The story Tiriya Charittar, first published in reknowned hindi monthly Hans and awarded first prize. A film directed by vasu chatarji, starring Nasiruddin shah and Om puri was also made. also dramatised and staged more than hundred shows.
Tiriyacharittar-The Fallen Woman
“Vimli! O Vimli!”
“You brat, have you died or what….”
Cough attacks the old woman as she shoots her voice up.
“This bitch- let her rest on the cot for a while and she will make it her deathbed”.
She went near the cot Vimli was lying on and started shaking her- “Should I take you to the graveyard?”
Vimli wakes up straight away and rubbing her sleepy eyes goes out of the hut.
She keeps some water on the earthen stovetop for tea and then busies herself with milking the goat.
Some seven years ago, a barely nine or ten years old, when she started as a wage labourer at the brick kiln, she had bought this goat’s mother for her father by virtue of her initial earnings, a permanent bandobast for her father’s ‘tea’! Now her father is given to tea so much that he cannot answer the call of nature in the morning without tea. This ‘tea’ occasionally exposes both the father and the daughter to the seething reproach of the old woman.
Serving tea to her amma and bappa, she hurriedly takes a bath! Baking some chapatis, she packs some for herself and keeps some safe for them. Holding her goat ‘Nimri’ by its ear, she leads her way to the world outside.
As usual, she is late today as well. Every night she goes to sleep, she wishes to wake up at four in the morning. But the fatigue of the overworked body carrying bricks all through the day makes the eyelids cling to each other. Everyday it is not before five or six that she wakes. Further, she does not want to engage her mother in kitchen chores…
In fact, Vimli lives like a son to her parents! Haven’t they suffered a lot because of her? She hates that her parents should ever feel the want of a son. And is she less than a son to them anyway? She earns some fifteen to twenty rupees a day. Why should she let her father undertake an exacting work? When her father feels like working, he prepares a pagha for the cattle of this or that villager or exonerates the haunted ones from evil spirits. At times, he also works as a messenger to families, carrying their messages to their relatives. Such and other mild works…Nothing else.
Bisui River flows some half a kilometer away in the west from the village! Like a crescent moon. And that brick kiln of the Khan Sahab, with the two chimneys breathing soot, is so conspicuously visible from anywhere.
The foliage of kathjamuns, on the both sides of the river, is as far-reaching as a forest. Thick shrubberies bending their neck down to the streams! Then the extensive flora of bamboo and the willow grass all across it. People, particularly women, feared entering this area once upon a time!… jackals, blue-bulls, saahi, leopards, and wolfs! Wolfs of the village predating on some raw human flesh, in addition, though occasionally.
With the setting up of the brick kiln, however, this derelict area has turned into a hub of life. Majority of the villagers make their both ends meet on this brick kiln alone. Vimli guides the way of her emaciated goat ‘Nimri’ across the forest of kathjamuns and heads to the brick kiln at a faster pace.
Kuisa, the brick-maker, is not able to concentrate on his work today. Kuisa is a man who can prepare fifty thousand of bricks in one go. So what went wrong today? He is fidgety today and at times, is yawning while putting a glance across the pathway coming from the village.
Ganeshi speaks up – “What’s the matter Kuisa Bhai? Are you fed-up?”
Kuisa keeps silent! Taking out the chunauti from his undershirt, he starts rubbing khainee in his palm.
Billar, who is loading bricks on the tractor, flings an innuendo- ” Kaka, there isn’t any ‘greenery’ visible today?”
Greenery! i.e. visual feast.
The idea of greenery stirs Kuisa! Without sharing with someone, he puts the prepared tobacco in his mouth.
This Billar always does the provoking talk.
But see! Kuisa can see a red sari approaching them.
Vimli has reached the brick kiln.
Kuisa’s eyes are glistened with pleasure.
Who knows whether it is the extract of tobacco or the saliva of…?
Kuisa stares at her when she approaches closer…..”Is it your time for work? It is going to be ten’ o clock. Hadn’t you seen the round clock before leaving?”
Vimli is well aware of his habits. He cannot digest his food without these frolics. She also stares in his eyes- “I will get as much as I work. Then why the hell your heart is bursting?… And better teach your sister how to see round clock.”
All giggle up. Kuisa only smiles.
Kuisa says that Vimli unleashes light on the brick kiln when she comes while her departure looses upon darkness on it.
…And when darkness prevails, night-blindness engulfs Kuisa. Only if Vimli could continue with her sheer presence on the brick kiln in night, Kuisa can prepare bricks all through it.
With the first chunk of bricks, Vimli comes and stands there for a while. Kuisa, advertently, does not help her unload it.
“Unload it please! I am weighed up heavily.”
Kuisa raises his look. He smiles.
Now he will do some ‘mischief’ Vimli portends, and dropping the pile of bricks close to his legs, runs away showering abuses, with a smile that makes them sweet rather than bitter.
This is what Kuisa hankers for in fact.
It is all about one’s choices! Kuisa holds women’s abuses so dear, and if they push him around occasionally as a gesture of flirt, it is a godsend for him. If a group of four women, on some fine day, would try to drown him in a river, hardly will he resist.
All the women labourers of the brick kiln know his habit. Together, they devise something or the other to keep him occupied.
Kuisa is on the wrong side of his forties. He has had the experience of production of bricks on many brick kilns. Before taking up job at a brick kiln, he first ensures whether the workforce consists only of labourers form Ranchi or also of locals. He cannot bear, not even for a day, to work on a brick kiln where the intake of labourers is only from Ranchi-Vilaspur. There must be some local women labourers- worth looking at!
Oh! The warmth of their heaving breaths while they dislodge the bricks from their head, and the feel of their body!
Khan Sahab is aware of this ‘fondness’ of Kuisa! That is the reason it is his third season on this brick kiln. In fact, this brick kiln is the virtual home to Kuisa as there is no one to weep after him! After his marriage, Kuisa was very keen on becoming a skilled worker at the brick kiln. In love with the brick kiln, he would spend the whole season lingering in and around it. Eventually the woman in his life left him to fulfill someone else’s life. Since then Kuisa has been waiting for berdekhuas during lagna, the auspicious season for marriages. As for his attachment to the brick kiln, it will leave him only after his death.
After a while, when unloading the bricks from Vimli’s head, Kuisa smiles once again-
“Draiver Babu has not turned up since long?”
“I miss him so much,” added another girl.
Every one knows Kuisa is taunting Vimli.
“Why won’t she miss him? Draiver Babu is her behnoi (sister’s husband)”, she murmured before leaving.
Kuisa feels rejuvenated.
While resting in the shade of the peepal tree near the river and during afternoon breaks, Vimli really misses Draiver Babu. She feels as if it has been ages since she saw him last.
To while away the tedious summer noon, Kuisa is singing an all-time folksong. Teams of women are sitting in groups unfolding numerous stories – entertaining, scandalous and some hush-hush. When a mixed voice of their chuckles and giggles traverses his ears, he falters in his song.
How fast a winter noon descends. Today Vimli has to take her mother to a doctor to cure her ‘migraine’ and so she has wrapped up her work of the day in the noon itself. While returning, Vimli no sooner descends into the river holding the ear of her emaciated goat to cross it when she comes across Billar cleansing the tractor just in front of her.
To see her approaching, he exposes his teeth.
Billar is an all time jubilant boy, an orphan of eighteen-nineteen years old! He lives to his sister’s home and has become a driver after having served as a cleaner to Khan Sahab. He is a happy go lucky who never allows pain or misery stand by him. He is made of wanderlust and playfulness.
Vimli does not find any wrong in sharing the joy of such a person. She reciprocates with a smile.
“Why did you call it a day so early, daraivarain (the keep of the driver)?”
Billar’s offensive intonation irritates Vimli. Besides, when alone, she fears him as well. He is a rascal, the devil in him peeps through his eyes.
“Mind your tongue Bilru? Am I a daraivarain?
Billar becomes hilarious. As soon as Vimli reaches in front of the tractor, Billar throws a bucket of water on the mudguard of the tractor with an intent that half of it splashes on her.
“Can’t you see Bilru, have you gone blind?” Vimli turns and frowns on him, who in turn giggles once more.
The spatter of water vexes the goat, and she crosses the shallow rivulet, splashing it in desperation. Vimli raises her sari a bit and crosses the rivulet.
“The outsider’s ‘tarak‘ (truck) is so dear to you that you have stopped caring your own jat-biradari at all… dear Vimmal, a tractor is ‘more’ powerful than a truck! I can give you a demo on some fine day, if you allow me.”
Getting past the rivulet when Vimali turns and smiles, Billar jumps off the bonnet into the rivulet.
While climbing the mount surrounding the river, Vimli overhears Billar’s song-
… Arre tutahi madaiya ke ham hai raja,
karila gujara thore ma,
tor man lage na lage patarki,
mor man lagal ba tore ma….
I.e. I am also a king! Though not of a mansion but of a hut, living life in small measures! I cannot present you nice gifts, but O slim beauty, the keeper of a seductive silhouette! I am a captive of your charms, though you are unconcerned.
Ohho! What a seasoned flirt he has become! She turns her face again on him, and finds Billar laughing and dancing on the bonnet.
Bijli ka tel! (Transformer oil)
Vimli has fetched Bijli ka tel to cure her mother’s ‘migraine’. Kalua’s mama, who works in the Electricity Department, has sent it.
Mama says, “Transformer oil! This oil has the characteristics of electricity as electricity runs through it.”
Really. Its efficacy is like electricity. Vimli’s mother says that the doctors in the market charge money for nothing but water. Always ready to bereave you of money! Doctorial medicines do not go well with Vimli’s mother.
There is hardly any son in the village who heeds his parents as much as Vimli does to her. The very thought of her son excruciates her mother’s heart with pain and she starts cursing the mischievous women of the village whose only work is breaking happy families. Her son was ten years elder to Vimli. However, patohu (the daughter-in-law) ensnared him with her charms as soon as she set her foot in the home. Pernicious women of the village added fuel to the fire and patohu along with her son raised a wall of separation within six months. In that very ill fated year, both the arms of her father were crushed under a crumbling wall. There wasn’t even a single grain to eat. How could one think of money for his treatment? The mother-in-law had kept patohu’s jewelry in her knowledge. Poor woman wanted to mortgage a share of these jewelries. Patohu flared up so badly to know this that she did not spare even their ancestors while abusing. The son did not stop her either. In the third night, the daughter in law unearthed the ornaments and fled to her parents, the son following her compliantly like a goat with ropes around its neck following its master.
The stovetops did not burn for three consecutive days. It was so vital to get the hands of the old man plastered. And a desperate lookout for help in the whole village notwithstanding, nobody surfaced either to give ten rupees or some food-grains. Vimali’s mother had pinned high hopes on sarpanch’s wife. Vimli was doing all the menial jobs of her kitchen from scrubbing utensils to sweeping rooms. What she received as remuneration was the leftovers as both ends meet and the ragged outfits of the Sarpanchji’s daughter.
All the beseeching of Vimali’s mother not withstanding, that without some food to eat they may not survive anymore, the sarpanch’s wife told her in no unclear terms that she won’t concede even a penny without some mortgage!…and patohu had already fled to her parents with items worth mortgage. … Vimli stood by her mother’s cries, helplessly.
Mother had returned empty handed, tears rolling down her eyes – an hour in the night had elapsed. The elderly couple went to sleep, empty stomach.
But, Vimli came soon. That child of nine years’ age! Hiding two plump rotis in her frock. One was her own share, and the other one for feeding the twin buffalos of Sarpanchji. In place of feeding them, she had run straightway to her mother, and had returned immediately, lest somebody should suspect her misappropriation.
Vimli could not sleep all through the night, thinking. And she came back to her hut decidedly – ‘I will no more do scavenger’s job for people who are so ruthless and cruel.’
‘Will not work? What shall she do then? Will add misery to our poverty? At least she filled her belly there. Here nothing has been cooked since last three days.’
‘She can earn for all. So what if the brother left them in the lurch? She will live up to a son. A new brick kiln has been set up in the village. Is there lack of work? Who says only men or boys can work on a brick kiln? Aren’t women from Ranchi working as labourers? Do they work less hard than others do? Then why can’t she? The accountant at the brick kiln has visited so many times to invite women and girls for work. She will put her name down from tomorrow itself. The more you lug the bricks, the more you earn. It is contractual!’
