BANGALORE: Last year I went to Mumbai to take part in a panel discussion about trends symptomatic of our times and the question of individual freedom. How many women really live lives that have not been pre-fabricated? Back in Bangalore, I took an airport shuttle to my neighbourhood when a family boarded the bus. A husband, a wife and their assorted relatives. The man spoke a UP dialect but it was his manner that spoke not of his Geography but his upbringing. “Tera baap..us se bada ziddi nahin dekha humne!,” he addressed his tongue-tied wife, telling her just what he thought of her father. He and the family were all supposed to go to Narayana Hrudayalaya and they had boarded a bus to get there but the father-in-law who was already in Bangalore, insisted over the phone that they disembark and board another bus. How dare the old man do that? He spat, “Main apne baap ki nahin sunta toh isski kyon suno!”
A passenger told him that he would be fine, that from the Silk Board Junction where the bus was headed, they could board a bus straight to the hospital. He was given bus numbers to note. But he was not interested in resolving the conflict but milking it to the last drop.
Through his tirade, I wondered about his wife. That ashen faced woman who sat in a bus full of strangers, hearing her father being abused.
This was obviously not new. She was used to being humiliated in public by her husband.
Then something gave away because in the air-conditioned bus, the wife rose and began to gesture desperately to the conductor that she wanted to puke.
The driver hurriedly slowed the bus down, the automatic doors were opened and the woman sat down on the step, and began to vomit violently while the traffic buzzed past her. The husband, speechless for a moment, rose and held the wife by the shoulders and then began to talk, “Be careful, all this traffic, you might get hurt.” There was maybe just a tinge of guilt in his voice. But only just about.
Someone offered water to the wife. “I am fine now,” she said resolutely and went back, having rid herself of the bile that must have been gathering over the last few toxic hours.
“See? Now she has fallen sick and all because of him,” the man began again and then the conductor said in a measured but firm voice, “We have 20 minutes before we reach your stop. Just stay quiet for these 20 minutes.”
And he did, thankfully. But even though he did, my mind could not stop wondering just how many women put up with men like these? How many of us know of women who have been abused verbally and physically by the men in their lives and who say nothing and accept it?
I hope that the woman on the bus will someday, open the door to not just throw up her pain but to breathe in the courage to step out.