Political Stories by Volga

Political Stories-6

A Political Story

          I don’t understand what I did wrong. I can assure you I wouldn’t be so angry if I was convinced that whatever happened was due to a mistake I made, something that could be rectified How much I helped my husband when he faced a similar difficulty! How much I consoled him, protected him. I still remember that evening — not just remember it, I can see it in front of my eyes. It was about a year after we had been married. That day I was sewing buttons on my husband’s shirt ruminating on the experiences of the years that had gone by. It was from pedanaanna that I had first heard my future husband’s name. In fact, it was pedanaanna who brought this alliance for me. The name Madhusudanarao sounded beautiful, sweet and sacred, and it brought me joy. The name echoed in my mind time and again. The long awaited fulfillment of my life appeared to be tied to that name have been waiting eagerly for the last few years to find which name would pair with mine, for I was pleased the wait was over. From that moment I felt a sense of al ation from the house in which I was born and raised. the anticipation that I would be in my own home in about month brought me relief. That alienation was not a sudden development either. For about three years whenever I had tried to rearrange the furniture in the house my mother said, “Let things be as they are in this house, you can arrange them your way in your house.” The gradual realization that there would be a house of my own where I could arrange things my way made me yearn for that house. How can I tell you how joyous I felt when I learned that that house would be in Hyderabad! Madhusudanarao and Hyderabad – my sister teased me that a smile crept on to my lips whenever I recollected these names! I told all my friends that my folks had agreed to give Madhusudanarao a dowry of Rs 50,000. We had all finished our B.A., exams and were waiting to be married. Our conversations usually drifted towards marriage. I was proud that I was the first in the group to have had an alliance settled. When they heard about the dowry, some of my friends thought that it was too much while others said that I snagged a husband on the cheap. One girl, however, asked why I should give a dowry at all. “After the wedding, you will give him pleasure, do his work, bear his children, and work like a donkey for him and his folks. It would make sense for him to give you dowry for all the responsibilities you will be undertaking and the services you will be providing him,” she argued illogically. I was outraged that she interpreted the meaning of marriage and the sacred bond that would be formed between my husband and me so crudely. “Won’t I get any pleasure out of it? The work I do-won’t it be mine as well? The children I bear – won’t they be mine as well?” I asked just to find out what her illogical mind would come up with. “Well, if you both are to be partners in happiness, where is the need for the Rs 50,000 dowry?” she asked as if she was putting forth a legal argument. What can we say to such perverts, I wondered? Would any amount of argument make them wiser? “Well, that is the tradition. Why should you worry when my folks and I don’t have any problem with it?” I retorted. “Why? You will find out why after the wedding?” she said, walking away. But I found nothing regrettable after the wedding which went off nicely. I would never forget the sweet moment when I saw him for the first time on the pelli peetalu. He looked more handsome than in the photograph I had seen. I felt confident that he, his name, and my future life with him would all be sweet. The wedding was a sacred ceremony for me and I participated in it with intent devotion. The maangalam was a precious blessing for me, a great fortune and a cherished boon. My resolve to wholeheartedly accept him as my life partner and to share with him my happiness and sorrows was so strong that whenever I went through a difficult patch later on, all I had to do was recollect my resolve on the day of our wedding and that would give me enough strength to rise above the current problem and stand by him. I was fully aware then of the loving relationship berween a wife and a husband and the respon the wife towards him. “Prema nindina ille nava swargamugaa vilasillu”, “malle teega vantidee maguva jeevitam, callani pandiri unte alluku poyenu” were songs that I hummed since hood. I was very fond of songs, stories and novela talked about such things. To me they revealed very bea fully the highest objective of a woman’s life. What m would I aspire for than to wrap myself around Madhusudan like a creeper and live a care-free, protected life? But it wasn’t so easy. I had to struggle quite a bit to keep alive the sacred feelings I had had about marriage on the day of our wedding. Madhusudan’s habits were totally different from mine. He wasn’t used to clean surroundings, and wasn’t interested in keeping the house tidy. He would get annoyed at my neatness, so I tried very hard in the first six months to become more like him. My neighbor wasn’t so careful about cleanliness, but her husband used to get mad whenever he saw dirt and dust around their house. She was terrified of his outbursts and tried her best to keep the house the way he liked it. This was all we talked about whenever I met with her and gradually, I taught her how to keep the house neat and tidy and, in return, acquired a little of her laziness.

          He did love me. How does one measure love? If buying me flowers, taking me to movies, and taking me on trips count, there was no dearth of love. But he would be annoyed if I wore kanakaambaraalu or asked him to take me to a Hindi movie. But then, didn’t I take an oath at our wedding that I wouldn’t do anything that would displease him? So we remained in a happy, loving relationship. My in-laws were nice, too. After they received the dowry and the traditional wedding gifts, they had not made any excessive demands on my family, nor did they ever ask for more. Since they lived in a different town, I didn’t even have to play the obedient daughter-in-law role. Everything had been going well.

