Love Like An Indian
I briskly swirled into my neighbourhood petrol bunk, to a high pitched, heartrending yelp of “Kancha, Kancha”(boy in Nepali).
Bringing the car to an abrupt halt, I peered outside the left side window toward the origin of the sound. Two women were squatting on the ground, sobbing. They were shabbily dressed and in a state of disarray, like they had just woken up from sleep or had not slept at all. One was an average looking, swarthy complexioned, sari-clad Indian woman, with dark black eyes and oiled hair held back in a bun. The other, squatting on the road exactly in the manner of local slum dwellers, was to my surprise, a westerner with a short crop of blonde hair, blue-grey eyes, wearing a cotton kurti teamed with cargo trousers, a dupatta casually thrown about her neck.
They had grabbed my curiosity – the way they were wailing, with the Indian woman in archetypal style also lovingly stroking the hair and hands of the western woman to console her. But I felt uneasy about interfering. A part of me wanted to get off the car and offer my help, but the other decided to watch a few minutes from the side-lines, before plunging into what could be a very personal affair. Moreover, in the meantime, a few men had gathered around them, looking at the women – especially the western one as she was young and pretty, even though slightly overweight, like they were two monkeys in a circus. This was further augmenting my protective streak towards those of my sex. However, I proceeded towards the tanker and after filling my car’s fuel tank to capacity, paying up; I slowly manoeuvred the car towards the air-check gauge, parking very close to where the two women were still squatting with intermittent shrill cries of kancha kancha.
I got off while the attendant was checking my cars tyre pressure, and walked over to where the women were squatted. A Maruti Omni Van was now parked nearby and a gentleman with a stethoscope in hand, stood in between the squatting women and the Van. It was not unusual to find a doctor or two around here, as this petrol bunk in Salt Lake, Kolkata, is adjacent to three hospitals. I did not know about the cause of the grief of the two women, but the sound and sight of their pain had infiltrated into my psyche and I could almost feel their pain by now. I noticed that I was the only woman there in the by now large group of people that had collected around the two anguished women, other than one sitting equally morosely in the Van.
On enquiring of the doctor with the stethoscope, he burst forth with the story of the two women, like his emotions were waiting to be rescued, from the prison they had been held in till now. He seemed to need telling the story more that I needed to hear it. I was in sympathy of the women without even knowing their grief, while he had been with them through their whole journey leading up to it. The western woman squatting on the ground, I learnt to my amazement, was a German doctor, an endocrinologist, who had come as part of a group of health workers to work with an NGO in Kolkata.
While here, she had fallen in love with a Nepali NGO employee and had extended her stay month on month, till she had been here over two years by now. During this time she had even taken the Nepali man home to Germany, thinking they could settle down there. But somehow they had returned and gone back to working with the NGO, perhaps because the man was unable to adjust to life there or she missed her life at the NGO and amongst slum dwellers in Kolkata.
A couple of days back, after a severe attack of Tuberculosis, the Nepali man had been admitted to the adjacent hospital and he had succumbed to his illness the previous night. Now the women were waiting to take his body to the crematorium. By the time the doctor came to the end of his brief narration, he was as emotional as I was – in reliving the sincere, deep love of a woman who perhaps had it good in life, then gave it all up for the love of her life – to be with her man and those he was comfortable with. I could as yet hear the German woman hysterically rocking back and forth, beating her chest sporadically, amid calling out to her Kancha.
What struck me deep, to the extent that I’ve been carrying her image in my mind since then, is how she had adapted to the culture and surroundings, dress, language, living and behavioural attributes of her slum dweller Nepali boyfriend. She was now reacting to her grief at his loss in a primal way, like someone born into a slum dwelling and without pretentions, propriety or care for the world: squatting on the road in public view, hysterically wailing like the people she has perhaps become used to interacting with, through her poor boyfriend and the other benefactors of the NGO she worked for. She had adapted totally to the ways of her lover and to his culture.
On suddenly noticing the two women being escorted to the waiting Van by their co-workers I interrupted the doctor I was talking to:
“Who is the Indian woman with the German Doctor?” I asked.
Before he could reply, I distractedly looked in the direction of the two women for a few brief moments, with a newfound admiration and respect for the German lady doctor, adding to my existing empathy for her loss. It was after the women were seated in the Van that I returned by attention to the male doctor standing with me, for the answer to my question.
“She is the Nepali man’s wife,” he replied sombrely.
Then he looked at me in the eye, waiting for me to register the implication of his disclosure. I blinked, blinked yet again, before swallowing the lump in my throat, with the fluid shock of this revelation. Also I comprehended that the Kancha’s wife, whom I had thought to be Indian in spite of her oriental features, might be from Nepal, just as him. Even though there are many Nepali Indians living in and around the Darjeeling district, close to Kolkata.
I had been on my way to work that morning, at the jewellery store I managed. I drove out of the petrol bunk my mind reeling from having been fuelled by the power of true love. But I was enthused, that I was going to share with my mostly women staff at the daily morning meeting, I was now late for – love’s gigantic capacity to adapt, over and above to share.