Short Stories >>Bhoori
Bhoori Alias Papad wari - By Smt. Sundri Uttamchandni
Translated by Prof. M. U. Malkani
“I say how dare you try to walk into my house like this?”
“Sister I’m Paparwali and…..”
“Whoever you are, can’t you realize that someone may be changing his clothes?....Hey! can’t you hear me? Why are you rooted to the door step?.....and Darling, why are you staring at the paparwali? Have you forgotten to change your clothes?”
“You are Nenoo, aren’t you? Don’t you recognize me?” the paparwali asked.
Nenoo was dumbfounded.
“You are surprised that I’m selling papars?”
“Come in and sit down. Of course I’m Nenoo. But I can’t make out whether you are Bhoori or Ruki.”
“No I’m not Ruki, she is my elder sister. I’m Bhoori…..what a fine chair!.....This is your wife, isn’t she?
“But aren’t you well, Nenoo? Your face doesn’t have the bloom it had in Hyderabad.”
“Bhoori, you too are looking rather….”
“Go on, why do you hesitate?”
Nenoo turned to his wife:” Susheela, this is Bhoori, the beauty of our mohalla** in Hyderabad: I have talked to you about her often”
“Really! so this is Bhoori! This is the famous beauty of your mohalla in Hyderabad?”
So saying, Susheela flung back the hair falling on her face with a challenging air, but her face turned pale.
Bhoori sat reclining in the chair and taking a good look at the appointments of the room- specially the photographs. While looking at the photographs se said casually, “Having three children costs a woman her life’s blood, after all. One can’t remain the same ever. Besides, wandering about in the sun and the rain…By the way, Nenoo, have you any children?”
In Nenoo’s eyes swam two tear-drops, tear drops so large that it was difficult to draw them back and even more difficult for a man to let them fall. He asked in great distress, “But Bhoori, why has your appearance changed so much?”
“You haven’t answered her question, have you? She wants to know how many children you have… Woman, we too have three children…. But you have come to sell papars, haven’t you?...
Susheela could say no more; her lips were quivering with anger.
“O Dheeroo! Where have you disappeared, son bring the scales in here , will you?” Bhoori shouted.
“Did you leave your son in the passage?” Susheela asked,
“Where else should I leave him?... Look at the rascal’s feet. How dirty they are! He loafs about the whole day…. Put the scale on the floor, boy. It will be easier to weigh the papars, sitting down on the floor”.
“But woman, what’s the price per ratal#?”
“Susheela, you keep calling her woman!” Nenoo jerked his head in irritation, the word “Woman” jarred on him.
“Ha!” exclaimed Susheela, pulling a frown on her face sarcastically implying: “What then? Should I call her Sohni, beautiful sweetheart of Mehaar?”***
Nenoo looked as if he had swallowed a bitter pill. He frowned and sat down in the same chair which Bhoori had vacated a moment back.
Bhoori was busy weighing papars on the floor, not concerned with the conversation of husband and wife. “One seer, two seers, three and a half seers. Here are four papars extra; you can have them gratis. But taste them first, and you will know Bhoori has given you kheechas **** rather than papars.”
“But tell me first how much do you charge for a ratal?”
“Eleven annas a ratal. Do you think I will over charge you? I earn barely half an anna per ratal, not a pie more.”
“Don’t tell lies, woman! How can you bring up three children on such a low profit?”
“O no, sister, may my husband live long! He too earns about a couple of rupees a day.”
“Only a couple of rupees!”
“What does your husband do for a living, Bhoori?” Nenoo inquired.
“Formerly we were in Baroda, where he had a cloth stall. After the stalls were pulled down, he started rolling bidis from which he earns very little. So I make two or three rounds through Pedder Road, Colaba, Dadar, and sell about thirty seers of papars per day. I too make a rupee and a half or so and we live quite comfortably…. And now look at this little rascal! Hey! Why are you chewing the papar raw? ….. You know, the loafer has appeared today after an absence of two days, Nenoo?”
“Where had he been for two days, woman?” Susheela asked curtly.
“He says he was at Dadar station.”
“Who gave him food there?”
“He served as a coolie.”
“You women are strange creatures. If a child of ours slipped away, here or there, even for a while, we would simply die out of fear….. But look at the awful condition in which you have kept your boy. Otherwise what a little handsome chap he is! There’s nature’s own rouge on his lips and what beautiful brown eyes! But you haven’t bathed and soaped him for days! His body is coated with dust. Our children will presently return from the garden; you will see how spotlessly clean they are.”
“Of course, they would be spotlessly clean, sister. If I stayed at home all day, I too would be able to keep my children neat and tidy. As it is, I hurriedly swallow a mouthful of food and go away on my rounds. Even so, I leave both my girls in the school. But this fellow takes no interest in studies. He insists on going along with me. Says he would like to earn too. The other day I refused to take him with me, so he ran away. But tomorrow, I’ll get his teacher to break his spine so that he stays in school.
“It would be better not to leave home at all, woman. After all, you earn only two rupees; you are not making hundreds.”
“Two rupees are quite ample for us. Anyway, we are not dependent on anybody.”
“Ample for you! Woman, for me, my husband’s salary of three hundred is not enough!” Susheela said this with an air of pride which she thought would excite Bhoori’s envy. But Bhoori made out as if three hundred were as good as her small earnings. “Well sister, here are your three and –a half seers of papars. I could bring you more tomorrow if you like.”
“What should I do with more tomorrow? Bring another lot after some time….Here take your money.”
“Well Nenoo good bye,” said Bhoori…. “Here Dheeroo! Pick up the scales and let’s go. It is sunset already.” Bhoori was gone.
