There was considerable excitement in our office when news of new employee spread. I was curious about the interest the entrant generated, as people come and go in an organisation. The women were whispering and the men sniggering. Like Alice, I was getting curioser and curioser till she appeared - a chic, well-dressed attractive lady. Later I was to know that what added charm to the whole package was that she was a divorcee.
The poor lady had no respite from the endless stream of men visiting her table for trivial things. From managers to clerks, everyone stopped to say a few words to her. The women kept themselves busy speculating on who would 'catch' her.
All this time, the victim was unaware of the stir she was causing. Her name was coupled with several men in the office on the strength of the time they spent at her desk and for no fault of hers; she became the bone of contention between office romancers. Things came to a head when she quit, out of sheer disgust.
This is how our society treats the single woman- especially a divorcee. The unmarried singles are perceived as possible targets but a divorcee is easy prey. That's because she is supposed to be a woman of the world, aware of the facts of life and its repercussions and above all, lonely enough to welcome the advances of men.
How mistaken they are! The divorcee is like a burnt child fearing the painted devil. She has gone through a trauma, which only she can understand and is in the process of rising above it. After a period of companionship and shared life, however unpleasant, she is lonely and shies away from confiding in people. She also has a guilt complex deep within and perhaps indulges in self-reproach. She is afraid to seek fresh company, wary of strangers and skeptical of past associates lest they reopen wounds.
It is in this state of mind that she seeks solace and perhaps a livelihood, in a job. There is also an urge to prove to herself that she is not a failure. She wants to throw herself into her job, forget the gnawing desolation within and find a new purpose in life
But what happens? She is looked upon as free for all just because she does not have a man beside her called ‘husband’. She is stigmatized because she has no staying power to stay in a marriage that did not work. She is maligned because she has the courage to opt out of a situation she cannot stomach. She dare not make one false move or she only she will be crucified further.
I remember the agony of Sally, an American who married an Indian. Two, lovely children later her husband started a torrid affair with a friend. Sally took it in her stride for seven years and made no move. There was so much pressure from her friends and well wishers to call it a day- seek a divorce and go back to the US rather than live as a rejected wife. But Sally kept quiet.
For some reason, the affair blew over and the errant husband came back to his wife. What made Sally go through the miserable experience? ''I dreaded the prospect of being a divorcee", she confessed. "It can be very lonely and society even in the West is not too kind to such women: I preferred a rocky marriage to the pain of loneliness. So I stuck it out and my patience has been rewarded."
When are things going to be better for women? Who will answer this?