This is the story of Sushama…25. She used to wear the uniform in blue and white checks... typical of all Group-4 employees who worked at the office washroom. Short, dark with glistening white teeth which added a certain spark to her personality, she wore her hair in a bun, stiffly fixed with hairpins... and was frequently found cursing the lady visitors every morning. Visitors who dirtied the floor and wash basin with strands of hair that found freedom from their overbearing heads and landed on the floor for her to clean up too often.

I met her every morning during my trip to the ladies’ room to brush my hair and freshen up for the day. Initially I was intimidated by her loud qualms which were delivered in the crudest forms... reason enough for the person present to feel she was the victim. However, later I realized all she desired was a patient ear and a little empathy. I never had any more interaction with her most of the days, than mere eye contact and facial exchange of greetings. However, I noticed how easily she bonded with all the other ladies who she met at the washroom. She asked typical questions relevant to each one’s present state of life, pulled legs of the nagging ones, enquired about the health of the ones not keeping well (something only she cared to remember) and broke into friendly little hubbubs with the rest of them. But I couldn’t help observing the involvement she had in each of the interactions. For one day she was mildly chiding one of them for messing up while packing her birthday cake she brought for the team and went to the washroom to clean up. She looked utmost concerned about her inability to manage things and the precarious future she was looking forward to if she continued to be this way.

She was usually up-to something active and interesting and if nothing she would hum the tunes of the latest film songs with expressions which only perhaps the heroine took efforts to master. I mused at the vitality of the character she owned.

I remember the day I spoke to her for the first time. And it had happened quite by chance. She was in her usual fits of being angry while mopping the floor with the huge stick with a rug attached at the end. And to change the subject I asked her how long she had been working here. She seemed pleased to chat and gradually opened up with a lot of details. Where she lived, how she commuted, how she got this job, how her uncle had deprived her father taking a giant share of the property they once owned and how she hated staying away from parents in her uncle’s house. She continued saying she would have to go home since her sister’s marriage negotiations were at the advanced stage. I casually asked when she was planning hers. She clumsily said she hadn’t any plans at the moment and wanted to give it some more time. I mildly smiled and nodded …she thought for a while and what followed in a gush of emotions was her story – her version of it.

She had once loved a ‘someone’ – another Group-4 employee from the men’s section. Her eyes lit up as she said… “He was so handsome…I’ve never seen a better looking man in my life. I bet every girl would fall head over heels on seeing him”. And she brightened up with self-assertive pride as she said… "He was in charge of the entire team of security guards. He said I was so special to him and I loved him back with equal intensity. We met regularly and chatted over the phone for hours. Everyone in the building knew about this and criticisms flowed but I never cared since I was no more affected by these limitations.

And then one day I came to know he was married."

She had recoiled without a question. The pain was so much that she still wasn’t able to live a normal existence. She said she was grateful for being independent and had a pair of understanding parents who would never impose any decision on her and had respected her choice of taking her own time. And then she said… "This is the worst possible way anyone can ever be wronged. If ever your emotions are fooled with – nothing in the whole world has the capacity to heal the damage that has been caused. I pray that even my enemies be spared from such a deception".
I meekly murmured the usual words of strength that one says in such a situation. Someone somewhere is made for you – one only has to wait for the Mr. Right to bump into. But probably I didn’t sound too confident as the old saying goes – you can convince only when you believe.

While I returned to my desk I thought to myself – was it I who grew up reading books of wisdom, was it me who had all the privilege of understanding the sublimity of pure love from all the literature I immersed myself into… today I was fascinated to see the same being echoed from a lady who probably never finished primary school. From where in the world had she imbibed such a value system which had successfully cultivated enough dignity in her that made her at par with any modern woman who preferred to live with honour than to exist with compromise? I recalled something I read somewhere and remembered scribbling down as it had touched a chord:

A mighty pain to love it is,
And ’tis a pain that pain to miss;
But of all pains, the greatest pain
It is to love, but love in vain.

Was there really any difference between us? Perhaps there was one – she was inside the washroom – I was outside.


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