Short Stories >> Bhoori >> Chatri
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
After getting ready, Sheela was looking around the drawing room. Two single beds were combined and a double bed sheet was put over them. As Sheela was adjusting Rajnigandha flowers in a tall vase, over the showcase, and as she changed the date on the calendar, the door bell rang. As she opened the door, Mathri Dadi rushed in, holding her sari above her feet, slumped on the bed, saying, "I have had a bad fall. Look at the bruises on my knees".
"Dadi, you didn't come in Mrs. Mirpuri's car today?"
Dadi made a gesture, as if moving somebody away and said, "To hell with Mirpuri and her car. Leave that vagabond, she goes to ten doors, picks up this one, that one and then finally she arrives here..."
Sheela said, "Wait Dadi, I'm bringing Tincture to apply on your knees".
Dadi reacted as if bitten by a scorpion. She said, "I don't know tincture etc. Just bring some perfume or some cold cream".
Sheela pulled out a bunch of keys with a silver key chain and went into the other room.
Dadi said, "You keep everything under lock and key. Have you filled your house many servants...?"
Sheela sprayed some perfume on Dadi's bruises. At first she made a painful sound but later said, "Oh good. My wound has cooled." Inhaling the perfume she said, "Sheelu you have brought out an excellent thing..."
Sheela said, "Dadi, I feel good that it was of use to you".
Dadi lovingly tapped Sheela's head and said, "I come here only to hear your flattery, otherwise I wouldn't come here for playing or for a kitty. My daughters and daughters-in-laws are settled abroad, so I feel happy seeing you. May you grow and prosper with God's Grace"
She removed a lighter and lit a bheedi.
Sheela said, "Dadi I don't possess expensive things like you. After all we are locals and you are foreigners.Just see, everything about you, from your sari to slippers is of top class. Your lighter is A1. But I can't understand why are you smoking a bheedi instead of a cigarette"
Dadi laughed and said, "Oh my local lady! What can I say? The satisfaction of this local bheedi is not found even in an American cigarette".
Sheela asked, "Who has sent you this lighter?"
"My brother-in-law's son has sent it". as if Dadi was waiting to answer that. "I have brought up these boys from childhood, won't they do this much for me!"
Sheela teasingly told her, "But Dadi, sons will be sons. Isn't it?"
"Oh don't say that Sheela!" Dadi said nostalgically. "When my brother-in-law's son invited me to Singapore, I stayed there four months and was so well looked after... Every night he would fill a whisky glass for me. His wife too took good care of me. She did not let me do a thing. She would also drive herself".
Sheela laughed and said, "The flatterer knew that if she doesn't do that she would be exposed in the whole of Singapore". Dadi endearingly said, "No No Sheela, the poor girl was very hard working like you. I am a loud mouth but I can recognize sweetness and goodness".
Sheela looked at her watch and said, There is no news of them still, when will they come and when will the game begin!"
Dadi slowly stood up. She stretched her leg and slowly walked towards the easy chair in the corner. Sitting on the armchair she lit her bheedi and started smoking. As she lit the lighter she saw Ratna opening the gates and rushing in Ratna asked, "Dadi has Chatri come?"
Putting off her lighter Dadi said, "Uhh. Why will Chatri come here now?"
Ratna threw herself on the couch near Sheela. She eagerly asked, "You tell me, what happened to Chatri? I went to Poona with my husband but all the four days I could not even sleep, worrying about the money".
With a faint smile on her happy face, Sheela kept watching Ratna. The diamonds in Ratna's necklace were shimmering on her neck. She was wearing three diamond rings in one of her left hand. New shimmering gold bangles kept moving on her right arm. Ratna said impatiently, "What are you watching me? I'm not new here".
Sheela was still continued watching glowing face and the neatness of her rouge and lipstick...
Dadi answered, "Only you got worried about the money. You saw at the party that Chatri did not spare anyone. She took atleast a couple of thousands from each one".
Ratna got up and came and sat on the carpet near Dadi. Rubbing her palms she said, "But Dadi, my husband had given me that money to keep. He had told me not to deposit it in bank as he may require it any time suddenly. You are aware how short tempered my husband is..."
Sitting on the sofa Sheela said, "Ratna you were showing off your style. Why did you give her so much money?" Ratna replied with humble eyes, "Chatri told me that she had to bring her mother home from the hospital and said she would return the money the next day when the bank opened".
Sheela said, "She pulled that bluff on everyone. Didn't you hear that the other day Mrs. Mirpuri saw her mother buying a basket of fruits in the market, which she said was for the blind in Worli?"
"Oh God" Dadi tapped her forehead, "Nobody is concerned for the abled and the country has become poor. Chatri's mother is now suddenly worried about the blind".
Ratna too tapped her forehead and said, "But Dadi I have been cheated".
Puffing at her bheedi, Dadi said, "Chatri has disappeared...she has not cheated others of just a few thousand...she has run away with exactly twenty thousand rupees. I have no hope of ever getting back those two thousand rupees".
Trembling, Ratna said, "Dadi, don't say that. I will not be able to bear such a big loss. Now tell me, when you all had gone together to her place, what did she say?"
Dadi stylishly put off her bheedi in the ashtray and said, "Huh! At first we did not find Chatri at home".
