For the past few minutes the doorbell was incorporated as part of my dream. Finally, after it rang for some time, I realized it is not a dream and I need to get up and open the door.
Shashikala walked in.
“Goodmorning Didi.” She said in her usual chirpy voice.
“Hmm.” I replied coldly. She had not come to work the day before. I was giving her the silence treatment.
“Didi, I will make chicken for you today,” she said trying to lure me with my favourite food.
“No need! There is a lot of leftover from yesterday!” I gave a cold reply again.
The silent treatment did not seem to be working. She either did not understand I was mad or she did not care. I broke my cold war and blurted out:
“Look at all those dirty dishes! I had guests over yesterday! And you just ditched me! I had told you not to take an off for these two days! Your work is the last priority for you. You took an off to look after your friend!! She does not have anyone? You have to disrupt your work to attend to her?”
“No Didi. She is not my friend.”
“Oh so what neighbor? Stranger! Even better! You come to work only after you have solved all of humanity’s problems.”
“She is his first wife….”
Shashikala was married off when she was about 18. Her husband was abusive. He used to take all her money for alcohol and beat her up. In the next five years, she had two sons until one fine day he just left. After a couple of years he showed up again, asking for his children. Shashikala refused to give them up. He told her he is doing well in life and would be in a better position to support the kids. She said she does not want to live with him. A compromise was made. The husband took her elder son. She kept the younger one.
A kind aunt of hers thought that it is time she remarried. The prospective groom was okay with having her son around. So Shashikala agreed. Once the marriage was solemnized, she was in for another shock. This man was already married, something she had no idea about. The first wife was still living there. Shashikala left him and came back with her son.
Now, she lives with her younger son. The elder son (who is with his father) is in a hostel and he visits her sometimes. Both the husbands show up at her house once in a while to create some drama!
Her story came flashing back in my mind.
“What happened to her!” I asked her. The anger was now replaced with curiosity.
“He came the night before to eat. He said that she has not been keeping well so there is no one to cook for him. You know he is very selfish Didi. He did not even take her to the doctor. She was in pain. So I went there. Took her to the hospital. Got her the medicines. Cleaned her house. And cooked some food.”
“Why do you care so much about her?”
“Unknowingly I did her wrong Didi! I married her husband and hurt her! This is the least I can do.”
I read a lot of articles online. The latest trend is romanticizing cheating. I have seen a lot of reputed publications publish articles on cheating and how it is all about “being in the moment”, “living your life”, “love and sex are different things”, “it just happens” and other such excuses. When I express my disgust in the comments some cool people respond,“Why are being so judgmental”, “To each to his own”. It seems we have no idea how to be progressive.
Here is a woman who did not exactly have a smooth life. One bad marriage is enough to break a person. She had two! It could have been convenient for her to bitter. But she chose not to. She had self-respect. She did not take back her first husband when he came back. She left the second husband the moment she found out he is already married.
But these things did not change who she is as a person. It did not change the kindness within her. The kindness that made her feel the physical and emotional pain of another woman.
Yes, good women uplift other women. They hold their head high in times of turmoil. They do not let the unhappiness in their lives change their judgment, and conscience.
Shashikala, you are a feminist to me. You may not get any recognition. But you have taught me one thing:
We are who we are. No matter what happens in life, there is no excuse to cause someone pain. There is no reason to not live by our principles.