People suffer for their own reasons. I don’t know who exactly is to be blamed for her sufferings – herself or her family – but as a fellow human being I have helped her find a job, and through the money earned from this job she is supporting herself and her daughter. After witnessing her plight, I once even thought of marrying her but, as a human being, one cannot totally ignore one’s home and society. An ordinary person like me cannot rebel against society, no matter how educated he or she is. To be able to rebel against society, one has to be a bit crazy. For an average working class man like me, the barriers of society are too strong and the family’s ‘honor’ too dear. So, knowing that I cannot bring her in my life no matter how much I felt for her, I did what I could for her. I found a room for her to live in and a basic job to earn a small income. A stranger, I had done enough for her. She was very grateful to me for all this.
People lie until lies work out for them. People hide their vices as long as their hearts aren’t broken. This is exactly what she did.
The first time I saw her was at a simple hotel located in the alley behind the campus. She looked pretty in her group and a man would always hang around her. He was her lover. A handsome guy, Saroj looked alright. I would go to the hotel to eat food before leaving for my office. Watching them while eating my food, I would feel despondent thinking about my own youth. I had never experienced the company of girls. This was maybe because of my shy nature. Anyway, one day Saroj was very angry and she looked very sad. Tears were rolling down her cheeks and Saroj kept repeating one question – “Why did you lie to me?” “I was forced,” – she repeated.
After my meal, I left for the office and she was still crying. After that I never saw either Saroj or her at that hotel.
After a long time, I saw her at the hospital one day. She called me over and asked why I had come to the hospital. I told her that I had brought my sick brother and she said she had brought Ram dai’s daughter. That day, we didn’t talk more than that.
On another day, I saw her near an infamous park. Though I was not surprised to see her there, I moved closer and called her over. For a while she panicked but she soon became normal and tried to run away from me. But I held her by her arm, took her a bit further and said – “It’s people like you who are educated but don’t have the courage to work who have given a bad name to the country’s youth and made them look worthless.”
She didn’t say anything and lowered her head. After my 15-minute tirade was over, she asked me for some money. I asked why.
“I haven’t eaten anything for the past two days. After I couldn’t bear the hunger anymore, I came here hoping to find someone. It’s my bad luck that you found me here.”
I did not believe that she was hungry. Still, I gave her a 100-rupee note. She quickly grabbed it and bought rice, lentils and vegetables from the nearby shop and invited me to come to her room.
She kissed the girl child who she had introduced as Ram dai’s daughter, opened the door and started to cook. I asked who the child was. She replied that she was her daughter.
“If that’s so, why did you lie to me at the hospital?”
“At that time, I felt as if I could do anything and didn’t want to disclose that I have a daughter.”
“Oh, this is why Saroj left you, isn’t it?” I took a guess.
She didn’t say anything.
“God knows who the whore has brought to her room today,” – We both heard the voice coming from outside.
“Who is she aiming those foul words at? What vulgar language!” I reacted.
She smiled once and said, “They are aimed at us.” I was raging with anger. “Who is that?” I shouted. After I saw a look of terror on her and her daughter’s face, I settled down.
“Those pure words are coming from my very own mother. This house is my maternal home and this kid is my daughter and I am an abandoned woman.”
I was shaken by her revelation. Speechless, I fell on the chair. Anybody would have reacted in the same way to such words from a young girl and so did I.
Now she is 21 years old. She was married off at the age of 17. Her husband was 30 back then. He would get drunk in the night and beat and torture her. He would fight with her over her dowry. To escape the torment of her husband, she had come to her maternal home to live a free life. At her maternal home, she was treated well in the beginning. But after they tried to send her back to the same husband, she rebelled and since then nobody thinks good about her.
Though her story is a long one, this is what I have understood in short. She had spoken out against her husband’s atrocities and was a champion of freedom. Her husband could not take this and threw her out of his home. She came back to her maternal home where she gave birth to her daughter and continued her studies.
