Sharmila Dugal

Others


5.0  

Sharmila Dugal

Others


Liberated

Liberated

8 mins 10.7K 8 mins 10.7K

Anupama looked at the steady lashing of rain against the office window pane. Sometimes, rhythmic. At times, fierce and menacing. She had just attended the Company’s Board Meeting where she was unanimously chosen to be the senior most Director, a coveted post by many.

Being in the top bracket was nothing new to her, but the current designation was way too prestigious. She had certainly broken the glass ceiling!! Such a nomination was the very first in the history of this multinational company.

She felt the same adrenaline rush she had experienced when she got a double degree with a gold medal from a prestigious university in the USA.

In his congratulatory speech, one of the Company Directors had addressed her as ‘a rare breed’ and had showered a lot of praise for her acumen and efficiency. Her face lit up with a smile at the thought.

Hearing a soft knock on her cabin’s door, she composed herself. One of her executives had brought her a beautiful bouquet of flowers. ‘’Congratulations Ma’am, we are all very proud of you, especially the women folk’’ the young girl said. Anupama accepted the flowers and thanked her modestly.

‘’Are you not leaving ma’am… it’s raining cats & dogs and there is water all around our office building. The roads are flooded as well. We are all leaving now. Please mam… don’t be late. The water level is rising as there is a high tide soon. ”The girl insisted. ‘’Sure... thanks for the heads up… I will go home on time.’’ Anupama retorted.

In her mind, she had a long list of pending E mails that needed her attention and had to be responded. After completing her work, she would pack up for the day, she thought. She briskly walked to her chair and sat down to finish her work . One or two Directors peeped in to say good bye and warned her against going home late.

Anupama focused on her work. Engrossed, she lost track of the time. A sudden lightening and the roar accompanying it brought her back to reality. It was dark outside. She looked at her watch. Oh God! It is almost 9pm she thought. She rang the bell to call the office assistant who rushed in looking rather nervous. The water has entered our house mam… he barely whispered. She quickly asked him to lock up and gave him some money. ‘’Go…take a rickshaw or a taxi home. The trains as usual may be running late today’’ she told him. He smiled.. breathing a sigh of relief.

Her driver had come up to carry her bags to the car. ‘’It is going to be a difficult drive…with all this water around… ’’ He told her sheepishly.They drove through the water within the office compound and turned towards the main road. There was mayhem everywhere. She stared at the men, women & children wading through knee deep water. Cars were honking incessantly, Umbrellas were dotting the landscape and some stray cows and dogs stood on the side, huddled together, wet and frightened.The manholes were open and water was gushing out of it with full force. She glanced out of the window in awe of the situation, feeling safe and dry in her Mercedes. Their car was moving at a snail’s pace by now.

After 20 minutes of this ordeal they had covered barely a few kilometers. They were in a low lying area by now and the water level on the road was far too high for comfort. All of a sudden, the car stopped. It wouldn’t move an inch. The driver tried the ignition several times and said… ‘’I don’ think we will be able to drive through this water mam. You may have to walk down a little further and take an auto or a cab.”

It was past 9.30 now and Anupama was keen to reach home. It had been a tiring day yet very satisfying. She already had a number of missed calls on her cell phone. Friends and office staff had called her several times to congratulate her. Should she call her husband and let him know? She wondered. She brushed the idea aside. Abhay, her husband, would be with his friends downing his third whiskey by this time. Like any other day.

What the heck… I will manage on my own. She decided.

She held the laptop bag close to her chest and got out of the car. Her high heels and expensive suit sank in the water. It was a difficult walk at first but she managed to wade through it for almost a kilometer. Tired, she stood on the pavement for a minute, catching her breath.

Luckily for her, a rickshaw pulled over next to her and a passenger got down. ‘’Where do you want to go?’’ the rickshaw driver asked in chaste hindi. ‘’Will you take me up to Juhu..’’ she asked expectantly as she hopped in.

The driver, an old man in his sixties skillfully drove though the water. She sat quietly… her eyes closed and tried to recollect when she had last travelled like this. Must have been many years ago, she thought.

