We called her Nani. She was a beautiful Khasi woman. I met her in Shillong, Meghalaya, while working there in a high school. It was my first opportunity to see a matrilineal society. I was observing the relationship of couples from a different angle. Being a woman from a patriarchal society, it was not easy for me to understand their thoughts, emotions and behaviour. But I was trying.
I met Nani regularly in a local market, where she sold dry fish and vegetables. Her bright smile and hardworking nature made me her admirer. We started talking and soon became friends. Despite coming from different backgrounds, sharing our thoughts, plans, and sorrows was no more an odd thing between us. She was independent. Many times I experienced her kindness – when a poor boy needed his school fees, or an unmarried mother needed a shelter with her baby. I was deeply touched and inspired by her. And one day, suddenly, she opened the painful pages of her life tome.
It was raining heavily from the morning. The wind became fierce towards the evening. We were sitting near the fireplace, warming ourselves. She kept the ‘Khaw’ (a kind of basket made of bamboo that Khasi/Garo people carry on their backs) on the wooden floor, after emptying the sweet potatoes that she collected from the nearby forest. Then she took out a few pieces of kowai(betel nut) and two betelnut leaves from her small bag that she always kept hanging by her shoulder. She offered a bit of kowai with betel nut leaf to me. I could sense her off mood. But I found it fair to give her as long as she wanted. Suddenly she broke the silence and said, “My husband has come today. He will stay here tonight.” “Why are you here, then?” I asked. Her husband is an Assamese from Assam. He visited her once in a month only. I knew that. Her children were always excited about their dad’s visit. But Nani’s face darkened on each tour of her husband. I noticed it.
“Should I sleep with the man who decided to marry another woman from his own community after becoming a father of three?” Nani said.
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I was shocked! I didn’t know that. I met her husband many times, who was purely a gentleman for me. An engineer by profession, and well mannered, he remarried, keeping his wife and children in the dark and encouraged his own society/community to tag her as his ‘keep’.
Nani loved him. She couldn’t get remarried, though it was quite a normal thing in Khasi society. She was broken. But Nani wouldn’t do any harm to him or his family. Sometimes she ran to the forest to cry loudly, as she couldn’t do that in front of her children. She sat in the deep forest for hours from where she couldn’t see the sky. She was afraid of the air. “The sky of Meghalaya is always clouded. A chance of rainfall is always there, like my life,” she said.
But Nani said that she took revenge.
I am still confused whether she took the revenge on herself or on him, whom she still loves.
She told me about the first time her husband came to stay the night with her after his remarriage. There was a Khasi guy from her neighbourhood who was madly after her. Nani invited him to have a physical relationship just before the arrival of her husband. Just once. Her husband saw her untidy bed and the guy, who went out on his arrival.
“We are of the equal standard now. Let’s love each other again.” She said to her husband. He sat down on a chair covering his face with his both hands. His whole body was shaking. And Nani was lying on the ground, motionless, like a body without life. When the nearby church bell gave the signal of midnight, he said, “I will love you and our children forever.”
Nani’s husband still visits her once in a month. Nani doesn’t ask him for anything, but he is supporting them financially. He has one daughter from his second marriage. His second wife is unaware of Nani.
Nani says, “We sleep holding each other’s hand. But it can’t wash away the clouds from my sky.”