ I must meet that old grandma,” responded Anisha.

“Don’t use the word grandma for her. She is a lunatic.”

“But I must meet her.”

Anisha’s mother grabbed her daughter’s hand and jerked her furiously.

“You have never listened to us. But this time, if you care about your life, you must. That old lady is a monster, do you hear me?”

“But why?”

“Four years back, her husband committed suicide. People think that Mrs Gangotri murdered her husband over a trifle. But police could not gather enough evidence to charge her with murder.”

Anisha did not say anything further.

CHAPTER 3

It was 5 pm. Both her parents had gone to attend a party. Anisha sneaked out of her house and with hurried steps, she crossed the street to  Mrs Gangotri’s house. She rang the calling bell, which looked like a rusted circular piece of iron. The design of the door was strange as well. It was a black door, with white eyes and a white nose designed on it. The door was exactly like the live robotic form of Anisha’s Little Thesaurus. An old lady wearing a black and white nightgown opened the door. Her black and white nightgown was striped like a zebra’s skin.

“I am Anisha. I live in the house opposite to yours.”

Mrs Gangotri gave a long hard look at the little girl and then said, “Oh. I remember going to your house in 2016 when you were very small. It was your birthday that day. 9th July 2016. Oh yes, how can I forget that day. My husband had died in the morning that day.”

“Can I come in?”

“Yes. But there are no chairs in my home. You will have to sit on the floor.”

Anisha slowly entered the home, and with a sense of hesitation and caution and looked at the walls of Mrs Gangotri’s house. There were no family pictures with her husband or children. Does she have children? The walls of the room were full of historical pictures, black and white pictures of the heroes from Indian National Independence Movement. Gandhi. Nehru. Maulana Azad. Bhagat Singh.

“Those are pictures of freedom fighters, aren’t they? I have seen these pictures in a history encyclopaedia which was gifted by my parents last year”, said Anisha in an enthusiastic tone.”

“Do you want tea or coffee?”

“No, thanks. I just wanted to talk to you.”

Then, Anisha sat on the white marble floor and noticed two black kittens in the corner of the room.

“Why is everything black and white here in your house? Don’t you like different colours?”

“My life is like a black and white movie from the previous century. There are no colours of happiness in my life. I have clinical depression and I am blind towards the colours of joy. I hate complexity in life. I like to see life as an obvious paradox, as a simple contradiction between two entities, such as between two opposite colours – black and white. The white God and the black ghost. My husband was a Christian. White Jesus. Black Satan.”

“Satan? Who is he?”

“God’s enemy. Lucifer, the former angel, burning in fire. Simple isn’t it? The binary of heroes and villains?”

Anisha said in a low tone, sighing, “I love binaries as well. But I don’t want to end up like you. I want my life to be full of different colours.”

“Well, I get it. Is there any specific reason why you came to visit me? No person in the right frame of mind comes to visit me. They all think that I am insane.”

“I wanted to talk to you about the little thesaurus which you gifted me on my sixth birthday. 9th July 2016. The day your husband died.”

“The day before he died, he went to a book street vendor in Connaught place and bought that thesaurus from there. Then, he said this thesaurus will cure my clinical depression and make me happy like I was in my 20s. I did not ask for any explanation. My husband always came up with eccentric ideas to make me happy. Next day he was lying dead on the floor with pills and drugs scattered on his left side.”

“Why did you gift the thesaurus to me?”

“Before my husband committed suicide, he left a note which said – “The little thesaurus is for those who have a love for life, a hope for a beautiful future. Since I neither had love nor hope for life, I did not keep the thesaurus with me.”

Anisha narrated to Mrs Gangotri how the Little thesaurus had transformed itself into a live robot with its black cover designed exactly like the door of Mrs Gangotri’s house, how it had started raining and snowing in her house.

“Oh, you believe in fantasy and magic too. Now, that is something which is similar between us two. But if you want to figure out why it is magical, only my husband had answers to that. Let’s do Plan chit and call the spirit of my husband, shall we?”

“Sorry, I have to leave.”

“Wait.”

Mrs Gangotri went towards a black trunk kept in the corner on the white marble floor. She rummaged through the objects kept in the trunk and pulled out a diary with a cover containing a painting which looked like an abstract combination of rainbow, snowfall and rain. “Keep this with you. It is full of my husband’s eccentric ideas. He had said one day he will have children. And he made this diary for them, saying that his job was to fuel the imagination of his children. But I was against having children as I knew I would be a terrible mother. We never had children.”

Anisha took the diary from Mrs Gangotri and left.

CHAPTER 4

It was 6 pm. Anisha was back in her room. Her parents had not yet returned from the party.

