Those were foolish dreams. What good can come from leaving a monthly paying job to pursue something so irrationally unstable?
The fifth winner of our March 2020 Muse of the Month contest is Manisha Sahoo.
There she was. The second person. I did not understand her trepidation. All I did was get back what was mine, which had been taken forcefully from me thanks to her. One glowering look and a firm demand for it had the other kid scampering away. But she would not have it; she began to regard me as a monster from that moment on.
A single bar of chocolate labelled me so. I looked at it for a moment with passing disdain before I unwrapped it and bit into its chewy goodness. If she deemed it better to be a coward, I could be a monster. I did not care.
As we grew older together, encased within the same environment and the same set of rules, she and I became more and more distinct. I was always the bold one and my actions only served to increase her uneasiness with me.
However, she was the decision maker amongst us. All my determination and power was lost every time she made the final choice. It never matched with mine.
Her “What you said is right, world” won to my “I’ll prove myself right, world”.
Her “I’ll do what you tell me, world” conquered my “I’ll do what I want to, world”.
I was trapped in a vortex of unending pain from being ignored and subdued over and over again. For a person who never confronted anything, how did she have the strength to shut me down? I could not understand it.
As time went by, I too fell in line with her demands. I stopped appearing in my “temper”, as she called it. I stopped arguing with her. I watched her grow more and more miserable each passing day, but I held back from voicing my opinions. I was afraid of being disregarded.
With these thoughts swirling in my head, I could not help but worry. Even if she had never listened to me, what if she might have after some time, had I persisted? I might have been dormant over the years, but I had not abandoned her. Would she even recognize me if I spoke up now? Would she –?
No, it was not the time to be trampled by the crippling what-ifs. I had wasted many years of both our lives by moulding into someone bound and tied by the “ways of the world”, when I had been born to rise.
She had no complaints to voice. She never did. She found it to be a ridiculous waste of time. Unless some change could be effected by the complaints, why bother? Her time was more meticulously spent in the 9-to-6 job. It might not be what she would have liked to pursue as a career, but it was stable and helped her survive. What else did she need?
She had never been late for it, except on that fateful day.
“Slept in? You’re rarely late, what happened?” one of her colleagues asked as she hurried in, breathless.
“Oh, uh, no. A bus broke down,” she replied distractedly, dropping her handbag and lunch pack on the carpeted floor, and focused on turning her computer system on.
“Are you all right?”
“Yeah, no. It wasn’t my bus.” Soon as the desktop was loaded, a series of pings erupted from the screen. “Okay, I’ve got a lot of mail to answer. I’ll catch up later,” she quickly added before he could say anything more. She grabbed a chair sitting empty at the corner of the cubicle with her left hand while her right one worked the mouse. She opened the first e-mail, detailing the changes discussed in the meeting the day before. One by one, she scrolled through all the e-mails, and replied where necessary, typing with ease and expertise.
The Outbox blinked with the number (3) for a couple of minutes before it disappeared. She checked the Sent folder to verify the replies all went through and sighed in relief. She grabbed her water bottle and unscrewed its cap. She tilted its mouth over her lips, her eyes locked on the bright screen the entire time.
Just as she realized the bottle was empty and was about to look at it to make sure, another ping sounded from the monitor; it was a notification for an incoming e-mail. Within seconds, the Outbox lit up again with a number it should not have: (1).
The subject line of the new e-mail, ‘Guess who?’, froze her momentarily before she once more noticed the blink of the Outbox. She tried in vain to close the bottle, but the cap just would not fit. In a near panic, she let them both roll away on her desk while she pulled urgently at her mouse.
She could only glimpse at the subject line of the outgoing mail before it disappeared from the Outbox.
She quickly moved to the Sent items and gasped at the sight of the first e-mail in the queue. How… how had that happened?
Something slid out of the lower right corner of the screen and she remembered the unexpected e-mail. But first things first, the sent mail had to be retracted. She frantically clicked on the “Recall” option, except it would not activate. It was greyed out, disabled!
Her heart began to palpitate as she switched windows to go to the Inbox. Her fingers would not stop trembling and beads of sweat had lined up along her forehead. She almost whimpered as she clicked the unread mail open.
I took the privilege of forwarding the saved e-mail to the proper authorities. Why even keep a resignation letter around in the Drafts for over six months without taking any action on it? You’ll thank me later.
As you might have guessed…
She did not need to read the sender’s name. She really had guessed who it was.
That was it. That was… it.
Soon as the words sunk in, her vision blurred, her eyes overflowed and she sat there, staring at the impossible e-mail, frozen beyond belief. Did the sender not realize what was at stake here? She had made it thus far after giving up on her dreams, her aspirations and her ambitions. She had settled for this job because… because… because…
Suddenly, her mind had no reasons for her.
Frustrated, she pushed her chair back, stood up and stormed out of the office. Some of the employees in the room turned their heads at the noise, but none of the gazes lingered at the closing doors for more than half a second.
