Short Stories >> Nakhreliyun >> Prestigious Surnames persons (Aakahita)
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
It was evening. An old man, holding his waist, was pacing about in the large rooms of Vishnu Villa. The cracks in the floor of the rooms seemed to be sympathizing with the wrinkled face of the old man. The rays of the setting Sun failed to brighten the rooms. Suddenly a middle-aged man walked in. The old man asked, "Is everything okay Sukhramdas? Why are you panting?"
"Kaka, give me shelter in your palace now. You shall be happy forever". Sukhramdas kept wiping his eyes with end of his dhoti.
The old man made Sukhramdas sit on an old sofa and he too sat beside him. Patting his back, he said, "Baba, it is your own house. You may come and stay. But tell me, is everything well?"
"Kaka, what can I hide from you? One of my brother's daughter is stuck with a loafer from the neighbourhood. They are illiterate from villages, and we are the urban class in the city! The boy has threatened that he will kidnap her. Kaka, we are respectable people. Where do we hide ourselves? We can be saved only when we leave that neighbourhood".
"Son, it is your house, but how will your family and children live in this place, far away from the city, that too in such an old house?"
"Kaka, my daughter is not the only girl. My dead brothers' daughters too are there. They are five girls in all. I feel like making a house in a rat-hole, where the girls are not exposed to this corrupt world. Kaka, it is like old times. The world has become very nasty. Kaka, my respect is at your feet. Do not refuse my request".
Kaka was compelled to keep up to his respect because with that Sukhramdas had agreed to pay a rent of fifty rupees to live in this deserted house. Fifty rupees was a heavy sum for such an old ramshackled housed of Vishnu Villa, in a small-populated place like Devlali.Sukhramdas had to do something to keep up the respect of his family.
But inspite of doing so much the respect could not be saved. As Sukhramdas was hurriedly getting the luggage picked, the girl eloped from the house. Inspite of much effort and struggle he could not find any clue to his daughter's whereabouts. Now it became even more difficult to walk through this big neighbourhood with dignity. Sukhramdas moved into Vishnu Villa, keeping in mind the future of the rest of the girls in the family. He was given three rooms and the fourth was occupied by the old man himself, who did not have any children, except one servant.
Staying away from the city, with no contact with anybody, and being confined in the house, the girls would get bored and often entangle with each other. More than the daughters, their mothers would get entangled with each other. A single family was now divided into three families. Sukhramdas occupied the front room and his two widowed sisters-in-law occupied the two back rooms along with their children and started cooking separately.
But this separation of the three sisters-in-law did not divide the girls of these families. In fact, more love grew between them. Skhramdas's daughter Susheela was the eldest amongst the cousins but there was no hope of getting her married anymore. A few years back some proposals had come but they were all rejected on grounds of family background, looks or prestige. Susheela's gait was very youthful and proud in those times. But now her walk was heavier. She was always lost in some thought. At times she would go through phases of absent mindedness. Those families that were rejected were now happy and were heard saying, "It was good that we did get involved with this family which is under the spell of spirits".
When the young cousins would read some stories describing feelings of love, they would look at Susheela and would take a deep breath and suppress their own feelings of love within their hearts. But the current of water coming down from the mountains would certainly flow into smaller streams if not the rivers. So, the girls would wear Ghararas and kurtas and discreetly go the Sanasari river, and also go to the movies with the youngest aunty. Sukhramdas got to know of this. And it was trouble for the young widowed aunt! Sukhramdas caught her by the collar and said, "After you have allowed your own daughter to elope with a loafer, now you are bent upon ruining others' daughters?"
Khimya, at first did not reply. Then wiping her eyes, she said, "Oh brother-in-law, do not blame anybody. I feel that the girls are so desolate, they need some entertainment once in a while".
"Entertainment! My foot. Why can't you to take them to some religious discourse?"
"There too there are love stories of Shiv-Parvati, Kishin-Radha and Nal-Damyanti.Some entertainment is necessary no?" Khimya said calmly.
Sukhramdas who was fuming, said, "You have given entertainment of that loafer to your daughter. Are you not satisfied with that...?"
Now Khimya burst out in anger, "You refer to my son-in-law as a loafer. But he is an employed person. Just because his family surname is a little lower, so he becomes a loafer for you Big money-making grooms from big families are available at a price; if you have that kind of money then get your daughter married to a prestigious groom. It is better to get your girls married in somewhat smaller families rather than making a pickle out of them; otherwise it is like an empty purse but big pride...!" Even though there was truth in what Khilya was saying, Sukhramdas was furious at these taunts from a mother whose daughter had eloped. He shouted, "What empty purse! Shut your mouth or I shall break your teeth".
Skhramdas's wife too came out listening to his shouts. She told Khilya, "Have you gone out of your head? When the destiny will reveal itself then the girls will get married without any dowry, why are you talking too much unnecessarily".
"My dear sister-in-law I am saying that destiny was there even before, and it would reveal at fourteen. Now destiny is not revealing even at twenty-eight. I am saying that some effort also needs to be put. But desiring for prestige, family name, good looks, furniture, diamonds, silks and so on...Then even at forty destiny will not reveal. The girls may be simple in our home but in their in-law's house they should be well-off.
"Oh, you stupid woman, now listen carefully, our daughters do not need husbands like your son-in-law. After this if you take our girls out of the house then be prepared to take your bag and baggage and leave this place". Sukhram said loudly.
This threat intimidated Khimya and she said, "Yes, throw me out right now if you desire so".
Sukhramdas lifted his walking stick and pointing towards her said, "She is never going to keep quiet!"
