The Double Leaving–“jete nahi dibo”

Before she left her in-laws’ house the first time, her new father quoted some lines from Tagore to them at the table, among which were the haunted words “jete nahi dibo.” He and his wife were grieving the return of their children.I noticed that her eyes remained dry and quiet. She was probably thinking of her earlier departure. That which comes must go, tho’ all cry, jete nahi dibo.


As her wedding approached, she had cried out, mother, mother, look, my girlhood passes! Jete nahi dibo. But it passed, and she was wed.
No, don’t go, life, come to my house.

The Red Book (In Memory of _The Handmaid’s Tale_)

My mother told me a story tonight. 

The other day when she attended the telephone a voice asked for her by her given name and familiarly, “Tumi ki ___?” (Are you_?) When she said yes, it went on in a more respectful way,” Aapni ki school-e poraan?” (Do you teach at a school?) Ma said she got a bit angry; if the caller didn’t know her well enough to ask for her by her first name, they would have no need to ask the second question; and if in fact it was a work-related call, they should not dare to use her name.  But she felt she should pause before delivering a reprimand, and so, asking the caller to wait, she went off to set an egg to boil for my sister.

When she came back, she found that the caller was a friend of hers from little girlhood, a person she had not imagined she would speak to again. They exchanged stories of their lives since then, talked for half an hour. Perhaps they would meet soon, too, but the thing about the call was how strongly this woman, my mother, felt that this was amar jiboner moddhe ekta golpo, a story-within-the-story of her life. Was she speaking of the impact of the ‘meeting again’? Of childhood coming back to succour not-quite-old-age? Or was it because of the way this other woman’s story intersected her own like a branch, a possibility, a ghost limb?

This woman, this other woman, had had an elder sister who my mother knew of. That sister got married, had 2 daughters, and then died when the older one was three years and the younger was only eleven months old. Her husband was an only son, living with his parents. Having no one in his house to care for his daughters, he brought them to his in-laws. The younger sister then brough them up. Nothing special in that.

But she told my mother that when she had time or sense to look again, she found that she was old, ‘buri,’ and so she never married herself. If this was the last thing she said, I would fill up her silence with understanding of my own–how refusal is often born of the arrival of plenty. But she also said that in the process of bringing up the two girls, she lost the desire to marry. That’s when I paused.

My mother said pensively that perhaps her friend could have also had a life like hers, ‘theirs,’ those married multitudes. The word happiness was mentioned, so the question is, was she happy or was she not?

It is possible to be happy when one has two people dependent on one, if there are no monetary fears or other large worries for one’s safety. It is possible to be happy in many ways, if happiness is defined at least as the absence of real unhappiness. Was she happy? The better question would be, was she not happy? Yes, yes, perhaps she was, at least as much as many are.  What else could she have done?