Short Stories >> Murk te Manah >> Smile not allowed (Murk Te Manah)
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
The picnic was held after a long time. For a while, Chatrabhuj was watching the water go away from the boat. Suddenly, he turned towards Rani and said, “I think you have a problem with me…”
Rani’s eyelashes which were like semicircle sunflowers kept staring at Chatrabhuj for a long time. “Why do you feel that way?” she asked.
“Just like that…It looks as if you are avoiding me.”
“No, no!” Rani shook her head stylishly and the frown on her forehead had disappeared.
The boat kept sailing in the Mumbra Bay. All of the friends were busy with each other. When someone threw a small ball of flour into the water, it was immediately caught by the fish. The accusation - 'You are trying to avoid me’ was repeatedly appearing on the surface of Rani's mind.
Suddenly Rani felt like some God of memory had pulled her by her hair and dragged her deep into the water, almost touching the bottom of the ocean. Men and women in the bottom of the ocean were surrounded by waves of water and were smiling at each other, sitting on golden hills. They smiled at Rani too but the smile wounded her heart.
Rani did not reciprocate their smile and the water-being that had brought her here said, “You take back your smile from here…” Trembling, Rani said, “What if people misunderstand me?”
Rani came back to her senses and realized that she was back in the boat. The water-being let go of her hair and she had reached back into the boat…Was it a dream or a reality!...Her clothes were not wet but that smile stuck to her body like a forgotten pain. She looked at Chatrabhuj with a sleepy gaze. He was busy singing a song.
All friends were engrossed in the depth of his voice…
The girls were looking at the waves in the ocean…
The boatman stood erect, looking at the sunset reflecting on the waves of the ocean.
“If the eyes wouldn’t open,
Then how will the song come to the lips,
Tell me, how will the song be made without a smile?”
Rani felt that Chatrabhuj was singing this song for her. Her entire being was melting like a house of sand on water…It kept crumbling with each wave…
The sand mixed with the sand on the shore and the waves who were feeling let down for not being able to break her, kept moving and lashing. The being of the sand was shining under the evening rays of the sun…
There was silence on the boat even after the song was over. Like the stars that were gradually appearing on the surface of the sky, the murmuring amongst the friends too slowly began and Rani came to her senses.
Radha bent down, took a fistful of water, threw it on Rani’s face and looked away mischievously; but Rani’s eyes had caught her theft.
Vinod, who was sitting near Rani’s feet, looked at Radha and bending towards Rani he said, “Women are more mischievous than men.”
Rani lifted her semicircle sunflower eyelashes when Vinod realized that there was a crowd of words in his mind that were saying, “A woman’s body is mischievous but a man’s mind is.”
“It is not like that” Vinod sat up. Putting off his cigarette on the wooden panel of the boat, throwing it into the water, he said, “No it is not like that Rani! Even a woman’s mind is mischievous.”
“And even the man’s? Right?
Accept defeat and the fight ends.”
“And from the surroundings?”
“Even less than that.”
“If you want to say something serious, I am ready to listen to it.”
“Rani is right in saying that a woman’s mind is stable.” Chatrabhuj began speaking, “Perhaps a woman can love only one man at a time. But a man can love many women at the same time.”
“Proof!” Rani said.
“You must have noticed that there is a difference in the smile of every woman after marriage. Perhaps her smile which used to be fresh like the sun’s rays in the morning is reserved only for her husband after her marriage.”
“Sorry Rani, I am interfering…You may talk about a woman’s smile but after staying abroad I have experienced that while a man enjoys one woman at a time, but women! Oh God…”
Chatrabhuj clasped his hand on Ram’s mouth, “Listen Ram, you are a vagabond, but don’t pollute this atmosphere... You may have travelled abroad but I can tell you with confidence that you must have never come across such a brotherly and loving group anywhere in the world.”
Ram caught his ears and bending down before Chatrabhuj he said, “Boss you win...But for me, every woman is Rani…”
Rani looked sharply at Vinod as if complaining ‘Is this an atmosphere for a serious discussion…?’
