He walked in one day. With a beautiful little daughter beside him. Then the story unfolded.
Ajay originally belongs to a district in Uttar Pradesh about 175 km away. It is not uncommon for people (read “migrants”) to have travelled up to the hills for work or in response to opportunity. Ajay says he has been coming and going to the Bhimtal area in District Nainital since his early teens. Why is unclear, as is most of what he tells. A chequered tale that cannot be verified or substantiated—just heard in a Kafkaesque experience.
It seems Ajay’s father was a well-established brick kiln owner. He named a huge figure of Rs 2 Lakh and above as tax that his father used to pay “in those days”. Then there was local politics. Overnight, “those jealous” of the father destroyed his kiln in the darkness of night. It was all over. Depression and drinking set in. Ajay was all of 19 then. As he describes, “My father was desperate. He thought the children should all be married off and settled. He just married me off in a great hurry.”
The girl, it seems, had a “half mind”. Just sitting in a corner, expressionless, not cooking or feeding her husband. Ajay was perturbed and wanted to get to the bottom of it. On one visit to the in-laws, he cajoled a young boy close to the family with a promise of chocolates. He says, “I learnt my wife had fallen in love with her sister’s younger brother-in-law, who was already married. The family was desperate to marry her off quickly. Then I understood why I was married off in just a week’s time.”
Time passed by. Ajay got work in Haridwar, where things seemed to be going good for him as a “supervisor”. “The little ones who worked in the godown of the main shop would hover around me. I always gave them money for a snack and some ice-cream. They all thought I was very kind and looked up to me…”
It was difficult to cope with an unmoving, dysfunctional wife—arranging for food to be delivered to her and so on. Ajay decided to give himself a break and took her to her parents’ home, left her and returned. After a short spell, he started calling to speak to her. “They always told me that she is sleeping or in the bathroom or some excuse. And never called back. I thought something is not right and went there unannounced.” The wife was not at home.
“I checked all the rooms, everyone was in bed, asleep. I asked, where is my wife? Then they told me, she has been sent for treatment. Imagine, no family member had gone with her.
“I went there the next day. It was a mental institution. I tried to get her out and they said I will have to pay Rs 25,000. I didn’t know what to do. I called the shop owner in Haridwar, requesting a loan.”
The money reached, Ajay released his wife and took her back. Only to then divorce her down the line. As he says, it was all done as a “samjhauta” (compromise, understanding) between the parents, conducted by the village council.
Fate brought another woman into Ajay’s life. Shalini told him stories of exploitation and suffering. His heart went out to her. He was obsessed to save her from her torturous life. He “married” her, though she had a child from her first marriage. Not a formal marriage just a little celebration at home with Ajay putting the traditional vermillion on her forehead. Another child was born from this new live-in “relationship”.
Soon enough, things heated up. Shalini pressurised Ajay to take up new jobs, earn more, move up in life. Squabbles and fights ensued. Nothing was enough for her. She ran away to her parents’ home higher up in the hills. Ajay followed suit. Begged reconciliation. She insisted he make a life for himself nearby. He built a tin home, took a loan to start a poultry business. The brothers started interfering, messed up the investment. He somehow coped but things were more downhill than uphill. Shalini didn’t stop cursing “the loser”. One day, the brothers bashed him up. Desperate calls, Ajay’s own brothers took him away. The story shifts again.
Ajay comes back down to the Bhimtal area, hoping his childhood friend will help him find a job. It turns out the friend is actually a local lout, not to be trusted. Now, Shalini has left her parents’ home in the upper hills and gone to Haridwar. Leaving the little fairy-like girl with the grandparents. Ajay says, “She loves me, cannot sleep without me. One day, her grandmother called saying she is not eating or sleeping. It was already dark but I took my bike and went all the way (30-odd km). She was sobbing when I arrived. I brought her back with me the next day.”
Homeless Ajay was at the mercy of his wife’s sister, who agreed to care for his girl till he found a place for himself. He was desperately “soliciting” customers for a local adventure camp to gather up some money. Looking for shelter and some stability. Then he walked in one day, with his beautiful daughter. Within less than ten days, another story unfolded. In the process of police verification, the uppermost point was that he was habitually “hooked”. He was asked to leave the next morning, with his fairy-like girl.
Another chapter in Ajay’s life was closed, with tears. How much was true and how much fabricated will never be known.

Neelima Mathur is an India-based Executive Producer, Researcher, Writer, Mentor and Trainer for documentary and NGO films. She is also Festival Director of the Lakeside Doc Festival.