Short Stories >> Kheryal Dharti >> Mind in knots (Mann jee Gandh)
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
Although I did not reside on a higher floor but I was in a hurry, that is why I told Aruna, who stays on the ground floor, "If you have thirty rupees, please give me, I shall return it later. My husband needs it to fill petrol".
Aruna immediately handed me a hundred rupee note. As I handed the money to my husband in the building compound, he smiled and said, "The lady is rather large hearted that she has given us hundred rupees instead of thirty".
I told this to Aruna when I returned. Another neighbor, Devi who was sitting beside Aruna replied, "Dear Varsha, you don't know us. If you spend some time with us you will know how large hearted we are!" I liked both these women.
The next day, approximately at 10 in the morning I went to return the hundred rupees to Aruna. She laughed and said, "What was the hurry?"
I said, "My mother-in-law was after me to return the money saying, "The lady might have lost her sleep!" Aruna burst out laughing and said, "Your mother-in-law does not trust others?"
As Aruna said this, tears flowed from my eyes. Aruna immediately called Devi and then they both tried to console me and make me laugh.
As I came up home, my mother-in-law said, "What took you so long? Did the lady fight with you...?"
I looked at my mother-in-law...She was a pillar of fire of distrust and I thought of Aruna and Devi downstairs. Both women were so tender, cool and happy hearted.
On the third day again, I went down at the same time with my husband. It was the first time in my life that I had not informed my mother-in-law the reason for my stepping out.
Devi too was sitting in Aruna's house, and there was another lady too. Devi said, "Varsha do know her? She is Krishna who stays in the opposite flat". I said, "Ok, I'm leaving"
Aruna pulled me by the arm and made me sit on the chair, saying, "Where are you going? Just sit here. Whoever comes to this useless people's office has to give a compulsory half an hour duty her".
Devi said, "Yes, one has to give a duty here".
"And let that old woman stay upstairs..."
"We also have to attend to household chores". said Krishna
"Ghat ke upar. Ghat ke upar".Devi pinched Krishna mischievously.
I was looking at them surprised and Aruna said, This Krishna of ours is absolutely illiterate, and she says such funny things that for days we keep laughing. Yesterday her aunty had come and when Devi asked her from where she had come, she replied from' Ghat ke uper.The poor lady couldn't say Ghatopar. Now Devi is teasing her about it".
I said, "But she is so nice, she is not getting irritated".
Aruna said, "But tell me, you are so nice, clean but you look so irritated as you don't like anything. We all look forward to spending time in this useless people's office from ten to ten thirty every day. But you seem to run away from it". My mind became confused. I asked without any thinking, "How come useless people's office?"
Devi answered," We called it so because the half an hour we don't have to do any work but just be happy and laugh".
"Be happy and laugh?"
Krishna held my hand and asked, "Why are you asking this with such a sad face?"
"There is no joy and laughter in my destiny".
Krishna pulled my hand from my forehead and said, "You have a good destiny! A car at your door, your own house, a mother-in-law, father-in–law, son, daughter and an earning husband. What more do you want?"
Devi started laughing, "Shall I tell you what her problem is?"
I grew alert listening to Devi, I wonder if my problem is known to the neighborhood! My heart began beating hard.
Aruna said, "Listen Varsha until you don't tell about your problem nobody can really help you solve your problem".
Aruna's way of saying was such that for a moment I was ready to share my mind, but then I stopped myself.
Devi said, "Varsha I hope you didn't mind my laughing. It is a fact that sometimes circumstances and sometimes some knot I the mind makes one unhappy".
I quickly burst out, "Knot? The knot in the mind...?"
Here all three friends caught me. They said, "Now we won't let you go. If not anything else, atleast by listening to you we can lessen your burden".
I looked at each one in surprise, turn by turn. As I looked at Aruna, there was a smile on her face and tears in her eyes. I thought that if a woman feels so sad on looking at my condition, she may hug me or even cry if she listens to my problems, thereby help me get rid of them. After a lot of deliberation I finally said, "My mother-in-law doubts that I am having an affair with my father-in-law".
For a moment all three friends grew silent. There was the noise of children playing in the compound. My eyes were shedding tears neither of water nor of blood. Expressing my suffering in words, I said, "Please don't get me wrong. I am absolutely pure. I haven't even thought of Baba in a wrong way even in my dreams. You have seen my husband, what a gem he is. I am nothing in front of his looks..."
Arun put her hand on my mouth, "Don't say anything my dear. We three know the ways of the world..."
Moving her hand away I said aloud, "It's been nine years that I have been shedding tears of blood, but there has been no difference".
Devi asked, "Nine years! Why isn't your husband moving to another house?"
I took Devi‘s hands and touched them to my forehead. I said, "I wish somebody could do that for me. I am a mother of two children. Even if he takes me into the wilderness I shall be free of this prison of doubt and be happy".
Krishna asked, "Men always feel that they are wiser than women. Then why can't he understand such a small thing?
