This is a sequel to my earlier post.
Earlier, I posted the story of a girl who came to be tagged with the unlikeliest epithet ‘Teesri’; and of her travails. It was the story of an unenviable girl who once was a proud dreamer with stars in her eyes. Something about her eyes or voice always suggested the hint of a free spirit, trapped in a cage, dreaming of distant love. Given the gift of believing, she for a moment pretended to believe that ‘heaven is never too far’. But, sadly she hitched her fate to a wrong star which was also a fake. And, that little indiscretion loomed large day after day, eclipsed, suffocated and devoured the meaning of her very existence. It mocked at her with a wicked glee; and obliterated the sense of beauty and the pride of being a woman. She ended up, virtually, as a domestic slave, before she realized the enormity of her blunder. She was robbed of her pleasant ways, hope and joys of the loveliness of tender youth. She hid her face behind a veil and covered her eyes lest any should gaze at her hurt vanity, the bitterness brewing within and the emptiness of it all.
Perhaps, a stronger woman in her place would have known how to keep the priorities of her life in order. With tears in her eyes, she might have smiled rather wryly and managed to say ‘Nah, I am fine ‘; and parted ways with the sinister wisp of the willow that flickers and lures the weary to swamps. Just because she comes off strong it does not mean that her heart doesn’t cry. But otherwise, don’t we often see beauty and anguish walking hand in hand, leaving behind wisdom twiddling its thumbs.
When I met her years later, the freshness of youth had left her while still young in age; and sobriety had descended on her lined face. I asked her with a blank stare the why of it all. She sighed and said with a slight smile “I know how you look at it. Yes; there is neither logic nor reason here; do not look for what is not there. I know well my life was bruised and hurt; and my sons were confused searching for identity. Things did not turn out well. But, thanks to all of you I have come out of the maze (bhul bhulayya); I know where I stand and so do my sons.
About the times you are wondering at; let me tell you, as the saying goes, every woman’s heart has different instructions. Sometimes she is glued listening to sound of her voices. In my case, my mind went mute while the heart jabbered on; and my fortune was painted blind….. Let’s leave it at that.
’Don’t be angry at my fallibility. Shall we sit down and talk?’
I cannot truly tell how happy I am to see you again. “
I had not mentioned in my earlier post how Teesri was rescued from her plight; and how she regained herself. And, many, therefore, did remark that I should write about how Teesri was rescued; ‘it’s not fair to hold back’.
I hesitated to post about the ‘rescue act’. Because, I was not sure I could talk about this candidly. I reckon a couple those who figure in the story are still alive. I have no heart to embarrass them.
Then, my friend Dr. Ghosh asked me to get it off my chest before it is too late. Who dares to disobey the wise Doctor?
Well, before I say about the rescue, let me direct you to the earlier story. Please click here.
As for those who have already read the earlier part, they may safely skip the link and go straight to the ‘rescue’, narrated under.
The rescue of Teesri came about six years after her ‘suicidal’ wedding with her one-time sitar teacher of Mahim.
During those agonizing years many things did happen. Teesri was no longer the chirpy girl she once was. She was by now a mother of two sons who clung to her for love and protection . She had lived through all those news items which she used to read earlier with half amusement and suppressed disbelief . She had by now gone through the ordeal of abuse, exploitation, wife beating etc and had aged by twelve years. She had also kept on working forced by necessity and compulsion.
Haldankar duly chastened had distanced himself from Teesri; and that was not surprising. But, Hem somehow tried to keep track of Teesri’s plight. I learnt later that Hem’s parents came from East Bengal; and he had seen Hindu girls marrying Muslim men. Teesri’s wedding per se did not disturb him much. But he was truly moved and aghast at her miserable plight; and wanted to help her out in some way or the other. But he lacked the means and the power to rescue her. Once in a while he would try to broach her subject with me. I admit I was not comfortable with such talk , for there was nothing we could do about her. Besides, each of us had our own miserable existence to wade through. After much persuasion by Hem we somehow got Teesri a better paying job in a National bank.
