Short Stories >> Mahangi Gudi
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
Her husband adored her. She didn’t care about her in-laws. There was a mutual dislike between them. She would go around telling people, “They are jealous of my style. The old man and the old woman dislike the fact that I dress well.” Devika gave birth to 3 children in a span of 4 years. Her mother in law used each opportunity to channelize her negative energies towards Devika. This led to the most obvious consequence – separation of households.
Devika would now, conveniently, make demands from her husband. She would condescendingly say, “Hey Mister, You must increase the budget for household expenses. The kids have outgrown their clothes! I am out of clothes, too. I have nothing new to wear to parties or dinners! Jamnadas had always seen beautiful sarees in Devika’s wardrobe. However, he believed that his wife’s fondness for good clothes was comparable to his fondness for a beautiful wife. And then again, when Devika’s friends would ask her the price and source of her new saree, Jamnadas’s heart would fill up with pride.
Devika’s mother in law used to pay a visit, once every few months. During each visit, none of them could resist taunting one another. During one such visit, Devika’s mother in law picked up the kitchen rag and said, “Daughter in law, why are you using your daughter’s china silk dress, as a kitchen rag?” Irritated, Devika snatched the cloth and tore it from the corner where the stitches had opened up. “Mummy, the stitches are all opening up! How many years should I wait, prior to discarding it?” Devika said, rudely. Her mother in law, realizing that arguing would lead anywhere, resigned. She said, “Child, remember, a girl who cannot sew a few stitches and manage, can never run a household efficiently”.
Annoyed Devika replied,”I am already wasting my life running this house. People travel, see the world. All I do is sit at home! But you still don’t appreciate my efforts. Infact, you take special care to perpetually point a finger at me. All I do is wear a few nice clothes. But you are jealous of that, too!”
Devika’s mother in law’s patience now gave away. She had to shout to put her point across to her deaf daughter in law, “A daughter in law’s clothes can never be an eye sore. But if a daughter in law turns a blind eye to her responsibilities, it does pierce the heart. My daughters not married yet, and you seem to spend without a care in the world. They have a right on their brother’s earnings too!”
“I wasn’t given a treasure when we separated from your house! Every girl is born with her own fate.” These words were spoken with such arrogance that Devika’s mother in law, stood up, wore her sandals and walked out the door. Before leaving, she said, “Child, may fate always favor you. God bless you.”
As soon as Jamnadas heard about this heated discussion, he immediately went over to see his mother. His mother spoke about all of Devika’s doings that she had heard from different people. She told him about Devika’s gambling group of friends that were at his house in his absence, about Devika’s habit of leaving the children, dressing up and going to see the first day – first show of the latest movie in town, about the servant’s misbehavior with Devika… To top it off, Devika tells everyone how lucky she is to have a servant who cooks, cleans, takes care of the children so that she doesn’t have to bother about the house at all.
Observing Jamnadas’s reaction to all this, his mother decided to reveal some more secrets. She said, “I have heard she is in contact with many smugglers. She owes money to some of them and she sweetly swindles others to get her new sarees by playing with their emotions and calling them ‘brother’. But these men also loot her a lot! They display different designs and styles of clothing in a way that she cannot resist buying them. She goes on buying new dresses and sarees, without thought. She is nose deep in debt!”
After years of ignorance, Jamnadas was faced with the reality. He reached home and immediately took account of the jewellery. The safe in the cupboard contained a few artificial sets and some gold bangles. At first, Devika started making excuses. She said that her friend has taken some of her jewellery as a sample to get something similar made. After a few inquiries, Jamnadas found out that Devika owed huge amounts of money and had kept the jewellery as a guarantee against her loan. The loan was taken a very high interest rate. The interest on the interest payable had accumulated and the total loan outstanding was higher than the value of the jewellery in itself.
When Jamnadas returned home, he started took a deep sigh and look disturbed. Devika couldn’t muster the courage to speak. As Jamnadas pushed away the plate of food, Devika didn’t utter a word out of fear. All through the night, Jamnadas was lost in his thoughts. He felt as though sleep was hiding from him. Sleep eluded Devika too, but as she put her younger daughter to sleep, she drifted into the world of dreams. Jamnadas wasn’t as lucky. He could only smoke one cigarette after another and wait for the night to end.
As the new day began, Jamnadas asked his servant, “how much of your salary is remaining?” The servant said, “Salary from the past 6 months”. Devika stepped out of the room to get a glass of water and then Jamnadas shouted, “Why haven’t you paid him for the past 6 months?” Devika turned into a statue that minute.
“I am asking you why you haven’t paid the servant for so many months?” Devika pushed aside her fear and said, “What has happened to you? The servant is not going to run away. I will give it to him, eventually.”
“He is not going to run away. Infact, I am going to ask him to go. Understand?” As soon as Jamnadas said this, he turned to the servant, “Bhagu, you must pack immediately and leave. Come back this evening for your pending salary.” Devika wasn’t used to hearing so much. And, the staggering thought of doing all the house work, gave her knots in her stomach.
After a while, Jamnadas saw that although that although the servant had packed his belongings, he seemed to be hanging around. Jamnadas was further infuriated. He kicked the servant on his back and said, “Leave immediately”
The next few hours passed soundlessly. The children did not create a fuss at all. They got ready for going to school quickly. Jamnadas was ready himself and then he said, “I will drop the children to school today.”
