Thursday, November 22, 2012

Death shall not part (NaBloPoMo Day 22)

NaBloPoMo November 2012
One post every day in November

This morning, I read the account of a woman, Shukria Barakzai who said, “When a mother is fighting for her children, there is no force in the universe that can silence her.”

As quotes go, it was tremendously inspiring. And true. Whether you are a mother or not.

We’ve all heard stories about women -- frail, helpless and pathetically wimpy creatures. Women who go through life like doormats, always suffering, always at the receiving end of humiliation, pain and debasement. Women who never think of questioning the treatment meted out to them, but accept their lot meekly, without protest. 

And yet these same women find the courage to fight back against the cruelties of spouses, inlaws and circumstances when their young are threatened. Bruised and battered women who will swallow blood, bile and tears, yet react violently when their children are in danger.

I have always been inspired by such stories, such women, who won’t give up, no matter how exhausted they are. They remind me of the uncommon strength that motherhood imbues us with. Their stories encourage us, mere mortals that we are.

And so, when I read of a woman, a mother, who did actually give up, and that in the most crushing way possible, I felt as though the loss was mine.

Today happens to be one month since the death of Kritika Patel, a 28-year-old housewife from Mumbai. No one knows what secret sorrow was crushing the woman.  She unburdened her heart to no one, and presented to all a picture of a woman in the throes of married bliss. And yet she took the unthinkable step of going up to the 18th floor of a 23-storey under-construction building at Kandivali, Mumbai, and leaping to her death. Even the note she inserted into the cover of her mobile phone offered no clue to the state of her mind.

The note, written in Gujarati, warned that her soul would find no peace if the cops “harassed” her husband and in-laws. It also said, “I’m to be blamed for the recent problems faced by my family, and I realise the family expenses have shot up because of me. I haven’t been able to make anyone happy. Nobody is responsible for the step I’m taking, certainly not my husband and in-laws, who took good care of me.” They say you can’t take anything with you. It seems to me that Kritika took some kind of fear with her.

The note also said that the jewellery which her parents had gifted to her at her wedding in 2009 should be returned to them.

A suicide raises so many questions which a note of a few lines simply cannot answer. I wonder why she chose that building. They had booked a flat on the 18th floor and would often visit the construction site. In fact, her husband worked as a contractor at the building. Was it just access? Or was she making a point in some confused, muddled way?

The workers at the site saw her enter the building with her daughter, who she must have picked up from her playschool just minutes before. The child had her schoolbag on her shoulders.

In her own way, Kritika said her goodbyes. Her mobile phone records indicate that she called her father and brother around 1 pm, when construction labourers saw her enter the building. It must have been a conversation filled with the ordinariness of life’s routines, the sweet things that Jaini had said and done, the meal she had prepared that day. Who knows? But it gave the elderly gentleman and his son no indication of the storm that must have taken hold of her heart, nor of the huge step she was planning to take.

At 2 pm, Kritika must have hugged the child tight. That is how I imagine it. She must have hugged her, as if it would break her heart to leave her, as if she’d never let go. But let go she did. They landed in a pool of blood on the 5th floor, which was meant to be the parking lot for the building.

Suicides always sadden me. But this one hurt me even more, because Kritika did not die alone. Of course, no death happens in isolation. Every person who dies takes with him/her the happiness, laughter and joy of many others. But in this case, Kritika died clasping her two-year-old daughter, Jaini. Her note had said, “I love Jaini the most, and have never left her alone, even for a day. Hence, I’m taking her with me.”

According to the newspapers, this is the sixth case, since March 2011, of a parent committing suicide along with children. The rationale for the death-suicide is almost always the same. One person has lost the desire to live, and does not know what will become of the child. In some cases, the parent feared for the child’s safety after his/her death. But in almost all cases, the parents took the drastic, irreversible step of cutting the slender hold of life, not only for themselves, but also for those they were duty-bound to protect.

I’m not going to pass judgment on these hapless people, but I often wonder how they could bring themselves to kill their own kids. Where a parent’s first instinct is to protect a child, even at the cost of life, how much despair must these people have felt before being compelled to take such a step?

I pray that you and I may never know such despair.

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