While all the readers would be eagerly waiting to get introduced to a woman of extra-ordinary internal strength and mettle , the pivotal character of these torn pages from a diary called ‘ real life’; I would like to apologize for delaying her entry a bit. If I do not mention his presence in this context, it would be a gross injustice to my dear friend Ritwick Das Gupta, who played the role of catalyst in one of the most memorable meetings of my life.
I have known Ritwick since my ‘morning school days ‘, and since then we have always shared a good vibe. Ritwick was an ardent fan of Kishore Kumar and so was I; naturally we had a common chord struck nicely. After we passed the Higher Secondary Examination, our ways began to drift apart. While I chose engineering; he went to pursue a degree in mathematics. The frequency of seeing each other gradually became much less, but we made sure that our weekend sessions full of adda-movie-songs remained intact. It was during that time, Rit, as I fondly called my friend, told me one day- “You cannot even imagine, how much a person may have seen, how much a person undergoes in a single life time. You must meet my Didi (elder sister) to know the real facets of life. She will show you many stones thrown at her, time and again, by life itself”.
Ritwick knew that I used to write, although on and off; so he insisted that I must meet her once. I knew his sister, now Pragya Roy, by face. She was respected Pragya di for us, being much elder to our age group. Till that time my conversations with Pragya di were limited to, “How are you Didi? – I am doing fine, and you? “ So I was a bit skeptical as well as nervous, considering her seniority. Ritwick told, with a semi-sarcastic smile- “Come on! Say yes, and pick a day! Didi cooks very well. Even if you don’t talk to her much, she will give you the same amount of delicious food.” I didn’t waste time any more, and we decided to see her on a weekend, as it was convenient for all of us. On a bright Saturday morning, I took the backseat of Ritwick’s bike. Upon reaching Pragya di’s place, we were greeted by the boisterous barking of a huge canine, a male Alsatian dog. Next, I saw four year old little princess running towards Ritwick, screaming happily- “Mom, Mama (uncle) has come, with a bigger dairy milk this time “. Then the little angel told her mother, “Mom, an unknown person too has come with Mama “. Now, I heard Pragya di’s voice- “Who is it? Oh it is you! “. She showed a radiant smiling face – “So, you guys have made a perfect plan to waste one of your meaningful Saturdays”, She said jokingly.
I shook hand with our brother-in-law, a very jovial person, who lifted four year old Mimi in his arms, and told,” Have a good chat with your Didi, it’s your day. Mimi and I will play the whole day in the room upstairs “. Pragya di asked- “Coffee, toast biscuits and fish chops, for adda session, good with you? Boys? “. We readily nodded our heads. She came back within ten minutes from the kitchen holding a family-size tray, filled up with the ‘fuel’ for the adda.
While serving the food in our plates, she began to unroll the canned reels of her life. She said with a smile,” Stop me, whenever you feel bored! I’m sure you’d feel doing so very soon”. She continued – “You know, I was the elder child, overly pampered by both of my parents. I was given extreme freedom while growing up, which has been enjoyed probably by a very few, given middle-class family structure and thought-process of conventional Bengalees. Even Rit has not seen much of that freedom. A perfect childhood one might say! Both My Dad and Mom were extremely liberal. You won’t believe, but it’s true that my first pack of cigarettes and bottle of rum was gifted by my dad.”
I said, “Isn’t it too much to believe that a Bengalee Dad, a popular doctor in his own right, introduced her daughter to liquors?”
She replied back with confident smile, – “Dad always believed that if the parents can show the child, what the fuss is all about, it kills the curiosity in the child and stops them from going out and seeking it themselves and getting into troubles unknowingly.”
I said, “That added to your wisdom and power of discrimination, thanks to the great Almighty!”
She continued – “But there’s a dark side to my early childhood, which I have not been able to tell many people. As you guys are grown up, and you have come to me to listen to, I am going to say this to you today. My dad had a resident medical assistant with him, during his early years of practice. The guy used to stay with us.”
“Staying of additional members or outsiders with a family for quite a long period was a common scenario in those days, it seems “– Ritwick responded.
“Yes, indeed it was!” Pragya di replied – ,”But his stay at our place was literally a curse for me. “
I clearly saw her trembling in rage, while she was talking about this. I told her to have a sip from the coffee cup.
She continued, “I was sexually abused by this guy, for not one or two days, but over a period of several months. I was only a 4 –year-old at that time. I knew something bad was happening, but didn’t have enough vocabulary to give vent to what happened. I used to say ‘bad man’ whenever I saw him. I used to hide behind my parents. I almost became hysteric. My parents didn’t understand what was going on. They kept on telling me not to be rude to others. There was no mark of violence on my body, and the guy didn’t rape me either. There was no evidence that I could show my parents. But he forced me touch his private parts, he kissed me, touched me. It was so sickening experience. I was relieved when he had to go back to his village once, and didn’t join back at work afterwards. Much later when I was a teenager, I told my parents everything. Dad tried to catch this guy by collar, but he couldn’t get hold of that bastard. He still roams unpunished among us, somewhere.” she took a pause with a tightened chin.
