Mirror Magazine

Go your own way
By Chandani Kirinde
Peals of laughter fill the house. A birthday party is in full swing. The little girl blows out five flickering candles. Her mother kisses her on her cheek and feeds her a piece of cake. A camera flashes. The scene is startlingly in contrast to the picture of two years ago at the same house.

Then, an open coffin lay in the centre of the hall. The little girl looked around bewildered at the sight of her mother and other familiar faces crying. She did not understand why they were all so sad. She did not know her father lay dead in the wooden box in the hall.

It had been the two most difficult years of Indumathi’s life. Her happy and sheltered life with her husband Rohan and their three-year-old daughter Kavisha was turned upside down within a few hours. Rohan had left home with the usual cheerful wave of his hand for office. A few hours later a colleague called to say Rohan had collapsed in office and was rushed to hospital. Almost out of her senses, she grabbed her daughter and caught the first available three-wheeler to get to the hospital. She wasn’t prepared for the news that was to greet her there. Her husband was no more. He had died of a heart attack. He was thirty-five years of age and she was a widow with a child at thirty. There was darkness all around and she wondered how she could continue to live without the man around whom her life had revolved for so many years.

Two years had lapsed since then. She hadn’t fared that badly in the past two years. The first weeks after Rohan’s death were filled with nothing but numbness. Without Rohan around to support her, trying to get on with a new life felt almost unreal. She was at times unsure whether all this was actually happening to her or if she was in the middle of a nightmare from which she would eventually awake.

But reality also began to set in. She had to raise their child, educate her and see that Rohan’s dreams for her future were realised. They had made so many plans for their daughter together. Now there was only one of them left to fulfill those dreams.

She was fortunate to have the unconditional support of her parents as well as Rohan’s parents. They were devoted to their granddaughter. But even with all the support there were certain battles that she had to fight alone. Being a young widow was one.

People looked contemptuously at widowed women and for Indumathie it was no different. She knew she would have to learn to live with all the gossip and slander that such women had to endure. But she was ready for it. She decided to face the world boldly without letting such hostility pull her back. She had to do it for her daughter. And in a strange sense she felt she had to do it for other women like herself; women, for whom society showed little sympathy, who were looked at menacingly and blamed for no fault of their own.

She had seen several of her friends struggle in the role of a widow before she was thrust into the same position. Indumathie then realised that the mantle of widowhood was a huge burden for even the strongest woman to bear. She had a friend who was left widowed just six months after her wedding. She was subject to such step-motherly treatment that she decided to take up a job as a housekeeper in the Middle East just to get way from the unpleasant happenings.

There were things one never thought would end up being problematic such as how or where the funeral should be held or who should take possession of the household goods or who should keep the dead man’s photographs that became matters for disagreement between her and her dead husband’s relatives. Indumathie was fortunate not to have to face such issues.

But outside the family, there were everyday incidents that were hard to ignore. The very sense of awkwardness that people were showing in her presence that did not exist before made her feel uncomfortable. Having stood in Rohan’s shadow ever since her marriage to him and having lead a sheltered life with an overprotective father before that, Indumathie was treading unchartered waters. The feelings of insecurity were overwhelming. Whether she went to the market or a family function, she could hear the hushed voices with which many talked about her. “Her husband collapsed in office and died recently,” the ones who knew her were obviously whispering to the others. “She’s left all alone with a little girl,” they would say. What else they were saying behind her back she could only guess.

If she spoke too long to a man, soon the stories would spread that she was “carrying on” with someone. At the same time being civil to a man also placed her in an uneasy situation at times with her politeness being interpreted as an “interest” of another nature. One sad reality that set in was that it was women themselves who were harsher in judging their own kind little realising that they too could be placed in such a situation someday.

Trying to ward off unnecessary attention and hostility at the same time was a tough task. But a few years into her new found “status” as a wi-dow; she was learning to cope well. And despite the outward changes in society reflecting it as modern and forward thinking, any young newly widowed woman would soon realise nothing could be further from the truth. Many people still expected a widow to go sans her earrings, or any jewellery for that matter and wear white and mourn for the rest of their lives. The scornful glances that came Indumathie’s way when she stepped out wearing her pre-widowhood clothes were hard to miss.

Two years had passed since the day Rohan had left them to walk the long and rugged path of life by themselves. Indumathie had taken small steps between then and now but for her they were giant strides. She had got her daughter admitted to a school of her choice. She had used a bank loan to start a plant nursery. Plants were her passion and now she was making a healthy income selling them. She knew she would have to work hard to secure her daughter’s future.

But her biggest achie-vement in the past two years was that she had, once again, learnt to walk with her head held high and leave behind the feelings of guilt and shame that she once felt as a widow. She had learnt to live life on her own terms and not on the dictates of society.


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