Thursday, January 31, 2013

STIGMA


STIGMA
Fiction Short Story
By 
VIKRAM KARVE

From my creative writing archives: 

A poignant tale.  I wrote this short story almost 10 years ago, sometime in 2003, I think.
 

As the sun begins to set, tension begins to rise in the Patwardhan household.   

Why?   

Because it is time for Mr. Patwardhan to come home from work.   

Funny! Isn’t it?

Actually the family should be happy when the breadwinner returns home from work.

The wife should be happy when her husband comes home in the evening and the children should be happy too when their father comes home.

They should be eagerly awaiting his arrival.   

You are right. 

That was how it used to be earlier. 

But now it’s different. 

Every evening is hell, a torturous ordeal, for the wife, daughter and son, as they anxiously wait for Mr. Patwardhan to come home.   

Why? 

What happened?   

It is sad. 

Very sad. 

Very very sad.

Every evening, after work, Mr. Patwardhan goes straight to a liquor bar, and comes home drunk. 

The way he is drinking now-a-days, it won’t be long before he becomes an alcoholic. 

Or maybe he already is an alcoholic.

Come with me Dear Reader, let’s go and see what happens tonight.  

Where?   

To the chawl tenement in Girgaum where Patwardhan lives. 

Look how it is built. 

Four storeys. 

Each floor has a common balcony for the row of ten one-room households. 

The balconies afford a good view of the entrance and the main road, so everyone stands there in the evening enjoying the happenings, the comings and goings – that’s the main source of entertainment here. 

And when it gets dark, they all go in and watch the soaps on cable TV.  

And now-a-days, the arrival of the totally sozzled intoxicated inebriated Mr. Patwardhan, his drunken antics, is the highlight amusement of the day.

It is the most entertaining event of the evening, eagerly awaited by all, yes, all, except the Patwardhan family who wait in frightful trepidation, wishing it would all be over fast. 

Look.  

Where?  

Look at the second floor balcony. 

Do you see two ladies standing in the centre of the balcony?  

Yes.   

The one on the left, in the red sari – she’s Mrs. Patwardhan.  

And the other?   

The other one in the blue sari is Mrs. Joshi. Mrs. Patwardhan’s neighbour. She is lucky. Her husband is doing well. He is sober, successful, and they have plenty of money. Her children are bright. They may even move out of this crowded chawl to a two BHK flat in Dombivli or Thane or Kalyan or some distant western suburb of Mumbai if all goes well.   

Let’s go and see what they are talking.   

“Where are your kids? I can’t see them playing below,” asks Mrs. Joshi.   

“Avinash is inside, studying. He’s become such an introvert. The boys jeer at him, taunt him, because of his father's drinking problem; so he’s stopped playing with them.”   

“It’s cruel!”   

“Yes. He’s become so silent. And his eyes! I’m scared of the hate in his eyes.”  

“It’ll be okay. Just give him time. At least he’s doing well in his studies.” 

“Yes. But I’m more worried about Radhika. She’s just 14, and behaves as if she were 18, or even 20. Poor thing. From a child, she has straight away become a mature woman, because of all this. It’s so sad; she must be suffering terribly inside,” Mrs. Patwardhan says as tears well up in her eyes.   

“Don’t cry,” Mrs. Joshi says, “everything will be all right.”   

Suddenly, there is a commotion.

Mr. Patwardhan has arrived.

As usual he is totally drunk, intoxicated to the hilt.

Swinging from side to side, he is so unsteady on his feet that he is barely able to walk.

He stumbles on first step of the staircase and falls down.

His daughter, Radhika, appears from nowhere and tries to lift him. 

Mrs. Patwardhan rushes down the staircase.

Soon, both mother and daughter haul the miserably drunk man up the staircase.   

Mrs. Joshi stands transfixed, not knowing what to do.

Her husband comes out of the house, looks at the scene, and mutters: “disgraceful” and takes Mrs. Joshi inside. 

Words cannot describe the emotion of shame, humiliation, helplessness and hapless anger, the inwardly burning impotent rage that Mrs. Patwardhan experiences at that moment.   

Now that the event is over, her tension dissolves, and though she still feels angry, with time, a few hours later, her anger also dissipates, and, her worries for the day over, Mrs. Patwardhan goes to sleep. 

The day is over.

Tomorrow is a new day.

She’ll be up in the morning, busy with her chores and work, and everything will be okay throughout the day. 

It is only in the evening, when the sun begins to set, and it is time for her husband to come home, that the tension will begin to rise within her once again.

Now, Mrs. Patwardhan sleeps like a log.  

Next door, Mrs. Joshi cannot sleep, but she pretends that she is fast asleep.

Though her eyes are closed, in her mind’s eye, she can clearly visualize her husband’s surreptitiously silent movements as he ‘makes sure’ that everyone is asleep. 

Then he stealthily closes the door and sneaks out of the house in a furtive manner.   

She lies desolately on her barren bed in self-commiseration. 

She feels betrayed and overcome by a sense of helplessness. 

She deeply suffers her terrible sorrow in secret silence.

There is just one thought in Mrs. Joshi's mind: “My neighbour Mrs. Patwardhan is luckier than me. It is better to be the wife of a drunkard than to be a wife of a womanizer”. 

Mrs. Joshi thinks of Mrs. Patwardhan with envious sympathy. 

Mrs. Patwardhan has nothing to hide and can share her stigma with everyone. 

But Mrs. Joshi – she has to bear her grief all alone. 

And then, as the night advances, the tension begins to rise within her. 

Mrs. Joshi's tension will never dissipate - it will just keep on increasing till one day something will snap within her.     

The public shame Mrs. Patwardhan suffers is bad enough. 

Many make fun of her, humiliate her, but a few also sympathize with her.

It is Mrs. Joshi who we must really pity, as she suffers her private ignominy in secret. 

Every moment, Mrs. Joshi secretly dies a hundred deaths inside, unknown to the others, while on the outside, she keeps up a façade, a pretence, and wears a mask of make-believe, that everything is fine.

Is secret sorrow is worse than public shame?

Is the fear of your secret sorrow being found out more painful than the stigma of public humiliation?    
 
I wonder which stigma is more painful: Secret Sorrow or Public Shame? 



VIKRAM KARVE
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2013
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. 
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

Did you like this story?  
I am sure you will like the 27 short stories from my recently published anthology of Short Fiction COCKTAIL
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About Vikram Karve

A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer and blogger. Educated at IIT Delhi, IIT (BHU) Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and is currently working on his novel and a book of vignettes and an anthology of short fiction. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles on a variety of topics including food, travel, philosophy, academics, technology, management, health, pet parenting, teaching stories and self help in magazines and published a large number of professional  and academic research papers in journals and edited in-house journals and magazines for many years, before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for 15 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing and blogging. Vikram Karve lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.

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