Another round of coffee was poured to our cups. She continued to unfold her life incidents, leaving us semi-shocked, semi-hypnotized, – “But that incident made me aware of my body so much, that I started hating my body. I made every effort to make myself look ugly, so that no man would ever find me attractive or touch me again. I was sour, depressed.Over the most part of my teenage,I hated all men, treated them with no mercy. I made myself strong physically, used to bully boys, and beat them up in the playgrounds. I turned violent, kind of hyper-aggressive insecure alpha female. The boys in my school were afraid of me; as I gave vent to my rages quite often and they were at the receiving end. “
I stopped her and asked,” Why didn’t you see a doctor at that time?
She said,” My parents were the pillars of my strength. They took me to UK for a change, away from the stinking confinement. The one month in UK changed me a lot in terms of social skills, appreciating new culture, and new people. I learnt to be polite to others. After we returned from the vacation, I joined a new school for my higher secondary studies. For the first time in my life I had great friends. I became popular among them. I loved every bit of it. “
“End of the dark night!”, both Rit and me said with touch of happiness.
Didi replied back with a smile, “Wait! Let me take it forward! I was not concentrating on my studies at all, so my grades fell, and consequently I had to seek admission in a local college, where my downfall began again. A silver lining was seen when I fell in love for the first time in the college. But it didn’t work out, and I started getting depressed again. The depression was like vicious circle, it came and went. Somehow I started to believe that my first love failed because I was abused as a child. I couldn’t express myself to anyone. I began hurting myself, slashing my wrist, hitting myself.”
She took a pause, wiped off her nose and continued- “Finally one day I went to several medicine shops asking for ‘Alzolam’ (medically Alprazolam), a sleeping pill. I fabricated a story that my aunt was ill, and she couldn’t sleep at night, so she needed the medication. Some refused but some shops gave me what I asked for. But the strange part was that, barring one shop, none of them asked for prescriptions and gave strips of prohibited sleeping drug to a 19 year old girl. This happened within the limits of a so-called educated and aware society! I got really depressed one night and consumed 48 sleeping pills and went to bed, next to my grandma”.
I was shocked to hear this and I asked – “48 tablets at a time! Incredibly bad it was“. She replied in a cold voice, “I just wanted a peaceful death in my sleep.” With a choked voice she continued telling, “When I opened my eyes, I saw myself in a medical ward with pipes running through my body, I didn’t ask anyone even a single question. I got another chance to live. That was the first time I saw my dad sobbing uncontrollably, bending over my bed. I felt as if someone had run a knife through my heart. That very moment made me think that I was being too selfish. I promised my parents that I’ll fight back. I sought help from professional counseling services and got over my depression. I did really well in the final year of my college, and joined a master’s degree course. And here ends a big phase. And I will stop here if you are already bored”. I was so absorbed that I couldn’t reply her back.
She went on, “But the Almighty had different plans. It is during end of 2001, a friend of my mother brought a marriage proposal for me, of an NRI engineer, born and brought up in USA. He was very handsome and indeed rich. Everything seemed too picture-perfect to be true. But this time some serious problems were awaiting me, as I went with my hubby Anurag, to USA. He was never happy with me, as he felt I was too slow cope with the western life-style. He made me feel unwanted and rejected during the first month of our marriage. He had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and had a beastly violent temper. When he was normal he could be quite charming, as if he had two personalities within the same framework. For petty daily life issues he would start screaming at me. At times he hit me, pushed me down the stairs, locked me in rooms, and used filthy languages at his will to insult me and my parents. He restricted my phone-calls. I had neither friends nor my family, whom I could talk to. I felt trapped, suffocated. My avenues of help were all closed. He never treated me as an equal. Rather I was more like a cook, cleaner and maid for him. He himself admitted at times of having smaller opinions of women. Later I came to know that he had a history of hitting one of his previous girlfriends for cheating on him. He was proud of the fact, and had said, he would do it again if I were to do something like that. His high level of aggression really made me scared. Then one day, while I was cutting some onions, he entered the kitchen, and was about to slap me for not doing a chore he had asked me. For the first time I scared him badly with the knife. Had he tried to hit me that day I would have stabbed him. That incident triggered in mind the thought that I must leave him. I told my father that I was leaving him and he supported me. I arranged for all my certificates, money, my jewelry, and left everything else behind. I didn’t tell him that I was leaving him; I just called a cab and literally ran away, while he was at work. I know it was a cowardly show from my part, but I didn’t have any more energy left within. And I was sure; had I told him of this, he would have hurt me even more brutally. I ran away to one of my dad’s friend’s house in New Jersey, hid there for a while and then filed for the divorce. I went to police, did all the formalities by myself, as my parents were back in India and couldn’t help me; a 25 year old Bengalee girl literally rose from a mere mortal world to a divine height, I must say!”
Our fish chop was over by that time. She offered more, but we didn’t let her go to the kitchen. Our hunger had already died by that time, walking a very long path along with her.
She told, “I love my simple life now, I am married to a wonderful person, have a beautiful daughter, and I truly believe if you have the courage to fight back, you can always save yourself, come what may. And one more thing, no matter how much I suffered, I have never felt myself to be a victim. It only made me stronger as a person. I am a fighter. I will remain a fighter and god willing I’ll teach my daughter to be one too. Take my word”.
Just when she finished her words, 4-year old Mimi entered the room telling ” Mommy, I’m feeling hungry and Dad too.”
We knew it was the time for Pragya di to put off the fighter’s jacket and resume the role of a mundane mother, a caring wife. All of us became busy in getting ready for the lunch.
Please Note: The names and places have been changed to protect the identity of the people involved.