I read books by Somerset Maugham many years ago. In our last Book Club meeting a member spoke about a short story by this author. I felt like reading one of his books again. I got Liza of Lambeth. This book was published in 1897 and is the author’s first work. The story is set in London and is about people of the lower income group. Drinking a little too much alcohol, physical and mental violence are a part of their lives. Maugham has made those scenes come alive. The problem of drinking too much alcohol is the same everywhere and at all levels of society. It is a life difficult to imagine.
I am witnessing one such situation in my locality. This person works in many houses from morning to evening to make a living. She has two children. Her husband is an alcoholic. Last year his friends helped him find a regular job, and he abstained from drink. But now it is back to square one. Once a person gets addicted to a substance or habit, it becomes very difficult for them to come out of that trap. His wife has resigned herself to the situation. It is sad.
In a parallel situation elsewhere, I walk with another person to the bus stop many days in the week. Sometimes she tells me about her life. She came to our town after her marriage. To her horror her husband was an alcoholic. The burden of bringing up her family fell on her shoulders, with very little support from him. In spite of many problems, her basic values and principles have always sustained her. Once she asked me, “We all have so many problems in life and there is always shortage of money. Then why do our men folk think that they have to drown their problems in alcohol? Do we have that luxury? Do we do what they do? Do we drink from morning to evening? Do we not face life by making ourselves strong, mentally and physically? What would happen to our family if we followed the footsteps of our men folk? Do they believe that it is the male prerogative to destroy not only their lives but the lives of everyone around them by spending all that they earn on alcohol? We would not be facing this poverty if all that money was not spent only on drink.” There are no answers to these questions.
Her questions brought to mind the unfortunate situations in some parts of our country. Drought conditions, poverty and the burden of debt have driven many farmers to commit suicide. But I have never read about their families committing suicide. Why is it that wives of these desperate farmers do not kill themselves? Once their husbands escape this world, these destitute women are left to fend for themselves and their families. What holds them back?