by Kiran Jhamb
There she stood on one end of the platform - tall, slim, fiftyish, clutching something in her right hand. She had been standing like a statue for the last hour, absolutely still, oblivious of the hustle-bustle around her. Maybe she was waiting for the train coming from Amritsar. It was early morning.
Nobody saw her jump. One moment the rain was approaching, preparing to slow down and the next all hell brake lose. She had jumped on the track. The train grounded to a halt. They found her head severed from her body, but she was still clutching that something in her hand.
One hour later the police prised open her palm and took out the suicide note in which she had absolved her family of any blame - 'I am responsible for this action. My family loves me.' She had had the forethought to write her address.
By ten o’clock the police reached the house in Habowal mentioned in her suicide note . It was a humble house built on a plot of fifty yards. It seemed like a poor relative of the houses in the lane - their élan making it shrink in its own shadows. The area was quite up market - the owner must have held onto the plot through his teeth, resisting tempting offers.
A harassed looking young woman, holding a baby, opened the door. Anita was shocked to see the police . She was all dressed up to go to the department store where she worked. Her husband had already left for his office. She had been waiting for her mother, who had gone God knows where. At first she had thought that Mother must have gone to gurudwara (Sikh temple) and would come back in time. So she had carried on with the morning chores, cooked cleaned, bathed the baby but now she had been getting irritated. “God save me from her bhakti (religiosity). Beeji (Mother) should understand if I get late today also that Sharma will get a chance to shout at me again. As it is I have taken too many half-days in the last month to visit the doctors. It’s a private job. Why can't she sit at home and pray? Now what I do with Bitto? Where do I leave him?”
The door bell rang and she opened it with the full intention of giving Beeji a piece of her mind. She was frightened to see the police - all the maturity of twenty two years deserting her. The neighbors gathered.
The news spread like fire. Gursharan Kaur had committed suicide.
"Poor thing, she was always unlucky. She never knew any happiness. She lost her husband ten years back. Had only this daughter.”
" No, no. She had adopted this girl. They were childless for many years. I
still remember the day she had brought Anita from an orphanage.”
“ Her families of both sides tried to stop her. Especially her husband’s brothers, they had an eye on this plot.”
“ Her husband never earned much. She was the bread winner, sewing button on cardigans and stitching clothes. What a hard life she lead!”
“ She was full of pooja-paat (religiosity). Very religious. We thought God was finally listening to her. Got her daughter married also on the condition that the groom would live in their house.”
“ She was so happy on Bittoo’s birth. She would have liked to give gifts like a queen…”
"She had not been keeping well The doctors had removed her uterus three months ago.”
"But now everything seemed all right, She was back on her feet again. Why - what happened Anita, to make her take this step?"
Anita was distraught. Ignoring the well meant probing of the neighbours, she ran to Babaji (Guru Nanak) - her favorite place of seeking solace since childhood. There he sat among the small colourful lights, giving a benign smile and she touched her head to the glass shelf. She was trembling. Her head touched a paper lying before Babaji, on the shelf.
It was her mother’s letter in which she had begged forgiveness for leaving Anita alone. The doctors had told Gursharan that the cancer was still in her body. Medication and perhaps more surgeries would be needed. Anita and her husband had private jobs, little money and a budding family. Fighting cancer was futile. She did not want to put them through the gloomy time waiting ahead. She wanted them to live happily.
This is our country where there are so social securities, medical insurances, and support groups. This was Gursharan’s way of dealing with her problem. Again the news spread and the neighbors got busy with their conversation mill.
"What a way to go! It's a sin - taking a life, even if it is your own."
"Did she have less problems in this janam (birth)? Now she has spoiled her next life also."
"I don't agree with you. Why did God give her so many problems? She had to find an escape. So she took this option."
“What a bold woman ! How courageous!”
“ It must have taken real guts."
“ How could she stand there waiting for the train? I would have lost nerve.”
"How desperate she must have been! If only she had talked to us."
“ She was always the strong silent one.”
Desperate conditions call for desperate measures. They pitied her. They admired her. They reached a consensus - she was wrong. Wrong ? Yes, she was wrong in jumping before the train. She should have taken some easier way out like taking sleeping pills. ****