Short Stories >> Dhikar - Adhikar
Hatred .. Rights
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
Translated by Arun Babani
Crowds inside as well as in the corridor.
"Draupadi Gurmukhdas", her name was called.
Draupadi, wearing a white chikkan sari, gave a jerk. For a moment the court was silent. All eyes were on this beautiful woman, pretty as a princess, walking towards the witness box, holding the hand of an old man.
When the Geeta was presented before her, she said, "I don't tell lies in any case."
People were jostling and straining their heads to get a glimpse of her. The case began. All eyes were fixed on Draupadi - at times sounds of sigh were heard and at times the sound of crowds eager to push into the room. Then total silence.Draupadi's soft and sweet voice kept spreading like cool waves. Fatigue and weakness reflected in her eyes and in her voice.
"I don't have other siblings. I am the sole heir to my Dada's property, which is why I got a dowry of thirty thousand cash plus jewelry.
The cash was immediately handed over to the debtors who had paid for my husband’s education. The expensive saris and ornaments were kept aside for the dowry of my two sisters-in-law. The society kept taunting my mother-in-law that inspite of getting such a big dowry they did not give much to their daughter-in-law. I was prevented from visiting and interacting with people. They sold some of the jewelry and opened a shop. Money started coming in. People regarded me as 'Laxmi'. My mother-in-law was furious, "were we beggars before this?" My husband shouted, "People have to really spend a lot to buy a groom like me.."
I did not expect any gratitude. It was enough to hear the praise showered on my father for the big dowry that he had given me. But my mother-in-law and husband were so humiliated that it turned into anger that befell on me. What justice is this? I could forgive my mother-in-law, because such mother-in-laws especially with a stamp of a reputed family name get a strange cruel and sadistic pleasure from exploiting and demanding things from the bride's family. But an educated husband! My mind cannot forgive him. Perhaps he had not imbibed any other social upbringing except maybe school text books! From the beginning, I deliberately ignored and never retaliated. But I got a title of 'Absent-minded' from this gentleman. Perhaps I am forgetful. I wasn't so before, but after marriage the shouts, insults, crying in the night, have really made me forgetful. I would not remember where I would keep something.." Tears flowed down her beautiful face and the crowd gave a sigh.
Controlling her sobbing, Draupadi began again, "The clothes and jewelry were given to me by my family, but Bablu.."
Now Draupadi couldn't control herself. Her sobbing, rising from within her being, were trembling on her lips. There was a storm not only in her eyes but in her throat too. Her sweet and cool voice had turned hoarse.
"The case shall be heard at the next hearing. The court is adjourned."
Draupadi father helped her to sit on a chair. There were cries and sobbing.
A little distance away her mother-in-law, sister-in-law and husband were talking utter rubbish out of anger.
Gurmukhdas said in cheap way, "An educated groom like me would have cost not less than one lakh of rupees in our community.."
Draupadi's father quickly led her downstairs and they went home in a taxi. Even after reaching home Draupadi could not get the court out of her mind. "Bablu.." Bablu was still in her thoughts and suddenly she was reminded of one evening in her in-law's house.
"Dattu take the plate away.”Draupadi waited for him and then came back to her room. But there was nothing interesting to do in the room. How long can one simply stand at that small window? She started pacing up and down in tension. How much pacing can one do in a ten feet by ten feet room? But she held her breath when she heard her mother-in-law say something about her. She stood at the door of the room. From the hall next door she heard her mother-in-law say, 'Ask her-will a curse befall on the nation if she doesn't eat?"
Another voice said, "Tell her to show such attitude to her parents. Is this how a daughter-in-law behaves? We were abused and then given a small piece to eat but still we would quietly eat it."
Suddenly, "Where is mama?" a baby voice was heard.
It felt like an Angel's voice in that prison cell, but grandmother just picked up that child in her lap. "My dear child, don’t ever mention the name of that mad woman. Am I not your mother? Come I’ll give you some biscuits."
"Will you give me cream biscuits?"
At that moment Draupadi's heart jumped in excitement and she wished to walk those few steps towards the child and hug him. She wanted to kiss his small tender hands and his cheeks saying, "Here is your mother. Here is your mother.." Her mind changed in a moment and it said, "Mother is not here. I have never got my rights as a wife then why should anybody call me mother?"
"But Mother Mary too was a mother without a husband."
Yes they have made my Gulab forget his mother tongue, but I will surely remind him of his mother." The force of that emotion was so strong that she got up. But at the door she heard, "Mama is Chhee Chhee. You are nice."
Draupadi's maternal feelings screamed. She ran out of the room and slapping Gulab on the cheek shouted, "Yes I am Chhee. I am Chhee.." Her mother-in-law pushed Draupadi aside and took Gulab away and said, "Get away, you witch. My flower child.." Gurmukhdas was getting ready and coming out. Seeing his wife getting up from the floor he asked, "What happened?"
Before Draupadi could gather her senses, her mother-in-law said, "How much the child is suffering. Look at his cheeks. This woman has left marks of her five fingers on his cheeks."
Gurmukhdas arrogantly moved towards his wife, "Hey you, what has gone into your head?"
"I want Gulab."
