Short Stories >> Yugantar >> People Change - (Manhu Matjee viya)
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
Getting down from the train at Baroda station, Niyali looked around for few minutes and then picking up her bag, she walked out of the station. "Why has no one come to receive me?" she wondered and frowned. An autorickshaw driver came and stood before her. As Niyali showed him the written address, he gestured towards a direction, saying, "Come on, sit in the rickshaw and I shall take you there". He had a fit of cough while talking and Niyali simply walked away. After a few minutes the driver again came to her saying, "Dadi get into the rickshaw please". Niyali snubbed him saying, "I told you I don't need a rickshaw. You fellow, why should I pay for rickshaws when my house may be close by?" Taking her bag from her hand the driver said, "Dadi I am Gordhan. Didn't you recognise me?" The bag fell from Niyali's hands, but she still did not step into the rickshaw and continued to stare at Gordhan. Looking at the present Gordhan and the one she had seen two years ago made her shriek. She somehow composed herself and said, "Oh, I did not recognise you at all". Gordhan stood there silently. Niyali said, "Baba, I am comfortable walking".
Without showing any emotions on his face, Gordhan said, "How is that possible?"
Niyali finally sat in the rickshaw. It was evening and the street lights were on. On the right side where the lights were dim, stood a large tree around which there was a cemented platform. Pointing towards it Gordhan said, "Dadi, at the time of India Pakistan Partition, we had come and stayed here, under this tree".
Niyali said, "Hats off to you people. No wonder your Bhabhi had caught a chill, isn't it?"
A little distance away, at the end of a dimly lit street Gordhan said, "Come Dadi". and he took her bag. Getting off the rickshaw, Niyali stood at the threshold of the dimly lit house that Gordhan had just entered. Gordhan's mother Gobindi hurriedly came out of the house and hugged Niyali at the threshold itself. Suddenly a kid came out of nowhere splashed some colour on Niyali and ran away. Niyali did not embrace Gobindi and seeing her head covered with a warm blanket she said, "How wild are the kids here. The rascal has ruined my shawl". Gobindi pulled Niyali inside the house. The dim light of the lantern was making Niyali quite uncomfortable. She said, "What a ramshackled place you have come to stay in?"
Gobindi did not answer. She made Niyali sit on the cot, washed a glass and brought some water for Niyali. She then opened a trunk and gave a worn-out dupatta to Niyali. Niyali said "It is so cold, what will I do with a dupatta?"
Without saying anything, Gobindi simply came and sat on the cot near Niyali. They both remained quiet for a while. Gobindi was lost in deep thought, going back to Hyderabad in Sindh. The same Niyali, in those days, would bathe everyone in Gulaal (dry colour) on Holi. The window on Gobindi's terrace was made so comfortable that even a child could cross over it. On every Holi Niyali would splash colours from that window opening and wet all the beddings on Gobindi's terrace. Then she would come down and say "Gobindi who has shat in your house? I have only come to borrow a pot from you". Gobindi would sense her cleverness, give her the pot and pour a bucket of water on Niyali. Then Niyali too would pour water on Gobindi and wet her completely. Later they both would giggle and laugh and come into the courtyard and play the drums. They would sing Hoj Malo...
The entire neighbourhood ladies and young girls would come out and create a riot. It was full of dance, laughter, colours...
Gobindi kept looking at the present Niyali who was so angry at the child splashing colour on her. Finally, Niyali spoke, "I wrote you a letter but you did not even reply. I have fixed Mohini's marriage for next month". Her tone was such that it had no trace of joy. Gobindi understood the secrets hidden within her being. She went and increased the flame of the lantern, saying, "God will bless and fulfil your wishes.
Niyali gave a jerk and said, "Why not? Will God himself come down from the skies to bless my occasions? He doesn't have any other work? And you people don't even answer my letters?"
Gobindi was searching for an appropriate answer when Gordhan arrived saying, "Amma, Dadi is lucky for us. Even after paying off the owner of the rickshaw I have saved enough money".
"Then get some nice eatables for her, you fellow". But Gordhan got a fit of cough just then. He took a glass of water and gulped it down. His mother said, "Take a bowl and get some curds. I will make some Khichdi for Dadi, so get a few papads too. Just see Lal too, he hasn't come home as yet".
Niyali was lost in some thoughts all along. She got up and taking out a packet fro her bag she gave it to Gobindi, "These is some eatables for you".
There was such dryness in the statement These are some eatables for you that Gobindi took the packet with a heavy heart and simply kept it on the cot. Gordhan took a bowl for curds and went out and Gobindi told Niyali, "Sister, why did you take the trouble of bringing eatables?"
"What trouble have I taken?" Niyali said snobbishly. "My heart is being eaten away. As my daughter's marriage date is nearing my heart is getting more and more nervous. I have become heavy with the responsibility of just one daughter. My husband too has left his job and is at home. He has not totally recovered from the paralytic stroke of last year. We had sold our house and come but now we realise that we have spent away all our wealth and the well has dried up".
