Repugnance had never stroked Alisha till a month ago. Life was never regretful as she could weave innumerable success stories which unvaryingly ran ahead of her. A childhood nurtured in a humble environment, never dared constructing any impediment for her to attain the pinnacle of success. With an abundance of achievements and unalloyed accolades, Alisha was the blooming face of the business world and often trumpeted as the sculptor of e-commerce industry in the country. She fed an unimagined ideology and ignited a whole new outlook of doing business. Her charming personality glorified many a business summit and ornamented cover stories of numerous magazines. Alisha was indeed an emblem for transforming risk into success. Her profound knowledge, immaculate confidence and an entrenched optimism literally crafted her triumph. However, today as the rain smothered the scorching heat and bathed the city of joy, Kolkata, where every soul pranced in the festive fervour of the upcoming Durga Puja, the epithet of positivity and enthusiasm lacked every element of sanguinity. Alisha was cuffed by countless infertile thoughts and tangled in murky emotions. She was cocooned in her own world. Standing on the threshold of the balcony, she was frozen with a pronounced sign of distress.
The ominous grey clouds which ruled the evening sky, were now coughing out pails of water. The falling raindrops on the corrugated roof of her garage sounded akin to pelting of stones, but no ingredient of the outer ambience could disengage her from those hammering thoughts. Her eyes remained glued on the ornate cactus pot in the corner of her balcony.
Alisha had a peculiar fondness towards these not-so-loved creations of God. A young soul, which was supposed to be enchanted by vibrant bracts of flowering plants, was rather beguiled by the prickles from arid soils. She was often found equating a cactus with her own life; born to strive in adversities. Today, her thorny companions carved a new anecdote. The thorns of the cacti seemed to mimic her present situational quagmire; something that perforated her perspectives, something that gradually shredded her soul, something which raised its ugly head constantly. The gust of wind that brought in sprays of water to the cacti was analogous to the unsolicited proposals what she was receiving from the people around her. Ironical! One is always provided stuff in abundance what one doesn’t require. Neither does a cactus need so much watering nor did she wish for so many intrusions in her life. While every daunting incident of the past few weeks marched before her eyes, her soul trolled in that empty conference room of her office where Samhita weighed in her opinion. Alisha sensed a semblance of sanity as her senses lingered on Samhita’s assertions.
“What happened Alisha?” It was nearing eight and everyone had left for the day. Samhita entered the conference room, placed herself next to Alisha and spoke with utmost pliancy. Her innate honeyed voice was swathed with unadulterated concern. Alisha was alone, sitting on her chair, elbows resting on the table, both palms covering her nose and mouth, and was completely drowned in her thoughts. Samhita’s words failed to forward the discussion as Alisha remained voiceless. Her moist eyes bore a glassy vacant look, but concealed an untold tale.
“Are you scared Alisha?”
“I am lost. Crestfallen. I do not know what I am supposed to do. Everything has boiled down to only one issue and I fail to handle it.” Alisha quipped in a melancholy tone, finally breaking her silence. Her words were soaked in a painful sob. Her tears chipped away her inhibitions for she knew that Samhita was the only one to whom she could talk to.
“Why?” Samhita’s curled eyebrows shouldered an absolute disbelief. Her ears were naïve to such utterances from a person like Alisha. She smiled, clutched Alisha’s hand and uttered, “You decide on every second of your life, every breath you take in, every choice you make. You can never fail if YOU remain the decision maker of your life.”
Samhita held many avatars in Alisha’s life apart from being just a colleague. Her judiciousness always coaxed Alisha to seek her advice in every sphere of life and honestly, it always spawned a better result.
“Am I wrong or different?” Alisha sniffed.
“You are an exceptionally abled person and your choices in life have made you what you are today.” Samhita’s eyes widened and she spoke again, “We didn’t design our bodies. God is the architect. A human body boils down to the same chemical, DNA, but we all are different. And there comes HIS scientific and artistic acumen that make all of us unique. Isn’t it?”
