Short Stories >> Yugantar >> Henpecked (Maju)
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
"You had loved me; I have not loved you".
"What are you saying Neelma!"
"Finally, I have been able to say this after suffering twenty-seven years of marriage".
"Neelu, we have children of marriageable age. What is all this that you are saying in front of them?"
"I am saying the truth. I have never ever loved you. You were after me, wrote me letters and I was disgraced. Therefore, I had to get married to you".
There was a total silence for a while.
"You have wounded me Neelu. You've given me a wound that will never ever heal till I die".
"I too shall never forget the wound that I received in making efforts for twelve years on you to give up alcohol".
"But, Neelu, my sweetheart, I have never ever told you, under any condition, that I don't love you".
I am not saying that you don't love me. I am simply saying that I never fell in love with you".
"Then was I the only one who was crazy about you? When the astrologer told me that your life-line is very small, I had started a pooja on his advice. I had gathered water from seven wells, from different places. The astrologer had asked for cardamoms, betel-nuts, mango sticks and what not. I had brought all this and sat under the Peepal tree, praying for your long life. What was all this?"
"But you did all that for your own self. You wanted your wife to stay with you for a long time, you did not do all this for me".
"Ah Neelu! What have you said all this in front of so many people? How unfortunate am I! My mother discarded me and so did my sisters. I left them all and set up a home with you, all alone. But your love was not in my destiny! Then what is this life for!"
"Why question this life. We are alive and I am fulfilling all the responsibilities".
This is how the entire discussion had begun. Neelu's aunty had come from abroad after a long time and she had come to Neelu's mother-in-law with a gift. Neelu's mother-in-law welcomed her aunty and then she began opening pages from the past. "Aunty, please don't mind my saying this, but your niece has really tormented me. My sons, Radho and Sunil were not interested in separating, but Neelu came and corrupted even my elder daughter-in-law".
Aunty replied, "But I had heard that one day you asked your son and Neelu to leave the house immediately and they both were sitting outside the door whole night and later in the morning they reached Neelu's parents house".
"This are all lies. I did not drive my son and daughter-in-law out of the house. Do you know that when my husband died, my children were very small? I myself, covered my face and sat on the shops. I had to bring up a large family of three daughters and four sons all by myself. My brothers-in-law told me so much, "Give us the charge of the shops and we will send you the money". But I did not give it to anybody. Did I take so much trouble to see this day when my children should be separated from me?"
On returning from there, Neelu's aunty came and told Neelu this. Neelu started crying, "I did all this? I did it?"
She was in so much pain. The aunty kept consoling her while Neelu kept swearing and cursing. At that time aunty's son came in, "Oh what is happening? Why are you making my young cousin cry?"
Aunty said, "Nobody is making her cry. She is simply turning the pages of her past and feeling sad".
"Wow Neelu, give a Hi-fi. I have won a lottery".
Neelu wiped her tears and smiled, "How much is the lottery worth?"
"Oh, let that be. I am getting ten times. Is that less?"
"Okay then, tell me how much you paid for the lottery?"
"Full two rupees! And I get twenty rupees".
Neelu burst out laughing.
Seeing such a sunshine smile on her tearful face Seetal grew sad for a moment and left abruptly as if he remembered some work. Her cousin Bhavan asked, "Why did you get so angry with your dear husband? I was listening to everything from behind the curtain".
"Ask aunty, what has she heard from my mother-in-law".
"Mummy, what have you heard?" "Let it be. These womanly talks. Mothers-in-law always blame their daughters-in-law. Seetal's mother too blames Neelu for separating her two sons".
"I had always asked to be allowed to stay and die there but my late mother was insistent that I should get separated from my arrogant mother-in-law". Saying this Neelu burst out crying again.
Surprised and wide eyed, aunty asked, "My sister Guni? Did she ask you to stay separate? The poor lady had her own problems and she couldn't have been able to look after you by separating you".
"She not only could not make me stay in her house, but the words that Dada used for me even if I stayed for a day, were not worth even repeating. And above all this, my mother-in-law too threw us out one day".
"Then where did you both go when your mother-in-law drove you out?"
"We went to a Dharamshala. Mom gave us a few utensils and a bedding. We were happy that atleast our child will be with us..." "Oh my God! This means that your mother-in-law would not even allow to keep your child with you?"
"Aunty, what other were my problems? She was obsessive by nature. If the kid messed up a bit, she would create a havoc. She would get so terribly upset that you would be shocked if you were present then. Above all, there was such a big burden of work on us sisters-in-law that even a donkey would have felt tired. My mother-in-law did not allow her daughters to work. She said that they would go and work in their in-law's house, not here".
At first aunty was quite shocked and then on after thought she said, "My dear, tell me, what was your husband's reaction? Didn't he tell his mother that his child should live with you both? How could the child be sent to maternal grandparent's house where there were already so much chaos?"
