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Divorce brings out the strangest reactions in people. I’ve written reams about the shunning and other ignominious forms of ignoring that are the immediate lot of the recently divorced or separated person. I mention this again and again with disbelief and something close to horror because I cannot imagine treating anyone like that.
This attitude to other human beings isn’t because I have suffered from being treated like that. I would have been warm, welcoming and loving to anybody who was going through the terrible turmoil of divorce. And that holds true even for my pre divorce days. So I was surprised when people whom I had counted amongst my friends turned around and behaved abominably. Charmingly, one of these “friends”, in the first two raw weeks after the separation called out out to me across a crowded garden party – “Where is your husband?”
“Not here.” I’d replied, poker faced. And never spoke to her again.
But the reaction I’m going to write about is not the expected one of being treated like a pariah.
Shortly after I moved out of our home a neighbor, we’ll call her Mala, phoned me, she wanted to meet. With dread I dodged her suggestion that she come over to the rented apartment I was staying at, and arranged to meet her at a coffee shop. The apartment was a far cry from my earlier home which was a sprawling mansion that I had built with great care and decorated with great love, filled with artifacts, dogs and happy children. The apartment was dingy, cold with pock marked floors, no furniture other than two floor cushions and a mattress. To those-who-don’t-understand it may have seemed a bit of a comedown. To me it was a breath of fresh air; it pulsated with the oxygen of freedom. I didn’t think she would see it quite like that.
My real friends, my pillars of support questioned my wisdom in meeting Mala at all, certain that it would be unpleasant. I went ahead anyway having braced myself for a telling off, for pleas, a round of questions regarding my sanity and other such charming attacks. She started off by telling me that she appreciated my meeting her. We drank coffee and she went on to tell me how much she admired me. My guard went up immediately, sure that this was her way of stroking me before giving me the slap that she had come to deliver.
She went on in the same vein as I grew more and more tense. She began talking about her own marriage. She told me that she was very unhappy; her relationship with her husband was terrible. But, she had chosen to stay on. She was not going to make any changes because she didn’t have the courage to. She was quite clear about it. And strangely her own fear of change was what made it possible for her to truly empathise with me and understand the herculean effort it had taken for me to take the plunge. I received no judgmental condemnations from her.
I came away from that meeting having learnt a thing or two about human beings. It’s astonishing how many people have confided in me about their unhappy marriages. ‘But so many of them choose the life that they are used to instead of a new one. I have no quarrel with them, everyone has to find their own way and do what’s right for them. Having said which I cannot help but quote Virginia Woolf, whose 130th birthday it is –
“I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse, perhaps, to be locked in.”
A freelance journalist and teacher, Kalpana is a feminist, an animal rights activist, passionate about
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