Vimli’s mother felt weird. She does not know what is happening in the world out there, but as for the village, it is men alone who go to work. Women and working on brick kiln?
Vimli’s mother may convince herself somehow, but what about the village-folks? Sarpanch’s wife was the first to censure the idea – “Hun! Has that sexagenarian lost her wits? Wasn’t she doing well here with us, getting ample food and all that? Even if she would have lived on our leftovers, the girl might have bloomed into a woman in a couple of years. Now she will ‘train’ her daughter on the brick kiln. Of course, she is attaining puberty. Having fed her on our food, she cannot contain her brimming youthfulness it seems. Let her take ‘training’. There are so many sitting out there to oblige and ‘train’ her.
They instigated Vimli’s father- “Brick kiln means a centre of profligacy, a haven for hoodlums and goons, frequenting there day and night. Besides, nine years girl is not a child. That old woman has gone crazy. She wants her to prepare bricks. Someone will ‘prepare’ her well and she will come to her senses.
Vimli’s father lost his temper to hear all these gossips. This girl and her mother are bent on disgracing the honour of the family… he will not have his hands plastered. Let it rot. He can die with hunger rather than… Had he been well with his hands, he would not have spared them both; would have strangulated them.
But Vimli’s mother, while smoking hookah in a composed mood, had brought him home the good sense. Let them be jealous of us. Let them all burn in the fire of envy. She can even add further salt to their burns. She will go and fetch a sack full of salt. And all those wishing to spew it on their burns can come to her… is my daughter cursed to doing menial jobs for others and wriggle before them for this or that paltry favour all her life; their hearts will be satiated only with seeing her in servility.… arranging for their children’s defecations. …is there some bigwa sitting there at the brick kiln. What wrong there is, if one works in daytime and comes home by the night? These people cannot bear to see a family having both ends meet peacefully. What do they have at stake? It is but for these people that, a son as lovable as mine went out of our hands. That you are a simpleton a fool I knew before, but have you also gone blind? Why don’t you apply your mind?”
Vimli’s father was persuaded willy-nilly, but Vimli’s father-in-law came within a fortnight. It was just a year ago, that Vimli’s marriage had taken place. Her father-in-law had strong reservations against her working at the brick kiln. The girl is younger now though, but what when she matures in a couple of years…It was with great efforts that Vimli’s mother could convince Vimli’s father-in-law.
Now anybody can come and see himself! The daughters and daughter-in-laws of almost half of the village are wage labourers at the brick kiln. Vimli had broken the taboo.
Vimli knows her father’s anger. His anger can be muffled either with machari (fish), kalia (mutton) or murga (chicken). Hence Vimli arranges the same every third or forth day.
There was virtually nothing in the hut earlier, not even a broken cot. A holed sheet of iron in the name of a tava, a broken cauldron, two pitchers for water, one big and one small, and an aluminum container spotted by contracts was all that they had. Vimal has raised one whole household bit by bit. Her father and brother, even by getting their acts together, couldn’t thatch the hut during the last five years. She gets it thatched every two years. It is Vimli whose earnings have rehabilitated her father’s lost hands.
Two separate quilts, one for father, and another one for mother. And a blanket too for some outing if the need be! She has purchased one military jersey for her father from the auction in market. Mai’s stock of khaini never falls short. Baba’s dhoti! Kurta! Angocha!
Six- seven years are not a long period. But Vimli has prepared some three-four sets of jewelries. Twigging the money in his dhoti, her father goes to the city silently and returns with jewelries like a payal, or a waist-chain.
Her daughter is a real Laxmi in every sense.
Today she is getting late during taking bath. Ankles cracked due to brick powders. Half an hour goes in cleansing the ankles alone. Despite all lubrication with oils and ointments, it is always so.
Driver Babu is expected to drop in today.
Vimli will drape the red sari today once again.
Driver Babu has a great fondness for red sari.
While draping the red sari Vimli smiles to herself. The whole world now wants to eat the meat cooked by her hands. She is not so cheap though to care for them all.
When they entrusted her the task of cooking for the Driver Babu at the brick kiln, she was very pleased in the beginning. The ‘reason’ then however was different. She was quite young in age at the time. She used to kill four or more hours very comfortably in cooking, serving, and cleansing the utensils and the kitchen then. For cooking, Khan Sahab used to give her five rupees as extra wage. Five rupees at the time were as good as a full day wage. The main reason of her happiness, however, was the exemption for four hours from lugging bricks! They kept twelve bricks in one chunk! The neck would become sore even before half-day.
Khan Sahab is a shrewd man. Nobody can leave his brick kiln displeased. Otherwise, who could bring ‘Khan’ Sahab’s brick kiln and the sacred thread of the driver Babu together, so thick that her emaciated goat Nimri can be tied to it? That is why he cannot eat at any place. He wants it cooked hygienically and piously.
Khan Sahab utilizes the time spent in cooking meat for making bandobast of money for the purchase of coal. Is not it really a Herculean task to take the coal without paying half the money, and even without having repaid the dues of the preceding deal?
When she reached the brick kiln, Draiver Babu’s truck had not arrived yet. Kuisa Mistri says – “you have worn that golden chain on your forehead again. How many times I have told you that I cannot tolerate the sun it reflects.”
“If you can’t tolerate, then nip your eyes.” She retorts with a smile
Billar says Vimli is the ‘headlight’ of Khan Sahab’s brick kiln.
Sponging down her legs, palms and hands, she enters the kitchen. Garlic, coriander, ginger, onion, dry chilly and turmeric. Although she does not like to eat mutton or chicken herself, who knows better than Vimli as to what particular blend of spices is to be used in the recipe for a luscious taste.
In the meantime of preparing the spice-blend, the Munshiji brings slashed meat. The very thought of driver Babu delights her body and senses. In the beginning, she would not talk much to Draiver Babu. She would leave the kitchen immediately after cooking, and Pandey Khalasi would serve. Some one year back, when he came last time, Draiver Babu had a kerchief drenched in crude oil wrapped tightly on his right wrist. Assistant Driver Pandey had driven the truck for him. Either it was a swelling or it was crushed beneath something. Blood congealed beneath the skin.
“Can you boil some pounded turmeric in oil? It needs to be massaged’ said Draiver Babu groaning in pain.
While handing the bowl of turmeric and oil Vimli found something so irresistible in his eyes that she couldn’t help saying- “Should I give it a message.”
Draiver Babu complied and let her message him as if he were a child.
“Press your palm against the ground. Yes, like this. “
“Arre, why do you groan so much? Is it so ‘painful’?
Saying so, she chuckled like a child and thereby assuaging Draiver Babu’s pain to a large extent.
While dressing the old kerchief on his wrist that day, Vimli had consecrated something for herself in the inner depths of her heart.
Now, on hearing the clattering sound of engine, her heart beats similarly.
The truck gives out a thunderous sneeze before shutting! All the girls say- the sneezing truck! Long time back, when she was new to the place and when it had sneezed abruptly while she was passing from its side carrying bricks, two bricks had fallen off on her legs and she was injured. She had been writhing in pain for long.
Why do all trucks sneeze like this? She must ask the Draiverji some day.
Draiverji alights from the right door of the truck! A lungi with flowery designs! A shoe with tapering projection! Dense black moustaches! Blue undershirt! A sturdy black body! A thin gold chain in the neck! He peeps in the kitchen and speaks jovially, “ram-ram bhai.“
“Ram-ram!” she responds timidly, then laughs to herself. How much she laughs; laughs almost for nothing. Draiver Babu has his two frontline teeth gold-studded. How good they look when he laughs.
Draiverji moves to Khan Sahib with some papers.
Driverji keeps his truck bejeweled like a bride. Once she had tiptoed inside the truck and found the photos of fair beauties adorning it all around. Driverji sits in the middle surrounded by them.
Pandey Khalasi peeps into the kitchen to sniff the taste- “Mutton ready!” then laughs again.
“How are you Pandey bhai?”
Pandey is flattered when addressed as bhai. Bhai means not a brother but a friend? Or A buddy? Or a play-mate? No something more than this, a bit more particularized.
Pandey Bhai laughs with mouth wide-open. Filthy teeth, black due to tobacco! The two front teeth of Draiver Babu are gold-studded and those very teeth of Pandey Bhai are broken, like a porthole.
Earlier she addressed him as Pandey Chacha! ‘Chacha’ would leave him feeling low. This truck has all conventions overturned. Other trucks have young khalasis and old drivers! And see what is here…
After bathe, Driver Babu enters the kitchen- bare bodied! Vimli puts a low wooden plank and a lota of water close to the stovetop.
Now he can eat and keep himself worm, both together.
How thick and black are the hair on Driver Babu’s chest. His body emits an odour like a ripe kaith. She briskly inhales the odour of the ripe kaith.
Gliding the food plate before him, she asks, “Why do you have that hanging leather shoe tucked in the truck? Is there lack of space inside? “
It’s not a mere shoe. It is a totem. It’s for those who keep evil eyes on the truck, for the mama in the market!”
She doesn’t know what mama is all about, but that it stands for some evil eyes!
“Then you must be hanging some totem in front of your home to keep the evil eyes off your housemistress too?”
“Manage for the housemistress first, if you can, then alone I would hang a totem to protect her.”
‘What! He has such manly features and still could not manage a mistress?’ Vimli wonders. Was she worried? Did she feel good? She is not sure. However, she looked at him more carefully and put three chapatis in the plate in one go.
How easily he says ‘manage for the housemistress first’ as if it were my concern.
“You cook chicken very tasty! How can you cook so well when you do not eat yourself?
Vimli does not answer. Silently she pours the hot curry in the bowl, pressing her twin lips against each other.
“This cannot be a magic of spices alone. I am sure you add something of yourself in it.”
Vimli sets forth an abandoned laughter.
“You are so clever in talking.” Vimli peeps into the eyes of Driver.
Oh this man’s eyes, he even laughs through them. dhat…
Driverji brings a packet out of his lungi and beckons Vimli to take it. When she does not advance her hand, he keeps it by her side.
“What is this?”
“Take it and open at your home to see”
“I pray you not to bring things for me. Mai feels bad about it.”
“How will Mai see this? This is an undergarment thing…” Driverji gestures and Vimli is blushed with shame–dhat
“If it becomes your habit to tell Mai about everything, it shall be a great nuisance in future.” Laughs driverji.
“Accha, you have eaten. Now leave from here silently. Pandey is waiting.”
“When are you accompanying me to Jharia and Dhanbad? This time I shall not go without you.”
Vimli frowns with a laugh and holding the plate of food for Pandey walks off the kitchen.
After eating, Driver Babu feels like wiping his wet hands and mouth in Vimli’s aanchal. But….
Draiverji invites her every time to travel to Jharia Dhanbad. Except her village and the local market, Vimli has never set out her foot away from home. Benaras! Jharia! Dhanbad! She has only heard about these places. The Jharia that the eyes of her imagination envisage however is not less attractive than the real one. Jharia, showering like a jharna. Benaras. Brimming over with ras like a sugercane. And if there had not been that much dhan in Dhanbad, how could have Draiver Babu bejeweled his truck like a bride?
Vimli thinks there is no wonder that the fatigued ‘truck’ must be massaged every now and then by Driverji and Pandey Khalasi together. Dhat!
Before he leaves, the driverji, he asks for a lota of water to drink, thirst visibly inhabiting his eyes.
Vimli’s eyes try to catch the farthest of the sight of the truck, airing the dust behind its tyres. On the front of the truck two hair locks wave in the air as if beckoning, “Vimli come on. Come for Jharia, Dhanbad.”
“His gift has put her in a dilemma. She will definitely ask the price and return the amount when he comes next time.”
While washing the used utensils the craving eyes of Driverji flash in her imagination; Driver ji licking his parched lips.
… Topi walwa piyasa chala jaye.
Hamre lage dui gagari…
The cap-wearing lover is going thirsty, though I have two pitchers full of honey, lying unused!
