Lies: Sayantika Mandal
An avid reader and aspiring writer, Sayantika Mandal graduated with honors inEnglish from Presidency College, Calcutta and completed her postgraduate diploma in journalism from Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi. After a two-year stint as a journalist, she is now a state excise officer. Writing remains her passion.
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Trisha took a basketful of clothes downstairs to the laundry room below her apartment. As she loaded the machine with the clothes and detergent and waited for the water to fill up, she took her phone out from her pocket and began typing. A lie. Or rather, a fiction to soothe that poisonous fire of expectations, which had been scalding her soul ever since she could remember.
The washing was done and she went upstairs. She had planned to bake an apple pie that day. She loved baking. When the chocolaty aroma of soft brownies fresh out of the oven filled the tiny kitchen, she felt she was a goddess bestowed with divine power to create such heavenly stuff. She dreamt of opening a bakery someday. A quaint bakery in the corner of a town, laden with cookies and muffins and pastries and tarts and scones, all those delicacies out of Enid Blyton books that she loved as a child. She imagined little children imploring their parents for one more chocolate walnut brownie, while she handled the affairs of the store briskly. A fiction again. However, this one was a rosy picture Trisha loved. A fragment of a dream of her own, no one else had a share in that.
She was thankful to Indrashis. He was too busy to mess with her concocted fiction. He had been outraged when he first heard it. Trisha's relentless sobs calmed him down and he agreed to play along with her little game.
"But it's a lie! A blatant lie," Indrashis had snapped.
"A lie that would keep them happy and leave me in peace," Trisha had replied calmly. A calm disturbed intermittently by her sobs.
Indrashis gave in and chalked out the elaborate plan with Trisha.
She flipped through the pages of her recipe notebook and added a dash of nutmeg and cinnamon to the flour which she blended skillfully with the melted butter. It was spring when she had arrived in Chicago, three months after Indrashis did. Trisha loved the apartment here in Evanston, a suburb just by Lake Michigan. Her apartment was small, but warm and cosy. What she loved most was the oven. She never had one in their apartment in India. Once Indrashis left for work, she began baking. And soon her larder was full of chocolate chip cookies and muffins. Every time she read about a new ingredient, she made sure to include it in her grocery list. Potlucks and dinners had already made her muffins and cupcakes popular among her neighbors. When someone grew curious about the secret of her recipes, she gave a smug smile. Watching people smacking their lips in delight when her desserts were served, made her ecstatic.
Trisha put the pie in the pre-heated oven. Time for another lie. She reclined on the couch, opened her laptop and began to type it out.
She made sure she did not have friends here and took care not to add acquaintances from potlucks with Indian communities on Facebook. She had to remain very careful to keep the story intact. Sometimes, Trisha felt her job was no less than an undercover agent's. To keep up with the semblance of a different Trisha, the Trisha that her parents desired, but never sired.
Trisha was an average girl. She loved everything average, average books, average songs, average films, all run-of-the-mill stuff. Her grades were average throughout school and later in that private engineering college she went to. She had an average job at an average software firm and was happy about it. She was ready to settle for the average life and be content about it. But Tridib and Joyeeta Sengupta were not; and they were Trisha's parents.
Tridib and Joyeeta Sengupta had left no stone unturned in bringing her up. When she was four years old, they had admitted her to the most well-known convent school in the sleepy town of Durgapur in West Bengal, paying a hefty donation. With art, music, dance and swimming lessons, little Trisha was always shuttling between home and school and varied classes. Joyeeta had left her job as a teacher after Trisha was born. She was devoted solely to her daughter, to carve out the best future for her in all ways possible in a world of cutthroat competition.
It was not until when she was thirteen that she realized that she was not the Trisha her parents had wanted. Trisha had failed in her mathematics class test; she could never understand those time and distance problems. Do you need to add or subtract speeds when two trains cross each other or run in the same direction? And when it was boats running upstream or downstream, it became even more complicated. She had tried hard, wracked her brains and yet, failed the test. Trisha had scored only four out of twenty.
"All those who scored less than ten, get your papers signed by your parents. I want to see them tomorrow. Is that clear?" said the stern voice of Aditi Miss, the mathematics teacher.
Since the test was worth only twenty marks, Trisha hoped that Ma would sign it and that would be the end of it.
There was going to be a mild rebuke and perhaps, a complaint registered with her mathematics private tutor.
