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Short Stories

Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
Translated by R. Ishwarlal

Sundri Uttamchandani is one of the most major Sindhi short story writers. Best among all women Sindhi writers, and better than all Progressive Writers put together. Sahitya Academy Award Winner, she has also written novels.

It seems as if on a dark bleak night the music is muted in the musician’s room and the instruments, devoid of rhythm and beat, are silent. Only the few windows now open let in the rays of silvery moonlight. In every nook and corner of the room inaudible sighs and moans speak of the hovering mute emotions. Amidst the haze of the smoke of joss-sticks and the rays of the moonlight, you appear every now and then as the outlines of a memory-laden vision of a dream girl.

The mind taunts, “Why do you keep memories of the one you do wish to forget”. True! But what else has remained with me except the memories.

In this hospital room, smelling strongly of disinfectants, every thing seems washed and scrubbed. Mind has no complaints against you. Only your outlines, of a semi-goddess, remain the silent serene figure as at the marriage ceremony two years ago. If only on that day you had not remained so, but reacted and rejected me saying, “I do not wish to go through this ritual of a wedding ceremony”. You should have rebelled to break this fragile, thread like bond that evening itself, not later when the gossamer – thread had developed into a firm relationship.

It is now two years since the break became final as separation. Your mother and my mother at whose initiative the knot was tied in the first instance are no longer in this world. Our relationship has lost its validity. Nevertheless, we are seen as husband and wife in the eyes of the world. It is but a farce. As the end of this farce draws near, my mind struggles to avoid the inevitable, to see and meet you. This overwhelming desire impelled me to mount on my motor cycle and speed towards you, only to end up with a broken leg.

True, my leg did break only yesterday, but with your departure from our life, do you know much more was already in pieces. Just as with the breaking of a beam, the house collapses, so also my world, my relationship with you and indeed my very heart lay in shambles.

I know you have been so brought up as to feel intensely for others’ sorrows and sufferings, however slight, and to identify them with your own. But my sorrow… oh, forget it. Time for recriminations is past, the wound in my leg is badly infected and by morning it would be amputated. It should have been done today itself, but who cares for me when I am myself indifferent to my life. I feel as if the poison has taken roots not only in the leg, but is slowly creeping up and spreading throughout my body. By next morning, who knows what will happen. Perhaps the fire will have consumed everything.

I do not feel up to facing life with this lonely, leaden heart. A small sorrow that gnaws at my heart is what will happen to those sparkling bangles on your slim wrists to those ear rings of yours. These two adornments on your body were extremely attractive to me. At times, an overwhelming desire to see them would bring me to the street where you like. You would see me, but pretend that you had not.

The estrangement in our hearts was too deep to recognize the nearness of our bodies, postpone any attempt to bridge the chasm in our minds.

You might as well forgive me today for is it not our custom and culture to forgive the dead.

Conventional, you must certainly never have been. I remember my mother admonishing you: “Daughters-in-law going to college, having friends, talking freely with other men ! No, it is not in our custom.”

I kept quiet then in silent approval of my mother’s views. You had, with lowered head, replied, “I did not know that in high-class families, life is so strangled !”.

You had great zest for living life your way. My mother wanted you to have a homely life with all the family adornments and jewellery. But you were from a different world. Fashions, clothes and jewellery had no meaning for you. You were against all customs and conventions. I was brought up to accept conventions, but not to speak out against them. Our upbringing was different. Our life-styles and ways crossed each other. Time passed uneasily for both of us.

I hear others whispering about you and your accomplishments, that you have now passed your B.Ed. and been appointed as Head Mistress of a school; that you have organized cultural events, lectures; that you have persuaded your cousin to stop drinking; another to accept and respect his dark-skinned wife.

My mother had called you a shame on our family and I had supported her and lent weight to her words.

Now, at this moment, when my mind is free from prejudices and hatred, I perceive you as pure as a lotus, indeed as a sparkling jewel. The dazzle of a jewel is for the world to admire, but to sheet of glass, which dares to come close, it is only a cutting edge, to slice and divide. So too is my slain heart. I now comprehend to searing pain of your mind when I raised my hand on you. I remember your eyes then burning with defiance like lit torches. The strength of such defiance in the fragile frame of a woman, such steel like hardness of purpose ! I am at a loss to understand its source till today. But I do know that, within the tenderness of a woman, somewhere in a corner, lurks the rocklike strength of her indomitable spirit to break free. You too did display such firmness, you opened the door and boldly walked out of the house. Woman and such boldness !.

We had crossed the threshhold of life with childish ignorance, but when mature, the bonds between us had already snapped; knowledge of the reality and complexity of life came too late to me. By then, you had already gone too far away, reached a point of no return.

Your success in B.Ed. sealed all my hopes. I do not know how many examinations I have faced during these years spent behind the counter selling books and pens. I, too have undergone bitter changes.