Now tears began flowing from Neelu's eyes. Crying, she said, "Where did he have any courage. Moreover, the mother would taunt him the whole day that "You rascals. You all would have been on the streets and you would have to do slavery had I not taken over the shops immediately. By now your uncles would have snatched away everything and made you beggars".
Nodding her head, aunty said, "It seems that the woman made her sons afraid, remembering bygone days and controlled them totally. So, Neelu, you are not the only daughter-in-law who gets suffocated by mothers-in-law's stories of sacrifices. You will see many such daughters-in-laws. I have travelled the world but it is too much. As a mother, the same woman is like sweet flowing water but as a mother-in-law she spreads poison in the whole family".
Bhavan said, "Mummy you should not reach to quick decisions regarding mothers-in-law. You should also listen to the other side. Perhaps some daughters-in-law may be like this..."
Neelu gave Bhavan a hard stare. He gave a laugh. Neelu realised that she did not even notice that her two children Vinod and Vandana got up and left the house. Only aunty was lost in deep thought.
In a challenging tone Neelu asked Bhavan, "Tell meth e truth Bhavan, do you think I am at fault?"
"My dear Neelu, who is he to find fault in you. I myself don't see you at fault. Can I not see your son? And before me, my son Bhavan had visited India a few times and he had come back to Singapore and given us all the news about you. If your mother-in-law had not put your husband through so much trouble, he would not become so dumb. It is good that you left that hell. And because of your encouragement your sister-in-law also left. You did everything good. But I did not like this bomb that you dropped that Seetal loved you but you did not love him".
Bhavan gestured to his mother to stop the conversation.
Aunty again went into deep thought, her finger on her cheek. Neelu was sitting with eyes closed, perhaps watching something within her and Bhavan was watching both the ladies with a pale face, as if telling his mother, like Child-Krishna, "I did not eat the butter, (Maiya Mori, mein nahi maakhan khayo). There was such a silence in the room, as if nobody was present there. At last Bhavan spoke, "Mummy what are you thinking so much with your finger on your cheek?"
"I am thinking that the light which should have been present in this beautiful couple's house has been stuck somewhere in the past. Otherwise, both, Seetal and Neelu, victims of their mothers' unawareness, are actually pure and loving souls. I was present here before Neelu's marriage. I went to Singapore much later. Neelu's letters were caught a couple of times by her mother and she had cried a lot, showing them to me. She had told me, "If a girl uses term like My dear, My beloved, My soul, before marriage, won't she be considered a fallen character!"
"I remember that it was me who had made her understand that Seetal loves Neelu so much that the doors of love within her have opened and she is swimming in the ocean of affection. So, get her married..."
Neelu angrily and wide eyed repeated, GET HER MARRIED! And had mum agreed so easily? Did she get me married? With one set of clothes, reading some Mantras by the Pandit, she gave me away to my greedy mother-in-law who taunted me all my life that I belong to a bankrupt family. And he...This Seetal was dumb before his mother. His mother would make a peg of drink for her son and I would feel nauseated at the smell of alcohol. How I spent my life with a drunkard?"
Bhavan said, "Now he doesn't drink, isn't it?"
"What should I do with that now...He went on snapping the ties of my love. Does anyone know what destruction that alcohol caused in my life and what I went through?"
Bhavan began laughing, "Neelu, today you appear as Durga Devi..."
Aunt said," My dear daughter have you heard the idiom about blowing in the burning ash. You are actually blowing into the ash which blow back into your eyes itself".
Neelu sharply replied, "If this son of yours had not come here, I was ready to commit suicide".
Suddenly Bhavan shrank.
"So, you agree then hat my son is Lord Krishna!" There was a motherly glow on aunty's face". Neelu dear, you are not the only one whom my son has brought out of an ocean of darkness. There are many such admirers of my son. He has got used to spreading dreams".
"Yes, he is a trader of dreams". A smile appeared on Neelu's face.
"Don't call him a trader. He is not selling dreams. Neither is he sending into dreams of the future..."
"Wait mummy, I'll tell her". Bhavan intervened, "I suggest that one forget about the past and live fully in today's each moment. Throw away all garbage of greed, anger, and arrogance and live in the ocean of love".
"Did you hear my beloved son's simple wisdom! You forget all about your past and just remember that Seetal is the only one who has given total love to a simple girl like you. He had opened up a flower in your heart. My son Bhavan has removed the dust from that flower and lightened your heart once again...Come son, Bhavan, let us go home".
Neelu held Bhavan's arm and said, "No, you don't go".
Aunty said, "The Gopi who did not regard Krishna as God was left naked in the ocean and she couldn't come out of the water to get her clothes from Krishna who was sitting on the tree. My daughter, please forgive Seetal today, who said, "Your wound will not heal till my death". He may do something to himself..."
When aunty gestured to Bhavan to follow her, he followed her as he was a five-year-old child. Till he reached the outer door, he kept on staring at Neelu.
Neelu murmured to herself, "Even this fellow is one big henpecked guy!"
- Translated by Arun Babani