When she came out of the school, she found her mother waiting at the gate, chatting with Pallavi's mother. Pallavi was her best friend, and since she was the most meritorious student in their class, Ma had never objected to their friendship. Before Pallavi, Rituja had been her friend. But since Rituja had failed in the half-yearly exams of sixth grade, Ma had forbidden Trisha to talk to her. Rituja was a bad influence, after all.
"Where does Pallavi go for math tuition?" asked Joyeeta.
"Pallavi goes to Tanmoy Sir. She is so interested in maths that Sir has started trigonometry with her. Doesn't Trisha have a math tutor already?"
"Trisha's math tutor is good for school level maths, but not for the advanced stuff, you know. If that were enough, there would be no need for a tutor. I could have taught her the high school level stuff myself. We need someone who can prepare her for the IIT entrance tests. Where does Tanmoy Sir live? I am going to request him to take Trisha under his wing."
Joyeeta was noting down Tanmoy Sir's address and phone number when Trisha came out of the school with Pallavi.
"Did Aditi Miss return your test papers today?"
"Yes, she did," Trisha said meekly, clutching at her blue skirt and staring at her black shoes which were caked with dust.
"How much did you get? Look up Trisha, how much?" Joyeeta's voice was rising. Trisha kept looking at her shoes. She knew this wasn't the right time. But she was cornered.
"Ma, I got full marks in the test," said a jubilant Pallavi. Trisha was now angry at her. Why did she have to say it now? Couldn't she wait till she had left?
"Well done, dear. Goodbye, Mrs Sengupta."
"Bye, Trisha," waved Pallavi.
"Bye," Trisha gave a feeble wave back.
Joyeeta couldn't stand it any longer. She seized Trisha's shoulders and shook her. "How much, why don't you say? Did you fail?" She shouted. The girls who were still loitering around after school stared at them.
Trisha nodded. Tears welled up in her eyes. She said a meek yes, unzipped her bag and handed the paper out to her mother.
"Four! Only four! Out of twenty! After all that we do for you, all that you can manage is a four!" Joyeeta was furious.
"Ma, I couldn't understand the problems. I'm sorry."
"How could Pallavi get twenty and you four? You don't practise enough. Nor do you listen to the teacher in the class. I am going to take you to Tanmoy Sir, Pallavi's math tutor."
"Ma, Pallavi is brilliant at math, she always does well. I'm not that interested in math…" Trisha began to explain gingerly but was cut short by Joyeeta's outburst.
"How can you say you are not interested? Do you want to give up studies? Do you know how much we spend on you every month? Your school fees, tuition, and other classes? Listen, dear, we intend that you have a better future than ours. For that, you must crack the IIT entrance tests. You can't be so lackadaisical about mathematics. Whatever we do for you, know that it is for your own good."
Trisha obliged them. They were her parents after all. They loved her. And it was all for her good.
Only she wondered how someone could love her so much without caring for what she wanted. Did they love her? Or did they love the Trisha they wish they had had, which she wasn't and could never be.
She went to Tanmoy Sir's classes dutifully. She sat for hours with the advanced problems; pages after pages of her notebook were filled with cryptic symbols and futile efforts to decode them. She never understood what Sir taught. She sat at the back and noted down the formulas. She had realized that if she paid attention in school and practiced the problems, she would be able to pass mathematics for the board exams. Hence, she kept quiet about the reality of Tanmoy Sir's classes. She did not want another tirade from Ma or another spanking from Baba.
She did not want to lie. But it was inevitable.
"How are your classes going on? Do you understand what Sir says?" Joyeeta often asked with concern.
"Fine, Ma. Sir teaches very well. I understand everything, and if I don't, I ask Sir to explain again," replied Trisha with an outwardly calm, her heart pounding in her chest. She rarely lied before. She had always been the good girl her parents were proud of. And now that she wasn't, she had to pretend to be. She hoped with all her heart that Ma would not go to inquire with Sir.
One lie started coming after another and soon, she found life easier with the impregnable fortress that these lies built around her. But everything comes with a price.
It was another day at school. The final bell had rung and peals of giggle and chatter surged like a huge wave drowning the heavy silence of the convent.
"Don't you think Rosie is the best of the lot? I like her the best!" exclaimed Pallavi, her eyes shining.
"Frankie is much more sensible, I feel. Lyndz is the most uninteresting," scowled Trisha.
They were chatting about the new TV series on air called the Sleepover Club, about the exploits of a gang of five girls.
"Hey, Trish, how about having a Sleepover Club of our own? You and I can be the founding members and we can include Anindita and Roshni as well. We can also rope in Deepanjali, if she is interested."
"But when do you find time for that? I am already so packed with so many tuitions…then there is dance and swimming and art and what not!"