Gobindi gave out a sob, saying, "We too are in bad shape. Leaving our homeland, we came and lived under a tree outside the station".
Irritated, Niyali said, "Now too you are not staying in a palace. I wonder if you are paying any rent or not".
Gobindi gave a plain and simple answer to this, "Amma, this place is any time better than the station tree. Atleast we have a roof above us. We spent four months under the tree. Kalawanti fell sick there itself. The poor thing caught such a chill that before her husband could arrive from abroad, she left for a far-away land!
Niyali frowned and said, "If her condition was so bad, why didn't you ask me to send you some more money. I had given you a thousand rupees while you were leaving and you still had not returned that".
With a very humble voice Gobindi said, "What could I do? At that time, she was my son's treasure, under my care, while he was staying abroad. I actually thought that my son would care for me but sadly he wrote a letter to me from abroad. Then we wrote ten letters to whom which he did not reply to any one. There was absolutely no news!"
Niyali replied in an insensitive manner, "But you have two sons, if not one then the other will brighten your future".
Gobindi gave almost shrieked and she silently kept watching Niyali. She thought to herself how could Niyali not see her son Gordhan slogging on the rickshaw on tar roads, under the harsh sunlight that have sucked his blood and made him sick like a stick. Didn't she hear him coughing? This was the same Niyali whom I had helped day and night, staying awake to care for her daughter when she had typhoid. I spent time keeping cold press on her head for nights on end. While leaving Sindh, Niyali had hidden from her husband and given Gobindi a thousand rupees, urging her to leave Pakistan along with her sons and daughter-in-law. At that time, I had embraced my friend and blessed her with my heart". My precious friend, may you always be happy". But now, looking at Niyali today who was getting irritated at every moment Gobindi was scared. My precious friend, what should I tell you? In my difficult times you helped me, but who knows when my good days will come and I shall be able to repay you your money".
Niyali looked at her and said, "Conditions will change when God wills, but in the meanwhile, I need my money back. My money was not made of stone".
Gobindi felt as if she was as if bit by a scorpion, but after leaving Sindhi she had become accustomed to such stings. She put her pallu round her neck and said, "Sweetheart I know your money is gold, but from where do I bring it?"
"Bring it from wherever you can. I cannot afford to break my daughter's engagement. Nobody will get married to her without a dowry. If I don't ask you my money back, then should I go begging?" Gobindi was again shocked; she embraced Niyali and told her, "I don't even have a penny. What should I do Niyali?"
With a straight face Niyali said, "Bring it from wherever you can, otherwise I shall not have even a glass of water in your house".
Lal's mother (Gobindi) kept looking at Niyali with tearful eyes.
In a threatening tone Niyali asked, "You had written to me that you will be setting aside some money from Gordhan's earning? You asked for two hundred rupees for Kalawanti's treatment in the meanwhile. Where is that money?"
Sobbing bitterly, Gobindi said, "Earnings aside, the boy himself has got some chronic illness now. I have seen his chest X-Ray. I am just wilting away from within". Saying this Gobindi beat her chest a few times.
Exploding like a bomb, Niyali said, "Don't pretend near me. Now just see this account paper with the capital amount and the interest. But give me just my capital amount and keep the interest for this broken home".
To calm down Niyali Gobindi took the piece of paper from her and said, "Let Gordhan and Mohan return, I shall show them. In the mean while why don't you take a wash?"
Somehow, they managed to eat Khichdi, papad and some fried wafers, when the two lay down on the cot and Gordhan and Mohan too went to sleep on the upper cot. Seeing both of them sleeping on the same cot Niyali felt like saying, "Why Gobindi, you have already caused one to become a victim of cancer. You want the other one too to fall to the same fate by making them sleep together? But why should I bother? Let me take care of my problems". Thinking this, she kept silent. But Lal's mother got up and told Gordhan, "Son, you face the wall and sleep. You are feeling cold, isn't it? You might disturb Dadi's sleep in the night".
Niyali who used to hug everyone, was now lying down, with her face turned in the opposite direction. Gobindi visualised that night when Mohini was lying sick with typhoid on the upper cot and both these friends took turns to put cold presses on her head. When Niyali too fell sick then Gobindi single-handedly took care of Mohini in her lap the entire night. But today Niyali did not even ask what is wrong with Gordhan. Even then she consoled herself, 'Why should Niyali ask? Why had I not replied to a single letter of hers? I had not even returned her money. Then why should she inquire? But her mind could not be consoled by all this. She told herself that if she had the capacity to return her money, she would have certainly replied her letters. But what is Gordhan's fault in all this?
In the middle of the night Niyali's sleep was disturbed by Gordhan's coughing. Yawning, she asked, "Why aren't you getting an X-Ray of Gordhan's chest?"