A carnival for the followers of Aghori Baba. People from far off places come to the shrine to offer ‘khichadi’
Most of the work has come to a halt at the brick kiln today. All the labourers, male and female, along with their progeny are going to revel in the carnival.
The shrine of baba is almost at the neck of river Bisui.
The holy bath of Makar Sankranti! The offering of khichadi, and the festivity at the carnival.
A male goat, as an offering to appease goddess Kali will be immolated under the peepal tree, in front of the temple. This temple of goddess Kali has been built, virtually, by the kiln labourers. Every brick-loaded tractor or bullock cart passing by it had to, as a rule, drop two bricks every time towards the contribution of the proposed temple; the temple erected bit by bit. Labour is contributed by the kiln labourers and cement, iron and other materials by Khan Sahab. Bisui river has contributed the sand. What a huge stature Kali idol has? Khan Sahab has retrieved it from the basement of his mansion. When ‘Khan’ Sahab’s grandfather became a ‘Khan’ Sahab from a ‘Singh’ Sahab, ancestral goddess Kali had been hided underground. The temple was a resurrection of the deity in hibernation.
A very spirited goddess, she has a great standing among her worshippers. Kuisa Mistri will also offer the immolation of a goat this year- as this may help her get a spouse.
Only a couple of people, men and women are there at the temple to cook and to perform other rituals of the immolation! Rest of the people are in the carnival!
Vimli is a pet to the women labourers. On the trolley, she is sitting in the centre surrounded by them. Fair, wheatish and black all type of faces are there with colourful flowers and red ribbons entwined in their ponytails. They all laugh almost for nothing, exposing their white teeth lines.
Someone sitting on the tractor calls them out to sing.
Plethora of songs, bhajans, folksongs and keertans Vimli has learnt by rote.
Her song spurs them quickly. Some girls from Ranchi rise up and start dancing. What a scene this one; the speeding trolley, and group of girls dancing thereat; what a scene; superb!
Labourers have taken charge of dhols and drums. The singing voices submerge in the rising instrumental sound coupled with the tractor’s noise. Only jubilation and celebration is in the air.
Kuisa also aspired to sit in the trolley, but Billar forced him to sit on the mudguard in keeping with decorum. He cannot help eyeing the trolley repeatedly. Someone hurls up an innuendo- “Kaka, do you have the nose-ring with you or not?”
Nose-ring! God knows how much Kuisa detests the word. And see the people; can’t they help torment someone even on such jubilant occasions as these.
In fact, Kuisa had joined Khan Sahab’s kiln with some expectations. His accountant has lured him that there are many people of Kuisa’s biradari there, so there was no lack of prospective brides. Keep even scores of them if you wish.
On this assurance, Kuisa roamed from door to door in the whole village during the marriage season. In daytime, he shaped bricks and the night he spent in some nearby village. People smoked much of his ganja, biri and tobacco on that pretext. He would tell them, “my mother had prepared this nose ring for her would be daughter-in-law much before she died.”
He kept the nose ring in his pocket, wrapped in a red foil in a plastic box, and flaunted it whenever need be. Besides, he owns five beeghas of land, and a wage of five hundred a month, and he will take no time bringing a buffalo if he gets a wife.
Eventually he got one. Her Jija was looking for a second match for her. The whole negotiation took place very furtively lest the earlier spouse of the sister-in-law of jija may come to know and spoil the game. Kuisa went…. with a lot of jewelry, bed-sheets, saris, footwear, and all paraphernalia of cosmetics. It had been decided that the bride’s Jija would escort her to the market and bid her adieu with Kuisa from there like a properly ornamented bride.
It was late in the evening till he could saw her off. Near the shrine of Aghori Baba, darkness has prevailed while they are about to cross the rivulet… ‘How slowly walks this newlywed!’ thinks Kuisa. The more the darkness prevails, the more she is lagging behind.
On the other side of the rivulet, Kuisa waits her… where has the bride gone! After a while, he returns in the rivulet to trace her. There is nobody far and wide. There, by the slim streams near the bank, is lying some packet. He picks up to see– male dancers performing as woman wear two little balls on their chest under the corselet– it is the same. This fraud has devoured all that Kuisa could hoard in life. Then onwards any allusion to ‘nose ring’ leaves his body ablaze.
Billar parks the tractor under a tree!
Nothing but crowd is visible everywhere in variegated costumes. Dresses lying dormant in vases or piled up bundles, waiting for some carnival as the occasion of their revival.
A reunion of many a separated hearts, who otherwise cannot meet openly, will take place after so many days. Many among these will elope to Delhi or Ludhiana by the evening train.
So many people, so many dreams, and as many things to buy…how to choose?
Vimli tattoos a ‘black mole’ on her chin and ‘SITARAM’ on her wrist.
Sitaram? Is she so religious?
Who knows that Sitaram is the name of her husband? She has taken many pains to spy her master’s name!
An unknown and unseen person’s name? Sitaram!
It is almost one hour past nightfall that they reach the brick kiln. Then the worship at Kali temple, followed by the spree of dancing, singing and feasting till midnight. Khan Sahab calls for Billar- He is entrusted with the responsibility to escort women, who are their without men from their family, to their homes.
Vimli’s hut comes last. Aloof. When she is the only one left, she says- “You may go now. I will go by myself.”
“No, no. Who shall be blamed if something happens?”
“What will happen? Is some wolf sitting there on the way?”
“Is there lack of wolfs, if it is for you? Your presence can breed them anywhere?”
“I shall tear their legs off their thighs if they come”
“Your spiteful father must be awaiting you. If his wishes alone were to prevail, he would not let anybody pass from the front of his hut. He is so mindful if a passerby rings the cycle-bell. “
Suddenly some animal whizzed across the road from the bushes. A wary Vimli halted her steps all of a sudden. Billar happened to come closer to her, his chest touching her back.
Chilling winter of January. Clouds canopying the earth. The light of moon filtering through snow-white clouds.
“Aye Bilaru. Stop your mischief- Keep away.”
“Can’t you step like a good man?”
Billarawa is all-out for a ‘mischief’. Vimli had portended it.
“If the Driver Babu’s body is sweet-scented, does mine stink?”
“Aye Ramkallis’s bhatar (husband of your sister Ramkalli)! You are neither my would-be, nor Driver Babu. Be yourself!
Arre, have you gone ‘crazy’?
Bimli has indented her teeth deep in Billar’s forearm. Hey bhagvan! Billar squeals up.
Billar feels hapless – a moment ago, she was so amicable and pleasant, and in the very next she has become so ‘ fierce’. What goes up in her mind! What does she want! And what does she speak!
Her eyes say one thing! Her tongue something else!
A ‘bewildered’ Billar is now leading her way! Vimli is following her- if he turns, she may be alert at once.
Billar loses his heart! Absolutely calm!
After a while, Vimli laughs inconsequentially! An abandoned vibrant laughter- “Don’t mind it Billar! You should not do mischief! Nothing else.”
“Enchantress!” Billar says in his mind, “She must have mastered some witchcraft!”
Vimli’s father is sitting near the fire bone, awaiting Vimli, smoking the chelum frequently, and hurling abuses at his old wife. He is flared up to find Vimli coming with Billar in this late night- “so, this is your time to return? Beware if you set your foot out of this house henceforth. I will break your bones. Do you think I will let you enjoy like this? “
Basking his palms in the fireplace Billar amusingly blurts out, “She had gone to get her body tattooed all over. So anxious you are for her if she is late one night. How will you live when she will be gone to her husband, you old man? “
Billar had the prerogative of cracking indecent jokes by virtue of his status as a relative of the village. His sister had been married in this village.
Vimli feels like thrashing on the face of Billar with a sweeper broom. However, in view of the wrath of her father, she timidly enters into the hut.
Making a way into the quilt of her mother she says, “From the carnival I have brought some pills for your night blindness. One pill everyday one hour before twilight…”
Even today, Vimli sleeps cuddled to her mother! She cannot acquire sleep alone!
Amma tells her about the numerous odds and evens facing a woman’s life, her dignity etc. It’s bad to wander so late in nights! His father shouldn’t be blamed if he is furious.
“They say some driverji dotes on you. Don’t ever take any of his gifts or money! Beware! Never love a stranger!”
Why Vimli’s mother still takes her as a child? She has mastered the ways of the world, decoding the language of hungry eyes for so long- but who shall tell this old woman.
That one must care for what people warn you of, for what they recurrently fear may happen to you is an instinctual understanding. How this understanding dawned upon her, Vimli herself does not know. Why amma is so apprehensive?
The more fascinating an idea, the more the dangers it entails! That’s it! The elderly woman speaks on until Vimli stops responding.
Does it really matter if she has night-blindness? The elderly woman can see Vimli through her mind’s eye. It is so sharp that she discerns any change in her physiology beforehand. A girl is not parent’s property. Unless she is handed over to the rightful hands, she must be…
Again, the girl dozed off! How quickly she falls asleep! Now she is deciphering the language of her each body part by groping them – Breast! Belly! Hips! After all, her daughter has to move about among so many bad boys all over!…
Vimli has held her breath, feeling her mother’s tactile moves-silently! She feels the irresistible tickle.
Next day the news is in the air- Billar has fed jalebis to Vimli in the carnival.
And who paid it!
Billarwa has escorted her to home in the midnight. It was heard that Vimli tied a kerchief in Billar’s wrists in the night. Just in the fashion of the driver Babu who had the occasion last year.
Twelve years old Kalua, sitting in the corner of the rivulet with a fishing-bait, starts singing to see Vimli approach- ab naa khabe thonga ki jalebi mori mai re!’ (Oh my mother, I will not eat jalebis henceforth)
Vimli fails to make out anything, though.
Every one at the brick kiln gives a disparaging laugh. In the noontime, Kuisa sings a nirgun song.
“Naihar maa daag para ho mori chunri…naihar maa…”
(My chunari was stained in my parental home)
Who knows what scandal mongering Billarwa has done? It may be someone else either! Nobody knows how the news of the carnival affair spread to her in-laws. Her father-in-law came on his all fours… he has heard that his daughter-in-law jaunts in some tractor and visits fairs…jalebi! Out of home till midnight! Is his patohu some sort of public property or every one’s cup of tea that anyone can ‘sip’? He will not leave without fixing a date for her gauna.
“See samadhi bhai! Try to understand! It is of no avail to refuse when the prestige is at stake. One can preserve chaaval (rice grains) but not bhaat (cooked rice). As soon as rice grain is cooked, it starts fermenting. When a girl is grown up, she becomes bhaat (cooked rice). Wisdom lies in sending her to her in-laws if you love your honour.”
Vimli’s father-in-law sounds like a good and worldly man! He knows how to speak amidst the panchas. Chaaval! bhaat! We will have to give in. There is no way out.
But how can a girl’s mother give her consent in the first ‘proposal’ itself. People would scorn that the parents were unable to feed the girl. Vimli’s mother is talking from behind the doors- “Samadhi must go at least once without.”
Since samadhin herself has requested, it has to be considered. All right, he will come with a second ‘proposal’ soon.
With the end of February, the ‘fierceness’ of sun grows progressively.
Having lugged the bricks till fierce noon, all girls and women are enjoying the cold feel of the river, standing in it with water up to their necks. Since the talks of her second-marriage, Vimli visits her in-laws home once or twice in her dreams. Her imagination carries her to some unknown place during a conversation. Her friends awake her from the reverie. Where is her joviality gone?
What to say of seeing her husband, Vimli has not even heard something of him. It’s not the distance of her in-laws’ home which is six kilometers in all. And only four kilometers from the shrine of Aghori Baba. But he never turned up here; not even on the pretext of visiting the fair or the market! She has heard-he is gone to Calcutta to earn! Her palm arbitrarily touches her tattooed forearm- SITARAM! But whenever Vimli wants to imagine Sitaram, she envisions the sprawling smile of Draiver Babu with gold-studded teeth just in front of her! The sweet smell of ripe fruit of kaith!
Suddenly her reverie is broken- Driverji must be waiting for her. She had come to bathe after cooking, and was still bathing.
She comes out of the water and changes her wears swiftly.
Sitting on the low wooden plank, Driverji smiles, “You went straight to home from the river, I thought!”
