by Florine Roche
New Delhi, Feb 16 : As we all know falling in love is truly a wonderful and exhilarating experience. Though being ‘attractive’ with a killer body and a pretty face to match it, is a common attribute most men would fall for in a woman, there are certainly exceptions in many cases. Otherwise all the not so attractive women would not have got married at all. So when young and handsome Nazarus Lakra of Delhi fell for a wafer-thin and frail-looking Maithri hailing from West Bengal he falsified the general belief that physical appearances plays a big role in romantic attractions. This love story between a Delhi boy and Bengali girl is made up of sterner stuff that might leave many of us baffled for the sheer temerity of the foundation on which their relationship is thriving. The love story of Nazarus and Maithri will be an eye-opener to many of us in ways more than one.
Theirs is a typical mills-and-boon modern love story involving the same passion and excitement but with a twist. Nazarus, who was working for a NGO - Population Concern International (PCI) India, was part of a 60 member male group that participated in an All India AIDS Awareness walking tour in 2005. When the team visited West Bengal as part of their campaign they were met by a delegation of the Bengal Network of People living with HIV/AIDS and they were all widowed women. This was the first encounter between Nazarus and Maithri which sparked off flames of love between the two despite strict warning for these women not to ‘flirt’ with the boys. However, the unthinkable happened. Nazarus, a handsome healthy young man, with bright future ahead of him fell in love with Maithri, an HIV positive widow with two children.
What is that attracted Nazarus to Maithri? Not her physical attributes for sure! Being an HIV positive she had just started ART and was yet to come to terms of life. Nazarus had said in one of the interviews ‘when I met Maithri she was without any make up or jewellery. But the way she spoke impressed me a great deal and I realised that she was fully aware of life and its insensitivities. I was automatically drawn to her’.
There were other couples in the group who were also smitten by the love bug because being widowed and HIV positive these ladies felt nice at the attention they received and naturally there was a temptation to perceive even a small gesture as a sign of love. But it is only Nazarus and Maithri whose true love survived the test of time. They kept in touch with each other even after Nazarus left for Delhi and they kept in touch over phone. Maithri even went to Delhi to meet Nazarus to know whether he was really serious about the relationship considering that she was a HIV positive widow and that too with two children. But Nazarus allayed her fears and within two years of courtship they were married without the presence of their family members. While Nazarus’s family was not aware her family was not comfortable with her decision to marry again. Her own siblings and relatives chided that ‘she was shameless to marry again under her condition and that too to a man who was HIV negative’. Maithri heard such disparaging remarks from many other quarters but was unwavering in her belief that ‘she has every right to live her life like everyone else’.
What drew them closer were their backgrounds and they found solace in each other’s company. Nazarus had to discontinue his studies after his drunken father lost his job in State Bank of India and was forced to work to support his mother and siblings. With this burden on his shoulders he failed to clear his SSLC exam and that was the end of his schooling. But Maithri’s story is quite heartrending. She was married off soon after her SSLC Board exam much against her wish to a jewelry artisan working in Mumbai. Two children were born out of the loveless wedlock as her husband was paranoid. In 2000 when her husband was hospitalized with bone tuberculosis she realised she too was HIV positive and her dream of a normal life shattered like a pack of cards.
Her HIV status made her family and relatives shun her including her mother who was scared of contacting the disease from her. Only her parents and grandmother shared space with her which made her really sad. After the death of her husband in 2004 her husband’s family closed the doors on her. With no savings and two young children to take care, Maithri had lost all hopes of living. The only saving grace was that her family had agreed to take care of her children. But the home atmosphere was trifling and Maithri decided to come out of it and built a hovel close to her home in Domjur district from a piece of land she got from Gram Panchayat. Her father helped her with bamboo and tin plates to build the hut. Her HIV positive status kept men at bay.
She began taking ART (Anti retroviral treatment) from 2005 as her CD count had fallen below the normal level. By now she had got a part time job of cleaning and making tea at Bengal Network of People living with HIV/AIDS making her self- dependent. The chance meeting with Nazarus changed the entire trajectory of her life and for the better.
But the climax of the story was when the couple decided to shift to Delhi as Nazarus had better job prospects there. Nazarus took Maithri to his home and told her mother that he was HIV positive and Maithri had agreed to marry her despite knowing his condition. He also said the two children were Maithri’s sister’s children and they had adopted them. He told his stunned mother that he would live in a separate home a few doors away from them. Nazarus says he did this because he wanted to save Maithri from all the embarrassment and innuendo she would otherwise have faced from his family.
After working in various capacities Nazarus has found a job in Delhi in a five star hotel in the food quality inspection department while Maithri is working as a Counselor for Delhi Network of Positive people. The couple takes care of their two children who are very happy as they find Nazarus more as a friend than a fathery figure.
It has been eight years the couple has been married and theirs is one of the rarest cases of sero-discordant coupling in India. Sero discordant is a status where one partner is HIV positive and the other is not. May be for the first time we have a living example of a man with a negative HIV status getting married to be a HIV positive woman. The general trend here in India is that usually it is the HIV negative women who stays put married to the HIV positive husband takes care of her. For Maithri getting married to Nazarus whom she calls John, is like a rebirth and her only death wish is that she wants her husband cremates her with complete wedding clothes, which she says she could not fulfill during her lifetime. For Nazarus it is a new responsibility which he has embraced with glee.
Nazarus Lakra has shown that one need not be highly educated or rich to come out with rarest of rare acts like his to alleviate another person’s suffering by giving a helping hand. To top it, he lives a normal life and does not make a show off of his altruism.