At first look, you’d mistake Dr Narayanamurthy’s house for a temple. There was no doorbell to be seen; instead there hung a large brass bell. As you entered the yard, on one side, there was a shiny blue pond. In the middle of it stood a statuette, of a man and woman embracing. When you stepped into the front of the house, lined tastefully with plants, you’d surely feel that the world that you had lived in until then was but an illusion. This appointment, however, had been secured through recommendations by influential folk who could get anything done north or south, anywhere. Father’s face was dark and grim from the thought that no matter how pretty the setting was, we were there for something utterly dishonourable.

Mother lowered her face, weighed down by an inscrutable and ancient guilt. Vinayan held our daughter as though he bore the entire responsibility of preserving our family. She tried her best to wriggle down and began to whimper and weep when she couldn’t.

“Did you notice the name, Aaccha? Murthy. A Pattar Brahmin. Merit seat for sure! Nowadays when I go to the hospital I make sure to check if there’s a second name so that we know the caste. This is a good doctor. That’s why I insisted that you try to get his appointment.” Father looked uneasily at his son-in-law’s face and managed a smile. Just when our daughter began to make a fuss, wanting to ring the bell, the door opened and a woman clad in an apron let us in.

We sat in the spacious veranda, waiting, not knowing who would call us and when. The lamps that hung on the artificial ceiling above were evenly-spaced. I could see many closed, well-barred rooms from there. The sudden thought that they may be prisons for souls made me shudder. It was exactly then that the door of the north-side room swung open and Dr Narayanamurthy stepped out. His eyes conducted a general survey and gestured to all in our group except me. They went into one of the inner rooms. I knew what they were probably telling him now. I could also guess what he would tell me. He was the third person we were meeting for a solution to the same problem. After a long wait, I was finally summoned.

“Be sure to tell the doctor everything – everything. When you get out, your mind must be clean. From tomorrow, it’s going to be a new life. For our family,” Vinayan said, making way for me as I entered the room.

“Can you draw?”

Narayanamurthy asked me when I sat facing him. He held out a piece of paper and a pen.

“What should I draw?”

“Anything. Anything you like.”

I was reluctant. Generally, I am shy when another person watches me. He who was going to read me from whatever I drew was probably aware of this. So I glanced at him diffidently.

“It can be whatever. Just draw. Be brave.”

I took the pen and put it to the paper; and managed to draw the picture of a beautiful-enough woman. He peered at me from above the rim of his glasses. It was irritating. I struggled to ignore the look.

“What did you draw?”

He was making me talk about something that was clearly in his sight; anyone would have been irked by that.

“Tell me, what did you draw? It’s important.”

“A woman.”

“Okay, a woman. What is she doing?”

“She is sitting.”

“How? Is she doing something?”

“No. She’s just sitting.”

Narayanamurthy put away the picture in his file.

“Shall I say something?”

I felt the stab of an unjustified fear. The fear that someone may concoct yet another sleazy tale about you, no matter how hard you try to ignore them, is not a minor thing.

“Your self-confidence is low. You haven’t drawn this woman’s feet.”

All the women I drew as a schoolgirl had feet; only that both feet would be turned in the same direction. When I grew up some more, the women’s feet pointed to different directions. By the time I was convinced that a middle path was appropriate when it came to women’s feet, I had stopped drawing.

I did not tell him that. Instead, I said:

“Isn’t it nicer to conceal a sari-clad woman’s feet? If it were some other dress, I would surely have drawn them. And besides, what about the flowers, the ornaments, and the other adornments that I did not draw just because you were watching me, Doctor? I don’t think it is correct to draw inferences about anyone from such exercises as these.”

Narayanamurthy smiled.

“I know that you have not drawn many things that you probably saw in your mind. But I have the clues that I need from what you have drawn. Can you really say that what I just told you is untrue?”

I did not deny it. I had no reason to do so, did I? Because it was true.

The first-round win had boosted his confidence. Now he had the upper hand. It is easy for a self confident person to gain mastery over another who has none. That is how it is in all relationships – personal, work, official. Things might be look fine, like they are moving without a hitch. From the outside, it might even look quite pretty. Narayanamurthy probably thought that it was easy to control me now. But does he know that techniques like the drawing exercise that he used to subdue me, have been discredited decades back and relegated to the pages of history books? Anyway, I mentioned to him an article that had appeared in the Medical Daily Bulletin that argued something to this effect. That was the only way I could escape the power he would perhaps hold over me.

“You must realise the absurdity of trying to use a technique that was last updated in 1969 to analyse a person,” I said. “That is the first thing. Secondly, there will definitely be a subjective reading in any interpretation. Therefore it may be proper for us to rethink the validity of such observations. And there are researchers actually doing the rethinking.”

Narayanamurthy seemed somewhat crestfallen now. I decided to let him know clearly that I had no intention to please.

“Can we reflect on why a person is always thought of as belonging to some social group? Why can’t we stop classifying her according to warts or wrinkles, whatever? Why not look at each person as a unique entity, like they were separate and free countries?”

Narayanamurthy studied me closely.

Excerpted with permission from The Sthory of Two Wimmin Named Kalyani and Dakshayani, R Rajasree. Translated from the Malayalam by Devika J, Penguin.