Short Stories >> Bhoori >> Kashmiri Saree
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
"Keep quiet, she is coming".
"Gope Sir, I've heard you. Why are you acting now?" Sheela said on entering the room.
"Okay, tell me what did you hear Sheel Babhi?" Gope put down the razor, without completing his shave.
"Oh, the same thing that you were telling everyone to keep quiet".
"Okay, it is fine. Then you haven't heard anything".Gope continued shaving again.
Everyone sitting and standing in the room began laughing.
"Wow, you all are laughing together. You have conspired to tease me. Wait even I will join you in the laughter. Your plan went waste isn't it?"
"Forget the plan; you have laughed a lot now. Just get ready. The whole group is getting late for the conference" said Sheela's husband Ram.
"Hm. First tell me what the matter is". Sheela insisted.
Lachhu was making his bed. Leaving it midway he said, "You are big bluffer. You have come to listen to what it is but you are pretending that our plan went fail".
Sheela's face was changing colors but inspite of that she started combing her hair.Bhagwanti had all along controlled herself burst out laughing looking at Sheela's face. Sheela immediately pounced upon her and pulling her plait she said, "Tell me the truth, what's it about me that are you are laughing?"
Bhagwanti cried, "Allah Allah, wait I'm telling you". Freed her hair from Sheela and said, "Oh my God, you have ruined my poor plait".
"Now stop the mischief. Tell me".
"Now look. I can't tell you about it. Your husband has lost a bet. That's it".
Oh that's it!"Again Sheela caught by her plait and Bhagwanti burst out, "Tell me why have you hidden money from your husband and brought?"
"Okay, so that is it. My bag has been searched din my absence".
Ram was standing quiet. Sheela asked him, "What bet did you lose?"
"Leave the bet aside. First you get ready". Ram said.
"No, you first tell me"
"Arey I had always believed that you never hide money from me. But friends insisted that women by nature do so. So I laid a bet..." Ram gave a faint laugh but Sheela understood that Ram is hurt.
Lachhu said, "Oh it was good that money was found in your bag. Here each one is on a small budget. Kishu is planning to back to Bombay tomorrow. He has gone walking to the conference".
Sheela dropped her comb. Picking it up she said, "Oh, a four mile walk in this harsh winter!"
Adjusting his tie Gulab remarked, "Had I known that the expenses in Delhi would be so high then I would have not come for the Writers Conference even if it was a World Writers Conference. Because of these expenses I don't take free passes from the railways for travelling".
The atmosphere in the room grew serious. Someone was tying his shoes laces, another was combing his hair, and still another began writing a poem while putting on his shirt. But everyone was silent. To break the silence Ram said, "Oh Lord Vishnu, when will you come out of your blanket? Are you remembering your wife or are you writing a story? Wake up fast. You'll take another hour to shave".
Throwing his blanket aside, Vishna said, "I've already shaved in the night".
"What about your bath?"
"One doesn't need a bath everyday in such a winter".
"Okay. That's fine. You can sleep five more minutes if you like".Ram said laughingly.
Vishnu did not go back to sleep but got up to be ready for the conference.
Sheela was slowly combing her hair, but her mind was still on the morning incident. When she had gone to brush her teeth, Kishu was already there before her, brushing. He was looking towards the ground. Sheela asked him, "Kishu why are you looking so forlorn?'
Kishu lifted his red eyes for a moment. He said, "Today I'm finished!"He finished his brushing and quickly left from there. At that moment she did not understand the meaning of his being finished but now someone was shouting in her ears, saying, "Today Kishu's laughter is finished".
Kishu had laughed and made everyone laugh for the five days of the conference. It was just two days ago that Kishu had said, "I shall surely go to see the Qutub Minar here".
His friends asked, "What for?"
Kishu answered, "I feel like seeing the world from high above, the same world that has been seeing me from the depths of poverty". "Good. Good" the friends had laughed and so had Kishu. One friend even commented, "From that height Kishu will surely write a beautiful poem"
While tying ribbons in her two plaits Sheela had tears in her eyes. She thought, "Kishu has walked all the distance today because his pockets are finished and a small purse at the bottom of my bag is full of money. Each note contains a desire, the desire to wear a Kashmiri sari".
"Your Highness the topic at the conference today is ‘Writer and Freedom' in which I plan to propose that women writers should be given the freedom from keeping long hair".