Alisha’s teary eyes, muddled mind and suppressed emotions egged Samhita to speak further. “Yes, you are different. Not only physically but physiologically as well. So? A difference from others doesn’t declare you to be wrong. Most importantly, who gave these social zealots the right to decide on you and your body? Prudent doctors, who proclaim to be God in disguise, failed to categorise you and tagged you as a mistake of God. You are now marketed as a mutant.” Samhita’s expression paraded her own staggered mind.
It knocked the wind out of Alisha’s sails as she beheld a new side of Samhita. Her senses were halted for the present as she reveled in the hard hitting words from the most shy and introverted person of her office. She assembled her mind and prodded, "What do you mean Samhita?”
Samhita smirked. “As a sales personnel, I see you as a lucrative brand in the world of medicine. One group of doctors gathered attention as your discoverer and the other group has geared up to gain fame by readying themselves to alter God’s creation. Do you find yourself anywhere amidst their clandestine desires?” Samhita paused, gulped some water from her bottle and continued, “You heard it right. It is clandestine indeed.” Samhita’s voice reached a crescendo. There was nobody to hear her sonorous voice except for the wretched soul of Alisha, who had nothing to contradict as her own being resonated with Samhita’s proclamations. Till date Alisha had fallen flat in opining the same to the merciless conniving world outside.
Alisha blinked sluggishly at Samhita. The smudged eyeliner conveyed a lot more than just grief. A rage burning within, a frustration flourishing every second and desperation for a patient listener. Samhita’s eyes too moistened on witnessing Alisha’s crippled state of mind. She indeed loved her. She resisted her welling tears only to utter another spiel about the hypocrisy of the medical fraternity. “The brutal fact is, you are a desirable experimental animal. In the operation theatre, you will be split asunder. Doctors holding their scalpels and scissors will spend a few minutes admiring the miracle before they actually separate the organs apart. That bunch of reputable doctors of the country will be accompanied by some lobbied medical interns too.”
“Lobbied?” Alisha smiled, glanced at Samhita with her drenched eyelashes. Alisha bore a pristine innocence. Teary eyes with a tiny smile, she looked like a child who was gradually getting convinced.
“Yes, lobbied interns. Your body is a miracle indeed. So, affluence shall certainly upend intelligence. Interns will be those with political references or an heir of a rich and affluent family. They would stare not knowing what to do.” Samhita cleared her throat, smirked and continued, “In my opinion not only the interns but also those acclaimed surgeons do not actually know the outcome of this strenuous cutting and sewing.”
Samhita’s sarcasm sketched not only a harsh reality but also a little solace for Alisha. It was more like what Alisha had been weakened to pronounce, Samhita was merely expressing. In the last few minutes, Alisha was grateful that at least one person on this earth was by her side.
“Tell me honestly. Do you face any difficulty in your life?” Samhita probed. Her spotless fair skin had gained a tint of rosiness, probably due to the heated up (almost) one-sided discussion. By now, she too had become equally resentful. Partly due to the needless hype in the media and partly on witnessing Alisha’s hapless insecure mind for the first time.
“No.” Alisha’s negation was very prompt.
“Thirty years are gone. You never felt anything until the day you participated in the demonstration against Article Section 377. Isn’t it?”
“Yes.” Alisha wiped out the remnants of her tears from her cheeks. The dark hollow void which was chomping her soul till now was slowly vanishing as Samhita’s justifications filled the blanks.
“One fine day doctors declared something terrible with you and predicted a sooner death. Ludicrous!” Samhita banged her hands on the table. Her disgruntlement towards the prevailing situation was evident. Actually any sane mind would have parroted the same. She bit her lips out of habit, swallowed her saliva and exclaimed, “Research says each one of us stands an equal chance of developing some form of cancer. Absolutely true. But we don’t queue up for a biopsy until our body reveals some symptom isn’t it?”
“Doctors want to give me a normal life.”
“And who decides what is normal?” Samhita chuckled, downed some more water and murmured. “You didn’t even find it difficult while making love to me, did you?”
