Deepali Mukherjeeremembers a childhood buddy disowned by her family after she eloped with a driver...
She was Suman — a sweet and smiling, shy, 16-year-old.. and my classmate. She had joined our school in standard seven. The only empty place was next to me.
We bonded over scribbled notes and shared giggles. And for the next five years, till we passed out of high school, Suman was my soulmate.
She came from a strictly conservative Marwari joint family. Her three brothers, father, uncles and cousins doted on her. She was like a delicate wild flower which had to be carefully nurtured and protected from the big, bad world.
We went on to an all-girls’ school which was as strict as a convent. Yet, like typical teens we had our share of crushes. We pored over secret love letters and swooned over the latest matinee idol.. only Suman didn’t.
We dubbed her a touch-me-not, a pure white magnolia that was to be sighed over from a distance but never plucked.
We sat for the high school exams together. As always, Suman was well prepared. The teachers were expecting her to top and take up medicine. But knowing the kind of background she came from, I expected her to marry and become a mother by the time she was 20.
While we waited for the results, Suman took off to Darjeeling with her extended family. They rented a bungalow and settled down to a fortnight’s holiday. A local driver took them out sightseeing. Kancha, as he was called, was about 22 whose smile flashed often.
The family took to him immediately as he drove them around town and took them to see the Kanchanjunga. Suman was charmed for the first time in her life and tongue-tied in his presence.
Kancha lived just down the hill. His one-room shack was visible from Suman’s second-floor bedroom. She often stood at the window and Kancha smiled at her from his door. The family was blissfully unaware of the budding romance.
Two weeks passed by in a flash. Soon, it was time to return to Kolkata. The Darjeeling house was in complete disarray as the family ran around looking for scattered belongings. In the melee, no one realised that Suman wasn’t around. By the time they started looking for her, she was gone.. with Kancha.
The police was alerted. By the time they caught up with the couple, they were married by a local priest and were living together. Suman’s parents were appalled to have a driver for a damaad.
It was unacceptable for a family that owned a string of shops in Kolkata. Worse, Kancha was already married.. his first wife lived with them. So did his two little boys.
The family left Suman to her fate and returned home. A couple of years later, I bumped into one of her cousins. I couldn’t stop myself from asking about Suman. I had heard about her scandalous shaadi after that nightmarish vacation and had often wondered about her.
I was told that she was still in Darjeeling.. with her Kancha, his first biwi and their three babies. Yes, by then, she had added to the brood and was the mother of a baby girl.
It’s her life
One of her brothers had tried to persuade her to return to the family fold after he had found her hanging up piles of washing outside her little shanty, her doe-eyed daughter clinging to her legs, her stepchildren playing in the dust.
Kancha was locked up inside the house with his first wife. But she had refused to leave, saying, “She told him that this was her life now and her family. And she was happy.
That was the last time I heard about Suman. But I still think about her. Did the wild flower really blossom in the swamp? Or did it eventually wither away?