The Picture

Translation of Dipak Raval's Gujarati Short Story " છબી "


After the Arati was over Jatan Ma stood motionless and stared intently at the picture of Kanaiya with her hands folded in adoration. Her eyes swept slowly and steadily over the yellow pitamber covering Kanaiya’s body, the beautiful pearl-necklace bedecking his neck, a peacock-feather crest on the crown on his head, the flute touching his lower lip and his lovely posture. His face glowed under his unkempt dark hair. His eyes looked sweet and soothing. Jatan Ma was lost in the fascinating sight of those lovely eyes. Those were the eyes which always seemed telling her something. Jatan Ma always to hear it from the lips of Kanaiya. But alas! Kanaiya never opened-up his lips. He stood in the same posture as firm as a mountain, and never made a movement. Jatan Ma had a great longed fascination for that posture too. Her life had revolved around that picture from down to dusk for all these years. She would wake Kanaiya up early in the morning and bathe him. Then it’d be the time for anointing his body with sandal paste. After that she would be busy decorating his body with all kinds of ornaments. She would, then, serve him meals with all devotion. After the meals, she would put him into a cradle and lull him to sleep. This was her routine for years now or to be precise, from the day she got this picture.

           Today Jatan Ma wound up her pooja hurriedly as she was rather late in her schedule. She had yet to do her chores.  She looked for her little grandson who had slipped away from the house.

“O Nanka, are you anywhere here?” She mumbled “He is not  found anywhere. He must be wandering somewhere over there. What a naughty boy! He doesn’t take his bath in time, doesn’t get ready by himself- oh, no, he’s just too careless. He slips away from the house as soon as he gets out of the bed!” Her eyes fell on Fulshankar who had dozed of sitting in a chair and snoring blissfully.  “God bless him, he’s old now”, muttered Jatan Ma as she rose from her seat and put back her Kanaiya on the pedestal. In the meantime her grand son returned jumping about.

“Did you call me, Grand ma?”

Jatan ma was annoyed at the question.

          “Do you know its afternoon?  Don’t you think it’s time for bathing even now?” The grandson was used to such rebukes.
He said “Oh, it seems the pooja is over. Shall I now get my prasad, Grand ma?”

“Take your bath first, and then ask for prasad, you naughty boy!” retorted Jatan ma.
“No, Grand ma, prasad first, then bathing!”
“Bath first” said Jatan Ma resolutely.
“Won’t you give me prasad first?” asked the boy
“No, never!” said Jatan Ma firmly.
“Well, if you don’t give me prasad, I’ll touch you” the grandson threatened. “Ah, God! Keep away from me, you scoundrel. If you touch me, I’ll have to take my bath again” saying this Jatan Ma stepped away fearing the touch.
“If it’s so, then give me my prasad first, said the boy.”
“You little devil, come, take this”.
Jatan Ma could not help laughing at this mischief of her grandson. She gave him prasad which the boy gulped and soon ran off to join his friends at the swings again.
“Where are you going?”
“Well, now it’s my turn. I’ll return after the games over”. Saying this he disappeared.
“Oh, what about your bath?” Jatan Ma roared but he was not within the reach of hearing. He had reached the corner of the street by now.
Jatan Ma went to the veranda and took her seat near a wooden pillar supporting the roof. She had a strong desire to brush her teeth with snuff without which she felt restless. She took a box of snuff and a twig and started rubbing her gums with the twig dipped in snuff. Fulshankar was still snoring. He was too old and weak to be active as he was when young. He would doze off wherever he was sitting. In his youth, he used to walk ten miles at a stretch. As a priest, he had his clientage in five villages adjoining his. He would start early in the morning to visit them and return late evening. Though he would be carrying the things collected from there, he would show no sign of exhaustion. But those days were over and gone, and now he felt tired even while taking a round in the village. He was completely worn out after the death of Nanka’s mother. Jatan Ma was lost in the world of past memories when suddenly the movement of her hand holding the twig stopped. She stared at the horizon blankly as if contemplating something. She sat motionless and the chain of thoughts took her into oblivion.
Jatan Ma had entered this house as a bride at a very tender age. She had brought with her the picture of Kanaiya when she came to the in-laws. Her parents-in-law had passed away at an early age leaving behind them young Fulshankar. The economic condition of the family also was very grave in those days. But the conditions improved when Fulshankar started visiting his clientage. The couple was, then gifted with a daughter and they lived a content life. Jatan Ma conceived again but the pregnancy resulted into a miscarriage. After this miscarriage the hope of conception was denied to her.  The  couple  resorted  to  an assortment of remedies, from doctors to quacks to saints and deities,  even performing  a  number  of  religious  rites  for   the   second  conception.  But it was all in vain. The couple then lost   all hope and accepted it as the will of God. Their craving   for another child was channeled into affection for their daughter and   they reared her up very affectionately. The  daughter  grew  older  and  was  married  to  a  suitable  boy  at  a  pompous  wedding  ceremony.  After their daughter’s wedding the couple felt lonely. Fulshankar would be busy in his profession while Jatan Ma was engrossed in the household work and in the pooja of Kanaiya. Jatan  Ma  would   narrate  before  the  picture  all  her  agonies   and  collect   strength  to  bear  them.  Days passed in this way and the days turned into months. The following year the daughter gave birth to a boy.

