Blogs are supposed to be your being honest about thoughts and emotions. At times, it’s difficult to keep the promise. Reliving the pain of loss is not easy.
Exactly three months after I left Lucknow for Noida, I was back in town for sometime early this month. The purpose was to attend the wedding of a friend’s sister and visit the family where I stayed as a tenant for so long.
Pankaj, my landlord, an ever-smiling man, died barely two weeks after I left Lucknow. So shocked, I could not call the family up. I just did not know what to say. I was in a state of disbelief for long. I would call him Bhaiya, but he was more of a friend. Extremely close to me, he was a very important person in my life.
Pankaj was the kind of a husband many women dream about. He easily gave in during arguments with wife, loved taking the family out, ensure peace when wife and mother fought, did shopping, managed household repairs and, more importantly, always smiled. Despite serious temptations, he would keep resisting liquor or non-veg food, saying, “Wife would find out and beat me.” This is not to say she actually did. It’s just that he took care not to annoy her.
It was tough for me walk to the place again.
They had provided me a small portion of the house. It was like being a paying guest. His two kids – Dhroov and Mishti – used to bring food, trouble me and play around. I would lovingly call them “twin terror.” They would always form parts of my daily discussions with friends. So much so that some of my friends began loving them without actually meeting them.
The two liked my room, maybe because of the laptop, stacks of newspapers, my unusually long conversations on the phone and also because of the random chocolates they would get. Bhabhi, a pleasant lady and a great cook, would not talk much but took a great care of me like your own family does. I could not prepare myself enough on how to face them.
It was tough.
Loss of husband changes a woman’s life. There is no sanity in the transition. The house looks topsy-turvy. But you do sense a numbing calm. She knows life will never be joyful again. Dhroov was running fever. There was no one to take him to hospital. I promised to do so. I was carrying chocolates for him and his sister. I handed the packet over there was no excitement. Time and patience are the best advice I could give. “He would not return. But think of the kids’ future. Stay strong for them. They will lessen the pain, give some joy,” I said.
The wedding was in the same locality.
Everyone was busy.
I asked if she would attend. “I don’t want to spoil the mood there. No one wants to see a crying woman. What will a widow do there?,” she asked.
While at hospital, memories came rushing back. When the schoolbus developed some snag, I used to take her there on my bike and bring the kids home. The kids liked my company, but would never speak much. The way she prepared food and fed me was out of this world. I had never thought I would savour the kinds of delicacies I actually did.
But that’s gone now.
She had never expected – no one does -- her husband would die. “A lot of people get electric shocks. They don’t all die. His father worked for the electricity department. Even he ran his canteen in Shakti Bhawan (the department’s building in Lucknow),” she said, aimlessly staring at Pankaj’s garlanded photograph kept in the drawing room.
It’s tough to learn how to cope on her own after many years of sharing life’s chores. She does not have the help of grown children or friends. (Pankaj had no brother. His father died years ago.) The emotional adjustment takes a lot of doing. “We shared so much, went to weddings together and the stuff. Now, every such occasion is a constant reminder of his absence,” she said.
She looked paralysed.
While serving tea, she cried.
And the society never lets a widow get even close to normal. People make her feel guilt even if she is even remotely awake to a moment of joy. It’s a huge loss, but why remain bitter for the rest of the life. “His sisters say I’m not sad enough, not that affected. I only know what I have lost. My world is gone,” she sobbed.
The couple spent eight years together. She is yet to come to terms with the loss. She remembers everything. “You went to Noida. We were all sad. The kids will miss you a lot. He never had dinner before texting to know if you were eating alright. The day you left, Mishti went to your room and cried. Seventeen days after you left, my world came crashing down,” she said, no control over tears.
And the loss is not only personal. One sister has taken over the running of the canteen. The (life) insurance amount has also been hijacked. When Pankaj bought the plot for construction of the house, one of his sisters paid Rs 50,000 – half the price paid for the land. Today, the land cost has gone up ten times. Plus, he constructed a reasonably well house. Now, the sister wants half of the house for her. No one is sparing a thought for the widow, the two little kids and their future under the danger of being no as bright as it would have been but for the loss.
Fortunately, she has recognised the value of keeping busy and pursuing her interests. She always loved teaching. She has joined a private school in Barabanki as a teacher. The salary is not much, but that’s keeping her busy. A school cab picks and drops her.
The room where I stayed remained vacant for sometime. “You were, and still are, part of our family. I did not like the idea of letting someone else in. But security was a concern. Plus we needed money for sustenance too. Two boys have taken that portion on rent,” she said.
But the kids don’t go there anymore.