Short Stories >> Yugantar >> Freedom Unlimited (Anasi Azaadi)
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
"Mummy, I'm telling you a fact that this son of yours has been spoilt in America" Naresh had just begun eating and on hearing this sentence from Kavita he began looking at his mother's face. The mother was about to put a morsel of dal-and rice into her mouth that she stopped, and raising her head, looked straight at Kavita, asking, "Kavita, why did you say that?"
"Mummy, when we went for the play, he told me that the most beautiful girl should be available for everybody, why just for one?"
The mother replied, "He is telling the truth. Moreover, every girl, in her youth begins to look beautiful..."
"You did not understand mummy!" Kavita banged her spoon and fork on the plate. "According to Naresh, the city's most beautiful girl should be available to every man".
"Oh My God!" Mother quickly swallowed a mouthful of food and exclaimed loudly, "These rascal men are like horses. They will tear the girl into pieces. That is why the city's Rishis and Sages would convert the most beautiful women into Devadasis and put them under God's protection..."
Naresh started eating fast...In the midst of this, chewing on a piece of chicken leg and throwing it away, he repeated sarcastically, "They would put them under God's protection!" and nodding his head, he told his sister, "Did you hear what mummy is saying...?" Remembering something again, he said, "Kavita, what is that couplet you often repeat?"
"The Moon may belong to anybody.
But the Moonlight should be for everybody".
She asked, "What do you mean?"
"You tell me the meaning".
"It means that a beautiful girl may be married to anyone. But she should not be kept under Burkha (Cover) and everyone should be given the opportunity to watch her beauty and appreciate the creation of Nature,"
The mother also agreed, "Yes, beauty is God's creation. The more you see, the more joy you get. What beautiful idols are made of Radha-Krishna and Ram-Sita! One can just keep watching! Naresh, you know about the Daswani's marble temple, isn't it? Just go and see the idols there..." Naresh said mischievously, "Beauty is God's creation! Do did you hear Kavita! Beauty is God's creation..."
"Isn't it true Kavita? Say the truth..." Mother said.
Naresh replied, "Arey, these idols are the creations of Jaipur's craftsmen. They are not God's creations by any chance..."
Kavita said, "Both, Sita and Radha were indeed beautiful. But would you say that Ravana was right in kidnapping Sita?"
Inspite of the seeing the sharpness in Kavita's gaze, Naresh was not bothered. He said, "I am not talking about married women. But Radha was not married, then why is her name taken along with that of Krishna..."
"You won't understand Naresh". Mother said.
"To hell with it". Naresh wiped his hands with a tissue and got up.
Kavita said, "Dear child, wash your hands. What is the wash basin for? It is not so cold here like America. if your wife was here, she would not tolerate you besides her, with that smell of chicken masala on your hands".
Naresh began laughing, "To hell with it".
After finishing their meal, all three sat down to watch T.V. Suddenly, Kavita, who was lying down in her mother's lap, stood up abruptly and asked, "Mummy did you hear that sound from the kitchen? The servant broke something...Oh my God! I hope it is not a piece of the Cornell set we opened today..."
Naresh said, "Since there are no servants in America, there is freedom of breakage and loss. Just put the dishes in the dish-washer and they are all clean..."
"All clean?" Mother argued. "As if you are the only one who has returned from America. Have I not been there to see your father?"
"But you agree that these situations of breakage were not there, isn't it? "Naresh was laughing.
"Every city has its own situations. Even while using the dish-washer, first you put the utensils, put the soap, then remove them and place them...But here, employ a maid and she does everything. Machines are there for everything. There, even to go marketing, you first get your car from garage, drive and then you reach the market. But here, the vegetable vendor comes right at door-step with fresh vegetables".
Kavita returned from, the kitchen. looking very happy. She said, "There was such a loud sound, but the dish had just fallen, not broken..."
"Now watch this scene from Chitralekha". Saying this, Naresh caught Kavita by the hand and pushed her on the sofa. "Oh, I did not want to miss this scene at all...This get-up of Meena Kumari as Sanyasi..."
"You died, isn't it?" Naresh laughed.
The mother said, "Actually she died even yesterday hearing the song of Kamlavati.You have stayed in country like Japan and you have also travelled to so many other countries. Are you not satisfied as yet? You die on beauty, you die on songs, you die on fragrances. Even when you love eating a certain dish, you say, "I'm dead mummy. Such a tasty sweet". Have you learned anything else from Japan, besides dying?"