Everything went on well    for some time. The  boy  was  growing   but  suddenly  the  situation  took  a  serious  turn.  A family quarrel resulted into the burning of the bride by her in-laws for reasons best known to them.  This was an unbearable blow to Jatan Ma and Fulshankar. They wailed and wept but their weeping and   wailing were futile.  People advised   Fulshankar to file charges against their daughter’s in-laws. But Fulshankar took   the whole episode philosophically, saying “Let the God punish the guilty”. They  brought  the  young  child  to  live  with  them, and  soon  the grandson  became the  centre  of  their  activities.  The  child  grew  into  a   smart  naughty  boy  and  his  mischief  and  pranks  filled  their  life  with  hope again.  Of  course, Fulshankar  had  lost  all the  charm of  life  after  his  daughter’s  death. He  was  totally  worn out and he avoided mixing with people .The family was poorly  maintained  but  Jatan  Ma  would  never let  anyone  know  about it. When the agony was unbearable she would  sit  before  the  picture  of  Kanaiya  and  narrate  everything  to  him  collecting the  strength  to  face  everything  boldly.

          “Where are you? Are you listening?  Please, give me a glass of water.”  Fulshankar said.  Jatan Ma jolted out of her thought. She  rose  quickly,  washed  her  mouth  and  put  the  twig  at  in its  place   carefully. Then  she  made  a  move  to  fetch  a  glass  of  water for  Fulshankar  just as  her  grandson  dropped  in.

         “Grand Ma, a glass of water, please” said he.
“So you are back at last?  When will you do your homework?  You  have  to  take  your  bath” said  Jatan  Ma  while  giving  him  a  glass  of  water.

        “Oh, Grand Ma, don’t worry.  I’ll  take my  bath  quickly  and  do my  homework. There isn’t much homework today. I  just have to  draw  a picture , but  I  don’t know  to  draw  it  ?  Said the boy while gulping down the water.

        “Drink slowly.  The water will not disappear.” Said Jatan Ma.  Then she carried a glass of water to Fulshankar.  When  Fulshankar  finished  the  glass  Jatan Ma  asked  him, “What  dish  should  I  prepare  today ?”
“Any.” Fulshankar  gave  a  very  short  reply  and got engrossed  again  in  counting  the  beads  of  his  rosary  lying  beside him.

       Jatan  Ma again  went  to  the water-tank  where  the  boy  was  still  playing  with  water.

       “Stop this   fooling around and take your bath.” Jatan Ma said. The boy started removing his clothes there. Seeing this Jatan Ma said, “What a shame? Don’t you feel ashamed of removing your clothes openly here? You aren’t a small child now.  Go to the bathing place over there. I’ll bring the bath-water there.”

       “Have  you  heard  of  Kalu   Soni’s  daughter  eloping  with  somebody ?” asked the  boy  to  Jatan  Ma  who  stood  stunned  at  the news.

       “Good Lord!  Are you telling the truth? ”
“I swear, I’m telling the truth. Everybody in the village is talking about it.”

       “Which   daughter?  The eldest one?”

       “No, the younger one.  The one who is fair looking.”  The boy explained.

       “Let it be. Why should we be concerned with such scandals?”  Jatan Ma said. Jatan Ma put a bucket of hot water in the bathing place and returned to the slim wooden pillar to take her seat there. 
“The world has gone to dogs! How reckless is this young generation? Kalu soni’s two elder daughters are also engaged. What will the poor creature say to those people? Didn’t that wretched girl think of her parent’s agony? What about the other two daughters – if we don’t think of our family, community, customs? The girl only cared for her own happiness.” Thinking of it she slipped into the state of deep contemplation. “Those days were better when the girl were married at an early age. Nowadays we find old maidens leaping and jumping in arrogance. And this is the result. Nobody cares for values and customs!” Jatan Ma remembered her parents, brothers and sisters – all at a once. Usually Jatan Ma did not remember her childhood. She would divert her mind with efforts if the memories were irrepressible. But today she could not divert her mind from the memories of her childhood. Parental house, in which she lived, the street where she played, fairs and festivals she enjoyed – everything appeared to be quite clear, and above all, there was a vivid memory of the picture of Kanaiya. “Let her go to hell. Each one has one’s own destiny. Why think of her?”

         The chain of thoughts was broken when the boy came to Jatan Ma with a comb in his hand and said, “Comb my hair Grand ma.”

         Jatan ma looked at him affectionately. She placed him in her lap and combed his hair.
“Now don’t go anywhere else. Finish your homework. What homework is given to you, my child?” said she

          “Well, I’ve to draw a picture but I don’t know how to do it.”

