Short Stories >> Nakhreliyun >> God's Grace (Dhatar jee Dhat)
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
Saroj's plight was similar to that of a grain of wheat between the grinding mill. Her sister-in-law said, "My dear, you are still young, you don't know what happens to those who do not consider 'Mata' as a 'Devi'"
Saroj kept listening to everything with her head bent down. Now it was the turn of her elder sister-in-law who had com to stay over, "Bride, after this do not dare to express your baseless thoughts before us. You may bring about a curse (death) on my nephew".
Saroj was very hurt. Helplessly she said, "Dadi, do think I love the child less?"
"What else? Now that the 'Devi' Goddess has come, be happy instead of sitting sadly. Won't the 'Devi' be angry?"
"So Dadi, I should see the poke marks on the child's face and be happy?"
The sister-in-law banged her hands forcefully saying, "Oh my God! You girl have troubled me. The poke marks are called the footprints of 'Mata'. What words are you using!"
Saroj pleaded, saying, "But we can take such medicines which will prevent pus from filling the poke marks and there will no footprints left of "Mata's" feet".
"My mother! You are really too much. Does one have to use such bad words? What pus! Consider these as "Devi's" blessings or a curse might befall you. Say 'flowers' of 'Mata', 'Pearls' of "Mata...!"
Saroj kept looking at the sky full of clouds. When she saw the condition of her mind being described by nature, she felt consoled for a moment. But this did not last long. The child kept rubbing his feet against the bed. Saroj started rubbing the tender feet of her son. There was an expression of pity on her face. The sister-in-law jerked and said, "The 'Devi's' blessings are still on him".
Saroj answered in an irritating manner, "The poor kid is suffering and you say that there is a blessing on him?"
The mother-in-law had arrived from the temple, and when she was informed of everything, she began clapping and dancing. She said, "Welcome my dear "Devi" Goddess! My soothing Queen shall bless my beloved child! You are welcome and we seek your protection..."
Saroj's face turned pale. A neighbour who heard the noise, walked in with a few other ladies. When one of them saw the poke marks on child's hands, she said lovingly, "Welcome Devi. Jai Devi. The mother herself has come to bless".
Saroj looked up in surprise as if she was asking, "What 'Blessing'?"
The same lady came forward and said, "Dear, make a plate of Lolas and distribute in the neighbourhood. Also, give all this to your maternal family".
The sister-in-law, who, so far was not being heard, said in a loud voice, "All this will happen later. First let the poke marks fill up, water will be sprinkled on them. Then, we seek forgiveness of the Guru. Only after that she can give whatever she wants to her maternal family".
Saroj asked, "Poke marks?"
Sister-in-law answered, "Yes. Yes. Poke marks. This is too much. We have such an ignorant bride. She doesn't know anything. My dear, before sprinkling the water one has to pick the poke marks. One has to fill a pot of milk and water and that has to carried on the head and put into the river".
All the ladies and the sisters-in-law were smiling at Saroj's innocence. The mother-in-law said, "What does this poor thing know? There is no river in her city".
The sister-in-law said, "But isn't there an ocean?"
One of the neighbours said, "But how can one seek blessings from the ocean?"
The sister-in-law said, "Now look at the second fool".
The same lady answered, "Baba, when I was in Bombay and my child got this, I neither got the poke marks picked, nor did I distribute Lolas".
The second neighbour, putting her hand on her cheek, said, "Oh my God. Then you must have not even sprinkled the water!"
"What water! I simply opened a packet of biscuits and broke them into pieces. The biscuits were ofcourse made much before.
Obviously, they are not baked on the same day..."
"And did you cook food one day before (Thado)?"
"Where do you make Thado? You have hot tea in the morning".
The sister-in-law said forcefully, "But then we always keep aside some money for the mistakes we commit!"
Saroj was listening to this interaction with interest. She said smilingly, "Like the Confession to the Pope, does the 'Devi' Mata forgive mistakes for some money here too?"
The mother-in-law looked at her with a sour face. She felt as if her daughter-in-law was in one camp and all the others in another camp. Now that one of the ladies had supported her, she felt that the daughter-in-law had got some courage. So, she raised her voice and as if to lower everyone, she said, "Nowadays this is way of the girls. That is why the country faces so many obstacles. When there is some fear, there is security".
The woman who had sprinkled water on biscuits said in an even louder voice, "But, forgiveness by offering money..." As soon as she said, Saroj picked up her son onto her lap and asked eagerly, "What do you want?"
Though everybody heard what the child said softly, but for the first time since her married, Saroj requested with an authority," Ammi, the child is asking for water".
The mother-in-law happily told the elder daughter-in-law, "Yes of course, bring water for him. The more he drinks the more heat will leave his body".
The child drank water and opened his eyes. Saroj said, "Ammi, there are two red marks in his eyes too".
A few of the ladies came forward and looked into the child's eyes. One of them twisted her lips and saw that his palms had marks which were filled with pus and said, "That's it. The blessing has also started coming".
Saroj was frightened and asked, "You mean the blessing will fill every mark?"
"What else?" mother-in-law spoke harshly.
"Even in the eyes?"
"Again, you used the wrong word. I have told you to say 'flowers' not 'marks. The Goddess will bless him on her own". and she started singing- Mother, he is a small child. Put a little less burden on him".
One of the ladies saw that there were small marks on the child's stomach. She said, "There are red marks. The Devi is merciful.
