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“Pannabhabhi” – A Sinequanon Gujarati Short Story

Joseph Macwan started his literary journey way back in 1954 at the age of 13 with the publication of “Gengdi Na Phool” in Savita . He stopped writing in 1956. He stopped writing in 1964 as his story was accepted by editorial board of Navchetan but the chief editor denied publishing it. The chief editor Champsi Udeshi wanted to have a moralistic end to the story like the other stories of Navchetan. Macwan could not withstand such demand and took a pledge not to write by saying, “The bitter truths of life which I want to bring forth before the society and if this only aim of my writing is not fulfilled then why should I write?” And he stopped writing.

After sixteen years in 1982 once again he took his pain and continued writing still his last breath. After 1982 he has written ten novels, eight life sketches and four short story collections.

"Pannabhabhi" is the short story taken from his collection of short story Pannabhabhi. In this short story, the character of Pannabhabhi is not only fantastic but some of incidents which took place in her life are also startling; thus the character and startling events make the story an extraordinary piece of writing.

The narrator of the story is quite young (12 – 13 years of age) boy. When he hears of tales of Bhabhi (Sister – in – law) from his friends, he becomes quite eager to have a bhabhi. The story starts with such a sentence, "I have a strong infatuation for a sister – in – law." But he doesn't have an elder brother. Therefore, his dream to have a sister – in – law remains unfulfilled until his cousin Ishwarlal's wife's Aanu (ceremonial bringing of the bride to her father – in – law's house) has been fixed. He is overwhelmingly waiting to welcome his Bhabhi.

Narrator along with Ishwar's sister and his foi (father's sister, aunt) go to the railway station where their brahmin has arrived along with the bride whose Aanu is fixed. He is amazed when his Bhabhi removes her veil. He is stunned to see the beauty of his bhabhi and utters "My sister – in – law is extremely beautiful." And starts flying in high colours after seeing his bhabhi. His bhabhi also receives him with lot of love and terms him as "My adorable brother – in law." The narrator offers water to his bhabhi and she drinks water while keeping her hands on his hands. The first touch of bhabhi has a startling effect on the narrator and the new clay pot from his hands has fell down and broken. On breaking the new and unused clay pot, his cousin sister utters, "This is an auspicious sign that a new and unused clay pot has been broken. You will also have unbroken physical pleasure from your husband. Nobody will have a share in it."

His cousin and Pannabhabhi’s husband Ishwarlal didn't come on the first day when Pannabhabhi came to her in – laws house. She waited for him. She had studied up to seven and also fond of reading. As Ishwarlal didn't come, the narrator remembered an incident of his village. A woman named Manek's Aanu was also fixed. She came to her in – laws house but her husband eloped from house and had written on a piece of paper, "I am not interested in marriage life. Never try to find me. I am going along with Sadhus. If you will try to find me I will drown myself but I won't come to home." On reading the piece of paper everyone was shocked. They were puzzled and couldn't find a solution. At that moment, cousin brother of the eloped man named Dano declared, "I am ready to marry the bride. Please talk with her if she is ready to marry me I am ready to marry her." Manek accepted Dana's offer without wasting a second.

When his cousin Ishwar didn't come on the first day, narrator also wanted to be "Dano" but due to his young age no one inquires him. Therefore, Pannabhabhi enters her in – laws house in absence of her husband.

Pannabhabhi's husband – Ishwarlal – comes a day after her arrival. He is not interested in Pannabhabhi as he is in love with the Parsi girl where he works as a driver. He refuses to have any relation with bhabhi. Her dreams of first night with her husband are faded away when her husband refuses to sleep with her. Bhabhi cries a lot and passes her first – night after marriage in sobs.

Ishwar comes out of the bedroom and sends the narrator in his bedroom. Narrator wants to sleep on the ground but Pannabhabhi forces him to sleep with her on bed. When he sleeps with his bhabhi he has experienced the smell of female body for the first time. Once again his will to be 'Dano' has incited and thought to take away all the pains of his bhabhi. His bhabhi is helpless and heartbroken. When he leaned his head in the lap of his bhabhi he has unique consolation. All of his sexual thoughts has been dispersed and has an experience of motherly love.

Next day, in the morning, Ishwarlal tells his father, “A village girl will not be fit in city like Mumbai and so I want divorce” and goes back to Mumbai. Pannabhabhi is shattered and silenced. She has only one complaint against Ishwarlal, her husband. If he was not ready to live with me then he should not have agreed for my Aanu, so that I would have been considered chaste and virgin. Now no one will consider me virgin even though I am chaste and virgin.

