by Sarika Tyagi
I remember Vidya like I met her yesterday. She was short, about 5 feet with wheatish complexion and black curly hair cropped short. She always wore kurtas and trousers to office. Only the first day when she joined in my team she wore a chudidaar. She did not seem very friendly and my entire team, including me, took an instant dislike towards her. Nobody seemed to like her and this fact did not seem to bother her much. She just went about her work in a very mechanical way. She was what we termed a low risk taker. She would not argue with anybody even if the other person was obviously wrong. She was just not assertive enough. She had no friends and as a result always ate alone. She always used to bring a small lunch box, probably her son’s. Nobody knew much about her as she hardly ever mixed with anybody and had no friends. All that we knew about her was that she too far from our office. Nobody was interested much in her life and we didn’t bother about her. Her repeated reminders for work to be completed only managed to irritate us more by the day and distanced her, alienating her completely.
Being her neighbour in office, and we also shared the telephone extension, I knew that was constantly worrying over her kid. She would get calls during office hours and then she would excuse herself and run home to take care of something urgent. Slowly I began noticing that sometimes she would take leave from work only to appear with a collar around her neck or a supportive waist belt or some bruises on her arms. I casually asked her what happened after one such episode when she returned to work after two days’ leave with a waist belt. She told me she fell down the stairs and was hurt in the process. She went to great lengths criticising herself and making fun of her for being so silly. The following week she wore a neck collar and told me she had spondylitis. We always accepted her explanations readily because nobody was interested enough to invest time in knowing her and her life. Nobody was bothered!
Then one day she came to office extremely happy because she had bought a flat of her own in Mumbai (her parents were there) and was planning to move there at the earliest with her family. Only too happy to get rid of her, we all enjoyed the little party she threw for us. She resigned and moved out and we quickly forgot about her. I think we had already forgotten about her while she was working with us.
Then a month after she had gone, we heard she had been killed in a freak accident at 5 in the morning while jogging. We felt sad but soon forgot about her again. And then suddenly one day a policeman came to our office. He wanted to interview us about Vidya. Why? We wondered. And then he told us. For the first time we came to know who Vidya was.
Hers was a love marriage. She was an engineer who had married a marketing manager. She was not working at the time and they both had been happy. Soon her son had come along and the expenses shot up considerably. She decided to make use of her qualification
to support her family. Initially her husband had welcomed the monetary relief that she provided, but soon it became unbearable for him that she had started earning much more than him. She worked at the office and went home to take her responsibilities as the wife and mother without any complaints, but that only seemed to make matters worse. He had become extremely irritable and started lashing out at her for the smallest things. She took it all silently hoping for things to improve, but they never did. Instead it became worse and he started hitting both Vidya and their son. She feared for her son’s safety and that was the reason she used to rush out during the office hours. He used to come home for lunch sometimes and she had to be there to ensure he does not harm the child in any way! And we thought she used to go home to enjoy some sleep! She never fell from anywhere. She wore the belts and collars because she was beaten up badly by her husband. And she lied to hide her embarrassment. She never told anyone about her suffering and never chose to do anything about it either. She suffered in silence. And one day in Mumbai, in a fit of rage, her husband strangled her. In the tender age of 5, her son witnessed his father strangling his mother. And then he cremated her after buying a fake certificate from a doctor who signed that she had been killed in a road accident. But when her parents arrived for her funeral, her son had cried his heart out to his maternal grandparents and told them everything he had witnessed. Her parents had filed the case and the child had lost both his parents with his mother dead and father locked up behind bars!!
After the inspector left, we sat discussing about Vidya and what had happened to her. We sat there analyzing what she did wrong and what she should have done. Some of us pitied her while some thought that she called for it herself by staying quiet about it and not taking help from friends/relatives or police. Some painted her as a victim while some called her a fool who had not only ended up dead herself, but also had “ruined” her son’s life!
I sat there quietly listening to all the discussion. I felt sad for Vidya. I felt I had failed as a friend and a team member. If only we had taken genuine interest in her, if only someone had cared to ask her, maybe she would have shared. Maybe all she needed was someone who cared about her, who did not judge her, who did not find faults in what she had done or was doing. Someone who would just provide her with the listening she craved for. I don’t know whether she did wrong or right, simply because I have not lived her life. I can sit here today and say that things could have been done differently. That she could have taken help and resolved her problems. That she could be alive and well and happy today. But deep inside I know I failed Vidya miserably. And for that I have no excuses. She suffered her fate because I chose to be indifferent towards her. The hands that strangled her were mine too. I am also her culprit.