I can’t sleep. I just received a call from my maid’s niece that she has committed suicide. And, in an hour, it will be World Suicide Prevention Day…
Our Jyoti always came in with a warm smile, worked as well as she could, never told a lie, adjusted willingly if I needed her to help with something that wasn’t part of her job. Words fail me, the grief I feel is so great at the moment.
Her husband has been jobless for many months now, and has been abusive, trying to humiliate her all the time. A few months ago he quit his job and bought a dry cleaning machine for 32,000 rupees, paid deposit and rent on a space nearby, then didn’t work in it even for a day. He finally – after much begging and many phone calls – got part of the deposit back. He sold the brand new machine for 12,000 rupees. The money she had been squirrelling away for the children’s future also sank with this enterprise.
Two days ago he was hospitalised for severe asthma, precipitated by excessive smoking. She was extremely worried because he was not responding to treatment. Still, she came to work. Four days ago she had to take her daughter to Victoria Hospital to have an infected tooth removed, something which wouldn’t have been necessary if her husband had taken her for follow-up two months ago, when the dentist had asked Jyoti to bring the child in again the following week. He had simply refused to take her. It began to rain heavily so she called from Victoria Hospital to tell me she didn’t want to bring the kid in the rain in an autorickshaw, so she would be late. I told her to take care of her daughter and not come to work, but she came anyway and insisted on doing some work, that’s how conscientious she was.
Last month her brother hanged himself as his wife was having an affair. That was the first time I saw her smile replaced by a sad, perplexed expression. She talked a lot about her brother, and morality, the unfairness of life, how his self-respect must have suffered because of his wife’s infidelity, about the future of his kids, her mother’s feelings about losing her son. She took a week to get over it, at least outwardly.
Her husband was discharged this morning from hospital. He has been yelling at her and her mother all day. She says she understands his frustration at not being able to get a job, but can’t take any more of his insults and put-downs. She came to work this evening and was normal, even relieved that her husband was okay, but very angry with him for being abusive. I had to suddenly leave on an errand, so she couldn’t finish her work. She told me in detail what she planned to do tomorrow, and we left the apartment together and walked towards the lift. That’s the last I saw of her, bemused, asking why the lift had not been working when she had come up an hour before, as she waved ’bye to me and rang the neighbour’s doorbell to collect a bundle of plastic bags for recycling.
I can’t believe I won’t see her again. Only last week she had been excited about getting a new bank account, made possible by the Prime Minister’s new scheme. Only last week I had given her a packet of MTR payasam mix for her family because she said she hadn’t been able to make good payasam on her son’s birthday two weeks ago. She had laughed and said she would make it after Ganesh Chaturthi because there were enough sweets at home right now. I don’t think she had a chance to make it… Yesterday she had complained with an indulgent smile that she slept badly because her little son sleeps on top of her, because he loves her so much. What will that little boy do without his mother? Who will look after her daughter? She used to worry for her safety often, “because she’s a girl.”
I spent more than an hour with Jyoti today, just five hours before it happened. She vented, no more than usual. We had conversations about her husband’s health, her daughter’s dental status, the taps running dry at another place where she worked mornings, and how those people were coping. I was making tea and offered her a cup, but she refused, joking that she didn’t want to become a tea addict like her husband. We chatted as usual. In other words, there was no hint of any thought of suicide.
It’s 1:30 in the morning on World Suicide Prevention Day, and here I am, thinking of Jyoti, feeling unbearably sad. Unsung heroine, wife of an undeserving man, mother of two little children that she nurtured with love if not material comforts, a magician who somehow made 20 rupees stretch to fix a meal for the entire family…and smiled through all of this for the most part.