She Shall Have Music Wherever She Goes

16 Feb

I awoke on Monday morning to the blinking light on my phone, telling me an email had arrived. Groggily, I reached out, half-knowing what to expect. “She’s dead,” I said to the Boy, and buried my face in his chest.

It was another email that had arrived the previous Wednesday that started it all. Noorjehan, said the subject, and I wondered what Mum had to say about our maid of a few years. “You remember her, don’t you,” she asked rather unnecessarily, for Noor had shared the story of her young life with me while she swept the floors of my parents’ home. In the blur of lines that followed, Mum wrote that Noor had been set on fire and was in a trauma ward with 92% burns. She had visited her and Noor acknowledged her presence by moving her lips, though no sound emerged. The prognosis was poor and her fastest relief, according to the doctor (whom we know personally) would be through death.

What followed was an interminable week of communication, police statements, counter allegations, accusations of murder vs. self-immolation, testimonies supporting both sides, and a veritable he said-she said circus as a charred woman lay in agony, waiting for death to claim her. I will not go into the details of the case here. They have made headlines in the Times of India, the Mumbai Mirror , the Indian Express,  the DNA, and the Hindustan Times already.  What I will state is how wretched and helpless and horrified I felt and still feel that a woman no older than 27, a mother of four children who was married when she was a mere child herself, lived a life of subjugation and want that ended in this ghastly fashion.

I prayed with a doggedness I am surprised to discover I possess. I resented my comfortable Californian existence that has me so far away from being any use. I sobbed at the memory of that frail, dark woman in the burkha she was forced to wear, even as I waltzed out of my home showing bare legs and open tresses. I am startled at how gutted I feel. How shaken to the core. Most of all, I am angry at myself for making this about me. And I ask you to turn your attention to her and think of her kindly—Noorjehan: self-immolator/burns victim, tired mother, unhappy wife, polite domestic, half-hearted duster of furniture, occupant of a small life few will notice has evanesced.

Rest in peace now, Noor.

Your death has brought me one degree closer to life as it can be.

8 Responses to “She Shall Have Music Wherever She Goes”

  1. R February 16, 2012 at 2:10 am #

    Hugs, OJ.
    That was a very powerful post.

  2. RB February 16, 2012 at 9:35 am #

    painful reality..we are so far away from our homeland…so helpless when our family needs help….such an existential life sometimes..such is life doesn’t even cover it.

  3. sukanyabora February 16, 2012 at 11:45 am #

    “I resented my comfortable Californian existence that has me so far away from being any use”…exactly how I feel when people back home are faced with a calamity.
    Very sorry and hugs to you OJ.

  4. DewdropDream February 17, 2012 at 4:19 am #

    Broke my heart.

  5. DewdropDream February 17, 2012 at 4:25 am #

    Also, I must say, rather shoddy and appalling reportage. They can’t seem to agree on anything between them, all these papers. Not her name, her age, her kids’ names. They however all seem to be convinced that she set herself on fire. Not even a hint of doubt there. I’m beyond upset now.

  6. dipali February 18, 2012 at 7:31 am #

    Gut wrenching, especially when it’s someone you know. May she rest in peace. Big hugs, OJ. I’m so sorry that any life ended this way.

  7. A February 21, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

    Very powerful! I pray Noor rests in peace… that at least now she rests in peace.

    Isn’t it mind boggling that good people, especially women, go through so much violence and subjugation? I am not asking a social question for there are good people who lobby and fight for equal rights… and more power to them. I am genuinely wondering about cosmic law. How come so much suffering can come to good people?

  8. Orange Jammies February 22, 2012 at 12:08 pm #

    R: Thank you.

    RB: True, that. I had once written on my old blog how glad I was to live in the same city as my parents and be available to them. That didn’t last very long.

    sukanyabora: Thanks for understanding, Sukanya.

    Dewdrop Dream: You’re telling me. I had to force myself to focus on what mattered or I would have been frothing at the mouth about the reporting.

    dipali: This year, Dipali, has brought me closer to more than one harsh reality already. It hasn’t concerned me directly (yet), but it’s still heartbreaking when you know the person in question.

    A: Good question. One that has a number of explanations/answers, depending on whom you ask.

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