Political Stories by Volga

Political Stories-12

What is to be done? (Part – 6)

          “I am so jealous of you,” said Sobha, looking affectionately at Santha.

          “You shouldn’t be. I am not as happy as it appears,” Santha said as she lay down on the bed.

          Why not? You are living exactly as you wanted to.”

          “That’s true. But there is a lot of anxiety, something want-ing. I have no life outside my job. Maybe I made a mistake not marrying.”

          “No, no. Don’t say that! Don’t ever get married!” Sobha gushed as if she had to prevent a calamity in a hurry.

          “Aren’t you happy, Sobha?”

          “Happy? What does that mean? Santha, What I had thought about myself for twenty years and what you all thought about me.

          … none of that materialized. What did you think of me back in those days? That I was bright, sharp, quick at solving problems and winning anybody over to my side in arguments, right? I too believed that. I had a lot of confidence those days. That Sobha doesn’t exist anymore. To-das, Lam an imbecile. A dull, slow, good-for-nothing idiot. don’t know how to talk, how to behave, how to raise chil-dren….”Tears welled up in Sobha’s eyes.

          Santha laid a hand on Sobha’s shoulder. “Calm down.”

          “Let me speak. For twelve years I didn’t even have anybody to talk to. I know you will understand me. To tell you the truth, he is an idiot, an uncivilized creature. He recognized right at the start that I was smarter than him, so he started to intimidate me, put me down, just made it his goal to prove to me that he was better than me. At first, I tried hard to change him, but, then, once I realized what he was trying to do, I gave up. You wouldn’t believe what a control freak he is!”

          “I am sorry, Sobha. I didn’t think you would talk like this or that your life would turn out like this. I thought you would be happy with your husband and children.”

          “Happy! I wouldn’t know what it means. My kids have turned into devils! He made them like that by constantly putting me down in front of them for his amusement. The three of them treat me like dirt. That day, when you cried that I had married, I was outraged. It was much later that I understood how much you must have loved me to cry for me.”

          “What now, Sobha? What are you going to do?”

          “What can I do? I didn’t pursue my education. There is no chance I will get any job. This life has to go on like this.

          How about you? Are you happy?”

          “Ilike what I am doing, but when I think my life is tied down by my job, it bothers me. But I don’t know what else to do. It is not that my job has no problems, but since I am an officer, everybody pretends to respect me though they do talk behind my back that I am not married, that I am a bad character, that I had affairs, stuff like that. But I don’t pay any attention to such things, though I must admit it is unnerving when I think of living like this forever?

          “My husband admires you. He tells me how smart you are”

          “Well, you know how smart I am. I wouldn’t have passed my exams if it weren’t for your tutoring. You know all the girls wanted to be like you in our college days. I for one actually wanted to beat you in something or the other, but I had no chance. As long as you were there, I had to be satisfied playing second fiddle?”

          “Don’t remind me of those days, Santha. You wouldn’t believe how many nights I stayed awake thinking of those days!”

          “But, Sobha.. … I am surprised how changed you are now.

          You never thought about yourself, just did what your parents wanted you to do. And you never regretted that. Always compromised with their wishes quite happily. And you married of your own volition. Why are you so unhappy now? Your husband is controlling you now just as your patents did then. Why this unhappiness? Why are you not able to come to terms with him?”

          “It is true I gave up a lot trying to please my parents, but it didn’t hurt me at all those days, maybe because my mother genuinely loved me. I didn’t know how good her judgment was, but I had no doubt about her love. My mother liked me, loved me, and had my interest in mind above all when she asked me not do this or that. To the best of her judgment, she was doing me good, and she tried to shape my life with all the wisdom gained from her life’s experiences.

          That was why it wasn’t difficult for me to defer to her wishes.

          She didn’t know then that her experiences wouldn’t be of much help in shaping my life. Neither did I.

          I thought that I could win my husband’s affection, that my marriage would be blissful, and that I would pursue my education with his support. I had great hopes for the love of a husband and children, and wanted to live a happy, unblemished life. Now I know that was a daydream. A woman is destined for abuse in and out of the house. However much we try we can’t escape that. My mother abused my life with her ignorance and love. Here, my husband has no love for me, not a shred. All he knows is how to boss over me. His abuses have no cover; in fact there is no reason for a cover. I can understand him only because his behavior is so naked; that is how smart I am! I can’t help laughing when you say I am smart! I am an idiot!”