"She wants Gulab! Has she got him from her parents' home? Do you want your husband first that you desire his child?" Her mother said, adding fuel to the fire.
Today Draupadi felt the same shiver down her spine as on that day. That day she had told them, "You are so disgusting.” closing her ears with her palms.
"Hey what do you think of yourself? "Draupadi touched her cheek, remembering the hard slap that Gurmukhdas had given her that day, saying, "Beware, don't you ever say anything more to my mother after this." That day Draupadi's knees became weak and there was darkness before her eyes. Holding the door, she sat down slowly and her eyes closed. "What did I tell her that she is so upset..."
"No, you did not tell her anything. I heard everything”. Gurmukhdas walked out of the room, leaving behind the fragrance of his perfume.
"Poor fellow got stuck with an absent-minded mad woman. Arre Dattu, just get me a glass of water. "Draupadi felt the water drops on her face, she opened her eyes and she stopped her mother-in-law meekly with a gesture of her hand. Her mother-in-law was furious, and throwing the glass of water on the floor she said, “Go to hell you bad character woman.” she went away angrily, taking Gulab with her.
Draupadi got up and staggering, and somehow reached her isolated room. Those pangs of loneliness and isolation were still fresh within her and then she remembered another night. The same lonely room and Draupadi crouched on the bed.
There were sounds of alcohol glasses heard from the adjoining room. Gurmukhdas was laughing. His mother was laughing. His sisters-in-law were laughing and one more female stranger's laughter was heard. Perhaps it was the laughter of somebody who was being called "Ely Ely" Draupadi wished to see this new face. She tiptoed out of her room and saw Dattu the servant sleeping in the corridor. As she was moving towards the big room she heard somebody calling "Shh Shh". When she looked back with a jolt, she saw Dattu standing there with folded hands, requesting her, "Madam please don't go inside." Draupadi sighed and returned to her room. She asked Dattu, "How much bribe have you received? I'm ready to give you more than that."
"It's not a question of bribe, dear daughter-in-law. This old man cannot bear to see your pain any longer. "Dattu actually cried.
Draupadi sighed, "Who is this Ely?"
"Ely is a Christian girl who works in Sir's shop. Now.."
"Now what? "Draupadi was very frightened.
"Nowadays in Sir’s room.."
"Sir's room!" Draupadi sat down on the threshold. After quite some time when her legs were strong, she got up and sat on her bed. After crying for some time, her mind came to a decision. She walked with firm steps into the hall and asked. "Who is this Ely? And why has she come here?"
Gurmukhdas emptied his glass and said, "She's your replacement. What do you have to say now?"
"I want to slap you"
Gurmukhdas twisted Draupadi's arm so violently that she screamed, "You should have married a prostitute." She said.
"What an audacity with a man!" Complained the mother-in-law.
"When your daughters get married and their husbands bring in other women, then you'll understand".Then it was simply a big fight with Draupadi on one side and all the family members on the other. Blows, kicks and abuses... Draupadi's delicate body could not take it anymore. She lay there like a dead body.
When she regained consciousness the doctor was besides and her mother-in-law was heard saying, "We have called for your father."
When her father arrived, Draupadi said, "Dada I had promised you that I shall not leave this house till my death. I'm ashamed that I cannot fulfill my promise. I was destined to trouble you in your old age."
Her father put his hand on her lips, "don’t say anything more. Just take courage and come home with me."
"Yes I shall come home. "Draupadi took a deep breath and stood up.
Back in her father's house, she took out all the things like bangle-boxes, flower vases, trophies and many such things that she had kept in the cupboard. She kept looking at them. She tried to convince herself, "this is my home now. But Bablu?'.. She felt as if something is lacking in everything.
The next hearing was kept in a closed room. Making up her mind, Draupadi said, "Inspite of bringing in a huge dowry from my father, there were more and more demands every day. But even a woman has self respect and how long can she ask her father every day. It was strange that the shop that was opened was doing very well. My mother-in-law got big chunks of cash every day. Even then there was so much greed.
I couldn't satisfy the greed of this family. I have borne arrows of hatred from them for not being able to fulfill their desires. And later I was labeled as insane and confined to a room. A Christian girl Ely-Elizabeth was brought in to replace me.. my husband became a stranger.. "Draupadi was trembling. She bit her lips to control her emotions. Somebody offered her a glass of water. She took a sip and said, "Money, clothes, jewelery, even husband can become a stranger, but Bablu? He is only mine. They taught him that his mother is bad and insane. This is how they snatched away my Bablu, my flesh and blood. I don’t know why this family is in the habit of snatching everything from others.."
Total Silence!. No outside noise reached in this closed court room. Draupadi's voice roared again like a prisoner in chains, "I don’t desire to go back into that hell of hatred; I have a full rights on Bablu. Bablu is mine and he should be given back to me.."
There were two more hearings after Draupadi’s statement. Honest and fake witnesses were heard. Court accepted Draupadi's plea for divorce and gave her the custody of Bablu as well as two hundred rupees per month from Gurmukhdas.
Hearing the court verdict, Gurmukhdas’ family was shaken up. They felt as if their fortress of hatred was conquered by an army of righteousness.