Jamnadas returned from the school quickly and shut the door quietly. As soon as he found his wife, he pulled her by her ear and demanded, “Why haven’t the school fees been paid for the past 3 months? Tell me, you cursed beauty, all your jewellery is mortgaged, the servant hasn’t been paid in months, school fees are missing, why have you done all this?”
Devika was speechless. Suddenly, Jamnadas remembered something. He instantaneously took the keys and opened the Godrej cupboard. Each of the sarees were beautifully hung in hangers. Jamnadas opened the vault, raised an eyebrow in question, and asked, “Where is all the cash that was kept here?” Realizing the consequence if she spoke the truth, Devika quietly said, “I did not take it.” “Tell me the truth!” Jamnadas asked as he took Devika’s hand in his hand and deliberately, squeezed it a bit too hard. He wanted the full truth. Devika could feel her soft hands shriveling and shivering in the steel like cold hands of her husband’s. Her eyes welled up, “Yes… Yes… But please don’t ask me anything further. My chest hurts…”, she said as she sat suddenly on the floor.
Jamnadas took a deep breath and told her, “Go and lie down on the bed.” There was a knock on the door. Jamnadas stepped out of the room, shutting the door quietly and answered the knock on the door. There stood the saree saleman. The salesman asked calmly, “Isn’t Madam at home?” “She is.” Jamnadas replied. But the salesman didn’t seem interested in the response and was leaving. Jamnadas called out to him. He asked him to wait.
Jamnadas said, “We are planning to go out of town for a few days. Tell me your bill and I will clear it.” “Sir, I haven’t brought the account with me today. I think there is an outstanding of 600-700 Rupees. But I have brought some sarees from abroad.” Jamnadas brought out the cigarette lighter from his pocket, frightened the salesman and said, “Come tomorrow, clear your account and then never show your face at this door step ever again.” The salesman was awestruck. As Jamnadas blew the smoke from his cigarette into the air, he said, “If you swear to never come back here, you will get your money, otherwise forget your money.” “If you would like, I can bring my account right now”, so said the terrified salesman.
“Come tomorrow.” The salesman ran like he was being followed by a bunch of mad dogs.
For a long time afterwards, Jamnadas thought over the entire situation. Suddenly he saw his Aunt’s sister at his door. He met her with a fake smile and inquired politely, “To what do owe the pleasure of your visit here, aunt?”
“I hope your wife is home.”
“Dead? Don’t say that, Jamna! I will be ruined.”
“How will you be ruined?”, Janmadas was curious.
“She had borrowed money from me on interest.”
“Son, it’s been 8 months. For the past 3 months, I haven’t gotten any interest too. I wouldn’t have been so concerned if the money was mine. But this belongs to my daughter. She had accumulated this money after sewing and stitching people’s clothes day and night for a long time.” Jamnadas took one last puff, tossed his cigarette, crushed it his foot and said, “Come tomorrow and take what is due.” He turned away his face in loathing. The aunt’s sister left. Sobs could be heard from the room next door.
Jamnadas went to the room, shut the door and asked his wife, “Apart from aunt’s sister, have you borrowed money from other people also?” Devika had stuffed her mouth with a cloth to avoid the sound of the sobs being heard in the room outside, where aunt’s sister was visiting. She quickly discarded the cloth in her mouth and fell at Jamnadas’s feet.
“Is this your new performance or technique?”, asked Jamnadas, disgusted.
“It isn’t any performance. I am at fault. Please pardon me”
“You ask for forgiveness after destroying me? What sort of a woman are you? What did you not do? Tomorrow, I will sell my shares and pay off your loans. Then I will send you to your father’s house. I am not beating you. What more do you want?”
Devika held onto Jamnadas’s legs as dearly as she held onto life and as she wept desperately, she said, “Where will I go with 4 children? Forgive me, this time.”
Tears welled up in his eyes as he smiled and said, “Whom should I forgive? An evil soul like you? A woman who has thrown my name and status, down in the dumps?”
The cupboard was still open. He could see the vibrant outfits hanging teasingly. The cupboard door was home to numerous bags. Various types of children’s clothing sat on two shelves below. And, below the cupboard designer shoes drew his attention.
A very distressed Jamnadas demanded, “Why did you buy so many clothes?... Answer me!”
Devika didn’t have any answer to his question. She raised her beautiful, heart wrenching eyes, full of tears and begged for mercy. Jamnadas cursed himself, “Your desperation for appearing pretty, didn’t only ruin you, but it also destroyed me!”
The next day, Jamnadas sold his shares, paid off all the loans and once again, asked Devika, “Is there any other loan that I don’t know off?” Devika could only move her head to say no. Jamnadas couldn’t eat again. He kept on smoking and Devika kept on cleaning the ash tray.
Devika’s future was still on the tip of a sword. The kids seemed to have grown up in a day. They talked little. They wouldn’t fight. They stopped creating a fuss over clothes. They did as their mother instructed. It was almost 12 in the night. It was as quite as a cemetery. Devika had put her youngest child to sleep. Jamnadas sat by the window in his arm chair and smoked the last cigarette of his packet. He turned his head to look at the death like silence around. He flicked his cigarette through the window and stood up. He tightened his robe, joined his hands at the base of back and went to stand by Devika’s bedside. Devika’s eyes were moist from the tears she had just shed. Dark circles stood prominently on her unusually lusterless face. The wrinkles on her forehead spoke volumes of her pain and restlessness. Even though she say Jamnadas standing by her bed side, she didn’t move. After a moment of silence, she said, “Will you truly throw me out of this house?”
The statue of pain and hurt, Jamnadas kept on staring.