By Leann Rodrigues
Content warning: suicide
Basking in the humid fervour of the unmerciful summer sun, Malti winced at the thought of dreadfully waking to a new day. The dream had ended. The pleasure was terminated. The cacophony of relentless conscious cogitations had blown away the euphoria that adorned her dreams. An unrequited yearning was bound to define her destiny.
The quintessence of a typical middle-class household couldn’t be epitomised any further. The locale of Dadar ironically imbibed the eccentricity of their circumstance. While Dadar means ladder, the bourgeois folk has spent years to make it to the top of that ladder, constantly scuffling the spite of spiralling poverty on one end and the conspicuous charades of affluence on the other.
Malti hustled. The morning grind involved an early rise, preparations for breakfast, ironing a faded school uniform along with the ‘breadwinner’s’ clothes, cleaning the house, and finally, catching a glimpse of the contents in the fourth-grade science textbook in her daughter’s school bag. She would attempt to make sense of the world in those words.
Like many others, Malti was one to be married off when she barely crossed the threshold of adolescence. The cadence of knowledge was interrupted; education was snatched away from her. It wasn’t that she fought hard to retain her right to education. She didn’t. At that point, she could not even figure out the depths of her existence and identity. She accepted this as the kernel of truth, ready to step into the realm of ‘conjugal bliss’ with the blue-collared man who determined her fate.
“He is not that bad ya; the man burns the midnight oil for you. You shouldn’t even complain,” Malti’s mother chided colloquially when she confided in her about her husband’s inability to pay for an adult school course she wanted to take up. “You’re a mother now. Educate your daughter. Why are you wasting his hard-earned money on something that’ll never bear fruit?”
“At least I’ll be able to help my child with her studies! I feel terribly handicapped when I’m unable to do so. We can’t afford those costly tuition classes too!”
Malti, in response to this incredulous clarification, only spoke in silence. She hung up the call. Only in her dreams could she reckon a realm where her aspirations weighed more than her obligations. The dunes of her dreams didn’t seek explanations for her desire to study; the depressions of reality did. Did she really want to learn with the sole objective of helping her daughter? Only her intramural conceptions could tell.
Daydreaming isn’t a great habit. Well, if it isn’t maladaptive, it might as well be productive. Malti dreamt of only one thing: a lady of poise, the possessor of all the knowledge that the universe had to offer. She didn’t think of the incorrectness associated with the distinction between a ‘woman’ and a ‘lady.’ The reverie relentlessly revived the visage of a feminine entity endowed with the spirit of high self-esteem and regarded with elevated approbation.
Falling out of the trance, her conscious would compel her to materialise this ecstasy into a legacy. This did seem like a navel-gazing demeanour that would devour her sanity someday. She was self-absorbed; but again, nothing seemed to have gone wrong.
Finally, once the rapturous reverie ended, she realised that it was already time for her husband to leave for work. She hastily packed his lunch and handed it to him. Her mind swirled with euphoric warmth that resulted from the morning’s wool-gathering activity. The smile on her face prompted a pat on her husband’s back. She didn’t realise that she had unwittingly made his day.
After her husband’s departure, it was her daughter’s turn to set off to school. The little one put on her uniform and shoes and walked out of the house. Her mother lurched behind her, carrying both: the school bag and the weight of the pride that held the bag on her shoulders. The mother-daughter duo walked to school. While Malti delighted herself in the vestiges of her dream that resonated the thrill of flipping through crisp pages, the euphoria of blotting ink on paper, and the transcendence of knowledge across intellects; her daughter frowned bitterly as she made her way to the temple of rote and monotony.
After dropping her daughter off at school, Malti visited the local library. She spent hours attempting to inhale the aura of silence that enriched the erudite minds. She picked up a few children’s classics and began to observe the intricate illustrations that cryptically called out to her. A. A. Milne’s creation, ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’ whimsically wrenched her line of thought. From a reader’s note, she gathered that each character represented a mental disorder. Immediately, she ruminated on this new information. She couldn’t identify herself with any of the characteristic traits. Was she alone? No. Was she depressed? But it was always her dreams that buoyed her spirits, negating the faintest possibility of the major depressive disorder. She thought of her husband who, in spite of his inability to give them a comfortable life, strived hard to put a smile on their faces. He wasn’t alone. After making a name for herself, she could supplement the family income and help their family stay afloat. She could study, get a job, make a name, stand tall.
No, it wasn’t narcissism. She wasn’t the rabbit from Milne’s domain of fancy.
The effervescence of newfound refinement from the day filled her heart with mirth. Her id instinctually fraught her conscious with the flippant desire to build castles in the air. Once again, the force that works by the moral principle failed to withstand the thrust of the pleasure that convolutedly lured her into her daydreaming routine. There she was, a woman of substance, a lady of esteem, and the addressee of the highly exalted ‘Madamji.’ Gone were the days of hearkening to the morose tunes of ‘Didi’ and ‘Behenji’ that slipped her into the hackneyed category that women were classified into.
“Madamji”, her lips tenuously muttered.
It was 5:30 pm. She walked towards the hotel that her husband worked at. It was ironic how he would drive innumerable cars every day, without even having one to call his own. He was a chauffeur at a suitably starred inn at Parel.
While her feet dragged her to the hotel, her eyes ushered her to the stationery shop in the adjoining building. As soon as she stepped into the store, her face lit up. She was oblivious to the world outside. She was taken aback by the sight of glutted shelves, the cutaneous sensation of running her fingers across the course handmade paper, and the ever-fulfilling inebriation of scrawling pen on paper.
She picked up a few coloured pens, a chart paper, and a notebook and hurtled towards the cash counter. She fell short of a few rupees. Leaving the items at the counter, she set off to bring the balance from her husband who would be off from work in a few minutes. She couldn’t wait to take home her newly purchased accoutrements. She made her way to the hotel only to see a throng of cold bodies gathered around something in front of the visibly shaken building. The commotion only got ominously intense. Malti’s curiosity grovelled.
“He’s gone”, said a quivering voice from among the bystanders, “The sixteenth floor isn’t merciful.”
Not wanting to intervene in the matter, Malti asked from a distance, “What’s going on? Did someone suicide?”
Not a response resounded.
She looked. She trembled. Her breath grew heavy and a stark pallor clouded her face. She whimpered faintly as she saw the body of her husband, all wan, lying in a pool of fresh blood.
“The man was sad. Every day he would arrive with a quaint frown. Today…today was different. He was smiling,” said the watchman at the front gate.
After corroborating details from his colleagues at work, it was gathered that Malti’s husband was facing a financial crisis. He earned just enough to make both ends meet. He was overwhelmed with the thought of being inadequate, of failing to keep his family happy. It grew so malicious, that it began to feed on him from within.
His close friend recalled a conversation with him on that fateful day.
“You look great today! How’s Bhabhi? What about the little one?”
“She’s happy…they’re happy. I can go now.”
And that was that. She had indeed made his day. He could finally leave this tumultuous world. Finally, he could breathe.
What did that mean for Malti? Life wasn’t a fairy tale after all; not for a middle-aged Indian widow who dared to dream.
Two things died that very day- the dunes that buoyed her spirit and the depression that sunk his heart.
Leann Rodrigues is a first-year student at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi. She houses an abyssal passion for poignant poetry, and staggering sting-in-the ‘tales.’ She has been wallowing in writing activities since the age of twelve, with a warm inclination towards fiction that titillates the brain to reckon the paltry-seeming intricacies. She currently dwells in a muddled realm, embroiled in a conundrum about her life’s calling. She can be found on Instagram