She knows everything. She doesn't burden the innocent".
As Saroj turned the back of the child and saw, at once three ladies raised their hands. Saroj got frightened.
Her sister-in-law said, "Are you a devil? One must never see the back and feet of the Devi".
The lady who sprinkled on the biscuits said, "Don't tell her devil. The poor thing is under the Devi".
Saroj was absolutely frightened at this threat but listening their sympathetic words, her tears began flowing. She removed a kerchief and wiped her tears and looking at this the mother-in-law arrogantly said, "Why should you cry? This is nothing. We have seen such great troubles, what to tell you! We would be keeping our children in our arms all the time. We have spent sleepless nights. Nowadays where is the respect for the Devi?"
The lady who sprinkled water on biscuits said, "It is not a question of respect for the Devi. Nowadays the cases of small pox are lesser. In the cities if there is even a single case of small pox, the whole neighbourhood is vaccinated. Because of vaccination the cases of small pox are very rare".
Saroj bit her lip and let her sad tears flow from her eyes.
Her sister-in-law asked, "But why are you crying? The Devi will protect an innocent person like you. You keep only chanting "Devi. Devi. Don't be frightened".
Saroj was now really frightened. The kid was fast asleep. Trembling he said, "Hundred-one, hundred-two..."
A wave of fear passed through Saroj's backbone. The whole assembly kept listening attentively to the kid. Now he was quiet. Saroj kissed his forehead and put him on the pillow.
The neighbours now started to leave. They kept talking amongst themselves till they reached the door, Saroj was listening to them. One was telling the other, "You have told me a strange thing. You sprinkled water on biscuits?"
The answer came, "In the olden days they would burn sticks to cook Thado and there were almost twenty family members. There was heat while cooking their food and Devi would manifest only because of the heat. That is why they believed that the house should be kept cool at least for one day".
Saroj's mother-in-law too was listening to them and she said, "Lady, are you out of your head? The Devi doesn't manifest out of heat but she appears only to those whom she blesses..."
Saroj said, "Ammi, in this way, I have read that in the olden days whooping cough too was considered as God's wrath. But now it is considered as an illness".
The mother-in-law, raising her hands in despair, said, "O God! There is a medicine for cough. Is there any medicine for this?" "Ammi, in that way there was no medicine even for cancer. But now there are many medicines for cancer".
"My mother. I am joining my hands before you. Don't say such words in the presences of the Devi. The Devi fights bitterly against all those who take medicines and she creates havoc with them".
Saroj grew very alert. The matured and sensible Saroj was lost in the world of superstitions.
As the mother-in-law began singing Mantras of the 'Devi', everyone got busy in their work. As Saroj was listening to the Mantras, her mind was involved in a different atmosphere where the statue of Kalka had emerged from the mountains. Many Pujaris went into a trance before that statue. At times human beings were sacrificed and at times goats were being beheaded there. Carrying ... on their heads and singing Mantras, many women were proceeding towards the river and the villagers were dancing to the tunes of these chants. Looking at these scenes, Saroj fell off to sleep.
When she woke up in the morning, the kid was awake. She kissed him and looking at his cheeks she called out happily, "Dadi"
Her sister-in-law woke up, combing her hair. Saroj said, "Dadi come and see. He looks much better. His eyes are less drowsy and the Devi too looks lessened..."
Her sister-in-law said, "You will never improve. One must not say 'Drowsiness' but 'Devi". And say "Lessened' but say "Returned'. You city-bred girls are really ignorant".
Saroj lifted the child's clothes and saw his stomach. Her sister-in-law said, "Now don't you see his back again".
She called out to her mother and said, "Amma, the kid's Devi has returned. Perhaps it was Small Devi (Chicken Pox)"
The mother-in-law left the churning curd and rushed in. She looked at his hands and said, "Why are you so anxious? The Devi shows many colours. These are her trials. She wishes to see how much respect we have for her. Don't consider her returned still. I have not grown grey in vain. The Devi comes only on the palms".
Saroj's face turned pale.
The next morning all the neighbouring ladies were busy in their household chores. Saroj was praying that this group should not come inside again. After making the child gargle with salt water, she made him have some tea, cleaning the bed, she burnt an incense stick. The child was a little irritated due to the heat and itching. Saroj made drink water continuously. When the kid passed his stools, he became very weak. Saroj's mind was sad and her face was very pale. She kept on chanting and rubbing her son. She couldn't bear to eat her breakfast. At twelve noon she felt someone standing at the door. When she went near, her face brightened. She said, "You have come!"
"You sent me a telegram. Bombay is not far from Nasik" her husband replied. Saroj's eyes overflowed; taking his hand excitedly she touched it to her forehead and she began sobbing.
On hearing the entire story Jamno immediately brought in the doctor. His mother, sister and all the neighbourhood stood on one side of the room. Nobody dared to oppose the idea of calling the doctor.
The doctor said, "This is Chicken Pox. Give him this medicine and there won't be any pus".
After the doctor left, the mother asked, "How can you give him any medicine? This is the blessing of the Lord".
"Amma, you are talking ancient stuff. Just keep quiet and watch the Lord's blessings".
Saroj took a deep breath. She told her husband, "Had you not arrived today, I would have been suffocated".
A lady from the superstitious group standing in one corner of the room said, "My dear, how would you be suffocated? We were all there".
Saroj gave out a laughter.
- Translated by Arun Babani