Short Stories >> Childish adults
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
As Seelwanti stepped out to throw away the potato peels, she saw at a distance Gulli and Heera fighting amongst themselves. Both had caught each other’s hair…She immediately kept the plate of potato peels at the door and ran towards the compound, caught both the daughters, brought them into the room and sitting on the cot she put Gulli between her knees and asked, “Now tell me what were you fighting about?”
Six year old Heera jumped on the cot, put her arms around her mother from behind and said, “Mummy, mummy, she is asking me to not talk to Sheelu.”
Mother asked, “Gulli why are you stopping your sister from talking to Sheelu?”
Gulli was standing stubbornly with folded arms. Mother asked, “Tell me what has Sheelu done to you?”
Eight year old Gulli stood stubbornly with puffed cheeks and folded arms, she said, “Go, I won’t tell you.”
“Mummy mummy!” little Heera tried to turn her mother’s face towards herself with her little hands and said, “Sheela called Gulli a ‘bitch’...”
“Oh, did she say this to you?”
“Of course!” Now Gulli began talking proudly.
“Mummy, Sheelu and Heera were both on the swing and I asked them to let me also swing a little while; they did not allow me. So I stopped the swing and then Sheelu called me a bitch. Then why should I allow my sister to talk to Sheelu?”
Seelwanti burst out laughing and patting Gulli’s cheek lightly she said, “You stopped their swing, and she called you a bitch; so you are fighting. Now what is the need to stop Heera from talking to her?”
“No, I won’t allow her and if she does so, I will beat her.” Gulli said stubbornly.
“Then I shall beat you,” said the mother. “Crazy girl! One should not stop talking in anger. Now just carry this plate of potatoes into the kitchen.”
Gulli carried the plate rather unwillingly and mother sent away Heera to the swing and returned to the kitchen. She made Gulli sit on the stool and began cooking as well as talking to her daughter.
“Why Gul dear, where are your friends?”
“They are not here. I don’t talk to them” Gulli replied in anger.
At that moment Seelwanti’s sister-in-law entered and asked sharply, “Gulli ask your mother why has her husband given one anna to Gaglu?”
Seelwanti said, “I have neither asked him to give nor have I asked him to not give money to Gaglu - so then how do I know anything? and why have an enmity with children?”
“But the enmity is only with me” saying this angrily she hurried out of the kitchen.
Gulli said, “Why is bhabhi not talking to you and why is she asking me to ask you?”
“Gul dear, I was talking to her but she is angry and she will be fine in a few days.”
Suddenly Gulli noticed something outside; she jumped up and ran out. The mother glanced outside and she saw that Gulli’s neighborhood girls had made a group and were going somewhere and Gulli went and joined them. For a moment she was looking at the green ground, the swing and the children on the merry-go-round. She really liked the sight of this small universe of children amidst the greenery and flowers right before her house. Clouds had gathered in the sky, it started drizzling and the children began running, shouting, “Rain, Rain!” They made groups and took shelter under some shade. Groups of pigeons were flying in the sky. This sight impressed Seelwanti so much that she was lost in thought. Suddenly, she smelled the burning curry and quickly took the vessel down from the fire. It became darker in the kitchen. Seelwanti got up and lit the lantern.
Sobhraj came into the kitchen, “What are you doing inside?”
Seelwanti added water to the curry, put it on the stove again and came out with her husband into the room.
Sobhraj removed his coat and lit a beedi. He looked quite angry. Wiping her hands on her dupatta Seelwanti asked, “Has anything happened?”
“What can happen? I have told you not to chew the madman’s brain.”
“Which madman?”Seelwanti understood who it was but still pretended to as k; “Tell me which madman are you talking about?”
“That idiot brother of yours, who else?”
“Don’t turn your face away, tell me directly.”
“What do I tell you? He insults me in front of anybody. He may be rich but that’s for himself. He has given us his sister - not any bag of riches…”
“And that too a dark sister…” Seelwanti joked and gave a faint smile.
“You only consider yourself dark or fair, I don’t have any such thoughts.”
Seelwanti visualized her sister-in-law’s face who even now was admonishing her son Gaglu in the next room. What a beautiful moon-like face she has. Seelwanti herself felt like watching her sister-in-law’s face fondly but when Sobhraj started sitting in her company every morning for about an hour, Seelwanti was unable to accept that. One day she blurted out to her husband, “I don’t like that you spend hours in the company of your bhabhi.”