“I just forgot! Am I too late?”
Driver ji gazes at her very carefully- how the luster of her face is growing and her silhouette blooming each day. How much sheen there is in her body!
Draiverji puts one more bundle forward towards Vimla- sari, blouse, and petticoat!
“What is this?”
“That I know, but why do you bring these things? By what relationship?
“That I leave on you to understand?”
“I understand, therefore I am saying. Ours is a relationship of acquaintance and respect, and of light fun! Exchange of goods and gifts will get very tough on me. It will get very cumbersome. Driver Babu, a burden that is light and convenient can only be carried and not a heavy one. Keep this gift for your mistress.”
“Sometimes you behave like a grandmother.” Driverji wants to retain the luscious conversation.
Luscious chicken and luscious words; Driverji is fond of both.
“This is my ‘keepsake’ to you Vimla! And do you know what it ‘means’ to return a ‘keepsake’?”
With her large and beautiful eyes, Vimli peeps straight into his. Does he take her a stupid? Wants to tell her what it ‘means’? She knows it all what it ‘means’! ‘Selfish’ fellow!
She wants to switch over the topic-“why you were nagging with Khan Sahab today while unloading the coal?”
“Khan Sahab is a mean and dirty fellow! He wants to make money out of thin air. For how long one can afford to bear loss for his sake?”
“And what about his treats that he throws in hospitality— fish-chicken!”
“The brick kiln is not fuelled from fish and chicken but from coals. The fact is that, I come all this way with coals worth fifteen-sixteen thousand rupees just to have a look on your face… Otherwise, with my face toward the kiln I will not even…! It is all for your sake! This man has been cheating me of my money because of you!
“Why because of me?” Vimli grimaces- “What are you to me? As far as we are here we are fated to see each other, otherwise you will take your course and I will take mine.”
How ‘ruthlessly’ Vimli has said this. A bewildered Driver ji could not come to terms with it for long.
“Why are you so ‘furious’ Vimla. One day I have to go to your Bappa.”
“To beg something”
Vimli burst into laughter at this! And Driver Babu felt compensated for all the losses he has born for her sake.
Driver Babu has seen so many girls, in Bengal, in Bihar and in U.P. But what a girl this one is! The more you think she is closer, the more away she goes. Both within and beyond at the same time. Damn it!
Driverji ponders for a while and then comes out of the kitchen with a lota in his hand.
‘How quick these men folk are in misconstruing a woman’s pleasantries. Is her man in Calcutta aware at all how guardedly she keeps her honour as his property! Guarding it as difficult as the guarding a tree weighing down with ripe mangoes. How many eyes are set on those ripe mangoes?’ Vimli thinks
Ramkalli, Billar’s sister, is hovering around Vimli’s hut like a bee since morning today. She has brought a good ‘proposal’, good both for Billar and for Vimli.
She knows that Vimli’s man has not turned up from Calcutta since last three years, and he does not send money either. A daily waged labourer with no skills or virtues. If Vimli’s mother can agree Billar’s marriage with her… there is nothing strange about it in their community. Billar is a gem of a boy, his marriage could not materialize due to the parent’s demise in childhood though. He is a driver and earns handsomely. They will make a wonderful couple. A hut would be erected for them and they will live just there in our supervision. In addition, if Vimli’s amma and bappa wish, he would be ready even to live with them. They will not feel the lack of a son. Otherwise, who will look after them once Vimli leaves them? And if Vimli’s earlier spouse asks for it, Billar is even ready to compensate the cost incurred on the earlier wedding.
Ramkalli’s proposal has left them in a dilemma! Vimli’s parents talked about it all through the day. There was no harm visible in the proposal as such. And especially if the groom’s side wished, Billar will pay even the ‘penalty’ decided by the panchayat towards the wedding ‘cost’. Why didn’t such a nice idea occur to their minds earlier?
“But how will it materialize unless Vimli concedes!”
“What is there to ask for Vimli’s consent in this matter?” Vimli’s father is furious- “Does she even remember her groom’s face now. The marriage took place in her childhood like a game being played between two children!”
When they go to sleep after the night meal, the old woman unravels the matter very cautiously to her daughter.
‘But you have already married me off! Why then you are thinking of another match!”
“That boy has not turned up to his home since many years, beti!”
“But he is alive. Why won’t he come in time of need, if letters and messages are sent to him? He is my fiancé, what shall he think?”
“As a prospect Billar is known to us as a good chap. He earns well.”
“Is my fiancé lame, blind or crippled then?”
“Of course he is not, but they say his job is not well. He is unable to send money at home.”
“May be he can earn to make his both ends meet only.”
“Then what shall he feed you? What pleasure you will find with him?”
“You think of it today. Why didn’t you think it earlier? What was the need to commit me in childhood to someone?”
“What’s wrong even if we do so today?”
“You can, if there is something bad in him. Does one become bad only because one has little money? Did you marry me off to the man or to his money? If he works, he can earn bread anywhere. Should a man rely on his labour or on other’s money? Tell me. “
Vimli rises up and sits on the cot- “If someone with ten bighas of land in his possession comes tomorrow, will you ask me to go with him then?”
Suddenly she recalls how today she has seen a new hookah and a pot full of tobacco in the corner of the hut. The subtle flavour of tobacco is diffused in the household.
Billarwa’s sister has presented this gift. She feels a fire running in her veins. Holding tight her mother’s shoulders, she shakes her vehemently- “How come that hookah and tobacco worth ten rupees make you think of me as a prostitute? Tell me, how dare you think so? Did you think you will sell me and he to whom I belong shall not come to know? Do you think I am a cow or a goat?”
“chup-chup-chup. Do not shout. You whore!”
When Vimli’s father in law came this time, he left, after two-day’s stay, only when he fixed the date of her second-marriage.
Kuisa Mistri was speechless to hear the news. Vimli will unleash darkness on the kiln with her departure. He gets a saalary of five hundred rupees and five beeghas of land are in his possession! And Vimli’s man, they say, carries garbage in Calcutta. What pleasure he can afford to give to Vimli? He went to Vimli’s father a couple of times on the pretext of hookah, looking for some fragile moment to initiate the talks. But see how adamant the old man is? Go to talk to him and return wounded. He fires you from his brutal eyes alone.
Kuisa is feeling ennui at work. Alternatively he sings a lachari and a barahmasa.
Lage maas agahan
Jaye gori ke gavan
Kaaten saiyan sang chayan
(The month of December has set in. The second-marriage of the beautiful lady, my beloved, is fixed. She will enjoy her life with her spouse…)
“But the second-marriage of the beautiful lady is scheduled in the month of Phagun (February), Kuisa Bhai?”
“The winter in Phagun (February) happens to be more colourful Ganeshi Bhai!”
Vimli’s father-in-law has come with a lot of pomp and show for her second-marriage! Marriage band! Naach party from Chinuadeeh! Fireworks! Pouches of ganja, of hundred grams each! A full box of bottles of wine, and what not.
It is free and open feasting for all, the bride’s side and the groom’s side. When a fusion of two different intoxications showed their effect, Vimli’s old father-in-law danced almost for an hour.
“No, no, why do you say him old? His age is not more than forty or forty-two years. Sitaram was his first child. Had his wife not passed away, he might have continued breeding children until now without scruples.”
He has been doing domestic chores since twenty years, and now he will be unburdened of kitchen utensils. Shouldn’t he dance, then?
Women from every family in the village are sitting inside the hut in a circle and scrutinizing every article received from the sasural. Finger-ring! Nose-ring! Two thans of gold? Payal! Ring for the leg-fingers! Three thans of silver. Very few people in the caste to which Vimli belongs get as much jewelry. Apart from the dresses of the bride, there are two pieces of yellow dhoti for samdhi and samdhin.
Women are all ‘praise’ for Vimla’s lucky fortunes.
However, they all were left with one desire unfulfilled. They could not see Vimli’s groom. His leave request from his job was not sanctioned… the women in the village even liked the dance so much.
Billar is busy like bee in the hospitality of the guests since yesterday.
At the time of bride’s departure in the morning, Khan Sahab sent a sari. Draiverji gifted a bridal shawl complemented with fifty-one rupees in cash, and Pandey khalasi eleven rupees.
In as for as spending money is concerned, Vimli’s father also did not lag behind his counterpart. Bicycle, radio, five piles of batasa, two quintals of ration, one sack-full of potato, lai and salt each, two kilo oil, one kilo ghee, a quilt and a palang. At their bare minimum, they made the loads for two camels.
First Vimli weeps holding her mother’s feet! Then her bappa’s! Then her friends’! Then, at last, of the women labourers of the kiln.
Nimri goat is bleating and waving her tail since morning today. Before sitting in the palanquin, Vimli holds and greets her as well. When the Palanquin bearers lift the palanquin, Vimli howls-
Aapan deswa chodayiu more bapai…
Aapan duaria choriu mori mai…
(Oh, my father you banished me from your village…oh, my mother you banished me from your courtyard…)
This village! These mounds around the rivulet! These places of my own surrounded with palash trees! This foliage of kathjamuns! All this, which I held so dear until yesterday; oh my bappa, my father you have alienated me from them! Now who will serve you tea in the morning?
My courtyard! My playmates! My hearth! Which together made the sense of my existence will be estranged from me now. Who will give fodder to my goat? I used to clean your courtyard every day in the morning my mother, why then, with no fault of mine, you are depriving me of that right.
All those dreams, all those endeavours? To be forsaken forever?
Tiriya janam kahe deu re vidhata?
(Oh, providence. Why did you give someone the birth as a woman?)
Vimli peeps through the chink of the two curtains in the palanquin. Here goes Bisui! Here is the old peeple! Here goes the Kali temple! The brick kiln of Khan Sahab! The twin chimneys spitting out smoke as usual.
To see the palanquin, the group of labourer women from Ranchi halts together – Vimli’s palanquin!
Truck is silent. Bare bodied Khalasi Pandey wearing knee-long underwear, and ready to clean the truck with a bucket of water, watches the palanquin move. Draiver Babu, while he stands by the raised bonnet, is gazing her departure.
Are ya more chacha! Aapan chahiyan chodaya more chacha
(Oh, my uncle, you have denied me your shelter and protection).
Khan Sahab has come out of the office. His eyes are bedewed. As if, his own daughter is leaving him. God bless her.
Vimli wants to get down and kiss the soil of the kiln.
Today, for the first time, Vimli’s father felt the difference between a son and a daughter. Tears constantly flow from his eyes while he gazes at the palanquin.
Today his old age has come, without any forecast.
To a distant place, somewhere Vimli’s weeping becomes inaudible as her palanquin disappears.
Since the second-marriage of his daughter-in-law and her advent in his home, Bisram is living his life with an air of pride and self-respect. His dress, his mannerisms, and his trimmed beard and moustache are giving him such immaculate a look! To meet the expenses of his lavish lifestyle, he has mortgaged a portion of his lands. A festive gathering to smoke ganja is visible everyday in front of his hut. So much of pomp and show! What is the matter? The bystanders are surprised. Is there some secret? By now, speculations were rife on why Bisram did not call up his son in the second- marriage. Although he had gone to city after a scuffle with his father, it had been his own second-marriage after all… moreover why did he send off her sister on the third day after the daughter-in-law came in the hut? Did he fear she would teach her bad manners and make a shrew out of her?
The ability of the women of this village to smell the rat has not weakened so much. If fire catches their clothes from behind, they smell its smoke in their nose beforehand. And here it is flagrant fire, clearly visible.
At both times of day, on their way to answer the call of nature, they get opportunity to discuss it thoroughly. Meanwhile Mantoria’s mother left no stones unturned to unearth any ‘clue’ whatsoever, but the daughter-in-law did not budge. Tight-lipped. Only her eyes spoke; red and bruised eyes gazing timidly. Downcast and fatigued face! A butcher’s cow!
Then Mantoria’s mother decided to unravel the secret by delving deep. When Bisram was not around the hut, she broke into it. The hut was reeking with the smell of wine. Burnt ends of biris were scattered all around the cot.
And that the dauhter-in-law is not a biri smoker, she knows for sure.
