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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Doll Diaries

Be careful what you wish for -- they may just come true!

Written by Alankrita Shrivastava |
Updated: January 2, 2022 11:26:29 am
alankrita shrivastavaBe my BFF. (Source: Getty Images)

Critically acclaimed director and screenwriter Alankrita Shrivastava, whose webseries Bombay Begums released on Netflix in 2021, writes a short story on what happens when a dreamscape morphs into a nightmare.

I opened my eyes in a red-and-white stocking. I was Ruhi’s Christmas gift from Ruhi’s Papa. Ruhi didn’t love me immediately. In fact, she just threw me into a basket with a bunch of other toys the same night.

I made a wish… that Ruhi takes to me. And that we become inseparable. I had heard about wishes in the toy store, from the Fairy Doll. I didn’t know how badly I would need the wish.

Night after day after night, I was stuck in the basket. While the other toys grumbled or were hopeless, I knew in my heart that my wish would be granted. I was on top of the basket and whenever Ruhi passed by I tried to give her my brightest smile.

One day, Ruhi’s Papa picked me up and placed me on Ruhi’s baby desk. But in the evening, Ruhi, without a second look, just threw me back into the basket.

Was I so ugly? Why did Ruhi hate me so much? I felt so alone. Was I not worthy of love? The other toys in the basket laughed at me, even as I cried myself to sleep; my tears, invisible.

But the next morning I decided I must believe things will get better, no matter what.

A few months later, something called “The Country” went into something called “lockdown.” Because there was a “pandemic.” Apparently, some virus was infecting humans. Everyone had to wear masks if they stepped outside. And Ruhi had to stop going to school. And her parents had to stop going to the office. Ruhi was not even allowed to go downstairs to play with her friends.

Because Ruhi was stuck at home, mostly in her room, is how we made a connection. Finally, my wish was granted!

It was a hot afternoon. The air conditioner was not working. No mechanics were allowed into the house, so it was just the fan whirring. Ruhi was bored. There was nothing to do. Her parents were working. She was playing a game where she was creating a zoo on her bed.

She needed someone to play visitor and took me out of the basket. As she set me down on the bed, she stroked and straightened my hair, and I gave her the warmest hug. I just needed her to really “see” me. I knew if she did that, she would never let me go. Instead of throwing me back into the basket, she left me on her bedside table. I was thrilled. This was the most special moment of my life.

The “pandemic” had made my wish come true. Soon, Ruhi and I became BFFs. I sat around even while she did her online classes. While the teacher droned on, Ruhi and I had our own games on.

We chatted endlessly after the lights were out. We listened to songs together. We danced. I read her thoughts. And I think she read mine, too.

Ruhi’s Papa was happy to see Ruhi and me be friends. But now,  often, there seemed to be a lot of tension in the house. Papa’s business was in shambles and Mummy had to take a pay cut. There were arguments about everything, especially about the housework load and money.

Ruhi’s Papa decided he had to fix things for his business. For that, he had to travel as soon as it was allowed.

Ruhi’s Mama was now alone in the house with Ruhi and me. And the rest of the toys.

Because Ruhi and I were so close now, the other toys were quite unhappy with me. Teddy, who was now no longer Ruhi’s favourite, was especially jealous. He had been moved to the bottom of the shelf.  And he could often be mean. Sometimes, I wished for all the toys to be moved from Ruhi’s room, and sent to the orphanage. Sending old toys to the orphanage was a big family tradition. It was a constant lurking threat in our lives. But because of the pandemic, this tradition was not being followed.

And my wish was not strong enough. The toys all remained. 

One day, Ruhi’s older cousins, two boys aged 8 and 10, had come to play.  After a long time, others had been allowed into the house. I don’t know why the older one kept lifting my dress and bringing my underwear down, the younger one would slap my bottom. And they would both laugh. This went on forever. I don’t like being touched. I tried to will them to stop but they didn’t. Ruhi started crying when they did that. I know she understood my discomfort. And then there was a big discussion with the adults and the boys were forced to return me to Ruhi.

That night, Ruhi held me so close to her heart. I tried to tell her I’m fine. But she knew how traumatic it had been.

The other toys had laughed and did not help out. I tried to not be upset with them. Maybe they were not mean-hearted, just jealous.

After this, Ruhi and I became more like sisters. She was everything to me. And I was everything to her. She didn’t even eat without me being there. I would sit inside the bathroom even while she brushed her teeth.

Every night I would count my blessings and hope for the happiness to continue.

But one weekend, Ruhi’s Papa came back home with a bit of a sore throat. When he didn’t recover for two days, he was locked into his room. No one was allowed to meet him. It was like a jail. Ruhi’s Mummy would leave food for him outside.

It was all very confusing. Ruhi’s Papa had got the virus and he had to be taken to the hospital. His “oxygen” was too low. But at that time there were no hospital beds available. Ruhi’s Mummy tried but could not get him admitted.

The day Ruhi’s Papa died, I tried to do my best for Ruhi. Ruhi’s Mummy was frozen like a statue. She was not allowed to go for the cremation. Because she could get the virus and also die. Some people came to spray the house to kill any virus that may be floating around. Ruhi’s eyes were burning. Or maybe she was crying. Her Mummy didn’t shed a tear though.

No relatives came to the house. Ruhi tried to feed her Mummy. It was quite heartbreaking considering Ruhi is not even six. Since then I have been trying  my best to keep the family going.

Now Ruhi sleeps in the bed with her Mummy. I sleep next to her. Ruhi wets herself often. I get soiled too. Ruhi’s Naniji, who has come to visit, calls me a “stinky old doll.” I am scared Naniji will get rid of me. And Ruhi and I will be separated forever.

Ruhi’s Mummy only does her work. She has stopped talking completely. Ruhi now seems hooked to the iPad. She doesn’t feel like playing with me anymore. But at night she still can’t sleep without holding on to me.

Naniji has started putting me into the washing machine every few days. The first time it was very painful. Now I have become stoic. But with every wash my hair is thinning, my clothes fading, my fabric body is coming apart.

Ruhi has been allowed to go and play downstairs. I watch from the window. She seems happy with her human friends. I try to not feel jealous, but it hurts sometimes. I’m not sure I can bring her the same comfort and joy anymore.

One day while Ruhi was playing downstairs, Ruhi’s Mummy held me and cried. I guess because Ruhi’s Papa had bought me. I tried to wipe her tears and give her some love.

That day, I felt a bit reassured that maybe Naniji will not be able to get rid of me so easily. And since that day Ruhi’s Mummy has started talking a little bit again. Maybe my love did reach her heart.

It’s Christmas again. Two years have passed and they say the virus is back, in a new avatar.

I saw Ruhi’s wishlist for Santa. She has asked for a dog. I feel bad. Am I not giving Ruhi enough love? Do I need to try harder? Or maybe my job is done. And our friendship is ending slowly.

I’m old and faded now, and all I want is for Ruhi to love me forever. I’m scared to make that wish again. Last time when I wished, the virus attacked humans. Sometimes I feel guilty, did I make a terrible wish? Was I selfish?

I hope I’m not sent to the orphanage. But if I am, I hope I’ll find another friend who loves me like Ruhi does. Till then, I’m okay with my status. Teddy, by the way, is now in the box bed!

Alankrita Shrivastava is a director and screenwriter. Her webseries Bombay Begums released on Netflix in 2021 to critical acclaim

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