Her gentle eyes stared at me from the poster near the bus stop. There was to be a public meeting to urge the district administration and the police to bring her murderer to justice without further delay.
I remembered her as a very unassuming teenaged girl, always wearing a long skirt and blouse with long , black plaited hair. She lived with her parents, a brother who was slightly mentally challenged and two younger sisters. There was just a tarred road separating our house from the row of rented houses across , one of which was theirs. We talked to each other from our respective verandahs . We became daily witnesses to the boy’s tantrums and his fights with his sisters. Non-interference in others’ affairs or ignoring them was not the way of small towns. We were privy to the goings on of each household in the neighbourhood as they were to ours and an unstated bond of affection held sway.
And then I got married and came away to Delhi. For some years thereafter , on my yearly summer trips back to my hometown, I would see them all again , now slowly growing up. And then they shifted to some place else and I lost track of them.
It was my nephew who first broke the news on the phone, of her gruesome murder by her husband and it was then that I picked up bits and pieces of what had transpired in between
She was dusky complexioned and not very exuberant by nature. She was not exactly sombre , but quiet and reserved. She was an affectionate girl, always enquiring about everyone in the family whenever she met my sister in the bus or elsewhere . She had completed her studies and taken up a job as a teacher. Her sisters had in the meanwhile got proposals for marriage and the parents had married them off . For some reason they had not been able to find a suitable match for her. Societal norms in small towns take ages to change even as shopping arcades replace the old smaller outlets and private vehicles on the road increase . There was therefore very little chance of her finding a partner other than through the traditional familial match-making process or to have been let alone to live her life on her terms.
At some point, the parents must’ve grown desperate and she must’ve mutely imbibed their frustration and longed to remove it. When this guy came along with his fairly stable financial background, her parents did not want to make too many detailed enquiries about his nature or antecedents and she was perhaps not the kind who would’ve insisted that they do so.
But apparently many of the other neighbours had wondered at the choice as there had been rumours of his first wife having died in mysterious circumstances. Nothing had been established of course, but there had been an air of unease and suspicion all around when it had happened. Perhaps they had not thought it fit to interfere on her behalf or had assumed that the parents and the girl had decided to go ahead in spite of all the stories going around.
Signs of an extremely violent disposition had soon become evident. He would beat her up at the slightest pretext, always accusing her of throwing glances at other men. She was not allowed to visit anyone and on the few occasions when she did go to her sisters’ houses or that of other close relatives, he always accompanied her. He dropped her at school and picked her up. She would sit looking straight ahead as any sideward glance at a known familiar face would immediately invite a tight slap then and there if the person passing by was a man.
It was not as if the family was unaware of all this. She had often shared what she was going through with some of her relatives , specially her sisters. One of the sisters was a spirited girl and had taken the husband to task many a time. He would then pretend to be apologetic and agree to mend his ways
The man had certainly not been normal. He drew sadistic pleasure in chopping off the legs and wings of the chicken before eventually killing it. He would rush off to the railway tracks nearby whenever he heard of an animal being run over by a train
Then one day, he had asked her to accompany him to the hospital and they had not returned
Close to mid-day,the next day, the brother who was sauntering along the road as was his wont, spotted their vehicle at a somewhat empty stretch of the road. He went rushing home to excitedly proclaim that his sister was lying dead inside , her neck sliced through. My sister later told me that the bus she was travelling in on that afternoon had slowed down near the place just as the police were covering up her body and that the gory sight had kept haunting her for many days.
The husband had got an accomplice to help him with the murder on promise of cash. The accomplice was arrested , but the husband is still missing. Can’t help wondering why a woman can’t be allowed to be single and and happy instead of married and unhappy and as in this case, dead ? What is it in the female psyche that they cannot stand up and fight even when otherwise capable of fending for themselves? Why is it that societal approval becomes so predominantly desirable even at the cost of your children’s happiness? Why are we so very slow to change ?