You are not what I see
You are unfathomable
And arcane as the sea.
Laughter is your facade,
Concealing your cry and pain
You betray others.
Open your heart, show your bruise
Cry on my shoulders
And soothe your ache.
Four of them—Aparajita, Shirin, Nandini, and Ranita—all of them lecturers by profession, would pool a car every day to reach their institute. Their journey to their destination was a long one and there was no dearth of anecdotes coming from four of them, every day. The driver too joined their discussion occasionally, if the conversation was in Hindi. All in all, it was a happy journey full of gossips—mostly gossips about their colleagues and sometimes about their family members, especially about their in-laws, the latter being a favourite subject to most of them. The four travellers were always in high spirits. Their cheerful countenance reflected their happy and contented lives. The intimacy among these four women was a matter of envy among many of their workmates. They usually did not keep any secrets from each other. However, just before the last international women’s day, they had an innovative idea and that was—on this special day they would bring out the skeletons from their closets, if there were any—during their journey. Everybody was excited about it. Perhaps, none of them could presume what she was going to hear.
The next day, as soon as all the friends got into the car, Aparajita reminded her friends of their plan. She looked at the apprehensive faces of the others and decided to start the journey with her narrative. She was always the bravest one.
“Unfortunately, what I’m going to tell you today might shock you all. Last night I was debating whether I should, after all, bring out the dark side of my life to light, which I so carefully kept it to myself so far. Ultimately, I wanted to go ahead with my secret because I know, you being my closest friends, will not misunderstand me. My jovial appearance isn’t what I am. Yes, I’m contented with my husband and two lovely sons; I can’t complain. But I had a past and not a very pleasant one.
When I was about seventeen, I eloped with a man being infatuated by his good looks. He was then twenty one and used to run errands in a private office. Coming from an educated and cultured family, it was very difficult for my parents to digest it and as it happened, they disowned me. I secretly married this man in a temple and went to his less than humble quarters, and tried my best to adjust to that alien and adverse environment. We were not blissfully happy, poverty being one hindrance among others, but we were satisfied. The power of youth was triumphant. Eventually, we were blessed with a beautiful daughter, whose arrival overpowered all our woes and tribulations. I expected a visit from my family, who, I was sure, was well aware of this new addition to our family. But the arrival of the newest member didn’t make them budge from their standpoint. Although I was hurt, yet I was so busy with my baby that I didn’t brood over it. My baby grew up in front of our adoring eyes and very soon we were planning to celebrate her first birthday. Instead of inviting anyone, we planned to enjoy ourselves by going out in the evening.
Eventually the day came for which I was so eagerly waiting. It was only five in the afternoon but out of excitement I got my girl ready in her new dress and got myself dressed up in my most beautiful saree. I was expecting my husband any time when I heard a knock on the door. I was a little surprised to see a friend of my husband who was holding a letter; it was a letter from my husband. I took the letter with much trepidation and somehow managed to read it. The content was very brief; he couldn’t make it that day because he had to leave for his village. He also wrote that he had lost his job that very day and he didn’t know how to face me when I was in such a mood of celebration. And, therefore, he thought it judicious to flee to his family in the event of his helplessness in front of me. Before he ended his letter, he however didn’t forget to advise me to go back to my family, with my daughter.
I didn’t know how to react. I was traumatized and couldn’t anticipate what my next step would be. It was so sudden. Under such circumstances, I thought, it would be wise to take his advice. I called my parents and wanted to meet them. They were probably happy to hear that my evil counterpart was gone. So, they agreed to see me. I took my child to my parent’s place and hoped for an encouraging solution. But what they suggested was so unexpected that I realised, it was a mistake to approach them. If I were to get any help, financially and morally, I would have to leave my daughter in an orphanage, so that I could start my life afresh. They wanted to obliterate that murky chapter of my life. Frankly, I didn’t have any other option than to take theirs; not having completed my studies, I couldn’t get any job to provide for myself, let alone for a child. I still remember the day when I left my one year old baby in a children’s home. I couldn’t look into her eyes. With heavy heart, I had to say good bye to her, and I was certain that I was never to see her again.
