She lived…

She was dusky in complexion. And in her eyes, there was the spirit of dusk. A resigned silence to the beauty of a receding day. A colorful world whose impermanence had made her find comfort in the darkness of the night that followed.

She was wary of the day- of its enchanting colors and sounds that had the potential to fade away without warning.

 

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Dusk that smeared on it the ashes that remained of the day’s fierceness

 

Her demeanour cleverly concealed her vulnerability. One would easily mistake her for a strong, self-reliant soul who cared little about what the world thought of her. At work, people branded her as rebellious just because she was a single woman with a head on her shoulders. She took her work seriously, and she was good at it. This was reason enough to offend her peers. They pretended to get along and even sympathize with her, but she knew just as well that it was all a farce. And so, she became more defensive. It becomes necessary to don a mask of defense when society secludes you. Society scans for a weak point in you in order to deliver a blow, and so, you have to conceal all your weaknesses and feign strength, even if it means rebellion.

But if you could see through the mask, you would see the bleeding, soft core of her persona- still in a state of shock and denial. An year had passed, but it still took a lot of effort to get by. The suicidal impulse had passed. But the future seemed to hold no promise- it was all dark and empty. The only companions were the memories. Somehow, it was easier to hold on to them and get by, rather than move on.

There was no moving on.

The only consolation were books. Somehow, they seemed to add value to the perceptions and to this sense of loss.

Many a time, she would ask herself- Is it really possible for a person to do this? Then what was the truth in their relationship that had seen nearly 8 years of blissful togetherness? What was the truth in love? How could one trust anybody at all? A man had taken from her all her love, only to discard it eventually, robbing her of her ability to love another soul.

But then, to whom does one complain about the unfairness of life? When did life ever promise you that it would be fair?

 

Nived was a name that had become a part of her. Theirs was a love that had its roots in the early years of adolescence, when love and life were governed purely by the intensity of emotions. Somehow, the love had matured beyond infatuation and evolved into a deep friendship. Perhaps it was because of common interests. Perhaps it was because at that age, their love was uncorrupted by the currents of life. But the truth was that they had become inseparable. It was impossible for her to think of her own self in isolation from Nived. He had always been around…almost like her shadow.

They had always walked together….dreamt together.

 

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Today, she walked alone, unsure of her steps, unsure of herself. She found it impossible to dream without him by her side. She looked at the birthday pictures he had posted- his wife by his side, the two of them smiling happily. It made her sadder for it contrasted with the picture of her own life. She remained frozen in the past, a million questions swarming in her head, unspoken. Too shocked to react. Too shocked to comprehend.

Too shocked to even cry.

It was a miracle she was even alive. But for what? For whom? The past had transformed into an illusion. The present into numbness. And the future an endless desert.

But she lived.

She lived in a beautiful house that was the outcome of the collective effort of both their minds. They had both been drawn to the aesthetics of the locality- a quiet lane with  fields in the neighbourhood, a temple and an old pond with stone steps leading to it. They had spent countless moments discussing the design of the house- agreeing, disagreeing and arguing. In the end, it was a beauty. The living room had a high ceiling, and stepping into it seemed to set the mind free. The patio looked on to the fields. A hot cup of tea, mild rays of the evening sun cutting across the fields, the slender grass dancing to the gentle breeze….one couldn’t ask for more. They had shopped for all the furniture and home decors together.

The house was rejuvenating. But it was designed for a happy couple. Every part of the house reminded her of him. But she lived.

She lived, paying the mortgage every month.

She lived, sometimes wanting to run away from the suffocation of this place.

This place that reminded her of his proximity. This place that constantly judged her. People who wanted to know her story only so they could judge her. She lived, wishing she could get away and perhaps go back abroad. She lived, looking for jobs that could help her clear her loans faster. She lived, hoping to fill her soul with the joy of books and travel, the intensity of which could perhaps drown her pain. She lived, taking trips to the hospital all alone when ailments bothered her. She lived, watching new leaves unfurl on the mango tree he had planted for her.