Samhita broaching about their sexual relationship was strange to say the least. They never spoke about it anywhere except in her apartment. Alisha was astonished and dumbstruck while Samhita paid scant regard to it and continued, “They want to excise your body without even guaranteeing you your life. Don’t deny about the indemnity form what Dr.Chawla told you about.” A tangible sign of rage brewed in the room. Samhita, along with her provocative arguments, sounded more factual and practical than just a paramour.
“What about those social workers haranguing me wherever I go?” Alisha’s thwarted soul probably sought one last solution from her wise friend.
Samhita creased up as she replied, “Oh my dear! Which world are you in? Do you think they are some social servants who are dying to sacrifice their life for others? They are bloody paid demonstrators. Probably paid by the hour they spend on their soliloquy. We found them everywhere, blowing every issue out of proportion. And please don’t question their loyalty. Okay? That word doesn’t exist in their dictionary. They acknowledge only one word, Money. YOU pay them, they will jump the bandwagon. The paradox is they are asking YOU to donate. I mean seriously?”
“I just do a bit for the underprivileged.” Alisha responded diligently.
“A bit?” Samhita’s eyes turned as round as saucers. “One old age home, one orphanage and an NGO supporting transgender rights are fed from half of your salary. You call it a bit? Oh God! There, the Modesty Queen strikes again. If you can serve people unknown to you, YOUR body demands your service too.” Samhita paused, thought for a while and voiced, “Don’t get carried away sweetheart. You are just hot in the market at present. Your value will fade out soon. We live in an amnesiac world. Given a chance, this world will declare you abnormal for your sexual preference as well. What do you do then? Get married to any Tom, Dick and Harry just to adhere to societal norms?”
Alisha was left speechless as she indeed harboured a lot of things what the prevailing society neither accepted nor approved of. Samhita looked outside and muttered, “It’s going to rain. Let’s leave.” Samhita fondled Alisha’s shoulder and uttered her last words before bidding adieu for the day. “I am not trying to manipulate your thoughts. You could share your true feelings because we love each other. You decide dear. I shall stand by you no matter what.”
Alisha was not a matter of talk just because of her accomplishments. She gained much more prominence as a biological miracle right from her childhood. She had an extra heart right from her foetal stage and it had imparted her with a superb metabolic rate and an advanced IQ. Many years of medical research failed to understand her condition thoroughly and doctors had left her be. She survived, not only as an ‘out of the box’ human body but also as a victorious woman in this male dominated world and efficiently represented the oestrogen-brigade. However, one fine day, a hurricane of trouble stormed her life. Alisha’s physiology gathered some unwarranted attention from an affluent medical team who wanted to work on her. They wished to chop out her second heart to transform her into a usual human body. When she did not second their thoughts, a conflict blossomed. More than medical, it was social. The debate on her survival soon metamorphosed into a social responsibility. The issue became ‘donation of her extra heart’. Alisha pined for some peace when the whole world jostled to opine for her future steps. Everyone draped the robe of a judge and transfigured into her spokesperson. Media construed numerous bits; some highlighted the advanced scientific developments, some enlightened the world with Alisha’s past life while some went to the extent of fabricating a religious touch towards her physiological disparity. Alisha’s predicament gained additional protuberance for her being a renowned face. Any conference, business meet or a mere rendezvous ended with only one query. Why was she not accepting surgery?
With so many people poking their noses in her life, Alisha was literally driven into a dilemma. Her life was cluttered, not knowing what to do. It was like the narrator and the navigator of her mind were divergent. The biological anomaly which actually heralded her success, directly or indirectly, was indeed an asset for her. She was born with it, survived with it till date and not to forget succeeded too. However, today’s discussion with Samhita was proving to be a brainstorming one.
