A story about a widow who bears the ridicule of the people of her village everyday because her heart still burns with a desire to live.*
“Sudha look at how people stare at you. Aren’t you ashamed? A widow must wear white. A widow must not enjoy so much…”, said my best friend Reema to me when I was enjoying a plate of pani puri ‘in public’.
I am 32, without children and without a husband. That, in itself is a sin in my village. When a woman’s husband dies in Rajasthan, the woman ‘must’ stop enjoying her life and spend her entire life in mourning her husband’s death.
The practices of shaving a widow’s head and making her live in a small house away from the society don’t continue in my village but the mindset of ‘making a widow feel like her husband’s murderer’ continues.
My husband died due to cancer. It was his negligence towards his health and towards my advices that cost him his life. He smoked a pack of cigarettes everyday. No matter what I told him, the cigarette always won. I miss him even today and even though our marriage was arranged, he was my first love. He taught me how to read and brought me lots of books whenever he could. That reading grew me.
When he passed away, people were less concerned about how I was feeling but more concerned about making me wear white, do away with all the pleasures of life and live in some kind of shame. Wasn’t the pain of losing my husband to a dreadful disease at such a young age already too much to take? This sudden interest of the society in my life choked the remaining life out of me.
They wanted me to look like a corpse, behave like a murderer repenting a sin and live like I was already dead. Why? Why was a widow made to feel like she was responsible for her husband’s death and because her husband was no more she had no right to enjoy?
I was fortunate that my husband and left the house to me and I had enough savings to sustain myself. I didn’t have to beg like hundreds of other widows who were thrown out of their houses.
At first, I succumbed to the pressure and began dressing in white. I was too weak to protest. I was not invited to weddings or any functions. I was a social outcast just because I was a widow. My husbands memories were haunting me and all this was too much to take.
But then a few months later I retaliated. I couldn’t take it anymore. On one dull sunny morning, I went out wearing a bright red saree and walked through the streets of the village indulging in jalebis and chaat. I don’t know from where did I get so much strength. But I did that – jumped just like a supressed spring.
Nobody took my action seriously because they thought I had lost my mind and only a mad person would behave like this. So one day, to prove that I was completely sane, I sat down with a group of women and told them about my ‘liberal’ thoughts. Two of the older ones immediately got up and walked away. The others looked at me with blank faces. One or two of them understood me but didn’t say a word.
My family broke their ties with me because I refused to live in mourning. My friends, except one, stopped talking to me. That one friend who did talk to me was Sudha but she did that only when she wasn’t in public. A few months passed like this, with me alone in the village spending time re-reading the books I had read twice already. I didn’t know that this was just the beginning of my troubles – I realised that when ten days later something happened…that made me shiver in fear…
To be continued…
*This is a work of fiction, loosely based on multiple true stories.