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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The more things change the more they remain the same

I had heard a lot about her from the family grapevine before I actually met her . All good things – that she was the ideal  bahu , an excellent cook ,  educated to just  the right degree-  enough to read and write but not enough to give her businessman husband a complex etc. etc  We finally met at a family wedding  spread over three days .  From the very first day she slipped effortlessly , and cheerfully , into the role of the  chief organizer/ worker / co host . What struck  me the most about her  was not her indefatigable energy  but the fact that  here was a girl from some one horse town in the hinterlands of Uttar Pradesh who was holding her own at a relative’s very cosmopolitan wedding. Spunky was my verdict of her and  the image I carried with me was of a smiling face with a determined tilt to it.  Many years went by and, living in different cities as we were , we didn’t meet . From the faithful  family grapevine I heard about the birth of her son , the marriage of her husband’s younger brother and other  tit bits .

 Roughly ten  years  rushed  by before I met her again .  We hugged and drew back to look at each other . She was the same  - her smile and warmth had not changed - and yet so different . Always  thin , she was now gaunt . The shine in her eyes had dulled   and she seemed to be doing everything expected of her  as a matter of duty and not of joy . Was this the person I had called spunky ten years back ?  Nah. That seemed to be another lifetime.   I wanted to ask her  if everything was alright but   somehow didn’t . Ah  !  the do’s and don’ts of social etiquettes .

 We don’t meet again   . The phone at my house rings in the twenty third year of her marriage- or is it the twenty fourth ?  " There is something to tell you ( a premonition had me sitting up straight), Dolly ( not her real name , of course)  is no more".  " That's  terrible. How ?  When did..?"  I am interrupted.  " She committed suicide".  My hands are clammy and my heart seems to be thumping too loudly. I keep the phone down.

A  day  goes by. The wayward  heart has been  brought under control but there is no peace for the mind . There are too many questions to be  answered . They have to be answered if I am to get any peace  . I turn to the family grapevine. What I discover  is shocking . I find that  the rot  that we , ensconced in our  ivory towers of education and globalization , have long forgotten    is still   deeply entrenched  in the social morass  of the middle class  Indian.


Why did it happen ? Do things like this happen to people like us? It is now clear that they do. What makes an educated woman , married for more than 23 years take her life ? Well, many factors are at play but the main is the TINA factor. Yes, simply put ,it is that she feels there is no alternative. She has been the favourite punching bag of the family for too long. Family ? A father-in-law who spends his time acting out his celluloid ambitions of the archtype of the autocratic patriarch in real life ; a mother in law who is only a mother in law- not a woman ; a husband who spends his time between work and friends ; husbands brother whose importance lies in the fact that he marries a girl whose family is rich enough to send a regular supply of laddoos and kaju ki katlis. She suffers silently all those long years because her father is not alive and mother not rich enough to send the goodies. She lives the life of a second class citizen.

 Why didn’t Dolly turn to anyone for help ?  I  don’t know if she did . But let us presume that she did . O.K .  Let me take that further and  hypothetically suppose that she had turned to me . What would my  advice  have  been ?  And , more importantly, would I have given her any advice or sympathetically looked in her eyes , maybe squeezed her hands  ( and a few tears from my eyes ) come back home , looked at the familiar walls and faces , vowed to count my blessings and got back ,energized,  to  the business of  living . Yes,  the same thing we feel when we go to pay our condolences – the feeling of ‘ thank God it’s not happening / happened to me’

Here I stop. I have no more answers. What actually transpires in the heart and mind in those last few minutes , when the person is teetering between sanity and an insane desire to be free ? What tilts the scales either ways? No easy answers . But what is certain is that what we call suicide is actually murder. Murder of a person's dreams and hopes; of love and life; of laughter and  emotions. Trial by Jury, anyone?

An  image  of a smiling face with a determined tilt to it floats before my eyes  .

 I close them.

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