Short Stories >> Yugantar >> Sati's Platform (Sati'a jo Chabutro)
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
Leela Didi was much respected in the ladies hostel of Banaras University. She was often surrounded by girls asking her, "What is the meaning of this?" "How to do that?"
Leela Didi was in her final year of M.A. Today, she was caught hold of by the Graduate girls who wanted to know the secret of the girls going to study in the garden which was behind the hostel building, near the compound wall. Leela Didi started laughing, "What sort of a question is this? There is fresh breeze in the garden. There is a fragrance of the lemon trees. There is silence and solitude... Such an atmosphere is needed to concentrate on studies".
"No" Vishni argued, "Surely, there is some reason too. Especially, when I see Neelima studying on that Sati's platform, I doubt that there has to be some other secret to this".
Just as Vishni said this, all the girls, including Leela Didi, sitting on the cot, grew silent abruptly. Everyone's gaze fell on Neelima who came out of her room, passing by the cot, with a sweet smile on her face and a fragrance of rose flower, passed by them. She went towards the left side rooms where one of her classmates of First Year, lived.
All the girls sitting on the cot sighed deeply. One of them said, "Speak of the Devil and she appears!"
Leela Didi made a sound, disapproving of this and said, "Who has the courage to compare this Rose flower to a Devil?"
Biting her lip, Duru said, "Sorry Didi, I have not seen a beautiful girl as Neelima in all my life..."
This was followed by praises about Neelima's rosy lips, almond-shaped eyes, long hair and her glowing skin. Each one was describing her beauty in some way or the other. At that moment, Neelima came out of Sati's room and climbing down two steps of the compound, she went off to the garden behind the hostel. Everybody started whispering, "Sati's platform.' But Neelima did not turn back.
Once again everyone started the praises of her beauty and Maggie said, "Enough. Enough, this is too much. I have seen Angels in Hong Kong. This beauty is nothing..."
Leela Didi was sitting, resting her chin on her knees. Her face was smiling. Maggie said, "In our Convent in Hong Kong, there were more beautiful girls than her".
Leela asked, "Maggie, tell me the truth, do you like this Eastern atmosphere in this Banaras University Hostel?"
"Like? Chhee! I am so bored that I feel like going back today itself. But papa! Oh my God! I wish no one has a Papa like him. He is telling me to go and become Indian by studying in the Banaras University. You have been influenced by the Western culture here..."
"Hong Kong is to the East of India and according to that Western winds will first here. True, nobody should have a dad like him".
"My daddy says that Indian culture is better than that of Hong Kong..."
Everybody was enjoying Maggie's broken Hindi. Laughingly everyone said, "Come on, let's all go to that Sati's platform and see if Neelima allows us to step in there".
When the group of these seven ladies reached the garden, from far away Maggie said, "Look, Look, Neelima is searching something in the sky..."
Seeing this group coming closer, Neelima stood up and immediately, and going around the trees, she returned to the hostel. Everyone called out to her but she disappeared.
Leela Didi, took a deep breath and said, "Poor thing!"
In her broken English and Hindi, Maggie said, "This is too much. You all came here to meet Neelima and she ran away. Even then Didi is saying poor thing. You should say Bad Manners".
Leela Didi was so highly respected in the hostel that everybody took offence at Maggie's remark.
Leela Didi replied patiently, "Do you know why did I say Poor thing?"
"She did not say anything. She simply left the garden. So, obviously she is a poor thing. What else?"
"No, it is not this. Do you know that Neelima is a widow?"
Maggie covered her mouth and said, "Oh No. No!"
"Do you know the condition of widows here?"
Confused, Maggie said, "But she is so young! I thought she must not even be married".
Nodding her head, Leela Didi said, "This is known as child-marriage here. Neelma is from a royal family. Her father was in dire need of money so he got her married off to an elderly landlord".
A strange silence fell over Sati's platform. The chirping of sparrows was heard from the surrounding trees. The fragrance of the lemon trees travelled through the breeze to this group of girls.
Maggie was in deep thought. Shaking her out of this, Kokila said, "Come on, let us go to the bank of the Ganga and see the Sun-set".
Putting her finger on her lips, Maggie asked, "But Didi, why does this happen in your India, that men get married again and again? Muslim men get married many times whilst their wives are still alive. But it is a sin for widows to get married?"
All the girls spoke on this topic in their own way. Meera got excited and asked, "You think Neelima may not be having any desires of her own?"
Leela Didi threw them a sad smile and said, "More than that the desires of the boys in the hostel have arisen..."
"Meaning?' Maggie asked.
