“Her mother hung herself. It’s been more than a year now; I believe Tumpa must have learned how to walk by then. She left little Tumpa and Raju with me.”
I arrived in Gabberia (a village in West Bengal) after 13 years. Hence, I was not sure about my relation with the woman who was telling me all of this. I was trying to understand my family tree, until the little girl holding my hand smiled gleefully, solved the puzzle saying, “Aamar notun maashi dilli thike!!” (My new aunt from Delhi!!)
I learned that the old woman is my aunt and the woman she was describing was my cousin sister, and Tumpa is my niece.
I did not talk much about the incident with her as I was trying to be careful about sympathizing with the issue, and wary about hurting her sentiments by posing as an inquisitor. Before I could understand the depth of the catastrophe, Tumpa breezed off the tension and asked me if she could accompany me for a walk. I was her doll for that evening and she wanted to show me off to the neighbours around the village. I didn’t mind.
It seemed like she had not been visiting her neighborhood for long since everyone we greeted made pity sounds and cursed her mother for leaving her children to fate.
“She fought with her husband. Her in-laws abused her for not bringing enough jewelry after marriage. They cursed her parents for saving much of it to marry off their youngest daughter. Her husband would beat her when drunk. Shyam, the boy who stays next door, claimed that he talked to her on the day she hanged herself. He said she was sitting idle in the verandah, and asked her whether she was attending Arnab babu’s shraadh (death ceremony). She refused, explaining she had to look after the house, but she seemed fine. Then in the evening, no one saw her for a very long time and it was abnormal to take a nap that late. They soon found out that she hung herself. Whatever it is, she should not have done that. She should have thought about her kids. Raju is grown up but what about Tumpa? She is completely devoid of motherhood at such a young age”, told my Great aunt.
“My son-in-law stays with me as well, and labours at the construction site. He would not stay with his parents. He cannot anymore after what has happened. My eldest daughter wants to adopt Tumpa, but I cannot let her take her away. Fate has already separated her from her mother, now I cannot separate her from her father as well. I will manage with my poor economic status but I cannot let this sin befall on me.”
Abruptly the conversation met its ‘to be continued…’, Tumpa wailed in hunger, she jumped on her granny’s lap, oscillating back-and-forth tuned into her childhood demands for narkeler naadu (coconut sweets). She stuffed the happiness between her gaping teeth.