Short Stories >> Bandhan >> Bonds of the heart (Neehan ja Nata)
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
The envelope carried my address on the front, but the back? My heart felt a 1000 volt shock! I leaned on the back of the chair. For a while, the name ‘Neelam’ kept staring at me like a stranger…
She was busy putting her clothes into a suitcase but the suitcase would not close. She was trying to forcibly shut it. Reaching to the middle of the room, even I could not tell her anything. Now, gathering courage I told her, “Don’t force it if it’s not closing. Why don’t you just remove a few clothes?”
With one hand on the suitcase and the other on the ground, Neelam froze and she kept staring at me with eyes wide open.
This was the moment to speak to her, but looking at so many questions in her eyes, I forgot what I had to say.
She jumped and sat on the suitcase which closed. She got up and wiped her face with a napkin, though I failed to see even a drop of sweat on her face. I remember her face – that pink beauty, freshness which one wished to kiss…As I looked down at the flowers on the carpet, she picked her bag and left.
“Taxi, Taxi” I heard the voice from outside. Suddenly, I felt a burst of energy and I ran out calling “Neelu, Neelu.” Out of nowhere, there was a white wall facing me. My father’s military trained huge frame stood in front of me! My vision shrank. “There is no place for this woman in this house!” was Baba’s order. Without uttering a word, I came inside.
Today, I’ve received a letter from that same Neelu. This house, in which servants, guests and special guests such as dogs, cats, birds and god knows which other mouths are being fed, has no place for Neelu.
It wasn’t a letter but a six page epic -
Father of my children,
I have lost all rights as well as interest in writing this letter after receiving the divorce papers. Still, I’m writing to you. I don’t know what inspired me during my job (as a social worker in Beauty Propeller Mill which you already knowing) but I have understood some of the causes for my life’s problems which I want to share with you.
Isn’t it strange that my job involves resolving the fights between the male and female laborers? I’m expected to teach them good habits and make an effort to mend their broken relationships. Isn’t it like the blind leading the blind?
But I have begun to see the light by leading the blind. I had realized the vast difference in lifestyle between my family and yours as soon as I married you. Though both the families were of the same economical and social background but the progress that your family had made in music and arts required at least a life time to reach there. Music and art was not absent in my family too. When I had become famous as a dancer, at the same time my younger sister had won a prize in painting and my elder sister was a good stage artist. The biggest quality was that at home my parents and younger brothers lived with so much love and care that the word ‘fight’ did not exist in our family’s dictionary. Our father was a soft hearted person. He always recited the couplets of Bhittai – Always be soft. Anger is a pain. Your dad was just the opposite. Due to his military training he issued orders at every instance. He had forgotten that home was not a military base. That home is not a preparation for war. Home is a nest of peace and creation where, on a narrow bridge one goat has to bend to allow the other to cross over it’s back. Your mother always lived under his pressure. It was beyond her understanding to know what friendship between husband and wife was in this new time and age. She had turned her feminine desire into motherly love and showered it on both her sons. I had entered your house with a new idea of friendly love. She did not understand that. You also understood this only till we were newly married after which I saw fear in your eyes. At every occasion I was told that it does not suit the daughter-in-law of such a prestigious house to dance on stage or mingle with strangers.
Very often, your friends would party at our house in the evening. Sometimes their wives and sisters would also accompany them. Your songs and ghazals were appreciated. I would have tears in my eyes. I would go back to my room. At times I would hear voices from behind that she doesn’t enjoy music. I would then put my head on my pillow and cry. You would come to my bed at 12 in the night and like a typical husband you would ask, “What happened to you? You did not like that I was appreciated for my singing?”
Oh, adding salt to my wounds! What can a disturbed mind tell a husband who is riding high on appreciation? I left the party because I thought that I too get joy from the appreciation of my own art! Why doesn’t my husband, who enjoys the applause himself, understand my state of mind? Why am I always taunted and stopped from going on stage?
Once, I gained some courage and expressed my conflict to you. But while replying to me you kept glancing at Baba’s room. I still remember your answer. You had said “There roles for men and women in this country are very different. You are an artist, it is fine if you are. You can console yourself by dancing in front of the mirror but teaching dance to school children or performing on stage would not be liked by Baba.”
Baba is Baba, but what about you? At that time, not respecting the equality between man and woman, you had said 'You are talking more than it is your place to talk. Not following Baba’s order means being thrown out of the house, understand?'
That night, I cried oceans of tears but it was all in vain. I did not wake up in the morning. You called for the doctor and I came into consciousness after taking medicines. After some days the doctor said “How can a woman be so miserable that she faints in such a beautiful and royal house? I don’t understand.”
I was filled with sorrow. I thought let me share it with somebody to get some relief and the doctor became my companion and my confidante. On his advice, I would occasionally get permission to teach drama to school children or present a dance program in a far off village. When our little ones Roshan and Meena were born, your mother grew a little closer to me but in order to rekindle her dormant maternal instincts, she took both my children away. I agree that I did not have the talent to nurture children yet but I became a withered tree without them. In any case, where was the need for a mother in such a huge house where even a glass of water was given by servants!
The doctor’s sympathy had created a small soft blade of grass within my friendless mind that was devoid of maternal instincts. I was frightened. But I threw away that blade of grass from my mind. Then one day you said, “This damn doctor comes a couple of times every day. Baba is very angry with this useless fellow.”
I thought ‘Dear husband, wake up and take charge of your role. Tell your wife ‘My queen tell me what bothers you.’ But what do you tell a person who performs his duties as a man but forgets his duties as a husband? I just said that this house resembles a guest house, where many guests come and go. So how does it matter if one more guest comes in? And you had angrily told me- “Don’t explain this difference to me. I know everything.”
The very next day Baba himself came and told me- ‘I do not like the doctor’s visits here. If you cannot stop him then listen well, there is no place for you too in this house.”
I could not tolerate this insult and this military order. The doctor was not so important for me that I could not stay without him. After all, if being a daughter-in-law and the mother of two children is not enough to get respect in your house, then what is the use of staying there?
And I finally disassociated myself from you, my husband and your strict behaviour.
Some well wishers urged me to go back to you but I replied that I was ready to go back only if my husband comes to pick me up. Your reply was, “She should return in the same manner as she left!”
What an irony it was! Did I really leave on my own?
But like Sita Mata, I preferred death over coming back to you to get insulted even more.
I wish Ram was reborn in this country to lift Sita Mata out of the forest of misery! A soft heart in a strong body! And he would tell Sita, “Come, my life partner. No Yagya in my life is complete without you. No ritual is complete without you. Come my sweetheart, come with me, Neelu.”
I finished reading the letter but the hand of friendship that was extended through the letter was hovering in front of me. I thought that after sending the divorce papers, going to the mother of my children and convincing her to come back with me would not be approved by my family. But I have also no enjoyed staying alone for so long and being a subject of people’s pitiful glances. I have certainly not enjoyed it. So many hands of sympathy and pity are nothing in comparison to my wife’s invitation of friendship. If the criticism of family becomes a noose around the neck of the younger generation, then I shall break free and come out.
I feel like this is not a letter but an invitation from a friend, extending their hand for the bond of love.
- Translated by Arun Babani