         “Why? What’s the picture about?” asked Jatan Ma.

         “Any picture. Anything that I can draw.”

“Then why don’t you draw it? Doesn’t your teacher teach you how to draw pictures?”

         “No, never. She’s simply gossiping all the time. She would bring her work to the school and do it while the children are busy doing their lessons. And if she has no such work then she would be snoring” commented the child in disgust.

         “Don’t say such things. She’s your guru. If she doesn’t teach, we must learn by ourselves” Jatan Ma persuaded the child.

         “Mm, I can read and write well, but I don’t know how to draw.”

         “You can do it if you pay attention to it. Come, I’ll teach you.” Jatan Ma said.

         “Do you know how to draw?” asked the child.        

         “Bring me your slate and pen first and see.” Said Jatan Ma. The boy did not trust her words but fetched his slate and pen.

         Jatan Ma said, “Now tell me what picture I should draw.”

         “Any picture will do.” said the child carelessly.

Then he paused and contemplated. And suddenly he said,” Well grand ma, draw the picture of your God.”

         Jatan Ma smiled and said, “The picture of Kanaiya?”           

         “Eh, what happened? You were boasting about your drawing! Now draw and prove yourself.”
The child laughed. Jatan Ma did not speak anything. She started drawing some lines in the slate. And gradually the figure of Kanaiya began to emerge. The child looked at it in all amazement and said, “What a fine picture! Grand ma, you are truly clever at drawing. Here’s the real picture of our God!”

         “Don’t be surprised. I was also educated.” Jatan Ma said.

         “Who taught you drawing – your teacher?”

“No, no, we had no teacher as you have. Girls were never sent to school in those days. But my father was a teacher by profession and he taught us.”

         “Did he teach you drawing?”

         “Yes, of course. Not only me, had he taught all the boys and girls of the village. He was the only teacher in the village and he loved drawing.”

         “Which picture did he teach you to draw?” asked the boy inquisitively.

“All kinds of pictures – cow, elephant, horse, crow, sparrow, boy, girl, river, mountain” Jatan Ma paused. She fixed eyes on the horizon, lost in the memories and spoke, “In our company there was a young boy who used to come to learn drawing. He was very poor. His name was Kaliya. He used to draw wonderful pictures.

         The grandson listened to it attentively.
The grandma continued,”In the beginning even I didn’t know how to draw. But he taught me. Once my father asked us to draw a picture of Kanaiya. All others could draw it. But only I couldn’t do it.”


         Then Kaliya tried to teach me, but in vain. If I tried to draw the face perfectly the hands and legs would go away. When I corrected the hands and legs the flute would be distorted. If I tried to draw a peacock-feather crown on his head it would get bigger than the head.” Jatan Ma smiled.
The child was amused. He asked naughtily, “Then your father must have punished you. Didn’t he?”

         “No, no Listen. Seeing that I could not draw the picture, Kaliya was worried. He feared that I would be punished. So the poor fellow drew the picture himself and painted it beautifully.” Saying this Jatan Ma drew the child near her affectionately.

         “Then what happened?”  Asked the boy playfully.

         “Then I showed the picture to my father but he suspected. He was sure I could not draw such a beautiful picture. He rebuked both of us.”

         “Did your father tear off that picture?” asked the boy anxiously.

“No, he didn’t. In fact I hid it”.

         “Did Kaliya not ask for it?”

         “No, he was a good boy. He would do anything for me. If I wanted a ripe mango in the afternoon he would rush bare-foot in the scorching heat and bring it for me. He was willing to sacrifice anything for me. He had a great affection for me. He would often stare at me intently but if I looked at him he would lower his eyes. He was as shy as a girl. When I was married he had wept.” Jatan Ma sighed whiled telling this. Then she held the slate in her hand tightly again trying to finish the picture. “Well, his name was Kaliya, the dark-skinned, but he was extremely handsome with a pointed nose, disheveled dark hair, red lips – everything very attractive. If at all we placed a peacock feather crown on his head, a flute in his hand, a pearl necklace around his neck, and a pitamber on his body he would exactly look like Kanaiya” said she softly. By this time the picture of Kanaiya was over. But Jatan Ma did not remove her pen from the picture. She continued drawing lines bolder she felt that the eyes were not yet drawn properly. Those eyes were telling her something but how could that be reflected in the picture. Jatan Ma did not remove her eyes from the picture.

         The boy innocently asked, “Where did he go after that, Grand ma?”

         “How am I to know of it?” snapped Jatan Ma, “Do you think I’m narrating a story which induces you to ask questions? Take this slate and draw the picture yourself now. I’ve a lot of chores to do and your talking has no end to it”.  She placed the slate and the pen in the boy’s lap and rose. She hurriedly entered the kitchen wiping the tears off the corners of her eyes.


Translated from Gujarati by
Dr. Manish R. Raval
G.D.Modi College of Arts,
Palanpur, Banaskantha(Gujarat)





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