I AM, I Said

I danced barefoot through the yellow mustard fields, swinging my arms in the air, a song on my lips. My heart fluttering like a butterfly under the clear blue sky of Bengal. Nothing of what I went through last night was on my mind. I was going to the next village where there was a woman vaid whose medicines, I was told would cure my mother. At home I left behind three sisters to look after my mother. I was fourteen and eldest of them all. 

It was midday, before I reached the vaid. By the time I returned home, it was dusk. The bamboo door to our thatched house was open when I came to the door. My sisters were standing outside, crying. Inside, my mother had breathed her last. I dashed inside and fell on her body, crying Ma. I shook her body, “ Ma, look at me….Ma….” She had closed her eyes forever.

Placing my sisters in the care of my Pishima ( my father’s sister), I ran from door to door, begging for a few paise/ one rupee, whatever, to buy the wood to burn my mother’s mortal remains. Ours’ was a poor village. Even as they saw me approaching their door, they closed theirs, knowing I was going to ask them for charity. Late in the night, I returned to my small mud hut, and sat besides my mothers’ body weeping, anxious about what I would to cremate her body next day. When the first ray of light illumined the night, still dark, yet with the first signs of dawn, I tied my mothers’ body with a rope and dragged her through a water canal to the nearby river. I left her body on the river bank, and began to walk back to my house, looking back as many times as my eyes could see. My mother lay on the back of the river, without a trace of pain she had suffered for days before she finally passed away.

But I stored the pain in my heart, her pain and mine on losing her.

With no one to support us, my Pishima directed all of us to sit on the road and beg for money. We were sometimes lucky. Not always. Then one day, she married me off to a hijra who already had three wives. He beat me everyday till I ran from his house and returned to my Pishima. Within days, the village Postman, told me that there was a lady in Bombay who was looking for a girl of my age to baby sit her 12 year old niece. She would pay for my journey to Bombay and send me back home for a vacation every once in a year. I was overjoyed. In a month I was in Bombay. How strange and different this city was. I feared coming out of the house even.

I called this lady Ma, because my Pishima told me to do so. She was a very kind lady. Her niece had come from some distant place to stay and study in Bombay. Besides looking after her niece, she taught me to cook and read and write. I was an eager learner. I loved the new world of letters. Soon, I was able to sign my name. She opened the first Post Office Account in my name and taught to earn and save. When I went back to my village after a year for a vacation, I had bought clothing for my sisters and my Pishima. It was a very unique experience. MyPishima was so proud of me. 

The stars were shining on me. Within three years, I got another job in a film producers' house, which paid me more. Here my feet grew wings and I traveled to Chandigarh to look after an aged, bed-ridden lady. Soon I flew out to Hong Kong to baby sit a little girl of seven. 

It is here I met the first man I loved deeply. He had passed out of a catering college and was working at a house of a Diplomat in Hong Kong. We saw each other regularly and our love gave way to passion. Our bodies often bound together. I was free but back home he had a wife he said. He said he wanted to marry me. I was looking for a support. Someone I could call my own and share my life with. In 1999 we returned to India and until the last he promised to marry me. Once in our country, he said he would take me home to meet his parents but actually he disappeared. The address he gave me turned out to be false. I was devastated. After this betrayal I shut myself out from everyone. 

In the meantime, since I had not lost touch with Ma and her family, on her behest I bought a small flat in Pune, in a society with the money I had saved over the years in Hong Kong. From the old mud hut in my village, I was secure living in this city with a roof over my head. I had also secured my future with a Bank balance and plenty of gold ornaments to look after urgent needs that might come up. I could never forget the night I had no money to buy firewood for the last rights of my mother.

It is not possible to hide from your own self and your deepest desires. It is human to want to love someone and be loved in return. My window opened again and a bright young boy, struggling to become a fashion designer reached my heart. I was reluctant and afraid. In fact he was many years younger than I was. I tried to avoid him. But he persisted. He took me to meet his mother and made me a part of his home. How could I know that the perilous road had only just begun? I lost myself in his arms and all the passion and the love unrequited, the lies told, the betrayal felt by my first love melted in a torrent of love and surrender to this man.

For full two years, Joy and I, were lost in a paradise of love and passion I had never known nor felt, I would ever know. What happened in these years, is hard for me to relate nor even understand but at the end of it, I stood alone shocked and stunned at what destiny was doling out to me once again. Did I deserve it? My mind said no. The facts that stood before me were horrendous, much worse a betrayal than the first. In his desire to go to London to complete his fashion designing, he had made me mortgage my house, for a paltry sum of Rs 1,50,000. He took the entire sum from me. When I took the papers to my Ma and her niece, they were aghast. I had actually been duped to sell my house at the above amount! But this is not what I wanted to do, I panicked. Day and night I began to receive threatening calls to vacate my house. Or pay back the money. I had lost all my savings to this new love. I had even sold my jewelry for his studies. I was bankrupt. And once again, no body came forth to help me. I was alone. The battle again was mine alone to fight. 

All my learning, my ability to do my own bank work, read Hindi, which I learnt with my own initiative and Sanskrit , in order that I may read the Gita, did not prepare me to read a legal document. When he proposed mortgaging my flat, I said I would like to ask Ma about it. 'Why bother! It is only for three months. You know we will free the house in just four months'. I believed him. 

My Ma and her niece suggested I lodge a FIR. Joy threatened to kill himself if I did that. I felt helpless. Time was not on my side. The threat calls were intensifying in the same time, Joy was also threatening me day and night. I became numb. Then one morning, Joy came in the morning and began to fight with me.

' You have no faith in me. I will return the money I told you.'

' But how?' I questioned. ' Three months are over already and you have not left the country!'

He became furious and made a dash towards me. In his blind anger he raised his hand in the air to strike me ' ' Who the hell are you to question me?'

I grabbed his hand mid-air and a voice I had never heard before emitted out of my throat '

' I AM', I said, ' I am Sumitra. If you do not know me yet, I will show you now'.

I kicked him out of my flat. I stepped out into the sun again and went to the nearest Police Station and lodged a FIR against him and the buyer of my flat.


More by :  Julia Dutta

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