"Come on, Trish, aren't you free on Saturday evenings? Let's meet up on Saturday. I shall ask the other two also."
Trisha was tempted at the prospect of a gala Saturday evening with friends. She nodded in agreement.
Soon they were at the gate and found their mothers talking with each other. The sight of Joyeeta shook Trisha out of her reverie.
"Trisha, you never told me that Tanmoy Sir has already begun Calculus with your batch! That's wonderful!" Joyeeta was beaming.
"Oh yes, Ma. He did. I was so engrossed studying for the test that I had forgotten to tell you," Trisha lied airily, with a false smile that Joyeeta failed to fathom. She no longer needed to lower her eyes.
Pallavi sensed something was wrong. Recently, Tanmoy Sir has divided his class into two groups, one for the advanced students, who had completed trigonometry and progressed on to calculus, Pallavi being one of them; and, another for the ones not so advanced, the losers of the race of decoding mathematical symbols and formulas, for the ones like Trisha. He was a spirited teacher when teaching the best of his lot, challenging them with new problems everyday. But with his weaker pupils, he failed to keep up his patience. He was still teaching them compound interest and basic trigonometry.
She could not help but blurt out, "But Auntie, Trisha…."
Trisha sensed the danger. Pallavi was about to spill the beans. She could not afford to have her fortress of lies destroyed. Her heart was beating faster and she had to do something. As Joyeeta looked at Pallavi questioningly, Trisha interrupted, "Ma, Pallavi wants to ask whether you will allow me to spend Saturday evening with her. Please do Ma. Saturday evening is free from tuitions and art and dance…please, please Ma," she implored.
Pallavi was dumbfounded to see Trisha lie without a qualm. Why did see do this? She would better talk to Trisha about this later.
"Oh, certainly," smiled Joyeeta, seemingly too pleased with her daughter's academic progress, "you can always spend time with Pallavi when you are free."
On that fateful Saturday evening, Trisha went to Pallavi's house. The other girls hadn't arrived yet. Pallavi couldn't help but raise the topic. After the perfunctory greetings, Pallavi questioned indignantly,
"Why did you lie that day, Trish?"
There was something strange in her tone that made Trisha feel that Pallavi would never understand. Pallavi, the overachiever, Pallavi the topper, Pallavi who always excelled, always lived up to her parents' expectations. A sharp pang of jealousy rose within her, a shooting pain. She was not envious of her academic brilliance, but of the fact that she had never needed to contrive a fiction. No, Pallavi would never understand.
And what if her fiction was dismantled? Pallavi might gossip about it with Anindita and Roshni and soon, the entire class would know. It would soon reach her mother's ears. Even a small leak from on the wall of lies could bring the fortress down. She could not imagine what would happen if Ma came to know that she had no hope of cracking the IIT entrance tests. She could not imagine the fury that would be unleashed upon her by her parents day after day. She chose to live with her lies, and bid Pallavi goodbye.
"I never lied," Trisha shrugged.
"Come on, you are not in Sir's advanced batch. Everyone knows that. Why are you lying to me?" Pallavi could not fathom why Trisha would lie to her.
"I ain't lying. Stop making such tales," Trisha said angrily and stormed out of Pallavi's room.
Anindita and Roshni came soon after to find Pallavi alone, miserable and sobbing. Pallavi could not bear it any more and told them how rude Trisha had been with her. And soon, everyone in the class knew. That Trisha was a liar, a smug-faced hypocrite. Nobody confronted her, though. But Trisha could hear the snide remarks in hushed tones, the exchange of glances and the deriding half-smiles and grimaces all around her, whenever she answered in class, or passed through the corridor.
She had apologized to Pallavi and tried to restore the friendship. But Pallavi was cold and aloof. She evaded her mostly and when it was absolutely necessary to talk, she spoke in monosyllables and smiled artificially.
Trisha had to pay the price of friendship to protect her lies. But does that really matter, when traded for peace?
Trisha passed her board exams with average marks.
When the neighbours and relatives asked, Joyeeta repeated Trisha's lies, "Oh, she was studying for the IIT entrance tests. She did not find enough time to study for the boards."
The day before the entrance tests, she feigned a stomach pain. She came out of the examination hall, nervous and panting, complaining to her parents how ill she had been, and how she failed to finish the paper. Joyeeta told everyone how Trisha was plain unlucky, falling ill at the last moment and failing in the tests. Her parents wanted her to try another year. But she was adamant on not wasting a year, and the Senguptas had to give in, admiring Trisha's grit and determination. Secretly, Trisha knew she would never make it, so squandering time was of no use.
