The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, October 29, 2000
Life Ties

The triumph of spirit
By Taru Bahl

AUNTY, didi, madamji — Sabina was all this and much more. She was the live-wire who ignited all the semi-dead connections in the locality. She had grown up in that street and knew each of the old-time families intimately. Having lost her father when she was a little girl, she had effortlessly donned the role of provider, healer and supporter of her ailing mother and a brood of siblings. Although the youngest in the line, she was a mother to them till they became independent and went their separate ways. Principled and duty-bound, she was also forthright. She did not know how to sugarcoat bitter truths. Even those who avoided being the target of her acerbic tongue knew she didn’t have a single mean bone in her body.

Sabina’s brothers were settled in the USA and pestered them to come and live there. But she respected her mother’s decision of not wanting to move from a place which held a lot of emotional value and fond memories for her. At 38, she did not consider herself a ‘prize catch’ in the matrimonial market. With the responsibility of looking after a paralysed mother, she had put the idea of marriage on the backburner. Her favourite line used to be, "Seeing so many unhappy couples around me, I think I am fortunate in being single. Besides, now I have become very set in my ways and a partner would only be a nuisance".


A teacher, she combined her evening walk with social interaction and a trip to the market to buy provisions. A brisk 15-minutes would be earmarked for Mrs Kapoor who had just sent her son to boarding school and was plagued by guilt and nostalgia. The next day she would drop in at her neighbours’ to congratulate them on the achievement of their daughter who had won a gold medal in medicine. Another house in the throes of wedding preparation would happily hand over odd jobs to Sabina and welcome her offer of spare rooms for use by the outstation guests. She had a solution for the 80-year-old Mr Kumar who was up in arms against the telephone department that was not responding to his pleas of correcting the inflated bills he was getting month after month. She shot out a strongly worded letter, sought an appointment with the general manager and straightened out the anomalies. She even helped two warring neighbours — a Tamilian and a Sikh family-- to bless their children who were madly in love. She was undoubtedly the conscience-keeper, the troubleshooter and the peacemaker of that 30-house-long stretch.

She lived a disciplined life. Up and about at the crack of dawn, she would do yoga, bathe her mother, cook for the day and instruct the part-time maid before leaving for school. She would be back at 2 pm and catch her 40 winks and freshen up for the batch of children who came for tuitions. Extremely committed to her wards, she took responsibility for their academic performance. Her numbers never exceeded the statutory five, because she felt more than that she would not be able to do justice. At five, she would leave for her two-hour-long walk. Back home, she and her mother would have their simple vegetarian dinner, watch some television, read a while and sleep by 10 pm. It seemed a calm and peaceful existence until the day she met with an accident.

She was returning home from school on her scooter and was waiting for the light to turn green. Her right foot was lightly resting below the scooter’s foot rest. Out of nowhere, a Gypsy came vrooming, ran over her foot and left her lying in a semi-conscious state. She , however, took down the jeep’s registration number before she passed out.

What followed was a nightmare. She had no option but to get the leg (below the knee) amputated. Subsequently, she went in for a Jaipur foot and has recently returned from the USA with a more sophisticated attachment. On the insistence of her family and friends, she tried to track down the person who had so ruthlessly butchered her life. He was a senior government official who did have the courtesy to come to her house to offer his sympathy and a small amount as compensation. However, it was his callous and nonchalant attitude which irked Sabina more than the fact that he was unwilling to shell out more money.

He had a chip on his shoulder and his attitude was: "You should be grateful for what I am doing. You want it, take it and if you don’t, its your loss anyway. None of your threats are going to work because I am above the law." Her friends goaded her to take the blighter to court. For eight traumatic months, the case dragged on and nothing came of it. He is out there in the open, perhaps more confident of his clout, position and invincibility. Finally Sabina withdrew from the scene, put it behind her and moved on with whatever was left of her life. Her pride had been wounded. She knew that the physical scars would heal but not the ones she carried in her heart.

Those eight months were her biggest learning lesson. Her school was kind enough to allow her leave with pay. The principal even put her to the school lawyer who was ready to charge her a token fee. When she was ready to rejoin, they gave her classes which were on the ground floor and allowed her slight flexibility as far as timings went. But the real shock was the withdrawal of some of her friends. She suddenly became an "untouchable." She could understand street children pulling faces and passing unsavoury remarks but when her own colleagues and friends avoided her, it came as a big blow. While she was confined to her bed, it was her colony residents and the parents of the children who stood by her. They came religiously every day to keep her company, make her laugh and reassure her that she would soon be up on her sprightly two feet, never mind if one was wooden.

Today she is back on her toes, as energetic as ever. She is a familiar face in the lane which has seen her through the most tumultuous times. She has gone through the ordeal without begging for help or compromising on her ideals. She knows that had she been willing to grease a few palms she could have extracted some compensation from the gentleman in question. Fortunately, she has not allowed her temporary bitterness to turn into permanent cynicism. She has also gotten over the self-pitying stage when every night she would cry into the pillow asking: God, why it had to be her? The lines on her face may be deeper but she is back to her smiling, backslapping, leg-pulling self. She is not just a survivor but a much-respected resident of her Sector. She may use a pair of physical crutches but emotionally she has done away with support systems for all times to come.

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