Brides are not for Burning-II
by Eva Bell
This was the turning point of my life. From then on it was a steady race downwards to self destruction. The vast city of Bombay offers a variety of remedies to solace the desperate and broken hearted, and it didn’t take me long to get hooked on the bottle. First it was a drink to steady the nerves. Gradually my needs increased to such an extent that it began to affect my work. Caught in the grip of self pity, it was impossible to shake myself out of it.
All through those days, Katy was a loyal friend. Although I ignored her advice, she was there like a guardian angel, doing whatever she could to protect me.
Almost a month later, when I staggered home one evening, I was surprised to find Bharat and Uncle at my door. Alcohol had loosened my tongue and given me courage.
“Get out of here,” I yelled, “And leave me well alone. I want nothing to do with you.”
“Quiet!” Bharat said, “We don’t want the whole neighborhood listening in.”
“I don’t care who listens. Get lost – and leave me alone.”
“We’ll do just that as soon as we deliver your baggage,” my uncle said.
He went downstairs and returned with that monstrous creature who was my wife.
“Now look here,” I shouted, “She can’t stay here. Since you were responsible for this mess you can keep her.” These fellows were out to destroy me. “Why don’t you settle her with the dowry she brought, so that she won’t be a financial burden to you?”
“You know that the dowry is for my election campaign. Do you think that having come so far I’m going to mess up my future because you want to shirk your responsibility?”
I did fly into a rage and gave him a black eye. Then I went down the stairs, determined to stay away for the night.
But when I returned in the morning, she was huddled at my door. The men had left her there and gone away. I felt sorry for her as one would feel for a handicapped child. She cowered with fear at the sight of me. What could I do? Could I turn her out on the streets?
Later, Katy gave me some advice. She was a staunch Catholic and had very definite views about marriage and its responsibilities
“Let her be,” she said, “She can look after your home and cook your food.”
So Sarasu became my responsibility – a responsibility that drove me to the brink of desperation. She was not only ugly but mentally retarded too. What she did during the day was anybody’s guess. The house was always in disarray. But I kept the pantry well stocked so that she could cook her own meals. I kept my bedroom locked as I could not bear the thought of her prowling among my things. I returned late at night well past her bedtime, and in my own pathetic soused state, could just about make it to my room.
One day almost a year later, I was informed at the office that a fire had broken out in my apartment. The Fire brigade was too late to save Sarasu or my belongings. I don’t think she would have purposely ended her life. But being so dull in mind, she might have turned on the gas and forgotten about it, and then accidentally caused the blaze.
Neither her relations nor mine came for the funeral. There was not even a response to my telegram. While her own parents might have said ‘Good riddance,’ my great politician brother couldn’t leave it at that. He made subtle insinuations that I might have set her ablaze. When this news was relayed to me by a friend, my hatred of Bharath was complete. That scoundrel who had ruined my life for his own ends, now had the guts to point an accusing finger at me. This anger and frustration that I couldn’t hit back was a good excuse to continue with the bottle.
Time flew from one day to the next. I lived through the day only because I knew that dusk would bring sweet Bacchanalian oblivion. It was two years and a day since Sarasu’s death. Looking through the newspaper my eyes focused on a news item announcing a meeting on ‘Human Rights and The Woman’ that very same evening. It was to be addressed by none other than my brother Bharath, the Honourable Minister for Welfare of Women and Children, from Karnataka State. Bombay was inundated with people South Kanara - rich businessmen, hoteliers and office goers. There would be a large gathering. Curiosity got the better of me. I decided to go for the meeting.
Well fortified by booze, I took a seat in the last row on the gallery next to the aisle. Bharat looked distinguished in his white khadi attire. His receding hairline and slight paunch gave him a certain dignity. As expected, the majority of seats were occupied by women. One could see at a glance, how they sat entranced, hanging on to his every word. He was haranguing on the evils Indian Society perpetrates on women. Then he began to talk about the dangerous trends the Dowry system was taking, and advocated severe punishment for the perpetrators and abettors of this demeaning practice, irrespective of their status in life.
It was then that my befuddled mind suddenly became lucid. Standing up and charging down the aisle as one possesses I shouted, “You hypocrite! For you, no punishment other than death will be sufficient.”
I cannot recall what other abuses I might have hurled. The shock of seeing me in such a rabid state was too much for Bharath. It was the anticlimax to a memorable evening. Even his crafty heart could not cope with the situation. I saw him sway, and a white splash of colour crumpled on the podium. The entire audience swept forwards towards him like a tidal wave. No one seemed to bother when I slunk away.
I voluntarily got myself admitted in hospital for treatment of alcoholism. Lying there, I began to go over the events of my life. I pricked my ears the next day, when a man from the next bed began to read aloud from his newspaper,
“Tragic and untimely death of Minister Bharath Kumar at a conference in the city. In him, the women and children of Karnataka have lost an ardent champion. The Victoria Circle in this city will be re-named ‘Bharat Kumar Circle’ to commemorate the memory of such a devout son of India.”
The cot under me began to tremble and shake as I doubled up in laughter.
“The Minister is dead. Long live the Minister!” I yelled, laughing as one demented. The patients in the other beds sat up and looked on in terror. One of them shouted,
“The poor guy has got Delirium Tremens. Someone please ring for the nurse.”