Kavita got up and put her head in her mother's lap. Rubbing her finger on her lips and moving her legs, she said, "Mummy, I agree that I die on every goodness, but I don't have thoughts of killing every good thing, like Naresh".
"Now, you both will keep arguing. One has come from the North and the other from South. You barely live here together for a month or so, and you keep arguing".
Kavita put her arms around her mother and said, "Not North- South, but East and West..."
"Now just watch your Chitralekha, otherwise you will again ask us to rewind it..."
Kavita was still in a playful mood. She put her mother's arms around herself and said, "Did you hear mummy saying North and South instead of East and West, Naresh?"
"To hell with it!" Naresh gave an indifferent response and continued watching the movie.
Now, even Kavita got totally involved in the movie. Till the movie was over, there was such a deep silence in the room as if all three of them were not just experiencing the film, but the picture of life itself. Only at some emotional scenes did Kavita utter an "Ah" or "Oh" or at times she was wiped her tears. As the film got over, it started rewinding automatically. Kavita suddenly got from her mother's lap and said, "This is a better video. My video does that only when pressing the rewind button".
"To hell with rewind!" saying this Naresh proceeded to leave the hall.
Kavita jumped up and caught him by his hand, saying, "Sit here".
Kavita's mother too got up to leave. Kavita pulled her by her kurta and the mother said, "I'm feeling cold. I'll get my shawl...But maybe I will go and rest now. If I sit with you two, it will be past mid-night".
"It can be even later than that. See, we have met after so many years..." Kavita said. But the mother still got up to leave. Then Kavita screamed, "Mummy, did you call aunty to tell her to get Papads made for my mother-in-law from the lady staying below?"
"And, yes... What about the Kacharis (Sindhi savouries) dried Swanjhara (drumstick leaves)) ...Bhuraani...and what not...?" Naresh said. "Huh...Huh" Kavita caught her brother's arm and started sulking.
Freeing his arm, Naresh said, "To hell with you! Papads, Swanjhara, Kacharis...What is your mother-in-law? Is she an inhabitant of Mohenjo-Daro? What all she needs! To hell with it!"
Kavita said, a bit seriously and a bit humbly, "The poor thing is an elderly lady. She has not travelled to England and America like mummy..."
"These old customs and these old ladies are an absolute headache! There are so many new things available...I feel that a woman who does not adjust to the circumstances is of no use. Papads...Kacharis...Chhee...Are these things to be eaten!"
Mother came back. Pulling her son's ears, she said, "You fellow. To hell with it! First of tell me, didn't you see that even in America, older women were mad about cookies? In every country, not only the old people, but even the young die for old things..."
"Oh, my intelligent mother! Now, Naresh, you will say to hell with intelligent mummy!" controlling her laughter, Kavita looked at her brother.
The brother too was in a mood for joking. He jumped up and catching her plait, he said, "Yes. Yes. You flatterer! Had you not flattered your mother-in-law, she would have never looked after your children while you travelled to India, isn't it?"
"Look at him mummy!" Kavita shouted, "Naresh is totally influenced by the materialism of America. As if my mother-in-law needs to be flattered".
"To hell with your mother-in-law!" Naresh was about to go when Kavita pulled him by his kurta and pushed him on the sofa.
"Sit here...Tall me the truth. Do you really feel that I take all these Kacharis, Papads and all, just to flatter her?"
"Of course. What else? It is so clear. The woman stays in Japan and you are taking for her Kacharis and Papads?"
"Naresh, you are mistaken. Our Eastern culture believes that you should always do something that the other likes".
Naresh banged the glass table-top and said, "And does it suit the other to request for buying something from India as soon as he or she lands there?"
"Oh no, Naresh. Why don't you understand? This is just a different way of seeing. I don't consider the desires of my mother-in-law as any sort of demand for her favourite things".
"To hell with it. Stop this discussion Kavita. Had I had been in your place I would have never taken any such stupid thing for her".
At that moment the mother came and place a shawl on her daughter's shoulders. Naresh removed a pack of cards from the side drawer of the sofa. Keeping a cigarette in the ash tray he told his mother, "Come on, let us begin..."
