Short Stories >> Nakhreliyun >> Oil in the lamp (Diye jo Telu)
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
As soon as Gopal stepped into the house, Sita shouted from the kitchen, "Who is it?" and as soon as she recognised the voice, "It is me", she put the food in a plate and kept it on the table. Putting his school books away in a drawer, Gopal said, "Mummy".
"Eat your meal first. Every day you bring back hundreds of stories from school".
Gopal washed his hands and began eating. His mother started fanning him. "You also eat" Gopal said, putting his mother's hand in the plate. There were tears in Situ's eyes. After so many years someone had asked her to eat with love. A tear fell on her arm and Situ was reminded of her husband who had worn her those bangles. Memory of her husband!
Remember that teacher you had referred me to...? The one who used to write Poetry..."
Situ stopped chewing her food and asked, "What has happened, tell me?"
"He expired last night".
Sita left the food which was in her hand and threw the food from her mouth on the ground. Gopal saw that she was slowly losing consciousness. He kept calling her "Mummy. Mummy" but could not stop her from falling to the floor. For a long time, he kept fanning her and sprinkling water on her face and by the time Sita was conscious a few of the neighbouring ladies had gathered there. But she did not look in anyone's direction. She simply covered her head with her dupatta and hurriedly left the house. Leaving the barracks of the Camp behind, she quickly reached the teacher's house. From the threshold of the house itself she understood that the dead body had left for the cremation. There was only an eerie silence surrounding the house. Sita now had no energy left even to move. She flopped at the door. The deceased wife had barely controlled herself but seeing Sita she again began beating her chest. The women sitting next to her noticed Sita and they literally dragged her inside. Seeing the tears flowing down Sita's face all the women began whispering and asking in hushed tones, "Who is this grief-stricken lady?" But nobody could find out and neither did anyone have the courage to ask the dead man's wife.
Sita sat with her head bent down and was melting away like a candle. Every now and then she was rubbing her foot with her hand as if she was trying to do away with her heartache in that way. The women were discussing a lot about the teacher's poetry, songs, books and his recent talks. Sita's heart went even further back into the past. Images and memories of thirty years ago began flashing before her eyes. Sita was sitting in a large house and her father said, "My dear, this teacher will teach you at home itself and make you capable".
That is how she started her education. Along with books she started studying something else too. After the study hour the teacher would be served with sweets and fruits. The innocent and loving way that she would peel the orange and the apple appealed to the teacher and he was impressed and moved to the depths of his heart He then began reading out poems to her about every part of her body. There was now a beauty and grace in Sita's every move. She went into a dream world. The father's eyes could see everything and he decided to nip it in the bud. As the restrictions on her grew Sita became more restless and finally one day the teacher's entry into the hose was stopped totally. The next day they moved to a new city and arrangements were made to get Sita married off quickly. The teacher's image was etched on her mind and all his poems on nature, beauty, mountains and flowers echoed in her soul.
Sita had reached Karachi but her mind was loitering around Hyderabad. The teacher's poems were published daily in the newspapers. Poems about sorrow, separation etc. Sita's eyes were constantly moist. Seeing her tears her husband understood and one day he asked her, "Situ, what do you want?"
She looked at her husband with her tears streaming down her cheeks. He asked her, "Do you want to meet this poet? He is coming to Karachi tomorrow".
Sita was quiet. What could she say? Questions arose about respect, morals and social norms.
Her husband told her, "Situ, our country has not yet learned see the truth and a true relationship should develop only where there is a meeting of the souls. I feel that you should be that strong woman who breaks all traditions and rituals and makes her lover's garden bloom".
Situ closed her ears. It is indeed very difficult for a woman to hear this but even at that time Situ thought to herself that had the teacher not expressed his love for someone else during his childhood perhaps I would have gone to him , crossing the fort walls, but now, Inspite of him being a picture of worship for me, I cannot be so heartless to disturb his wife's soul. But after the day her husband took her to meet the teacher on the pretext of meeting his friend, Sita changed completely. After that her husband asked her one day, "Nowadays why don't you cry on reading the teacher's poems?"
Sita lifted her big sad eyes and said, "Up to now I had believed that one can pass one's life in somebody's love. But after meeting the teacher I have realised that one can live a life worshipping too. Do you know what is worship? Who is being worshiped here?
The husband answered sadly, "The teacher is the only one who is so pure and worthy of being worshipped".
Sita laughed and answered," The person who keeps aside all rituals and rules and sees the naked truth, he is a pure soul. I shall not be able to worship anybody more than you in this world".
Sita observed that after that meeting the poet's poetry had spread from 'you' 'me' to a bigger and vaster circle.
The poet's poems had now shifted from personal love subjects to universal love.
Now another area of Situ's memories had opened up. It was around twelve months ago. The teacher had seen her and come out of the class. Situ put Gopal ahead and said, "Do you recognise?"
The teacher was quiet for a moment and finally there were tears in his eyes. He bent his head and with difficulty, he asked, "Does the time destroy beautiful palaces like this!"
Situ pursed her lip and suppressed her sadness. She did not hide her dishevelled state. Unkept hair, bony body, tanned skin, rough hands from rolling papads. All this was enough to expose her helpless state. What was there for her to hide! The teacher took the responsibility of Gopal's education and other expenses. Frightened, Sita said, "I have always given you pain! How are you lighting my lamp like this?"
The poet had a beautiful smile, and he said, "My poetry is that flame in which your love is burning like oil. You have not given only to me but also a lot to the community, the nameless volunteer! What more could you have done for me?"
Situ felt that the women gathered there were really confused. Everyone's looks had a question in their eyes, "Who are you?"
How could Situ tell them that she is that oil in the flame which had burnt off inspite of there being oil in the lamp.
A group of men came inside the room. They had returned from the cremation ground. The poet's wife began wailing. Situ caught her hand and said, "Sister..."She couldn't say anything more.
Now, looking at the notebooks kept around, they were telling each other that somehow, they should publish his poems and spread this light of the flame to the people. But they needed to raise donations before that.
Situ removed her bangles from her arms and put them on the floor saying, "Take my share of donation too?"
And, saving herself from the question "Who is she?", she went out.
Reaching home, with the harsh sunlight burning her feet, her heart-beat kept repeating, "I am the oil in the lamp!"
- Translated by Arun Babani