About Hem’s concern for Teesri, I forgot to mention earlier that sometime after her disastrous wedding, her aged parents came down to Bombay, shocked and clueless. They were indeed very old and she was a daughter they got late in their life; they had done their best to educate her. Since they came from orthodox background they would not dare go into the Muslim ghetto, but stayed with Hem. They were heartbroken to be witness to their daughter’s stupidity. As they helplessly went back to Calcutta (somewhere in Nadia district) they begged Hem to do whatever he could and to put some sense into her thick skull.
Now we are about five years after her fatal error of marrying the wrong person. Hem had kept touch with Teesri. It was now easier as she also worked at a Bank. But things had moved from bad to worse and life had become unbearable for Teesri. She surely would have committed suicide but for her two little sons.
I kept off Hem, saying that she was now a Muslim living in virtual Muslim enclave and it was not only risky and dangerous but also highly improper to interfere with her domestic life, however miserable it might be. Then an idea surfaced, rather reluctantly, that the only way was to recruit the help of a Muslim who was willing and insane enough to help out Teesri.
It was then Abdur Rahman emerged as an answer to Teesri and Hem’s prayers. Rahman, incidentally, was past his middle age, sporting thick mop of long grey hair, with a half-burnt cigarette perpetually hanging down his lower lip. As he talked to people with a slight cough or wheeze he would peer over the glasses placed precariously at the tip of his nose. At the outset he didn’t seem a very likable person. Since Rahman worked in our office I could rope him into Operation Teesri (OT) without much effort.
Now, I must say a few more words about Rahman. To say the least, he was a very unusual person I ever befriended. I hardly have come across a more secular Muslim. He had a terribly irreverent attitude towards all religions, alike. He was indeed a hard core communist holding a Red-Card. How he could do that while working in a bank beats me. He spent more time talking to people than on office work. His colleagues would willingly take care of his portion of work. Rahman had of course refused promotions over the years and had chosen to stay as non-transferrable class three employee. But Rahman had developed a wide net work of contacts with the communist workers and labor leaders in Kerala, Bombay and with the underground in Bengal. Through his contacts he had sent his elder daughter to study medicine in the Moscow University; and the other daughter to Ukraine.
After he heard the sad story of Teesri, Rahman agreed to help . But he asked for time, as nothing should be done in a hurry especially in such matters. He instructed all not to interfere or even to talk to him about the subject till he was ready. Now, OT was entirely in care of Rahman.
I came to know of the following much after it was over:
Rahman through his network systematically gathered information about the happenings in the Khan household: about the ill-treatment, exploitation and beating of Teesri and the neglect of her sons. He let that spread to all households in the surrounding area through the workers in the Bakery. He enlisted the Dhobi, the milkman, the butcher and such others, regularly visiting the house , as witnesses. This process took about three months.
Thereafter, the first complaint was filed in the Mahim Police Station alleging ill-treatment etc in presence of the local Mullah and the witnesses. Teesri’s husband was summoned, duly reprimanded and warned. At Teesri’s office, based on the complaint filed with the police, an arrangement was worked out to credit 40 % of Teesri’s monthly salary to the Trust account of her minor sons.
Complaints were filed at the Police Station regularly once in two or three months. By after the third complaint, lot of pressure was built upon the Khan household. And, teams of women officials would periodically visit and check the status. I learnt later they were fake-officers tutored by Rahman.
About eight months after the Operation Teesri (OT) started, Rahman met and briefed me about ‘progresses; and asked if it would be possible to transfer Teesri to Calcutta. It took me about one month to arrange for her transfer to the Calcutta branch of her Bank.