But she soon realized that she was an unwanted guest at her maternal home. She started looking at every guy on campus hopefully but no one paid her attention. Saroj, however, showed interest in her.
But Saroj was scared off when he learnt that she was already married and also had a daughter. He was never seen on campus after that. Now she was an odd person at her maternal home.
That day, she was forced to pay a visit to that infamous park. She hadn’t eaten anything for a couple of days. She could bear the hunger herself but she could not tolerate her daughter’s cries for food. That’s why she had ventured to that park.
She prepared the food. Her daughter ate quickly. She also requested me to eat but I said – “My hunger is gone seeing you both eat.” She got my point and looked at me with eyes full of tears. I left for my room soon after they finished eating.
Then I started visiting her regularly. I don’t know why I started caring for them. I cannot love a married woman because this is prohibited in my society. An ordinary person like me doesn’t have the courage to go against society.
Later, I found a job for her; she would take her daughter to the school. She no longer wanted to stay at her maternal home. So, I found a room for her. She lives there with some hope for the future.
Only tenants live on the ground floor of that house, those with very low income. She looks at their life styles and thinks that she is better off. All the tenants of that house have their own stories. When I go there, she tries to entertain me by telling their stories.
The landlord’s family lives on the top floor of the house. They are Newars. The landlord, an old man, is a former district education officer and shows some interest in politics.
Tenants live in all the six rooms of the ground floor of that house. They all have a life of their own. Among the tenants living there, she is the only woman without a husband. In the morning, the husbands of all the other tenants go to work. Their wives cook the food, eat, clean the utensils, sunbathe, gossip with each other and again cook food in the evening. The husbands who drink get drunk in the evening and beat their wives for nothing and sleep. The husbands who don’t drink share their achievements of the day with their wives; they sleep when they have nothing substantial to share.
Because she is somewhat educated, she likes to study the lives of other tenants and tell me their stories. I like her presentation style.
Let me tell you their stories in brief. Let’s begin with the story of the tenants of Room Number 1. The Ghale couple lives in Room Number 1. They have come from eastern Nepal. Masini had eloped with 30-year-old Ghale when she was 20. Talking about Ghale’s income, it’s enough to feed the couple and keep them clothed. Still, Masini becomes sad when she turns to her past.
Before eloping with Ghale, Masini used to live with her elder sister and brother-in-law. Her parents had died when she was still a small girl. So, her elder sister and brother-in-law raised her like their own daughter. Her brother-in-law was a school teacher. His income from the school and private tuitions was enough to feed the three of them. Masini’s elder sister would go to work at a tailors shop and get some wages.
As he had no child for many years, Masini’s brother-in-law loved her very much. But one day, Masini eloped with Ghale. Her brother-in-law did not go about looking for her but he did not eat anything for nearly 15 days.
Masini’s only ‘fault’ was that she was unnecessarily black. No man who came to see her with the intention of marrying her visited her twice even though she had crossed 20 years of age. Then she eloped with Ghale, thinking that her future was insecure.
Ghale, on the other hand, was from the so-called lower caste and was subject to discrimination many times. So, he had always dreamed of marrying a Brahmin girl. This was the reason why he had not married anyone else even though he had reached 30. Though she was black, Masini was an expert in household chores. The memories of her brother-in-law still haunt her. She never forgets to mention that she became smart because of her brother-in-law.
There was only one thing she did not like about her brother-in-law – “Masini, you are black. Who is going to marry you?” This question always haunted her. That’s why she had eloped with Ghale though she hardly knew him. People don’t need big things to get hurt. Even small things bring about earthquakes in people’s hearts. She did not like it when everybody repeatedly said, “Masini, you are black. Who is going to marry you?” So, she proved to everyone that she was also a ‘marketable’ girl though she was black.
