Short Stories >> Alienated homeland
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
Janki hadn’t been married a mere year or two back - she had spent 35 years in her marital home. She was not an active deer anymore - running around all day and climbing stairs while skipping 2 steps at a time. When she went to the terrace to offer her prayers to the moon, her laughter did not echo in the neighbourhood anymore. Even then, as soon as she heard from her husband that a guest from her childhood village in Sindh was about to arrive, Janki was thrilled. She pleaded with her husband, “Call him right away and invite him home.” Her husband burst out laughing and said sarcastically, “Even at such a young age, you are this thrilled to meet someone from your village! Look at you, demanding to bring the guest home like a young child!” Janki became visibly upset and sensing it, her husband said, “Wah! You look twenty years younger. Ok, I will invite them over.”
Janki and her husband took really good care of the guest. Once lunch was served, Janki’s husband got up and began to leave, “Ok now, I need to go to the office. Janki, you can sit with your guest and hear about stories from your village.”
Janki finished her chores and sat with the guest. She lovingly asked him, “Tell me the truth, Kewal brother. Have you actually come from my village?”
“Yes sister! I have come from your village.”
Janki’s beautiful face broke into a smile. She said, “Brother, it’s been so long since I’ve even seen a bird from our village. It’s been thirty five years since the partition and the way everyone fled from the village during that time has scattered us all. I found out my parents were murdered through other refugees. I have no idea where the rest of my family is. If only the roads to and fro were not blocked, then we would have been able to visit our village...but now, visas and passports have made our own birthplace further away than other foreign countries. Sometimes, I miss our village so much, I spend sleepless nights.”
Kewal said sympathetically, “Sister, under normal circumstances, we would never remember our village in such a manner but since we’ve been forcefully separated from it, we miss everything about it. Sister, I need to tell you, our village is not a village anymore - it has turned into a big city! There are so many new factories nearby which manufacture a variety of things. Our city now shines brights.”
Looking at Kewal, Janki was lost in her nostalgia. Kewal further said, “Not only has the village changed but the thinking and the behaviour of the people has changed too.”
“How come?” Janki asked inquisitively.
“I’ll give you an example. A while back, a Zamindar who was the head of the village, passed away. When the panchayat arrived to appoint his son as the next head, he refused it by saying that those times have passed where a zamindar would sit in his verandah, wearing his turban and smoking chillum while people from the village came to pay their respects to him. But to his surprise, the panchayat was also modern. They asked him to just go through with the formality and forget about the chillum…”
Kewal said, “Sister, youngsters today love Sindh, their land. They also have great respect and sympathy for those Sindhis who left Sindh. They are ready to give their lives for the Sindhi language. They consider it their duty to uphold their tradition and culture…”
While listening to all of this, Janki felt an echo from some far off land. Remembering the visions from her past she said, “Brother, when we were young, you should have seen our lifestyle. On Durga Ashtmi, as young girls, we would go to every neighbouring house to eat white khichdi with sugar in a big plate meant to be shared. We would wash our hands in that big plate, sprinkle that water and give our blessing:
Give them grains, Give them money,
Give them a daughter-in-law in a doli,
May the man feast,
May his wife give birth to sons,
May the man win a lottery…”
Now it was Kewal’s turn to laugh.
Janki said, “We had the most fun during the holy month of Karthik. Young girls and newly wed women would grow the Tulsi plant and would fast. During the three days of the festival, we were worshipped as Goddesses by our family. We would go to the temple, burn an oil lamp and wearing a dupatta on our heads, we would go to each other’s houses. We would laugh so much and have great fun…”
Kewal too was lost in the past, imagining those streets and neighborhoods of his own city. He said softly, “Sister…”
But where was Sister? She was lost in her dreams about her childhood. She kept saying…”School days were good but college was the best. College was not very far from the village. I never liked wearing a dupatta on my head when I went to college, so I started wearing frocks and kurtas. Some of my friends wore saris to college. They used to look so much older. They even got married before me. I would have never agreed to be married off so young because I wanted to become a doctor. But there was no medical college in the city…” Janki was disheartened.
Kewal said, “Now there are medical colleges in our city. You will be shocked to see the new government offices, hospitals and stations.”
Listening to Kewal, Janki became sad. She said, “I was very keen on becoming a doctor but I couldn’t even complete my college education.”
Kewal said, “Sister, I don’t know how many women went to college in your times, but now there are a large number of female students. To top it all off, girls these days are writing poems, couplets and short stories. There is a new crop of Sindhi female writers. Some are writing songs and poems like Shah, Sachal and Sami, while others are writing stories like Tagore, Premchand and Sharatchand. And some are even lecturers or doing radio and TV programs. You would be really surprised to see the progress of women in every field.”
Janki said excitedly, “You think I would be surprised, but I’m actually overwhelmed. Girls from my village have started writing poems and stories! Wah, Wah! I wish I had wings - I would fly and reach my village. I am so fond of stories. Brother, I remember my life before marriage -all of us girls would sit around my dad and uncle during winter. We would sit near the fireplace, warming our hands and eating nuts, but our entire attention would be on stories. Stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata, tales of Alif-Laila, folk tales of Umar-Maarui and Sassui-Punnu. We would sit till late at night listening to these stories from our elders. Once a strange incident took place. The sons-in-law of the family were invited to dinner. The men were busy with drinks. They were sipping drinks with snacks and Palo fish. In such an atmosphere, one of the sons-in-law began narrating the story of Kaamsen and Kaamrup. He remembered the entire story in poetry form. As soon as he started reciting, everyone was awestruck. Suddenly Badi Ammi began sobbing. There was so much pain in the song that she missed her son who lived abroad. Her wounds were reopened. It had been thirty years since her son wrote a letter to her. His wife too had grown older and had become skeleton-like due to separation from her husband. Her wounds too were awakened and she started trembling like a bird - separation is very painful brother…” Saying this, Janki became silent. Tears flowed down her cheeks.
At this point, Kewal said out of restlessness, “My mother tells me these stories in the same way.”
Teary eyed, Janki looked up and asked, “Who?”
“My mother! You resemble her a lot. She also spoke about her sister who got married during partition and went across the border and that there is no news about her. My father also says that during the partition so many families got separated from each other when they fled from home. My mother was also found in a hospital. Someone had gone to the hospital to distribute food and sweets and recognised my mother.”
Janki immediately wiped her face with her sari pallu and asked, “Your mother’s name isn’t Parbati, is it?”
Kewal was shocked, “She says that her name was Parbati in her previous birth.”
“Arre Abba...my beloved Kewal! You are my own nephew! Women consider their lives after marriage as a second life altogether. It must be why your mother said that she was Parbati in her previous life because her maiden name was Parbati.”
Now Janki’s face was worth watching. When her husband returned home she took Kewal by the arm and exclaimed, “Listen, listen, he is my nephew… my sister Pārbati’s son!...I have found a person of my own soil in this foreign land!...” Whilst talking she started sobbing bitterly. Kewal related the whole story to her husband who embraced him. Kewal’s face brightened up.
Janki’s joy knew no bounds. She said, “My son Kewal, looking at you I feel as if I am looking at my long lost sister. What can I tell you my child! You are the bridge between two sisters, a road between two borders…” once again her nose turned red.
Her husband remarked, ‘But why are you crying so much? You should be really happy. You always longed to see Sindh. Now that you have found your sister, I shall take you to visit your village. Oh, if the visits to and fro were not made so difficult, I would have taken you there long ago. What to do? Our motherland has become foreign to us.”