A big laughter broke the serious atmosphere in the room. Everybody got ready and stood in the bus queue.Lachhu was standing between Ram and Sheela, Just for Sheela to hear and looking at Ram, he said, "Bhagwanti desires to see the Taj Mahal".Ram smiled, "Thank God it's not your desire".
Lachhu quietly looked at the long road. Sheela went and stood near Bhagwanti. She took her hand and began looking into her eyes. Bhagwanti laughed, "What are you looking at?"
"I'm trying to see how much desire is in your eyes to see the Taj Mahal".
"Then you will have to be disappointed".
"Because my eyes are filled with a desire to get my husband free of worries of money and make him proud like Shah Jehan".
"But Lachhu's eyes are filled with fulfilling your desires only..."
The bus arrived. Bhagwanti perhaps did not hear Sheela's last words and both friends got into the bus, holding hands. The bus was moving. Both the friends were lost in their own thoughts. After a while Sheela nudged Bhagwanti and asked, "Are you thinking about something?"
"I'm not deliberately thinking of something. But the ways of thought automatically seem to go towards the Taj Mahal. If we had only sacrificed your company, and gone to stay with my aunt, then we would have saved the expenses of the food".
A long sigh came off from Sheela. Till reaching the conference hall both the friends were quiet. When everybody went and sat in the hall, Ram, sitting next to Sheela asked, "What has happened to you?"
She said, "Nothing"
"You look very confused"
"Oh God. One should learn from you to read a face. Now it is impossible to hide anything from you".Sheela looked at her husband and smiled.
She said softly, "Kishu has a desire to see Qutub Minar. Bhagwanti wishes to see the Taj Mahal. I want to wear a Kashmiri sari.
But there is not enough money in my purse to fulfill all three desires".
Sitting next to Ram, Lachhu said, "Oh dear, you can talk at home. Listen to the lecture first".
But Sheela could not concentrate on the lecture. She kept on imagining her small house in Bombay where her friend Nimmu had placed the palu of a Kasmiri sari on Sheela's shoulder and told her, "Bring such a sari from Delhi. We both friends will wear the same saris and walk in style".While she was still lost in thoughts Ram put ear phones on her ears. A Russian writer was saying, "In our country a writer is free from survival problems and also free from worries of getting his work published..." Sheela's gaze fell on Kishu whose eyes had weakened from struggling for survival. Sheela started listening to the lecture attentively, "In our country if a writer desires to experience any place the government pays for it. He doesn't have to worry about it..."Sheela's eyes now travelled to her friend sitting near her. Bhagwanti looked at Sheela and lowering her head asked, "What are you looking at me again?'
Sheela patted Bhagwanti's hand and said, "You wish to see Shah Jehan and Mumtaz's palace isn't it?"
"No Sheel. I don't wish to see Shah Jehan and Mumtaz's palace". said Bhagwanti
Sheela looked at Bhagwanti, surprised.
"On the contrary I wish to see the artistic result of the labor of those hard working hands which were as loving as like my Lachhu's hands, that worked hard to keep their lovers alive and to protect their children from cold and built this palace of love.
Sheela lovingly looked at Bhagwanti and said to herself, "What a beautiful desire". And she decided something inwardly. Her mind was peaceful after that and she listened to many papers read out by writers in which the emphasis was on freedom from survival for writers and also freedom of thought and life style.
After returning from the conference in the night, Sheela did not change her clothes but opened her bag and took out her purse. She took some money and put it in Kishu's bag. All friends were busy discussing the conference, Sheela led Bhagwanti outside. She tied the remaining money to Bhagwanti's sari palu. Bhagwanti asked with smiling eyes, "What is this?'
Sheela could not say anything more. Both friends hugged each other and there were pure tears in their eyes and an infinite happiness in their hearts!
After Bhagwanti left, Sheela sat down on the cool steps of the compound. Laughter of the friends from the far off room filled the atmosphere with warmth. Suddenly somebody touched her hand and she gave a jolt, "Arey what did I do that you gave a jolt?"Ram said. Sheela felt shy. Ram too sat beside her. He said, "This purse... why did you hide money from me Sheel?"
Sheela bit her lip and said, "That you lost the bet because of that. I am very sorry about it".
"But the purse is empty. Where is the money?"
"I gave it to Kishu and Bhagwanti".
Ram proudly took her hand in his and said, "Is that so...?"
That means I won the bet with my friends!
- Translated by Arun Babani