Short Stories >> Bandhan >> The desire to live (Jean jee Tammana)
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
The fact was that the ship of my life had long been broken. But when a person finds a plank of wood in the middle of the sea, their desire to live is strongly aroused. However, in the next instance, on seeing a crocodile one wonders about the fate of the plank as well as the human being clinging to it. That’s exactly my situation today. It feels as if there is no energy left in my feet to go on.
But what can be done about the strong desires within this beautiful, thirty five year old, well formed body! During the last days of my life, the pages of the past keep floating in front of me as though we share a deep friendship. They were my friends before my life’s shipwreck and continue to be so today.
I found the metaphor of a ship for my life hilarious because the poverty-ridden conditions under which I was raised, my life was like a small old tin boat, not a ship! My mother added a new life every year to that old tin boat. And so, my mother’s courage gave way much before the boat did.
Every evening when my father returned, he would flare up on hearing the cries of an army of a dozen monkeys. Someone would say “I have no shirt”, someone would say “I have no books.” And then the daily quarrels with my mother would begin. Once their fights started, all of us used to take advantage of the situation and start fighting and beating each other. But as and when our small boat was shaken, we would each try to establish how strong we are. We became experts at these fights.
But one day, destiny decided to decrease the weight on the small boat and pointed towards my youngest brother. A rich childless woman desired to purchase him in return for a gold chain and 400 Rupees. I heard Amma’s cries in the middle of the night and pretending to be asleep I waited for this storm to pass.
Amma was sobbing and saying, “How can I sell my son? I’m telling you - a son is precious, otherwise why would the world want sons?”
My innocent Amma could not understand that the rules of the rich and poor are not the same. The poor man’s food is tasty for him but it doesn’t carry value in a rich man’s home. Baba had known this fact and he said, “Enough you stupid, you have disturbed my sleep in the middle of the night. Son, son, son…even dogs and cats give birth to sons”
But what does heart the understand which beats in the same way for the rich and the poor. Amma got up , took her son in her lap and began sobbing. My elder brother and elder sister too woke up and like warriors they both consoled Amma with a big heart.
I haven’t understood the reason for this even today. They told “Stop Amma, let the morning come and let that rich woman with silk curtains arrive. We shall show her the ‘No Admission’ board at the door itself.”
The next morning, everything took place in the same manner that was proclaimed by the monkey army. I did not participate in this war but the wound it left is still fresh even though I am now 3 years old. Who knows if it was just me or all of us brothers and sisters who were deeply hurt - otherwise why would all of them also turn out to be selfish fighters like me? I had decided that if I were to live, I was going to be rich. But who was to tell us that the same way in which money makes money, selfishness also begets selfishness and that too with additional interest. Despite this, we all leaped into this strange fight. The first step we took was to marry off our eldest sister into a good family. The groom was ill but rich. Even before my sister could enjoy any of the luxuries, she became a widow. The lifestyle of her in-laws was completely different from ours. My sister could not adjust there and within a year she returned home on the same date…
Amma could not bear the shock of her son-in-law’s death and she passed away. Now our home was even more in need of this sister. She inspired each one of us to become stronger. One made money selling kites; another started collecting donations from the neighborhood. The older brothers gave tuitions or sold imported goods and made attempts to remove hunger from our home. Our earnings grew. We started wearing good clothes but we were still quite poor. Along with the increase in our money, our suspicions and doubts also grew. We always suspected each other of hiding money. A small house and eleven members! The house resembled a devil’s vessel on the fire of desires. Father had already retired and his status in the house was not the same. So much so that during quarrels between brothers and sisters, he would often be accused of creating a large family and not taking any responsibility.
He passed away immediately after his wife due to hunger and humiliation at the hands of his children. I too resigned from school and remained at home. Due to the calamity early in her life, my elder sister had lost her senses. She would be angry and frustrated with everybody for hours. But how can one explain that the root cause of her condition was the worm of poverty at home.
The brothers at least grew independent. Formal education and contacts with the society made them more human. But both of us sisters became irritable and frustrated because of our desires.
Suddenly one day the elder brother had a love marriage. People welcome a new bride but we grew cold on seeing one more member in this cramped house. I too was angry to learn that the bride had not even brought any dowry for her maintenance. If she had brought something it would have helped my cause. I despised my brother for not thinking about me. I felt as if he had made himself happy at the cost of my right. Whenever I saw them enjoying together, somewhere in the corner of my heart, I would experience a feeling of incompletion.
