Radha- The Fighter
Radha- The Fighter
"Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day you, if listen very carefully, you can hear her breath". Radha, my childhood friend, was crying. I could make out from her sobbing voice over the phone. We grew up together in a village and studied together upto tenth standard, before I moved to the nearby city for my studies. Higher education and life thereafter have prevented me from going back to my roots. I want to do that after my retirement from my current job as a professor.
My mind went back to our growing up days, when Radha and I would go to the school together- whosoever got ready first, had to wait for the other at a certain spot. We did the home work together, played together and were in the same team in team events. We both were very happy to wear the same design clothes with same colour and print.
After school, I moved to a city where I studied upto graduation. But, Radha wasn't allowed to leave home and stay in a hostel. Her parents believed a girl must not stay away from home after puberty. I remember, whenever I visited her, I would be upset to see her always sad . We were eager to meet and discuss about her further studies at another junior college nearby. We both tried to convince her father, but he never listened. Seeing Radha's sad face I'd go back to city for my studies with a heavy heart. "For an educated girl you have to find a higher educated groom who would ask for more dowry"- was the reason. Whereas, Radha's brother who was much weaker in studies was sent to college with full support. Radha's mom used to say, "He is a boy". As if only boys had the right to go to the college. There was also a hidden agenda- that I realised much later. If she met some boy during her studies and decided to live her life with him, it would be shameful for the family. Once the parents tie their girls to someone who is so called established person, so called punya will be deposited in their karmic passbooks.
They did not delay in earning that punya. They fixed her marriage with a man from nearby village, within six month of my leaving the place for study. I learnt about it from Radha's letter inviting me to her wedding. Sadly, that reached me two days after her marriage. Reading it made me mad with anger, anguish and resentment. I had failed, could not send her to college or stop her early marriage, couldn't even wish her on her wedding. That day and whole night, I had cried in my helplessness, cursed the post office for delivering the letter so late. The next day, I bunked the classes, felt like running to a police station to complain against her parents for marrying her off before legal age. After that incident, my teenage revolting mind filled with respect for my parents who allowed me to study, pursue my hobbies, and most importantly, allowed to dream.
Thereafter, I had met Radha only once in a village function. She was looking more aged than her real age, had turned quiet and reserved. I didn't find the ever-flowing brook in her, she had turned into a placid lake. A deep lake of sorrow and quietness. She wasn't excited to meet me after a long time. I just jumped and hugged her. She just replied to my questions. As if I wasn't her best friend, just an acquaintance. It seemed, she had already resigned to her destiny. After that brief meeting, Radha's behaviour stirred me, she wasn't my best friend any more. I moved on with life and had made besties from college and professional life and distanced myself from Radha. But, at times, I felt guilty.
Two years ago, a school classmate connected all of us creating a WhatsApp group of classmates. As I couldn't find Radha's in the group, I asked if anyone had her number. Reply came that she had no personal mobile, but got her husband's number. I tried speaking to her 2-3 times. But, her husband talked in a manner that you would not feel like continuing the phone call. Many times, I had thought of buying a mobile for her, but stepped back thinking about the consequences of hurting her husband's male ego.
* * * * *
"Hello, who is this? " I asked, seeing an unknown number.
"It's me, Radha. This my cousin's number. She has come to stay with me as my family has gone to attend a wedding."
A current of happiness ran over my body in that moment.
"I'm so happy to hear your voice. Tell me, Radha! How are you?"
"What to tell about my fate Meera. I'm born unlucky." Her sudden cry broke my happiness.
"Why, what happened? Please explain." I insisted.
"I'm pregnant for a third time. Earlier pregnancies got aborted." She cried even more.
"How? Did you see a doctor, did you listen to her advice"
"Yes. But, how can I take complete bed rest? A family of six to feed, cattle to care of. In our patriarchal society, men won't do anything other than providing, even if it is inadequate. All household chores are females' duty. A daughter-in-law must take care of every one." I was listening with dissatisfaction.
"Hope, this time everything's fine."
"OK so far. I've taken care and avoided heavy work."
"But, yesterday, we did an ultrasound scan. The greedy doctor revealed it is a girl. My in-laws want me to abort it."
"What?" I screamed in disbelief.
"But, I will save my girl, Meera. If they force me, I'll kill myself."
"Listen, Are you ready to leave your home to save your daughter"? I asked in a breath.
"Anything for my child. But, where will I go? Can't go back to my parents as they will find fault in me."
"Come to me Radha, I'll take care of you " I said as if I was prepared for this long ago.
"I don't want to be a burden."
"No Radha, you can join some job once your daughter about one year old. I promise, I'll find a job for you. But, you have to undergo some training to help you rebuild your life. Till then, you can stay with me. Are you ready for that, Radha"?
"Yes" Radha replied confidently, after a small pause.
"Then, I'm booking a train ticket for tomorrow and sending to your cousin. Pack your bags and leave before they come back. Now wipe out your tears and be ready for a new beginning"I was smiling.
I opened my laptop to book a ticket – it wasn’t just for her, but for the guilt I had been feeling everyday. To send the guilt away and welcome happiness. A life of dignity and self-respect was waiting for Radha.