Many of my customers were girls. Anita was one. She was very regular, sometimes for repairs and at other times for new pens or ball-point pens. She was very talkative and full of mirth. I got the impression that she had a crush on me and that flattered my ego that at last there was some one who cares for me. Such emotions were gratifying, but at times brought forth painful memories of happy, laughter-filled days I had spent with you. One day, Anita came into the shop with her boy-friend. “He always gives me a lucky pen,” she told him, pointing to me. “That is how I did well in my papers”.

“Now, Anita ! You are getting married. You have no need to pass any more exams”, remarked her boy-friend.

“But I shall continue coming to this shop”, Anita replied.

“To this pen-wala”, he asked in such obvious contempt that I was taken aback. Before I could frame a suitable reply, he hurriedly led her out of the shop.

Anita came again to my shop after a long time to invite me to her wedding.

“By what relationship are you inviting this pen-wala ?” I asked her.

“It is not necessary to have any relationship with some one for inviting him to one’s wedding”.

“And with a pen-wala, certainly not !” I replied.

“Now don’t get annoyed, my pen-wala brother ! There are so many books in your shop, I will keep visiting you for them”.

“But your husband will drag you away from here”.

“Why ?”

“He dislikes the pen-wala”.

“Oh ! but it is not necessary for him to approve whosoever I should speak to”.

“I do not mean that”.

“All right, then do come to my wedding”.

I did not, of course, go to her wedding, but I did increase the number of books in my lending library. As a result, I came in contact with more and more of educated and intelligent folk. My mind came out of its shell and new fragrant vistas opened out before me. I began to understand human nature more deeply, their good qualities, their compulsions of birth, status and wealth. My intellectual horizons broadened to look into the minds of people around and get to know them, understand them. As my contact with neighbours became more close, they would often advise me to effect a reconciliation with you and bring you back into my house. Every time I made up my mind to come to see you to attempt reconciliation, my own abominable behaviour in the past would hold me back. I would recollect with shame my scolding you on the slightest pretext, and trying to misinterpret your good-natured and polite answers to others’ questions. Why, even your silence to my constant nagging was misconstrued by me. My eyes burn with tears of remorse at the memories of my kicking you.

I searched to find your spirit in the girls who came to buy fountain-pens from my shop, in all of them, but alas found in none. If only you had stepped into my shop once for a pen to write your papers with !. But would it have made any different to the past events ?.

My education was incomplete. So much so I did not realize that marriage was by no means the end of the journey, but rather the beginning of a long arduous climb, while you, even after marriage, sought opportunities for self-advancement.

Having found you, I felt satisfied. A wife like you satiated me completely, it could not be otherwise. That was my prime fault.

You had once collected your neighbours around you to narrate the tale of king Janaka who, despite his pleasure laden life, used to keep one of his legs in a pit of fire as a mark of his detachment from pleasures. I had then remarked, “Perhaps, kind Janaka did not have an accomplished wife like you, one who could take the burden of the salvation of seven generations on her shoulders !”. I was gasping with glee. You did not even smile, and why should you ?.

You were a perfect woman, you must have yearned for a perfect man. In our tradition bound society, rarely does a person think in those terms. It is believed that any man is suitable for any woman.

Whenever you boldly discussed politics with my cousins on the terrace of our house, I would stealthily sneak out into the house. Perhaps the memory of such happenings prevented you from joining me in my laughter. You could not even smile on such occasions. May be you were carried away by the life story of Kalidasa who received admonition from his wife for his foolishness. Exactly, at such moments, a feeling of inferiority would grip me, which you failed to understand. Instead, hatred welled up in your heart. Unable to come to terms with my feeling of inferiority, I came to hate you, progressively more and more, and the valley of divide between us became deeper and deeper…

At last, I did pick up sufficient courage and confidence in the fond hope that I would once again be able to win you over. I mounted my motor cycle and sped towards you. Alas, I could not reach you, but only this hospital bed !…

It is late. Night has advanced, the corridors of the hospital are silent and the lights extinguished like hope from my heart.

Good-bye, my queen. As you have broken all customs and conventions, break one more, that of a widow’s dress and the life of widowhood.

One thing more. I hesitate to write. But then everyone, breathing his last, has the right for a last request. I, too. If you find an ideal partner, do marry again. My best wishes, although not welcome, are always with you. I conclude this letter, but my heart would continue to write. I recollect another incident when you, reading aloud Meghaduta to your friend, had drawn a long sigh and exclaimed !. “Yakshini like women are still plenty, but Yaksha like men are indeed rare, they are not to be found today”.

Today, after many years of separation, the spirit that flickers in this gasping frame, does carry a heart. Perhaps, separation alone gives birth to an affection filled Yaksha like heart.

The hand falters. Memories of the past flit across the screen of the mind, words turn to scrawls. Adieu, yours forever, whether you accept or not…

 

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