          Then, on that day, our first wedding anniversary, as I was sewing buttons on his shirts and recollecting my good fortune in marriage, the needle pierced my index finger. Even before I could cry in pain, I heard a big hubbub at our front gate. Frightened, I ran out to see what was happening and found many people swarming around an auto. Some people were there on scooters. A few people cleared the way on one side of the auto and helped my husband get down from it. Looking at him take tired, unsteady steps, I burst into tears even before I knew what had happened. “Nothing happened, nothing, don’t be alarmed. We are all extremely lucky,” said a gentleman as he helped Madhusudan to lie down on a cot. That was when I saw the big blood-stained bandage on his right hand. Feeling week, I lost my balance and collapsed to the floor crying, “What happened to him? Is my God going to survive?” They consoled me and told me what had happened. My husband operated a machine in the factory everyday. It was very critical for production and he had been operating the machine very skillfully for the last seven years. Today that very machine sliced off the fingers of his right hand. The gentlemen told me he had been treated at a hospital and that there was no danger to his life. His treatment would continue, but in the meantime he would need rest and nutritious food. They gave me some money for his ex and said that they were from the workers’ union at the tory. To me they looked like angels from heaven app to help me in that difficult hour. Thanks to their sup was able to look into Madhusudan’s eyes with courage. Th left after I offered them coffee, but I wished they had stou with me the whole day. I thought of them as my brothers who had come to be with me in my time of need. When would have happened to me if it weren’t for their support? That day I understood how nice it feels to have helping hands extended to us when we run into problems. As I saw them off, latched the front gate and walked back into the house, my heart became heavy. But I didn’t even have a chance to cry out, for I saw Madhusudan weeping as I entered the house. He was looking at his bandaged arm and wailing. I pulled up all my strength to console him and wiped his tears, suppressing my own. I held him to my bosom as a mother holds a baby. I tried to pacify and instill usual and that you will not suffer for lack of your fingers,” I assured him. He was so confused he thought I would not love him as I had before because he had lost his fingers. “You know how foolish that is?” I rebuked him, “Whatever happened to you, you are mine. My love for you will remain undiminished no matter what obstacles are thrown at us.” I kissed his blood-stained, medicine-smelling bandage with my lips tenderly and lovingly. But he had other concerns about his job. How would he work without fingers? What would he do if the factory threw him out? Would anybody hire him then? No matter how much I tried to talk courage into him, he remained depressed. I managed to put him to bed eventually with sleeping pills, but I remained awake through the night watching him. Having heard about their son, my in-laws arrived the next day. The crying started again. I felt desperate that this renewed wailing wasn’t giving him a chance to calm down. Then the union representatives arrived and revived my strength. They assured us that there was no reason to worry about the job. “What good is the union if they can throw you out now? You take care of your health and leave the matters of job security and compensation to us,” they told him. I can’t tell you how relieved he felt! Madhusudan called me close to him and asked me to touch the feet of the union leader as a gesture of gratitude. I was a bit hesitant, but then I did so wholeheartedly. The union leader stepped back in a start at my action. “Your husband will keep his job not because I am great or our union is great,” he said. “This is the fruit of the awakening of the workers that started a hundred and twenty five years ago. Without this, without workers’ unity, their struggles and movements, a worker wounded like this would have no option but to die. The factory that benefits from his work, at the risk of his health, wouldn’t have lifted a finger to help him. But thanks to remaining united, the workers have been able to get new laws passed and it is because of them that Madhusudan’s case will be resolved easily.” He was quite spirited in telling me more about unions and how they kept the management under check and protected the rights of the workers. He came across as an honest gentleman and I listened to him attentively. From what I understood, it looked like neither my husband nor anybody in his situation needed to alone. The union would stand by them. My husbandan felt immensely comforted.

          His hand healed well in about a month. The night that his bandage was fully removed, I trembled when the stun of his fingers went over my body, but it did not take long for me to be thrilled and tingled by his touch. In the heat of love I kissed those stumps. At the insistence of the union the management appointed an assistant for my husband at the factory. But they offered only ten thousand Rupees as compensation for his injury. Since there was no change in his employment status, they argued that that compensation was adequate. The union advised us to be satisfied with that and not prolong the dispute. My husband accepted the offer. In just a few months our lives returned to normal. It was around that time that I suspected I was pregnant. A month later my suspicion turned out to be true. My doctor examined me, looked at my weight and wrote a prescription for some tonics. For the next couple of months my husband doted on me, insisting that I regularly drink milk and eat fruits. He bought me everything that I needed.

