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‘If He Is Gone, What Is The Use Of Living A Good Life?’ They Ask My Newly Widowed Mother!

They made her feel that she had committed a grave blunder by stepping out to enjoy. The guilt of not mourning properly weighed down heavily on her.

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It is more than a month since my father has passed away. The pain. The grief. The denial persists.

Our cellphones have not stopped ringing since the day Baba passed away.

It is surprising that people who have never called my mother have decided to call her now. They are people who have never bothered to enquire how my father was faring when he was alive, or how my mother was managing her husband’s illness. Not a call, not a visit! But they chose to call the moment my father made an exit.

Initially, we tried hard to understand the reason behind their sudden reappearance.  My mother assured us that maybe they were suffering from guilt and were trying to make up for it.  It was much later that we realized there was a commonality between the calls.

Mrs X called after years. She lost her husband decades ago to a heart attack.

Mrs Z called the very evening Baba passed away. She called not once but twice, insisting to speak to my mother.  Ma accepted her call. Z, we remember, had lost her husband to a gruesome accident when her kids were very small and she was quite young.

Soon, Mrs A, B, C and many others called. They have all lost their husbands!

A, B, C, X, Y, Z are all widows.

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We sat there, listening to the conversation.  To our utter disgust and horror, we realized that these women have an agenda.  They are women, who have lost their husbands and are still grappling with the loss. They are unhappy and insecure and have nothing to look forward to.  These women have chosen to live in sorrow.

Recruiting other widows!

And they have a target. The target of enlisting like-minded women! My mother, a newly bereaved woman, vulnerable and gullible, suits their target well.  The perfect fit for their gang.

We conclude that this is nothing, but a widow brigade.  

It is unfortunate that a group of widows, young and old, is out on an enlistment drive. As soon as they hear of a death, especially the death of a male member, they grow desperate to get in touch with the widow. They call to express their sympathy for the bereaved woman. Tears are shed, as they listen to the widow patiently. Once the hapless woman has quieted down, the brigade offers their condolences and assure her of their unwavering support for they are familiar with the pain. It is the principle of universalization that ultimately seals the bond.

There are other notable aspects, which we observed.

These women have not come to terms with their loss. They keep revisiting that fateful chapter, escalate the sadness and feed it to whoever is listening to them.  The pain and trauma remain like a wildfire threatening to spread any moment.

The new widow instead of feeling comforted ends up feeling helpless and sinks deep into the abyss of loss. That is what the brigade wants. As the woman sinks deep, they lend a hand, not to pull her up but to push her down. This way the new widow remains under the control of the brigade.

Any efforts by the newly widowed woman to rise above her grief are met with strong resistance

Let me cite some examples. We took our mother out for the first time after Baba had passed away. One of the ladies called. ‘Oh, you are out? A leisurely ride, is it? Good to see that you are trying to enjoy and put behind the trauma. Yes, it’s important to forget this sad chapter.’ All I saw was the light dimming in my mother’s eyes.

They made her feel that she had committed a grave blunder by stepping out to enjoy. The guilt of not mourning properly weighed down heavily on her.

Take the instance when we pestered her to put a bindi. An acquaintance asked me. ‘Did you put that on her forehead? Ahh, times are changing. These days widows can put on anything.’ Thankfully, my mother was not within earshot. Else, she would have removed it immediately.

One evening I found Ma clearing her cupboard. The reds and oranges were stacked on one side and the whites on the other.  She informed me that the bright colours were no longer for her. A widow is not supposed to wear them.

I put back the saris and told her that colours are an integral part of our life. My father who was a flamboyant man would not appreciate this sacrifice. Much later, I came to know that it was for the fear of society that she chose to give them up.

I looked at the widow brigade. True, they never flaunted any colours. It was always stark white with a black, blue or brown lining. The white denotes sacrifice and is an offering of respect to the departed soul.

Is my mother a sacrificial lamb to these outdated customs?

After a week of my father’s passage, an acquaintance had the gall to ask me. ‘Did you wipe your mother’s sindur properly? The hair parting should be scrubbed clean, you know! Else the departed soul would never get over the maya.’ I sat shocked. The woman who had called me is an educated professional.

It reminded me of a sacrificial lamb. How it is smeared with vermilion, decked with flowers just before the slaughter.

That makes me question why are women always sacrificing themselves on the altar of duty? Why is it that the women have taken upon themselves the task of preserving the archaic rules?

Give up colours. Do not eat non-vegetarian. Live a life of self-restraint. And mourn.

The dictats have remained the same over time. Just the tone has changed.

For example, questions are reframed to sound like this. ‘Will you still wear white? Well, why not? These days no one follows such restrictions. But you know I gave it up. At least this much I could do much for my husband,’ says a member of the Widow Brigade.

Regarding dietary restrictions, they inform us. ‘I know it sounds archaic. But giving up non-vegetarian food has been followed for years. I completely gave it up. There is no point enjoying the food he loved.’ The popular refrain is, ‘if he is gone, what is the point of living a life?’ For a married woman, the right to live is lost the day her husband dies.

My father’s death just proved that our society hasn’t changed. It has simply become refined. The age-old dictats are handed out in class and style. It’s no longer crude like before and comes carefully garbed in the name of love and companionship.  And it’s unfortunate that the show is run by the women themselves.

Image source: a still from the film Ramprasad ki Tehravi

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About the Author

S Sen

Sreemati Sen, a Masters in Social Work (MSW) From Visva Bharati, Shantiniketan. She is a Development Professional, specialised in Psychiatric care of Differently Abled Children. That hasn’t stopped her from exploring other fields. Years read more...

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