Ratna's Story

My father is a goldsmith. When he got a job at Masjid Bunder, we moved to Bombay from Calcutta. I was three then, and have lived here since. I studied up to my second year of Bcom at PN Joshi College, which was very nice - they gave me clothes and financial help. Our family, however, did not want to educate its girls too much; they were afraid of not finding grooms who were more educated.
When my marriage was arranged, l was very upset. My Maharashtrian friends would work for a year after graduation and then marry - mera bhi sapna yehi tha. Nobody asked me my opinion though; they knew if asked, l would say no to marriage. My father knew l had all these ideas about social change - l wanted to change the world, and doubted l'd be able to once l was married. Then again, l could understand my father's point - he had four daughters to marry and l was the eldest. If l did not marry first, there would be problems for the rest.

After marriage, my husband got his own room. We did not have any financial problems. He worked at Masjid Bunder as well. As l was the chhoti bahu, everyone loved me a lot. I had no major responsibilities.

Six months after the wedding, my husband started getting high fevers. I was pregnant at that time and with my parents. I had a baby boy at the hospital and everyone, except for my husband, came to see me there. Three days later they told me he had malaria and had been hospitalized. They discharged him shortly, but he did not recover. His fever used to go so high that if you touched him, haath chatak jaata. Daddy thought that he should go to Calcutta for treatment, and accompanied my devar to take him there. He would be better looked after in his own home, since l had a full time job attending to our child here. I was very worried.

A month later, however, he was still very ill, and daddy went to Calcutta and brought him back. I was shocked on seeing him: he had lost his hair, was looking very dark, and had become very weak. He did not even respond to our family doctor's medication, who became suspicious and suggested a blood test. He tested HIV positive.

I asked my jeth for money for his medicines, but he made nothing but empty promises, and provided no real support. He works in a factory and his income is around Rs10,000. Bhai ka farz banta hai dekhne ka. In the meantime, my husband would fight with my saas, who got fed up and went home to the village.

At this point l began to look around for work, which was a very difficult thing. When l said, "l need it, my husband is ill and l have a small child,' they would tell me, "Don't come, your mind will be on your problems at home!" Eventually, l found a job in a school and would work from 7.30 to 4. I had to manage my workload as well as my husband's health. I had had myself tested with him and knew that l was positive too. My attention was on my husband. He was always sad and becoming increasingly weak.

Itna dukh jhelte jhelte, he decided to return to Calcutta. It was my father, again, who organized his travel and took him there. He couldn't even stand, and it must have been very difficult to manage him along with their luggage. One day, they phoned from there to say that he is very, very serious and that l should come instantly. I panicked because there was no money to travel - l had lost the job, as it had been only a temporary one. I was under tremendous pressure and was also getting ill: I would vomit whatever l ate, have a heavy head, and suffer burning fevers at night. I had started giving tuition's at home, but could barely manage with that income.

That Sunday night, they phoned to say that he had expired. My father borrowed more money for me to travel and took care of all other expenses as well. In Calcutta, they did all the last rites. My jeth gave only five hundred rupees. He earns so much money, why couldn't he help? During illness, you really realize who your true friends are - sab ulat jaata hai. The only thing my mother-in-law told me was not to get married. She told me nicely and we did not discuss it.

I got a lot of support from my parents. I sold off my TV, the cupboard, bed, and paid off all the debts my father had taken during his illness. I did this Montessori course and with Dr. Bora's help, have reached here today. I have been through a lot - my brother-in-law did not help at all. On returning from Calcutta, my devar demanded a huge sum of money he claimed my husband had borrowed from him. I did not know of any such money, and that's probably why he approached my father and not me.

Nobody knows that my husband died of AIDS or that l am positive. My parents have taken care to see that it does not spread. I hink my husband's family did not want to spend because they didn't see the point in it. I knew about HIV and AIDS before all this. It is all over TV and in the magazines. But l only knew about the way it spreads. There is a stigma attached to AIDS. Then again, l doubt that my husband's family would have helped if he had cancer instead.

As a diamond setter in Masjid Bunder, my husband was overworked and underpaid. And when he got back home, he had to do everything himself. It could happen to anyone who lives alone. I feel guilty for torturing him. Now l realize that 'going astray' was only normal. He was a nice man. I knew even then that it was not fair to get upset with him, but l would all the same.

My husband was a very emotional person. One day a man came to the house begging for money. He said he would look at our hands and tell us our fortunes. My husband sat and talked to him. I told him l did not approve of all this nonsense palm reading and that he was just fooling us. He made the man tea and gave him fifty rupees! I used to scold him a lot. He had to make voters' cards. He spent one full day going to this office, that office, spent a would lot of money and got nothing done. When l went, l managed it in one day. I was never afraid of him… l was the boss!


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