I kept checking my watch. I was about to begin a new job. Not a job that I had dreamt of, but a job nevertheless. I should have felt elated and happy at having got a job at the age of 35 with no prior experience. Having lived a life of a housewife, or a “homemaker” as they call themselves today, all these years, I cursed myself for having fallen into this trap called ‘marriage’ and felt depressed at having to work. But money was the current priority of my family, and I was their ‘genie from the bottle’ who ought to fulfill all their wishes. So here i was going in a bus to the first job of my life!
Many a random thought crossed my mind as I was going, from very normal ones like ‘had taken the appointment letter’ to very irrational ones like ‘what if the building had just disappeared by the time i reach there’. The overpowering fragrance of a perfume put an end to my increasingly illogical musings. I looked around and noted the lady who had just taken the seat behind me. I automatically noted that she was wearing a beautiful red chiffon saree with big black roses printed on the skirt part, the upper part had been kept plain. She wore a silver chain with a diamond pendant, a matching silver bracelet, and silver earrings all studded with stones. The whole ensemble emanated a silent elegance which somehow jarred with the crowded bus. It was only when she gave a knowing smile, that I realised that i had been shamelessly staring at her! I gave a weak smile and took a sudden interest in the sultry images of the dry and hot city scenes that passed by me.
I kept scolding myself for having been such a fool, when my stop arrived. I got up and turned to see that she too was getting down. After the bus left, we both crossed the road and as i watched she went into a big building named ‘Olivia Gardens’. It looked like a huge gated community. I continued watching her for another minute or two, when my phone rang.
Yes…got down the bus just now…
O… ok… will hurry”
That was my mother-in-law, calling to check if her slave had escaped. Of course, i couldn’t for she used my 10-year old daughter from my first marriage, to keep me enslaved to her son. As I looked around, I found the board I was looking for.
“Gyana Bhavan Senior Secondary School” , it said and pointed an arrow towards a narrow lane.
I must have walked for about 15 minutes. Many kids, small and big, passed by me, but none were wearing uniform. Though i guessed that these must be the kids of the school where I was about to join, their not wearing uniform surprised me.
The school was quite big, with 2 large playgrounds, on either side. The presence of such a spacious school right in the heart of a city astonished me.
As per the instructions given to me, I met the Vice Principal, who told the peon to take me to LKG –L section.
He walked through the long corridor and I followed him, looking around and absorbing the sights of shouting kids and teachers all around me.
“There, that is L section” he said pointing to a room at the far end.
I walked with unsure steps, wondering if I will be able to manage a class?
As I entered the class, i saw a bunch of tiny tots looking upto me with eager eyes, some smiling at me, a few howling, some running around and one or two sitting quietly and a lady shouting at them to be quiet. As soon as she saw me, she came and asked, “Are you the new teacher?”
I nodded my head and I could see that she felt very relieved on hearing this.
“Ok.. you can start the class…” she said and left.
I looked around, not knowing how or what or where to start. As if reading my thoughts the teacher from the adjacent class popped in and said “Maybe you can start with a simple prayer, introduce yourself and get the kids to tell their names. By the way, here is your attendance register. And get started as soon as possible, for in 10 minutes, Principal ma’m will be here on rounds.”
And so began an eventful day, filled with laughter, howls, music and scoldings from my part. By afternoon my throat was sore, as I realised that these angelic looking kids can be quite trying too. This would continue to be my routine for many more years.
I also noticed on my very first day that, in this school everything in a teacher’s life right from class prayer, to going to toilet, to eating lunch, was punctuated by the “Principal Mam’s “ rounds.
As days passed, I became more adept at handling kids, and the kids too started responding to me. With my life at home becoming more and more difficult, repeated taunts from my mother-in-law and physical abuse from my husband, I was finding solace in these kids. The school became the place I looked forward to go to each day.
The one thing that had not, however changed in my life was my fellow-traveller – the elegant lady I had seen on the bus on my first day, whom I had by now named “Rose”. Though i wanted to get to know her, never did I try talking to her for I felt too shy after the incident on the first day. But I felt we shared a strange bond. Just as one doesn’t take any special notice of the furniture in our house till it goes missing or is misplaced, similarly we had become used to seeing each other every day,
Without even being conscious of it, we looked out for each other every day, and it had become a habit. When we got down both of us went our way, but we always exchanged a parting look, an iota of smile playing on our lips.
This saga of silent acknowledgement continued for many years. I never mentioned about her to anyone at home, not even to my daughter. I always wanted to know more about her, and where she was going everyday but my day-to-day problems kept me preoccupied never ever giving my curiosity a chance to overpower my mind and actions until that day.
It had been raining incessantly for the last one week. Many parts of the city were flooded. All schools had been given holiday. I was not sure if teachers were required to come or not, but i didn’t go. Our home too had been flooded, and we shifted to a nearby refugee centre, which happened to be a Government school. My mother-in-law and husband were quick to blame me for this predicament saying that I had squandered away all my salary and should have used it raise the height of our house. They even blamed me for the heavy downpour pounding the city!! Having heard such and similar ridicules all my life, I hardly bothered about these comments, rather I hoped that being in a public place would help me to probably escape the physical torture at their hands, which by now had become a routine activity. But I was worried about Rose. Where would she be, and how would she be? I had this nagging thought at the back of my mind that something definitely was not right. I knew that she was not well. All my fears proved to be correct when a few weeks after floods her body was discovered in an apartment at “Olivia Gardens”.
I read about it in the papers. Different newspapers carried different versions of who she was and her life. I tried reading as many papers as possible. As I put together the pieces, a very tragic tale unfolded in front of me leaving me dazed.
My “Rose” was known by the name “Nitya” in real life. The death of her husband marked an end to her peaceful life, and when she stepped into a second marriage, she made perhaps the biggest mistake in her life. Her husband and family forced her to work and earn while they squandered away her earnings and tortured her for more. She was taking classes for a special child who lived in that apartment. Her calm and elegant appearance that had initially drawn my attention had just been a mask that successfully hid her agony. The police found that she had been physically assaulted and tormented, and very old marks suggested that this had been going on for perhaps many years now. The police were still looking for her husband who had absconded. Her in-laws had been arrested.
Perhaps my first day had been hers too; perhaps just like me she may not have worked for many years; perhaps that might have been her first job ; perhaps…as the train of thoughts whizzed forward, i started noticing an odd similarity, very unusual to be termed ‘coincidence’. A strange fear gripped my heart. My happy married life had been smashed to pieces by the death of my husband and the second life that I had chosen, had given me nothing but misery. Each and every printed word seemed to be mocking, challenging and warning me as to what fate awaited me.
Truth can indeed be stranger than fiction! Who was telling the story ? And whose story was it anyway ?
The words fluttered and flew in the wind.