"My dear he is the only son of my mother-in-law. She tells him that he will not get another mother, but he will get another wife, dime a dozen..."Leave your wife in her maternal home, don't put your family to shame" So friends I am stuck to my husband, like a wounded chicken. Where can I go with two children? I trouble the poor fellow so much. Poor thing, he does not answer me or the mother either".
As it struck ten thirty, Aruna got up. She said, "Rest assured. Come here daily. We'll find some way out. Once the knot of your mind is loosened, you will be very happy. I am going to the kitchen as I have to send my husband's tiffin".
On that day as I reached home, my mother-in-law asked me, "Where had you been?"
"Down in the neighborhood".
She said, "I don't like this gossiping around in the neighborhood, don't you know?"
Since Aruna, Devi and Krishna had consoled me, I said, "I shall not go again".
I wondered what had happened to me. I had received so much joy and here I am telling her that I will not go there again?
When the children returned from school I don't why but I was filled with love for them. I began telling the stories and they ate their food quietly. My mother-in-law asked for water to have her medicine. As I went to give her water she asked, "The children are too happy today. Have they passed or something?"
I did not answer her. My father-in-law answered, "What answer will she give you. Her mouth is shut since years".
I felt like giving back a rude answer and pleasing myself, but did not. I was not used to saying anything. I was burning inside and thinking that this is the very man who has snatched my laughter from me. Had he convinced his wife that I was like a daughter to him and she need not be envious, then my mother-in-law would not have become so nasty. And I too would have not stopped laughing and talking and lived like a lifeless person.
Today, after having shared my mind with my friends I felt that something that was stuck in my chest like a knife has now been released.
I kept thinking of that laughter of the women in ‘useless people's' office. When they, who all are less than me in looks and everything else can laugh and be so happy, then why can't I? When the knife has been released from my chest, I was sure the wound too will heal.
Next day, after bath, I dressed up well. My mother-in-law asked, "Are you going somewhere?"
I said, "I haven't worn new clothes for years. They will wear out..."
There was a taunt in those words that ‘mother-in-law, I don't wear good clothes because of your doubts.'
My mother-in-laws eyes were full of anger. I quickly finished my household chores because I had to reach the 'the useless people's office'. As I was leaving, my mother-in-law called out to me but I did not answer her and I shut the door. I had dared like this for the first time in my life. When I came and told this to Aruna, Devi and Krishna, they gave each other and me a clap and praised me for my victory. They appreciated my clothes. I told them, "I have so many such clothes, but I don't wear them because my mother-in-law feels that I have dressed up for someone!"
"And now?" Aruna asked.
"Now you have given me so much confidence that I think there are many good people in the world that will trust my purity".
Krishna took my dupatta and touched to her face, saying, "Always wear such soft and scented clothes. How good you look".
Before marriage there many such incidents of liking from my friends, cousins etc, but since this eclipse of doubt came into my life I had stopped going anywhere.
These ladies heard with interest the stories of my maiden years. I felt reconnected to those years of my being liked.
Devi asked, "Why are your children not to be seen in the compound?"
I said, "I am a lifeless person and my children too are half dead. I beat them if they laugh and play".
Devi asked laughingly, "To hit back at your in-laws?"
It was a taunt but it was said in such intimacy that I too laughed and agreed to it.
Aruna said, "Do you realize that your children will become dull staying indoors, in the misery of that house. Make it a point to allow your children to play with other children atleast for one hour every day. Or this paleness that I see on their faces will soon turn into cancer".
Krishna patted my back and said, "Arey first let her get her own self free of that eclipse of doubt".
"No, no, why should my children be devoid of happiness because of me? I shall myself bring them down in the evening and let them be friends with other children".
My mother-in-law took objection, "Your children will be spoilt in their company. They may break their limbs while playing..."
I don't know from where I got so much courage that I answered, "They will atleast not be like your son who is not concerned about others' pain".
My mother-in-law was shocked. Wide eyed she asked, "You are saying this? My son is crazy about you and my husband too is attracted to you. You dirty girl! Today you are talking rubbish in front of me? Let your husband come tonight I shall tell him I need to make a final decision..."
Rightly so, there were fireworks in the night. My mother-in-law spoke with finality, that it was either me or her in the house. I too opened my mouth. "I don't want to go to my mother's house. I don't want to turn my children of an earning father into beggars".
My mother-in-law said, "Yes. Buy her a separate house. But listen you dirty girl of a dirty family, my son will stay with me".
"Yes yes, let him stay with you. There is a vacant flat downstairs. Get me that".
My father-in-law too was shocked. He said, "Arey she is talking like a savage girl".
On listening to the words of my father-in-law, my husband got courageous and said, "It's Okay Dada! Any way this flat is small for my children's studies. We four will go and stay in a separate house".
It seemed as if Ghee was poured on a burning fire!
- Translated by Arun Babani