As divorce has to be taken no one among the elders is ready to go along with Pannabhabhi. Therefore, the narrator is sent with her. While walking from the railway station to her village, the narrator starts talk with her. He tells her story of Dana and said, "I have a repentance that I was born seven – eight years late ! If I was young enough!"

On hearing these words Pannabhahi laughed and said, "Then shall I wait for you till you get young enough to marry?" Bhabhi’s reply shocks the narrator.

After reaching her home Bhabhi didn't talk about her divorce at all and kept a smiling face so that I did not have to listen ill words of her parents and relatives.

On the same evening the narrator came back from Pannabhabhi's home. Bhabhi came up to the end of her village to see him off. She told him, “If we ever meet in life then please remember me. Whatever you have given me in the last four days I will keep them here in my heart as deposit. I couldn't forget the frozen tears in her eyes even today. I felt something has broken inside me. Something has been lost which is not found even after a long search.”

Years passed. The narrator became social worker and his skill of resolving social matters was very well received by the society. One of his friends daughter's divorce case became interesting and heart touching. Her husband wanted to have a divorce but her mother – in – law had filed a case in court for maintenance allowance. She had a son also. Her husband is ready to give five thousand rupees but the mother – in – law is quite adamant to have rupees five hundred per month for whole life as remittance from his son for his daughter – in – law and grandson. The mother – in – law considers her daughter – in – law as her daughter and fights for her rights. She has also debarred her younger son (who wants divorce) from the paternal property. The writer has termed the mother – in – law as "mother – in – law is far better than mother."

The parents of daughter has given a task to convince the in – laws of their daughter to send her to their home to the narrator. When the narrator visits the daughter's house he comes to know that the mother – in – law who fights for justice for her daughter – in – law is no one else but Pannabhabhi herself.

Pannabhabhi describes her life after her divorce in very simple words to narrator, "I married on the next year after you came to drop me at my parents’ home. I did not know happiness in my marriage life as after giving birth to two sons my husband passed away on the eight year of my marriage. I looked after them and married them also. But the younger son is a unworthy and wicked. There must be something wrong in my nourishment so that I have such a wicked son! How can I – who has experienced divorce on the first day of Aanu – allow a woman to pass her life in agony, how can I bear it!”

Thus Pannabhabhi does not want her daughter – in – law to pass through the agony through which she has passed. Suddenly she remembers the promise given by the narrator when he came along with her to her parent's house.
"You didn't keep your promise though you are younger enough to marry now."
The narrator replies, "But you have also not waited for me bhabhi?" In simple terms the narrator is right as Pannabhabhi has married. But after few years she lost her husband thus her heart is still devoid of love. She is still waiting for the undivided love of her husband about which her sister-in-law has talked on the day of aanu. Therefore one can say that she has kept her promise to wait for the narrator and she rightly replies, "Waited, I have waited for a long period! Still waiting, brother one cannot wait for someone through the eyes but through the heart.

Thus, Pannabhabhi's wait for pleasure of marriage life is still intact. She is married and old enough but her heart is still of an unmarried girl. Thus, Joseph Macwan has vividly and minutely presented a woman's emotion that has suffered a lot in her life but does not want her daughter – in – law to suffer at all.

Manubhai Pancholi “Darshak” has been overwhelmed by Pannabhabhi and noted about “Pannabhabhi”, “Perhaps ‘Pannabhabhi’ will be considered as one of the best short stories of Gujarati. Any text of Gujarati short stories will be considered incomplete without inclusion of ‘Pannabhabhi’ and with its strength Joseph will be saved.” Gulabdas Broker has included “Pannabhabhi” in his edited book Bhartiya Gnanpith ni Bhartiya Vartao – 1986. Thus, “Pannabhabhi” has achieved an important milestone of Gujarati short story and will remain an inevitable part of Gujarati litearature.

References :::

  1. Macwan, Joseph. Pannabhabhi. Ahmedabad: R.R. Co. 1992. Print.
  2. Vegda, Bhikhu, Gujarati Dalit Sahitya. Dholka: Pratyayan Sahitya Vartul. 2012. Print.

Dr. Atulkumar M. Parmar, Assistant Professor of English, Gujarat Vidyapith, Sadra.