Trisha scraped through her years in the private engineering college and bagged an average job in an average firm in Bangalore. She did not meet her parents more than twice a year and had no qualms bragging about her job and salary over phone.
She befriended Indrashis in Facebook and after being assured that he had come from the hallowed grounds of the IIT, she began to date him. She knew her parents would not have settled for anything less when it came to choosing a son-in-law. However, she was completely honest with Indrashis, about her entire life, on how average she was. She did not wish for the wall of lies to come in between their relationship and create a barrier between them for the rest of their lives. However, she dared not tell him what a hypocrite she was. What if Indrashis left her as well, as Pallavi did? When Trisha looked at Indrashis with eyes full of hope, he was not perturbed by Trisha's typicality. He proclaimed his love for her gentle eyes and slender waist. To him, Trisha was special. Just as she was.
Tridib and Joyeeta Sengupta hosted the most elaborate and splendid wedding that Durgapur had ever seen. Resplendent in her red banarasi and gold jewellery, Trisha looked every bit the gorgeous Bengali bride. Her smile shone in her eyes. For the first time, her will had prevailed without any fuss from her parents.
Trisha and Indrashis had settled in Bangalore briefly, and then Indrashis was offered a job at Chicago. Trisha was excited to go away and explore new lands and more importantly, go farther away from her parents. Despite Indrashis's reluctance, she readily resigned from her job. She looked forward to living in a quaint apartment in the suburbs of Chicago, with pista-shaded curtains and a charming décor. She had read all about interior decoration from Good Housekeeping. One night, after dinner, when she was flipping through the glossy pages of the magazine and imagining how she would beautify their faraway home and Indrashis was resting on the couch with a book, her phone rang.
It was Baba.
"Trisha, we are happy that Indrashis has got such a splendid job offer. But what are you going to do in Chicago? You can't simply leave your career and go away," Tridib Sengupta's voice was brisk and cold.
"Baba, I don't have much of a career here…," Trisha began to implore. She had never lied before Indrashis.
"What do you mean Trisha? After all that money we spent on you, all that we sacrificed for you; you plan to settle as a housewife? Do you realize how shameful that is going to be for us?"
Trisha knew she must lie again. She could not shout back, that would make the matter worse. Nor could she face another verbal assault from her parents. And the agony of shame that was going to torture them if she remained a housewife. They were her parents, after all.
With desperation in her heart but composure in her voice, she said, "Oh Baba! I meant I've applied for jobs in Chicago and I think I will get one. As soon as I do, I'd leave my job here."
Tridib Sengupta heaved a sigh of relief and disconnected the call after exchanging a few polite words.
Indrashis was flabbergasted and shouted at Trisha, "It's a lie! A blatant lie!"
Trisha looked at him with tearful eyes. "I've been lying throughout my life," she said meekly. She poured out her story, sobbing. How she had been a hypocrite ever since her seventh grade. How these great expectations had turned her into a shameless liar, how her friends had deserted her, jeered at her.
The initial anger that Indrashis felt ebbed away. He was soon overwhelmed with pity for the girl he had fallen in love with. He took her in her arms and calmed her down.
"Don't worry. We will play along with this game," he said. And they chalked out the perfect plan.
Trisha informed her parents that she has bagged a consultant's job in Global Corporations and would leave for the States as soon as her stint in this job was over. After three months of shopping and packing, she left the country.
Within a week, she called Ma from her apartment in Evanston. "Ma, I love my office here, it's wonderful. Watch out for my Facebook updates. You and Baba will know all about my work."
And so it began. The web of lies. She was adept at spinning it now. Spring had melted away to summer and now the woods around were a sea of russet and gold in the fall sunshine. As Trisha took out her perfect apple pie out of the oven, she smiled. She had done her best to keep everyone happy.
Far away, on the other side of the globe, the Senguptas had woken up early in the morning to catch the strains of Birendra Krishna Bhadra's baritone uttering the chants for the goddess Durga on the auspicious morning of Mahalaya.
Tridib Sengupta, logged in to Facebook in his smartphone that Trisha had gifted him a few months ago.
"Joyeeta, come and see…Trisha was in a meeting with the CEO, isn't that great?" he beamed.
Joyeeta came with a tray that carried two steaming cups of tea. She peered into Tridib's phone while sipping on the tea and exclaimed, "Splendid! And look, she went to a luncheon as well. She must be so busy now, managing both home and office. All our efforts in bringing her up have borne fruits."
Trisha had indeed succeeded. To keep her parents happy. Even if, with lies.