At times you find truth stranger than fiction. In fiction life appears a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces at least fit together, no matter how crooked and a pattern emerges, no matter how weird. But with truth! No way! There are moments you could simply gasp at reality and not grasp it at all.
It was a year back when my sister came to know through some one that Mr. Y. had taken a second wife. I refused to believe it. “It’s a lie. We just visited Mr. and Mrs Y. a few days back and they were both quite the same happy couple.”
“And who do you think is his second wife?” My sister ignored the remark and persisted. “How should I know?” “Try to guess.” Something dawned on me. “Oh God! Don’t tell me it’s her!”
The family is known to us for the last seven years or so. Though it’s not a very long period but they had been our next-door neighbours for four years. And we have a relatively close acquaintanceship with the family. The couple has two sons, aged 24 and 21.
They came from the Punjab. Along with them had come their servants — a couple. We all thought they were very lucky to have good, loyal servants.
Reshma was a mild, dark, robust and energetic woman — a typical ‘muthiaran’ with oil in her long hair and kohl in her black eyes.
Her husband was a lazy rustic. Though Mr. Y. soon got him employed as a peon, he was unsteady. He didn’t like the fast-paced city life. After a few months he went back to the village and took his 7-year-old son with him. The boy was from his first wife who had died in childbirth.
Reshma’s husband came to Karachi quite a few limes and asked her to accompany him. But she didn’t go.
So far Reshma had been infertile. Perhaps she was afraid her husband would sooner or later desert her and take a third wife. Besides, it was quite a good and comfortable life she was living. Mrs. Y. was kind, affectionate and a friendly woman by nature. Reshma was treated like one of the family.
Her husband finally came to settle the matter. We often saw Mrs. Y. and Reshma having prolonged dialogues. I asked one day if she was going back to the village.
“It’s her decision. I have told her if she wants to go, she can go. If she wants to stay she is welcome,” Mrs Y. told me. “How can I leave Begum Sahiba? She has been so kind to me. I am quite attached to this household,” Reshma said, looking fondly at Mrs. Y.
I thought it was rather wise of her that she didn’t go back to the village to face an uncertain future. I was sure her husband would have left her on the ground of infertility.
Reshma stayed with the family. She worked quite a lot. She cooked, did the laundry and cleaned the house. Mrs. Y. bestowed her now and then with new dresses and various personal items. She had a small room to herself which she kept tidy and took great pride in her belongings.
Mrs Y. was a nice, zestful woman. Though she wasn’t highly educated, she was confident and had a style and moved in her social circle with ease and grace. She had shown us her earlier photographs. So different she looked then – a simple, homely, shy girl with a long braid and eastern looks.
Soon after marriage the couple had gone to England and lived there for several years. “My husband hated long hair,” she pointed to one of her prized photographs, with short, permed hair, dressed in skirt, she sat beside her suited, booted husband: she looked like an English ‘Mame Saab’.
It was a busy life she had led. But now her sons were grown up. “They will soon be gone,” she would tell my mother. “You are so fortunate. With so many children you’d never be lonely. At least one or two will always be with you.”
I had a feeling she always wanted a big family but her husband didn’t. The mid-age crisis had brought a sense of emptiness in its wake. But there was one solace: Reshma was definitely more than a maid: she was her companion and confidante.
When they moved to a new house, Reshma got a big room. She was indeed being treated like a family member. I remember only two incidents which had made me wonder about her status. On their silver wedding anniversary, Mr. Y. presented his wife a diamond ring. “And this one we have bought for Reshma,” Mrs. Y. showed me a gold ring.
My sister and I wondered about it. We knew Reshma frequently got expensive perfumes, cosmetics, etc. but presenting gold to the maid was the limit for us. “Who knows of their feudalistic ways? Perhaps it is their tradition,” we said to ourselves.
And when for the first time, Mrs. Y. and the sons went to the Punjab, Mr. Y. hadn’t gone and Reshma had stayed back too. She was to take care of ‘Saheb’. Then it happened a few more times but by then we took it for granted. After all, what was the big deal if Mr. Y. and Reshma were alone in the house? They were responsible people.
And so that’s the way the story goes: the middle-aged gentleman had married the maid who was serving his family. And they ail lived happily ever after under the same roof — the man, his first wife, his two sons, his second wife-cum-maid!
Apparently their family life is as smooth as ever. Reshma is still the maid. I have tried very hard to detect any change of relationship between her and Mrs. Y. but there is not even a subtle shade.
How could Mrs. Y. let Reshma live with her? And what did she go through? What about their sons? How did they feel?
It’s all an enigma to me. I still think it’s not true. But the person who disclosed it to my sister said he has seen the documents that show Reshma as Mr. Y’s legal wife, thus entitled to all facilities provided for the spouse by the company.