About a fortnight thereafter Teesri with bleeding head injuries and cuts on her arms staggered into Bandra Railway Police Station. According to her statement to the Bandra Police while she was alighting the train at the Bandra – East Station she was attacked by her husband and his goons. She said, she somehow had managed to escape and run to the safety of the Station. She also requested for the safety of her sons. By about that time, Rahman and a couple of Bengali families walked into the Bandra Station as if by accident. They graphically narrated to the police the misery of Teesri, as also of the complaints filed with the Mahim police and such other gory details. And, finally the Police along with the family court officials and three Bengali women went into the Khan-house and took charge of Teesri’s sons. The kids were then deposited for care with a Bengali family.
Bandra station incident was immediately followed by Teesri’s hospitalization and her husband’s arrest. She stayed in the hospital for about three weeks while her sons were under the care of the Bengali families. In the mean time, Teesri’s husband obtained bail and later came to know of Teesri’s transfer as also of Rahman and my role .He promptly stormed into my office and shouted at me. It was not difficult to defend myself, as I said that his wife was working at a Bank and not my office: “I am the wrong tree; bark elsewhere”.
But the bigger difficulty was to follow. Teesri’s husband had come to know that she with her sons would be leaving Bombay for Calcutta from Bombay Central on a Saturday evening. The Bombay Central that evening was a virtual battle field. Rahman’s Party workers, labor union from the Railway Coolies and some Bengali families had thronged to the station .The Police had been informed earlier. Teesri’s husband did not disappoint any. He marched into the Station along with about 25-30 Muslim young men shouting, screaming and waving long knives. That was followed by scuffles, fist fights and knife thrusts between Teesri’s protectors and her husband’s supporters. . Luckily not many were seriously injured, as the Police intervened and took away Teesri’s husband and his supporters.
It must be said to the credit of the Bengali families that three of them including Hem travelled along with Teesri and her sons. They were guarded all along the journey by six of the party workers. Again, at the Howrah Station she was safeguarded by the Party workers and taken to a ‘safe-house’. For about two months the Party workers kept vigil on Teesri and her house. Since the Marxists, in the Calcutta of those days, were very strong and militant, the embittered Muslim supporters could not harm Teesri or her sons.
About three months after her escape into safety, Rahman travelled to Calcutta along with case papers, copies of police complaints, hospital records and such other documents and evidences. Teesri did not have much difficulty in obtaining a divorce.
All these happened in the early eighties. I have since completely lost touch with the principle actors of these episodes.
When I look back at the events that took place about a quarter of century ago, I am amazed at the turn of events. What could be called as the rescue came about because of the concern of a harmless dreamer Hem, for a fellow Bengali girl who wide-eyed walked into a death trap. It was Hem’s dogged persuasion; and Rahman’s ingenuity, dexterousness and organizational capacity that saved Teesri and her sons. I was also much touched by concern and unity of few Bengali families; as also by the commitment and valor of the party workers.
I am aware there have been countless Teesris over the year’s . But I wonder whether any was as fortunate as this Teesri despite the awful mess she got into.
I had little or no role to play in the series of events. I was mostly a witness who learnt of the events much after they had taken place. It was the concern of Hem and the capacity of Rahman that saved Teesri.
As regards Rahman, he was a sort of veteran of resistances. Right from the days of Marxist movement, the Bangla war, the infamous emergency and such others he had been associated with underground. Not only he had the talent but also enjoyed such tasks. Strangers would normally take him for a lazy Bank Clerk; and as I said, he was not very likable. But beneath all that he was a wonderful person and a very efficient, silent organizer. He, like Rodriguez had virtually risen out of scum, and was mostly self-taught. They both had seen much sorrow and suffering in their life.
I respected them for the way they handled their grief and for their equanimity in the face of disasters. The other reason was that despite the injustices that life meted out to them they seemed remarkably free from bitterness and hatred. I am not suggesting that Rahman or Rodriguez were angels. No, they had their weaknesses in plenty. They were men, nether beasts nor angles.
I do not think that Rahman ever considered himself a hero; or his effort spread over a year or more as acts of bravery. He in past had done more hazardous tasks. Similarly, Hem too never regarded himself compassionate. They both did what came to them naturally. To come to think of it, had their roles been reversed, it would have been an absolute disaster.