My parents decided to manage my life carefully after I had messed it up myself. I entered into a college, finished my graduation and then post-graduation. I didn’t keep any touch with my daughter because that was the tacit understanding between my parents and me. Meanwhile I came to know from a reliable source that an undisciplined lifestyle led to my husband’s premature death. However, that didn’t change my life at all because I had no desire to become his widow. My father took a transfer to Pune, probably for my sake. I did my doctorate there and met my present husband. I don’t have to tell you about this latter chapter of my life; you have heard it so many times. I’ve not been courageous enough to reveal my secret even to my husband. And I’ll appreciate if you keep it to yourselves. I’m very happy with my family but not a day goes by when I don’t shed tears for my daughter whom I want to hug so tightly.”
Aparajita ended her long story and looked at her friends for theirs. Surprisingly, they didn’t look as dumbfounded as they should have been. Shirin started without any hesitation.
“ If Aparajita’s story deals with her past, mine does with the present. My husband has bipolar syndromes and as a result, I’ve to deal with his mood swings. I discovered this almost immediately after my marriage and tried to take him to a psychiatrist but my husband didn’t cooperate. My desperation was augmented by the lack of support from his family. You might wonder how I’ve been able to keep such a secret to myself or how his behaviour hasn’t given away. It is only because he has never become too violent although as his wife, it’s difficult to witness his ups and downs, his peaks and the valleys.
During his bad days, he completely shuts himself out of the external world and doesn’t come out from his shell for weeks. His work is also being affected because of this syndrome. It has been long, hard ten years. Before I had my daughter, I stupidly thought that a child in the family might make a difference. For a moment, I forgot that a disease can only be cured by a doctor. After I started my professional life in this institute, I established my identity and regained my lost confidence and started to live for myself. And it has been a few months since I got involved with a person; fortunately, he doesn’t believe in the institution of marriage. I don’t want to give any specific name to this relationship. Both of us have been so discreet about our association that even you too haven’t suspected anything.
We have become extremely tactful about the places we meet or about the time we talk on phone. We still don’t know whether we’ll be able to continue this relationship or if we can, then for how long. But one thing I’m sure of and that is, after a long time I’m very happy, happy to be with a man, who understands me and gives me due respect. May be, what I’m doing is wrong; may be, I shouldn’t have been so secretive about it after all and confront my husband face to face. But I don’t want to lose these precious moments and therefore have decided to be so cautious. Now that I’ve unveiled my secret, you can decide, what is best for me.”
Now, it is Nandini’s turn. She looked extremely shy and uncomfortable even before she had started. Of all the four, she was the most reticent person and felt very awkward in the company of men. But the story she claimed to be her own, defeated her friends’ wildest imagination.
“When I turned thirteen, I developed a very close relationship with a girl friend of mine. We two went to the same school and were so together all the time that very soon other friends started avoiding our company. Frankly, we didn’t mind this cold treatment because we enjoyed each other’s company to that extent that we were oblivious of our surroundings. It was a maddening experience for both of us. Gradually this bond became so deep that everything else remained meaningless to us. When we were in college, we realised that we could not just name it any friendship; it was surely more than that. During our time, we were hardly aware that such relationship could get a legitimate name in the society. The only thing we knew that we could not get married to men and stay apart from each other. Our so-called unnatural relationship didn’t escape the experienced eyes of our respective guardians who decided, it was high time to find good husbands for us before it became too late. We gave in to family pressure; after all we were two weak human beings born in a wrong era. It was my turn first to be dispatched safely to my good husband’s respectable family. In a few months my friend too was sent off to a secure home. No one else apart from our family members knew about this supposedly strange bond between two friends of the same gender. At present I’ve a very stable family thanks to my stable husband. But am I happy? I don’t know.”
A shock prevailed in the car. No one ever fancied that Nandini could divulge such a secret. The disbelief was yet to disappear when Ranita started her story with a wry smile.
“Unlike all your stories, my story is the simplest and shortest one. And frankly, I don’t have any issue with my family. I’m ecstatically happy with my husband and my darling children. May be, I shouldn’t have been so blissfully happy; in that case I could accept my present more bravely. I was diagnosed with cancer about a couple of months back and the doctor says that I am in my last stage. I haven’t informed even my husband and it’s very difficult to put on a brave face in front of my family. I’m mentally so exhausted just thinking how to face my children. However, I’ve to reveal my secret very soon before it is too late. I am open to your suggestion regarding how to unfold the truth to my family.”
As soon as Ranita ended her compact story, the others sat mute, tears rolling down their cheeks. Never did they imagine that searching for skeletons in the closet would bring out such a bitter truth.