I said “ Good morning Mrs. Singh.—”
But there was no response. That woman lying in front of me , was just a heap of bones —I felt scared even to turn her over –forget about washing or changing —in-case she falls apart—in-case she just crumbles in my hands like a dry- dead flower head—-
I should have understood it all first thing in the morning, when Barbara rang —” Please Shai help us, There is an Indian women here in our crisis centre, who hasn’t eaten anything for a week now. She hasn’t even washed or brushed for the whole of a week—–doesn’t talk to anyone—doesn’t let anyone come near her.—-just sits at one place ,gazing at her toe nails or sits with her eyes closed— all withdrawn within—-We all are very worried for her.
Perhaps you can do something for her—-perhaps she doesn’t understand English language– may be she will be less withdrawn to an Indian lady and you might really help her—- -”
‘ Perhaps I might!’—-I thought and sighed!
It wasn’t just the question of a language- or communication gap—it was something much more deep-rooted —looks like she didn’t have a will to live anymore, any interest in herself or in her surroundings . I was lost for words —-how can someone call one back from that land of the dead..!
Just by looking at her it was difficult to tell whether she was sleeping or awake—conscious or unconscious; but one thing was clear that she has cut herself off from this world and wasn’t bothered , when and what happens to her now.
Air in the room was heavy and suffocating. There was a definite stink of death and decay. It was difficult to breath –I opened the curtains and windows first—We both needed some fresh air badly.
There was a slight movement now in that heap of a dirty and crumbled sari and those bony legs silently folded themselves up towards her chest.
I unfolded that untouched, unslept blanket and gently covered her cold and frail body. That blanket started to heave now with her each tiny sob– So she wasn’t unconscious after all—gathering all my strength I put my hands on her shoulder.–
“Perhaps I can help you if you let me— share your pain.”
There was no reply. Even the sobs subsided now.
I just sat by her side stroking her dry uncombed hair. She needed her own time—it is not easy to open up, when one is so knotted inside. —I tried once again–
“Where do you come from?”
“ Abbergavani ”
Her voice was hoarse and sad as if she has been just crying and crying all this time. —or really never spoke at all.
“No, I’m not talking about this country—I’m asking about back home–Where You originally came from?”
I tried to reach her a bit more.
I don’t know whether it was the world ‘back-home ‘or my gentle caring touch, she opened her eyes and was looking at me now—a most beautiful round face and big brown eyes. She was so beautiful!
“What is your name?”
“kanak Lata! I’m from Bhagalpur Bihar.”
Her English was flawless.
Now she wasn’t only listening to me but even understanding and answering . Her sindoor and bindi were the sure signs that not only she was married but her husband was alive and well. I responded with an affectionate smile-
“Where is your husband and what is his name?”
“ Harry Prasad Singh ”
“Harry Prasad” I just repeated the name in an astonishment.
Then for the first time I saw a little sparkle in her eyes– a cheeky pink glow on her face all over—-
“ Yes, you are thinking right. My in-laws called him Hari only. But once here in this country —he told everybody that his name is Harry not Hari–All his patients call him doctor Harry only.”
“Patients—”—-Both my interest and eagerness were mounting now—
“What does he do —I mean profession-wise?”
“He is a GP here in Abbergavani, Wales.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that before that you are the wife of Dr. Singh?”
Dr Singh, that famous psychologist and a successful professional— and his wife here— in this condition—My brain was refusing to believe—-
“No not his wife –just married to him.”-She replied hurriedly as if she has read my mind again.
“The one who shares his life and bed both is Alva only.”
“Who is this Alva?”-Now it was difficult for me to hide my interest and curiosity.
“The other-one!”-She replied in a whispering and trembling voice.
“Why the Other-one—why not his second wife or even a mistress or a lover?”-I was almost intruding her thoughts.
“Because there is no love or commitment there –No vows were taken, no promises were made—-She is just an opportunist–she doesn’t give anything in that relationship ; just takes and takes—Anyway what difference it makes now—”
She left her sentence unfinished as if there was no need to tell me anymore as if she didn’t trust enough yet.
“You see they didn’t even exchanged a ring between them. It is just a pure felicity— a simple convenient agreement. Be my employee in the day and partner in the night and I will pay you back—be my partner in the sin for the rest of life .”
Her face was red in anger and disgust and now her sorrow was disturbing me also.
“Why didn’t you put a stop to all this or rebel ”
“Yes, I could have done that only if I was here …allowed to. I was there in Motihari bringing up my son Rakesh—Waiting for those necessary papers —passport and visa —his sponsorship— and dreaming day and night with open eyes about our happy life together here in England—-playing a constant happy family game –.”
Then she paused for a moment and wiped her streaming tears. She showed me the photograph of a seven or eight year old healthy and beautiful boy —-which she proudly kept hidden inside her blouse closer to her bosom..
“But when my family came to know that he has got someone here and she is expecting his child too— that is also out of wedlock —there were tempers and abuse for him everywhere. But I calmed them down. It was the question of my son’s future . Within weeks I was here with my father-in-law.
He threatened him- ‘ You have married her in the presence of the whole community. These bonds cannot be broken so easily .You got to give her rightful place in your life!’
And see I got my right-full place here in the corner of his servant-quarter—cooking and cleaning for them —-away from my family—away from my son—”wiping her tears she told me in a wry and painful tone. Her jaw and neck muscle were stiff in pain as she spoke-“This was my work —my duty.–my door to heaven–and my father’s princess Kanak Lata was reduced to a domestic maid only, that also on the wages of food and lodging only. But I accepted all as my fate because in return he promised to send regular money to educate and look after my son”
“He is studying in prestigious mount-view school Banglore now.”-she told me proudly, wiping her face with her palloo.