Suddenly Mantoria’s mother squealed. She sat down holding her leg bleeding profusely! Bloody bisramwa! In the corner of the hut, he had piled broken glass pieces that pierced into her leg two inches deep. Had she not broken into the hut stealthily, she might have showered innumerable abuses on him.
“Don’t you know that he has brought a new lantern? The homemade lantern has a flickering flame, but this one controls the flames as he wishes.”
“He is very poisonous, that Bisramwa” Mantoria’s mother has declared amidst the women in the locality- “Is wreaking ‘havoc’.
But issues concerning men can be openly dealt with only by men. What say women have therein? Therefore, in that very night, the whole issue is passed on to the ears of men.
It is not a significant news this one for men. What else occupation these women have than backbiting each other. And even if there lay some truth in the news, what is so ‘unnatural’ about it? Bisram is a man of virtues. In times of crisis, all in the village need him. He cures their injured and diseased cattle. Besides, he is a man who respects all. It will be improper to question his moral integrity all at once… But it is not possible either to ignore it altogether, because every housewife in the night would ask about the action taken by the ‘men’ of the village.
Therefore, in the evening gathering, the ‘men’ folk pester Bisram very carefully, lest the prospects of wine and ganja should slip from their hands totally-
“Bisram bhai, we do not see your khatia outside. I happened to pass from your door a couple of times and found no one sleeping out.”
“What? Are you not aware how rampant the terror of ‘bigwa’ nowadays is? One day we hear it picking up someone’s goat! The other day we find someone’s child missing! In Ramvapur it snatched away a three year’s baby from it’s mother’s lap. And in Rajapur it was struggling two take away a daughter from her mother… is it advisable to sleep in open sky in these situations?…Are you still sleeping in the open? Beware…”
What can one say now? It is an uphill task to ‘cow down’ Bisram in a conversation. Besides the terror of bigwa is widespread indeed. Women have stopped going out with their children after the nightfall. If they have to go for answering the call of nature, they do so in a group with sickle or axe in their hands. Women and children are its soft targets they say.
If it can snatch away a child from it’s mother’s hands, what is strange if it attacks on a sleeping fellow too. And once a savage becomes addicted to human blood… human flesh is salty they say … Once it is addicted to it, the habit never dies.
However, one cannot sustain on one’s eloquence alone for long and particularly one cannot digest a ‘sin’ by virtue of it.
“Your daughter-in-law sleeps in the hut Bisram Bhai. Your sleeping there is not decorous.”
“I have been sleeping in the hut since last twenty years.”
“It is different now. It is not good to… while the daughter-in-law is alone in the night. We mean to say … besides you could not call up your son also in the second-marriage. You should erect a hut for yourself. In addition, when we gather, we have to sit outside here under the tree…”
Bisram sucks up the chelum in one go-‘lupp’!
Hell with them! They all are intent on debunking him.
“And better you write a letter and call up your son as well, lest people should think of so many bad things…
“What! So many bad things?” Bisram is under the grip of ganja. He will see who can undermine his welfare while smoking his ganja also. He wants to roar- let the son come or not come throughout his life. The only concern of the daughter-in-law is her ‘diet’ and Visaram can ‘supply’ the ‘diet’ of four such daughter-in-laws on his own.
However, the effect of ganja cannot prevail over his common sense. A man of grit and gumption, he knows how to tackle an issue,” Bhai, I am myself worried about it. Soon I am going to call my son, and as for building the hut, the idea is running in my mind since December. Now I will thatch it soon with the new sugarcane leaves within ten days… I do not like to do something that can ‘degrade’ me in the eyes of the people. But before uttering such profane words people should also think that…”
“Nobody can shut the mouth of people, Bisram Bhai. It is rife in the whole village that Bisram is doing ghastly deeds and that the son will break his bones when he comes.”
The provoking allegation pierces Bisram’s heart again. Is there lack of daughter-in-laws for his son? He has still three beeghas of land left at his disposal and even mortgaging them will fetch him three thousand rupees. Three daughter-in-laws! But…
The world is so competent in hitting below the belt, bhai! I cannot prove my innocence by tearing apart my chest like Hanuman. But it has been aptly said that one should not scandalize something unless one has seen it happening. After all every man has his dignity, his honour at stake.
Bisram knows how to make a case in point. And as for as the honour or dignity of a man comes into question how can others humiliate him until he is caught red handed or else the woman herself opens up her mouth in public.
Bisram’s moustache is still black. He swirls them proudly.
But how can it soothe his anguished soul? Bisram alone knows the pain he is undergoing these days.
Initially she was shy and respectful like a newly wed. Weeping meekly- I am like your daughter and you like father. She would hold her feet crying for his mercy. It always seemed that she would succumb soon. But later she became dangerous like a wild cat. The same roar! pouncing like the cat with her sharp nails. She has scraped all around his face, nose and ear ‘burning’ in pain! The bitch has a solid body of iron due to her work at the kiln. In three days, she has shown him three worlds. Folding both her legs together, she kicked him on his chest with such exactitude that Bisram fell supine far away from the cot. Constant headache and chest-pain cause him worry. Bisram took very pride in flaunting his powerful body. Has his ‘power’ really reduced?
For animals, Bisram is a doctor without a degree. He had straightened the slipped backbones of many a hefty bulls and bullocks. Taken hold of them all. In his lifetime there was not even a single cattle going out of his control… And this toothless calf is not letting him put his hands on her hips…Whom should Bisram share this agony of his soul with? What use it is to swirl the moustache? And the ill repute is coming as extras. Having eaten her kick, his soul is paranoid. Tonight he will bark from a distance.
“Great Sati Savitri, hadn’t you reveled recklessly while you were in your village?”
“So you will show all your holiness here only?”
Vimli stops crying. Her voice is choked as if she were dumb.
“Hadn’t you enjoyed rowdily with that driver?”
“Was it I who traveled across Jharia Dhanbad?”
“And thandai of Benaras? Ugh thandai! He has poured a lot of it in you, making you frigid.”
“Where have all these wears, saris, blouses and jewelries come from? Did your crippled father earn them? He was doing business on you and here you are, pretending …”
“Accha tell me, whether or not your father had committed to Kuisa Mistri to consign you to him in exchange of two thousand rupees? Will you swear by the Ganga, am I deaf or blind?”
“Will go to fair, eat jalebis? And take holy dips in the Ganga?”
“If it is that driver’s wine it is sweet-smelling, if it is mine it stinks. So much that you are closing your nose? How many things you can close?
“It is my fields that have been mortgaged, so why should the others alone have the fun?
“Arre even speaking to me pollutes you? Can your tiriyacharittar save your life? You whore! You, the nymphomaniac bitch!”
The more Bisram feels the pain in his chest growing, the more his fury escalates. Spit dribbling from his mouth, his whole body is shivering. Vimli is sitting her legs circled in her arms and her face buried into it. As if some saahi, apprehending the attack of its enemy, is sitting with its thorns exteriorized for guard.
Bisram barks from a distance. As soon as he approaches her, she will shoot a sharp arrow.
Vimli is dumbfounded. Only if she could manage it to reach her parents with her honour intact… or her own husband would emerge out of the blue! Else, every night will be— a night in a forest! Every night – so hard to sail through, as if it were an epoch. Whom can she turn to now? What will they do other than laughing it out? Besides, she will have to appear in the crowded Panchayat. And those esteemed members of the panchayat would amuse themselves with such disgracing questions that… she knows it all. And her defamation far and wide, including her own village, will be superadded.
Yes, she has found out her husband’s ‘address’ with the help of Mantoria’s mother. Has sent him a letter too. It would reach Calcutta on day four. She has left a message for her parents as well- Bappa may know that he should immediately come and take her with him. If any further delay occurs, he shall not see his daughter alive.
Vimli waited and waited for her Bappa and for her ‘man’.
Kuisa Mistri went to his native place, a village in Balia district.
Khan Sahab was willfully delaying settlement of his accounts, and seeing his reluctance, Kuisa left without settling it. Before leaving, he has told everyone that he would go on a pilgrimage to Gaya and Jagannath this year and is quite unsure of his stint with the kiln in the forthcoming year. Who can predict what can happen to a man’s life? His beard and moustache are turning white. His gout and palsy is on an all-time high. He will have to shed the bonds of Maya.
Maya keri putri, tan tarkas man baan!
Tiriya dhave rath chadhi, purukhaih karai nishan!
(Beware of women the daughter of Maya. Her body is the quiver containing the arrows of her desires. She runs on a chariot aiming them at men.)
Recently Vimli has observed a sea change in Bisram. For quite some days he has been sleeping outside the hut. Then he has arranged for some hay and thatched a separate little hut for himself. Now this is his abode where he sleeps. He spends most of his daytime at the Shiva temple. The crowd of ganja smokers, which would gather in front of his hut, now congregates at the Shiva temple as earlier.
When first day Bisram laid his cot outside the hut, disbelief did not let Vimli sleep all night. She had closed the door from within and put a long heavy iron rod to support it from being opened. Still her heart was beating loudly. What surety there is of the whims of the old devil? It may be some new ploy as well! Even the slightest thump awakes her.
Early in the morning, he woke up and swept the area around the hut with a broom. On first day after sweeping with the broom, he had fetched a glass of milk from somewhere, given her and said, “Will you prepare a glassful of tea bahu! I have heard that samadhi would not attend the call of nature without taking tea prepared from your hands.”
How sweet he sounded! How affectionate he is in his overtures! Vimli’s hands were shaking due to nervousness while giving the glass of tea in his hands. Bedewed eyes- Bisram had cast his eyes down. What a transformation! After so many days, he himself spoke to her one particular day while eating, “I feel so remorseful, bahu! If you do not forgive me, I will not get a place even in hell. Kisunva Ojha had deceitfully given me some debauching herb mixed in ganja. The debilitating effect of the herb had corrupted my moral sense for almost a week stirring me for sinful acts my daughter! It was the pujariji at the Shiva temple who disclosed me his name. For many days now, I have been sitting in his ‘communion’. What a traitor Kisunwa has been to me. How much of ganja he has smoked up from my pocket! And this is what the wicked has given me in return. He had almost ensured my degeneration. Had you not been a bahu like Laxmi in my home, how could we have shown our face to others? God knows what would have been the predicament of my son on his return in future. Bahu, you are a Laxmi that you saved both your honour and my dignity. I am a sinner… “
Bisram’s eyes brimmed with tears, and his voice choked due to emotion. Vimli also felt as if she will burst into tears. What harm they had done to the Ojha who had all this conspiracy against them? Vimli looked at him pensively for long. She felt as if her heart were soothing with breeze after it had burnt.
All through the night she delved into the entire issue. Khan Sahab used to say rightly- truth cannot be hided. Truth cannot be defeated. Truth cannot be intimidated. Truth is Truth after all.
Even the people of the locality are surprised to find Bisram a man of true self-respect. How sincerely he has adhered to their advice, the advice that was a frolic than anything else. A man of guts, he thatched a new hut for himself within a couple of days. Is not this the reason that he is the leader of his community? One should think twice before opening one’s mouth against someone like him. Moreover, it was for the sake of these womenfolk that they all were hell-bent on exposing him. It is well said- women might have end up eating excreta, had god denied them their noses.
After sweeping the area around the hut with broom, Bisram spoke in a high-pitched voice from outside. He will not come for noon meal today. He is organizing Satyanarayan katha on the Shiva temple. He will observe a ‘fast, till the katha is going on. The bahu can have her foods. He will eat only once in the evening time, after sprinkling gangajal to purify the hut and taking charanamrit.
Why then Vimli should not observe the fast! Lord Satyanarayan has recouped her from disaster and helped good sense prevail in her sasur’s mind. She repents having taken the tea in the morning; had she known beforehand about the fast. … Satyanarayan Katha should have taken place in the home. However, it is of no use to think now as her sasur has already left for the temple! His body and mind composed like never before- free of desire.
Vimli has cleaned and washed the earthen floor of the hut very labouriously till the noontime. She has heaved a sigh of relief after so many weeks. For the first time she feels like she is the housemistress of the hut, of her in-law’s home. Her husband has gone in some ‘distant place’ to earn for her. After all, she is the keeper of the hearth to provide both ends meet to the aging man. With nightfall, she is engaged in cooking meal for the night.
