Trans: Harish Mahuvakar
The clock went silent after striking two.
Rashida looked at the kitchen, dumped with uncleaned dishes and bowls. She was in the kitchen sitting in a corner. Still she had not taken lunch. Everybody in the house was busy either in talks, fun and frolic, or TV. Both the sisters in law – their back at the walls- sat stretching their legs in the relaxing mood. Tooth picks in their mouth, they watched the TV. Their young daughters too rolled beside them on the sofas. Both of her sons as if protected by the aunts on either side set in between them. Watching all this, all alone, she sat in the kitchen.
She had no energy left in the body. Her eyes frustrated, hopeless went on to the dish stand. It was almost empty as all the dishes and plates were used today and they were dumped there. She wished to take lunch but she was so much tired that she only looked at the dishes. The wish for the lunch was gone now. There was pain into the joints. She avoided it and pressed herself to stand up.
She pushed the lid away. The bottom of the bowl stuck to her eyes as the mutton Biriyani was eaten up. She dropped left over Biriyani into her plate. There was no salad left and had no heart for Khurma - sweet noodles. Hardy a few mouthfuls she took, the elder sister in law dropped suddenly in the kitchen. ‘Bhabhi do you have a mouth or a needle-eye hole? So long to eat?’ Everybody laughed over it. The food stuck up in the food-pipe. Hurriedly washed out her hands and drank water to finish the meal.
Things laid scattered in the kitchen. Somehow came up into her eyes the previous evening. The elder sister in law had made a call and like a childhood bosom friend talked to her. ‘Bhabhi tomorrow want to have Biriyani made of by you. We all come. What you say? Will also ask Farida to join. A poor creature now left all alone! If she gets our company she’ll feel better. Should I come early to help you? Should I send Gulnaz? You are only Bhabhi. I wouldn’t like to trouble you. My Bhabhi!’
Rashida felt unbound happiness after listening to such loving words. As if no burden on her heart. Common in look and rough in nature her elder sister in law possessed no such attitude. This made her feel better again. She looked at the kitchen. Looked at the smallest thing. She checked small things too. When her husband Afzal came at night she put the matter very enthusiastically but he showed no interest. On the contrary he talked something different. ‘You go to the market. Don’t buy much. We have expenses very much these days now.’
She was not surprised at this. She knew him. He never talked seriously such things. His talks were baseless generally.
Usually Afzal went to the mutton market as it was far from the house. But as if she had planned everything she reached there early morning. Though Afzal drew her attention to the recent expenses she bought two or three kilograms more mutton. So that everything can be kept ready on the guests’ arrival she had begun from the morning. She put her soul her soul into the work. She paid close attention to everything and yet...
The elder brother in law was to go to Bhuj directly from the shop was the bitter matter. This was told to the elder sister in law on phone. And this resulted in her wrath. She showered it upon Rashida. She had no chance to utter a single word.
While lunching an atom like stone crushed with the mouthful of Khurma and the elder sister in law destroyed all her heart.
Rashida sat on her legs and watched the heap of dishes and bowls. Little rice was stuck at the bottom of the Biriyani bowl. Not a slice of mutton was found. A glass was half filled and she poured it into the bowl.
She had bare hopes of help. She waited something to happen. Finally she picked up each dish and stacked in to a big brass bowl. She felt pain again. It was the result of the morning labour.
While she was passing through drawing room her son sitting on a thigh of the younger sister in law, on seeing her jumped up calling her out. The bowl had turned sticky. Though she tried to hold it tight the bowl with stacked things fell to the ground.
All dishes and bowls got scattered. The son was scared and in the fright he pushed himself into a corner. Rashida’s painful eyes moved around and then she began to collect the dropped things. Both the sisters in law went furious. The elder one didn’t miss the chance. ‘Bhabhi do you have eyes or non-working bulbs? Shouldn’t carry so much at a time. Look you have already broken two glasses.’
The younger one was a woman of few words. Add to this she missed her husband who had passed away before half a year. Hence she hardly spoke but this was the opportunity to let out her suppressed emotions. She said, ‘It seems Bhabhi has over eaten today. If you need any help why don’t you say? We aren’t wax dolls. Enough work we have done here at our home and there at the husbands’. O young girls go and pick up a groom, your maternal aunt has spoilt the house.’
It was the situation heavy upon her. Eyes filled but she cried not. She just looked at Afzal but he behaved as if he neither saw anything nor heard anything. He had fixed his eyes on a TV show.
But the eyes couldn’t bear much. As she collected the utensils and reached up to outer washing area the eyes leaked. She hurriedly wiped them and washed her face lest anybody see it.
She sat down there and stared at the sky. It was the hot day of Bhadrapada month. It didn’t rain much this time. The land didn’t cool down as much as it should during the last phase of the monsoon. Afzal’s all business depended upon rain. If it rains well, much crop comes to the market and gets good commission. That’s why he said, ‘The monsoon’s gone bankrupt. Hence testing time will continue.’
Though the tap was off, it leaked. Fungus stuck around it. She looked at the droplets. But by the time the elder sister in law’s daughter Gulbanu came. She stood in anger. Rashida tried to smile but it didn’t affect Gulbanu. She said, ‘Aunt, I didn’t find a piece of cloth for floor cleaning. My mother asks me to clean the floor.’ Without looking at her she said, ‘You go my daughter, I’ll just clean it soon.’
Rashida turned on the tap and water dropped into the bowl made harsh sound. Two or three sparrows parched a bit away and saw the scene. She felt thirst of these sparrows. Some words flew from the drawing room. She got them. The elder one was speaking, ‘A high-mindedness woman. Will do everything herself.’