She lived quietly in her world- inconspicuously, with all the richness of her melancholy. 

She was long gone, but she lived….

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Morality??

Years have passed since I migrated from the freedom and comfortable anonymity of the cosmopolitan city I grew up in, to the uncomfortable conservatism and conditioning that characterizes life in the small town that is my current home. I have adapted to this alien environment by preserving my detachment where necessary. And yet, there are days and experiences from which I cannot alienate myself. They sometimes shock me into a state of mute helplessness.

Perhaps it is after moving into this part of the world that I realized the limitations of being a woman. Until then, it had never occurred to me that gender could limit one’s freedom of expression. I had never really experienced the sort of fear that comes with such realization. It is strange that the passage of time has made the environment more hostile to women. The truth is that the freedom we see in terms of liberalism in the external facets of the lives of urban women is far removed from the actual scenario that surrounds the average Indian woman. If anything, these women are now more vulnerable to social assaults than they were in the past. As women venture into the domains of education and profession, there are infinite stories of oppression, assault and abuse. The fact remains that it is very easy to mutilate an Indian woman’s mind. We are all social beings. It is impossible for us to abolish our dependence on society. And in a society that sets very high expectations from its women in terms of character and morality- expectations that are too perfectionist to be human, it is natural for the woman to be the victim.
The woman is either fighting society, or she is fighting herself.

In the small town that is my current home, it is not acceptable for a woman to display visible excitement, enthusiasm or an emotional interest in fellow-human beings of the opposite sex. Such a woman qualifies for a characterless woman. Imagine the plight of a 17-year old girl who wakes up to the news that posters have been put up all over town, portraying her in the most inglorious manner, defaming her in the most inhuman way! I will never forget the devastation I read on her face at that moment….her inability to even comprehend the ruthlessness of this act. My words of consolation fell on deaf ears. Her eyes were a blur….almost as if someone had suddenly turned off the lights in her mind, thrusting her soul into absolute darkness. I hugged her tight and she burst into tears, her hands holding me tight, almost like a child who was too scared to let go of that grasp even for a minute. I realized that her mind needed the non-verbal language of affection, support and trust now. It was not the time for words or reasoning. Her mind was a sinking ship that needed something to cling on to.

As she sobbed, I thought of the lady who had shown me pictures of some of the posters. I remember the energy and excitement with which she had gone about displaying it to people. Coincidentally, she is the mother of two girls. Perhaps she was so certain this could never happen to her or her children.

It is in adversity that one gets to see the true faces of people. Ironically, most of the women faculty stepped back. They avoided her. Some condemned her. Perhaps the act of moving away from a defamed girl, successfully earned them a morality medal…a bonus point on their own character certificate. The more diplomatic ones pretended that they were too busy with the more significant things in life.
In summary, everybody played safe. It is true that a woman is a woman’s worst enemy.

To be honest, I was scared like hell to stand by her side. I was already being attacked from all sides. Being single seemed to work against me. I suddenly found myself answerable to millions of people. But the only drive for the courage I discovered within me was her face. I could see the bewilderment, fear, helplessness, loneliness and sadness. It could have been me. I didn’t need any more reasons.

I realized that she needed people. At least until she was more settled in her mind. I had to talk to her batch mates and explain. I was in for a surprise. I didn’t have to explain. They had already made up their mind to stand by her side. The boys took initiative and the girls followed. That gave me a lot of courage. I will never forget those moments we sat in my cabin, trying to comfort her, and the smile that finally lit up her face. Of course, it was temporary. But those moments bonded us in a strange way.

A tough road lies ahead for her. But my gut-feeling says that these are moments of her formation. The kind of formation that stems from breaking. At all those places where she sews the broken parts of her soul together, she will discover her strength and spirit.

Millions of people live in a free world. But alas! There is no freedom in their minds. And then there are the ones who live in oppression, yet preserve the light of freedom in their minds and the music in their souls. They are the essence of human life- of its capacity for resilience.