She had never been happy in her life. It is even more saddening that in death too, happiness evaded her.
I became close to Jisha during our bus rides from Edapally to our college. She used to come to college in the bus from Perumbavoor. Because she never really talked to others, I literally had to nag and ask a lot of questions to actually get to know her. Being 63 years old, my fellow classmates used to call me Rita Aunty.
Even though she was persuaded to study from a hostel, Jisha had never complied. Even when the teachers used to conduct extra classes for certain subjects after the normal working hours, she never attended those. Whenever she was asked why she never made use of these privileges, she would say, "My mother stays alone at home and because we don't have a proper door ,the cow can get inside the house. Only if I am home, the door can be shut somehow".
I always used to find her at her seat, lost in thoughts or reading something.
However, she had stayed for a while at the Kacheripady hostel. Once, on asking her why she was walking to college, she was unable to afford the bus fare of Rs. 14. I had joined her in her walk to Kacheripady for two days. This is how she finally began opening up to me. She also started accepting a few favours I could offer. Once, when we were walking together when there was a strike, there was this woman at Kacheripady Junction, who was lying down on the road apparently because of fatigue. When I was wondering if I could possibly lift her myself , she suggested that we both lift her up and move her to the shade. She went on to do the same.
Jisha used to starve herself most of the days. Even when her friends offered her food, she never accepted it out of pride. When she was asked what she had for breakfast, she chose to remain silent. Sometimes, she used to say she had the leftover from the day before. Until she returned home by 7 pm, she never used to eat anything. Even when I suggested that I would offer money for fixing a new door, she didn’t relent. Instead, she used to say that she would get it from a demolished house. Despite the prevalent threat posed by snakes in the area, Jisha and her mother used to live in a rundown house with the bricks held together unsteadily. Jisha and her mother had lived in such a house for 20 years.
Her mother mattered the most to Jisha. She used to say that she wouldn’t want to live if her mother died. It was to stay with her mother that she left the Post Matric Hostel. Though her mother used to help pregnant women at their homes, she stopped it because she was unable to handle the sleep deprivation caused by it.
Gifty, a teacher from her college, and I used to help her financially in our own small ways, though under the pretense of someone else from outside, because she did not like getting favors from us. Her friends used to buy guides for her too. Upon the Panchayat’s offer to provide her the money to build a house if she could buy the plot for the same, she had desperately searched for such a plot. She had borrowed from a lot of people for this. She managed to purchase three cents of land, with each cent priced at one and a half lakh. But,even after a year and a half, the Panchayat failed to build her the promised house. In all likelihood, had the Panchayat built her the promised house, this girl who had only wished good for others, wouldn’t have had to face such a situation.
(The author used to be Jisha’s classmate. She worked earlier at the Canara Bank. She is also the wife of cartoonist Balachandran)
(Originally published in Malayala Manorama. Translated by Nandana James)