There were two camps at home. My sister and I on one side and my entire family including my sister-in-law on the other. This wasn’t living but my sister was my support. My sister hated the showers of love that this bride had brought into the house. It is said that you long for the very thing which you cannot achieve. But it is also a fact that you feel hatred for the person who has what you don’t have. My sister started teaching me to oppose my sister-in-law on everything.
Today I wonder if that was the only reason to oppose my sister-in-law? No, perhaps there was another reason too. My sister had lost her control. My sister-in-law had told me while bidding me farewell, “Household control comes from service, love and togetherness.” Otherwise in our house there was no such thing as feelings. None of us knew that in this Devil’s vessel of a home there were some things that could bring out new feelings, behaviours and new relationships. My elder sister at least had no idea of such instruments and I too was following her footsteps, largely unaware of such things.
One day my sister-in-law brought in a proposal for me. The boy was from a poor family but was earning. We both could not believe that our sister-in-law could ever think about our good. We frankly told her that she was doing this to get rid of me and to take control of the house. She was shocked. I did not realize how hurt she must have felt because we were never taught our words had an effect on other people. And how could we think about how hurt she was when we hated her so deeply!
Somehow it was in my sister’s fate to get me engaged. When she told me that the boy was the sole owner of a big business of beedis, had many servants and there were no in-laws to share the property, I jumped up and embraced her with joy. I expressed my feelings of love for the first time in my life. I threw a hateful glance at my sister-in-law. I thought now I will see how well she’s able to stomach my good fortune. But she was only happy for me. She had tears in her eyes when she saw my husband on the day of the wedding. She cried again while bidding me farewell. My husband was a little elderly. She was unhappy because of that. I surrendered to her repeated show of friendship.
I saw a different atmosphere in my new house. I forgot that I had come out of that Devil’s vessel where there was only poverty, hunger and ill manners due to which there was jealousy and anger. My heart grew bigger on entering this big house with big walls. The fact is that for the first few months of marriage, I actually was on a merry go round, looking at the beauty of the world. But suddenly this merry go round stopped or I should say it was made to stop. I was caught amongst all the aunts of this big house with a big family. In my maternal home I never experienced any intrusion of my privacy by my brothers and sister, but here I don’t know what kind of relationships circled me and began interfering in my life. They explained to me that even if you have complaints in your heart, you must maintain cordial relationships on the outside. “Lady, you have married such a rich man and if you do not accept his relations he will not respect you.”
Why was I a stranger in the midst of these rich ladies? Because I was from a poor family. In my maternal home I had the freedom to speak frankly. But I was unable even with effort to follow this rich culture of hypocrisy and backbiting. But I had to go through all this with the support of my husband. I knew that I was considered downtrodden. I was uncomfortable in their company because I couldn’t joke and laugh freely like them. I told my husband that I am simple but I don’t mean bad for anybody. There was so much disregard from others that I decided not to have a lot of contact with these relatives but only live at the feet of my husband. In the entire turbulence of the ocean, I had held this plank to my bosom…But what should I do today? The doctor said that my husband has only a few more days…
Oh, Devil of life tell me where should I go now? In which world should I go and live? The relatives who demeaned me as downtrodden and insulted me at every stage while he was alive, what will they do with me now? My husband’s aunt said, “Drive out this girl of a cursed family. She swallowed my nephew in two years.” These rich folk are even more slaves of desire than the poor folk. There is every attempt to cheat another of every penny through schemes. Under their outward decency lies deep whirlwinds of deceit, selfishness and lies. I feel that I would have to fight a bigger battle for my rights than I did in my previous world.
When Prabdas came, he secretly followed Radha and found out her secret. When her mother found out, she was shocked, refused to eat and she was almost listless.
So should I surrender and throw away my weapons to this devil of death and crumple my desire for life? No, not at all. Turning the pages of my past, I have found a new strength in my arms. I will have to go through the battle of life and death. It doesn’t matter if the ship has broken and the plank is gone. I still have a life. I will not die. I will swim with my own strength. I will swim with my own strength.
- Translated by Arun Babani