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My Social Reality That Despite My ‘Divorce’ I Wear The Mangalsutra To Protect My Baby

"It was my decision. I tolerated him being a drunkard. But he chose another girl. When I confronted him, he said it was love, that he loved the two of us. Strange right?"

“It was my decision. I tolerated him being a drunkard. But he chose another girl. When I confronted him, he said it was love, that he loved the two of us. Strange right?”

The clock struck five and indicated to Lena that it was time for her evening walk, as suggested by her friend Reshmi for quite some time. With great difficulty, she dragged herself from the sofa, keeping aside the book she was reading for the past few days, and stepped out of the house.

The basic idea was to inhale fresh air that would help destress her and give her a calm, peaceful mind to face the situation she is currently in, at least that’s what Dr. Reshmi had told her.

‘Listen to every step a doctor says’, a plain mantra that her parents follow and make her do the same.

Lena decided to walk a few streets surrounding her house to return soon. She reached the main road, but the noisy vehicles made her turn back. It was then, she noticed her, more precisely, her smile. She was sitting on a stool on the pavement and before her lay a heap of flowers ranging from roses to jasmine. A flower seller, in her early twenties. That’s a normal scene. What distracted Lena was that she was holding a few paper cuts and smiling at them profusely. When a lady walked in to buy flowers, she quickly hid them under the table cover. Lena walked slowly, ensuring she was still in the vicinity.

Curiosity crept as Lena wanted to know what she was admiring. She tip-toed to her. Startled a bit, she looked at Lena.

“How much is the rose?” Lena inquired like a normal customer.

She showed ten fingers. By the time Lena opened her purse to pick a note, the papers she had been hiding were blown out by the sudden wind. Unexpectedly she stood up and ran to pick them. That’s when Lena looked at her protruding belly. Then Lena helped her to pick the rest and handed it over to her. It had pictures of babies cut from the newspaper ads.

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She happily received them and placed her hand below her lips, then moved it forward towards Lena. Lena understood she thanked her. Lena saw a paper and pen placed beside the flowers. She thought maybe it was to write and show people who did not understand her sign language.

After taking the rose, Lena asked, “What’s your name?”

She pointed to a bunch of lotus flowers.

“Ah, Kamali?”

She nodded in excitement.

“I am Lena.”

She nodded again.

“How many months?” Lena asked, a bit hesitant.

She showed five fingers.

“You look very beautiful. Take care, bye.”

She blushed and waved.

Lena smiled back and started walking home. The next day Lena gave a bunch of stickers that had cute babies smiling in different postures. Kamali refused.

“I’ll take a rose, deal ok?” Lena asked.

Her expressive eyes gleamed with satisfaction.

From then on Lena made it a routine to go for the evening walks. Her parents were surprised to see a ray of brightness on their daughter’s face. Over time Kamali and Lena became friends and conversed more. At night Lena spent considerable time studying the sign languages for herself to get familiar with Kamali.

One fine evening Lena asked about Kamali’s family. Now Kamali’s gestures had turned into words for Lena.

“My father is a bus driver and my mother works as a cook in the nearby government school. After my baby is born, I am planning to search for a job. I have completed my twelfth grade.”

“Your husband?”

She stayed silent.

“Sorry I just. . .” Lena stammered.

“No, we are separated.”

“Divorced?” Lena was surprised.

“In your language yes. For us, the process is different. According to our tradition, we go to the temple of our family deity. There we keep a coin before God and break it using a stone. Me and my husband took each of the halves. That means we are no more husband and wife.”

After she finished talking, it took moments for Lena to process the words. How simple that sounded.

“I am so sorry Kamali.” Lena clasped her palm and spoke lowering her tone.

“No, it’s fine. It was my decision. I tolerated him being a drunkard. But he chose another girl. When I confronted him, he said it was love, that he loved the two of us. Strange right? I can never accept him seeing another woman in my place. I just walked out.”

Lena was taken aback. That also seemed simple.

“What about your parents? They felt bad?” Lena quickly asked.

She laughed.

“They welcomed my decision. Now that they are expecting their grandchild, both of them are taking double shifts to save money for the little one.”

There was so much happiness in her words.

Kamali noticed Lena’s glance over her nuptial chain and toe ring.

“I wear them so that my baby shouldn’t receive any kind of unwanted looks from others in the future as we belong to the low class, according to this society.”

Those words were deep. Lena was trying to take them in.

“What about you?” She asked, retaining her smile.

