Today I remembered an incident from the past. More than whole incident itself, it is just one aspect of it that remains with me, bothering me because I see it happening over and over again all around me. But first let me tell you what happened.
I was just about done with the chores of the day, had slipped into my nightwear and was about to start on my daily letter to the L & M when I heard a cry of distress. For a moment I just froze, then hurried out of my bedroom to the front door, on the way asking the sons if they had heard it too. By then I heard my neighbor who stayed in the apartment above, a diminutive lady who hardly ever raised her voice, running downstairs admonishing someone or other in loud tones. I opened the door to find out what the hell was happening during an otherwise quiet part of the day, rather night, as it was 9 p.m. Right then, the neighbor across from me opened her door too, and she and her children streamed out.
Outside on my doorstep stood the couple from next door with the wife holding their month old baby in her arms. She was the one who cried out. I stood speechless in surprise as my much younger neighbor from upstairs ticked the husband off for dragging his wife (which she saw from upstairs) back home when obviously did not want to. I saw you, she told him firmly. You leave her alone. Let her to tell us what she wants.
It turned out the wife wanted to use the phone to call her dad. The husband tried convincing us that she could always use the phone in their house. At this point, I told him in cheerful voice (I am very particular about not making judgement calls without knowing facts) that since she wants to use my phone, let her go ahead. You can come in too, I told him, the gracious hostess and all. One more neighbor had joined us by now and all of us trooped into my house.
Those were the days before the advent of cell phones. So I took the wife inside to the bedroom where our terrestrial phone was kept. The husband waited in the sitting room. When the call was through and she had talked with her dad, he asked to speak to me. He told me that his daughter who was supposed to accompany her husband and in-laws to their home that same night was not easy in her mind about the journey and also her subsequent stay at their place. If she didn’t want to go, he didn’t want her to go too. Could I please help by letting her stay in my house till some alternative arrangement was made for her, he wanted to know. Telling him not to worry about that, I rang off.
By then I had sent word to the concerned seniors in the department. After all I was only the casual neighbor who she had turned to for help, not someone who could make decisions. More people, men and women from the section her husband belonged to joined us in my home and they were discussing how best to solve the issue. The husband could be heard begging his seniors to not make this an issue as it would reflect badly on his career.
In the meantime the man’s father arrived, cursing in loud tones. He called his son abusive names and chided him for ‘being unable to control his wife for even fifteen minutes’. His coarse manner put off most of those standing around. It was then that I noticed a curly haired woman in a sari standing at the front door, wiping her eyes every now and then. She was crying silently not saying a word.
One of my neighbors, seeing my questioning look said in a tone that left no room for doubt as to what she thought of the woman, “That’s the mother-in-law!” Another added in equal contempt, “Look at her shedding crocodile tears!” and also, “You would know just by looking at her face that she is a cruel one!”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I have known mothers-in-law (also written about some) of the worst kind. But those opinions were not formed by taking the daughters-in-law’s opinions at face value or based on what a nasty, foul-mouthed man her husband was. I simply fail to understand how someone can look at a woman standing at a doorway shedding tears and say with such conviction that hers were crocodile tears. How can anyone say that she was cruel just by looking at her face and appearance? Was it written on her forehead, in her curly hair or the prints in the sari she wore?
I have a problem with this sort of thing. But I see it happening all around me. People look at someone and pass judgment without even blinking, without bothering to wait and let actions speak or time reveal people for who they are. So what if (in this case) she were the mother-in-law? Does she deserve to be judged by her position alone? Is she to be judged by the actions of her spouse? For all I know she could indeed be a cruel mother-in-law, but then the chances are equal that she not be one. Years have passed, yet I have not forgotten what I consider were unfair observations made that day.
It does not matter how this incident ended, because this is the reason behind my writing it down, but I will tell it anyway. The man’s parents left that night. He stayed back with his wife. Later on they visited her home (and may be his home too, I don’t know). One day, the wife turned up at my home with a small gift for me, ‘for helping her’ as she said. They even invited me over for the baby’s first birthday. So that’s how it ended, they lived happily, and I’d like to think, ever after.