There was utter confusion in the entire house. At first Khimya was frightened but when she saw that Skhramdas's wife and her other sister-in-law too interfered, she gathered courage like a lioness and said, "Beat me. Come on beat me. How long can I bear all the taunts and torture? Ever since my daughter has married everyone has become upset. When the girls grow up, they require a suitable family isn't it...?"
"Shame on you! The girl has left her home and eloped and you are talking about a well suitable family. Why didn't you kill such an ill-fated girl at birth itself?" Sukhramdas said, shaking with anger. His wife took the walking stick and left inside the room.
"Why should I kill her? You all have dear daughters. You have broken all relations with my daughter and you have deprived me of her love".
"Oh, you clever woman, why are you sitting here? Why don't you go to your daughter?" Sukhramdas was now out of control. Now Khimya too had lost her balance. Weeping bitterly, she said, "Am I clever? My late husband regarded you brothers as Gods and left me in your charge but just because my daughter has married into a little low-class family you are calling me such names? Actually, you have lowered my respect in shame. I requested and pleaded you so many times to let my daughter get married to the same boy and keep up my respect. But you were so stubborn that there were other girls in the family who would get spoilt. But you refused any freedom even to the other girls. Even if you hide a growing tree it will still start growing out new branches..."
Sukhramdas was embarrassed and like a lost traveller he went away, talking gibberish. His manly voice was heard echoing and booming across the meadows from the back side. Finally, from the end of the corridor a few tender hands appeared and pulled Khimya inside. When inside, Khimya noticed that the faces of all four girls had turned pale. Sobbing they told her, "Bhabhi why are you putting yourself through all this because of us? When Dada is talking to you like this, we are trembling inside..." Khimya noticed that indeed the girls were trembling like lizards. There was a frightening silence spread over entire Vishnu Villa that night. There was a gloom over all three families of the big family and no food was cooked in any house. Each one was remembering his past. Khimya could not forget her daughter Padi's image from her mind Two days before her daughter eloped a very terrifying letter had arrived. It read, "If we are not allowed by family and relatives to get married, then we shall elope and get married in the Gurdwara, but we will not break up our relationship". Skhramdas's daughter Susheela had brought that letter to him.
And at that time, he took a stick and almost broke Padi's bones. Remembering the plight of her daughter on that day Khimya began crying. That day everyone in the entire family had cursed her daughter. Khimya herself had mentally abused and cursed her daughter that night. Padi had cried so much that her eyes were swollen. On the day they were shifting to Vishnu Villa too everyone in the family made it very difficult for Padi to even sit or look up. They kept blaming her saying, "It is because of you we are leaving such a nice neighbourhood. and going to live in desolation!"
These taunts and hatred in every gaze almost killed Padi within. Her eyes were swollen due to crying and when the entire luggage was outside, and they were ready to leave, something weird happened to Padi and she was nowhere to be found. Sukhramdas searched every nook and corner but there was no trace of Padi. The entire family ‘s anger burst out on Khimya. Khilya bore it all. After many days it was revealed that Padi had gone to the terrace to bring in the dried clothes and her lover Kanhaiya had pulled her towards the adjoining terrace. After that Kangi had come and reported that Padi had got married in a Gurudwara and gone to take blessings from her mother-in-law. The mother-in-law too blessed her a thousand times, kissed her face and made her sit in her lap. After the incident of the fight Sukhramdas became extra careful about the girls and he tried to keep them busy and occupied. When he heard of the Saints from Sitapur had come to the city, he rushed to them, fell at their feet. He somehow pleaded with them brought them to do a Satsang for eight days in Vishnu Villa. After the coming of the saints the gloom that had spread after Padi's eloping suddenly disappeared and the girls in the family too seemed to have found some light. They would sway to the songs and the elder daughter Susheela had even learned to play an instrument. When the Saints' young singer Krishin Gur would sing a bhajan, Susheela would be lost in playing the instrument while accompanying him. Krishin too would intermittently watch her with a tender gaze and sing so melodiously that the listeners would be regaled. After eight days the Saints left and Susheela started crying. When the Saints were taking leave, she went closer to Krishin and said, "Don't forget this disciple (Daasi)". Although Krishin's face was like a ripe fruit but the look on his face after listening to this request from Susheela grew red was one that she preserved within herself forever. After some days there was a gloom over the entire family. The members had lost all strength, with the women lost and men confused. The girls looked like frightened rats who could barely raise their heads. After three days Sukhramdas made up his mind to get back to work but just as he was leaving, he received a letter from the postman. He took the post-card and he fell on the chair. "Whose letter is it brother-in-law?" Khimya asked "From that Susheela". he answered helplessly. Listening to the postman's voice, the entire family had come out into the veranda. "From where has she written? "the mother asked. "The unfortunate one is in Sitapur" saying this Sukhramdas felt darkness around him. He closed his eyes and bent his head backwards on the chair. Khimya took the card from his hand and with trembling lips she read it out loud, "Krishin has started working. We have a house in the city. Mother you yourself have said that when destiny has to be revealed it takes no time. Won't you send me blessings?" Skhramdas's wife told Khimya in agony, "Today is your turn to laugh". Khilya heard these piercing words and took a cool deep breath. Looking towards Sukhramdas she thought to herself, "Oh God, see how a Spider gets trapped in his own web!" Looking at her sister-in-law she said, "Just see sister-in-law, how destiny reveals itself". "Destiny revealing. What rubbish!" She said with a sour face. Vishnu Villa's owner, the old man was going towards the bathroom, carrying a towel, when Sukhramdas told him with folded hands, "Kaka, tomorrow we are going back to our old neighbourhood!"
- Translated by Arun Babani