Why do educated, smart, independent women stay in relationships with alcoholic men? Why do they put up with years of physical and mental abuse, neglect and also expose their children to these same evils? These questions came to my mind after my sister had a frantic call from a friend last night who for years has endured this kind of a situation. It was another bout of her husband losing control, abusing her both physically and verbally, turning the house upside down, attracting the undue attention of neighbors and turning the once timid son, now in his early teens, into an aggressive boy, wanting to assault his own father.
I know the story is not new. It’s being repeated in thousands of houses across the country on a daily basis. All laws and safeguards guaranteed for women and children have no relevance in the world where alcoholism has taken control and women continue to endure the abuse.
One of my favorite pastimes when I am parked near a “wine store” or am somewhere within sight of one is to observe those who frequent them. It seems that it is one place that all social standings, otherwise so acute in society, disappear. There is the man on his push bike, the man in a three-wheeler, the one on the motor bike, the man in his Maruti car and those in their Prados and Monteros all stopping by to pick up their daily dose. There seems to be a sense of unspoken comradeship when they walk up to the tiny opening through which the wine shop worker hands over the bottle. I‘ve seen many men immediately wrap it up in a newspaper and tuck it into a trouser pocket or into a shopping bag or somewhere out of sight. It’s almost like they are ashamed to be seen with a bottle of alcohol in hand, probably because they know that once the contests enter their bodies, the metamorphosis they undergo changes their personalities radically.
I asked my sister why her friend cannot leave the man. The answer is, “She is afraid.”We’ve given her the number of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).She’s spoken to a person there several times and he’s warned her of the danger she is in. Its fear that is holding her back from taking the next step.Fear is such a strong emotion. It stops us from doing so many things but if that fear keeps us from acting now it could result one day in an irreversible eventuality. By then it may be too late to act.
Which bring me to a book I read by renowned South Indian writer and activist Sivasankari which is based on the life of a man addicted to alcohol. The Tamil title of the book is Oru Manithanin Kathai (The story of a man) but the English translation is titled Tyagu.
Sivasankari’s writes extensively on social issues such as drug abuse, alcoholism and old age problems and having read Tyagu I can say that her books are well researched and gets to the heart of an issue that not many like to confront.
Tyagu, the protagonist in the novel, becomes addicted to alcohol at a young age and we see how his life gets destroyed gradually. He bunks his studies, his marriage fails, he loses his job, he distances himself from his family members and friends, alienates himself from his own child and loses all sense of self-respect as his addiction takes total control over him.
Here are a few paragraphs from the first chapter in her book and it clearly illustrates the inner demons an alcoholic has to fight every moment of the day.
“Tyagu closed his eyes.
His throat was parched. His tongue felt like cardboard. A woodpecker was pecking away inside his brain. Birds fluttered within his ears.
How long was he to suffer?
He looked around without lifting his head. Making certain that he was not being watched, he bravely extended his right hand and unclenched his fingers. Feeling them tremble, he quickly withdrew his hand and held it firm between his thigh and the chair.
He could easily nip upstairs, gulp down a mouthful of whisky and rush back, without being detected.
Just a mouthful… a small gulp. It would be a boon to his parched throat.
Even if he could have just a little drop, his throat would feel better. This suffering would end. The woodpecker would stop pecking. Just a mouthful.
Struggling to get up, Tyagu felt himself being pushed down. There lay his father’s lifeless body. What damned torture! Tyagu cursed himself. What sort of man was he, that he could not hold himself together even for a few hours?
He held on to the chair with both hands.
No, not now………….”
Alcoholism not only destroys an individual but also destroys families, communities and society as a whole. Which is why it has become a national responsibility to deal with addicts and have them rehabilitated. But that is the big picture. In the meantime behind closed doors, in obscure corners of this country, in big cities and small villages, inside mud and thatched huts and marbled floored mansions, the monsters that senseless alcohol intake unleash are wreaking hell.
As for me, I’ll continue to hear the unfolding events in the life of my sister’s friend and her son and still be unable to do anything to stop it happening again.