"I am going to sleep Naresh, I'm feeling cold".
Naresh took his mother's shawl and threw it off, "You are also growing old and weak like Kavita's mother-in-law. Sit here! If you are feeling cold, take a sip of this Brandy".
"You are really mischievous Naresh". Mother moved the chair and picked up her shawl. In an instant Naresh poured whisky in two glasses and Brandy in the third.
Kavita said, "I was in a mood of chatting today..."
"To hell with it!" Naresh dealt the cards and picked up a cigarette.
Kavita did not even touch the cards, she sat there with a hand on her cheek.
"Which ships have drowned? Those of sugar or those with ammunition?" Naresh asked, tripping off the ash from is cigarette.
"Why don't you forget about playing cards today since Kavita too is not in a mood?" mother said.
"But Kavita is only thinking over and over again. I say that eat, drink and be merry. Look mummy, thinking was necessary when we were poor. We were in need of money for Kavita's marriage. My job was very low-paying and dad would get tired selling insurance to people. My wife used to run a school at home and you would get irritated. Tell me mummy, wasn't it so?"
"Kavita, you know, now his wife writes to me "I am running your shop very nicely. The children too are very happy. You may carry on with social work there..."
"And the money?"
"The poor thing is sending him money. And she is saying that it doesn't matter whether the money is earned by the husband or wife. Only the house should be run well and all the responsibilities should be met..."
"Yes, she is right. Even my marriage is four years old now. I got married into such a family that doesn't care about dowry, festivals...Mummy. I am telling you the truth that though my mother-in-law has not travelled so much like you, but her ideas are similar to yours. She has never ever expressed any expectation our family. Whenever I take gifts for her, she accepts them with so much love and grace".
Mother said, "Inspite of all this happiness, Kavita you don't appear joyful in your mind..."
"Mummy, shall I tell you the reason? You will be shocked".
"Tell me, tell me. Why are you creating such a big suspense?"
Naresh lit another cigarette.
"Mummy, in the beginning we were struggling for money but even then, we all sat together for our meals and we would always think about doing something good for our community. I started a children's school and Naresh set up a Sindhi school. Our friends circle also would put up plays. And today, see how we have forgotten that beautiful life that was full of beauty and happiness".
"Oh, to hell with your beauty and happiness. Where was our interest in beauty in those days? We were busy in getting out of poverty. We distributed milk in the Camps. We got machines for widows from the government..."
Mother said, "My son, don't mention all this now. When you do good deeds, they should be done secretly, with no one getting to know about it..."
"Mummy, Naresh is not the same person any more. It was he who used to every time repeat that 'Do good and forget about it'. He would get jobs for so many people. And now?"
Then mother pulled Kavita's ear and said, "You are ever ready to criticize your brother! What has happened to you? Now everyone is in a better situation. Moreover, after Independence the corruption has grown so much that nobody has to wait for anybody's help. You can buy everything with money".
"Oh my God! What has happened to you both? Mummy, you were the one who used to say that just the principles of religion have changed, the religion itself has not changed".
"What does it mean?" Naresh frowned and asked.
"Mummy meant that the one who sits on the Judge's chair, like Bhai Dayaram, should have God's name being chanted within him.
But nowadays, the true religious man is the one who works for the welfare of the people".
"To hell with it. The welfare of your people...I understand that I have experienced the freedom which was not even expected in this country. The people of this country, men as well as women, have a very small perception of life as well as of the mind. They are all time-wasters, only busy in criticism and gossip. Eat, drink and be merry...Enjoy beauty...Now this is my way of life. Oh, you fool, why don't you experience this freedom from everything? It is like heaven on earth. Heaven! Otherwise, to hell with everything".
Kavita quietly kept staring at her brother. She got up, slowly, yawning. Her eyes were on Naresh all the while. The atmosphere was absolutely quiet. The breeze outside grew a bit wilder and the windows started banging.
The mother laughingly said, "Now look, even the breeze has got the pointless freedom! Get up children and close the windows, otherwise they will break..."
All three got and closed the windows, and walked towards their rooms.
Kavita came closer and whispered in her brother's ears, "What if you head-mistress wife also starts taking such liberties over, there like you?"
Naresh kept blinking his eyes at his sister, who, sticking out her tongue in a teasing way and winking at him, went towards her bedroom.
- Translated by Arun Babani