"The boys have started writing so many letters that the hostel Matron is fed up. Neelima also got one letter from the notice board. The poor girl came and showed it to me. The girls pestered Leela Didi and asked, "Tell us, what was written".
"It was written, "When you walk on the University road, it feels as if sparks come out of those roads. The colour of the road turns yellowish-golden. It seems as if all the roads of the University grow out of your feet and they carry the miracle of the touch of your feet to far- off places. Your feet are so fair and soft! With each step, your walk creates a strange web and throws it towards our hostel. At that time, we young men get caught in that colourful web and become numb. When your arms, like the Rajanigandha flower- stems, sway on either side of your soft body, it feels as if the buds in your fingers are waiting to bloom. These buds are spreading so much fragrance even before blooming, then what a fragrance will they spread when they embrace somebody's neck. At that time, the entire Universe, Earth, Sky will become an Ocean of fragrance. That fortunate man will keep the goodness of those soft, pink breasts...when those half-closed eyes, full of light, will look at her beloved, then golden pages will fill his soul with some mischief..."
Listening to this description of the Letter from Leela Didi, all the girls were totally engrossed, but Maggie was in a confusion. She said, "But what is the harm in getting this girl married again?"
All the girls stared at Leela Didi for an answer, who, at first looked at Maggie for a moment and then said, "Neelima belongs to a very respectable family where remarriage is not acceptable. At this age, she is a mother of four children".
Every one in the group was totally shocked. Leela Didi laughed. Each one was giving different judgements like, "They must be step-children". Or "They must be her siblings..."
Leela said, "You have understood correctly. Neelima's father had lost money in a business deal. The gentleman from whom he had taken a loan to save his house, had lost his wife and so he asked for Neelima's hand in marriage. But, within a year of marriage, that elderly and respectable gentleman passed away. Neelima's friends said that this beautiful girl would be destroyed without a husband. She already had two step-sons of her own age at home. She should be made a Sati (Sacrificed at her husband's pyre)".
Now, the girls actually shrieked! Remembering all the abusive words from her dictionary, Maggie used on Neelima's parents. Leela patted Maggie's knee and her asked to calm down. Ending the tale, she said, "Perhaps her father has learned some new ideas, so he brought his daughter along and immediately admitted her here, in this college". Maggie put her hand on her heart and said, "Oh my God! How beautiful this girl is. Her cheeks are like tomatoes and her lips are truly like cherries. Her skin is as smooth as butter".
"Perhaps she has worked in a food department". a girl taunted Maggie.
Maggie was furious. She said, "This is culture. Indian Culture! To learn this, my dad has sent me to Banaras University?"
"Patience. Patience, my dear sweetheart Maggie. Even your culture must be saying that one should reply with humour to a taunt?"
Maggie kept sulking.
One of the girls asked, "Didi, what will Neelima do with such higher studies?"
"Isn't education a strength by itself?"
Another asked, "Is it possible that she may once again get stuck in domesticity. She will spend her entire day cooking, feeding her children and looking after their children?"
"OH!" Maggie burst out. "If such a girl establishes a factory, she will earn millions".
Saying "Sorry", Leela Didi attacked Maggie, "To earn money is not the only goal in life, or to make a success out of life. It is quite possible that she gets married again. Or is it not enough that an MA pass lady runs her household efficiently and fearlessly?"
Now, scratching their heads, everyone gave their opinions.
One said, "She should study a lot and become a Principal"
Another said, "If such a beautiful girl becomes a doctor then all then all the pregnant women will give birth to beautiful babies like her".
Maggie, with wide eyes, banged the Sati's platform and said, "I am saying that if ever I become a widow after marriage, I shall surely get married again. A woman is not complete without a husband. A man can go on without a wife...Like my dad is. On her death-bed, my mother made him promise that he would get married again. The poor thing couldn't even die, she was so fed up with her illness. Oh...oh"
Looking at Maggie, Leela Didi said, "Maggie Mirchandani, I must acknowledge on thing about you. You can convey the most difficult thing in such a easy manner... Like this incident about your mother's death..."
"What is there in it? It is a fact".
One of the girls was looking away at her. She said, "Then why MAGGIE? Your actual name is Menghi. Why don't we call you that?"
"Oh no...no...no" Maggie said in a childish way.
Suddenly she said, "One more thing. How did you all come to know so many things about Neelima?"
"Oh Wow!" Leela Didi stood up and straightened her sari. "When the Ramayana is over, you are asking, who was Ram?"
Maggie caught hold of Leela Didi's arm...
At last Leela Didi had to say it all, "I also belong to Neelima's village!"
Everyone was now jolted!!
- Translated by Arun Babani