“You are from Mumbai?” the woman asked me in a sort of accusing tone.
“Yes”, I answered without any guilt. I was no Mumbaikar in the sense of ‘belonging to Mumbai’, but then I was staying in Mumbai.
She was a woman in her 50s. Many times rural women due to hardships appear older than they are. So, may be this woman was just in her 40s. Of course, the woman in front of me did belong to middle class. Actually I was given her reference by a friend of friend in Mumbai. Her name was Suman. Suman Mavashi , to be more precise.
I gave her the name of my friend’s friend. Her face softened a bit. In fact, she smiled.
“Come inside. Would you mind if I ask you why you are here?” she asked, the accusation had reduced, just mild curiosity remained and she did not hide that.
This was a small village, consisting of only about 100 houses. The nearby calm river and the green hillocks made the spot very beautiful. I was very peaceful that moment and was enjoying the typical forest smell.
I was working with an organization as a Full Time Activist. As part of spreading the message, the work, we were visiting unknown villages and meeting lot of strangers. However I was a woman and very young then, so nobody allowed me to travel without reference. And these references worked like magic wherever I went. My friends and all their friends seemed to be good people. Their name opened new doors for me.
I told Suman Mavashi everything I was supposed to tell. Initially she listened to me quietly. Then she asked number of questions. She offered me food. She took me to few more homes and introduced me to various people. We had number of informal meetings and cups of tea. I ate lot of food that day as no family accepted ‘no’ as an answer to food. Well, I was happy. When well fed, we all are happy, isn’t it?
By the time I had my last sentence spoken; it was time for the last bus. Suman Mavashi wanted to have few words with me alone, so I went back to her house. I was excited with the experience but feeling tired. She too must have been tired. We were chatting something very non consequential. Suddenly she asked me, “As you stay in Dadar area, you must know XYZ.”
Yes I knew him and knew him well. He was office bearer of one organization with which my organization was closely associated. We had good contacts. We met at least once a week. XYZ invited me and my colleagues to his house very often. I knew his parents well. His wife was my friend. To his kids I was an elder friend. Such relations should normally be termed as close relations. I just nodded to Suman Mavashi.
“How well do you know him?” Suman Mavashi asked very sharply. I was alarmed by her tone. Her face looked hurt and angry. She was trying to control her emotions but tears emerged. She started weeping loudly as if somebody had just passed away, her body was shaking.
I was shocked. There was nobody around. I did not know this woman very well, though I had taken liking towards her during the last few hours I had spent with her. She was helpful, witty, kind and calm. She was sort of a community leader. She was well read and was enthusiastic.
I did not know what problem she had with XYZ. I told her ‘Yes, I know XYZ rather well. Do you too know him? I asked casually.
“I want to kill him,” Suman Mavashi said and I was stunned. I put my hands on her shoulders and tried to calm her down, but to no effect. With my kind gesture she broke down. She looked so sad, so helpless that I was frightened for her life.
Suman Mavashi had a story to tell. One of her nieces was closely working with XYZ in his organization. In the recent past, the 20 year girl had committed suicide and the family was still in that trauma. I knew this girl too and I was aware of her sad demise. The family suspected that XYZ had sexually abused the girl and hence she committed suicide. Actually the girl committed suicide after she was detected as pregnant.
Listening to Suman Mavashi, I was stunned. I was numb. I was terrified. I wanted to run away from her. How could I trust her more than XYZ? I knew XYZ for few years, I knew his family, and he had been always good to me. He always cared for me. We were good friends.
“Don’t you believe in me? My niece had left a note. But just to avoid public scandal we did not complain to police. But my niece was so simple, that she won’t name XYZ if he was not involved.” Suman Mavashi added.
“Don’t you believe in me? “ She asked again. “Do you think I am telling a lie? You are too young, you are like my niece; just be aware of people like XYZ. Don’t move alone to strange villages like this my child. Take care of yourself. All the people around are not good.” she kept on speaking and crying. She collapsed in my lap. I kept on patting her. Slowly she stopped crying. Her body stopped trembling. I was motionless. That was a deadly peaceful moment. I realized that whether wrong or right, true of false, Suman Mavashi was convinced that XYZ was guilty. I had no words to console her.
Somewhere inside me I was deeply affected. The intensity of Suman Mavashi’s sorrow touched me. It was frozen cold. It was lifeless. It was unnatural. It was alien. It broke something within me. I felt so lonely, so insecure. I could understand the pain she was going through. I could feel her helplessness. I could sense her feeling of taking revenge.
I suddenly grew that evening.
I could never talk to XYZ on this topic. I could never share the incidence with him. Somewhere something had changed. I had become a different person – rightly or wrongly I do not know. I never judged XYZ. Slowly the friendship died. For that matter I never judged anyone, and many such relations ended.
But that evening I realized that people can be 'different' to different persons. There is always a possibility that you will never know the truth. Basically because truth is most of the time what one understands; how one interprets. There is nothing like absolute truth. Not about human beings. Everything changes, people change, relationships change, expectations change….
So if someone accuses a person close to me, I can understand the accuser as well as the accused.
Sometimes, for no apparent reason, people close to you change. We hear totally different (strangely disappointing) opinions and stories about them. It hurts. Sometimes two people who are close to you hurt each other badly and both of them want you to trust them, believe in them - with their version of truth. In the process, you are torn, you are stretched beyond limits. Your values become weapon for others to hurt you.
Sometimes, I wish I had never met Suman Mavashi.
That day Suman Mavahi unintentionally made me realize certain aspects of life for which I was not prepared then.
I am not prepared even today.
However life chooses whatever gifts it wants to give me!!
I have limited choice!!