Short Stories >> Bhoori >> The Slap (Chamat)
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
Sometimes small incidents give a new turn to life. Actually my life is full of many incidents, strange and painful... many incidents have occurred in my life because my life has been like a drop that always has been flowing. It has seen many places but yesterday's incident has if thrown that drop onto a hot burning Tawa.I feel that my life has become and more deserted. All the wealth, so all the riches don't mean anything. Someone within is making a loud noise as if saying, "Life is not for all this, not for all this!" The feeling of nothing has filled every part of my body. Some feeling has grown so much within my heart that it may perhaps burst out from my chest. An ordinary truth has spread such a bright light inside that I feel the world is going around under a bright and sharp bulb and the people of the world, the houses and streets, everything, is reflecting a new kind of beauty. But the light is so bright that I am not able to decide whether the bright light is darkness or light. Perhaps the drop that is lying on the hot Tawa will continue to struggle like this until it loses its identity and reaches the sky... How I wish a shell swallows me and I turn from water into something else ...Pearl...yes I turn into a pearl.
The incident is ordinary, absolutely ordinary. The heroine of the incident is just a girl whom I had thought of as an ordinary person on getting off my last foreign trip. But on this foreign trip...
It was just yesterday. As I got off from the plane, I straightaway went to my aunt's house without informing anyone. My grandmother was sniffing her nasal powder and my aunt was putting the house in order. She was shocked to see me, "Little fellow" she shouted and saying that her joy knew no bounds. She was so happy that she looked almost ten years younger. But just as I inquired about my cousin Roopo, her face turned pale, she said sadly, "He's inside, serving Naini." At that moment Roopo too came out of his room. As he saw me he called out, "Naini, come out and see who has come" Naini came out walking as a sick person. I loved the smile which was shining like a dew drop on her pale face. My aunt said, "They had gone to see a movie. The girl did not like the movie and so half way through he has brought her back in a taxi".
"Actually the movie was very sad and Naini cannot tolerate sadness. She started crying..."Roopo said a little shyly.
Naini's eyes turned towards the floor.
"What to do?" Taking a deep breath Roopo said, "She's very sensitive".
As soon as Roopo said sensitive my mind immediately recollected Naini's drama on my previous trip. Till the food formalities were going on I was thinking of the Naini of today along with the Naini I had seen on my last trip. The present Naini had her feet firmly on the ground, but the previous Naini was as flying in the air. Her hands trembled every now and then. When she saw the broken Tilak bottle she screamed, "Pool of blood" and she fell down. One day she was going to and fro, with her sari palu round her head. I told my aunt, "Chachi you have taught your daughter-in-law to stay under cover." My aunt gestured harshly towards Naini and the poor girl's hands were trembling. When saw herself in the mirror with a sleeveless blouse, she felt too ashamed. She left the gathering and ran away. Today's Naini has thrown away all such dresses from her life. I must say one thing that if she looked like a closed bud in expensive clothes then, now in a simple cotton sari Naini looked a blooming flower.
I am fond of beauty and that's why I don't like simple things. But in Naini's case it seemed as if her face had added beauty to her clothes. I don't know why today I like Naini's personality, otherwise during Naini's engagement when my aunt had said, "I will teach the girl how to behave in a high status family". I had laughingly replied, "Chachi what does a donkey know about sweets".
But today, I don't know, but I feel I was wrong. I have never thought about myself like this before. But as I said, I have become a different human being today.
Let me tell you about yesterday. At first Naini looked tired but in a few moments she became playful and started moving around the whole house.
As we sat down to eat my aunt asked about my Hanoi trip. I said, "Chachi now there is no fun in Hanoi. The entire country has become communist. There are no dancers and red light areas any more. Every girl looks happy with her husband. There are so many restrictions that if somebody passes by in expensive clothes he is sent back from the middle of the road".
As I was talking I noticed that Naini was staring at my face. She was the same girl who would close her eyes in a shy manner if she was even looked at and now she was sitting courageously! I stopped talking mid way and she asked, "What was there before in your Hanoi?"
