At around one in the night my sleep broke with constant message tones on my phone. It was alarming as all the hiatus on network group settles around twelve when mothers sleep as they put their children to sleep intercepted by an update or an emoticon sent here or there, office girls put out dresses for the next day and entertain some slow chat for closing the day, and the non-classifiable ones like myself just loaf around from one app to another. Somewhere in-between of late night phone activity I had dozed off only to be alerted to some very strong vibrations.

Someone had gone missing. Just like that!

I have a network group with school friends that has brought us back after a curiously long gap. Few had managed to maintain contact over letters, landlines, and emails. Yes, I am from ‘that’ generation. And now, many thin and thinning threads re-woven. How, now after so many years of finishing school, and after marriages and homes and jobs we have come together again. Names and faces do not always come together, is when frantic exchange of photos takes place. Different cities, changing faces, and struggling memories. We are everywhere, almost everywhere on the map, in different time zones, literally. We are cheap, mean, crazy, sexual, biased, angry, funny, political, busy, sarcastic, uninhibited on this group. It is a strange community of untold strengths. Pulling out old jokes, recalling romances and secret crushes, or recounting fandom for seniors or teachers, we keep popping in each other’s schedules on and off.

“Yaar, G… is missing!”

“What do you mean?”

“She went to the market and has not returned till now.”

“ :O :O :’/ ”

“She has a small child!”

“She was visiting parents.”

It was at the sixth message that I woke up. The phone light really hurt my eyes and I was straining myself to read. I had to read the conversation twice to register the gravity of the situation. Uncanny, how almost everybody woke up. We were women worried for a woman out there. Speculating, asking, telling, praying, nervous, and alert.

One of us had not returned home.

G… had been married for roughly seven years and was settled in South Africa. The husband was a wealthy merchant of some sort and provider for everything. With a lot of pride, I must say we are all superb women with achievements to list. G… had topped class many times, if my memory serves me right, she was a driven girl, in school. With piecing together fragments from memory and half-way information about her, that night we got to know that she had decided to be a stay at home mother. She had contacted one of us to work from home to design (what, I don’t know). The half-baked pieces are the most frustrating. Here was a person we had seen every day for fourteen years and now we were straining ourselves to put the puzzle together.

I only remember that she was the first bencher, quiet, efficient, neatly dressed, and an obedient student. Someone had remembered her jet black oiled braid, another recounted her handwriting and the bus number that she used to travel to and from school. Someone had remembered her masculine golden wrist watch. Yes! Noticeable in a girl’s school. We were getting conditioned. Weird, how we kept writing her first name and second name together in all exchanges. That’s how we know, by full names in school. Someone had known her husband’s name, but we stuck to her school name. The habit kicked back in and we started with her name.

The missing news caused all sorts of comments, with some trying to break the seriousness with a joke or two too. But we kept coming back to G…

Was she kidnapped? Could she be worse off, raped or killed? Suicide? She was here in Delhi, to meet parents with her son. People used contacts and contacts of contacts to reach the police. Someone went to the market the next day with her photograph. Asking about her, with fear and optimism. We were even seeing hope in a ransom call. Strange, how we settle for some fears in place of failures. After three days of constant beeping concern, there were other narratives.

Did she go on her own? But she has a son! Was she stone hearted to have left a son behind? How about her parents? Was it domestic trouble or violence? Was it some other person? Wasn’t she old enough to decide for herself? We kept messaging and kept reasoning. The family was concerned and then aloof. They did not receive ransom calls and nothing else about her either.

She knew that she was a mother, a wife. Sum total, she was a housewife who was tired, maybe. Loaded with guilt and fear of leaving a child behind, she walked into the abysmal multitudes and lost herself in a market – Another speculation. A good place to get lost, where people purchase happiness to satisfy the ever anxious and ever palpitating hearts.  Maybe, she wanted to lose herself. Had I not thought about the same? ‘One day I will up and leave… Just like that!’ and then everything would paralyze. I could never muster enough courage. I could never leave and here, she had executed it… maybe.

The network group was busy messaging about and for G…, a group she had never joined. We could not trace her number in all these years…. Just message beeps awaiting a return, some unanswered questions and…

The unexplained exit. The unexplained continuity.

 

Namrata Jain

Namrata Jain

Namrata Jain has taught literature in English for a decade at the University of Delhi. She earned her M.A. in English from the University of Delhi and her doctorate from the Jawaharlal Nehru University. Her area of interest/research has been feminism, literary theory, European drama, post-colonial studies, and Contemporary Indian Theatre. She has been actively engaged in theatre since 2002.

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