A smile glowed her face as she remembered her growing up son
“But how all this happened?”-I wanted to know all about those wounds and scars on her back. and her long suffering ill health..
Her lips quivered with a tearful smile -“These were the perks of my job.”
“An everyday occurrence—Sometime when I accidentally used to drop something or was unable to do the housework because of the fever or illness or some other minor or major problem, I used to get beaten with belt shoes or whatever used to be handy or nearby. Can’t you see how thick skin I have become now and still surviving it all. ”
“It didn’t stop there—–”
She kept on talking, unstopped uninterrupted now— as if I wasn’t there—- as if she won’t get another chance—–
“ One day I met Sheila in the supermarket while doing some shopping for their house-hold. She used to be my brother’s class-mate in his medical school. They had come to England only few months back.–have made their house here in Abbergavani only. They expressed their desire there and then, that they would like to pay me a friendly visit sometime soon . I couldn’t say ‘no’ to them. And they came one day and saw everything! In his shock and mad frenzy, her husband an upright man questioned Harry about his irresponsible and unethical behavior . Even threatened him . Warned him that if he doesn’t mend his ways towards me he will take him to the court for living in sin… with two women at the same time—.which is not allowed . ..neither in law , nor in religion . It will ruin both his name and career. Told him again and again that he was a shame to such a noble profession. But that was the opening of the Pandora’s box for me. After that day, my beatings became regular and more severe. I was not allowed to go out or visit or talk to anyone and he used to lock my room in the night in case I might try to escape—-One day when Sheila and her husband came uninvited to meet me they found out how I have been…really used to live —Their anger was out of control then. They used lot of foul words for him.. But once they left, he was mad with rage. He kept on kicking and punching me till I fainted.
You probably know the rest of the story. I don’t know who brought me here—-and who wants to save my life —-certainly I don’t—-”
Kanak was looking very tired and frail now—It’s not good for her to get this excited and tired. I went and warmed some vegetable broth for her. It took some hard persuasion from my side to let her sip those few spoons.
“You must rest now Kanak. I will come to see you tomorrow again.”
Making her comfortable in that bed I assured her gently.
“If pain goes severe take these two tablets again…no more.”
Putting water of jug and few pain-killers on her bed -side table, I told her again.
She smiled and just said. ”bye”
“Don’t forget to ring me anytime if you feel-like or want anything.–Here is my phone number.”
She just waved this time but her eyes, in spite all those tears, were full of affection and gratitude.
I felt guilty and uncomfortable—-she was so week, so vulnerable and lonely.
Phone rang again next morning.
It was Barbara again —-all in a rush and full of worry —
“Shai come straight—It’s a crisis—-I will tell you all, once you are here.”
She put the phone down. Didn’t wait even for my response. I was there in that crisis centre within few minutes.
Barbara was waiting for me on the door only.
All were very worried and tense there.
She just pointed me towards Kanak’s room.
Pressing the lift’s button I just ran towards the stairs. I wasn’t going to wait anymore. —–What happened to Kanak now—-She was getting so much better —Or was she —–I ran faster—
Door was flung open—
I said, ” Good -Morning Kanak !”
–but there was no response–
Has she gone back in her depressive mood again—But she is looking so peaceful —I turned to inquire—
“ I’m afraid she is no more.. Passed away last night. Probably it was an overdose.. We found this on her floor.” Lee, the attendant nurse told me all in one breath.
In utter shock and horror I looked at the bottle on Lee’s stretched palm. Yes, it was that same fateful medicine bottle, I gave her last night.
” I don’t know how she got hold of this, we keep all the medicines locked, even the ordinary pain-killers a?” -Lee was all puzzled.
‘ But why Kanak-why-?when things were getting so much better for you— ! ‘- I was hopelessly confused and repeating myself again and again.
I felt very angry and very depressed —‘What a waste of a young life! !..Sso young and so beautiful! Everything was getting so much better for her! Just few hours back, I was thinking of training her as a nurse or helper once she gets better and comes out of her depression. I was thinking- because she herself has gone through so much—will understand other’s pain and suffering better …Would have made an excellent and understanding nurse. I wasn’t expecting this from her! She could have started a fresh and happy life with her son–away from that monster of a man.–!’ – she looked so kind and gentle even in her sorrow—there was no trace of bitterness on her face–as if she has forgiven them all—
With a heavy heart I dragged myself back to the office.
”These are her belongings –I don’t know what to do with them–perhaps you can help—-?”
Barbara handed me the photograph of her son —and of course that sindoor she wore so proudly on her forehead all the time.—
Two things in her life she lived for—–she loved- and valued most .But the two people always away from her reach—Perhaps I’m the only friend left for her–a friend in death and misery only–What have I done to be called a friend—-My thoughts turned to her son. I can’t help KanakLata anymore, but I should find and inform Rakesh…make sure that his education is not interrupted. Suddenly I was feeling very close and all responsible for him.
She did tell me he was studying in mount view school Banglore and Dr. Singh was paying for him.
I rang the school. But they told me there was no boy in that school with that name— for last ten or twelve years at least.
What a treachery–she worked like a slave for nothing. My tears were betraying my cool controlled exterior.
“ Sleep peacefully Kanak —-I promise you that I won’t let your son’s life be neglected and wasted like yours. He will get all the things in life a child should—” Wiping those tears with a steely determination, I was promising not to her( she was gone beyond these promises or betrayals) but to myself . And first thing after her funeral, I found myself busy on phone, booking a flight to India, organizing a trip to Motihari, Bihar. I was still hopeful ! ….