Tag Archives: Noorjehan

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.