Sep 3, 2010

The Outsider

By Ramsha Rais       

I looked at her and saw something, saw that she wanted to do something, maybe even wanted to say something. However, she seemed to hold back as stepped on the platform at the Ferozepur railway station- Memsahib Webb, had arrived. Narrow eyes turned to face the woman who made Aphrodite seem like a mere mortal. The man got off the train after her and quickened his pace, leaving her behind. He stopped abruptly, remembering the luggage. His granite eyes swept the area for a porter and with disdain beckoned me- the humble servant. I collected the luggage and followed the man who walked forward with his nose pointed towards the sky. Memsahib was different, shaking hands covered by white gloves picked up the circle that claimed to be a skirt. The dark velvet made her seem paler than any other White woman we had ever seen. Small, shuffling footsteps, Memsahib Raleigh Webb followed her man and sat in the awaiting horse cart.
Raleigh Webb had been an enigma to me. She loved the country India even though it remained suspicious of her. Once, the cook had prepared exquisitely spicy food, although Memsahib had made it clear that she preferred food that was mildly spicy. Without raising her voice, she quietly had a few glasses of water and complimented him on his excessive use of chillies. Later, I heard the driver praising the cook for torturing the White Witch.
Rumours had told me that she and General Sahib had been married after the Great War. Now, Sahib was posted in an area where he said ‘’all the fiends lived’’. Memsahib once told me that she had originally fallen in love with Sahib and decided to marry him. One day I saw Memsahib bidding farewell to Sahib, as he was off to deal with a military issue that had resulted because of the Janllian Wala Bagh massacre. She hugged him softly, and bowed her head down. As she walked towards her bedroom, Memsahib’s eyes glistened with deceptive happiness. Her husband was gone.
The next day Memsahib rode through the green fields at lightening speed with her shoulders sagged and her head bowed. She had accepted fate.
The same day she insisted on coming with me to go and buy vegetables even though, I warned her about the shopkeepers. Memsahib changed clothes a few times and finally decided on a pale blue dress that styled in traditional White gown fashion. A hoop skirt and a tight corset somehow only enhanced her vulnerability. As we walked together (she always asked me to walk with her), she became overwhelmed by the heat of the Indian summer and fainted on the ground. I was glad that memsahib did not see the locals grinning contemptuously. No one came to her aid. I betrayed my kind and helped her home. On the bed memsahib stuttered a thank you, and laid back, defeated.
One day I was on leave from work so I decided to go home. All I wanted was friendly faces welcoming and enveloping me in warmth. All I saw was pity - I was working for the enemy. They called her the White witch. Her personality, did not matter, all they knew was that her husband was partially responsible for sending their brothers off to war in another country. Rationale had never been their forte. After the incident at the market, my friends said ''ha-ha! Did you see her faint? What a weakling!''. They called her pathetic. Some members of the community hated her.
Those that did not entirely blame her felt sorry for her. They saw how she tried hard; she was exceptionally polite to all the people around. She tried to fit in by wearing our kinds of clothes. Worst of all, she was married to a man who made ice feel warm. However, only a few people felt this way.
One day later, I returned from my leave and found Memsahib in the kitchen. The cook came in and screamed, '' This is my work, so tell this White witch to leave.'' Memsahib stuttered a hasty '' I do not understand'' and stumbled out of the kitchen.
She did not deserve this treatment, the stares, the ridicule and the pointing. She was a human being, capable of making mistakes. She may not have understood our language, but she tried to give us respect.
One day as I cleaned the picture frames and I accidentally dropped their wedding picture. The glass did not break. A minute later, a mail carrier came with an official looking envelope. Soon enough an officer showed up and asked to have a word with Madam Webb.
He revealed to her that General Topper Webb was murdered during a riot and that he was very sorry for her loss. She did not shed a tear, only sat down - still as a statue - she mourned.
The cook came to her and offered his condolences. He said that he had hated her, but never as much as to wish her such fate. People were sorry, but not much changed. A month after this, memsahib was abused once again by the locals for not killing herself after her husbands death - she was not respecting tradition - she had not performed suttee.
Memsahib left soon and never returned. Even now, I still wonder how she felt about India. She had seemed to love the country, eyes lighting up at the different sights, smiling at people everywhere. However, I wonder if she felt happy or lonely.
She had been an outsider to our community, a stranger, an enigma; in short an outsider, just an outsider looking in.


Shazaf said...

One problem with the story that strikes me immediately is that if the narrator is a native of the subcontinent, then is it logical for him to say things like: she made Aphrodite seem like a mere mortal? would he know who Aphrodite was? Perhaps if he were an educated middle class individual, but he's not.

Just a thought.

Pooja Lakhwani said...

I loved the setting and atmosphere you set up - It was very, very realistic :) The way the action moved forward was always very good - in the first paragaph itself, like this line:

His granite eyes swept the area for a porter and with disdain beckoned me- the humble servant.

The conversation between the cook and memsahib was really nice as well - I like how you managed to incorprate the language barrier in it.

The sad ending worked well for the story - It left the reader in an emotional state and showed how you much you managed to make the reader connect with your character :D

Annoushka said...

This is one heck of a story!! I personally really like it, but i would've liked to know more about Memsahib. Like her description. Otherwise this was really well written.

MuhammadAliUmerAshrafFarooqAlvi said...

I always enjoy stories revolving around the history of the subcontinent.
This was a good read!

Maha Ali said...

I loved it :)
I felt like I know Memsahib personally.

Shazaf said...

Maha, you felt like you KNEW memsahib personally. keep your tenses constant!

hats said...

awwwwwwww!! poor memsahib! its a sad story........
but its kinda surprising that an uneducated servant can sympathise with her.normally she/he? wudv shared the view of everyone else.........this is hadia btw

Shanzae Asif said...

The plot is well- structured and the simplicity of the maid's thoughts appear quite real.

sama said...

I quite like how Memsahib is portrayed as such an innocent. You can't help but feel sory for her. great job!

Saman said...

Awwww... i feel sorry for Memsahib! But i love the way you described everything and the setting! :)

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