It was the 8th day of Durga Puja in the year 2013. I was sitting across the deity, one leg on top of the other and hands joint in prayer. Abhi called my name and asked me to be at the drive-in outside the building. My mom had asked me to stay there and pray. Even as a toddler, I never could get myself to believe in God, but I sat there and held my hands the way young Bengali boys should in front of Maa Durga. Abhi’s call was a blessing for me to which I pounced.
I ran across the old aunties singing hymns and a strange man playing the folk drums to the command of the brahmin priest before the deity. I walked to Abhi and asked her our modus operandi of the day, she pointed at my mom. My mom, as little as she could get and as stout as you have seen women get, stood there with her bright cheeks turned red in furry arguing with my father. Surrounding them were a few more uncles and aunts of the housing society we lived in.
I was used to seeing them being rude to each other at home, they never slept in the same room and hardly had meals together. This was the first time I saw a fight outside the four walls we called home, an exhibit for the nasty gossip mongers and rumour initiating, over prying neighbours. Mum and I left after an hour for my maternal grandparent place.
October 2013 marked the beginning of a saga I never thought could ever come to an end. It began with battles in the disguise of who I stay with and which neighbour takes which spousal side. Followed by a guerrilla from both ends as both pitted friends against each other and drafted intermediate terms of separation.
At a time of immense tension, some amount of coaxing and mediation by a few neutral entities brought the two to an agreed settlement to mutually dissolve what the solemnly swore to live by, the institution of marriage that they engaged themselves in decades ago. I stayed with my mother, even today when I’m in Calcutta, I dump my luggage at hers. In 2014, my parents applied for a divorce on mutually agreed terms. Somehow, my father could not pull through that and left the procedure before it could mature.
With the failure of the peace negotiation, the war became inevitable. Two suits were filed, one by my father against my mother claiming for divorce on accounts of her wrongdoings, to which my mother’s lawyers said they vehemently counter suited and the other my mother filed against my father demanding a fixed amount in view of my growing expenses. The war stood long. As a child, I could only explain my situation as the innocent civilian caught between crossfire during the war. This war continued till 2019, with ups and downs for either end.
Meanwhile, outside the dirty courts of Sealdah, life had not waited for me, my mother or even my father. I stopped speaking to him in 2015 after we got into a brawl about something, my mother became even more possessive about me and kept me away from my father and all that could hurt me, she was being a mother, fending for her young son. She raised me, made me feel no discomfort, no void of a father and besides the few breakdowns her and I had through the years of war, I feel we fought hard.
It was in 2018 that I began speaking to my father again. I had evolved into a new person. I had joined University for which I changed cities, I met new people, lived away from home, away from mom and with strangers in the strange city of Bangalore. That chilly September evening I returned from the local pub they had students full off. I remembered my shenanigans in school, how we bunked classes and visit cultural festivals to meet the special someone. At one such event, Rig, my fellow from school had told me that the day I mature will be the day I forgave my father. I had grown to resent him, Rig knew that Ved knew it was justified as well, but he also had known that I could do better than resent a person, let alone my own father.
I rang him up that evening, we spoke for two hours straight, next month, he flew down south to catch up. He took an interest in me and my life, things became normal. I had a father and my mom after years. Yes, in a fashion that one would say is not most suitable, but after years I had both a mom and a dad.
Unknowingly, even they started to get along fine with each other in about a year. Not as partners but as man and woman who could have a conversation without making me anxious and afraid. Judges at the 5th Fast-track Civil Court of Sealdah changed over the past five years. This plea was still being fought by either end to cater to their egos. Not one judge attempted to resolve the conflict nor did they see it fit to award divorce.
For five years, two families that had never seen any court before now frequented the stale smelling building with men who committed heinous murders and rape and lawyers and solicitors who cared very little for who they spoke against and sometimes for who the spoke for. When I stood in that building one day, I remember telling myself that no child should ever enter these hallows and never see what I saw.
