Dear Madam Jensine,
This story is in response to the email I received from World Pulse in connection with the Celebration of Women Empowerment from the 26th of June to the 26th of July, 2018.
I shall be much obliged if you find the story worth publishing. With warm regards and best wishes,
An Asylum For me?
As I am counting the last days of my life, the thought uppermost in my mind is this – is there no Justice in this world? My friends at World pulse, let me share today the story of my life with you all in case it helps anyone like me.
I am 79 now, rotting in an asylum somewhere in the north-east of Kolkata. No one comes to visit me anymore. In a dingy room on the second floor of a ramshackle building, I spend my days along with another lady like me, who goes on blabbering and hallucinating throughout the day. I wonder if she has ever bothered to look my way. Oh, sorry, I forgot to mention two other friends of mine. They don’t stay with me though. I mean, they are treated regally, being the owner’s pets – an Alsatian and a Doberman. They are taken such good care of by the maids working here that I feel envious of them. I get all jittery every time the Doberman called Don wanders into our room. Oh, God! These flies! Can’t someone even help me by plugging on the mosquito repellent or something? Is this what I really deserve for trying to be a good human all my life? Okay, then. Let me share my story from the beginning in case, I do not get to see another glorious sun-up again. Let me then leave it in your hands to decide for yourselves whether I deserve such a fate or I am being punished for some sins I may have committed unintentionally or in one of my previous lives.
My early recollection of childhood days starts with my grandpa, who was a great scholar of Sanskrit. I would find him engrossed in translating The Mahabharata, the Indian epic for hours. We had servants numbering more than the people living in our house. And mind you, ours was a joint family. Some of the best lessons of life I learnt just by growing up in such a big family. The other great lessons I learnt from my parents.
“Minu, can you please lend me a hand, bathing your siblings? Your Baba’s to go to college early today for a meeting with the School Managing Board? And Minu, can you go to Baro Pissi’s (Paternal aunt’s) to see why she’s been asking me to meet her lately?’ Ma called out to me from the veranda outside our dining room. She was blowing into the mud oven to keep it going. She had tears welling up in her eyes due to the smoke coming from the coal. This happened after granddad’s death and Dad fell into hard times. As my dad was quite modern in his outlook, I was admitted in one of the best girls school along with my eldest sister.
I was never an ordinary student and my teachers simply gloated over my achievements. Anyway, I passed the Matriculation Examination (Class-X) with record marks. All were elated including Ma. She was the least expressive of all my relatives and any praise coming from her was like catching a glimpse of the sun on a cloudy day. I had barely completed my college, when Dad found himself in a tight corner. He had risen to the post of Principal of a Grade-1 college in Kolkata by then but there was some kind of conspiracy against him and soon he was sacked from his post summarily. Those were the dark days of our life. Those were also the days that finished off dad both physically and mentally. He fought tooth and nail against the Government for the disgrace meted out to him and the case continued for 17 long years. By the time Dad was acquitted of the charge, he had already past his prime. Sitting on the easy chair, in a robe bought for him by my brother who had recently started working as an Assistant Professor of Economics somewhere in England, dad looked regal even at a time when old age was slowly catching up with him. The days were to leave our family in abject poverty. I am not sure if one of my siblings who died during this period, died due to hunger or poverty.
Finding the person I had come to look up to withering in that manner, I realized that I had to grow up faster than the other girls of my age. I did exceedingly well in the Master’s as well. Getting a job in government service was not as difficult in those days as it is now. I started working as a Lecturer before my M.A. result was out. The day I handed over my entire pay to dad for the first time, you should have seen him. I saw his face glowing after ages. I tried my best to help him financially as much as I was capable of.
By the time I got married, Dad was in his late sixties. As my husband, an engineer by profession, did not need any financial help from me, I tried to help my dad and his family in whatever way I could. It pains me no end to say, something I could never think of sharing with others during my hay days that I always tried to help the poor and the downtrodden. I did so thinking about the hard days of my early childhood. I know no one will ever express his or her gratitude to me as these are the ways of the world, but I’m thankful to God for not letting me be a self-centred woman.
Just a few years before Dad’s sudden demise, I got transferred to one of the most reputed colleges in Kolkata at that time, the Presiensy College. If I had any pre-conceived notions of women empowerment and all, they were jolted by the time I started teaching. The best college was manned by some foreign-returned educators, least bothered about the standard of eduction prevailing in Bengal at that time. Money was the be all and by all in their lives and they didn’t mind committing the most heinous crimes for the sake of being rich. Surprisingly, most of them were from very rich families with all kinds of political affiliations and backing.
It was a mistake on my part to raise a voice against them or was it? I started vehemently protesting against the menace of the Coaching Culture which was fast being a part of the Education System in Kolkata. Students did not bother to attend classes regularly anymore. They did not have to worry about attendance or anything as long as they studied in the private coaching centres run by some of those high-society colleagues. I was a mere plaything in the hands of the games makers and within no time, was transferred to a remote college in Bengal. Even then, God was good to me and I had my son to take care of.
‘Like father, like son’ – the saying held water in his case. He graduated with First Class Honours from Jadavpur University. My pride knew no bounds. I thought, no matter how corruption reigned supreme in the society, God was great in granting such a son to me. My son would address all this injustice and corruption. But within a few years of his marriage all my dreams and hopes regarding my son – were dashed down the drain. I tried to keep him away from all evil eyes with the intention of making him a real man of the world. In 2014, under mysterious circumstances, he was found lying on the floor of the 5-Star hotel in Hyderabad where he had gone to attend a meeting as the CEO of his company. I could hear someone crying pitifully when his body, especially his head, covered in bandages, was brought before me just before his final rites. God, what was his mistake or was he being punished for the sins of his mother? I’ll never know the answers in this life.
Anyway, to come back to the concluding part of my life-story, I had always been extremely proud of the fact that I was an independent lady. I had bought one apartment with my hard-earned money in a very posh area of Kolkata. After my husband’s death from long ailment due to old age, I also came into possession of the house he had had constructed in the Salt Lake City. AS I had trouble adjusting with the widow of my son, I quietly, uncomplainingly moved to that house after my son was gone. But then one fine day, I was picked up from there by my driver with the assurance that he was taking me to my brother’s at a place called Behala. That’s how I was dumped in the asylum. My brothers and some members of their families used to visit me initially. Then instructions were passed that no one could meet me without prior approval of my son’s widow. She said I was getting hysterical after those visits. People naturally stopped coming.
I am tired now. I have been since those days when my late mother would say that there is a God and He is the Master and Maker of the whole universe. He never forgives the sins, though He is forgiving even to the sinners. Sitting on my chair by the window, in this dimly-lit room, I remember my late mother’s words. I find it difficult to get up with the frail and feeble hands. My only companion of the moment is the other lady, who is sound asleep, snoring. I finally get up with a renewed attempt and lie down. My mother’s words keep ringing in my ears:
“God will never let His true devotees, the truth-seekers down. He will be waiting at the Gates of Heaven with open arms for those who have faith in Him.”