-by Naval Langa
[Story of a woman showing courage while facing strange odds.]
I DO NOT CLAIM that I am not responsible for what has happened. I knew it would happen one day. I have not cooperated it openly, but I have not tried to stop it from happening.
I do not say I was unhappy by marrying him. Nor I had any objection for my husband’s multiple identities: Mr. Raman Kumar Shastri, a bank clerk, a chain smoker, a vegetarian, or a man always in blue shirt and grey pants and what not. You just come near, and would identify him by any one of these identification marks.
There were several other versions of his identities, available in his office, too. But it made no difference for me. At least it makes no difference for me now, as he is going to live in a separate house, with another woman, with a new set of pains; or even pleasures, perhaps. I do not know what kind of relationships is between him and me today, this morning.
OUR MARRIAGE WAS an arranged one, but we knew each other before. I was a typist in City College and had my account with the bank where he was a clerk. He is still a clerk. His clerk-hood was not a real problem, for me at least. My being a typist was supportive in running the household, paying the loan instalments of the house that is in my name, and sending small remittances to his parents who lived in a distant village.
Everything was normal till the day my principal called me in his cabin. He was a fatherly figure for everyone in our college. I was Vidya for him, no Miss, No Mrs., just Vidya. He congratulated me. “Hey Vidya, you are promoted as departmental head.“ I was to head the non-teaching staff, fifteen in all, including the peon Babban who hardly remained visible.
Mr. Raman Kumar J. Shastri, a bank clerk, a chain smoker, a vegetarian, congratulated me for the promotion. But his behaviour was changed from the day. From his physical appearance, it looked that someone had reduced his height by half a feet.
For me the new assignment meant a wider cabin, an option for interest free car loan, and one hour of increased responsibility. But my colleagues were unexpectedly co-operative. Co-operative in the sense, no one ever threw books on the tables, or threw their boots while coming in, or thrust the doors while going out. No one talked with me keeping eyes outside of the room, or no one was against sharing a dining table with me. Mr. Raman Kumar Shastri did all these things.
Within a month he had cultivated a strange habit of coming late at home. The man must have some inbuilt mechanism for finding the ways of torturing a woman so subtly. Within a spell of two months, his habit was simply upgraded. He started coming very late, sometimes after midnight.
“Don’t purchase kitchen stocks from your money.”
This was the sharp arrow that made me sprang on my feet. At first I could not make out what Raman meant by it. In fact I had forgotten the definition of ‘my money’. We were married since five years and money we spent was never coloured as ‘my’ or ‘your’.
YOU DO NOT need a crowd of enemy to be unhappy. One is quite sufficient. I had one. And the name of my enemy was Time: the time I had to pass waiting for Raman. Once it was late evening, I would sit in my third floor balcony, hoping to catch the noise his scooter made.
It was now clear that Raman disliked my promoted position. He talked with me only in words, not in full sentences, when we were alone. While sitting among friends he would certainly talk about Elena, our first floor neighbour. He would say that ‘she is promoted as Sales Manager because of jeans and the upper buttons of her shirt, which she keeps unbuttoned’. Lately he defined her as CCTV of her boss. I knew, and even Raman also knew, that Elena was little bit modern but she was a good girl. I was clear in my mind about what he wanted to convey by cooking the falsehood about her.
“Come home before eight o’clock or arrange your dinner somewhere else.” That was what I told him on one Sunday midnight. Was it out of frustration? Or hate? Or was it an offspring of the apathy I was brooding? I did not know, but I wanted to see my home disciplined.
Raman did not stop coming late. He stopped dining at home.
I CONTINUED TO sit in balcony. Not out of desire to wait for him, but for some unknown reason. Raman’s late coming was terribly shameful for me, too, as the neighbours had some idea about our cold relations. Six months passed in this manner.
The passing time made me thinking about what a man like Raman would do in such a situation. I was expecting something worse to happen. And it happened. I heard that Raman went regularly to a woman’s home.
It did not take much time to know that the woman was a divorcee, having a girl of three with her. She needed a man. She might be in search of a man who could pay for her kitchen and the clothes, a man who had almost lost his own home, or a man who needed a woman only for his body-needs. Raman was the best candidate.