Lena knew such a moment would come in her life at any time created by anyone. Yet, she never had prepared an answer. She never wore any of the belongings that can term her as a married woman, a sindoor on the forehead partition, a toe-ring, or a black beaded chain. She can say ‘Yes’ but it would not fit the current scenario. A ‘No’ can deny the past.

The trick question had begun to seep in, however. It had become a trick situation. The longer she sat feeling sorry for herself, the less sorry she felt. It’s called a reverse something or the other. There isn’t time to get into that now. Either way, she never knew what word can best suit the query, is it a yes or no?

With a slight nod, Lena then spoke. “We’ll talk tomorrow, it is getting late.”

She smiled and waved.

That night Lena travelled into her past. Three years ago she was happily married to Rishi, an entrepreneur. After the perfect lavish wedding, Lena continued her work as a motivational speaker. She spoke at several conferences and seminars. After two years, Rishi insisted Lena quit her job because he felt frequent travel was the reason she couldn’t get pregnant. Lena was not prepared to leave her job and argued that the issue may be with Rishi. How could she ask such a question? It turned out to be a crime worse than murder because it was stabbing the man’s ego. Then arguments broke that eventually ended in physical abuse. Lena knew she already entered the depression phase and it was time to end everything.

“Are you crazy? It is the duty of a woman to become a mother. Is this the reason you two have fought over? How can you say you have filed for divorce? Did you ever think about our family’s honor? Your only aim in life is to bring disgrace to us?” her mother yelled.

“I will talk to Rishi and make him accept you.” This was her father.

“Why on earth can’t you believe me? I am saying it is over. Rishi and I are done, once for all. The divorce decision is mutual.” Lena screamed from her heart.

“Thank goodness you did not take this mutual decision for some other silly reason after you had a baby. Then our burden would have only increased.” Her mother’s words only pricked her.

It was then Dr. Reshmi, Lena’s childhood best buddy, intervened. She counselled Lena’s parents as well and explained the seriousness of the situation Lena was in. Slowly her parents began to accept her choice and understood that this was the time she needed their love, care, and most importantly their support.

The clock struck two. Sleep seemed far away. Lena couldn’t stop comparing herself with Kamali and went on to some deep thinking.

The basic thing a woman expects in a marriage partnership is self-respect. When it gets shattered due to whatever circumstances that may arise, the only option left is to end it. And there is nothing to feel ashamed of here as society may deem it to be.

‘She couldn’t satisfy his physical desires.’

‘She wants more luxuries than he actually earns.’

‘It is her attitude that makes him hit her.’

‘A woman needs patience and should adjust to her husband.’

What not reasons people can come up with once they knew a girl is divorced, especially when she takes the first step.

The way Kamali’s parents welcomed her verdict, pushing aside the past and working for her future, truly amazed Lena. She switched on her laptop to check her emails. After glancing through, she replied a few confirming her programs in the coming days. She confidently hit the SEND button. Now, she was ready to focus on her future because it is her life and only she can either shape it or crumble it. And she chose the former.

The next evening Lena was all decked up in a pink saree. Her parents were happy to see Lena in her usual style after a long eight months. They felt Dr. Reshmi’s sessions worked.

“Ma, I going to my friends’ house.” She said and walked towards her two-wheeler.

From the address given by Kamali, it was way easy to spot her house. A small one in that entire street. Kamali’s parents were waiting to receive their daughter’s newfound friend.

“Namaste Uncle!”

“Please come in Madam. Every day Kamali talks about you, we are very happy Madam,” Kamali’s father welcomed her.

“Kamali was waiting for you. She wanted you to be the first one to start the bangle ceremony.” It was her mother.

Kamali stood from her chair, but Lena gestured her to sit. She handed a gift-wrapped box and bent a little, took a few glass bangles, and lovingly pushed them into Kamali’s hands. Kamali excitedly tapped them near her stomach.

“The baby can hear, it is kicking me.” Kamali indicated.

Lena watched with joy as few drops trickled from her eyes. A seed of hope, a ray of encouragement can bloom even under a thatched roof, Lena thought to herself.

This story was shortlisted for our July 2021 Muse of the Month short fiction contest. Our juror for the month Jane De Suza says, “An interesting choice of story, this one has the power to deliver a stronger emotional punch. It is a sensitive story and could benefit from some astute editing and tightening.”

Image source: still from Lifebuoy Help A Child Reach 5 – Chamki/ Lifeboy Global on YouTube

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