Vinod caught Ram by the neck and told him, “Touch her feet and catch your ears; acknowledge that very few women are like Rani.”
“I’m sorry!” Ram said “Only Rani is Rani” He said in such a manner that everyone burst out laughing.
Rani went red in the face because of laughing. Vinod was looking at her, intoxicated. His words – ‘Only few women are like Rani’, accompanied by this look, echoed within Rani’s being.
Rani became emotional. Keeping her marital status in mind, she said, “I am not any queen, only my name is Rani…”
But while saying this, Rani felt a virgin smile on her face which disappeared when she looked in Chatrabhuj’s direction.
Rani began searching for a reason for this within herself. The picnic, the meeting of the group as well as the meeting of Rani and Chatrabhuj had happened after a long time…But there were some instances of meetings in between which perhaps could have become stepping stones towards a destination…Thinking about this, Rani quietly began looking into the surface of the water.
During a college meeting, a poet recited a poem on the topic of ‘smile’ which had been like this, ‘A sad smile incites sympathy –a loving smile incites love-a smile of desire incites the body- a beautiful smile incites the flight of the bird of the mind towards the sky…’
After the meeting, that poet noticed Rani’s smile and told her, “And your smile which is a combination of all these emotions incites a feeling of being a king in a man…”
Once when Rani mentioned this to her husband, he had said, “And if you address that smile of yours towards anybody else besides me, it incites a feeling of painful loneliness and a feeling of anger within me…”
“Then I shall not share this treasure with everyone.” Rani had promised but in the process of keeping up with it, she began feeling suffocated.
Due to a sick mother-in-law in a royal household, she had to look after the maid, the washer woman, the milkman, the garbage man everyday. Her husband’s friends, relatives, men and women, were all tied to this thread of her smile. Rani had realized that to keep up to that promise she would have to become a rose without any fragrance.
On one severe winter night Rani was in her husband’s arms. Her coughing would not stop. An X-ray revealed a slight stain on the lungs but her husband was so worried that he bought heaps of joke books to keep her happy and laughing.
During that illness Chatrabhuj had paid her a visit with his wife. While leaving he had said,“Rani! Do you remember the poet’s remarks?” Rani did not smile even then. Chatrabhuj gave her a complaining look and left. In that complaining glance Rani could feel him saying, ‘Do you have a problem with making others feel like kings?’
What was the problem? Whose problem was it? To speak of it required her to cross limits which Rani was not prepared to do.
After two days Radha came to her and said, “Rani. Do you think you are going to die?”
“Then why are you showing so much weakness?”
“I am not showing any weakness.”
“Then what is that Mrs Chatrabhuj talking about?”
“What is she saying?”
“She is saying that Rani does appear sick but she is looking younger than before. Whether she is properly dressed or not, whether her chest is covered or not, can only be seen by women accompanying her male friends.”
Rani said, “I cannot stop myself from calling a person a poisonous fly, who speaks such vulgar things about me. I only know one thing that I do not wish to separate from my husband and home. In this battle to defeat my illness, I am not conscious of my clothes or anything else…”
Suddenly Rani felt a pinch on her foot and she gave a jerk. Looking away from the water, staring at Radha and understanding her mischief, Rani took out a fistful of Chana from a basket and threw them on her.
But…But…Chatrabhuj was sitting by the side, and his question was still echoing in Rani’s ears, ‘I feel like you are avoiding me.’
‘Who have I not avoided, my friend!’ Rani thought to herself and taking a deep breath she stood up. The boat had reached the shore and everyone was standing, ready to get off.
Jumping off the boat, Rani came besides Sudhir and Shanti. Overhearing a sentence of their conversation Rani asked, “Who used to consider all her heroes to be her lovers?”
“He is talking about Meena Kumari.” Shanti replied.
“It is quite possible that every hero would look at her as a lover…” Rani said mischievously, looking at Sudhir.
“Shall I tell you the truth” Sudhir mischievously came close and said, “In my youth, I would also kiss her photograph every night…” Shanti and Rani burst out laughing and walked ahead.
Shanti and Sudhir walked ahead on the forest road. Rani was walking alone. Swaroop came by her side and said, “If I walk with you, you won’t be alone.”
