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I am Ganga. This is not my story alone.
In fact this is the only story I have seen around me and heard from the women of my neighbourhood at the end of a tiring day or while waiting to fetch water in the long queue that snakes around the corner of the tall buildings where the lucky rich people live. Of course, theirs is a different story because they live in houses that touch the sky, beyond the reach of miseries and wretchedness.
I am a working woman. My day begins at three in the morning when I wake up without the aid of alarm clocks. That’s the time my husband’s day comes to an end and he knocks at the door. On some days he prefers to bang so hard that the wooden planks that I painstakingly gathered and nailed together fall apart. My husband slaps his victory on my cheeks. Sometimes he celebrates by wringing my neck till he squeezes out a few drops of tears from my eyes. A few punches mean that the cheap liquor he had gulped down was not to his liking. On a lucky day he just disappears into the only other room in our house with a younger woman. He ends his day by slumping on the straw mat on the floor, where our daughter sleeps.
I fear for the safety of my daughter but I have to go out to work. I do not want us to stay hungry. So I cook some food and sit down to make floral garlands that I sell at the local market. This is the best part of my day. I bathe in the fragrance of the delicate flowers that is a magical balm to my wounds. As I thread the flowers together, I weave dreams of a better life. Sometimes, I feel jealous of my Memsab who lives in one of the tall buildings; security guards watching over the queer houses stacked one on top of the other. Her husband is a caring man who never beats her. He pampers her with the luxury he can easily afford. He gives her so many gifts when he returns from places where he travels by plane. They have a beautiful daughter who goes to school, speaks English and dances well.
After selling garlands, I go to work as a maid in a few houses. By evening I reach Memsab’s house. In between my chores I talk to her. She listens patiently to my laments. She seems to understand my problems though she has none of her own. I have dinner at her house, pack some food for my daughter and return home. My daughter and I mop the house and wash clothes. We say a prayer and try to sleep hoping we never hear the knock at the door next morning.
I think about my day as I lie on the floor at night. I did the same tonight. Today Memsahab was not her usual self. As I poured out my heart and the story behind my bruised body, I noticed a stray tear slide down her cheek. It must have been a very heavy one because it dragged itself along, peeling away a few layers of a beautiful mask, so skilfully worn that I never had a clue all these years. Beneath her mask was a similar story veiled by silence.
She is Yamuna. And this is not her story alone.