“Sarika, it’s me, Deepa.” It was her neighbor and best friend from 312.
“Hey, how are you?”
“Good, I just called to invite your daughter to Ananya’s birthday party today at 6 in the evening.”
“Sure , I’ll send her. If you need any help with the decorations or cooking, just let me know, ok?”, she offered.
“Thanks, but I plan to keep it low key this year. Celebrating, just so that I keep my daughter happy and at the same time, don’t let the tongues wag. I took her to the temple before dropping her off to school, just like her dad always did on her birthday.”
Sarika was amazed at this woman’s courage and perseverance to go on in the face of her tragedy. She remembered the day, about a couple of months back, when she had just woken up and had been jolted from her sleep. She had unlocked her door to get the milk and newspaper when she heard loud wailings and a lot of hustle in the corridor. She saw her neighbor next door look grim.
“Deepa’s husband passed away after a massive stroke today morning” she had said.
As Sarika went to pay her respects, she saw Deepa sitting stone faced, not a tear in her eye, not a trace of emotion on her face. And as she held Deepa’s hand in hers thinking of what she should say, tears welled up in her own eyes. Deepa’s body shuddered uncontrollably as she tried to hide the volcano erupting inside her. Yet, no emotion.
“It’s ok to cry, love. There’s no need to hold yourself back.”
Deepa had looked blankly at her 10 yr old son and 5 year old daughter who sat nearby, oblivious to the happenings around. She shook her head and bit her lips hard, trying to suppress her emotions.
Within earshot, Meghana Kumar, from 110, was speaking to Rashmi Kulkarni from 107. “Isn’t she aggrieved by the loss of her husband? See how she sits stone faced!”
“Kaliyug, Meghana, Kaliyug” Rashmi had retorted and both woman had animated looks on their faces.
Sarika rose determined to give them an earful but she felt Deepa’s hand on hers and sat down.
“It would have been our 13 anniversary next week”, Deepa said, still no visible emotion on her face.
A couple of weeks later, Sarika visited her friend. She saw Deepa’s swollen red eyes as she opened the door.
” The kids are in school”, she said.” I have the luxury of crying for some time.”
It sounded more like a paradox of emotions to her. She held Deepa tenderly till she was drained. Deepa recounted her happier days with her husband and the sudden attack in the morning and her children looking upto her for support. She explained why she had held back her tears.
“Just for the children, Sarika, had I broken down, the kids would have no one to turn to for support. It was very essential that I look calm to them. I make sure they never see me crying.”
Sarika had kept Deepa company, after that, lending her a shoulder to cry on whenever she wanted to unburden her grief.
Later that week, Deepa knocked at her door.
“I have an appointment with the psychiatrist; will you look after Anu for an hour?”
“Sure, is everything ok?”
“No, Amol has turned very violent, anyone mentions his father and he flies into a rage. He needs to be counseled. Do you know the first thing that he asked me after we had bid goodbye to his father? He asked, mom, will I still be able to go to school? Who will pay my school fees?”
“He is just 10 and he is already plagued by this fear” said Sarika empathetically.
“It took me a while to convince him that we are ok for the moment. I had to show him his dad’s bank account statement to make him believe that his dad had provided for us sufficiently.”
Sarika marveled at this young girl, widowed at 34, with two little children to provide for. She had the reasoning to take her son for counseling rather than ignoring his fears.
A few sessions later Amol looked fine and had learnt to cope with the loss of his father.
Sarika met Deepa in the parking one morning. Deepa was readying to go somewhere.
“Hi, how are you?”
“Good. Saru, wish me luck. I am going to meet a client. I have a degree and a short job experience in dress designing. I worked for some time before I got married. I never imagined myself working after marriage! I have prepared my presentation and I hope I get the offer.”
“Good luck my dear. Don’t worry about the children, I’ll be there.”
“You are an angel, Saru. Thanks.”
As Sarika walked to the lift, her heart full of respect for this woman who kept fighting inspite of the odds, she heard Manjula from 302 talking to her relative in a not-so-hushed tone.
“She is the one”, she said pointing to Deepa as she rode away on her scooty. “See she still has the bindi on her forehead. Wonder where she’s off to wearing a nice saree and bangles.”
“Oh, this new generation has no values, I tell you”, the other woman remarked nodding her head as if in disgust. “In our village, a widow would have to shave her head and wear white. Wearing a bindi or bangles would be unthinkable!”
‘And live her life in utter misery at the hands of her disgusting relatives. With no future for her children or herself!’ thought Sarika boiling inside at the apathy of these so called moral crusaders of the world.
As Sarika readied her daughter for the party, the intercom rang. “Mrs. Malhotra, its me, Devaki.”
“Has Deepa lost it? It is not even two months since she lost her husband, why is she celebrating? She seems to have no regard for her husband whatsoever.”
Sarika thought she had had enough. She sent her daughter off to the party and called up all the ladies in her apartment to the office room for an urgent meeting. Everyone was surprised at being called urgently, but all turned up nevertheless.
“Ladies”, she addressed the crowd,” let me come straight to the point. There is a lot of talk about our friend Deepa and the way she is carrying on with her life. Why the stone face, why no display of emotion, why the bindi, why the celebrations….there are a lot of questions being asked.
But you must understand one basic thing. Grief is as individual as you are. Some will heal fast , some will be stuck for some time. But you must respect the person who is undergoing this difficult phase in life. There is a time when she needs to cry and there will be a time when she is compelled to have a new life.
Should we make life difficult for her by our mindless taunts and comments? Does she have to wear a mask of widowhood on her face to show she is grieving? Trust me, she is in much more grief than you could possibly imagine, but she has the guts to carry on in spite of the odds. She wants to give her children a normal childhood and do everything her husband would have done to ensure her kids are growing up fine.
Being alone in an empty house is not easy. There is no one to greet you, and the chair opposite yours at the dinner table is empty. The house seems to echo from the silence and you shed a tear as you remember that you are now alone. So many years together, so many memories you two created together are all you have left.
Losing a loved one changes your entire life, especially when the loved one was also your husband and best friend. You feel completely lost and totally uncomfortable making even minor decisions. The bed feels big and you hug the pillows for comfort.
But something inside you tells you that you can survive!
Let her survive.“ Sarika finished her speech and sat down looking at the crowd in disgust. She waited for questions to be raised and the moral crusaders to go up in arms against her.
To her surprise she could see most eyes filled with tears. Almost all of them left without saying a word. She knew from the look in their eyes that tomorrow morning would be different…..and her friend would finally be allowed to live in peace.