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The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Had been meaning to read this book since quite a while and am glad I finally picked it up. And what a story it is! It is a story of Theo, a psychotherapist and his patient, Alicia Berenson. Alicia has supposedly killed her husband six years ago. And since then she has been living in a mental care facility where she has not spoken a single word Why? That is what Theo desperately wants to find out


Theo is not without his own demons that hound him round the clock. A terrifying, hot tempered father whom he still carries around with him, even though he fled from the family home in his teens. His own “fucked up life” is what drew Theo towards psychotherapy. He can still remember Ruth, the lady who listened to him and cried for him when he thought his tears were frozen over. That is what he is determined to do for Alicia. Save her, just as Ruth saved him.


But how can he do that when Alicia refuses to talk? Undeterred, he seeks out her lawyer, Max, who is also her husband’s brother. Max is hiding something but what? He also pays a visit to Jean Pierre, Alicia’s art dealer and supposed best friend who has not visited Alicia once since the time of her husband’s death. Theo finds out about Alicia’s troubled childhood and a meeting with her cousin brother suddenly provides him with the key to the mystery.

So, mystery solved then, right? Nu..uh. This is the part where I sat with my nose touching the page till I had turned the last page of the book. Now, that’s a mystery. If you haven’t already, read this book right now.

To Diet or Not to Diet

“What is that noise?” asked Rahul.

Surbhi clutched her stomach guiltily. ‘Was her stomach rumbling so loudly?’ She quickly downed some water and tried to school her face into an indifferent expression.

“There is some problem with the AC” answered Ruchi who had been investigating. “Why does the cooling in our department always suck?” she grumbled.

Surbhi let out her breath in a whoosh, idly glancing at the time. It was just past one. ‘Was it just half an hour since she had had lunch? If you could call one malnourished idli and one runny bowl of spinach soup, lunch.’ She sighed and determinedly turned back to her work.

She had just got into her rhythm when she saw the office boy in her peripheral vision. She glanced up to see him holding a box of pedas, the ones with the individual wrappers, the ones topped with pistachios, the ones she did not like one bit! She smiled in relief and graciously refused the pedas. Three more weeks of dieting and she would hopefully (please dear God!) be ready to get into the dress which she had foolishly bought for her cousin sister’s grand wedding. She had deliberately bought it two sizes smaller than what she usually bought. The amount of money she had shelled for the dress was her biggest motivation to lose weight. Surbhi was something of a miser where money was considered. And now she was being miserly about food!

Surreptitiously she glanced at Rahul’s thin arms. ‘Why did so many men have thin, spindly arms which they certainly didn’t like and countless girls had potato-shaped hands?’ she wondered vengefully. Her own arms looked just the same as always, no thinner in any way. She pulled her chair a little further towards her desk, screening her body and quickly did some stomach exercises.

“What is the matter, Surbhi?” Ruchi asked curiously. “Why are you breathing so heavily?”

“Nothing” Surbhi replied in a nasally voice. “I have got a bit of a cold”.

“Have some hot chocolate” Rahul put in cheerfully. “Best remedy for the snivels”.

‘Really’ Surbhi thought in exasperation. ‘Do this people have nothing to do except for spying on me?’ Aloud she said, “Really, I am fine.”

“Why are you eating cow dung?” Ankur the office wit asked her during teatime. His friends laughed obligingly exactly like the canned laughter in a comic show.

“Don’t bother Surbhi, guys” Tania, the office hottie, unexpectedly came to her defence. With a wink and a lewd smile for Tania, Ankur and his cronies left Surbhi in peace. Tania came and sat beside her bringing with her a strong scent of perfume. Surbhi shuddered involuntarily. Strong fragrances always gave her a headache. Tania sipped her green tea and smiled up at her charmingly. “Which diet are you following, dear?”

“Er…the normal” replied the nonplussed Surbhi.

“And what do you mean by normal?” shot back Tania.

“You know, eating healthy, eating less than normal and exercising” she replied self-consciously tugging her top straight.

