This piece was written by Megha Mehta (Batch of 2019)
One morning, if you were to summon the courage to wake up early (or if you were to involuntarily wake up after a late night alcohol binge), and stand in front of your mirror and tilt it at an angle so that the first rays of sunlight hit your reflection, you might happen to see a gaping hole in the center of your chest. It won’t be a perfect circle, but a mass of raw, gaping tissue, as if somebody had clawed their way through your sternum. You would be shocked that you were still alive. This hole had begun innocently enough, as a discolored bruise. One day you noticed it had assumed the texture of a scratch. Two mornings earlier it was an incised wound, and you were seriously considering going to the doctor. Now you look at yourself and expect to faint, but somehow you’re still standing and everything around you is just as ordinary as ever.
The doctor at the hospital doesn’t think anything’s wrong. Your blood pressure, temperature, all vital stats came normal. You repeatedly point to your chest and he gives a slight leery glance, adjusts his spectacles and says, “Really dear, there’s nothing there. The X Rays don’t show anything. Maybe you should take some rest. It will be alright, eventually.” So you put down your hole to an early morning hallucination because really, if you were that hurt you would have bled to death by now.
You carry on with the motions, going to class, going to lunch, going out with friends, going to bed, repeat, ad nauseum. You consciously avoid looking at the hole when you dress in the morning, but its presence haunts you in the form of a dull, throbbing pain which refuses to subside. You watch your favourite music videos, read your favourite books, binge-eat, crack the same stupid jokes you do in every conversation. Nobody notices your wound. It occurs to you that maybe some supernatural spirit crept into your bedroom at night and ripped out your heart, replacing it with some imposter organ. Blood doesn’t flows in your veins anymore. It has been replaced by a bitter, corrosive poison. You cannot summon the energy to do anything, not even cry. The melancholy of not being able to share your predicament has been replaced by a strange listlessness that makes you want to sleep all the time.
This time, the doctor sends you to a ‘specialist’, one who claims to know all about such holes. He personally thinks it is hogwash, but suggests you give it a try. The specialist scientifically explains the different types of holes she has encountered over the years-splinters left by heartbreaks, cracks from years of abuse, valleys carved out by professional failure. “I haven’t experienced any of these,” you say numbly. Your own voice sounds alien to you now, so do your body and your mannerisms.
“Try yoga,” she says helpfully, with the all too bright smile of someone who knows she has a lost case on her hands, but tries anyway. “Or exercise. I have some books you can read-”
“Tried all of that. Thanks.”
“Well darling, you can’t be like this forever, you know, it isn’t normal.”
“I know,” you say helplessly.
“Well I have these, err, toffees, they are really good,” she says, her eyes flashing.
“Don’t worry these things happen. It will be alright, eventually.”
So you take her toffees, and they taste okay enough, and they dull your senses even more and make you want to sleep all the time, but you’re like ‘whatever, she said it would help patch up the hole.’ Instead it only widens, so now you can see all the blood vessels inside, and how they’ve been corrupted.
When you tell your mother, she expresses disbelief at first, and then advises you to go to a priest. “This is all because of the absence of God,” she says wisely, a bit too wisely. “Turn to prayer, and it will be alright, eventually.” You say thanks and put down the phone. You are old enough and smart enough to know how your predecessors had turned to religion or communism or art or fanaticism, that most people with holes end up becoming radicals or revolutionaries of some sort, and those who can’t turn to other, different kinds of toffees to solve their problems.
You often surmise why is it that in a world with billions of people, you had to be the only one with this ailment. Are you some kind of Chosen One? You know that isn’t true though, there have been people before you, and people after you, and many of them have gone on to become successful professionals, artists, doctors, businessmen and criminals. You watch their documentaries, watch at how they laugh and talk about how it’s all okay now, how they’ve managed to assimilate with the crowd, and wonder how is it that they can lie so convincingly.
You know that this is an epidemic spreading across the students of the world, and that while it cuts across barriers of caste, class, religion and gender, it affects some communities more than it does others. You think back upon your past and wonder if it was always there in you, even as a child, this inability to reconcile yourself with the world and the people who inhabit it. You read about a boy who loved science and stars and nature, and wonder why his words resonate with you so much. When you tell your friends, they will laugh and say, “You’re so silly yaar, you worry about such silly things.” Your spouse pats your head comfortingly and says, “It’s the office stress, I know it. Let’s go on a trip to Switzerland. My friend told me about this amazing offer-”
Needles knit up your lips, a curtain of nonchalance drapes your eyes, and just like that a mask is constructed. The corruption is finally complete. Your entire body is now hollow. Your in-laws will express their approval at your transformation and say, “See we knew, having children would solve it. Things always become alright, eventually.”
Years from now on, activists will politicize your hole and journalists will write tell-all articles about it and reams of medical opinion will be published on the diagnosis of holes and how proper treatment could have saved you. Strangers on Facebook will make your hole their public property, as if they had always known it was there and had lived with it, in fact, were best friends with it. Those who claimed to be closest to you will express confusion and distaste and sorrow and say, “Well, we had no idea they were that sick! They never said anything! They were always so hale and hearty, not even a common cold. I swear to god, right up till that day-they were-”
Right up till that day, you will see it in the mirror, that abyss inside you. You will shrug and walk out, with a last glance at your reflection. It doesn’t matter, you tell yourself, before closing the door. It will be alright, eventually.