She was our next-door neighbour living alone. She had come to stay here only a week before. Nobody knew her or spoke to her because she was hardly to be seen. She used to leave in the early hours of the morning and return in the evening. After she entered the house she rarely or never opened her door to speak to anyone. On holidays also her routine never changed, she was a real enigma to us all.
None of us spoke to her but the children of our society said that she always smiled at them whenever she passed them. Almost a month passed but she never tried to speak to us. It was nearing Diwali.
On that Diwali day our doorbell rang and as usual I went to open the door. What a real surprise it was for me to find her i.e. Ms Unknown (that was what we called her) standing at our doorstep. I was thoroughly shocked and I did not even ask her to come in but only stared at her as if she was from outer space. She looked very beautiful. She had worn a pink sari and she had long hair in a plait.
She asked me, “Can I come in?”
It was then that I realised what a fool, I had been and invited her inside. I asked her to sit down and by this time my mother and younger brother had come out.
She spoke to my mother,” Namaste Auntyji. My name is Alka and I stay just next door. I did not get the time to meet you all before this because of my hectic schedule.”
My mother asked her to sit down. She had brought a plate of Diwali sweets and she offered it to my mother.
My mother accepted it and asked me to get some sweets from inside. She immediately got up and told mother, “Sorry Aunty, I have to go out. Today being Diwali an auspicious day I felt I had to come and meet you all. I will surely come another day.”
Saying this she said Goodbye and before anyone could say anything she went away.
Well the news spread like wildfire throughout the society that Ms Unknown had come to our house, except now it was Ms Alka instead of Ms Unknown.
After that we did not see her for 2 days. On the third day she returned in the afternoon at around 3 pm. It so happened that I was studying for my midterm exams. I happened to come out to the balcony to stretch myself when I saw her alighting from a cab. She was dressed in a green salwar kameez and she had a suitcase with her. I immediately went and opened our door and as she passed by, I spoke to her, “Didi had you gone out of town?”
She stared at me as if she did not know me. I for a moment thought that she did not remember me when suddenly she said, “Yes, I had gone to Pune.
Saying this she walked away leaving me with my thoughts
In the evening my mother gave me a plate of sweets to give to Didi. I went and rang her doorbell but there was no answer and she did not open the door. I rang the bell again twice but there was no response. I returned home and told mother that Didi did not open the door. My mom said she could be sleeping.
At around 8pm my mother herself went and rang the doorbell but again no response. As she was about to ring the bell a second time the door opened and there stood Didi in her same green salwar kameez in which I had seen her in the afternoon. I was behind my mother and she invited us in.
The room was barely furnished, only a table, chair and lamp. The table was full of papers and books. Seeing the papers I presumed she must be a writer. There was a mattress on the floor with a pillow on it. She asked us to sit. Mummy gave her the sweets and told her,”This is all homemade”. She looked at mummy, smiled at her and said” My Mother too used to make sweets at home for Diwali:” She stopped as abruptly as she had begun.
Mummy asked her,” Are you working somewhere?”
She said, “Yes.”
Mother asked, “Where?”
“In a private firm.” She replied.
Mother did not ask her more questions since she did not seem to be comfortable with them and she was hesitant to talk.
Mummy told me,” Come let’s go, it’s time for Daddy to come home.”
Saying this we left her home. She said Goodnight, Aunty, but there was a note of sadness in her voice.
The next day when I was leaving for college I noticed that there was no lock on her door. Evening, when I came home I found Didi sitting and laughing with Mummy. I was taken aback to see this side of Didi. She seemed to be a completely different person from the one that we had seen the previous day.
Seeing me, Mother said,” Come Deepa and taste Didi’s Gajar ka Halwa. She made it herself.”
I took a spoonful and indeed it was tasty. After some time she told mother that she was leaving. Mother asked her to have dinner with us but she politely refused. Mummy asked her to drop in once a while to which she replied in the affirmative.
After she left, my mother told me that she had come at around 3 and she had cracked a joke when I came hence they were laughing.
The next day being a Sunday we were all at home. Mummy asked me to invite Alka Didi for lunch. I was very intrigued by Didi and so when Mummy asked me to invite her I jumped up at the opportunity and ran to call her.
When I rang the doorbell, a man opened the door. I was really surprised. Before I could say anything, Didi’s voice could be heard,” What happened Deepa?”
It was then that I realized my expression was a very puzzling one so she thought that something was wrong.
I gave her Mummy’s message but she politely refused saying that she had a guest. Hearing this, the guest (?) looked up at her but she did not look at him and she came to the door to close it.