She furiously wiped at her tears and stomped towards the end of the corridor. She needed to see her team manager right away and clear the misunderstanding. She knocked at the door, and entered the room when permitted to do so.
But before she could get a word in edgewise, he had accused her of and reprimanded her for trying to use a resignation letter as a threat for a pay raise. He got the project manager on call as well and she did not spare her either, told her in clear terms how easily she could be replaced in this industry and how many would kill to be in her position right now.
She stepped out of his office, pale and drained. Her eyes were red, the pupils dilated. Her fingers folded into fists, the knuckles turning white. Her jaw was set tight.
She walked with quick steps towards the main office area, but instead of turning to the doors, she turned instead into a smaller corridor and went inside the first door on the left, marked as ‘WOMEN’. She stopped in front of the mirrors, and slammed her fists on the edge of the wash basin. She let out a cry of frustration and eyed her reflection angrily.
Words of both the managers rang through her head like whispers of the wind haunting an empty mansion, echoes bouncing off the walls and somehow growing louder.
She ran her fingers through her hair, messing up her neatly combed strands.
She had written the resignation letter when her performance report had been manipulated so that another employee could be bumped up for a promotion. But she had not sent it. She had let her head cool down and made a compromise of the situation. She had concluded to focus on her work.
Even if six months had passed and she had not perused it again within that time, she still remembered it word for word. And she knew there was no mention of the atrocious reasons they flung at her.
She looked up again at the mirror and finally noticed me. She blinked once as if to make sure I really was there.
“Hi,” I said, to break the ice.
“You… why did you do it?” she asked bitterly, her cheeks flushing crimson.
“Because you were so miserable!”
“I was not.” She glowered at me. “You have no right to suddenly show up like this. I’ve been doing fine without your distractions.”
My expression darkened and I asked in a low tone, “Is that why you’ve been reading those old compositions every day for a month and crying over them? Because you are fine? Because you do not need me?”
“So what if I did? I cannot go back to that. Those were foolish dreams. What good can come from leaving a monthly paying job to pursue something so irrationally unstable?” she shot back.
When I did not say anything, she asked again, “What good is it, huh?”
“Because it’s what you want to do! Isn’t that good enough for you? Is it really fun for you to be depreciated to such an extent? Did you not hear what they said? Do you like hearing such accusations?”
“What else can I do? Quitting is not the answer!”
“Well, don’t then,” I replied, lowering my voice once more. She looked at me in surprise. “You have three months of notice period before you,” I continued. “Why not try to recapture the one thing that made you happy? If it still makes you feel the same, you can withdraw your resignation.”
What made her happy? She could answer that in a heartbeat: Poetry. Her verses.
She stared at me for a moment before she took a long breath in and leaned over the basin. She washed her face, wiped it dry and proceeded to fix her hair.
Her submissions got rejected so many times, I lost the count. She brooded over it every time and I nearly got fooled that she would let go of it again.
But she did not.
“Someday, we’ll succeed.”
I could not agree more. Now that she had slowly accepted and imbibed me within herself, I could feel happy pulses flow through her senses more often. After all, I was her own sense of self-preservation, her feeling of passion and her self-confidence.
Editor’s note: It’s the new decade of the new millennium, and here’s a fresh theme for our beloved writing contest, Muse of the Month. In 2020, we bring to you quotes feminist women achievers around the world – we hope to bring you some food for thought, and look forward to the same engaging short stories that are a hallmark of our Muse of the Month contests.
Here’s the woman for March 2020 – March is Women’s History Month. And who epitomises Indian women’s history to where we are today, than Savitribai Phule, the woman who started education for girls and women, as well as for the Dalit-Bahujan samaj in the mid-1800s? As a co-incidence (there are no co-incidences, someone has said!), the anniversary of her death is on 10th March – she passed away on 10th March 1897, while helping people suffering from bubonic plague in Pune.
Savitribai Phule’s life and work was not known much till a few decades ago, to some extent as a result of the discrimination she faced as a ‘lower caste’ woman, promoting education for those traditionally kept away from any knowledge. But let’s not forget, that today we, Indian women, can read and write all thanks to her. She has recently been honoured by the naming of Pune University as Savitribai Phule Pune University. You can read a quick timeline of her life here.
There is not much saved of her words, though a book of her poems, Kavya Phule, is still in print in Marathi. A few of her letters written to her equally illustrious husband Jyotiba Phule while she was recuperating from an illness at her parents’ home, also survive, and the English translations are also available in book form – an excerpt from this book can be found here, from which I have taken the cue for the March Muse of the Month.
The cue is this quote by her: “Success will be ours in the future. The future belongs to us.”
Manisha Sahoo wins a Rs 500 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations!
Image source: unsplash
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Clumsy. Awkward. Straight-forward. A writer, in progress. A pencil sketch artist by hobby.
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