Tomorrow her father would come to fetch her. Mantoria’s mother has told. What way-out there was for her in place of sending a message? But it is no more an issue whether or not he comes. She has to feed her father-in-law only for a few more days and with her departure, poor fellow will have to fend for himself willy-nilly.
… She will return from the maika very soon as this is her own home now. Her ‘ spouse’ can drop in anytime. The letter must have reached by now.
Bisram comes one hour past nightfall, holding a lota full of ‘charnamrit’ in one hand, and some panjiri in the other.
He is astounded to find the hut so neat and clean!
“Bahu, henceforth I will address you as Laxmi only! Do not object when I do so. Take this bottle of gangajal. Wash your hands and legs first and then sprinkle it all over the hut. Thereafter take the prasad! Yes! I had already taken at the temple. I feel so hungry. This prasad is for you only.
“Too much? One lota of charnamrit is not too much when you have not eaten anything since morning! And see how little this panjiri is.”
“Achha, if you think that the panjiri is also too much, keep a share of it for your father. I forgot to tell you that your bappa is coming tomorrow. But do not spare the charnamrit as the milk in it will split by tomorrow.”
“No, I won’t eat anything. My stomach is full. I will take a bit of chelum now… I have not touched it since morning.”
When Bisram leaves, Vimli keeps the prasad in the centre of the hut on the ground. She bows her head down until it touches ground- oh my saviour lord!
How sweet the panjiri is. Why shouldn’t it be so when God himself inhabits it? And ‘charnamrit‘ is really ‘amrit’. She will take one glass!
Vimli feels a ‘push’. When food is given to an empty stomach… even food has intoxication… But why she fells so much sluggishness. Her arms and legs are losing their firmness. She rolls over the cot- she should rest for a while.
Done with his smoking of ganja, Bisram enters the hut. He sees across the lantern light. A stray dog is lying flat without more ado after it licked the pot of charnamrit. When Bisram kicks it, the dog looks at him with eyes half-open. It goes out of the hut with much effort and collapses there.
‘charnamrit being taken by a dog? It all depends on one’s destiny.’
Vimli is lying supine on the cot, unconscious!
Bisram shakes her mildly to see if she is conscious. No movement. It has shown its effect. Guru had told- opium is the panacea to control wildest of the animal!
Charnamrit of opium or of milk? Can anybody distinguish between the two- by seeing? By smelling? By tasting?
Bisram feels a sensation running through his arms and legs. He unpacks the fried fish and opens the wine bottle. Why his heart is beating so fast, as if it were a steam engine?
Enhancing the glow of the lantern, Bisram hangs it up on the side of Vimli’s head!
Suddenly Vimli feels a heavy stone placed on her breasts. But despite her desperate attempts her eyelids fail to open. As if she were being weighed down under tons of load. Oops! What is happening? Is it the hut or the cot that is trembling? She will tear off his face. She will rip his eyes apart. But why are her arms and legs unable to move?
Bisram’s body has gained the agility of a tiger. Steam engine of a train- jhak! jhak! jhak! jhak!
She wants to scream but her voice is muffled. She has no command on her senses. As if she was drowning in some unfathomable sea.
It seems as if a tempest has come and gone in the night. Vimli feels cold. Her eyes become wide open. Her body is still not under her full control. The quilt has dropped down on earth. The lantern is still flickering mildly. Her clothes are in disarray! Her whole body is straining in pain.
She descends the cot. She finds hard to put her legs straight. She arrays her clothes.
Empty bottle is lying flat on the ground. Fish bones! Biri fags. Perhaps he smoked the whole packet! Four five dark red spits of paan sprinkled on the wall.
The pot containing ‘charnamrit’, which was licked by the dog, is also lying flat on the ground. The lantern flares up every now and then.
The moment she gained full consciousness, her heart became heavy with guilt. Deceit! Treachery! How strenuously she has been guarding her chastity through all the thick and thin of life! So many dangerous places, so many forests? So many predators! So many nets! And she was looted exactly when she has made it unto her destination! The keeper became the devourer! How could she sleep so profoundly not to be awakened? She cannot make either the head or the tails of the whole incident.
A ‘woman’ who has lived with her dignity and respect has been ‘perished’ here against her will. Something that even allurement and love could not make happen? Is she a touch-me-not genteel girl who can be burnt alive without any resistance? Can be killed? Her blood purified by hard labour, who can keep her as his slave?
Suddenly her cries disappear. Gleam flashes in her downcast eyes, a gleam getting sharper each moment! Have you ever seen the sparkle of cat’s eyes in the dark? Blue sparkle! Burning eyes!
A bottle of kerosene oil is hanging on a peg in one corner of the hut. Taking the bottle, she picks up the matchbox from the niche and heads toward Bisram’s hut. The half-naked and swarthy torso of Bisram lying asleep on the cot in the hut dances before her eyes. The satiated monster after satisfying his hunger of ages is sleeping as if dead! A thin line of dirty saliva dribbles from his agape mouth. Foul soul in a foul body. Today she will burn all this dirt, this entire stink and all sham to ashes. There is no way out now.
Darkness is prevailing in the hut! From the splashing sound of kerosene dropping on the cot she knew– the cot is unoccupied. She touches to feel. Nobody is there. The mattress is lying folded on one side. Where may he go? Disappointed hands cannot hold the kerosene and the matchbox any more. Now what?
The day is breaking. Overwhelmed with self-reproach, she wants to weep but her tears betray her every time and her throat is choked? Shall she further continue in this hell…? No, she will not stay here any longer. She has the address of her spouse, and she still has the tin box containing her paraphernalia in her possession. She comes back to the hut and quickly packs up her belongings. How will the city Calcutta look like? And her spouse in that city? As for her, she has not seen even her local railway station. She used to gauge its location from whistles and jerking sounds of a train.
Shiv ho! Shiv ho!
The voice is clearer now.
Pujariji peeps through the casement. Some person is lying flat on the staircase of the Shiva temple but only his contours are visible in the darkness. Before opening the gate, he wants to get assured of his identity. The people of this village cannot be banked upon. Give them a chance and they can steal anything! Things are worse if it is nighttime.
“Who is that?”
Jai Shankar! Jai Shankar!
Pujari ji opens the gate having recognized the voice. He flashes the torch to see him- flatly lying devotee- Bisram! Bisram rises and touches the feet of Pujariji. Pujariji is flattered! A Vibhishan in Lanka! How soon and how deeply the sense of devotion has prevailed on this man. In the evening too he was so unwilling to depart after taking the prasad that he left at nine o clock. Again, he has turned up in god’s service in the midnight. His sleepy ears had been overhearing his voice since long. Pujariji embraces Bisram raising him by his hands and looks up into the sky to gauge the time of night. The daybreak will take some time. He lights a lamp for light.
Bisram sits in front of Pujariji’s chair which is placed higher than him, and speaks to him the predicament of his mind. “Baba I cannot devote my senses anywhere else than in the feet of Shankar Bhagwan. My mind is restless. Giving the prasad to my bahu I tried for a sleep till late in the night, but could not. And when a nap took me on, it turned into a nightmare! I dreamt Laxmiji sitting in the centre of my hut, the shadow all adorned with gold jewelries! Suddenly a dreadfully black devilish appearance surrounds her. Laxmiji ‘disappears’, leaving darkness behind her! When my eyes opened in desperation, I felt as if some blackish image has emanated from my hut and then merged into the darkness. My mind is not ‘stable’ since then. What is the meaning of such a dream where Laxmi leaves my home in such a manner?”
Pujariji responds with a serene smile. The devotee Bisram is still under the influence of ganja, he thinks. Then alone such agitation can creep in the mind. “There is nothing to worry about. In the meditation after the morning rituals, I will ponder over the significance of this spiritual manifestation.” Pujariji says with an air of self-assurance.
When the combined sound of the temple bell, damru and conch reverberate on the Shiva temple, Vimli who is about to leave the outskirts of the village bows down in reverence putting her box on the ground and folds her two hands– Now you are my saviour, my lord!
For the first time in his lifetime, Bisram has sung a poetic couplet of bhajan in a devout mood as the devotees stand there after the aarti.
Bakri pati khat hai, taki khainchi khal!
Je nar bakri khat hai, taki kaun hawal!!
The goat eats the leaves of plants and her fate is that her skin is peeled off her body. What shall be the fate of the man who eats the goat itself?
Pujariji declared that if Bisram’s devotion continues in this manner, he would prove to be a good bhajan singer.
Bisram sat at the shiva temple for long awaiting some ‘disaster’ to occur! Once out of effect of opium, she may create havoc. However, when Bisram hears nothing even after one hour of sunrise he feels the futility of his apprehension. There is no wrong in returning home. But the pace of his steps slows down automatically near the hut. Who knows what gesture of the patohu he may have to face? Heart is beating loud… But why? He has spent almost the whole night at the Shiva temple. And when he came in the evening he reverted to the temple after giving the prasad to patohu. If something undesirable has taken place, it will mean someone with her consent had entered the hut! Unless she opens the door, how will one enter in? She has been notorious from her maika itself in this regard.
See! The door of the hut is wide open. Pin drop silence! No tinkling of bangles either to disrupt the quiet. Oh! Her box is also not there. Where has she gone? He comes out and combs all around the hut. Has eloped? Where shall she go?
Bisram has regained his confidence in entirety. He inhales deep breath and airs his lungs. Eloping of a daughter-in-law is something to be angry about. He had heard some grunting noise emanating from the hut in the night. Had even seen someone coming out. But he could not think so far-fetched… oh! She has not eloped empty handed. She has even taken his wife’s jewelry as well. Two kilos of silver and ten silver-coins of Queen Victoria’s times. One gold coin! All these things had been buried under earth in a pitcher… he runs up to bring a spade and starts digging a corner of the hut. She took it digging from here.
Then he throws up the spade at some distance, and cleanses off the dust on his arms and legs. He comes out and starts shouting for an alert – catch her! Arre Jagesar Bhai! Lalai Kaka! This charlatan has ruined me! Hey bhagvan whom should I call for help? Where should I go?
The men women and children of the hamlet have started gathering- “what happened? What happened? In an eyewink the news that “Bisram’s daughter-in-law has elpoed with someone” becomes rife.
“Yes Bisram had seen someone exiting from the hut, but he took him to be the daughter-in-law going to answer the call of nature.”
Bisram guides the onlookers to the place wherefrom patohu has supposedly dug out the jewelries! The spade is still lying there. Apart from the jewelries, ten silver coins and a gold one! Suddenly they happen to look at the other corner of the hut… the lantern is still alight in mild glow… a fish bone pricks in a woman’s foot. An empty bottle of wine is lying under the cot. The sidewalls are coloured by spits of paan. A handful of burnt biri-ends scattered all around. Is anything else required to be told? So it had been an abandoned play all through the night. Idiot Bisram! Had been bothered about the Shiva temple attending katha, and that the real katha was being performed here, he was foolishly unaware.
The whole village is lingering around, vying with each other, lest they should miss seeing the action-packed sight. If one comes out, ten want to go in.
Bisram is stood, flanking his head with his arms, with a huge pile of hay to support at his back. Hundreds of questions! Anyone who comes wants answer of some new question raised.
The threads of the story unravel from poor Bisram’s mouth one by one. And had there been one single tale, he must have told it to all. A bone of contention in her parental village everyday, she was a mother of scandals. She had left behind so many stories that their whole will be as comprehensive as a Ramayana. So far, Bisram had kept his mouth shut in view of his izzat. But what is there to hide now. There was a truck driver. She had accompanied him many times to roam across Jharia and Dhanbad. Another chap used to take her to fairs. There had been a mistri too, who would order new ornaments for her every now and then. Bisram had closed his eyes to all this thinking her dissociation with them will end it. He hadn’t thought even in dreams that people will go beyond their limits. God alone knows which among them used to come, and at what time. Had she eloped from her village, Bisram would have saved his face at least, and the honour of the village would not have been staked.
Honour of the village! Nobody had thought about it so far. It is impossible that one can violate the honour of the village and go scot-free.
