Adreyo Sen is pursuing his MFA at Southampton College.
Lokhi was with our family before I was born, having entered into service with my parents as a young girl.
Lokhi was small and slender. Her laughter made the melancholy in her eyes even more beautiful. Living with us in Mumbai, she was adrift from her roots in a Bengali village.
My mother considered herself Lokhi’s moral guardian in the absence of her parents and was apt to be severe with her. Though both and I came in for my mother’s tongue-lashing, I never thought of her as an ally, and lay the blame for my mischief on her slender shoulders whenever I could. Lokhi, for her part, defended me quite manfully.
A man was the reason my mother’s arsenal against Lokhi was always loaded.
When I was two or three, Lokhi would allow a gentleman admirer into the flat. They would linger together in the living room and that is how my mother caught them, coming out for a glass of water.
What terrified my normally fearless mother was the fact that I could have been corrupted or kidnapped by this invader, whom I imagine as a swarthy, moustachioed security guard redolent of Patchouli oil.
I saw Lokhi as someone I could dominate, as the repository of my eloquence.
Transposing Bengali into English, I would quiz her, “How happen it, Didi?”, Didi, nominally older sister, being the term you used for a woman whose social position did not quite demand respect.
Didi’s patience was exemplary, especially given that my quest for knowledge coincided with her preparing our meals, or ironing our clothes.
I was also cruel to Lokhi, pinching and biting her.
Once, when my parents returned from shopping, she complained.
“That’s not right,” said my father, sternly.
But my parents were preoccupied and did not give me the lashing I deserved.
That was not the last time I was cruel to Lokhi.
At school, in Chennai, I was proudly showing off my Jurassic Park movie book – I was obsessed with the movie – when a mean boy I detested asked me to let him borrow it.
I refused, to his fury.
When school was over, Varun ran to Lokhi, who had come to pick me up, and complained.
When Lokhi feebly took his side, I slapped her.
“He slapped his own mother,” said Varun to Miss Hazel, our gentle but strict teacher, whose eyes had their own melancholic story the next morning.
“Is that so, Adreyo?” said Miss Hazel.
“It wasn’t my mother,” I said, “It was my servant.”
She nodded, as if this made it all okay.
In Delhi, furious at the unsympathetic world I was in, I took it out on Lokhi one evening, biting her on her arm and leaving a deep bruise.
My father ran his office from home then and I remember his colleagues looking at me with horror as Lokhi sat by me, sobbing.
It was the first and only time I saw her sitting on a chair. As befitted her lowly position, she would generally sit on the floor.
Indeed, Lokhi would be confused on one occasion my mother and I sat on the floor to watch TV.
“Don’t you want to sit on the sofa?” she asked my mother.
“We are fine,” said my mother.
I ignored Lokhi, who was wondering how to now sit in a position that underlined her subordinate status. She remained standing uncertainly.
In Bombay, one of the reasons Lokhi was so fond of our next-door neighbors was that they would treat her like a human being.
“They let me sit on a chair,” she would hiss at me, “Your mother should learn from them.”
Resentful as she often was of my mother, Lokhi was always forgiving of my cruelty and her fondness for me may have had less to do with any redeeming trait in me than my status as a male child.
My birthday fell soon after the Jurassic Park incident and she bought me a Jurassic Park themed bag, sweater and cap from her own money.
True to form, I soon lost them.
And when, in Delhi, I wanted a Superman costume, she painstakingly painted the ‘S’ crest on a blue t-shirt.
And when, as we were walking to the market, passers-by gaped at me, I was mad with Lokhi.
There was only one occasion that Lokhi dared to remonstrate with me. I was ten or eleven, still fond of my pillow and security blanket, whose smelly dampness I cherished.
I was hugging it on the balcony when she nudged me.
“Stop that,” she said, “People will think you’re mad.”
Lokhi left us to return to her village whilst we were in Delhi. It was before I joined boarding school.
Ma and I took her to the railway station. She clung to Ma till the very last minute and my mother threw some stern admonitions at her by way of parting.
“Don’t you miss Lokhi?” she said, once we’d returned home, “Maybe you should write about it to feel better.”
I shook my head.
I didn’t feel sad yet. I took Lokhi for granted, as a shy constant in my life. You don’t miss an absent brick till it is too late.
“You can cry if you want,” said my mother, her eyes glistening, “It’s okay to cry.”
Finally, to my mother’s satisfaction, I did begin to cry – perhaps she thought this would have a cathartic effect.But I am still not sure if I was crying because I missed Lokhi, or because I’d been fixed by my
mother’s gaze for far too long.