It was January 31. “Didi, I want to go back to my mother” — these words kept reverberating in Shivani’s ears. They had been troubling her since midnight. Four years had passed but those memories had never left her. It was an important date, yes. Four years back, on the same day, Shivani had been informed about Neera breathing her last at one of Delhi’s renowned government hospitals. Tears rolled down her cheeks as those memories flashed in front of her, seeming just as fresh as they were then.
It was when Shivani got married to Vikram that she first met Neera. Hired through an agency, Neera was a girl in her early twenties who had joined a few months back as a full-time domestic help at Shivani’s in-laws’ house. A lively girl, Neera was well mannered and always keen to help. Though she didn’t know much about domestic work, she was always ready to learn.
Shivani’s mother-in-law never spared a chance to ensure that she got Neera to work as much as she could — after all, she had paid a good amount as commission to the agency she got her through. Shivani felt awkward initially, due to the way her mother-in-law dealt with Neera. She pointed her discomfort to Vikram many times but this didn’t change things much. It was her mother-in-law who reigned at the house. A single word of protest from anyone was taken to mean otherwise, and led to a lot of emotional turmoil at home. Vikram had told Shivani to help Neera in whatever way she could. But they could not meddle with Shivani’s mother-in-law’s ways of handling the household chores.
Within a year of Shivani’s marriage, her sister-in-law also got engaged and the marriage was fixed after four months. It was more than a year now that Neera had been away from her home and she had also finished her promised tenure of staying with the family. She requested Shivani’s mother-in-law to let her go meet her mother and siblings who stayed in a village in Bihar. On understanding that Neera didn’t want to come back, and if sent for a leave, she would not return, Shivani’s mother-in-law mentioned that there was another marriage scheduled in the next four months and there was much to do. She promised to send Neera back after the marriage. Neera was happy and Shivani was relieved as she had seen Neera very desperately missing her home.
The marriage took place – and everything happened as was planned. A month passed and Neera once again brought up the topic of her going back home with Shivani’s mother-in-law. She refused this time as well, using the pretext of Shivani’s pregnancy.
Shivani, who was in her second trimester, tried to intervene – but that didn’t help. It seemed Shivani’s mother-in-law had had a word with Neera’s mother in the village, who also wanted her to stay back and work as this provided a constant source of income to Neera’s family and helped take care of Neera’s younger siblings.
That day, Shivani definitely saw Neera very disturbed and quite visibly upset. A few days passed and Shivani tried to talk to her to cheer her up. She said that she would call Neera’s mother and her siblings to come and visit them for a few days but that also didn’t do much to cheer up Neera.
It was January 15, a Monday morning during Delhi’s peak winter. Shivani’s mother-in-law didn’t receive her morning cup of tea — Neera wasn’t up yet. Neera was down with high fever and couldn’t leave the bed. Shivani got her to the doctor, who advised rest. Days passed but the medication didn’t help. The doctor advised hospitalisation.
Shivani called up Neera’s mother who was perturbed but showed her helplessness in being able to travel immediately due to certain reasons. Shivani and Vikram got Neera admitted to a nearby local government hospital. A week passed. Shivani used to visit her every day twice – once before leaving for office and then while coming back home in the evening. Neera seemed to be getting better and responding to the medicines. Shivani was happy to see her getting better and had strongly told Vikram and her mother-in-law that she would send Neera back to her village once she recovers completely with all the arrangements and expenses borne by her. It seemed like Shivani’s mother-in-law had also started to soften now.
Then two days passed. Shivani couldn’t visit Neera – her blood pressure had started to shoot up and she was advised bed rest by the doctor. Shivani sent Vikram that day, who called her from the hospital to make her talk with Neera. Neera sounded better that day and just had one request — “Didi, I want to go back to my mother.” Shivani assured her she would make all the arrangements and that all of them were waiting for her to recover completely before she could be sent.
Neera was ecstatic to hear this and thanked Shivani so much in her feeble voice. Shivani also felt so relieved to hear Neera’s weak but cheerful voice and was positive things would be fine soon. But that was short lived. The next morning, around 6 AM, Vikram got a call from the hospital. Neera had to be shifted to a big city hospital as her condition had worsened in the middle of the night. Vikram and Shivani were shocked, but even before they could reach the city hospital, Neera had breathed her last.
It seemed she had suffered a stroke at midnight. The OPD doctor couldn’t handle her treatment and suggested shifting her to a city hospital. Shivani was devastated and tried to question the doctors and the staff at the hospital. But all of that was futile. Neera’s last wish to reunite with her family kept haunting Shivani for many days and nights. The mother-in-law too was remorseful and apologised to Shivani quite a few times for her irrationality and selfishness. Till date, even as four years have passed, Shivani still feels Neera’s pain every year on this day and on many other days.
The story is based on a true incident which happened to a friend and kind of moved me. The narration is not meant to advocate for human rights. It’s not about pointing what is good or bad. Circumstances are, and always will be, beyond our control, but our conduct is something which is in our power. Sometimes, we just become a little more selfish than we usually are – a little more inconsiderate to others than we actually are.
The reason is not an inherent problem but we try to weigh and analyse profit, loss, advantages and disadvantages. As a result, we sometimes become blind to genuineness and innocence. We try to see everyone through the same lens, judge them with the same biases and prejudices. Maybe this narration will push a few of us to introspect a little bit and help us to be more human!