It was eleven in the night. Alisha’s phone rang a couple of times but the only thing that reverberated in her eardrums were Samhita’s words. The night was stressful. Sleep was not thought deprived. The next morning was not peaceful either. As the sunrays intensified in the sky, so did the shouting of slogans from the self-proclaimed guardian angels of the society. She could spot them from the opened balcony door. Last night’s rain lent a chill to the breeze if not a wintry touch. A sudden gust of wind dashed through her room, whipped her hair and along with it gently sprinkled a wisp of confidence in her. As she doused her face with water, a little thought nipped in. ‘Alisha’ literally meant protected by God. A smile, as pure as the first ray of dawn, blossomed on her face. Probably God protected her existence on earth with this extra heart. A splash of water from the shower washed away all her trepidations one by one. As the soft bristles of the hairbrush tickled her scalp, her thoughts too were set in motion. She looked at herself in the mirror and saw herself poised, assertive and unafraid. The low hanging mist and cobwebs were cleared from her mind. She dressed up for office. A black pencil skirt with a white blouse tucked in, wore her best stilettos and was all set to voice out her final word, not only to her worrying parents downstairs but also to that restless baying mob outside.
“Have you decided Alisha?” Her mom’s baffled voice knocked on her eardrums.
Alisha, who shouldered a stressed out look for the past couple of days, was exuding relief at last. Her unflustered response raised misgivings in her mom who wore a perplexed look and uttered “About the surgery.”
“Oh! No. I won’t go for it.”
“Have a look at the placards Alisha. They are calling you selfish. You are on the news. Every day, we get a call from some or the other news channel seeking an interview with you.” Her mom spoke like a child’s mugged up answer to an exam question. She was panicky more for what the society thought. She paused but didn’t take much time to speak again. “It’s about your future too. Who will marry you on hearing your medical history?” She uttered while wiping her not so defined tears.
“Hmm!” Alisha smiled, slipped into her chair at the dining table and joined her father for breakfast. He looked puzzled too though not overtly expressive. Probably her unconcerned attitude made him so. She spoke while buttering a slice of bread. “Next time you get a call from those sensationalizing journalists, just give them an appointment to meet me. I would be glad to inform them of my decision personally.”
Alisha’s parents were confounded. Perhaps they were all ears to hear her speaking their mind. A not so influential family in a country like India, parent of a single daughter, intertwined in the threads of cultures-tradition-customs, prey to societal views on them, what else could one expect from her parents?
“Why don’t you agree to Dr. Chawla’s proposal?” Her father voiced tremulously. It sounded more like a plea than opinion.
Alisha slowed down her chewing and gulped some of the orange juice. Her eyes scanned the wall displaying all the accolades she had achieved till now. Gold medals, shields, laminated certificates and photographs showing her receiving prizes from renowned personalities. She smiled and spoke, “Remember those medals Dad? I got those for what I am. Ever since childhood, my achievements have been longer than my surname. I was hardly known as your child. My accolades distinguished me. I never came second in my life, be it a school exam or an Olympiad or any scholarship. The credit goes to the so- called anomaly of dual hearts and not to my genes.”
She paused as her mother interrupted. “Don’t sound philosophical. Doctors are raising doubt on your survival.”
Alisha pushed away her plate and stared at her parents. Her eyes could read their disquiet, but it was high time to reveal her piece of mind.
“Why didn’t they raise any doubt in the past thirty years? I didn’t become famous overnight. Did I? I attained fame at the age of six. Everyone basked in the glory of MY achievements.”
“What are you trying to say Alisha?”
“Nothing complicated. Just posing a simple query.” Alisha paused, looked at her dad and asked, “I have been going to Dr. Chawla since my childhood. Never did he talk about my chances of survival that time. I fainted just once and my survival became an issue all of a sudden?”
“They are doctors Alisha.” Her dad tried to placate her by stating the obvious.
“So? A bunch of medical professionals in a famed hospital uttered some mysterious biological terms, took the liberty of advertising cutting-edge technology in medical treatments and declared me unnatural while proclaiming to cure me.” Alisha raised her voice.
“Because you are…”
“I AM NOT SICK mom.” Alisha exclaimed. Her bottled-up frustration was finally waking up from dormancy. “It is high time I open my mind and you guys hear it out.” There was no choice left for her parents than to lend their ears.