These were words that she liked. She felt a sort of hidden joy. Her father used to say, ‘My daughter’s a high-mindedness one. I’ll marry her to one who cares her glory.’
Rashida’s heart broke. A beautiful picture emerged before her. A live one! It was a green farm of her father. Long belt of the house with slanting shades on either side. A water pump that worked full day. Mango, chiku, tamarind, and jamun trees around the house and at the end-line of the farm stood a raw of date trees. Two huge banyan trees at back of the well. And sweet fresh smell that floats across the ten acre green farm. Labourers go and come full day. A large family. Uncles and aunts, their sons and daughters. All flocked the house. Heaps of books, fun and frolic, lot of visitors and lot of guests because of father’s amiable nature. Many cots on the front yard for the known ones and guests. Hillocks a bit away from the back of the house and then grooves of babul trees and other bushes. And some distance on the rocky banks of the river stone crusher machines and their noise and add to this at night the dynamite blasts. All this was live. Live and throbbing that anyone would love!
When only sons were born to her father and his brothers, grandma made fun and said, ’O women you were to bring only rough ones only? One of you at least give birth to a soft baby. A girl will help to have Almighty’s blessings forever.’
Father often talked this and made everyone laugh and this was perhaps the reason that I was always treated as an apple of the family eye. In the family I was the only sister amongst all my brothers. I possessed the first right to have anything. And father! Since childhood days never he gave me any opportunity to miss anything. In those days a few girls were sent to schools but it never stopped my study. When I joined college at Adipur there was no any bus service from our village. He put our tractor driver for me. Every day the poor creature had to take our jeep and drop me there. Even on mid-winter mornings he had to wake up early for me. But he was a man that never showed any sign of displeasure or boredom. Many a time he would have a twig for a brush in his mouth and we started. Then he took tea at Adipur!
They were the term ending days of my last year study, when Afzal came to our home for the first time. I had not much thought on such a thing. But things were fixed. Mother reported to anyone who came to house, ‘My Rashida’s very fortunate. Won’t have any problem at all. He’s only son and has his own business. The family’s too very simple and straight forward.’
On listening to this in those days I was lost into the new dreams.
After the engagement Afzal sometimes visited our house and that I liked very much. Father was an orthodox man but I had never to say much. He saw my sunk face and soon permitted us to go out. Once I made my father agree with me. It was the Eid festival. I asked to go to Gandhidham with him. I told him that my friend would accompany us. Mother and the aunts didn’t like this but father said it softly, ‘She is a high-mindedness daughter. She is to follow her will...’
They were lovely days for a year. His visits filled my heart. New dreams and new thoughts. When she heard from some member saying, ‘Our son in law’s a shy one’ she hardly held her heart. She flew in the heaven.
When his family members had come to fix the marriage date, she had passed whole of the day with her sister in law Sherbanu. How many things had they shared! She remembered that on that day for the first time father had wept very much.
Things began to come now. Happy were the days! But now things began to churn her heart. Even though she tried to push.... The day stood before her: the bedroom was fully lit with double tube-lights. It was annoying. But the room was filled with a sweet scent. The bridal cloths heavy with embroidery work teased her. When he entered after saying goodbye to the friends and relatives, half of the night had gone. She had planned what to say but when she sat beside him things disappeared. Words didn’t follow the order. He was silent and relaxed, chewing a betel leaf. He was surprised when she asked him to bring a pen. ‘Pen! What’s the need of a pen right now?’ She had hid an envelope into her blouse. It was wet and creased as it was there since noon. She opened it and her head was dropped on his shoulder. She put, ‘It’s a B. Ed. form. I had decided that you fill it on our very first night.’
She saw a strange line appearing on his forehead. Afzal was aghast. ‘B. Ed.? Why now? What’s the use of it?’
‘Will do a job. What else?’
‘Why job? How funny it would be if you go to study now? My sisters won’t allow me.’
For a while she perceived it a fun. But then she said, ‘I married to you, not to your sisters. I am to go for B. Ed. Let me complete it. Don’t send for a job. Will it be okay?’ His hand moving around her neck suddenly stopped. ‘Such a joke good at your father’s home, not here. Do you understand what I say?’
She was shocked. She was frightened. His eyes were on the walls. Suddenly from somewhere the words ‘Our son in law’s a shy one’ came to her. She tried to make an argument but he seemed to be an indifferent, unknown person. With a slight anger he pushed her and said it bitterly, ’On the very first night such a thing? What would follow next? All such antics good at your father’s home. They don’t suit here.’
She felt someone slapped her publically in the open street. He left out the room leaving her into a miserable condition. She wished to cry but unknown fear lurked from the walls. Suddenly the faces of father, mother, and brothers appeared before her. Suddenly those things: the farm and trees, and the whole house appeared before her. One after the other things appeared before her. She seemed to be on a solitary island!
Let Afzal come. She would win his heart. Such things can be talked after some time. She thought all this and her mind pacified a little. She was dog tired. The previous sleepless night became heavy upon her and yet...
In a half sleep at midnight when she came to know, she found herself pressed. It seemed that her ribs broke. Breathed heavily. She felt she died. Neither she could request nor refuse. Voice for words had gone. Darkness from all around descended. She felt on her thighs someone put incision with a new blade. There was deep bitter pain. Her jaws blade as she had held them tight. That was all...
Tongue was lost. Till morning the eyes leaked. The B.Ed form creased at night was swept away along with the dust in the morning. It was strange what she saw. For a while she thought it to be strange. She saw herself torn into uncounted pieces and flying into the room.
Rashida stared at the tap. It was on. She watched the clean water over-flawing and rushing to the drainage.