Where can she go? To her parents? if she eloped with someone , why shall she go to her parents? they would catch the train or a bus. Railway station and the buses in the market must be combed. if they have caught the night train, they are beyond the reach. And if they are looking to catch the one at ten o clock, they cannot escape.
Within minutes, eight-ten cycles are out on the road. Two groups are formed. One group will search in buses and taxis, in the market. The other one will look into the railway station. Two-three people ride on every cycle.
By then another woman catches sight of the kerosene bottle and the kerosene dipped safety match lying under the cot in Bisram’s hut. On the head-side of the cot is kept the kathari drenched in kerosene oil. Once again, the crowd surrounds the hut.
Bisram also comes up to see. It means Lord Shiva has saved his life! Had he not gone in the Shiva temple to perform arti in the early morning the world would have been witnessing his body charred to death? Shiv ho! Shiv ho!
This village had never seen such a dangerous woman, Bhai.
Women are busy in discussing the antecedents of corrupt women in the village. They are also discussing as to whether any woman had any inkling of Vimli’s dissoluteness.
Tied to their pegs, cows and buffalos are lowing. There is nobody to take them for their daily graze. Kids have no interest in the issue but there is no one to cater them food or water. There is no one to purchase vegetables from women venders ferrying with bundles of vegetables on their head. They too have gathered at Bisram’s threshold. Women from other hamlets of the village are pooh-poohing the intelligence of women from Bisram’s hamlet. Why could none of them portend such a big event! Contrary to it, Mantoria’s mother had been scandalizing poor Bisram.
“Arre, in her own days of brimful youth, she used to invite all and sundry of the village. Everyone is good at finding fault with others.” Diesel’s mother loudly says in a gesture of aggression.
Birja the child widow of the village says, “The recurrent mockery of the locality people had left his heart wounded. A forged stigma. Poor fellow had to work hard day and night to erect a separate hut for him to sleep.”
“That was the blunder indeed.” Diesel’s mother shouts – “If Mantoria’s mother hadn’t charged Bisram of a false stigma, he wouldn’t have erected a separate hut, nor would the bahu have managed a chance for a free play and the honour of the village might have been saved today.”
Diesel’s mother will not forget to ‘drag’ Mantoria’s mother in the issue. The reason is that Mantoria’s younger brother had been married to the girl who was betrothed to Diesel two years earlier. She checkmated Diesel’s prospects and managed her own brother’s marriage with the girl. How can Diesel’s mother console her ego as for as the hefty buffalo, received in dowry, is pegged to Mantoria’s door. The buffalo yielding ten kilos of milk a day. She claims with full conviction that Mantoria’s mother had a hand in the elopement of Bisram’s daughter-in-law. She, along with her lover and the stolen jewelry, can be found in Mantoria’s home right here. It is of no avail that they are searching in the station or market.
Mantoria’s mother has lingered on the spot for long till she had to go to dispose off some urgent chores. Volunteer messengers convey the message immediately. She puts her chores aside and runs to set points right. However, Diesel’s mother is seasoned in bellicosity. There is no point in confronting. She leaves the spot.
Pronouncing ‘Shiv ho, Shiv ho’, Bisram is raises his head at regular intervals, and ultimately bends it in one side. The drama seems to have lost its charm now. People are stalking away one by one.
Suddenly news is broken in the air- Patohia has been caught at the railway station. She was hidden somewhere. She tried to board the train as soon as it came. People forced her alight from the train, and she is coming with them. To hear the news, Bisram stands up alarmingly like a dog – “No not at all! I will not let that bitch cross my doorstep.”
Foremost of the approaching crowd is the down-headed daughter-in-law stepping very reluctantly followed by surrounding gallants of the group which had stumbled on her. And half the village behind them. One cannot recollect if ever the villagers have seen a drama of such magnificence during last many years.
Bisram has stood up blocking the threshold of the hut sprawling his arms and legs. This door is closed forever. The father-in-law daughter-in-law relationship has ended.
“An impure stuff. Corrupt woman. Make her sit outside.”
“Her paramour could not be grabbed?” asks Bisram- “Who the other one with her was?”
“There was no one else, perhaps?”
“How do you say that? There was a wheatish young man, with moustaches.”
“You are right. There was a young man sitting on the front berth. And yes, he had moustaches. He resisted when we caught her.”
“Yes, yes he is the culprit,” says Bisram. He is the driver, her old paramour. Why did you all spare that bastard? He, along with her, should have been paraded on a donkey with shaven head …
Patohu is made to sit in front of the hut. Women of the village are sitting near her, surrounding her in a circle. There is a curious gathering once again. Bisram greets the villagers with folded hands and puts forth his question before them. Any five panchas may please tell him what to do. Some four five middle aged men whisper to each other. It is decided ultimately that the whole village will gather here in the evening panchayat. Decision as to what punishment should be accorded to such a harbinger of dishonour to the village will be taken in that panchayat only.
Suddenly some idea strikes Bisram, and he jumps and breaks open her box which she had taken with her. -“my wife’s jewelries?” he ransacks the articles in the box. “Where are my jewelries? Rupees? Coins?” taking hold of her hair, he drags her.
Patohu stands up instantly- “Away, you dog. How dare you touch me? I shall tear you off.”
Panicked Bisram backs off. The group of women pulls the patohu down to sit. See her manners. She has not even slightest of shame left in her. Patohu is staring with her eyes wide open as if she were mad. She is unconcerned of her disarrayed hair.
Bisram has resumed his seat. The volunteers, who so far felt as if they have won something by tracing her, are now feeling defeated. That driver saala has taken away all the jewelry and money with him…! And of honour he had bereaved them all in the night itself. Nobody thought of it then. All these are young boys with warm blood. Finding a girl, they were too happy to think of anything else.
The women of the village want to listen to the whole scandal ‘live’ from the daughter-in-law’s mouth. Since how long has the driver been coming here? Where did she use to hide him in daytime? One woman discovers the train ticket Vimlki had knotted in the corner of her sari. Call some school-going child to read and release the truth.
Women are vexed at the silence of patohu. ‘These girls of nowadays cannot wait even for a month or two. They must get their husband as soon as they are born. That is what kalyug is known for my sister.’ They murmur.
Vimli’s father who sets out to bring Vimli back has reached the outskirts of the village by the nightfall. A group of almost a dozen of people working in fields abandons the work and surrounds him to unfold to him his daughter’s saga of shame. Vimli’s father cannot listen and he closes his ears. Had Vimli’s mother been here, he might have thrashed her with kicks and punches, and that alone could have soothed his smoldering heart to some extent. This is what caused him a consistent paranoia until she came here to her sasural. When her second marriage took place, he felt as if he were relieved of some burden on his chest. Who could foresee that her ‘skills’ learnt at the kiln will culminate in this incident here. Driver saala, bastard, sister-fu****…
With what face can he proceed further with his plans, the face smeared with black ash all over. Even seeing the face of a father of such girl will cause sin. Moreover, is she is a daughter to him or he a father to her anymore! If the panchas found him in the panchayat, they will force him carry their shoes upon his head.
Benefiting the darkness, he takes to his heels.
The villagers start gathering by the time of nightfall. The panchayat swells before the full-fledged silvery moon surfaces against the darkness. This panchayat is different from caste panchayats. The caste panchayat consists of people from a caste only. The panch and the sarpanch are from the same caste. This panchayat is a social one representing all castes and communities. This has one panch each from all castes.
Had it been someone else’s affair, Bisram would have been elected sarpanch by default, but today he is an appellant. Bodhan Mahto who is from the same caste of Bisram – has been elected sarpanch. Diesel’s father is a special panch. The Pujariji from the Shiva temple has refused assuming the role of a panch as he is not a worldly man. He has led an austere life. However, he can have his say if need be so. Besides, laymen too have the freedom to raise questions and express their minds.
Children have accommodated themselves on the sackcloth along with men for whom it has been mainly spread. Women, in a group, are sitting a bit farther from men. Still they are close enough not to let their ears forgo any of the proceedings.
On the four corners, four torchbearers are standing with inflamed torches in their hands. Then there is a ‘mobile’ torchbearer, who brings forward the torch with his hands to highlight the face in action. Though all know the reason of the panchayat, Bisram stands amidst the panchas in accordance with the tradition. He takes off the thin towel upon his shoulder and touches his forehead with his folded hands as a gesture of respect to all. – “Panchas, the woman sitting in the middle of the panchayat is my daughter-in-law, as you all know. My son is in the ‘city’. There was no hurry for a gauna. But the scandals I came to know about the girl from her parental village was unbearable to my ears. Thinking that she would mend her ways, once she leaves her parental village, I embarked on the second-marriage. When she came here and continued her misdemeanours, I objected. Ironically, the people in my neighbourhood found fault with me rather than with her. You all know all those developments. On the advice of the villagers, I erected a separate hut. But here I went wrong. Keeping her away from my vigil resulted in her complete degeneracy. She has not eloped with the driver for the first time. I lost the jewelries and belongings of my late wife, though I am not much concerned on that account. I can rebuild wealth if god keeps me healthy. But what is the compensation for the slur she has cast upon me, upon the village? Now the whole matter is before the panchas and they can accord whatever punishment they deem fit to her and to me. I am to be blamed in as for as I went to partake in the katha and could not keep watch on her. I could not keep vigil on her. But here I would like to say that it was by virtue of the holy katha that my life was saved, else the panchas would have been witnessing my charred body right here.”
Bisram resumes his seat on ground with folded hands. Silence prevails for a while. All eyes fix on the patohu sitting in the midst of women, once again. But the moonbeams hamper clear visibility.
Sarpanch Bodhan Mahto commands– “Patohu may be brought amidst the panchas.”
A couple of women catch hold of patohu’s arm. The torchbearer puts forward the torch. Patohu stands there with her face looking straight. No shame! No fear! No purdah on the face. Eyes defying the whole panchayat. This offends all present there.
“See you girl! You are standing before the panchas, and before the panchas means before God himself. There should be no partiality or prejudice here. Whatever you speak here, you will have to speak in truth. You will have to speak considering the presence of god himself. Agreed?”
The daughter-in-law nods in affirmation.
“With whom did you elope from home? Why?”
“With none. I went alone. I was going to my husband- Calcutta.”
“Whom did you give the jewelries and the money of your mother-in-law, then?”
“I did not dig out any jewelry or money. It is all untrue.”
“It is untrue? There was some man with you in the hut last night. Wine was drunk. Fish was eaten. Is it also untrue?”
“It is true.”
“You went to Bisram’s hut with a bottle of kerosene and a matchbox, is it true or false?”‘
“It is true.”
“What was your intent?”
“I had gone to set him ablaze with kerosene?”
“Because this is the beast who drank wine, ate fish and deflowered my honour in the night. I wanted to ablaze him alive, but he escaped. Now I will eat his raw flesh.”
Patohu moves her steps towards Bisram. There is some outcry. People force her down to sit. They murmur into each other’s ears.
Bisram need not fear now. He stands up, with his hands folded in respect to the panchas– “I have a request to the panchas. Sitting here with us is the pujariji of Shiva temple. Panchas can bear out from him. I was busy in the divine ‘katha’ till eleven in the night when I came home. I took my food and rested for a while. I had not even had a full nap when I went directly to the Shiva temple and lay down on the temple-stairs. In the midnight when Babaji awoke, he found me lying on the steps. When did I deflower her? Where did I cook the fish? Moreover, she keeps the door closed from within. How did I manage to open it and when? And why did she not shout when all this was taking place?”
Pujariji nodded in affirmation- “Bisram hardly left the temple for more than a couple of hours. He in fact discussed about his dream. In the morning, he performed aarti and sang bhajan. Panchas have to consider this.
“You sleep in the hut with the doors closed while Bisram sleeps outside, how did he go in?”
He came with the prasad in the evening. I ‘took’ the prasad and I felt lazy. I became sleepy. I lay on the cot without closing the doors.”
“Amazing! But wasn’t your sleep broken even when the foul act was being done to you?”
“I awoke slightly, but I was unable to open my eyes. As if I were in the effect of some intoxication.”
“Hunh! Effect of intoxication. How did your intoxication disappear so early then? How can a woman be asleep while some foul act is being done to her? What a Kalyugi statement!”
