Short Stories >> Kheryal Dharti >> Abaali
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
By coming to live in Chandralok building, Parbati who was lovingly called Pali suddenly became known as Abaali/poor thing.
A senior woman, heavy built was the one who had given her the title of recluce. Whe she had first spotted Parbati sitting on a bench in the Chandralok garden, she had instantly asked, "Are you the one who has come to occupy Shammi's flat?"
Parbati nodded in affirmation.
"You are married isn't it?"
With a faint smile, and a little suspicion Parbati said, "Yes".
"Then why do you appear so reclusive?"
"I don't know" words slipped out of the parbati.
"Shammi was your maternal grandmother isn't it?"
Again the reclusive nodded, saying "Yes".
"Shammi was a millionaire. She left you only this flat? Nothing more than that?"
Nodding her head, and lowering her eyes, the recluse said, "No, nothing else".
A little girl came and said, "Mummy, brother is beating me".
"Oh, you have two children also?"
Parbati got up from the bench, held her daughter's finger, and picked up the child standing a little distance away, saying, "Why dear, why are you hitting your sister? Shall I hit you?" she said lovingly. The child wrapped his arms around the mother. The reclusive began walking towards home, leading her daughter by the hand.A voice called from behind, "Abaali. Hey Abaali". Parbati did not realize even for a moment that the name did not belong to her. She immediately turned behind and looked at the bulky woman sitting on the bench.
The lady gestured the recluse to come near. As she came near, she pulled by the hand and made her sit on the bench. "Tell me dear! Shammi's daughter is your aunt, isn't it? She was present at Shammi's death. You were not to be seen then?"
"Both my children were unwell. My husband was in Bhopal. He got the news later..." saying this recluse had tears in her eyes. The little girl started pulling her mother. Parbati got up and left. The woman did not call her again. Actually, few other women from Chandralok colony had come and occupied the bench.
Reaching her home on the third floor, she lit the stove and made tea for herself and her children. Her eyes became cool looking at the sky from her kitchen window. Soft cotton clouds were floating over the sunset...Oh what is this childhood within my bosom! She opened her long hair with her hands and flung them, "as if I'm not myself but a long-haired actress..."
Biting her lip she said, "No. As I'm a long-haired Goddess who is standing on the peak of a mountain and below are gardens where the old women are crying either thinking of their lost youth...or my this my beauty..." But, in a few moments this peacock's eyes fell on her feet and she sighed, "Oh this recluse!"
There was a knock on the door. It Mrs. Manchanda the neighbor, "Thank God you are at home. At this hour generally all flats are closed. Everyone is in the garden or out walking..."
The reclusive laughed and said, "Sit"
"I'll sit but your aunt should have atleast left something to sit on. The woman was too much. She was aware that her poor niece was coming to stay here.Then why did she sell off the sofas, chairs, beds?"
"Perhaps she was sure that we would agree to come and stay here"
"What are you saying you girl! Such a flat! Your grandmother gave it to you free and you would not agree to stay here! There has to be some logic".
Making a small face, like a timid child, Parbati said, "Staying in such flats is to increase one' expenses. The taxes in this Bombay flat are eight times more than that of our Sindhunagar flat. The electricity bill is also too much, I'm surprised in two months itself. The maids are also too expensive. Oh God!"
"Dear, if you want comforts then you have to pay a price for it. I've heard that you have driven out your maid?"
"I did not drive her away. She left on her own. She said she had found another better paying job".
"Yes, you are right. It's a fact that these maids are greedy".
As there was the honking of a car below, Mrs. Manchanda got up from the bed saying, "My husband has come down. I shall be leaving". rotating the keys in her hand, Mrs. Manchanda left. Abaali sat quiet for a long time. There was Mrs. Manchanda's perfume smell spread all around the rooms. Her ornament-covered body and hard face was still before her vision. Some days back too when the same Manchanda had come home and sat for an hour or so and gossiped; she was not wearing any ornaments but was in ordinary clothes. Her eyes were moving along the entire house, saying, "Your grandmother's washing machine was kept here. The maid would quickly wash all the bed sheets and covers".
Abaali said, "Why hire a maid if there a washing machine?"
"You won't understand. You need one person to maintain all the electrical appliances. That is why even though your grandmother was alone; she had a full time maid. She would get this ventilator cleaned every day. She had a big juicer-mixer here in the kitchen. The maid made juice for her every day..."
My grandmother was not sick, then why did she have juice every day?"
"You are truly ignorant. She was so healthy and fit till the end because she drank fruit juices..."