She sat down on her bed and she suddenly realised that her bedcover contained the same pattern as the one which was designed on the cover of Mr.Gangotri’s diary. She got up and changed the bedcover to a blue one with a pink floral design. To her astonishment, the front cover of the diary turned into a blue one with the same floral design as the one on her bedcover. She repeated the experiment two more times. She was enjoying all this. A yellow bedcover meant a yellow diary. A red bedcover meant a red diary. Anisha wondered about all this magic that was happening.

Anisha suddenly felt dizzy and sleepy. She decided to take a nap. She saw Jesus Christ in her dream once again. But this time Jesus Christ did not say anything.

Anisha got up after a half an hour nap. 6:30 pm. She took out the Little Thesaurus. The first page of the thesaurus was blank. She drew a rough picture of Jesus Christ on that blank page. To her surprise, the thesaurus elongated in size. A white painting of Christ on the black cover appeared and the book started talking.

“Anisha, why do you hate adults?”

“I hate those with ego, arrogance and power. I hate those who order, instruct and command. I hate those who curtail free will.”

“Free Will. I was killed on the cross due to the free will that God gave to humans. Do you know this? Do you know the story about the forbidden apple? About how Satan lured Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden apple. How I had to sacrifice myself to atone the humankind for their sins?”

“No, I didn’t know all this. I am not a Christian anyway. I am a Hindu.”

“But you don’t see Lord Ram or Krishna in your dreams, do you?”

“No, but I see Goddess Durga and Kali sometimes.”

“Oh. Do they say something to you?”

“No, but I have seen them giving a furious look at me. Must be because I am a naughty girl who does not respect adults.”

Then, suddenly the white painting of Jesus Christ disappeared from the black cover of the Little Thesaurus.

7 pm. The Little Thesaurus instantaneously was covered with a white gown, like a Christian Bride’s wedding gown. It was moving. It jumped on the bed and the bedcover turned into a black sheet with the painting of a white bride on it.

The Little Thesaurus started speaking.

“Anisha, I am getting married today.”

“Married to whom?”

“You.”

“WHAT?!”

“I, The Little Thesaurus, take you, to be my lawfully wedded wife to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”

“Wait. What the hell is happening?”,Anisha screamed.

Marriages happen in fairy tales. The princess in distress would marry the valiant prince. But she was a ten-year-old girl. How could a girl be married to the Little Thesaurus?

The Little Thesaurus stopped speaking. It was back to a normal non-living object.

The secret of all this must be in the diary written by Mr.Gangotri.

The diary had the same Christian bride on its front cover which had appeared on Little Thesaurus, a while back. Anisha opened the diary and she found photographs. Romantic photographs. Wedding photographs. Honeymoon photographs. Photographs of the Gangotri couple, showing the love between Mr Gangotri and Mrs Gangotri. Mrs Gangotri had such a bright happy face back then; she wore colourful gowns.

Anisha turned the pages. She found that Mr Gangotri had written letters addressed to Jesus Christ. On the last page of the diary, Mr Gangotri had written in black bold capital letters, “DEAR JESUS, SAVE ME FROM MY WIFE.” Anisha quickly closed the diary. She stood up and glanced out of the window. Her parents were coming home. Mrs Gangotri was following Anisha’s parents to their house.

As soon as Anisha opened the door to let her parents come in, Mrs Gangotri rushed inside and within seconds, her parents and Anisha had fainted on the floor. After a few hours, they regained their consciousness. Mrs Gangotri was not around. It seemed nothing had been stolen.

Anisha rushed to her room. To her big relief, The Little Thesaurus, in its black lifeless form, was still there. But the diary had disappeared. She searched for Mr Gangotri’s diary all around and could not find it.

CHAPTER 5

Anisha erased the pencil drawn picture of Jesus Christ on the first blank page inside the Little Thesaurus. She drew a picture of her family, her mother, father and elder sister Nikita. Once again, the whole room started shaking. Once again, there was rain, snowfall and eventually, a rainbow. But this time, the Little Thesaurus transformed itself in a way it had not done before. It turned into Mr Gangotri – the ghost of dead Mr Gangotri!

Anisha fell with fear on the floor. Finally, she managed to utter the words, “Who are you?”

“Mr Gangotri. Your husband.”

“WHAT NONSENSE IS HAPPENING?”

“I am The Little Thesaurus. I wrote The Little Thesaurus. While I was alive, I was a specialist in linguistics, I was a consultant for the Oxford Dictionary. I had left the unfinished draft of the Little Thesaurus before I got married. After learning that my wife saw the world through a binary lens, that my wife loved antonyms, I decided to add a section to The Little Thesaurus- Universal Antonyms. I wanted the Little Thesaurus to contain all the antonyms which will develop a love for life in my wife. Ancient and modern. Clear and cloudy. Natural and man-made. My list of antonyms did not contain a single word with a sad connotation. No sad words in The Little Thesaurus- that is its uniqueness.”