“And where will Bisram get the fish? He was on the Shiva temple.”
How can the patohu reply to this?
Sitting there is child widow Birja, thinking if she should divulge that Bisram had the fish cooked from her, that he had bought the fish while returning from the Shiva temple. What would happen then? The whole case will take a U-turn… Then she will also be enquired as to since how long she has been cooking delicacies and fish for him? Besides, she will also loose the prospects of cooking them for him in future.
Mantoria’s mother cannot contain herself. She stands up abruptly– “Patohu is absolutely true! I am the witness. One day I myself had gone into his hut, and found the same wine bottle and burnt biri ends. This Bisramva is a hardhearted sinner, a cruel vulture. He is an old rake by his very instincts.”
“Whose woman this is? Oh, this senseless race of women! Why does she meddle into the proceedings without permission? What! She is estranged from her husband? Who is her husband?”
Some people have cowed down Mantoria’s mother with rebukes, and whispers reverberate in the crowd again. Even if they believe her words that Bisram has, been living like a rake since long, why did the daughter-in-law not open her mouth earlier?
Bisram shudders with fear again. He stands up, hands folded-
“Panchas! This woman, this Mantoria’s mother is the main culprit who misled and corrupted my daughter-in-law. Patohu may be asked whether the story of the driver is true or not? Is it untrue that Kuisa Mistry pampered her with jewelry and other temptations? Is it untrue that she accompanied the tractor-driving lad to many fairs? “
Again a question? Questions on a question.
Patohu replies all the questions one to one. Driver used to come at the kiln. She used to cook for him and serve him. There was nothing more to it. Billar was a tractor driver. She did not go in the fair alone. All the women at the kiln were with her. Kuisa Mistri is without a wife. He is looking for a wife, but she does not know whether he had any deal with her father regarding her. The jewelry etcetera she has prepared by her own earnings.
At the end of the day, it is agreed upon that patohu has had a scandalous life in her parental village. In addition, her plea that she could not lock the door out of sleep and her eyes, despite ‘so many things’ happening to her, remained closed lack conviction. Even if it is granted that she was so sleep-starved in the night, she could have told it all in the morning. Why did she flee? Where did Bisram get the fish? If the jewelries were dug out and could not be found with her, it ratifies that there was someone with her who managed to escape with them. A young man was there who had resisted when she was caught.
It is past midnight. The moon has risen upon the head of the world. kids are napping in the lap of their mothers. The grown up ones are scattered all across the sackcloth. They all had gathered in the temptation that they would get gur to eat when the panchayat disperses.
All said and done, the panchas conclude that the allegations held by the patohu against the father-in-law are baseless; that the daughter-in-law had invited her paramour in the night; that she had wined with him; that she had slept with him; that she had unearthed the jewelries; and that, before eloping in the morning, she attempted to set ablaze the father-in-law so that nobody would be left to chase them. Now the quantum of punishment for this felony has to be decided.
Pujariji avers – “Vedas have laid down many punishments. There is one in which red chilly powder is filled in. Laxmanji had axed both the ears and the nose on a mediocre offence. Recently he has fetched a Veda from Haridwar. It is inscribed therein that offering service to a balbrhmachari (celibate) also serves the purpose of ‘penitence’.
In the wake of the ‘verdict’, the uproar intensifies.
After a while, Pujari ji reiterates. If the panchas want to give a chance for reformation in view of the fact that this is her first lapse, the retribution of doing sweeper’s work at the Shiva temple for half a year or so will suffice.
But no body is attentive to his recommendations. Pujariji feels that they are willfully ignoring his recommendations of retribution.
They all ‘ruminate’ for long. At last, Bodhan Mahto stands up to pronounce the verdict- “The bringer of shame to the village, the woman who has stigmatized the prestige of the village cannot be spared untainted. Even if the case goes further to police, the people of this village will stand together to face the consequences, but a stained woman will go to her parents only with a mark of stigma.” There is pin drop silence everywhere! Even the dogs are lying silent.
Now the question is where in the body we should mark her, as she has been infidel to her ‘husband’, her ‘suhag’. The virtue, which it has been considered the dharma of a woman to guard against all odds, even if she has to stake her life in so doing, has been squandered lavishly by this shameless girl under wining and dining- and that too, to an outsider. She cannot solicit amnesty at any cost. For this, she should be marked at a place in the body that she neither would tell nor show to someone. However, the times are different now. Even the pettiest case going to police now cannot be settled in less than thousand of rupees. Therefore the punishment in the changed times for insincerity in wifehood is a burn mark in the forehead as the symbol of suhag where otherwise she might have decked a bindi. A lifetime stigma on the forehead.”
Bodhan Mahto pauses for a moment- “If someone has any objection, he can speak up. Does everyone approve of it?”
“So today, right here and right now, we entrust Bisram with the task of marking her by a red-hot ladle of iron. He has to do it as a penance because he lapsed in keeping vigil on the daughter-in-law.
Mantoria’s mother once again looses her serenity to see this injustice. She pops up in the middle of the panchas – “This is gross injustice. Mark on Bisram’s hips with red-hot ladle, mark if you must. Why no one asks as to why, ten years ago, Bodhan’s bhaujai jumped into the well and died. If the women of this village were ready to open their hearts, they can bring forth scores of evidences of his debauchery. How can such a man mark an innocent girl? And that very Bodhan is here to adjudicate such punishment for her? Is it what you call justice? Is this panchayat here to work out justice, or discrimination?
Mantoria’s father is seriously infuriated this time. In this large village, is he the only cuckold that his wife is babbling relentlessly before the whole Panchayat? He catches up her hair with great agility and drags her to home away from the panchayat, her body scrubbing against the ground.
What can she say to her husband? Moreover, a husband is a husband! The elephant may be stronger than its master is, but the master always prevails over the elephant.
The daughter-in-law stands up in the meanwhile- “I throw away the decision of the panchas. They are blind. They are deaf. This panchayat is devoid of the divine ‘truth’. I spit on this verdict-Aa-k-thu… I will see which brave son of his mother will mark me.”
She moves to go out of the panchayat. Silence prevails for a while. Diesel’s father challenges everyone’s masculinity- “Have you all bangles in your arms?”
Then noise of ‘catch her- hold her’ resounds in air. Many youths run after her. Shortly they bring patohu holding in their arms like a goat willing to escape and force her sit in the middle. How soft her body feels- supple flesh! Press her strongly. She may run again. The driver saala managed to escape.
Contempt of the entire panchayat! First, she disrobed the village of its honour and now she spitted on the panchayat. Has she taken us all to be eunuchs in this village?
Diesel’s father commands a lad to bring an iron rod and some cow-dung-cakes. If he gets a chance, he will extend the similar treatment to Mantoria’s mother on some fine day. Women start dispersing one by one when they hear about the nature of the sentence.
Marking with red-hot iron is nothing new to Bisram. He has been doing it to cure the animals of their oral diseases since very long. Today he has the first opportunity, however, to mark a woman.
As soon as the iron is reddened by fire, a group of youths forces patohu lie supine pressing her hands, legs and head against the ground. How she wriggles? Force down strongly. They want to feel her fleshly body wherever they have a chance to. The struggling patohu yells up like a cow being slaughtered. The children in sleep are awake due to frightening. Out of fear, the awaken children head to their homes.
Bisram comes forward with a red-hot iron rod! The story of Mahabharata being repeated down the ages – violation of a woman’s modesty in open gathering!
“Will she cause another Mahabharata?
How can she? Is she some sort of queen?
The torchbearer lowers the torch on her face. Bisram is very reluctant to burn her. But he will have to face the outcome of his ‘deed’.
Chaannnnna! As soon as the ladle touches her forehead, she howls in a heartrending voice. The smell of burning flesh! Hearing the growl, some dogs start barking, and few others whimper. Patohu becomes unconscious due to pain! People start retreating one by one and the panchayat disperses now.
The morning breeze has become cooler now– Pujariji avers with a heavy heart– It is not easy to understand a woman’s character, Baba Bharthari has not said in vain.
Tiriya charitram purusasya bhagyamm…
Some twenty heads nod in agreement.
Glossary of Hindi words
Pagha a circled rope that cattle are made to wear round their neck and nostrils for controlling them.
Saahi an animal that has thorns on its body for protection from enemies.
Kathjamuns a tree bearing sweet-sour little fruits like blackberry.
Chunauti a tiny pocket-box used for keeping tobacco and lime.
Khainee a kind of tobacco mixed with lime for consumption
Berdekhua the parents or relatives of a marriageable girl, on the lookout for a suitable groom in the
traditional arranged marriage system
Jat-biradari people of same caste origin.
Tava a round and solid iron plate for baking chapatis
Dhoti a traditional loose wear, worn to cover the part of the body below the waist
Angocha a thin and cheap cloth like a towel mainly used as a turban or to cover the head
Payal a popular chainlike ornament made of silver, worn by women around their ankles.
Khalasi an assistant to a driver
Lungi an informal wear like dhoti.
Lota a bulbous utensil for containing water etc.
Kaith an indigenous fruit with sweet smell.
Aanchal the corner of the sari or kameej into the lap of a woman
Jharna a waterfall
Ras the juicy part of a fruit or something
Aghori Baba a tribal deity popular among rural people of India
Khichadi a mix of rice, pulse and other food-grains used as religious offering. Also the name of the
festival for such offering.
Dhol a musical instrument like drum
Gauna the second-marriage that takes place when the bride and groom come off age as a corollary
to the first marriage where they are betrothed but do not cohabit due to their being immature.
Samadhi used as a address of respect for the father of the groom or bride by the parents of the
Samdhin used as a address of respect for the mother of the groom or bride by the parents of the
Sasur the father-in-law
Sasural the home of one’s in-laws
Maika a woman’s parental home
Lachari a folksong of separation and yearning
Barahmasa. an all-time song
Ganja a kind of tobacco smoked for wild intoxication
Than a unit for measuring gold.
Batasa an indigenous sugar-candy prepared by melting sugar and chemicals
lai a crispy and roasted victual prepared of rice
Palang a kind of special bed given in marriage to the newly wed
Khatia a hand-woven cot
Thandai a cold beverage made of almond, milk and other dry fruits.
Tiriyacharittar hereto referred as the fickleness or the affectation of a woman regarding her modesty who
is allegedly fickle and immodest.
Gangajal the holy water of Ganga
Charanamrit a beverage prepared in milk base, offered in meager quantity by a spoon as the blessing of
god after a puja.
Prasad the victual distributed among the devotees as the blessings of a worshipped god.
Panjiri a kind of prasad prepared by roasting a mixture of flour, sugar and dry fruits etc.
Katha a religious gathering wherein the priest unfolds the miraculous stories and pleasures of
God or a deity.
Aarti a religious ceremony in which god is worshipped with fire in a round plate after the katha is
over or after the morning prayer
Bhajan a religious hymn or song
Bindi a tiny, mostly round, article which women deck in the forehead after they are married
Suhag husband of a woman. Also denotes the fondness and fidelity a woman is supposed to have
for her husband even in extremely trying situations.
Gur a solid variant of raw-sugar prepared indigenously.
Saala a brother to someone’s wife, often used by one for someone else as an abusive slang.
Izzat respect or honour
Mistri a skilled labourer like a mason, a carpenter or a plumber who has some expertise in his area of
Damru a tiny drum like instrument caught in the hand and played by waving.
Vibhishan the legendary brother of Ravan the king of Lanka and the adversary of lord Ram.
Panchayat traditionally a local village-court for dispensing justice, comprising members holding respect and
command in their community
Panch a member of a punchayat
Translator’s profile in a nutshell
GHANSHYAM SHARMA (b. 1983, Munderwa, Basti, U.P.) did his M.A. in English Literature from Deen Dayal Upadhayaya Gorakhpur University Gorakhpur, in 2004. He has qualified UGC-NET, and has his Ph.D. thesis on a comparative study of Mulk Raj Anand and Munshi Premchand’s novels. Currently working in Delhi as an Assistant Manager in State Bank of Hyderabad, he has to his credit a published research paper titled ‘Portrayal of Dalit Women in Premchand’s Fiction: Realism and Reality’ .
He translates from Hindi to English and vice-versa.