I visualized the Hanoi under the French and American government and felt a tingling in my entire body. Shifting my gaze from Naini to Roopo I said, "When I first went to Hanoi it was different. Such beauties were available. Fairies for just pennies! Roopo you have gone there atleast once..."
Roopo gave the same stale answer, "To take advantage of the poor fairies?"
"Oh dear, you know fairies only through pictures. You should have seen the real fairies. As soft as wool and so delicate that they would be frightened if you raise your voice. They would be grooming themselves the entire day, painting their nails, combing their hair. While traveling they would be simply falling in your lap. They are very soft hearted. Now they are not girls but scorpions. If you touch them they raise an alarm..."
Naini asked with interest, ‘So they don't look beautiful now?"
"Oh yes the girls from these parts are generally good looking. On the contrary nowadays they get good food to eat so the majority of them look even better than before. But they no longer are so romantic".
Roopo sat on the table, resting his face on his hands and asked, "Brother, what do you mean by soft hearted actually?" I thought to myself that the fellow will always remain naïve. His mother answered instead of me, "They must be soft hearted like your Naini what else?"
"Chachi has said the exact fact". I burst out laughing. "Naini is the limit of soft heartedness. She was with me in First Year. One day when a cat died in the college she cried like hell".
"Leave me, you are teasing me now," Naini said, with a frown on her face but a smile on her lips.
My aunt said mockingly, "One teases the crazy, isn't it?"
Naini became pale and she took the glass from the table and went to the kitchen.
Roopo said meekly, "Amma, what do I tell you?"
Roopo's grandmother, sitting on the cot, sniffing her nasal powder confidently said, "That is what happens. Girls who are pampered by their parents face difficulties .Yesterday during the sermon in the temple it was said that the daughter of the king was so pampered that she fainted upon sniffing a flower..."
My aunt said angrily, "Yes you both, grandmother and grandson have pampered her and made her eat".
Naini came back with a glass of water and said, "Whosoever wants can drink it".
I looked at her delicate hands and said, "I'm happy to accept this favor." And to lighten the atmosphere I said, "And Roopo, there is Bangkok near Hanoi where even today you can get a first class beautiful girl in a few rupees who will sit in your lap and pour you a drink..."
I took a sip of water from the glass. Watching Naini looking at me I got enthusiastic and said, "Naini, Roopo doesn't have any courage or else he would have atleast taken to France once. The champagne Race there is so famous".
"What the hell do they do in the Champagne race?"asked aunty smilingly.
"Oh, what do I tell you? You folks are moneyed but you don't know what the money is for. Roopo has simply wasted his life."I said this to attract Roopo's attention as he was lost in some thought. He looked at me wide eyed. My aunt, Naini and grandmother's attention was already towards me, I laughingly said, "They fill up an entire marble lake with Champaign. They bathe France's most beautiful naked girl in it...and after that each one present fills a glass of Champaign from that lake..."
Suddenly there was a sound of water falling on the floor. Naini had vomited. Her head was spinning. Had not Roopo caught her she would have fainted and fallen on the floor. Roopo led her to another room. My aunt put her hands on her head and said, "She is quite a sick woman".
Grandma called out to the servant to clean up the vomit and I was stunned as if there was a bomb blast. After a while I went towards Roopo's room to see Naini. She was lying on a pillow. When she saw me she made such a sour face as if she had tasted something very bitter. Inspite of it I took courage and walked towards her. She tried to get up and gestured me to sit on the chair.
I bent towards Naini and said, "Your health is very fragile..."
She made a crying face and said, "If you talk corrupt things there is bound to be vomit" She instantly turned her face away.
What bigger slap can there be than a beautiful woman turning her face away! I don't know when I came out of Naini's room, when aunt laid my bed. Everything appeared terrible...Have I really passed my entire life in corruption! And during the whole painful night a new voice has been born within me which keeps shouting at me, saying, "Are you not born to become a worm of the garbage you Sindhwarki brute!'
So this fragrance of so many flowers and buds that I have accumulated within me do they not mean anything? Have I exploited others' helplessness...
- Translated by Arun Babani