I felt very bad since she always seemed hesitant to talk to me so I resolved to not speak to her unless she spoke to me. In this way many months passed. Didi always maintained her distance but used to come home sometimes to talk to my mother but never stayed for long.
My college had given us study leave to study for the exams. It was during this time that I really came to know about Didi. It all happened like this.
One evening as my mother was returning from the market, she saw Didi coming in a cab.
The car dropped her at the gate and Didi waited for mummy to come up to her.
Hello Aunty, she said,” How are you? Are you coming from the market?”
My mother replied in the affirmative.
“Today I am very happy. My brother had come to my office. He is not angry at me and has accepted my decision.”
“What decision? What are you talking about?”
“I will tell you everything, Aunty. Let’s go home.”
So saying she took Mummy to her home, made her sit on the bed and spoke to her at length.
She started,” Aunty I am a divorcee. My divorce papers came through yesterday. Today my brother came to tell me that at the office.
I got married 2 years back. I was working in a private firm as a secretary to the managing Director. The marriage was fixed and arranged by my brother. The boy was not very handsome and he worked as a Purchase Assistant in a private firm. Our marriage was on the rocks from day one. He did not have any vices but was very authoritative.
He tried to prove his superiority over me at all times. He used to mentally harass me. Initially I used to bear it all calmly the reason being that I did not want to hurt my mother and brother. I lost my father at a very young age and it was my brother who played the role of father in my life.
I had woven many dreams about my future husband but at that time I could see my dreams evaporate into thin air. There were few times that he would be very sweet to me. This went on for about a year.
Then, suddenly one day I came to know that before marriage there had been somebody else in his life. She had ditched him and he had not wanted to marry after that but because of pressure from his parents he had married me. Realising that he had been ditched I resolved in my mind that I would make him forget her. I tried to win him over in many ways but all my efforts were futile.
During this time he became very arrogant and he started doubting my character. I tolerated him at first but one day it became too much.
He came to my office one day. As usual I was taking dictation from my boss when the peon told me that my husband had come. Before I could even get up, he opened the door, came in and started shouting and abusing me. My boss and peon were surprised to see him behaving like this. They tried to calm him. All the people in my office were aghast at this.
But I was totally shattered, to be insulted by your husband in front of so many people, it was as if my whole private life was bared before public. No one had any idea what I was going through in my married life. I could not stand in that office, leave alone office I could only think of leaving town.
When all these problems of my marriage was going on, my mother could not bear to see the plight of her only daughter and left me to face this world alone. I had lost my father in my early teens and my brother was my only relative whom I could look up to. Six months after my marriage my brother had left for the USA. We used to correspond frequently but I had not mentioned about the problems in my life. He had come for a short visit after my mother’s demise but being a short visit and a sad occasion there was no time for me to say anything.
My mother was my only confidante and she used to always tell me that things would get better. Being very orthodox and the old school of thinking she felt that the woman had to tolerate all these things in her life and once a kid came along everything would be fine. For her “separation” or “divorce” was something unimaginable. I sometimes feel that I may have been the cause for her death…..
I left town the very next day and came to Mumbai. I knew a friend who gave me this flat and also got me my present job. In this very big place I felt very alone. I used to see you sometimes and felt like I was seeing my own mother. But I felt that if I became friendly then you would question me about my personal life which I could not bear to recollect. Hence I maintained a distance from you too.
That same friend introduced me to a lawyer and I filed for divorce. Meanwhile I had written to my brother all these details. He came and visited me on that day that you invited me for lunch. I told him the whole story as I am telling you. He wanted me to come with him and speak to my husband. But I told him that I had had enough and I would not be able to live with him any longer. My brother was very angry with me and left in a huff.
Yesterday my brother came to my office. He told me that he had enquired about my husband and he found him in a mental asylum. His relatives assume that after his girlfriend left him for another person his mental faculties were affected and he started to think that even his wife would leave him. My brother was very furious to know that he was not informed about this earlier affair.
The court granted me divorce and today was that day. My brother wants me to go with him to the US. I told him I would think over it. But for the present I have decided to stay here and live my life on my own terms. I do not know if I have taken the right decision but I am hoping that things will work out better.
When my mother recounted Didi’s story it started me thinking.
Is a life partner in life really necessary? Are arranged marriages always successful?
Can a woman live her life alone without any male presence?
I don’t know the answers to these questions and I don’t think anyone has the answers. Only time can tell and ultimately it is one’s fate or is it not?