“Me, alone?” Rani laughed, “My dream world has never left me alone.”
“Then should I stop?” Swaroop stopped.
“Arey, who stopped you from walking with me?” Rani caught him by his arm.
Walking besides her Swaroop said, “I don’t know how you will feel but I’m telling the truth that since I joined the group, I don’t know what all I have thought you to be!”
“Is it!” Rani began laughing.
“Will you listen to one of my poems?”
“Arey. Since when did you get stuck in the trap of becoming a poet?”
“I simply got trapped. One day I was thirsty; we were on a picnic even then. I said, ‘How thirsty I am’ but only you heard my voice…You told your husband that Swaroop is thirsty.”
“It is difficult to get water here.”
“Then buy him a Coca Cola”
And that night after reaching home I thought so much about you.
“I like the way you say ‘Is it’…It feels like a bell ringing in an isolated temple!”
“Not the Sea gulls, no?” A free laughter spread from Rani’s face.
“Please don’t laugh like this. I feel as if you are mocking at me.”
“No dear. I am very happy to hear my praise that too from a young Gopal like you.”
“All our friends talk about you that…” “What do they say? Why did you stop?” “They say that you love them too much…And that perhaps it is the result of going through difficulties in life..!” “Crazy…”
“Everyone who thinks like that.”
“Yes, at least I feel like that. The fact that everyone loves you.”
“No. The truth is that love is obvious. But it is not a result of me going through pain; it is a result of my upbringing in a religious atmosphere during childhood.”
“Meaning, I had learned during my childhood to contain beings of the earth in the form of Om, like Duru Bhagat. To get lost in devotion of
God like Meera, to consider myself as a devotee of every man in the form of eternal male, in whose presence there is no difference between the sexes…”
“Yes. Yes. This is the truth…or the glow on your face would not be so bright...How misunderstood you are!”
Rani kept walking quietly. Her mind was continuously echoing the sentence, ‘How misunderstood you are.’
The birds were returning home in the sky. Rani felt that the bird of her mind was lonely in this atmosphere. Her husband had gone to Missouri to attend a sudden meeting of doctors. Rani was feeling his absence at this moment.
“Why aren’t you laughing?” Swaroop asked suddenly.
“Without any winding key?”
“A winding key is used for toys. But you. You are…”
The manner in which Swaroop spoke made Rani burst out into a big laughter.
“Yes, you just keep laughing like this.”
“First you tell me, what you get out of this?”
“I get something.”
“Let me hear it too.”
“Will you listen?”
Swaroop looks at Rani a little hesitantly, with a manly gaze and lowering his eyes he said, “When you laugh, I can feel white flowers blooming in this entire Mumbra forest.”
“I have heard such a nice thing after so many months!” saying this Rani’s mind-bird went into a far-off forest of thoughts…Though her husband may have freed her from the promise but the Moon felt that the moonlight had faded…Like a sapling which had turned pale in the absence of air and sunlight; this is how Rani felt about her mind… But this young Gopal! ‘When you laugh I can feel white flowers blooming in this entire Mumbra forest’
Rani and Swaroop were walking quietly when suddenly looking at two people on either side, they stopped…
“What happened?” Rani’s eyes carried the question. Sudhir and Shanti spoke together but could not be understood. The issue was that they did not want to leave Rani alone and face complaints from her husband…
“But I am not alone. Swaroop is with me.” Radha, Chatrabhuj and Vinod also came near Rani… It became all quiet.
Vinod asked, “May I ask which halting station is this?”
“A train may be shunting” Ram said.
“You have improved quite a lot staying abroad,” taunted Chatrabhuj and everybody started laughing.
Suddenly Rani and Chatrabhuj’s eyes met and Rani smiled. Throwing away his cigarette Chatrabhuj said, “That's it!!”
Vinod asked, “Meaning?”
“Rani has understood.” Chatrabhuj’s gaze was on Rani and his thoughts were somewhere far-off.
Rani felt as if she had taken a bath after a long illness and had come and stood in the sunshine.
- Translated by Arun Babani