"Oh..."Parbati was angry at her foolishness. She saw her son throwing a glass and she pinched him.
Thinking about that day with Mrs. Manchanda, the recluse grew sad, she picked up her son in her bosom, kissed his cheeks and embraced him close to her heart.
"And me?" her daughter caught her legs and the recluse picked her up too and kissed her.
And now Harkishin appeared and said, "Why dear, are your eyes moist?"
The tears that the recluse had controlled for so long now flowed down her cheeks. Giving gifts to his children and putting his arms around his wife he said, "Arey, good days are here, and still you are shedding tears..."
Parbati said, "My aunt has ruined all my happiness and gone. Every now and then a neighbor walks and comments, Here was your grandmother's tape recorder, here was a kept a big TV set, here was attached a swing.".
For quite some time Harkishin kept visualizing all those things. Whenever they had visited the grandmother she had given them money and gifts. Once she had made Harkishin sit by her said, kissed his forehead and told him, "My son, had you both could amicably spoken to the family, and not suddenly disappeared. Had you not had a court marriage, then we would have never allowed you to go and stay so far away in Sindhunagar..."
"...Amma we are very comfortable there too. It only tales long to travel and the children go early to bed. Only I don't get a chance to play and spend time with them".
Grandmother said, "That is what I am saying that there are difficulties. I have everything, TV, Tape Recorder, Video and above all a car at my door. But there is nobody to use all these. My children are all settled in America and England and I am all alone, dependent on servants. Had you been nearer I would have been satisfied that at least some one has benefited and enjoyed all these facilities of mine".
Harkishin had then said, "Amma, what could we do? Your sons and daughters did not approve of our marriage- Your Subhadra of Lord Krishna, and Rukmini of Govardhan too had left their homes for their husbands' homes..."
"Yes...Yes..". Amma had nodded. Perhaps this was enough to melt her heart and she had willed her flat to Harkishin's wife. Coming out of his thoughts Harkishin said, "Whatever has happened, now I save so much time on traveling. With a little effort we can establish an agency and improve our life".
Parbati looked up with humble eyes and said, "Here the women have named me as Abaali.I was a queen in Sindhunagar. My hair-bun, my designer clothes were envy for the neighbor. But here nobody has long hair. I too shall cut my hair..."
"Oh no...you don't..".saying this Harkishin took her long thick hair and touched to his cheeks, "Such soft, woolen hair...You dare chop them"
Abaali looked into Harkishin's eyes. As she felt his loving breath in her hair she melted like wax. She sat close to Harkishin for some time...Then she took a deep breath and got up to attend to her household chores.
Harkishin played with the children, by the time Abaali finished cooking. In between she kept coming and sitting by her husband's side. Harkishin realized that his beloved was still confused about something. He gave her a side glance, saying, "Why is the bird not singing today? In Sindhunagar it kept singing sweetly while cooking and cleaning".
Sighing, Parbati spoke of her confusion in her mind. Harkishin said, "I understand everything. You feel a recluse/poor thing, living amidst the rich people here".
"No Abaali!" Suddenly she pinched his thigh and they both burst out laughing. Both the children too began laughing. Abaali picked up her son and Harkishin picked his daughter. "Sonu, what did you understand that you laughed? And you little one, what did you understand that you are letting out peels of laughter?"The little girl put her small hand on her mouth and said, "Where am I laughing" but the laughter kept flowing out of her palm.
Abaali said, "There is life in the house when you come home. Otherwise such huge house comes to eat me".
"In Sindhunagar too I returned home at midnight..."
"There was atleast some neighborhood there. Here even during the day every door is shut and everything is deserted. They don't interact with each other. Every one has a TV, Video, Film, parties...so many jobs. They have servants for outdoor jobs as well as servants for household work".
"What did you say, servants for outdoor jobs and maids for household work?"They both started laughing again and the children also joined in more than before.
While having dinner Harkishin said, "Pali, I don't think you are happy in this flat...Just look at your face. It looks so withered...Actually I sense a pain in you laughter too..."
"Listen you are calling me Pali instead of Parbati and these colony people call me Abaali, Why?"
Harkishin stopped eating, and said, "You should know why".
"Right. I know why. These women are wearing new dresses and ornaments every day and I don't have any such things and..."
"And every day they talk about their maids, their servants, their dishonesties, about tailors and then about TV programs..."
Harkishin went to wash at the wash basin glancing at the other room he saw that the two kids had gone off to sleep amongst the toys.
He came inside and embracing her, Harkishin said, "In comparison to what my Pali has every other woman looks like an Abaali/a poor thing!"
- Translated by Arun Babani