She answered, “Balia. At my in-laws.”
“You traveling alone?”
“No, No. My husband is sleeping up there.” And she bent down a little and then twisted herself to face upwards and pointed at the upper berth.
Anindita had noticed the man snoring there. She said, “Oh.”
It was quiet for sometime. Then the woman said again, “He is my husband.”
Anindita smiled and nodded. The woman continued, “I have one son. Only eight years old. I was married twenty-two years ago. But I was not having children. We went to the doctors. They could not do anything. They said nothing was wrong with me. They wanted to examine my husband. So, we went to a Babaji. He is a great man. He still lives in Rishikesh. We go there every year. He did a Puja and then after years of regular fast and Puja I conceived. Everyone at home was relieved. My husband had become so upset with me.”
There was nothing for Anindita to say. She smiled. And during the complete journey, the woman took the job of talking and left the smiling part to Anindita.
She kept quiet for sometime and continued again, “My son’s name is Rahul. My husband named him, after Shahrukh’s name is Kuchh Kuchh Hota hai. You have seen the movie, haven’t you?”
Anindita nodded. She continued again, “It is a good movie. I wanted to name him Mahesh. He was actually born on Shivratri. But Rahul is good. It is a better name. Are you married?”
That was a shocker. Anindita smiled and said, “No, I am not.”
“Good. It is very important that girls should work. We are illiterate. We can’t even name our children properly. Mahesh is such an old fashioned name. Is it not?” And she laughed.
Anindita said, “No why would it be old fashioned? It is good.”
“No, it is not. Everybody laughed when I said that name.”
Anindita kept quiet. Sometime later, the woman started again, “He is in class four now. He is very naughty. He never listens to me. He doesn’t treat me like his mother. Not at all afraid of me. Whenever I try to scold him, he would always beat me and run away. He is so restless. Never comes and sits with me. He sits with his dad though. Actually his dad brings him gifts and chocolates. I remain busy with my kitchen work all day. When I get some time in the afternoon, he sleeps with his grandmother. At night also he sleeps with his grandmother. In the morning he goes to school with his dad. I rarely get him close to me. He is so restless. How could I?”
A pause again.
“I work all day. Early morning, Rahul goes to school. Then two of my sisters-in-law go to college. Then my husband goes to work. I prepare breakfast and Tiffin for all of them. Then my Mother-in-law needs a massage. Then I have to get things ready for her bath. Then I go for cooking. After everybody eats, I clean up, take a bath and then finally get time to eat for myself. Its usually 4 o’clock when I eat. What time do you eat at home?”
Okay! That was a question. Anindita replied with a smile, “Usually 2 o’clock.”
She kept quiet for a moment, and then started off again. “Do you know to cook?”
“Yes. I am not a great cook. But I can manage well.”
“Arey, you all study. You can cook. That is all. My sisters-in-law do not cook at all. They always go to college and come home with friends. I know all of them. Actually I prepare the snacks for them. I meet them. So, I know them. They are all good girls. The only problem is they cannot cook. You cannot tell your husbands that you cannot cook. Can you?”
A longer pause.
“Rahul is very intelligent. My husband says, he would one day become a doctor. His father brings him so many toys. The toys do not last even a day. He breaks them off. I tell my husband to scold him sometimes, but my husband says that a child breaking toys is a good sign. It means your child is very intelligent. And my husband says that with all the money he earns, why I should worry about my boy breaking toys. So, I have stopped worrying. But you know what, this will spoil his habits. So, I worry sometimes. But most of the time I do not worry. After all, my husband knows better than me. When he is saying everything would be alright, I am sure about that. I am uneducated. How would I know anything. So, I always……..”
She was stopped by her snoring husband, “Bahot bol rahi hai tu. Thoda kam bola kar. Shuru ho jati hai bas. (You are talking too much. Talk a little less. Once you start, you never stop)”
The woman shut up completely. For a long time, she did not utter a word. Then she moved closer to Anindita and said softly, “I talk too much. But I don’t talk this much when I am at home. At home, everybody is so busy. Nobody has time to talk. I, myself am so busy all day. My husband is a very strict man. He tries to make me presentable. But I am illiterate, so I don’t know his ways. So, I never go out in front his friends. He has very good friends. They come home. I never talked to them. Both men and women. But those women are not like me. They are educated and smart. Like you. He has enough trouble with me. Poor man. So I stay out his way. I try not to trouble him much. I don’t mingle with people much… neighbors I mean. What would they think of my husband if they find out that he has an uneducated wife? So I stay all by myself and pretend to be very busy. So, I don’t have many friends.”
And she continued.
That evening, as the auto-rickshaw sped through the darkness, from the station towards her home, Anindita thought about the women. The unnamed women she saw that day. The two unnamed women, she would most probably never see again. The woman who spoke irritatingly until you would feel like shouting at her, asking her to shut up. But surprisingly, Anindita did not shout at her. Surprisingly, though irritating, there was somewhere a vast loneliness build up inside a heart that could have been wonderfully sweet. Loneliness, from where Anindita knew, she would never come out. She would never know what it meant to be special, or be loved and respected. She felt that flow of words trapped inside a woman, who was forbidden to bring up her own child her own way, to love him or lull him to sleep at night. Anindita thought of all those unspoken feelings that lay behind each word the woman had said to her, which on a first impression would have been sounded like empty and useless chatter.
That night, after dinner when Anindita got into bed, she opened her diary after years. She read a few pages. The last entry was 6 years and few months ago. Once done reading, she scribbled until sleep closed her eyes, the pen still between her fingers and her head on the scribbled ink soaked up by the lined paper.