“Why don’t you change your clothes? You are still in your trousers!” Susheela said to her husband.
“Oh, I quite forgot. But ….. why this irritation?”
“All right, I am irritated. But you are happy, your heart is jumping with joy, isn’t it?”
“It is so late and you are not yet asleep,” she remarked.
There was no reply.
“What’s wrong with you tonight?”
There was still no reply.
“Tell me the truth, turn over this side, will you? You are still thinking of Bhoori, aren’t you?”
“It is true I am thinking of Bhoori. But why are you upset?”
“I know what you are thinking in connection with Bhoori.”
“You don’t know, and you won’t understand.”
“How can I understand if you don’t explain? … But how silly of me to ask. Well, you needn’t tell me. I’d better sleep now .” Susheela turned away her face and tried to sleep.
“Anyhow, tell me what is it that you are thinking?”
“Oh, let me alone.”
“But, Bhoori has charmed you, hasn’t she?”
“Have you gone crazy?”
“All right, I am crazy. You are acting as if you don’t understand what I mean… I’ve always said that it is a mistake to marry a poet. His soul is always hovering around pretty girls.”
“Surely something has upset you today. Otherwise even a child would say that you are prettier then Bhoori even now.”
“I know, I know, A man’s wife may be as pretty as a houri but to him she is like home-made chicken- no better then dal-bhat%.”
“Don’t talk nonsense. Every human being admires beauty. Why only a poet! Do you shut your eyes on seeing pretty flowers in a garden? A human being is Nature’s noblest handiwork?”
“What beauty have you found in Bhoori?” she asked…”she was nothing to look at. But I did notice how enamored you were with her gait.”
“Susheela!” he said angrily.
“Yes, yes, I am telling truth. Why does it annoy you?”
“But silly, she is a married woman and mother of three children!”
“So what? When she was unmarried, weren’t you eager to marry her? Don’t I know that your father reasoned with you, and impressed upon you that as an educated man you should marry an educated girl- like me? And now you are sorry!”
“Sorry? Have you gone off your head? At that time I was only in the first year of the college, and father did well to prevent me.”
“If that was so, why were you staring at Bhoori all the time? What is more on seeing her you nearly cried. You think I didn’t notice those tears in your eyes, which you tried so desperately to keep back, My dear a woman can read a man’s mind in an instant.”
“Oh, go away, you crazy girl! Didn’t I tell you wouldn’t understand?”
“You’re coming back to the same point. Why don’t you make me understand?”
“Susheela, if you had seen the Bhoori of eight years ago, may be, you too would have cried, to see Bhoori as she is now…Once that was a full, round face but her jaw-bones were protruding today, the cheeks were pink then and under their delicate skin you could see the blood coursing- now those same cheeks are parched and pale. Had you seen her eyes then, they would have seemed to you like twinkling stars; but those once shining orbs have been driven into their sockets by poverty. The milk white skin has turned copper- coloured now, because she has to drudge in the sun all the day. When I see a lovely plant withered in the scorching heat of the sun, my heart is torn to shreds, In Bhoori’s case, her poverty has blighted her beautiful face and form and my heart bled to see it.”
“How can the heart be torn to shreds – or bleed?”
“Sushi, when small-pox some time back pock-marked the tender face of our Saroj, how much you had cried! Tell me, why had you cried?”
“Even today I feel miserable about the disfigured beauty of my rose bud.”
“Sushi, just as beautiful houses, good roads and flower gardens are the pride of a nation, so too are pretty faces the pride of a country, Will not my heart then feel unhappy at seeing Bhoori’s face form withered just when she should be in the full bloom of her youth?”
“But I can see no sense in your being unhappy about strangers.”
“Strangers! How can my own people be strangers to me? Sushi, we left our homes and gardens, or lands and farms, our canals and barrages all behind, The only thing we brought with us was refugees from Sindh is the glow in human faces. Is it not painful that even that glow should disappear because of hunger?....” He could not speak further.
“But you were beaming when Bhoori left!”
“I perceived a new kind of beauty in her just then.”
“Oh! And what new kind of beauty was that… you poets are bent upon confusing simple persons like me.”
“Sushi, my dear if you had observed a little more carefully, you too would have seen that new beauty in Bhoori. In place of the light-hearted Bhoori, a new hard-working, self-reliant Bhoori has born. Did you notice her plain speaking, care- free manner?””
“The nerve of that girl- the way she went and sat on a chair!”
“Therein lay her beauty, and it gladdened my heart. He will not let her stoop before anybody in the work and why she stoop, after all. For her one who earns two rupees a week is as good as one who makes three hundred a month. She is not less then anybody. She works and demands her payment. And working so hard she has become prematurely old, she does not mind it a bit. That her husband earns two rupees and not ten , is a matter of no complaint for her.”
For that matter, I’ve no complaint against you, either.”
“How simple you are! Examine your inner self Sushi- it is chock-full with complaints: children are not sent to a convent school, shopping is not done every day, you have not been taken for a holiday to Kashmir, there is no radio-set in the house; we are without an electric fan, don’t accompany you to your parents every few months- how can you travel all alone! On the other hand, there is Bhoori, going about fearlessly, all alone, up and down the roads of this city! Her independent spirit protects her on all sides. Because of her life is so carefree and strong that no false sense of prestige assails her. She has lost herself in her work and so become a true queen …hey you are crying!”
Nenoo took her face in both hands and gently asked, “Why these tears, my girl?”
“Because- I never understood you all along. I understand now.”
She replied, pressing her tearful face against him.
**block of bldgs
*** refrence to the heroine and hero of a Sindhi folktale
**** papars of rice flour, a superior product.
% common pulse and rice dish