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‘Who Knew Suicide Attempts Could Make One Feel So Alive?’

An excerpt from Rituparna Chatterjee’s memoir ‘of childhood abuse, healing & forgiveness’ – ‘The Water Phoenix’. 

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Image of author Rituparna Chatterjee and the cover of her memoir ‘The Water Phoenix’, used for representational purposes.
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(The following has been excerpted, with permission, from Rituparna Chatterjee’s latest book ‘The Water Phoenix’, published by Bloomsbury India. The sub-headings are not part of the original text and have been added by The Quint.)

When the predator had had his fill, I managed to somehow fight against the insane heaviness, carrying all of the weight of gravity, as I feebly climbed down the stairs, holding the walls for support. It wasn’t just that I had been violated. It was as if everything had been taken out of me.

Unable to bear this, my body burst from wherever it could.

The fire in my heart poured out of my ears. Hot candle tears poured out of my eyes.

A bile of helpless fury lay as a pool of vomit at the bottom of the stairs. I held the opposite wall, yelling, kicking and screaming – sounds that nobody could hear. My eggshell salwar-kameez was now scarlet like an organza party frock had been one Christmas Eve not so long ago.

‘I Was Dying – But My Body Chose Its Poison, Spitting Out This Insecticide’

Ancestral House, the one pristine place I had felt safe and loved in, was now defiled. Unable to bear a storm without the promise of a rainbow, I undertook my most serious venture yet. In a house that was both ancient and brand new – a 2-in-1 house. Ancient because it was yet another cool, dark government house with high ceilings and long ceiling fans that the British had built to last longer than they did. New because we had just moved into it, into a new city, into a new locality — at Grant Road in South Bombay. Left for most of the day alone in this NewOldHouse, away from the surveillance of kakas, I decided to unfasten the Tentacle’s grip once and for all. How? The answer was as always InPlainSight.

In a container of Baygon Spray.

If a few sprays could murder a family of roaches, surely the tin could murder a toxic tentacle? Definitely. One hundred percent. I downed it like water. (Two years later, I’d similarly down vinegar with similar results.) Before it could go all the way down, the Tentacle used all its might and pushed it out making me a fountain of Baygon Spray.

The insecticide set my body, Tentacle, WholeHeartWithaHole, all my bits on fire. I downed water — bottles and bottles of it, throwing it all out like an ugly fountain badly in need of repair.

The sheer agony! I was dying. Definitely. One hundred percent. But my body chose its poison, spitting out this insecticide, choosing tentacle poison instead, the one hundred percent guaranteed killer of childhood, over insect poison. Every cell in my body revolted to this extreme torture, screaming for life.

Who knew suicide attempts could make one feel so alive? One hundred percent alive?
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‘Our Common Lack Of Self-Worth Should’ve Made Us Friends – But We Didn’t Find Each Other’

The prison that was called vacation mercifully ended and we once again, boarded the chain of trains to school. All the while, I thought of Letitia ­– the Anglo-Indian girl who sat on the back-most bench in the classroom’s darkest corner. A sweet-natured girl, she always smiled when spoken to, and spoke only what was absolutely necessary. Her sadness was evident in her desperate need for invisibility. Yet she stood out perhaps because of her big size.

Having consistently failed sixth grade for several years, Letitia was much older than us.

Our common lack of self-worth should have made us friends, creating history with a friendship between a backbencher and a first-bencher. But somehow, we did not find each other. Not even once in the entire year.

And how different that year was from any of its predecessors. The year of the panther attack, the year when a blind music teacher made us blind to our own abuse, the year when an epidemic took over the school and so many of us went into quarantine... But most of all, it was the year, when Letitia finally left the dark sixth standard classroom. (Her spot on the back-most bench, now the stuff of silent legend, would remain empty for all my years at boarding).

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‘What It Takes To Survive A Storm: Don’t Fight It, Let It Take You’

Everyone was happy for her, though nobody knew how this miracle had happened. The answer was, as always, InPlainSight. Her baby sister had finally climbed up the grades to reach sixth standard. It was as if Letitia had been waiting for her all along. With her love and support, or perhaps the mere comfort of having her around, Letitia passed and never failed again. The sisters were together in every grade after that.

They tell you that you need to be strong and fight to persevere.

But what it takes to survive a storm, is the very opposite. To not fight it. To let it take you.

This gentleness is the greatest strength there is. To have someone holding your hand through the storm, well, that is love. Only those who didn’t have it were acutely aware of it.

(The views expressed above are the author’s own. The author tweets @ReadRituparna. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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