Ten-year-old Anisha had not realised this fact about The Little Thesaurus – it had no sad words. There were no words such as disadvantage, scarce, ugly; this had not come to Anisha’s notice.

“BUT HOW IN THE WORLD ARE YOU MY HUSBAND? CHILD MARRIAGE IS ILLEGAL. AND YOU DO NOT HAVE MY CONSENT.”

“I will tell you how in the world am I your husband. God and Mother Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ. I am your God. You are my Mother Mary. We both will give birth to an Anisha who knows how to respect adults.”

“NONSENSE. You are a ghost, aren’t you? Shouldn’t you be burning in hell because you took your own life? You gave up the beautiful life for which Jesus Christ had sacrificed himself.”

“SILENCE. SILENCE”

“I WILL NOT BE SILENCED. THE WOMEN OF THE WORLD WILL NOT BE SILENCED. You want me to respect adults? See what kind of a world your God has given to us. If you want to give birth, give birth to an Anisha who will be a feminist activist.”

“You have quite an extraordinary vocabulary at the age of ten.”

“Thanks. I have heard this statement hundreds of time from my English teacher, Ms Astha. She is my fan. I am the English genius of my school. I am quite a celebrity.”

“You hate adults because they are egotistic, but you aren’t free of ego, are you? You have the audacity to call yourself a celebrity and a teacher your fan.”

“Why not? When children are fans of elders, no one raises a finger. But when it is the other way around, people have a problem with that.”

“Anisha, adults have experiences. They are much more experienced than you and have got more lessons and insights from life than you have. They have gone through the struggles of life for a longer period of time than you have.”

“But are adults daydreamers like children? Are they as imaginative and optimistic as children? Do adults believe in fantasy and magic like children?”

Hearing this, the ghost of Mr Gangotri became pale.

“My wife Reena Gangotri was a daydreamer, she was imaginative and optimistic like you when she was ten years old. We used to play together. However, when she was 15, her mother died. Her father was alcoholic and abusive. Her mother who embodied all that was positive in life died. And her father refused to support Reena financially. She was kicked out of her home when she was 15.”

“What happened, then?”

“Reena did a number of odd jobs. Vendor. Waitress. Receptionist. But she wrote all along in her personal diary. She used to tell me that she will be the next JK Rowling. That was a time when, in spite of poverty, she had hope and love for life.”

“Did you do anything to help out her? Considering that you both were lovers since a young age…”

“I begged my father to pay for Reena’s high school fees. My kind and benevolent father agreed.”

“So, Reena graduated from high school. Did she go to college?”

“No. I could not arrange for funding of her college education. By the age of 18, depression had set in inside Reena. Thinking that I am the only person who could make her happy, I married her as soon as her psychiatric diagnosis was revealed. My one and only goal in life was to make Reena happy. Reena used to say that one day she will write a book titled Anisha’s Binary.”

“Anisha, that is my name!”

“Anisha was also Reena’s nickname. Reena said that one day she will write a book explaining why she loves opposites, why she wanted everything to be black and white, why she never liked shades of grey. Her mother-an angel. Her father- a demon. That was the root. Her parents were a paradox-a couple of contradictory personalities. From a young age, she saw that her mother was the essence of everything that is good in the world. Her father-the quintessential pessimist and cynic.”

Then, the ghost of Mr Gangotri disappeared. The Little Thesaurus had disappeared for good.

It was 9 pm. Dinner time. Family time. Anisha started looking at her parents with newfound respect. What were my mom and dad’s struggles? Did they ever have depression? Had they ever lost a loved one? Did they ever struggle to make their ends meet? How did they pay for their college’s tuition fees? Her privileged upbringing had made Anisha blind towards the stories of struggle. She was rich. Her parents were rich. She assumed all the adults were always rich right from their birth, just like her. She lived in a posh colony in South Delhi. She went to a global school, which was completely air-conditioned.

But her interaction with Little Thesaurus taught her that the past life of so many adults is a mystery to us. Why had they lost their optimism and hope? Why did they stop dreaming? There are so many stories behind the mental health and attitude of adults that we don’t know. And many of them don’t go about complaining about their past struggles and bragging about where they have reached in spite of all that struggle.

It was still a mystery why Mr Gangotri had killed himself. Anisha now was curious to know about the past of all the adults in her life.

15 YEARS LATER

“I want to kill myself,” said Anisha’s new boyfriend.

“What’s your story? I want to hear everything about your past,” replied Anisha.

***



Image Courtesy: Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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Manjima Misra
Manjima Misra is the author of two books: 'Indian Feminine Fury' and 'Unapologetically Mad'. She is pursuing M.A. in English Literature at the University of Delhi and has worked as a writer for various digital media platforms such as 'Feminism in India' and 'Qrius'.

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