I woke up with a start and fumbled at the table top beside the bed. With my eyes half closed, I pressed the power button of my phone and squinted to take a better look.
It was three. Waani was still wailing and there was no trace of Amrita in the room. I shifted in the bed and tried rocking the cradle to no avail. Waani only wailed with increasing intensity. I was concerned about Amrita now. She wasn’t in the room and the stillness of early morning broken up by a child’s cries didn’t bring her in either.
I leapt up to my feet and gingerly lifted Waani in my arms. Resting her head against my shoulder, I ran my hand gently across her back, trying to sing a lullaby. Gradually, her wailing turned into a sing song attuned to my humming. Within ten minutes, she was sound asleep when I placed her back into the cradle and rocked it to and fro gently, my thoughts now returned to Amrita. I closed the bedroom door behind me without making as much of a sound. And tiptoed to the balcony. Usually I found Amrita there, supporting herself against the railing often during the bouts of depression that plagued our lives now.
To my surprise, she wasn’t there. I turned and was about to head towards the kitchen when the bathroom door slightly ajar caught my eye. Inside, the light was on.
I gave the door a slight push and it creaked under the force as the bathroom floor came into view. There she was, huddled against the corner,knees together, her face a dreadful mix of agony and guilt. She had been crying.
I said as I sat down beside her and waited for a response.
After excruciatingly slow moments of silence interspersed with our breathing,
She sniffed and turned her face towards me.
‘Is she asleep?’
I nodded my head. ‘She is.
Why don’t you come to sleep as well, Amrita?
When did you wake up?’
She dropped her head and was looking at the floor now.
‘Around two. I couldn’t sleep, Vaibhav.
I have been having these thoughts that I am not taking enough care of our baby. When I look at her, these scary what ifs start ramming against my mind. I am frightened Vaibhav. I can’t do this.’
I listened to her as I took her hand in mine and held it in a warm entanglement of our fingers.
‘Am I a bad mother?’
Only I knew how I had been dreading this question ever since Amrita had delivered a perfectly healthy baby girl three weeks ago. I knew this was coming and yet I hadn’t prepared an answer. I always knew.
I turned towards her and cupped her face in my palms. How I loved her so much it pained me to see her this distraught.
In sickness and in health.
‘No, you’re not. No one can tell you that Amrita. Trust me, you’re doing the best that you can. Would I ever lie?’
It took her a moment to register what I had asked of her and she shook her head.
I wrapped my arms around her and held her firmly. Her shoulders sagged, as if a load had been taken off, and she slid hers across my waist and let her head rest against my chest. I worked my way through her hair, running my fingers along the length and the same tune that put waani to sleep came back to me.
I sighed. With Amrita, everyday was a struggle.I had fallen in love with the amazing person that she was without realising that beneath the facade, there was a soul so utterly devastated that it took humongous amount of effort keeping up with the various manifestations of her depression, now made severe with post partum trauma.
I used to think the baby would change her outlook for the better.She had been happy. She had been all smiles and she had no idea I could see through that. At the second week after the delivery progressed, I knew she’d breakdown. I knew it was imminent and I had hoped I’d be there when it happened because as much as I hoped it didn’t happen, I knew it was inevitable too.
My thoughts were interrupted when she took a deep breath and looked up at me.
‘I love you so much.’
I said, my words caught in a whisper. I lowered my head and kissed her on the forehead.
She tugged at my tee-shirt, pulling at it with all the strength she could muster, and kissed me back on the lips. In that kiss, I could feel her longing to revalidate herself as someone who deserved to be loved. Tears welled up in my eyes and I struggled to keep them from leaving me when I couldn’t afford to seem vulnerable.
I wanted to make my way of dealing with her depression work. I wanted to give her the hope that she searched for, when she looked into my eyes.
When she committed suicide nine years later, she told me in a note that it really worked.
You kept me alive far more than anyone ever could.
Would you run to the store at the corner of the street,
And get us some fresh love?
We’ve run out of it I think.
There’s a little bit sticking to the bottom of the jar;
But that will need some work on it.
I have already tried everything I could think of.
Can you now see if you’re any better at it than I am?
But be careful,
What if the jar falls and shatters,
And we can’t tell shards from whatever remains of our love?
We wouldn’t want that.
Perhaps we can ask funny Will to sell us some.
Replenished with the spark everyone keeps telling us to get.
Though I wonder,
Do they sell refills?
Because I can tell darling,
We are going to be needing it often,
And it will never be enough.
Women who are mothers to us, worrying how we’re making it. What we have had for lunch and just when are we going to marry. Those who became mothers recently and are basking in it’s glory, even those who don’t think they’re carved for the task. Single mothers being a set of parents to their kid. He is going to ask you someday who his father was. I don’t know what you’re going to say.
He didn’t want you, dear.
She stands outside the obscure clinic, her face covered, awaiting her turn. They’re going to extract a part of her and set her free. Free of this judgemental world.
Women who love their husbands and women who are loved. She wakes up to snuggle up to him and he wraps a hand around her. Life’s good.
Women stuck in a loveless marriage, unable to get out. Where will I take my kids? What will people say? My parents will not take me back.
Women who go to sleep, cuddled next to their pets.
And then those who finish a sandwich on their way to office, tackling casual sexism as they drive. Women who are bosses and those who are subordinates.
Women that bleed every month and yet try to pretend they never have it. They can climb mountains on their periods. Why should people get to know they’re having those days of the month. The shopkeeper discreetly wraps napkins in newspaper and then puts it into a black plastic bag. She feels like an undercover agent delivering a package to Matt Damon.
She watches him do that and wonders of she should be as ashamed of menstruation as he is.
Women who shout slogans and those who rather post a status update. Hashtag outrage.
Women who stand tall in the face of obstacles.
You will not go outside to work.
You will not apply for a job.
You will not drive.
You will not go to school anymore.
You will not talk to boys.
Women who carry on their heads bricks to construction sites and lament the builder’s cut in their pay.
Women, truckloads of them trafficked across states to be used as maids in upscale residential localities. Listen, you will take care of my kid and manage the chores while I go to work. Memsaab I don’t like your husband touching me.
To be sold to pimps. To enter a vicious never ending cycle of exploitation. Women who deal in these women without hesitation.
Women sweeping our corridors so that they can pay for the education of their children. Those of them beaten black and blue by their men.
Women motivating other women and those that pull them down.
We are friends.
Our own enemies.
Women who work and those that don’t. The ones creating magic out of words.
Women who are looking for love and those that have given up on it.
Women who are achieving milestones. Women witnessing these women and wondering what they are doing with their lives.
Then there is a tribe of those that find recluse in gossip because that’s their escape.
Women adhering to stereotypes and those challenging it.
I know that We are the same, all of us. Our stories make us different, have us grasping at reality differently.
Some of us affixed like rubber stamps into categories.
I don’t understand how we make that distinction. We are misfits.
Impossible that every woman finds a mention here but those that I have seen and those I know of, do.