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Short Stories

By Sundri Uttamchandani

My neighbor! I don’t know what you have done! Seems like somebody has again disturbed this age old earth-- my mind. Sometimes I visualize a burning torch before my eyes, in which there is light but no warmth. At times I wonder if I will burn and perish like a moth (Parwana) in this fire torch, while walking on the path shown by you.

Never mind, I have sat down to share my thoughts with you. I'm wondering whether all this will ever reach you but I can't stop myself from writing.

I am reminded of the day when we had shifted in this house. You had walked in with so much strange enthusiasm when you brought us a bucket, broom, a mug and later some food, which made my wife Daya ask, "In what relation are you doing this service to us? Are we related from some previous birth, sister.."

You had interrupted her, saying, "Why do you have to go to the previous birth? Isn't enough of a relation that we are neighbors in this life time?" You had both laughed heartily. At that moment I found a title for you in my mind---Sea Wave!

Over the years I have changed several titles for you.

One day..

That day you had brought a bowl of Tur dal. You had enhanced the flavor of the dal by adding vegetables but I had diverted my attention from it because at that very moment Hiral had stepped in.

She sat on the bed opposite and began talking. You quickly glanced at Hiral's shy face and my wife’s fiery eyes at the same time and then led her by the arm into the kitchen.

What can I say? I forget the entire world when I meet Hiral.You must be amused that Hiral was in no way more beautiful than my wife Daya. But silly, we men are not interested in just the beauty of women. We also get carried away by the shy glances of women. There is pleasure in stealing glances of the Goddess of beauty, but there is no such joy watching even God from close distance. Similarly there is a difference in winning the heart of a wife and winning the heart of another woman. But you did not witness all this because you were in the kitchen, talking to my wife in a hushed tone. I know what she must have told you. That ignorant lady must have complained to you that Hiral has destroyed her house and has taken away her husband. If she was educated and aware like you, she would have surely said, "I wish to kiss Hiral's feet, seeing the extent of joy and peace she gives my husband." But you forgave this illiterate lady everything.

As soon as Hiral left and she started collecting the laundry with a grumpy face, you sat on the opposite bed watching her. I too kept watching. There was anger and jealousy in each of her actions. And when she pulled her little girl Koshi's hair, saying, "Come here girl, let me bathe you", she looked absolutely like a devil, and when Koshi freed herself and started running away, then the mother grabbed her hair and pushed her on the chair. Koshi's teeth were bleeding. I shouted "Daya!" To tell you the truth, had you not been there, I would have smashed her face, but you did a magic at that time. My daughter, who was standing frightened by the door, screamed looking at the blood oozing out of Koshi's teeth. But instantly you picked up my daughter in one arm and put your other arm around Daya's neck!

I believe that even an iron heart can melt in the presence of Saints. But I was totally shocked when Daya started crying at the touch of your arm around her. When I picked Koshi in my arms and started shouting at Daya, you put your hand on my lips saying, "Why are you disturbing one who is already disturbed?" And when you kissed Koshi's forehead and washed her in the wash basin, I gave you another title in my mind at that moment. Shall I tell you? 'Mother'!

I have still not been able to understand how you can see all three of us with maternal feelings at once.

This evening, again, while passing your house, I heard the sound of ankle bells, and I thought to myself that you must be surely dancing inside. I could also hear the sound of your Usha’s feet. I sat down on the parapet outside. I also heard your melodious song accompanied by thumping feet and jingling of the ankle bells.

I was feeling cold outside. The breeze was blowing through the coconut trees. I sat crouched; in the darkness of the night. Yet I was afraid that somebody would see me from their balcony.

But when I heard your child's voice, "Dada", then I felt that you would open the door. My entire body shrank but the next moment I heard your husband's voice. I understood that Haku had come home through the back door. And when I heard you both laughing sweetly, I gave a cold sigh. Alas! How I wish such sweet laughter would come into my house even for a day! After all what is life without a beloved? At that moment each breath of my heart called out, "Sati!" And Sati you perhaps heard me or how else would you have opened the door at that very moment and called, "Dada"? I had a glimpse of your heavenly home, feeling as if I had reached the era of Krishna and Radha.

When you introduced me to your husband saying, "This new neighbor of ours loves his children as you do." Do you know I was so taken aback. You told Haku, "Dada loves his little Koshi so much that his heart bleeds on seeing the mother beating Koshi." Haku asked, "But in the first place, why would Daya beat Koshi? She wouldn't be unhappy without a reason." I was angry at your husband's strange remark. But when I saw your questioning glance towards me I got confused. Above all this, your husband commented, "Women are very emotional. They are affected by even the smallest things. It is our duty to remove any anger in their hearts. Then, we can see that women are actually tender flowers without thorns." Looking in your direction I told him, "Brother, you feel women are flowers because you have Sati. You were destined to have a flower. If you look at my Daya, you would not say this. Nobody is to be blamed. It is all destiny."

When Haku, shaking his head, said proudly "I don't believe in destiny," it shook my belief of many years. I'm a businessman Sati, I believe in destiny and fate.

I don't know what happened, but suddenly two people came to call your husband and he went out to sort out a quarrel in the neighborhood. Why didn't they call me? What were they proving by hurting my self-respect? And how did you realize this because you smiled and asked me, "You are sad that the neighbors called my husband and not you."

Sati, actually I was angry, but when you asked me if I was sad, I really felt sorry. When you said, "I know your sorrow very well", I don't know why but I had tears in my eyes. Nobody has known me so well. Lowering your head you said softly, "I know Hiral comes to you for sympathy but there are rumors in the neighborhood and your wife Daya has broken down, when she sees you sympathizing her. Can you imagine the wounds of a woman who beats her children so much that they bleed?" Tears welled up in your eyes while saying all this.

Sati, you know I was so embarrassed at that moment. You being a stranger felt my wife's pain so much, and I have even hit her so many times. I have never learnt that only a woman who is wounded inside can hurt her tender innocent children.

You said, "Dada, a woman's lap is very vast. She has the strength to tolerate so many demands of her children that she can even overcome the strongest forces. But she hides all her tenderness the moment she finds another woman having a better position in her husband’s life. "And Sati I loved when you said, "A woman shares as much love and honesty with her in-laws, children and neighbors as much as her husband showers love and honesty on her!" At that time I joked with you saying, "Sati, you have immortalized Haku." But today while lying down on my pillow I saw the face of a true friend in the light of my torch. It is not yours but Haku's, and after returning from you I have tried to see Daya in a new light and tried to shower love and affection on her.

Do you know, today I made her sit by my side and made her eat. I tell you Sati, this lady felt so shy at that moment that I have never seen Hiral that way. But Hiral is sad. Her husband never cares for her. I supported her for so many years and now it is not fair to leave her just to please Daya. But your words still ring in my ears, "Dada! You wish your children to become artists? Then have you ever thought of their upbringing? Flowers appear faded and bent if they are exposed to harsh weather while growing." No Sati, I'm not ready to spoil my children’s future at any cost. I have seen how tender your Usha is and how stubborn my Koshi is. Sati, my inner voice repeatedly tells me, "It is difficult to forget Hiral". But I say, "Like a farmer who stays awake day and night to protect his farm from animals and worms I'm also ready to keep watch and protect.

Yes, I shall surely do that. But in the dark and cold moments of my life you become my Protector, my Guardian.

- Translated by Arun Babani

The End


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