AS THE WOMAN SAW IT...
The pitch dark alleyway loomed in front of her like Satan. Derelict structures bordered the lane; occasional void shrieks and dog howls punctured the pristine silence of the night, sending shivers down her spine. The kid looked ready to rustle up a bigger racket, but the girl was unusually quiet. She felt her mom crumbling, else she’d never lean on her like now. Little as she was, her tummy ached for nourishment, and her body for the soft fluffy bed at home. But she bit her lip, and hung on closer to the trembling arm.
The lady responded almost involuntarily. Unshed tears burned her eyes as the bitterness she held towards the city came crashing down upon her, all over again. The injustice she’d suffered as a newly-wed bride at the hands of the town; the coldness of the society residents when they inducted her into the apartment, the curt, jeering, so-called welcome-to-a-new-home function; the long, lone periods she suffered when her husband went out of town, the piercing back-bitching the fellow moms of her daughters’ friends did, the demeaning way in which the local bhandiwala tried to take advantage of her incompetence in marathi. How the next-door Mrs. Something had turned up with a card and a box of parsnips in the first week of her 8th month into pregnancy.
At least, she bothered to come, bit back her mind.
True, she agreed. No one else did.
Oh! How many times she’d wished she could throw up everything then and there and rush back to....to HOME. To friends, to dad. Even Bombay was better. At least, the people there appreciated the fact that you existed, and existed as a human being not devoid of emotions. They called it the Oxford of the East. Rechristened it as the MHian Capital of Culture and Education. Is this the manner in which "cultured" and “educated” people behaved?? Does development, improvisation, progress, civilization….ah! civilization warrant, or rather, imply THIS??
Were inter-regional marriages such a hard thing to digest for our developing population that they deserved to be shunned so cruelly?
Every time she was demoralized, she built up a stronger self-defence, a refuge from the ruthless world. And every time, the ruthless world came up with more efficiently ruthless ways of strangling her self-dignity. Of crushing her will-power, overthrowing her meekest of hopes.
She had hung up till now, for all her self-worth, for the sake of her loving husband, her family. But could she hang, for life? * pun intended *
Her thoughts abruptly hit shore as her eyes hit the wall beyond. A faint light flickered on as she flung around. She backed away, dragging the girl, even as she took in the situation.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, a voice rang out, crystal clear.
“Itni raat ko yahaan par rukna theek nahi. Kidhar jaana hai madam?”
She smiled, reluctantly. Queer ironies fate has in store. Her mind reeled. Drastically different implications through the same sentence by two different persons.
“10, Station Road. Aap chalenge?”
“Kyon nahi chalenge? Sona rakhaa hai yahaan?!”
“Meter jitna dikhaata hai usse ek paisa na jyaada, lekin ek bhi na kam!”
“Kanoon ke mutaabik, apun log half-return 12 bajne ke baad lete hain. Abhi paanch minat bache hain. Vaise aapko dena hai madam, to apne ko koi problem nahi hai!” :)
Suspicious though she felt, she climbed in. Off vroomed the cabby, into the pressing dark. The woman, by now, was so painfully alert that, every thud she heard felt over a hundred times magnified, and every bump made her look out for a purposely muffled sound underneath it. The cabbie, though, was at his jolliest best! Blabbing away to glory.
You couldn’t get a more enthusiastic guide to town, she couldn’t help smiling to herself.
His innocent aura emanated exuberance and the tension in the air dissipated away.
“Madam, lambaa rasthaa naapna padegaa. Bole toh aajkal highway 12 baje bandh ho jaata hai.”
She settled in as the driver pulled through the lazy outskirts of the city.
The gentle breeze almost lulled her into a blissful state of semi-consciousness, till....the cabbie, suddenly, ominously, stopped his A.I.R. of blabbing. Her feeling of foreboding bounced back, greater than ever. She looked him all over keenly, but the man seemed oblivious of everything but his driving.
Crazy, eerie thoughts pooled into her mind…of what the man was capable of doing to them, alone as they were. She tried to push the bad thoughts away, but try as she might, they bored deeper and more gorily into her imagination....
Without warning, the vehicle screeched to a halt. The child let out a wail as she was shaken out of her reverie. Fear, cold and piercing, engulfed her veins as she braced herself for any coming onslaught. But, somehow, as she gathered herself, the area seemed very well-lit…and more than a bit familiar..?!?
“Madam, plot 10 aa gaya.”
Of course! The Municipal Hall screening her building! She’d never been so glad to see it! She couldn’t speak for words as relief, warm and glowing, washed her over, inside-out, the second time in two hours. But this time, the reason was genuine. And the relief, curiously satisfying. She looked up into the beaming face of the cabbie. He was looking a bit the worse for wear, and his generous smile was vanishing fast as he tried to mumble something.
The woman took no notice.
She was lost in her own thoughts.
“Kitnaa hua bhaiyya?”
“Meter ke hisaab se toh pachaas rupaye, madam…lekin…”
The lady cut across.
“Aap sau le leejiye. Thank you aapne hamein itni door chhoda. Lautne ka problem hogaa. Itni raat gaye graahak nahi milega.”
But, this time, the driver managed to mumble, audibly. “ ”
Then he took the 100 rupee note and duly returned the change.
And thudded away into the blackhole before she could protest, like some angel of God, it struck her, silently morphing away into oblivion after liberating distressed mortal souls.
The girl clapped her hands enthusiastically. She was really, really hungry, but it didn’t matter for once. She snuggled closer to the warmth, and light.
The trio looked after the careering vehicle, till its silhouette blended into the black, then slowly turned around to home, each in his own world....