          One day, when I was three months pregnant, I washed my hair and sat down to comb it and remove the knots. Suddenly I felt a severe pain in my abdomen. I didn’t know what to do. I tried to bear the pain, but I felt hot vapors rising inside me as from a pot of freshly boiled rice. My stomach was bubbling over. I could not bear it anymore and I called out for my neighbor. I don’t remember the neighbor’s arrival or what I told her about my condition for when I was conscious, I found myself in a hospital ward with my family all around me. The sight of my father and mother instantly told me that something serious had happened. Sure enough I found tubes connected to both of my hands, and was told that it was saline going through one drip and blood being infused through the other. My stomach felt like a fresh wound. Later, when I was able to listen, my mother told me what had happened. Apparently, the fetus hat not been growing in my uterus, but in a tube in front of it. It wasn’t clear to me how it had happened that way, but I understood that it should not have. The tube burst out flooding my abdomen with blood. It took the doctors six hours to clean up my insides and stitch it all up. As a result, I survived, but I would no longer be able to have any children. “Somehow you managed to survive, but who knows what the future will bring,” my mother said. This sounded very strange to me. Trying to assess my own condition, I didn’t feel very encouraged. My body was like a house collapsed in a devastating flood. I couldn’t hold my tears when I saw Madhusudan that evening. “Hum… What is the use of crying now? Our fate is like this,” he said reproachfully. I thought I would see him shattered by the misfortune I had suffered. I thought he would stroke my head lovingly and wipe away my tears. I thought he would hold my hands, look into my eyes and say, “I am here with you, don’t cry.” None of what I hoped for happened; instead, I saw his eyes accusing me of something I did not understand. The next day my mother told me that my mother-in-law was upset that I would not be able to bear a child. That was can do now is to me why my husband had been happy the day before. Frightened, I asked my mother what I could do about it. “What can you do? It is your turn you can not have a child. All you can do now is to ate whatever they say,” she replied despondently and to cry I was so frightened I couldn’t even cry. What became very clear to me in all my agony was that I was alone. Nobe was willing to hold my hand as I went through this tragedy. What happened to me was of no consequence to anybody. the only thing that mattered was that I couldn’t bear any children. Everyone, including my mother, cared only about the child that wasn’t to be and the children I couldn’t bear. Nobody cared and nobody was interested in my condition, the pain I was bearing, and the long road to my recovery. When a nurse later told me that my survival was miraculous, my mother-in-law murmured, “What for? She survived just to remain barren and make my son’s life miserable.” Everyone now viewed Madhusudan’s life as a tragedy but nobody even acknowledged how sad I felt that I could not have children or cared about the void it would leave in my life. It was always that he would not beget children, that his lineage, his family name, his property would be wasted. And I was responsible. Everybody seemed to think that way. My treatment continued, and I was given medications. But everything was mechanical as if a useless machine was being kept in an operational state. I was but a nuisance, like an old, useless sewing machine in a house, which seemed to get in everybody’s way.

          I came home from the hospital and my parents returned to their home claiming they had their own things to take care of. I could sense that they were afraid of taking me with them, but I couldn’t understand why. My mother-in-law was quite upset that my parents hadn’t taken me with them. My husband’s attitude hurt me more than anything else. Why would he think of me as useless? Did he marry me just for children? Friendship, love, companionship – didn’t they count at all? Could I not go on doing what I had been doing all along? Listen to him, take care of him, comfort him and love him, go to movies and walk with him. What prevented me from doing these things now? Weren’t there any women with no children? Didn’t their husbands love them? I tried to recollect if I had known any women without children. My aunt Rukmini came to mind immediately. She had tried everything for a child until she was forty; there wasn’t a god she hadn’t worshipped, or a doctor she hadn’t consulted. Tests, surgeries and medications on the one hand, and fasting, worshipping and propitiating gods on the other – she had done everything. She was always preoccupied with thoughts of children. Everybody pitied her. Finally, with no hope left of having a child of his own, my uncle adopted his younger brother’s son. A woman without children can not escape problems. There are no exceptions. So, is marriage simply to beget children? Does a female grow up simply to bear children? Is a woman’s life fruitful only when she raises a man’s child? Is a woman just a uterus and two ovaries? Am I useless now because I don’t have them? The more I thought about all of this, the more I realized that no woman I knew appeared to be living peacefully. My folks had the resources to give a dowry and get me me ried, but some of my friends could not afford to give dowry and so, remained spinsters. They were struggling to keep their sanity while society looked down upon them Nirmala and Saroja committed suicide unable to bear the harassment of their in-laws for a larger dowry. Kamala was killed by her husband himself. My neighbor suffered never ending torture for the fault of having given birth to two girls. Why had I ignored all of this for so long? Why had I been swept up in dreams of a loving relationship and love-filled home while the whole country around me resounded with the desperate cries of women? Millions of ignorant women like me were dreaming of love and sacrificing themselves in the pursuit of non-existent love. Why was it happening this way? These questions preoccupied me.