Since the day I knew about Farina, it was her name, I feared that Raman would not come home one day. When he really came, I thought it was for the last time. Every morning, when he left for office, without taking the scooter that was purchased with ‘my money’, I feared he would not return tonight.
Days became months, and the fear of losing him permanently became my bedfellow. Was I waiting for the day he would stop coming home? Would I be relieved on the day he would be out of my life? Every evening the strange thoughts made thick nest in my skull. Every moment a new thought-bird would fly from the nest, and its fluttering became tremors in my body. The birds flew high and followed me up to my office. The came in various species: ‘Is Farina beautiful?’ ‘Is she more kind than me?’ ‘Would she be feeling comfortable to be naked on demand?’ I had forgotten to count the flutters and the tremors.
I decided to talk about everything with Raman, about everything, as I was not ready to go insane. I was not ready to live with the fire of fear, the fear of being alone, the fear of my husband going somewhere and not returning forever. I wanted to be free; I wanted to make him free, too. I was not in hurry to be tagged as divorcee. But I wanted a good sleep after a stressful day. I needed a piece of time I could say as my own.
But the circumstances took a strange turn.
IT WAS SUNDAY. Raman was on tour for two days and was to return in the morning. A knock at the door and I wondered, as Raman and I both kept the keys; and we have stopped knocking for each other since long. The second knock and I opened the door. A cheap pair of shoes, simple but neat dress, and a dry face without any make-up: this could not be other than Farina, I thought. Once I recognized her I lost my speech mechanism, my thought mechanism. Without a word I came inside. She followed me. After a glass of water and her shaking of head for denial for a tea, we set facing each other.
“Ma’am I think we need no introductions.” She was right. Surprisingly I could not hate her. Silence ruled the air until I regularised my breathing. My eyes posed a question to her.
“Ma’am, I… I am pregnant.”
The earth beneath my feet quaked. It was the remotest thing I had thought about—my husband’s child in some other woman’s womb. That was what she exactly had conveyed to me. The woman put my whole married life in a fragile plate. Her single sentence made me thinking that I had lost everything. I was childless, but it was our planning.
“Where… where is HE?”
“I don’t know.” Her red, swollen, and tearful eyes and abrupt start of sobbing blocked my other queries. After a coffee, a good coffee, and reluctant chewing of some biscuits, she looked a little bit relaxed. At least by then she was not fearful of me. But I wanted hard talks.
“What do you want? I mean from me.”
“I want abortion.” She was straight and on right track, too. “But… he… he wants to have the child?” And she started crying.
I had never imagined myself being put into such circumstances. Within no time Farina had changed her character in my mind. The woman I had never met, the woman I had hated as hard as possible, the woman who had never seen the steps of a high school, was educating me about how a woman can be victimised.
RAMAN DID NOT turn up. After another two days he came home, at my home. I did not care about what he would think on seeing Farina and her girl at my home. He was yet to encounter other hard facts. The fact was that I did not offer him a glass of water. The fact was that I had kept divorce papers ready, divorce by consent. And the fact was that he was no more a part of my life.
“Sign it.” I threw the bunch of papers against him.
Farina was in kitchen. The girl was playing with the toys I had purchased for her. The man, Mr. Raman Kumar Shasti, a bank clerk, a chain smoker, a vegetarian, or a man who wanted the child that pulsated under Farina’s belly, was left with no alternative. He very well knew the options he had. He was to choose either a possible stay in jail, for polygamy he practiced, or the divorce.
He chose to sign the papers.
IT’S MORNING WITH a new light and a fresh sun. Farina is cleaning my drawing room. I do not know where Raman has gone after sighing the papers. But I am sure he would return soon, for Farina. Farina puts coffee before me, arranges my bookcase, and then starts filling water pots from the tap. After an hour she would go.
“Do your trust him?”
Had anybody asked this question I would have preferred silence, a confused silence. But I want answer from Farina. Farina, a woman who has not seen her mother’s love, a woman who has grown up before the eyes of a drunkard father, a woman who is thrown out of home by her husband because she has failed to produce a male child on demand, is asked about the ingredients of the trustworthiness of a man who has just ended his married life.
“Ma’am, you are fortunate. God has given you options.”
The End (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)