I have FOUR stories to tell. And every tragic incident was blamed on alcohol. Every bleeding limp, kicked-on stomach, twisted arm… every single assault was the fault of whisky, beer and arrack.
Oh, ever so often, the blame fell on the woman for provoking him when he was drunk. “Why couldn’t she wait till he was sober to reason with him?”
I was about 11 when my next door neighbour turned from a much-respected teacher in a leading school in Madras, to our colony’s resident drunk and wife-basher. My first exposure the violence against women, and the impotency of society. A well-educated, religious, until-recently delightful father of two turning to bottle and fists? Must be bad company, a wife with a loose tongue, demanding in-laws… anything and anyone but the man himself was to be blamed. The cycle of drinks, violence, apologies continued till the man OD-ed on cheap liquour and dropped dead at the local ‘wine’ shop.
Somewhere during those 7-8 years of violence, another neighbour married a well-placed, mild-mannered, youngster who didn’t waste time building up a reputation, and made no bones about his nightcaps. Only thing, nightcaps sometimes started at dawn and continue till he crashed out. Of course, he was not violent by nature. Only when his wife refused to follow him home in the evenings, and insisted on staying with her family.
If only she took him home and settled him in, he wouldn’t turn violent. But who is to speak sense into that woman’s head? His sons are now young adults, he has lost his job, drunk away his pension fund, and worries his wife for spending money–after all, what’s the point of holding down two jobs, if you can’t support your husband?
Whenever I look at him with disgust, at least one person will talk about what a lovely person he is when he is sober. Hopefully in time, he will have a bottle of illegal and lethal arrack, and then this story will end well.
Someone in my family recently lost her husband. She was shy of 50, he just over. He had a stroke, was bedridden for a couple of years–during those months when the whole family reminisced about what a humorous friendly fellow he was. It was a mystery though, why he was in debt when he had a well-paying bank job.
The stroke we later realise was the result of stress, high BP, and… shhh… excessive alcohol. But what a wonderful father. He was a friend to his two kids. And even when he was drunk and tended to get aggressive, it was never ever directed at his children, just his wife. He would never lay a finger on his children, no sir. He would sober up, and apologise, and stay up late into the night recounting stories from Indian mythology. Am sure, some of those stories were about patriarchs above reproach. Months after his death, his life as a father, even husband, is still romanticised.
Few months ago I got a call late in the evening. “Hello, this is Mrs X,” the caller identified herself. Our maids were friends, and she was trying to get in touch with hers through mine. Hesitantly, I asked her if she needed help, because I knew she was wrapping up her affairs and going back home, having lost her husband. And also because I knew her story, was at one point a ‘friend’, and was very annoyed about the proud stress she placed on being Mrs S.
I met her at an office party about 12 years ago, when I was still new to Doha. Her husband worked at the same place R and I did. She was warm and friendly, and extremely chatty. And in no time, over several phone calls and a few visits, I came to know about her life. That she was expected to stay up well into the night to ‘receive’ her husband in her sunday best when he returned from work (late shift). Or bear the brunt of his wrath.
She came home early one morning with scars on her face and arms, his finger ring had made deep ridges on her cheeks. We tried getting her out of the country, but she decided that she didn’t have enough support back home and continued to stay with him. She miscarried a baby–“I’ve impregnated my wife,” he said, puffed chest and all, by way of announcement; “I will get back at him,” she said, ignoring the doctor’s orders of rest–and then went on to have another. I wished her and her new baby luck, and terminated by the then feeble friendship.
Then last summer we hear that Mr X had booked himself into a hotel room during his visit back home. He was found dead in that room one evening. Alcohol and diabetes make fatal bed partners, apparently.
Why isn’t there sustained fury? How come there is no dearth of advocates for the violent and the drunk? And how come there are people who manage to see something positive and hopeful in the dreariness of domestic violence?
As a society, we’d probably help someone with a flat tyre, a bowl of sugar, even a kitchen fire. But when it comes to being bashed up, we’d rather stand by our window, in our balconies, by the gate, and enjoy a ringside view of what we wish would never happen to us and ours.
Will we walk up and hold back the angry fist? Will we dial the cops and call for help? Will we walk up to the woman and give her refuge in our homes?
Could we at least do this, if the girl in question is our daughter or sister or cousin?
Educated, economically secure families will allow their girls to be ‘victims’ of violence, rather than be a ‘failed’ wife.