A Slice From Life...Sumna I never thought I would ever write this. But with each passing year I feel more indebted to Sumna. For her belief in me, for the innocent praises, for her struggle to fight and above all her being victorious at the end. People fight their worst battles with their own mind instead of others. But her fight was equally fervent with all around her, Her destiny, her naiveté, and above all her marriage. Let me start from the beginning. It was a hot afternoon when the doorbell rang. No one was home. So I got up and went to the door. I was ready with a fiery outburst, as I was sure it was some courier guy or a salesman. But it was neither. I saw a woman looking extremely unfamiliar. Saleswoman? No, I was sure she wasn’t. Maid? Nope, she was something else. I was curious. ‘’Yes ?’’ I asked. ‘Namaskar Didi.’ It was unmistakable Bengali accent. I was wondering at her for this instant bond she tried to struck with me by calling me didi! I looked at her with a question in my eyes bigger than her bond. She understood. I could see she was disappointed and sad too. Somehow I felt I was being rude so I told her to come in. In an instant her face started glowing like a kid. She was not carrying anything but her hands were locked at her back and I felt she was pregnant. May be this was the reason I allowed that total stranger in my house. ‘’Didi do you wear sari? ‘’ She asked in a whisper. ‘’Why?’’ I looked at her and gestured towards dinning chair. I did not want to spend time with her. But I was curious. She sat down but before that she took out a sari which was tucked inside her petticoat. She wasn’t pregnant, this sari was making her look like one. I was surprised. What is this? Is she a thief or what who is selling saris like this? I was waiting for her to come up with the real thing. She felt uncomfortable under my gaze. So she sat eyes down. Then, she asked me again in a pleading voice. ‘’Didi please buy this sari. It’s pure tanth.’’ She opened to show it to me. ‘’From where you got this?’’ Now a bit confused, I touched that sari. It was a peacock blue sari, with broad mustard boarder, and golden weaving. It was definitely from West Bengal, and I often request my friends to get them for me whenever they visit Kolkata. I had seen so many combinations and I loved particularly red n blacks, but this was a rare combination of blue and mustard. It wasn’t expensive may be below thousand. But why she wants to sell it like this? ‘’My Bhor got it for me from Kolkata last year.’’ She said coyly. ‘’Bhor? What’s bhor?’’ I was now inquiring like a investigator. ‘’Areey Didi…. You are not Bengali?’’ She seemed shocked. I nodded. Again that disappointed expression. I was wondering at her, she was not able to hide any of her emotions, or she was too careless to bother about that. ‘’Bhor means husband.’’ She said in a grave voice. ‘’OK. If hubby bought this sari for you then why you want to sell it?’’ ‘’How can I wear such a beautiful sari? It’s a waste on me. If you wear this, you would look like a queen.’’ She was totally desperate. ‘’And I need money too that’s why I want to sell it.’’ She said in a small voice. ‘’Does he know you want to sell this?’’ ‘’No…no please didi don’t even tell him. I ‘m doing it without his knowledge.’’ ‘’But this is not fair.’’ I realized that I don’t even know her name and she was pleading with me not to tell her hubby. ‘’What’s your name?’’ ‘’Sumna.’’ It was a nice name, but I never heard it before. Suman was there but putting this extra A made it sweeter. I looked at her from head to toe. she indeed looked like a flower but a weathering flower. She was fair, her hair was tied in a untidy bun. Her parting in hair was full of sindoor, which she wore carelessly. A big sindoor bindi was adorning her forehead. Her eyes were flickering too much, here to there, but she was not focussing on anything in particular. She was wearing silver earrings with a green stone hanging from them and a thin gold chain. Her eyes were beautiful but there was no luster in them. She may be in her late twenties or early thirties. I wasn’t sure. There was some glass bangles in her wrist, and a black strapped wristwatch too. She was a woman who gave no impression of beauty or ugliness, cleanliness or dirtiness. Something was missing in her. She seemed too vulnerable, too childish, too naïve. It was not the pretence she was projecting but everything seemed so real about her at the same time so confusing. ‘’Sorry Sumna I can’t buy this sari.’’ I said in an apologetic tone. ‘’No problem, didi. I will sell it to someone else.’’ Till now what seemed her only business, suddenly became a very careless issue for her. She again folded that sari and tucked in her petticoat. Gave me stupid smile and stood up. ‘’I stay in C block. Would you mind if I come to see you sometimes? To tell you frankly, I loved talking to you. I felt safe and secure.’’ ‘’Sit down.’’ I told her out of some authority, which I was taking unnecessarily. But I wanted to know something about her, anything in fact. I am a friendly person but only with the known people, not social by choice, so have very less friends. This woman was generating my curiosity and I was trying to figure out what was there which was intriguing me. ‘’Sumna may I ask you something personal?’’ ‘’Areey didi please you can ask anything.’’ She sat again, happily. ‘’What you need money for?’’ ‘’Well, I wanted to buy something for kids. My son saw some fancy shoes somewhere, you know ‘light wala shoe’,’’ her eyes were shinning more than that imaginary light. ‘’Why don’t you tell your hubby to buy those?’’ ‘’No, he will refuse for sure and if I try to speak to him, he would kill me.’’ Her eyes were again listless. ‘’Are you mad? Why would he kill you?’’ ‘’You know didi he is a very volatile man. Throws things when angry and imagine if he throws something hard on my head, I would be dead, no?’’ Fear of death was bulging from her eyes. She is not serious? Though it was a grave comment but it made me smile. She was assuming things in a very child like manner. ‘’Wait a minute, let me make some tea then we can talk. You are not in hurry I suppose?’’ ‘’What’s the time? I’ll go at 4.30PM, it is the time when daughter gets up from her sleep.’’ ‘’Its just 3.30PM, we have one hour to talk.’’ One thing was clear that she was lonely. She needed company more than the money, which she was expecting to get from the sari. She was in awe of her husband too, which I noticed clearly. ‘’Why did you come to me instead of going somewhere else?’’ ‘’Oh , I pass everyday from your house and I like it very much. I was sure that the people who stays there must be nice too.’’ ‘’Ha ha ..’’ I was laughing now. ‘’Why laughing didi? See, I found you and you are the best person I met so far.’’ What is this? Was she trying to impress me with her sweet talk? I looked intently into her eyes but what could I see was pure innocence, which I see so many times in my eight-year daughters’ face. We talked almost for one hour and I came to know so many things. Her husband’s drinking habit, her mother in law’s tantrums and her two small kids. She was trying to be the best for everyone and was failing miserably. She needed someone to guide her, to give her a little support, and praise for every effort she was putting in. ‘’If I tell you one thing would you do that?’’ ‘’Why not? I will do that. You tell me what you want me to do?’’ ‘’When you reach home, cook dinner early, settle your mother in law n kids and wear this sari. Be with your husband, talk to him some nice things. Don’t complain of anything. Do this and come tomorrow and tell me how did it go.’’ She was looking at me bewildered, as I was an alien talking to her some insane things. Time to time she was shaking her head, putting palm in front of her mouth. ‘’Tell me would you do this?’’ I was sure she wouldn’t refuse. In spite of her so many strange faces I was sure she would do it. ‘Hmmm… ‘ She shook her head in affirmation. ‘’But why you want me to do that?’’ ‘’I don’t know Sumna, but I think this way you can tell me something nice tomorrow. One more thing Sumna you will not wear your sari the way you are wearing it now.’’ She stood up and looked at herself. Then at me and asked in a child like manner, ‘’But what is wrong with this?’’ I stood up too and took her to the dressing room. I made her stand In front of the full-length mirror. Blouse was hardly visible, her pallu was wrapped like a sheet around her. Her body looked like a drum, though she wasn’t fat. The sari was much above her ankles, in the manner which nuns wrap. She looked like a sixty-year woman instead of thirty. I told her to unwrap her sari and like a mother I started wrapping that around her. I made pleats and pinned her pallu nicely on her shoulder. Now she looked much better. She was very pleased, to see herself, she was blushing. I felt like I was dressing a doll as I used to do when I was a small kid. I gave her some more tips and told her to come next day. She was happy like a child, when she left. I was smiling for this unexpected turn of events of the day. Later part of my evening was occupied of her thoughts only. By morning I almost forgot about her, as I got busy in my household tasks. After lunch when daughter went to her classes I sat down to read the novel. I was very curious to know the end, but the moment I started it, the doorbell rang. Sumna was standing there. I was waiting for her, I was anxious to know what she has to tell me today. She seemed happy, her eyes were shining today. She was looking more alive. ‘’Hey didi, he was so happy to see me in that sari, and even told me I am beautiful. ‘Bhishon sunder ’ he said that, do you believe?’’ her cheeks were red, and her eyes down when she said this. She indeed was looking better than yesterday. ‘’Yes Sumana, you are beautiful’’ she blushed again. ‘’Kya didi, you too started.’’ But she was happy. I was happy too. I had never experienced this kind of happiness. I was feeling as if I am appearing for some exam and I am doing better in every paper. ‘’Didi, now onwards I am coming everyday to take some ‘buddhi’ from you. Please don’t say no’’ she was pleading with folded hands. ‘’Why do you beg for everything? You are just like a younger sister to me, you have every right to ask, but stop this pleading, not only with me but also with everyone. This is a second tip, so follow it. Be a little strong.’’ She happily nodded. That day she told me some more things, no physical relation with hubby since her second child was born. She is three now. But yesterday they made love. He did not throw things, though he had two drinks. He was nice to her after years. Even mother in law noticed the change and was quite for a while. She was talking and eyes were not flickering so much. She was stable from inside. She was at peace with her and with her surroundings. Next day I was waiting for her but she did not come. When doorbell rang I rushed to open the door but it was some salesman. I was expecting Sumna. But she did not turn up. I was wondering what could be the reason of her not coming. Slowly I forgot all about her. After a week when I was busy in cleaning the house, doorbell rang I cursed under my breath. I was in a very shabby state due to cleaning and all. I opened the door with irritation. Sumna was standing there. Looking different, happy and shy. Her hands were behind her back, as she was hiding something. Her hair were tied in a beautiful bun, eyes were kohl smudged, dreamy, and lustrous. I called her inside and like a magician she presented me some deep yellow bunch of gulmohar, flowers, which was on bloom everywhere. I was overwhelmed, she gathered it from the roadsides to present me!! I hugged her. ‘’Thank you Sumna, these are beautiful, how did you know these are my favorite flowers?’’ I arranged them in a vase and room was filled with yellow sunlight. ‘’Every beautiful thing you like I know that, and what’s not beautiful, you would make that.’’ She was serious, and full of affection. We sat in the drawing room with adrak tea, which she insisted to make. I looked at her with scrutinizing eye. She was looking far better than last week. She was talking non-stop. ‘’You know didi… hubby bought lightwala shoes for son. And he is so happy to wear them, that he even wears them to bed. I open them when he is slept. Crazy boy he is. No?’’ her every expression was full of motherly love. ‘’He did not throw things?’’ I was curious. Suddenly she bent and touched my feet. I was embarrassed and stood up. ‘‘Hey Sumna! Why are you touching my feet?’’ I could see there was some wetness in her eyes. ‘’Didi things are changing dramatically at home. He comes home early, reduced his drinking. He said I was pushing him to the wall with my nagging, and ugliness, and everything. It all happened after I met you. Do you know some magic?’’ ‘‘No Sumna, magic is in you, which even you did not know. I just showed you the way. I am so happy that you started living in a true sense.’’ I was feeling very proud of her. Our meetings continued for months. Everyone knew Sumna is one who comes to take some Buddhi from me. They even mocked. But I did not stop meeting her. It was a beautiful morning. I was having my coffee and listening to music on high volume. Doorbell rang and I saw one tall man standing there. ‘’Yes?’’ I asked. ‘’Namaskar Didi’’ he said with folded hands. Who was this? Suddenly I saw Sumna emerging from his back. Smiling a beautiful smile. ‘’Hey Sumna, where were you? And who is this?’’ Though I sensed who he was but wanted to make sure. With a shy smile she introduced me to him. ‘’My bhor, didi’’ she proudly announced. I was standing on the gate, and was thinking them to call inside. Suddenly he bent and touched my feet so did Sumna. A six feet man who must be my age, touching my feet and that too on the gate!! I was embarrassed. ‘’Please don’t do that’’ my words were hardly audible. ‘’You changed our life didi, Sumna told me everything. We would be indebted to you whole of our lives. We wanted to say good bye before leaving this city. We are moving to Kolkata, as I got a new job.’’ ‘’God bless you both.’’ My eyes were blurred due to tears. I suddenly was feeling like a mother who was sending her daughter away for her good. I told them to come inside but they were leaving the same day. Sumna hugged me and cried. I was crying too but these were tears of something that was not sadness.