Suranjana Choudhury teaches literature at North Eastern Hill University, Shillong.…
Two siblings. One inhabits the world of non-disabled, and the other makes his own world. The society views him as differently abled. The sister is telling us about her brother, here.
By Suranjana Choudhury
I had a bad fever some days ago, it persisted and I took a long time to recover. There were days when I’d not get up and when bhai would rest his palm lightly on my forehead to see if it was warm. He did this because he had seen others doing the same. He would want to come frequently. I resisted him from coming near me; he would not listen. But he knew fever made people move away from the rest – covid imparted this truth. Because he didn’t want to know anything about fever, his knowledge about it was sparse. When he was a child, he’d have frequent bouts of high and threatening fever – all of us surrounding him and waiting anxiously for him to open his eyes. When he did, we felt assured. I tried to remember if all of us – the younger and the older – in the family had similar history of fever. Or was it just my imagination? By telling him about his fever, I tried to take him back to his childhood. His childhood had arrived seven years after mine. For some reason, in his incoherent answer, I found more beauty and rhythm of our past than in all the words of an ordinary vocabulary, however neatly and carefully arranged. I asked him how much fever I had. I wanted to know what he’d answer. He came back… willingly… to see and announced it was 1000. He had judged 1000 as a big number because he wanted to convey the bigness of my fever. He has an old mobile – without any SIM or other accessories – in which he listens to songs, old and new. He’d always declare that there were 1000 songs in his mobile. I remembered and smiled.
Ah yes, there was a time when he went to a school in our neighbourhood. He was taught elementary arithmetic which he learnt quickly. After some years he refused to remember any of them. He remembers any face he saw ten years ago. He remembers their names as well. His sense of faces, names and everything else is his own; we have a very faint understanding of his world. Mother says if she could approach his world a bit, know a little. There are no signposts that can possibly take us there. Life is different for some, we’re told. I feel his reticence to remember numbers, sums, and tables comes from a sense of rejection of a world obsessed with numbers. Also his unwillingness – what many of us perceive as disability – to learn what others do, to speak the way we do or behave in ways acceptable to others – is sign of a detachment that rarely comes to us. Touch wood.
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Suranjana Choudhury teaches literature at North Eastern Hill University, Shillong. Her essays and reviews have been published in Scroll.in, The Wire, Biblio, The Statesman, Café Dissensus, Humanities Underground, Coldnoon Travel Poetics and Elsewhere. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org