Ratna caught hold of Dadi's arm and asked, "Then has she left the city?"
Sheela said, "What else would she do? Would she go to prison?"
Listening to this Ratna became pale in the face. Raising both her hands she said, "I shall curse her. Oh God, what clothes she wore. Every day it was a new dress, matching ornaments, matching shoes, matching handkerchief! I used to think that she is a millionaire".
Swaying her body, Dadi said, "That is it. Poverty inside and style outward. Now you learn a lesson. When you see people with too much outward show, then you must understand that they are empty within but just showing off on the outside".
Ratna, now on the verge of tears, said "Dadi, what will happen now? My husband will never allow me to attend any kitty party and card game here".
Dadi said, "What is so great about it? So much the better. You can sit at home and nurture your children".
"And what will my servants do? They are being paid big salaries!" Ratna became agitated but Dadi would not let her be. She said, "What use is the gold if it damages your ears? Get rid of your servants".
Sheela, sitting on the couch gave a jerk. She said, "Dadi, what advice are you giving Ratna? How can the servants be removed..."
When Dadi noticed humble and sweet Sheela's face, her swaying slowed down, but she answered calmly, "Sheelu let me tell something. Please don't feel offended. You too have unnecessarily employed three servants, which is not correct".
"Dadi, what are you saying? After my sister-in-law's death I have been looking after her three children. My Jacky is still so young. Above all this, I have too many guests coming in. My husband too is unwell and special food, soups and non-vegetarian is cooked separately for him. How can I manage so much work?"
Dadi tried to get up from the armchair but couldn't and she gestured Sheela towards her and said, "My dear child you are so gentle and soft that you get exploited. Let your mother or your sister-in-law's mother look after the children. Your husband is weak, then why should you take on so many burdens? And above that you put the car expense too on your husband. The shops are so near and you need a car!"
Rolling her purse on her finger Ratna sharply said, "God knows what Dadi is saying. One should not play cards, should not drink, should not joke and enjoy...then how can one pass time?"
"Chatri too came here for time pass. Now she has cheated everyone". said Dadi.
Ratna asked Dadi in a requesting tone, "Dadi, when you met Chatri's husband, did he say anything? Did he give any assurance?" "Crazy woman" Dadi looked at Sheela for affirmation. "Consider that money lost in a Rummy game. It's all over. Chatri's husband is himself depressed so what will you get out of it? Now make a group and sit, I shall show you a new set of cards which my brother-in-law has sent me from abroad. Mrs. Mirpuri too will arrive soon. She will bring atleast eight ladies along with her. She wants to show off her new car..."while saying this Dadi took out a card pack from her big bag. Sheela laughingly looking at the cards and handing them to Ratna said, "Just look at the nude pictures of foreign girls on the cards..."
Dadi took the cards and said, "You could see only the bloody girls? Did you see the slaves with them, how are they standing?"
Sheela turned red in the face. Taking the cards in her hands she said, "But Dadi these cards are wonderful. So smooth, like silk, they slip in the hands. There was a knock at the door and Sheela said, "Oh here they all come."But on opening the door she found Chatri's servant standing. All three stared at him in surprise. The servant kept his shoes outside, came in and sat on the floor. Holding his head in his hands he said that Chatribai had committed suicide by jumping from the fourth floor. The police had taken away her dead body...
Ratna gave a loud sigh and holding her chest she fell on the sofa. Sheela too was shocked. With wide eyes she kept staring at the servant.
Dadi said, "She jumped from the fourth floor! She must have been totally destroyed..."
"Yes Amma, finished...totally finished..."the servant said, beating his head with both his hands. After some time, he hesitatingly said, "Before jumping, there was a big fight between Chatri and her husband. Her husband told her "I won't pay the twenty thousand rupees which you have borrowed and lost in gambling, let them send you to prison". Just to frighten him she threatened that she would jump. But when she put her foot on the balcony she accidently slipped and that was a calamity..." as the servant was still talking well dressed Mrs. Mirpuri, landed with four ladies, spreading the fragrance of her perfume. Everyone was shocked to hear about Chatri's suicide. For quite some time they were talking about Chatri. The servant greeted everybody and left. Dadi said, "Chatri was not a woman to commit suicide".
Ratna tapped her forehead and said, "She has ruined me totally."She had tears in her eyes.
Mrs. Mirpuri gestured the others to sit down and she put her huge body on the bed and sat down. When she opened her dark red lips to speak everybody looked at her. She said patiently, "Poor Chatri played many clever games but of no use. She tricked all the rich ladies. Even Ratna is not less rich but her husband is short tempered and that is why she is nervous. What is a couple of thousand rupees for anyone? We'll consider it lost in Rummy".
Nandini, who had accompanied Mrs. Mirpuri, rolling her chain on her finger said, "We don't know anyone's inner story. One may appear very rich but why even a penny go waste. She in fact cheated others of twenty thousand rupees..."
Mrs. Mirpuri's other friend commented, "On our way we also heard that her son-in-law threatened to leave his wife and demanded a large sum of that money". By now all were tired of her stories.
Finally Dadi stood up and said, "The dead are forgiven for everything. May the living get some wisdom. Come now let us all go home. The world will not end if you don't play cards for one day".
- Translated by Arun Babani