“Marriage is a sacramental relationship between man and woman, a public court is not where I can discuss this,” is what the Justice that had just been appointed said while he called my mom and dad inside his chambers. He heard about me from them and set a date suitable for me to be present in Calcutta, in flesh and blood with him. 2nd November 2019, I was sitting in chambers 5 minutes before the time he had summoned me at. He entered about fifteen minutes late, his clerk told me that the murder trial took longer than expected.
At a distance, I could see him taking his robe off, he ordered for his tea and came and sat opposite me, between us was a desk that had the copy of the Constitution of India, a glass of water and I picture frame which I guessed was of his family. We began speaking about my interests, what I study and what I planned to do in future. He was a kind man, a man who by his words I felt had dedicated himself to the service of his nation. He spoke about the kind of orders he had passed earlier, his time in Purulia when the left-wing extremists made no sense of the judiciary and the civil matters that he faced great difficulty in understanding and keeping up with the time to provide more holistic orders that his chair was given the power to sign on. All in all, he was an interesting man to have a conversation with.
About forty-five minutes into the conversation, he came to business. He had a strong command over Bengali and in that vernacular, he told me how I had three options. The first, he suggests that I speak to both my parents and find a way by which they could re-enter the marriage and live like before 2013. Over the last six years, many people had told me about this possibility but I would always play it in my head and see it failing so I knew in an instant that this wasn’t an option. I stopped him midway, only realising a split second later that I interrupted a Justice of a Court. He took it in a good way and made room for my emotional responses.
My eyes were moist thinking about how it would be to reinstate a family after five years but the daunting truth of its dysfunction wired my mind like electric. Second, he said was that the case at court could be dropped and they two could live their own lives, separate of each other, however, married in the eyes of law. This, in many ways a prolonged version of the status quo. I could not help but see the dysfunction in this as well.
Both of them needed to move ahead of this marriage and the absence of closure would make it all the more difficult for them. I would be something that they would be bound to on paper, they would not be able to give their best for the coming relationships and that is something I did not want either of them to be deprived off. They had the right to new lives and new love. So as politely as I could, I nodded my head against this option when the judge was over-explaining its pros and cons. At this juncture, he said I would be a good lawyer, he could feel it.
Alas, the judge came with his final option, him granting the divorce. I had always known that my parents are getting a divorce, but to hear it from the final authority and come so close to it made my blood run faster. I knew this was not a mutual settlement. It was a ‘me against you’ case. Allegations were thrown and counter-allegations were made. Ending this case would mean that there had to be a victor in the war and that scared the living butterflies out of my stomach.
They had only been back to terms of civil conversation for so long. One winning a war that had lost relevance would unnecessarily aggravate things between them again. I knew there could not be a winner of this war. I just did not know what to say to this man who had offered me the only viable solution there was but with a sense of ambiguity that could hurt my mother or father to such an extent where the fabric of whatever make-belief relationship of theirs would come to an abrupt end.
I could see him pulse the trouble wiring my mind, he calmed me down. He said he knows my trouble and continued, “There will be no winner, I can’t judge what happens in a household, I can only grant what the household would want. Neither of them has enough evidence to prove their allegations, I’m dropping them all and then granting a divorce.” A sigh of relief left me. I knew this is best in that instance. While the world around me had stopped this is what hit me hard enough to hear the trains whistle at a distance from the court, the crowd bark and the honks burst, it was as if my conscious had been brought back.
The decree of divorce was published a few days after that, my mom cried that day and I have not yet asked my dad how he feels about it. What I do know is that a relationship had been coming to an end, with bittersweet memories along with a tremendous amount of pain and endurance.
The reason why I wrote this is to acknowledge my respect and gratitude to the Sessions Court of Sealdah and that Judge who made it possible to weigh two people in a relationship and yet not hinder their private lives. After that day, I knew that somewhere between monumental judgements like the abrogation of Section 377 and judgements that have brought debate and discourse like that of the Ayodhya Verdict, justice in India, even at the most rudimentary levels, remains compassionate towards people, the regular citizens of India, just like my parents.
I might have lost a very important portion of my childhood amidst the hustle of the courts, but today my family can only thank the Judiciary of India for their compassion.
About the author: The author is a student of Economics, Politics and Sociology at CHRIST (Deemed to be University)