          A few days later, my mother-in-law suddenly started yelling at me. “My son has lost his peace of mind because of you,” she said. “He has lost weight down to his bones and he walks around depressed and downcast.” That was a big lie. My husband had been indifferent to me, but there had been no other problem. His office workload had actually been reduced. His health was better and he had put on some weight. It was I who had lost weight. I couldn’t figure out why my mother-in-law had started this assault. The neighbors began to come by and commiserate with her on the suffering of her son. Left to myself, I grew weary. One day, my mother-in-law stopped being indirect and told me bluntly that she was planning on having her son marry again. I trembled in fear. All these days I remained in my own home even if I was being treated badly. What would happen if I were to be thrown out to make room for another woman who would bear Madhusudan’s children? I asked him if this was true. “My mother wants grandchildren. What can I do?” he answered. But his body language belied the fact that he was the instigator behind his mother’s plan. “So, what are you going to do about it?” I asked. He said that he would divorce me and marry another woman. As the days went by, this went from a being a mere prospect to a real threat. If I wouldn’t quietly agree to a divorce, he knew how to force me into one, he said, and went on to explain to me the methods he would employ. Listening to him sent shivers down my spine. My parents were summoned to come and take me away. All they could do was stand downcast and helpless. I should leave home, they were told. This was no longer my home, it would be the home of whoever gave Madhusudan a child. The marriage vows were meaningful only if his lineage could be extended; otherwise they were meaningless, they were told. So this job was meant simply for bearing and raising his children, a job I acquired by paying a bribe of 50,000 Rupees. Now that I had failed in my job, they would throw me out and hire somebody else. This is what the real meaning of marriage was. Why did they hide this reality and allow one to keep daydreaming about love, affection and companionship? Why this deception? Because if it was really called a job, the employees would make demands, ask for compensation, inquire about bonuses, but if it was called a family life, if it was called pativratyam, if it was called motherhood, the women would be ready to break their backs to do the work. They would be satisfied with whatever were given. They would give infinite praise if their bands showed them even a little bit of love. They would scared of asking for this or that for fear of getting label as a shrew. When it was so profitable to call this a marriage why would anybody call it a job or a business transactions As I began to understand this situation better, I became more and more angry. I wanted to cry out loud at the un fairness of it. The most surprising thing was that there was nobody to stand by me in my hour of need, nobody to dispel my loneliness. Why was it that even my fellow women did not seem to understand my agony? How many factory workers accompanied Madhusudan that day when he came home with a bandaged hand! How much they comforted him! They brought money from the management to meet the expenses of the treatment. They assured him that they would stand by him. “We are only doing what you would have done if we were in a similar situation,” they said. “We are all one.” They made sure that Madhusudan got his job back and left no stone unturned to get him his compensation. They assured me, too, of their support. It was beautiful! His anxiety and worries didn’t last long. How many concessions were offered to him for losing his hand while being engaged in productive employment! How much cooperation! How much history behind it all! How many struggles! How many movements! I too was involved in production, in producing a baby, and I suffered an accident in the process. But in my case, I was all alone! In fact, my husband could have been responsible for my accident. If his sperm did not meet up with my egg. the egg would have withered away as it did every month. Was it not because his sperm fertilized my egg that my body was ruined now? An important part of my body was surgically removed. I was now accused of being barren. All of this happened in the process of bearing a child, a child who could have grown up to handle machines in a factory, work in a bank, labor on a construction project or become a doctor. But no concessions were made for my efforts and no helping hand was extended to me. I was thrown out of my job. Nobody came to console me, to comfort me or stand by me. I was all alone. How come? How come? How come? How did the conspiracy behind my helplessness begin? Why are women not united? Why did they become separated as mothers, wives, daughters, mothers-in-law, daughters-in-law and sisters-in-law? Who separated them? Who is deceiving them in the name of family and motherhood? Who is getting enriched by this fraud? That is what I want to know. I want to find out why women remain scattered and crippled rather than united like a fist. I want to join all those countless women grieving like me, women being driven to suicide in desperation. Today I have come to firmly realize that this is the goal of my life. My life will be fulfilled not by my marriage, not in the services to my husband, not by the children I will not bear, but in joining hands with my fellow women.

(India Today, December-January 1992)


(To be Continued-)


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