Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Freedom at 55 - Palani Amma

She is 55 years old...and she had the guts to run away.

I dedicate this post to Palani Amma, my maid of two short months, PalRaj's wife of 38 years, mother of one, grandmother of two and one hell of a gutsy woman.

It happened almost a week ago... She came to work as scheduled, as she did every morning at 7 am. Looking back it seems that she was a bit anxious that day... And why not...she was a bird about to take flight that morning..breaking the manacles of a forced matrimony; one that she had endured and survived for thirty eight long years.

Going back to that morning...she had seemed tense and in a hurry to finish off the assigned chores. She even asked me for some money. Unfortunately, I was out of change and could not give her the petty Rs 500 she wanted. If only I'd known why she wanted the money I would have readily parted with the Rs 1000 note that I had. Anyway, she left my home at 9 30 am and that was the last I saw of her.

PalRaj, her husband rang the doorbell at 6 30 pm, asking to speak to his wife. When I told him I hadn't seen her since 9 30, he asked me if she'd told me where she was going off to. I realized something was amiss. He told me that she'd left the house unlocked, taken her clothes, her gold, most of the cash, some utensils and all the grocery. He looked worried and I asked him if they'd had a fight that prompted her to go away. He acknowledged that they had been arguing a lot lately. I did not make much of it assuming and telling him that she would probably have taken refuge with his daughter, who lived nearby, for a few days...perhaps for a change, or perhaps because she was genuinely upset with him.

He returned the following morning carrying the news that she was no where, not at their daughter's or friends or relatives... She had disappeared. Now I was worried. Where could she have gone?

A migrant from a remote village in Tamil Nadu, amma (as we fondly called her), had come to Delhi with her husband 35 years ago. Although she had been here so many years, her Hindi was awful and she had very little knowledge of the geography of the city. I requested him to lodge a police complaint. He refused.

He refused! 

He claimed to have been good to her, all his life, fulfilling her desires and demands. He bought her sarees, one recently that cost Rs 7000, all because she insisted. Yet happiness eluded them. She was fond of roaming the colony more than earning a living, he said. He would not waste his time trying to locate her because she'd left him. He insinuated that she had left him because he was an old man and she was younger, much younger.... He had been out of a job, and she had perhaps left him for someone who would provide her better comforts....

I was aghast. How typical! How Simple! How quickly he accused her of infidelity, his wife of 38 years!!!!! 

Later that day, I received a call from his daughter, who apologised on behalf of her mother for leaving me in the lurch. She said, "Madam, please don't curse amma... She went away, back to the village to be with her brother because my father ill treated her. She could not take it anymore and she could not tell anyone either or he would have found out and beaten her. Papa had come here and he knows that she has gone back."

This is the story of womankind...and of man, who would rather slander his wife of 4 decades, in public, than take responsiblity and admit his shortcomings. She marries him and becomes his property. He can beat her and ill treat her at will. If she retaliates, she gets beaten more. If she breaks free, she is labelled a whore on the look out for a better prospect.

I absolve you Palani Amma, acquit you of the baseless charges your spineless husband made against you. I am glad you broke away. I don't know what your compulsions were, why you tolerated him for 38 years...but you have finally escaped. You are on your own now and I have to woder how you will support yourself. Yet, if you have gone away, not once caring to look back, it must mean you are better off now. I hope you find happiness. Your courage and mettle will be an inspiration for many.

Palani Amma made it back to her village in District Erode, safe and sound, three days after her departure.

11 September 2003
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