I was just 34 when my husband passed away. He was ascending his career ladder and acting as the Deputy Manager of State Bank of India in Central Calcutta He was just 43 years old at that time. His death in the early hours of a cold, gray morning was an eye-opener of sorts for me. In the space of one year or so, I learnt more about this world, relatives, security and stuff like that.
Let me share my painful story in the hope that housewives like me the world over do not suffer from the same cruel fate and lose heart in the face of unsurmountable obstacles.
I got married when I was 25. My father, a retired school master, ran an advert in the local newspaper and from the 132 or so responses, he earmarked some 16 for the preliminary enquiries. He did not have to sweat it out a lot as the 3rd person he called over the phone, was to become my father-in-law in the days to come. He was a lawyer of repute and Dwip, his eldest son, made a great impression on my father the fast time he went to their's. His winning smile the first time he bent down to touch my father’s feet, was what drew him to my parents. Our marriage, people said, was heaven made.
Heaven-made it seemed in the first few years of our married life. Dwip, by the way, was a real looker and girls swooned at the sight of him. Extremely manly, he treated me as a queen. What is more, he treated my parents as his own. I felt so proud of him and my cup of happiness was full to the brim.
We went to Kashmir, the Switzerland of India, for our honeymoon. The days we spent in the Holiday Home there, are memories that will stay with me forever. Dwip was crazy about me. Relatives cited us as an example of a perfect couple.
Financially, we had our share of problems, but we didn't bother much as Dwip was working hard and preparing for the Officer's Examination. I tried my level best to encourage him.
“Radha, the day I get through the Preliminary Exam, I'll book a flat the first thing. It pains me to find my wife working so hard to help me make both ends meet. Our days of worry and toil will be over soon, Radha. I promise you,” he would say pulling me in his arms and holding me tight like he would never let me go.
The day he took me to a residential area with new buildings coming up at a place called Jadavpur, I could feel him trembling sitting beside me in the dingy room of the caretaker of the housing complex. That's when I came to know about his success in the banking examination. The yet to be handed over flat was the cherry in the icing.
We started making plans for our future and that's when I told him about my throwing up frequently and the feelings of nausea.
“You've been working hard, dearest. You need to slow down now. Once we move to our new flat, we'll have a house maid.”
“Don't you worry, my love. My condition has nothing to do with hard work.”
It took him a minute to interpret my words and then he let out a cry and looked down at my belly.
“God, Radha! Do you mean...Are you telling me that I'm going to be a papa soon? Radha, Oh, Radha. I'm so happy for us." And then realizing the implication of my condition, he took me gently to the bedroom and made me lie down. “Tonight I'll cook dinner for you. You just tell your cook what you want from him..”
His love, his concern, the queenly treatment I received from him - are what keep me going even today, when the going gets tougher by the day. Our only child, Dhrub, was born on a hot day of May. Dwip was shattered by my labour pain that lasted nearly 13 hours, having finally handed back the baby to the nurse, he whispered into my ear that one child was enough to complete our family. He had tears running down his cheeks at that time. I smiled at this grown-up child then, in spite of myself.
Our lives couldn't have been any more happier. Dhrub was in standard two, when one bleak afternoon, Dwip came back from office early. He told me he was back early due to a severe headache. I enquired if he wanted me for anything. He asked me not to worry and retired to bed. He didn't want to take anything later that night. At around 10.30, when I finally was free to come to our bed, I found him feverish. I wanted to call the doctor. Dwip asked me not to. Said he would be all right by the morning. He was delirious in the early hours of the next morning. The doc at the time of his departure, looked grave and asked me to take Dwip to s clinic for some immediate blood tests. My days of fun and frolic were gone when Dwip was diagnosed to be suffering from lung cancer.
His end was quick. Within a matter of six months, he was snatched away from us. The sea of his relatives, the helplessness of both his parents and mine and the wee hours of a horrible Tuesday morning, when he started throwing up the darkish blood, are something that I find irritating even today and difficult to forget.
After his cremation, I came back to our flat. My mother came with me, mainly for Dhrub. There was an emptiness surrounding the house that I found unbearable. Without Dwip, the place, life itself became unbearable. I didn't know how to manage, what to do as my husband never discussed anything related to finance with me.
But when the Manager of his branch, the man who had been a tower of strength during the last few weeks of Dwip's stay in the world, came to meet me the next day, he informed me that as per the policy of the bank, I was to be employed in the same branch as soon as some formalities were completed. He also requested me to let him know in case there was an urgent need for money. That's the first time when I realized that my husband's death didn't signal the end of both my son and me. I also realized that Dwip wouldn't have wanted anything but the very best for his son or wife, for the matter.
Fifteen years have passed since then. My son, who like his father, wanted a banking job, has recently joined the United Bank of India as a Probationary Officer. His initial salary is more than what his late father made before his untimely demise.
“Ma, I may be late coming back tonight. Don't wait for me for dinner. Love you, Mom..” Dhrub shouts out from outside while fixing the helmet on his head and off he goes on his bike in a flash.
I come away from the window. I sit at the table and put a piece of bread in my mouth. I am overcome with a tremendous sense of gratitude. I feel indebted to God, to my in-laws, my parents, hordes of relatives, neighbours, my employer, the SBI, and not to forget my son,for always standing by me, for never letting me feel lonely and lost. The safety, security that they have always provided me, is just unimaginable. I look up from the plate and find Dwip looking at me from his framed photo on the opposite wall with that trademark, winsome smile on his face.