Author: Padmashree Rao
Some experiences are etched in your heart and mind forever. Such is this experience that I share with you all today. This was something that I encountered a few years ago during my short stint in a call centre job.
During our training days, a lady scared to death came and sat beside me. Initially I wondered how the HR let her take up this job, so low was her morale. She always pulled her purse close to herself and even though no one could use the mobile phone, in her case it was allowed.
I would wonder about her. Whenever she entered the training room she looked scared. She was pale and always shivered with fright at the slightest moment at the ring of her cell phone. Something was wrong, but her evident sorrow and quiet attitude never had us go and talk to her. She also scarcely came out during the break time.
One fine day I decided to break the silence as I had started feeling pity for her. Somewhere my inner self told me something was wrong, and she is in pain or trouble. I could not retain myself from asking her what it was yet could not muster enough courage to approach and speak to her. This time, her phone rang, and she sprang up from her seat asking the trainer permission to leave. He was angry and said, ‘Mam, I understand your problem. But this is a call centre and we would not be able to let you continue if this is the case almost every day.’ She was not in a mood to listen and snatched her bag and ran out.
I wondered again what her problem was and worried about her. The next time we came face to face in the washroom. She was shivering. Finally, I gathered courage to ask her if something was wrong and she said, ‘Will you speak to my daughter? She says she will kill herself if I would not go home. I have left her in this dark night at home, alone, only to retain the job and that too for her sake. Please will you speak to her?’
I was horrified on hearing all this. What could I speak? What will I speak? No, I could not imagine myself speaking to a 6-year-old child and asking her to refrain from committing suicide. What was all this?
I told her to calm down. In the meanwhile, the phone rang again. She said, ‘My daughter is calling me. Please speak to her.’
I had developed cold feet, my head was numb, yet I took the phone. Her daughter on the other side recognised it was not her mother. She spoke hesitatingly at first and later in loud voice, ‘My mother is very bad. She locks me alone at night in the house and I feel scared. I will kill myself if she does not come home right now.’ I could hear the loud noise of the TV in the background. The child was crying and her mother here was shivering. I could not imagine a worse situation in the life of three women – one, a lady who was working for her daughter’s future, secondly the daughter who did not want to see her own future and myself, the third one who was entangled in such a situation without being an actual part of the problem.
I was in dilemma, yet hesitatingly I took the phone and spoke to the child and pacified her by bringing up different topics of cartoons, food, etc. Slowly, she was back to normal. I gestured Mehek to go home immediately.
The next day, she sat beside me. However, I was more terrified and disturbed about the previous night experience. This time, she was the first to initiate a dialogue.
‘Thank you, you spoke to my daughter. I understand it is not good that I lock her alone in the house and come here for work. But I have no other option. I am a single mother. My husband used to beat me, my in laws tortured me and my own parents shunned me. I was myself going to commit suicide but only for my daughter, I am alive. I cannot put her in a babysitting either. They have only day time services. Also, it is difficult to afford a maid in this meagre salary. What else can I do?
I have spoken to the HR about my condition and they have given me some respite by allowing me to go home whenever there is a crisis like the one yesterday. However, nowadays my daughter threatens me more. Hence, even the HR personnel are now hesitating to confirm me on the job. I require this job so that I can give my child a better future.’
I was thinking of this single mother who was trying to give her child a better future when her child required her care and attention the most. What could be worse than this situation? How could this lone mother handle so much pressure?
And about the child! I could only imagine what trauma she must be going through. A child who should lead an innocent, healthy life was planning to kill herself out of panic. How did the suicidal thoughts enter her mind?
Mehek wanted to give her daughter a good future but what the child was going through in the present; would it give her a healthy life in the future? Would she be able to lead a normal and happy life?
My head was heavy with all this thinking and I excused myself out of this conversation for some time.
Increasing incidents of rape, sexual abuse, violence, sexual harassment at work places, and societal pressures on women have always taken a toll of many till now. The recent Delhi incident has created terror in the minds of women. It is very difficult especially for single mothers to ward off undue attention, over friendly approach of their male counterparts and even for that matter their female counterparts who are more than necessary interested in knowing about their past lives and gossiping.
I do not know where Mehek is today. That 5-minute conversation made me think of the numerous Mehek’s who are striving hard to make ends meet, give their children a better future. But are they able to do so?
What is the crime of the innocent children who are left wounded with the pressures of this life at such tender ages? And especially for girl children! Loneliness, psychologically disturbed, hating their own parents, a lost childhood and a dark future! And surrounded by a society which is neither helpful nor accepts such parents and children. Beasts hounding around such women and children, ready to pounce on these vulnerable weak creatures!
My heart still races fast whenever I think of Mehek and her daughter. Where would she be? Would her daughter be alive? Will she be able to love her mother and understand her stance? Would Mehek be able to give her daughter a good future? Will her daughter be able to lead a normal and healthy life? I have no clue and my mind stops all its thinking process whenever these questions hound me.
I am still praying for Mehek and her daughter’s safety. Though traumatised by their past and present, they still are struggling to make things better!
(Note: I have purposely used a different name for the lady)