“Do you think politics is restricted to parliaments? A celebrated medical instrumentation company is waiting impatiently to showcase their newly designed instrument of preserving hearts. Every cardiologist of the country wants to be a part of ‘the miraculous heart separation surgery’. I am merely their ladder to reach fame.” Her throat was parched but her mind, not anymore. She put aside all her quandary and spoke firmly.
“Death is inevitable. For everyone. But I don’t want to die bare bodied, with a slit on my chest and as a result of a failed experiment of an ‘otherwise’ good doctor.”
“What do you mean? They are indeed good doctors. The best ones, I suppose.” Her dad justified. More than her dad, it was the society-fearing man within him who spoke.
“Then why couldn’t they justify the presence of two hearts in me? And how can they be so sure that I will survive with one heart removed? Who knows, I may die once the hearts are separated.”
“Nobody can predict death.” Her mom sniffed. She, who nourished Alisha from a foetus to a well grown woman, could no longer hold back her tears.
“That’s exactly my point. If life is controlled by God, then so is death. I keep getting mails from the hospital demonstrating the severity of my condition. Each mail is more provocative than the previous ones. I mean seriously. Am I so important?” Alisha smirked. She sounded revolted and spoke without the slightest hint of remorse.
She took out the printed copies of a few emails from her bag and read it out loud. In one, a doctor endeavoured to influence her for the operation. A second one came from the instrumentation company, decreeing the proficiency of their technique and instruments. The third one was hilarious. The hospital authorities had decided to offer her a discount should she wish to undertake the procedure in their hospital. She was amazed. Her intellect had made her the youngest managing director in the country. She headed an online shopping company with thousands of employees. She owned two houses, offices in all the major cities and reveled in almost all the luxuries of life. She was never against the operation for monetary reasons. She was against it because she didn’t want to change herself for the sake of anybody else out there.
“But they are asking you to donate.” Her mom spoke timidly.
“Donation? What do they mean? Organs can be donated even after death. Why only heart? I will donate every part of my body. I donate blood every month. My eyes are registered in an eye bank. I donate not only to save a life but to satiate someone’s every day hunger also.” An eerie silence engulfed the house. Her parents knew that Alisha was true to the truest sense. She gulped some juice to soothe her dried throat and asked, “They say they have a machine to preserve hearts. Then why are they in a hurry?”
“Possibly your body demands so.” A mother concerned of her only child’s life was certainly disinterested to the facts. She couldn’t comprehend anything except the doctor’s assurance for Alisha’s survival.
“Huh! They can’t wait because they don’t want to wait. When you create something Mom, the first thing you do is to test its efficacy. A company invented the technique, doctors are to be educated with it and they just want me to become the guinea pig.” Alisha sneered and ploughed on, “You never know. Tomorrow they may ask you to donate your womb as it could nourish such a miraculous child.”
Alisha’s mobile rang. It was Sanjana, a reporter who had been running behind her ever since the past few weeks. Alisha picked up her call for the first time. It was perhaps unexpected for the reporter, who mumbled for few seconds, before mustering the courage to seek an interview. Alisha asked her to wait outside the house as her decision was organized enough to be issued to the public. She got up from the chair, hanged the handbag on her right shoulder and walked to the main door. No more hiding. No more oppression. No more hesitance. It was her body. Only the creator and Alisha had the right on it.
A soft, calming, crispy breeze carrying the fragrance of night jasmine, grazed her face as she opened the door. It was the month of October; that time of the year for nature’s revitalization, a phase of letting go of those who no longer serve anything positive and biding the storm with the hope of a new beginning. Alisha had endured the storm and was yet to begin the new chapter of her life on her own terms and conditions. Before she could face the world, her uncluttered mind urged her to reveal another truth to her parents. Her decision towards surgery was infinitesimal before her decision to be ingenuous towards her parents.
She swiveled back, looked at her parents in the eye and uttered, “And please stop seeking grooms for me. I AM A LESBIAN. I am not interested in MEN.”
Alisha stepped out, smelled the virgin air and walked down the driveway, wearing a contented smile to answer the impatient mob. She was fearless. Freed from any guilt, she set herself to conquer the world all over again.