I was strolling around the veranda of my uncle’s place. A cool evening breeze was continually blowing which was having a soothing effect on my mind. This was a welcome respite from the hustle-bustle of urban life. I could visualize some parts of the highly adorned arch of the Krishnanagar royal palace, which has been able to retain some of its past grandeur. This majestic palace always reminded me of the obliterated prosperity of this quaint old town. I am quite fond of this sub-urban small town dotted with umpteen desolate green patches provides the much-required tranquility to my exhausted urban soul. I always look out for any opportunity to visit this town. My present sojourn was possible since I had just finished the semester examination of my master’s degree. Not only the ambiance, but the people of this town are also quite amicable and friendly. They do not restrict themselves within the stringent boundaries of their families and it is a very common custom here to frequently visit the neighbors’ place. I always wondered how just a hundred kilometers could drastically alter our way of living and our mindset. I was lost in my thoughts and aimlessly gazing at a distance when the voice of the newly appointed domestic help, Purnima compelled me to withdraw myself from my brooding. She was calling me for my evening tea and snacks. Purnima was a petite young girl who was married and she was appointed by my aunt on the recommendation of a neighbor. She must be younger to me also but has already shouldered so many responsibilities. I learned from my aunt that she is engaged in household chores of five more houses apart from my uncle’s and everyone including my aunt is quite satisfied with her work. On finishing my tea, I decided to have an evening walk and around the extensive lush green field near my uncle’s house. It was quite rejoicing since we hardly get the opportunity to enjoy such extravagant green stretch in our city. It was not till an hour lapsed that I motioned to return. On my way back I saw from a distance, Purnima comes from my uncle’s place and was heading towards a neighbor’s house. Things were rolling along nicely with sumptuous meals, morning and evening walk. But after a few days, I found Purnima was weeping constantly in front of my aunt. I was watching her from a distance, I did not want to intrude into this scene. Later I learned from my aunt, that she was facing a grave problem. She lived on the outskirts of the city with her husband and brother-in-law. Both of them work as carpenters in a workshop located within the town. Things were going along nicely, but a few days back a local goon and his men started to monitor her whereabouts. She was petrified since these goons are quite influential and are well connected. This morning when she was coming to work, the goon directly offered her to marry him and her husband. He threatened that he will have to abduct her if she does not relent and would also harm his husband and brother-in-law. She has informed her husband, but his husband seems to be quite helpless. He could not muster the courage to inform the local police keeping in mind his political connections. I asked my aunt whether we could help her in any way but my aunt was quiet. My aunt was not too keen to be embroiled in these matters. I could not also think about anything and I consoled myself that maybe it was just a threat. He really cannot abduct her just like that. The others present there won’t just stand there and watch, they will protest for sure. Purnima came to work the next day, she was quite pensive which was unlike her usual behavior. She used to chat with me and my aunt while performing her daily chores. But she kept quiet today and we knew the reason. My aunt asked her if everything was fine and she silently nodded. This continued for a couple of days and we thought that it must be only a threat nothing else. But one day Purnima did not turn up.We could apprehend what was coming but tried to evade negative thoughts. We thought she might be unwell also. But that evening a neighbor came to our place. Purnima used to work at her pace too and she was also well aware of Purnima’s trouble. But just like us, she did think that it would be best to remain nonchalant. However, one of her relatives lived closed by Purnima’s place.She then started to unravel an intriguing sequence of events that she had learned from her relative.We listened to her with rapt attention. In brief, Purnima was abducted last night when she was returning alone from her work. An elderly school teacher who knew Purnima and her family were nearby when she was being abducted. He could muster the courage to protest and was yelling loud to garner some assistance for saving Purnima. But all his endeavors went in vain as nobody came up to the rescue. The goons punished him by stabbing him multiple times which culminated in his instant death. In no time, they fled hastily with Purnima by a prearranged car. The police did come and are continuing their routine interrogation of the witnesses but Purnima is least likely to return. She left our place after sometimes but I could not escape from pondering about these disturbing set of events. I could visualize this event as if I was a witness to this mishap.These events reminded me of a scene from Ramayana, a popular Indian saga. Ram’s wife, Sita getting abducted by the Lankan king, Ravana, and Jatayu, the mythical bird coming to the rescue but failing to do so he succumbs to death after being brutally attacked by Ravana. These events started unfolding before my eyes continuously and I was feeling ashamed of my nonchalant behavior. I could have done something for this helpless girl. But I chose to do nothing, but still, I thought, I and my uncle could visit the police station and enquire about her. We went to the police station the next day and the inspector informed us they are trying their best to trace those miscreants. We were also informed that the brutal murder of the school teacher has created quite a stir in the neighborhood. The locals are cooperating with the police in all possible ways since they also want to avenge the death of their beloved teacher. That is all that we could go to. I soon returned to Kolkata but kept in touch with my uncle for any further updates. After a fortnight, I came to know from my aunt the police have managed to rescue her from a desolate dilapidated shack on the outskirts of the town. The police raided their place after getting informed by some locals. They could arrest some of the goons while the leader along with few others was absconding. However, Purnima was safely returned to her husband under police supervision. But his husband was not ready to accept her. Purnima is now living with her aunt and she has recommenced her jobs. I hung up the phone but could not stop pondering over this incident. The stark similarity between this incident and the epic saga was again quite evident to me. Mother Sita was abandoned by her husband since a washerman suspected her chastity. The fate of Purnima was no different. She had to suffer unfathomable penance for no fault of her own. I realized that this never-ending saga has continued for ages. From time immemorial, women have been downtrodden by the belligerent patriarchal forces predominate in our society. In the modern context, the light of feminism and woman emancipation is only restricted within the urban fringes of the country. Meanwhile, for thousands of women like Purnima, this saga of inscrutable penury will continue in the nonchalance of so-called high educated intellectual people like us.
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Author Kunal Pal