          Santha watched helplessly as tears rolled down Sobha’s cheeks.

          “Sobha, it is not true that we can’t escape the abuses inflicted upon us. It is a struggle, I agree. We have to struggle hard and with determination, but there is joy in this struggle that you haven’t experienced because you haven’t tried. It is not too late.”


          “I Don’t know what it is that I want now,” Sobha said help-

          “Find out, stir up, try hard. I am in the same boat, too. I thing?

          don’t know what I want, but I am restless. I have to do some-

          “Sobha, the servant girl is here,” Mohan called out.

          “Ammo, it is five already?”

          Santha too looked at her watch and rose up in a hurry.

          “Sobha, why don’t you come to my place tomorrow evening? Come alone,” she said, as she was leaving.

          “Why?” Sobha laughed inquisitively. This time her smile looked better than it was in the morning, thought Santha.

          “Just like that. We met after so many years. I can’t wait till the next weekend to see you again. I will come tomorrow evening and pick you up. Okay?” Sobha agreed gladly.

          “So, what is your friend saying?” Mohan asked. Sobha didn’t feel like answering. It was the way he asked the questions that annoyed her, always peppered with ridicule and sar-casm. He couldn’t ask anything straight, not even “Is the food ready?” or “Will you serve me now?” Maybe he thought a straightforward question implied respect toward the person being asked.

          “Why don’t you answer? Have you gone deaf?”

         “What is there to say? We talked about the old days. She invited me to her house tomorrow.”

          “Why? You just met her. Don’t get too close to her.”

          “Why not? You said she is very intelligent, so what is wrong if our friendship grows?”

          “Intelligent, she is. But she isn’t married, doesn’t care for anybody I am sure she has affairs, though I don’t know the details. Why get close to a woman like that? It is better we stay within our limits.”

          Sobha remained silent, outraged and disgusted.

          The next day, Santha trembled in anger as Soba recounted their conversation.

          “Unmarried women are rarely accepted as intelligent, unless men can benefit from them in some way. But they aren’t be trusted. They are always suspect. If a married woman is intelligent, they try to suppress her as much as possible.

          Occasionally, a married woman is recognized as intelligent- but remember this: she is a hundred-fold more intelligent than she gets credit for. Recognition comes only after all attempts at suppression have failed. The woman is flattered even by that small recognition and tries to settle in the image created for her. Most of a woman’s strength and intelligence is spent in fighting with society and members of her family”. Santha explained, trying to calm down.

          Sobha liked Santha’s house very much. They talked for a long time about this and that and understood each other’s situation.

          “What shall we do?” They racked their brains and agreed to continue asking the question until they come up with an answer.

          During the last three months Santa’s friendship has helped Sobha gain a lot of confidence and strength.

          After several discussions, they both agreed Sobha should study law.

          sobha decided to act on her decision without consulting Mohan. Over the last ten years, Soba pleaded with him several times to allow her continue her studies, but was severely turned down. This time, she chose not even to try.

          One day she planned to go to the university and pay the fee.

          “I will go the office for an hour and come to pick you up at your place by eleven. Be ready,” Santha told her. “T have to be back when the children return from school at three. So make sure you come by eleven, okay?” Soba implored her. But however much she tried, Santha couldn’t get out of her office on time. She wished she had taken the day off.

          Leaving the office at twelve, Santha caught an auto to Sobha’s place. Sobha was out at the gate. Recognizing Santha in the auto, Sobha went back to lock the house and rushed Out.

          As the auto pulled out, Santha apologized to her for being late and explained the reasons.

          Sobha told her again she had to be back before three, otherwise the children returning hungry from school would raise hell.

          Suddenly the auto stopped. Both looked out to find out why. It was not just their auto; all of traffic was at a stand-still. There was a huge procession coming towards them. A procession of women.

          “Stop atrocities against women!

          Stop dowry deaths!

          All suicides are murders.

          A husband shouldn’t be a life-long enemy.

          Is a woman a slave?

          This can not go on!

          Accept beedi workers’ demands.

          Pay decent wages.

          Half the sky is ours.

          We are half of the society.

          Let us fight for equal rights.”

          The procession was moving forward with women shouting slogans like these. Most of the women in the procession were laborers. Some carried posters inviting everybody to attend a big women’s meeting to start at four in the evening.

