She was standing at the doorstep, all in white. The young widow looked magnetic in her plain white sari with a white blouse. She made a roll of her long hair and stared at my dad with her sharp eyes.
“You can join your duty from tomorrow morning. The storeroom is big enough for placing your bed,” Dad said to her. He found her efficient to keep as a cook cum overall house help. After Mom’s death, it was Dad who took all household decisions.
“By the way, what is your name?” Dad asked her.
“Yashoda Namusudra,” she replied at once.
My elder sister invited her inside for a cup of tea. We all were impressed by her neat and clean appearance. Yashoda didi knew Bengali only, but she understood Assamese perfectly. The language was not a barrier for all of us, as we all understood Bengali. The bookshelf was full of books from Bengali literature. Dad was a great admirer of Bengali literature. We heard the names of Sarat Chattopadhyaya, Ashapurna Devi, Rabindra Nath Tagore, etc., from our childhood and we often listened to Bengali songs along with Assamese songs. My elder sister was quite excited that she was going to get an opportunity to practice her Bengali now.
She brought us joy
Yashoda came the very next day and joined duty. Her only possessions were three white saris, two petticoats and three white blouses. She was given a bed in the storeroom that was attached to kitchen. She kept her clothes on one corner of her bed after folding them neatly. Her presence had brought many changes to our day-to-day lives. We could arrange tea parties for friends or relatives now and occasionally called them for lunch or dinner, too. Her smart hands managed everything very quickly. Suddenly, our lunch and dinner became moments of joy.
Every day she had something new to offer. Such a wonderful cook she was! She didn’t need some extraordinary things to make a delicious meal. She loved to collect vegetables from the kitchen garden and sometimes she collected wild herbs to make a delicacy. Her rice cake was the tastiest one of all the cakes we ate in life. Dad was happy for the first time after our mother’s death.
Dad found his happiness
Everything was going smoothly. We could hear Dad’s singing, one of his favorite Hindi songs – ‘Jalte hain jiske liye…’ We had not seen him in such a pleasant mood for a long time. It brightened the atmosphere of our house. Apart from all these, there was someone who was the happiest one. It was none but Yashoda didi herself. She washed her long hair with Lux soap and applied scented hair oil once the hair dried. Then she sat in our backyard for half an hour combing her waist length hair. Dad presented her with the hair oil. This was not less than any big luxury for Yashoda didi who never had dreamt of using scented hair oil. She expressed it herself, appreciating Dad’s generosity.
We never had any problem with her happiness. But one day, a lady from next door asked my elder sister, “Does your dad press her sari?” It was me who had told the lady a few days ago. My elder sister decided to inform Priyam di, our eldest, married sister. She came home with a gloomy face and I was asked to describe all. I described how dad presses her white sari, how much he cares to bring her scented hair oil and how happy he is now. Priyam di scolded us for keeping the door open at night, which linked father’s room with the kitchen.
That day, Yashoda didi happily cooked some special Bengali dishes for Priyam di. She served Priyam di with excitement, but di didn’t even bother to talk to her.
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My sister dropped a bombshell
When she was leaving, Priyam di announced in front of Dad, “Yashoda didi must be fired.”
Everything changed from that day. Dad stopped singing. Yashoda didi didn’t watch TV with dad anymore as she did before. She continued to cook her wonderful dishes, but her smile was lost somewhere. We didn’t see her caring for her long hair anymore. She did her work silently and spent the rest of the time inside the storeroom.
We couldn’t imagine what was going through Dad’s mind. But he felt humiliated for sure. Finally, he decided to fire her.
At the moment of her leaving, she asked Dad in a shaken voice, “Ogo, aapni ki aamake satyi tariyesen (Dear, are you really throwing me out?)?” Dad kept quiet. She touched his feet with her hands and went out. No one dared to look at her face. But we all knew something had broken somewhere without making the slightest noise.
Author’s note: Widowhood is a big curse in Indian society. No one can feel the pain. This lady found some love and care from an old man. She accepted it as her destiny and felt herself blessed. At the same time, my dad found his happiness again. But everyone was determined to destroy their joy. I was not mature enough to understand the relationship. But why didn’t my married sister understand my father’s need for a companion?
Maybe society is changed a bit now, as well as the fate of widows. Still, it is time to tell the stories of discrimination against widows.