He started the conversation about weather in general, life in Mumbai and his own experiences. Anupama was barely listening to him… immersed in her own thoughts.‘’Did your car break down? he asked her. Yes, she said a little wearily. ‘’You seem to be a big boss of a company…madam. The rains have caused havoc in the city, Are your children safe…Have they reached home? Which school do they go to…’’

Umm… she murmured under her breath. His barrage of questions was incessant. ‘’Oh! I don’t have any children...’’ she shrugged and dismissed the conversation. 

What! His voice was hoarse and he turned & looked at her in a manner she had never experienced. What are you saying madam.. .you should have had grown up children by now. They would have been as cultured as you.. don’t you think.What she thought was immaterial right now… he was crossing the line of decency by asking such personal questions. Please take a right, Sir... so that we avoid traffic, she meekly suggested.

Memsaab, as an elder, I would like to give you an advice. Please have children. You should have at least one. In our culture & religion, a women without a child is called ‘Baanjh’ (Barren). You could be highly educated, holding a top post or earning a lot of money as a career woman, but then you are a mere ZERO. You are just nobody. The primary expectation from a woman or the utility of a woman’s body is to bear children. If she cannot do that, she is useless. EMPTY. In our village, we don’t eat food prepared by such a woman. Memsaaab.. lot of people must be secretly thinking about you in the same manner. Go to a doctor… do something... but have a child. In our community, we send the woman to her parents place if she does not conceive. To never come back. The man brings home another bride who is healthy and can have children. Your husband seems to be a nice man to suffer in silence. A barren woman…What is her use? Cows are slaughtered if they don’t bear calfs & yield milk. Don’t they?

Anupama was listening intently. Her face flushed. Please stop at the next building, She said. She pushed herself out of the rickshaw. Her mind was spinning, her mood …distraught. The darkness outside her plush residential complex was lesser compared to the darkness in her heart. She mechanically gave him the money and dragged herself towards the elevator. The watchman saluted … and smiled at her.   

She rang the bell of her apartment and a housemaid opened the door. ‘’Madam.. you are wet. Are you all right?’’ she enquired. Anupama brushed past her and went straight to her room.

The aftershock of the verbal assault was unbearable for her.

But the tears refused to flow.

Abhay was sitting there… watching CNN , holding his glass of whiskey. He threw a mere glance at her and mumbled something she did not hear. Abhay… was it my fault that we could not have children…? she whispered…

Why… what happened..? he asked casually. My tests were all clear Abhay… why did you avoid the tests… agony in her voice was pitiable. Its something from the past.. why do you bring it up now.. he asked carelessly.

Because it is important to me... she retorted. Someone told me today, that a woman’s life is incomplete without bearing a child. Abhay… your mom too has been saying the same thing to me over the years.

What about all those women who have a real problem in conceiving? It’s due to a physical or psychological problem that they face in a marriage. How can the society blame them? She blasted. Why are they judged in such a horrible manner? Why is a woman’s status or her existence defined by her ability to bear a child? Tell me Abhay… I want an answer.

There was a stony silence in the room.

My mom is not wrong !  We live in a society where a woman’s motherhood is sacred. What is her purpose in this world otherwise? Nature has given her a gift. That’s the universal truth. Abhay uttered. She looked at him with disbelief. The cold look in his eyes pierced like a blade through her heart. Her face ashen, she felt she'd been hit.

Anupama’s throat constricted and unshed tears stung her eyes.

But the tears refused to flow.

She just sat there… shattered. Oblivious of time… lifeless... Lost ...

The value of all her achievements, all her accolades diminishing into oblivion.

But the tears refused to flow.

Time had slowed down.

Much later, she heard the faint ringing of her cell phone.

It rang for a long time but she had no strength to pick it up.

It rang again and she finally mustered her courage to pick it up.

Hello! She whispered.

Mam.. I am Nikita from Vatsalaya orphanage.

There is very good news I want to share with you mam. All girls and boys you had sponsored for all these years have got distinction in every subject. And our Maya has stood first in the University. We got a call from the Education Minister one day before the results. Mam… all of them are eager to meet you right away. They send you their love… They want to talk to you. Can I give them the phone mam?

Aren’t you happy mam…

Mam… Mam…are you there?  

Mam…

Anupama’s tears slowly rolled down her cheek.

They finally found their way … liberated.


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