“My dear, you won’t lose weight that way” declared Tania. “There is a science to losing weight. First you have to decide which diet you have to follow. Then you will have to tweak it to suit your Indian preferences. You will need one dedicated resource whose job will be only to prepare and present everything that is required by your diet at the proper time.” She paused and unwrapped a block of cheese. Surbhi’s eyes widened seeing the cheese. Tania noticed her and said importantly, “Yes, I am having cheese on my diet. Because I am following the keto diet. High fat, low carb, you know. If you want, I can make a weekly diet plan for you.”

“Thanks Tania” replied Surbhi, uncertain where this was going. “But I don’t want to trouble you.”

“It’s no trouble” Tania waved her off. “I enjoy turning fat caterpillars into dainty butterflies.”

Surbhi looked at her suspiciously wondering if she was being nasty. But Tania was not like that. Sudden tears pooled in her eyes. ‘Was that how she looked to strangers?’ She wordlessly took the sheet of paper with her ‘diet plan’ from Tania, thanked her and put her mess of oatmeal into the garbage bin.

Once home, she weighed herself. She had lost 2 kgs! 2 whole kgs in 1 week! At this rate, she would just about make it into her dress. She sighed happily and nodded her head as if arriving at a decision.

“Maa” she called out to her mother. “I am going out. I won’t be having any dinner.”

Ten minutes later, she handed over her gorgeous, impossible dress back to the shop attendant.

“I have changed my mind” she said. “I would like the same dress in my usual size please.”

Without batting an eye, the attendant took her measurements. “Madam, your usual size will be a little loose on you.”

“I know” she beamed at the baffled attendant, unwrapping a bar of chocolate. “I want it altered to fit the thinner me.”

Trapped

I am so much more than what you see, what you believe,

Your impression about me weighs me down, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe;

The world beckons me, promising sunshine and rainbows,

But I sigh and turn my back, remembering my promise to you;

Sorrow stabs my soul and I turn to you seeking solace,

But you push the knife deeper, turning the bruise into a festering wound;

I see you holding the key to my freedom,

Everything will be all right, you smile beckoning me closer;

I make to grab the key,

But I find myself falling;

‘Help me, I am trapped’, I cry,

I push and shove against the unrelenting bars of my prison;

‘Don’t be afraid, my darling’, you croon,

‘This prison is my gift, I know what is best for you.’

When the world gets you down..

You are wrong, they say silencing me,

We are always right, so you have to be wrong;

I know, I am right, I can feel it in my bones,

But I reason, perhaps it is better to give in;

You are wrong, they taunt,

Your silence says it all;

There is nowhere to turn, no one for succour,

Outnumbered a hundred to one, I am shamed and defeated;

Who says you are wrong, asks my mother sternly,

‘You are a fighter, not a loser’ says she;

‘True’ thunders my dad,

‘And I will bash anybody’s head who says otherwise’

I look at them with wondering eyes, as the truth finally dawns on me,

They can come at me, with their weapons of fear and scorn;

But I will win, oh I know I will,

For the world’s finest warriors have my back!

The Bad Day

“Life sucks” Mahesh said kicking at a small stone and missing it.

“I thought you could only suck ice creams and golas” his little sister asked him curiously.

Mahesh didn’t deign to answer her and continued walking homewards. ‘I am really going to get it from Dad this time’ he thought worriedly. The first term examination results had just got out that day and Mahesh had flunked in Algebra. Again. He never seemed to pass that rotten subject in spite of being coached in it endlessly.

He kicked another stone, this time hitting it and hurting the toe of his open toe sandals. “Shit” he groaned.

He bent down to inspect his bleeding toe. It just wasn’t his day. He wished he could run away and go to stay with his Uncle in Pune. He dreamed of being a mechanic, the best in the world and his Uncle owned a garage. What use was Algebra to him.

“Wait” he ordered his sister and removed his handkerchief from his pocket. He inspected the grimy hanky doubtfully, shrugged and used it to clean his bleeding toe. ‘Can’t even kick a stone properly’ he thought hopelessly. Sudden tears pricked his eyes. He rubbed them away fiercely.