One day, Masini met her friend Neeta. Neeta told her how sad her brother-in-law felt about Masini. Masini takes that day as the saddest day in her life. Her brother-in-law had said to Neeta, “Neeta, I am really hurt. I wouldn’t be hurt this much even if my wife had died or eloped with someone. I loved Masini so much that I carried her on my shoulders but she shat where she ate… she shat where she ate.” After that incident, Masini’s brother-in-law has become like a dumb person. This has become Masini’s greatest sorrow. She had eloped with Ghale for a small reason though she knew that everybody at her home loved her very much. With people you never know…
A strange family lives in Room Number 2 of that house. In other words, an example of a social malady resides in this room. Devi has two children. A daughter of 28 years and a son of 20. Devi’s husband also lives there but he is her ‘unofficial’ husband. Devi addresses him in an offhand way and just calls him by his name. They all sleep in the same small room and from time to time the unofficial husband looks greedily at her 28-year–old daughter but fears his unofficial wife.
Devi’s daughter was once sold to a brothel in Mumbai. So, for her all men stink and all that they want from a woman is sex. Still, she keeps the wish of ‘keeping’ a husband through her legal income after earning enough money.
Her brother goes to school in the morning and gets involved in hooliganism, roams the city the whole day and returns to their one-room home just to sleep. He has been failing the SLC exams for the past four years.
Her so-called step father is a ticket tout at the cinema hall. Nobody knows why he is bearing this burden. People say that Lile’s father and Junky (the step father is known by this name at the cinema hall) were childhood friends. It is said that Junky is looking after them because his childhood friend had, just before dying of tuberculosis, asked him to do so, like in the movies.
Lile was a grown-up girl at the time of her father’s death. She had protested when she learnt about the illegitimate relationship between her mother and Junky. But the mother’s decision prevailed. This was not tolerable to her and, therefore, she left the house. Later, she was rescued from a brothel in Mumbai after a lot of effort.
Later, Lile found the pimp who had sold her to the Mumbai brothel and got him arrested. Though the police freed the pimp after receiving a hefty bribe, Lile went to the police station, tore her clothes off and threatened the cops with the accusation of rape if they did not give her a good share of the bribe money. The cops and Lile split the bribe money equally. With that money, she has opened a beauty parlor in the city. She doesn’t have to threaten the police anymore. She lives a life of dignity outside her room. These days all that she needs is a husband. She doesn’t have any other ambition. She is looking for a husband not to fulfill her physical needs but to live a ‘dignified’ life and be fearless.
In Room Number 3 live Ramesh and his wife. Ramesh is a peon at the municipality office and is quite naïve. They have a daughter who studies in a boarding school. Almost all their income is spent in paying the exorbitantly high fees of the school. Therefore, they have only one square meal a day. Rama had told Ramesh that she wanted to work only a short time ago and Ramesh had agreed. After a few days of work, Rama’s boss at the garment factory asked her to do some overtime. She returned home only at 10 in the night. Ramesh had already arrived home and was waiting for her. He cooked the food, fed his daughter and ate. When Rama arrived home, he asked her why she had come back so late. There was no reason for Rama to keep it hidden; she told him the truth. Then Ramesh kicked her and ordered her not to go to work anymore.
Rama does not talk to anyone that much these days. She has become thin and stays inside her room. She is afraid that people will notice how thin she has become because of not being able to eat enough. Her daughter, too, has become thin. She knows that her daughter is malnourished but she is sad that she cannot do anything about it.
Bimala, her husband and mother-in-law live in Room Number 4. Bimala’s story is interesting – people say that Bimala and her mother had come here from Rasuwa to earn some money. They got a job spinning yarn in a garment factory soon after they arrived here. A mother and her son who Bimala’s mother knew also happened to work in the same factory. After the introduction part was over, they decided to live in the same room.