          Santha grabbed Soba’s hand reflexively. Sobha held the hand firmly. The procession moved on leaving the two women in a new spirit of excitement. The traffic began to move again.

          “Shall we go to the meeting?” Santha asked gently, fearing that Soba might quickly decline. Santha was eager to go the meeting and hoped they wouldn’t have to go through a discussion of the pros and cons of going. Relieved that Santha raised the question, Sobha said yes, bringing a smile to Santha’s face. But then she remembered Sobha had to return by three o’clock.

          “Let them take care of themselves for one day. Anyway Mohan should be home by five.”

          “But you probably have the house keys?”

          “Let him break the lock. Don’t worry about it, Sobha snapped at Santha.

          By the time they took care of the work at the university and reached the meeting venue, the program had already started.

          Presently a woman came to the microphone and announced that Sita, a beedi worker, would speak.

          Sita took the microphone.

          “We beedi workers went on strike for three months. I want to tell you about the conditions that forced us to strike.

          “The Seth gives a worker nine Rupees a day for making a thousand beedis. We asked for fifteen Rupees. We make beedis at home. People don’t often think of us as workers, and we don’t have any benefits like those who work in offices and factories. To get benefits we need cards recognizing us as workers of a certain company.

          “We asked for the cards. Do you see anything unfair in our demand? Why shouldn’t they give us cards? But they didn’t.

          And everybody took it as a joke that we women went on strike. They called us all sorts of names, and sent rowdies after us. They tried to slander our reputations. They said we couldn’t have a union. Why do women need a union, they asked. Aren’t we working? Shouldn’t working people have unions?

          “Why are we making beedis? Is it because we are crazy? On top of doing all the chores at home – cooking, cleaning, taking care of children – why are we making beedis?

          “Even if nobody understands our problems, at least our own men should understand us, right? Doesn’t look like they are getting it. Some of us work because our men blow all their earnings before they get home and leave us and our children hungry. Some of us work because our men don’t, we have to feed them, too. Some work so that we can share in the burdens of our men and be supportive. The extra earnings we bring home come in handy on rainy days. But today… even our own men are against our strike.

          “Look at my own case. My husband doesn’t like the union.

          Sit at home and make beedis, that is fine, but you shouldn’t step out of the house’ he says, lording over me. For sometime now I have been working in the union without his knowl-edge. When he came to know about it, he beat me up badly.

          But I refused to stop. He threw me out of the house, but I went back to him. We fight everyday and he beats me ev-eryday. Now he wants me to stop making beedis. Why should I stop? Why should I quit doing what I know to do well?

          What right does he have over my work? Do I have two Seths to boss over me? Why should I care for any Seth for that matter?

          “You are all clapping your hands. My akkalu also tell me that I speak well. But look at my situation. I am boldly telling you all to rebel against your Seths and fight with them, but when I go home, my husband will beat me black and blue. Many of you will suffer abuse and violence at home because you came here to the meeting. This is our situation.

          We have to fight against this, too. We have to fight against everybody who wants to control us.”

          That is how her talk went.

          She stirred up the mind of every woman sitting there.

          How did our lives turn out to be like this?

          Do we have to continue suffering oppression, ridicule, rejection?

          Do we continue making compromises?

          Why? Why should we compromise?

          What do we get by being accommodative?

          What do we lose if we fight back?

          What do we have to lose anyway? Property, honor, respect, love… do we have any?

          We don’t have a right even to the children we nourish with our own blood and breath All we can lose is abuse, violence and ridicule.

        Sobha and Santha were moved by a new inspiration. They didn’t feel like leaving the place after the meeting concluded.

         “Sobha, I know what I should do. I understand the reason for my dissatisfaction. It is not enough to fight for myself. I should fight for all of us women. I should join others and fight for the common good, that’s what I should do?” There was a new light in her eyes: the satisfaction of finding a goal.

          I should begin to fight for myself, thought Sobha.

          The two women walked back on to the road. Santha looked at her watch. It was nine at night.

          “It is very late. What are you going to do? Mohan may be very upset. Is he going to cause a lot of trouble?” Santha asked gravely.

          “I am the one who should cause trouble. It is late… for my life. It is time to start the struggle without further delay. I will fight no matter what happens. Now I know what I want and what I should do.”

          Santha hugged Sobha joyously.

          Prompted by their enthusiasm, the night appeared eager for the morning as lightning illuminated the dark sky.


(The End)


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