“I am useless” he murmured dejectedly.

“No, you are not” said his sister, swinging from his arm. “You are my big brother”.

He looked to check the traffic signal and saw an old couple standing at the crossing. The old lady seemed to be too tired or something. She clung desperately to the old man, who propped her up as best as he could. Something about the couple, touched his heart and he walked up to them. His sister trailed behind obligingly.

“Is anything the matter, Uncle?” he asked the old man.

The old man looked at him with tired, rheumy eyes. “My wife is not well. We have just been to the doctor” he waved vaguely behind him. “We are standing here since the past fifteen minutes waiting for an auto rickshaw.”

“Oh” Mahesh said, comprehension dawning. He thought he could be like a boy in the stories, who were only ever asked to help old people cross roads safely, not help them catch auto rickshaws. The road they were on in was notorious for never having any empty autos.

“Why don’t you call for a cab?” he asked brightly.

“We would rather catch an auto” the old man replied a little huffily.

‘What is his problem?’ Mahesh thought resentfully and made to be on his way home. He had to go home after all, his mother would worry if they reached too late. And look at his toe. Wasn’t it throbbing painfully?

“You won’t be able to catch an auto on this road” he told the old man, wanting to do his duty thoroughly. “Maybe if you walk two blocks you will find one.”

He took his sister hand and was about to walk away when the old lady said, “Beta, can you help us catch an auto? We really cannot walk any further.”

‘What is that to me?’ Mahesh thought in exasperation. He was about to decline politely when he noticed sweat gathering on the old man’s brow. The old lady’s face was a sickly pale colour. ‘How did it get that colour’ he wondered idly. ‘It is because they are old and sick and tired’ informed his brain. Mahesh was not a bad boy, he was just having a very bad day. But his goodness won out and he said roughly, “All right. But you will have to take care of my sister. I will have to walk far to catch an auto. Wait under that tree over there” he pointed behind him.

“Thank you beta” the old lady said softly.

“The address is Sadar Street” added the old man.

Mahesh sighed and began hunting for autos. In five minutes, hurling abuses, he had walked to the next street. Still no luck. He walked on and on and finally found an auto. He whooped in joy and got in the auto rickshaw, idly glancing at his wristwatch. ‘Was it late? They were going to get very late reaching home. And then he will get scolded for the Algebra and for getting late and for not taking proper care of his sister’. The familiar dejection rolled over him once again. He tapped his foot impatiently, cursing his good nature. ‘Why did he have to offer to help the old couple catch a cab? Why?’

“Stop near that tree” he ordered the auto rickshaw driver, spotting his sister and the old couple. His sister was chatting with the old couple and the old man was smiling. Mahesh sighed again and stepped down from the auto.

“Here” was all he could say.

The old couple moved energetically towards the auto.

“Thank you beta” the old lady said again, smiling.

Mahesh nodded, turned and took his sister’s hand. A gnarled hand touched his hair. “May God bless you” murmured the old man.

Mahesh looked at the old man to find him beaming, at him.

Unthinkingly he grinned back and waved as the old man got in after his wife. His eyes sparkled and he stood up straight.

‘Life is good’ he thought as he raced his sister home. var e=argument

Reflection

I twist and look at my reflection from the corner of my eye,

Chubby arms, double chin and love handles is all I see;

I look at the lovely dress, I am supposed to be trying,

And mentally calculate the quantity of corsets it would require;

A lovely model looks at me disapprovingly from a poster on the door,

She is glorious in her flat stomach and stick thin arms;

I sigh as I open the door,

Attired in the beautiful dress which I make unbeautiful;

‘Mommy is a princess’, squeals my little daughter,

And that is when it hits me,

Fat is beautiful too!

Justified..

Were I a princess in a tower imprisoned by an evil witch,

I would be justified to escape;

Were I a mighty hero in chains, bloodied and bruised,

I would be justified to escape;

Were I an animal thrashing in a trap,

I would be justified to escape;

But I am none of

these things, I am just me,

The road to my escape beckons me,

But I fear…am I justified to escape?