Gobindi was awake. Wiping her eyes with her pallu she said, "I have got an X-ray..." and there was nothing more to be said. She had come from the hospital today itself after hearing whatever the doctor had said and cried bitterly. After coming out of the hospital, when she was just getting into her son's rickshaw, her heart was wrenching. "Son, I shall come walking". But Gordhan did not agree and said, "If you walk under this harsh sun, you will get high blood pressure"
Lal's mother (Gobindi) sat in the rickshaw and the entire journey she kept looking at the tar road which had dried up her young son's blood. She was anxious that Gordhan may ask questions about what the doctor had said. But Gordhan did not utter a single word during the whole journey. Dropping his mother at the door, spatting out some phlegm on the ground, honking at his vehicle, he left.
In the darkness of this night the sight of his chest bones in the X-Ray came before the mother's eyes like the iron rods of a prison behind which a mother's maternal feelings had fallen, wailing and crying.
After a few minutes Niyali asked, "Then why were you living under the tree for four months? You lost your daughter-in-law and have even got your son stuck".
This statement 'You have got your son stuck', pierced Gobindi's heart in a sensitive spot. Raising her voice, she said, "Some rascal should be ready to give us a place! Is there any justice here? All are connected to each other. They believe that Sindhis are not to be trusted. We will not let out our properties to them. Somehow, we manged to get this small piece. It was broken down, full of cobwebs, and no one had lived here for many years. I simply spoke to someone and came and took charge. That too because I noticed that when Kalawanti's bedsheet had slipped off, the watchman was staring at us from a distance away. My heart was beating fast and taking God's name I covered my daughter-in-law up to her head. I put a dupatta on my head and prayed to God to have mercy on us and on my son's treasure.The next morning I thought to myself that if I get even a toilet on rent I wold agree. But no one was ready to give a house on rent to Sindhis without any deposit money. Then finally a sympathetic woman told me about this place. I did not even think for a moment and after bringing in all the essentials, I took possession when the old landlady came in and threatened to call the police to move us out from there. I requested and pleaded her for my daughter-in-law's plight but when she did not agree even then, I threatened her and told her, "If you call the police then you too watch out. I shall get you killed by a knife in your stomach". The old lady, grumbling and cursing, took ten rupees deposit and left.
Lal's mother was courageously narrating all this but she noticed that instead of praising her, Niyali started taunting her, saying, "You have become quite dangerous. If someone asks for his own things back you will stab him?"
Like a defeated wrestler Gobindi said, "I only threatened her, that is all. Did I have a knife with me? I was desperate and at that moment it was a do or die moment for me. Anyway, you all got properties in return, in Ajmer. We did not get anything. In fact, all my belongings of furniture, goods, utensils etc which I had put on a train did not even reach me here in Baroda. I wish nobody cheats another like this ever". Now Gobindi's tongue too had gathered some strength. She got up to have a glass of water. Panting, she said". This is my condition now. When I think of all my goods, my entire being shrinks".
Keeping her hands on the cot, panting, she said, "Niyali What should I tell you about my condition? You know how my rascal husband destroyed me totally. Hare Ram. Hare Ram. I was hit one after another. First my goods were lost. Then beloved my daughter-in-law died. My son wrote from abroad that I did not look after her. Now I have seen the X-Ray of Gordhan's chest..." Saying this Gobindi started beating her chest and head. "Where should I go? Whom should I appeal to?"
Mohan, Gordhan and Niyali came and stopped Gobindi's hands.
Niyali said, "It is dawn and you are also not less. You don't have to curse and cry like this. Who knows what past life actions you may be paying for? Maybe you had taken loans".
"From whom must I have borrowed?" Lal's mother (Gobindi) was now like a lioness. "You are saying this? You are Niyali. That Niyali who was called my dear sister by everyone. A sister who would make me carry.... Perhaps you have taken a loan from me in the past life".
Niyali quickly putting her luggage said, "So you have decided that you will not return my money back na?"
"Yes, I will not return your money back. Do what you want".
Niyali took her bag and opened the door. She put her bag down and showing both her palms towards Gobindi said, "Count these. If my daughter's engagement breaks off then a curse will befall you Gobindi. A curse!" Saying this, taking her bag, Niyali walked out staunchly.
Gordhan came out and said, "Dadi, don't be angry. Wait, I'll get my rickshaw and drop you to the station".
"The station is not far off. I know the way".
Gordhan came inside and saw his mother fuming with anger and crying bitterly. When Gordhan put his hand on her cheek, she hugged him saying, "Why will a curse befall? Just see how I will take you to the hospital and get you treated".
Wiping her nose-ring with her dupatta she said, "This is Niyali. She is cursing me. She should drown in a pool of water. What happened to this country, the people have changed so much!!!!
- Translated by Arun Babani