Sobhraj answered, “Who are you to stop me? Do you think I am a sinner?”
“No I don’t consider you a sinner, why don’t you talk to her here itself?”
“But you don’t know how to talk. If you persist with this demand, I will spend even more time talking with her.”
Seelwanti buried this answer deep within herself and found solace in her brother.
At the very time when Sobhraj used sit and talk with his brother and sister-in-law, Seelwanti’s brother would return from the market, give her a bag of vegetables and stand at the kitchen door, talking and sharing with his sister.
Suddenly Sobhraj said, “If you ever talk to that mean fellow again, then you will be responsible.”
Seelwanti’s face tightened, “And when I asked you to sit here and talk with your bhabhi, then where were you?”
“Your brother is insulting me - has my bhabhi ever done that to you?”
Seelwanti experienced heaviness in her chest. She remembered many of bhabhi’s words, “You burn on the inside looking at me…You think that I give good food to your husband to win him over but these are your own thoughts, not mine…”
Remembering such cheap talk which had pierced her mind and body, Seelwanti said sadly, “You cannot say that she has not insulted me but it’s of no use talking about what has happened. Nevertheless, I have never stopped you from talking to your bhabhi.”
“You idiot, I’m simply telling you that you have to stop talking to your brother.”
“And what if I continue?”
“I will kill you.”
“When you did not listen to me I did not say any such insulting thing.”
“Just do what I am telling you. If you don’t want to do that then don’t stay here.”
Seelwanti‘s eyes were wide with shock. But when the man is angry, it is always graceful for a woman to be quiet. So Seelwanti got up and went about her chores. But her mind was beyond her control and she kept wondering what logic this was. It was not any better than a master and slave relationship. Is there nothing like equality between man and woman? Then what is all this sloganeering? A rebel woke up within her and asked her to leave this house. But how could she leave her home? When a woman enters her marital home as a bride, she leaves only as a dead body! No! How can I leave home? But self respect also means something…I will have to leave home. If I am envious of my sister-in-law, it is not acceptable and if he has envy for my brother, it is acceptable! Seelwanti experienced poison circulating in her veins. She cooked food and fed her husband, children and her mother-in-law but could not eat anything herself. Sobhraj was also unhappy. He quietly went to sleep and the children too fell asleep early. When Seelwanti went to cover the children with a blanket, she saw them sleeping with their arms around each other and she stood there observing them.
The same girls who had pulled each other’s hair were now sleeping peacefully, forgetting their war after being cleaned up by the ocean of love. But their war had also begun with the same thing -Gulli had said that Heera should not talk to Sheelu because Sheelu had insulted her. How nice it would be if elders too forgot about their fights in a moment. Gulli did not want Heera to speak to Sheelu and if Heera did not agree then what happened? They simply forgot about everything by night. Thinking of all this, Seelwanti came and sat at her husband’s feet. She switched off the light and lay down by her husband’s side. She thought of Heera and Gulli’s arms. She too put her arms around her husband. In a moment Sobhraj put his arms around her. Seelwanti’s sorrow melted and flowed down her eyes. Sobhraj took her hand, placed it on his eyes and said, “The idiot tells me that he would never step into my house but looking at your love, he comes.” Seelwanti felt like she was as small as Heera and Sobhraj looked like Gulli who was asking her to not speak with someone.
Wiping his wife’s tears with his hand Sobhraj said, “Chhee! I told you I would beat you. I don’t know what I say in anger.” He started massaging her as if he had actually hit her and she was in pain.
Seelwanti put her head on his chest and said softly, “Maybe now you realize why I stop you from going to bhabhi’s room. Actually, I just realized it and for the sake of your pain I will not talk to my brother.”
Sobhraj’s conscience pricked him and said, ‘If you cannot bear your pain then why would you hurt Seelwanti in the same manner? It is your duty to stop speaking with bhabhi. But bhabhi will think that Seelwanti has stopped you.’
“This won’t be possible Seel” Sobhraj whispered in his wife’s ear.
“What is not possible?”
“Children stop talking to each other in anger. We are adults.”
“But we shall love like children.” Saying this she jumped up and said, “I am going to eat my dinner now.” She twisted her husband’s finger and ran away.