As they continued living in the same room, a love affair started between Bimala and Kishor and they eloped. Both Bimala’s mother and Kishor’s mother looked for them. Though they were found they said they had already got married at a temple. Then Bimala’s mother thrashed her and planned to take Bimala with her the next day. But the boy’s mother took Bimala and her son away and hid them somewhere. After this was known, both mothers fought with each other pulling each other’s hair. But at last, Bimala’s mother gave up and returned home saying that her daughter was dead to her.
Bimala was very hardworking and good at household chores. Her mother-in-law had liked her because of her devotion to work. The adolescent boy had passed his SLC but he did not like spinning yarn. So, he didn’t work. He would always ask Bimala for money and roam around the city, in the pretext of looking for a job. As his old mother’s income alone was not enough to feed the two of them, the mother was looking for a daughter-in-law who could work and feed all three of them. Seeing that Bimala was one such girl, she had even encouraged her son to elope with Bimala. These days one can hear Bimala scolding her husband and mother-in-law in a loud voice. That means she alone has being feeding the two of them.
In Room Number 5 live Deepak and Goma, the rich parents of a five-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter. Though Deepak brought Goma into her life out of a love marriage, his fault is that he brings into his life any girl or woman he thinks will fall for him by promising to marry them though he already has kids. When Goma learns about this, she somehow finds out where the girls live and tells them the truth. Then the girls pack up and leave.
At times, Deepak disappears from his room for a month or two or sometimes even for a year but he always sends the money that Goma needs no matter where he is. He suddenly appears and then disappears. Goma is fed up with this.
Nobody knows why he has been working hard recently. Goma, too, has found a job as a dishwasher at a house. They have recently put their son in a boarding school. One can hear the son reciting the English alphabet with his father until nine in the evening.
In Room Number 6 lives, well, she lives there. Perhaps others talk about her in the same way, dragging me as well into their conversations. But nothing can be said for sure as no one has said anything out loud.
I’d visit her every other day. But once I did not go there for a week. When I reached there in the evening one day, she was angry with me and refused to talk to me. I asked why. “Where have you been for all these days without giving any information? I was really worried about you. How can you do this?” she replied back.
I was in a mood to tease her. So I asked, “Who am I to you that you get so worried about me?”
She didn’t say anything. I realized that I should not have asked such a question. But the kid said promptly, “They say you are my father, are you?” An unmarried man with a soft heart, I was scared at what her daughter said. I yelled at her and said “be quiet” loudly. She started crying and her mother started cajoling her. “It seems the gentlemen living in the other rooms have put this thing in her mind,” she explained while comforting her daughter. Then she looked at me. Her look suggested that she wanted to know if I could fulfill her daughter’s wish.
I became restless. I looked at her. Now she was comforting her innocent daughter. It was not appropriate for me to stay there any longer. I felt awkward. My heart became heavy. I exited without saying good bye.
Her daughter’s question kept haunting me. I couldn’t sleep for two-three days. Her look of expectation kept hovering in my mind. That innocent child needed a father, like other children. Other kids’ fathers visit them at school, kiss them and love them and then leave. She was looking for a father who would love her in a similar fashion. I had realized that her mother, too, was looking for such support; that day she had made it clear through the way she had looked at me.
With great trepidation and inner turmoil in my heart, I sent a letter home in which I had written that I was going to bring into my life a widow and her five-year-old daughter. If you agree to my decision, I had written in the letter, then come to the city and give all three of us your blessings and if you don’t come then I will take that as your disagreement.
A week later, I went to her room. Her room was locked. The kid and her mother were nowhere to be found. I asked their neighbor Bimala who lived in the next room. She took me inside her room and locked the door.
Kishor or Bimala’s husband was lying on the bed. He moved a bit after seeing me. After I sat down, Bimala told me that she had eloped with the landlord’s son to Birgunj. I don’t remember clearly what she told me afterwards.
She had taken my yelled reply as a ‘no’ and, therefore, had proposed to the landlord’s son, who had been eyeing her up for a long time, and they had eloped.