Short Stories >> Murk te Manah >> Winter Season (Surav jee Munda)
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
All this was not there then - such a big hall, a circular sofa up to half the wall, on the left a dining table with eight chairs, two chandeliers on the ceiling and a big fan between them. On the wall on the left side, I have also installed an air conditioner but there is a wooden plank with Sunmica put in such a way as if it is one of the cupboards like all the other cupboards on the wall. But it wasn’t always like this - those times were different when we had just migrated from Sindh. Even the house was not like this, it was a barrack. I was outside playing with my friends. As Sabhagchand stepped onto the threshold of my house, I held his hand and left the game. Sabhagchand inquired in a mild and sleepy tone, 'How are you Sony?'
I looked up at him. He was smiling silently. I looked back. My friends had also finishedthe game and gone away. It was already getting dark. Once again, I looked back at Sabhagchand who was standing with one foot up and the other down. It looked as though his smile was forever etched on status of stone.
‘Tell me Sony, I’m looking good today, no?’
O! I just noticed his clothes now. Sabhagchand was wearing a newly stitched grey churidar kurta.
I let go of his hand and put mine over my mouth and started laughing. I said. ‘Wow, today you look quite young - like a fourteen year old! No no, not fourteen, that is my age. You look fifteen!’
'Then I am likeable no?' Sabhagchand caressed my cheek.
What happened to me then, I am unable to describe. All I can remember is that my head started reeling and my heart started beating fast. My mother opened the door. By then, Sabhagchand had moved his hand away. As soon as Sabhagchand entered, my mother immediately cleared the bed and asked him to sit down while she kept standing. She pulled her dupatta over her head and told him, 'You may take the girl for service today but tomorrow onwards, she will not be able to come.'
Seeing Sabhagchand’s fallen face she said, 'Nothing else, it is just that today we are getting Sona engaged.'
'Is the boy from our neighbourhood?'
'No, Dhruv’s uncle has come from Katni. It’s a well-to-do family. His wife passed away just six months ago.'
'There are two but they are looked after by their paternal and maternal grandmothers.'
'But he must be old...that’s not right.'
'You know our condition. We have given away the older girls to men with four children. Those good people did not take even a penny from me…' Ammi took a deep breath.
'So then…let us distribute milk in the camp.'
'Yes. The milk woman has left the bottles in the morning.'
We collected the milk bottles and went to the Widows’ area in the camp. We were distributing one bottle to each house and I asked, 'Why has Pari Dadi not come?'
Sabhagchand hesitatingly said, 'She said she won’t come from today.'
While we were returning from the milk distribution, Sabhagchand asked, ‘So you will get married to an old man and go away?’ The word ‘old’ was new for me. Mummy had told me everything else. My heart began beating fast. On our way back from the Widows’ area, Chandru uncle called out to us. He was just opening his shop. He handed me a neatly folded piece of cloth, saying, 'Sony, my child, take this and stitch a frock for yourself.'
'When one gives something to a girl, one is blessed.'
'Take it girl, take it!' Sabhagchand laughingly said, pulling my plait. 'Uncle is giving you a new frock!'
I held the cloth to my bosom and ran towards my house. My mother’s eyesight was weak. She was sitting on the cot and praying with her beads. I kept the cloth in the bag.
Mom said, 'I have cooked food, my child, close the door and eat soon. When the guests arrive, you will have to go and bring the eatables. The boys have fought and gone away. Who knows when they will return?'
‘Old man’, this one word kept troubling me within. I closed the door, ate my food, took a cloth bag and disappeared.
The evening passed, the night passed but I did not return. When I returned the next afternoon, everyone was shocked. The entire house resembled a police station.
'Girl! where were you gone?' Mother pulled my plait.
'Where did you go and blacken your face?' My elder sister slapped me.
‘You have ruined the entire family’s reputation! How will we live in this camp?' Another sister shouted.
My brother came in front of me, glared at me and said, 'Tell us no, which rascal did you run away with?'
Another brother said softly, 'Sabhagchand the social worker was in the camp the entire day.'
At this point, I was enraged too. I threw my bag and went and slept on the cot, on my stomach.
'I shall not tell you. I shall not tell you.' I screamed and began to cry.
Everybody was discussing among themselves that the guests who had come to see me had gone away but not before they spread the news in the neighborhood that perhaps the girl is not of good character. ‘Now how do we make her speak the truth…we must beat her!’ In the meantime, Baba slowly got up from his old easy chair and came and sat next to me on the cot. He caressed my head and said, 'My child, why don’t you tell us where you stayed last night? We had kept food for you…'
'Food? I am actually hungry…'
Baba slowly led me to the kitchen and fed me. Everybody became quiet but their gaze was on the prisoner. As I came out of the kitchen there was another attack of questions. 'Who has given you this piece of cloth? Why did you accept it? From whom did you take it? Why didn’t you drown in shame…?' Now the atmosphere grew poisonous. Suddenly my friend Chandri came to my house. My elder sister immediately asked, 'Why have you come Chandri?'
Chandri shrunk .She slowly said, 'Dada Sabhagchand has sent me.'
I touched her frock and asked her, 'Who gave you this frock?'
'He gave one to me too. From where did you get it stitched?'
Lovingly, Chandri touched my arm and said, 'My sister. She will stitch one for you also. Chandru uncle said that he will give a frock to eight girls.'
'Huh!' I looked at all the jailors. They had stars in their eyes.
'But where were you the whole night?' My elder sister shouted.
'At aunt Papan’s house' as if a bullet was fired from me in fright.
'Shame on you!' My elder sister cursed, but the poison had become mild. Even then mother hit me on the head and said, 'But ask this rascal why did she run away?'
I said, 'Old man' and ran away from the house. I remembered the frock piece on the way, so I ran back inside, took the bag and ran out. A sentence hit my ears, like a warm breeze. A neighbourhood woman was telling my mother, ‘I would have skinned her alive and put red chillied on her and killed her!’
I ran and took refuge in Sabhagchand’s house. His wife Parpati embraced me and explained to me, 'Don’t you dare get married to an old man. There is no urgency. There are many young grooms waiting, even if they earn a little less. Your Dada will get you a sewing machine in charity…'
'Oh yes, why not. Our Sonu…' Chandri said 'I am leaving.'
I said, 'I am also coming with you.'
Chandri’s sister stitched such a dress for me that she gave my life a new turn. I decided firmly to become a tailor. The machine arrived with Sabhagchand’s help. Now, I was better off. A day arrived when my sisters realized that I was looking after my parents. Their lips were sealed. My younger brothers got money from me for their marbles and balls and they grew even younger. Dada Sabhagchand used to come home freely and take me along. When the milk distribution stopped, Dada Sabhagchand joined the real estate business. I told him, 'I need a place too. I will save money with you.'
'First you come and look at some places. Let us see what place our Sonu selects.'
City…flats…half complete…fully complete…walking up and down, holding his arm amidst monsoon ruins…The first drops of rain…Happy laughter…
'You are only laughing. Have you ever looked at me?'
I stopped laughing and looked at him. Holding his face in both my hands I said, 'Oh ho Dada, you look so sad.'
Sabhagchand instantly embraced me. I don’t know why my heart started beating fast again.
'You don’t know that my fortune has changed completely.'
I asked, 'How? Why?'
He said, 'Parpati has divorced me.'
'Meaning? Meaning that now she won’t wash your clothes and won’t even cook for you?'
'No, she will do nothing for me.'
'Let her not. I will do it for you.' Again, I held his face. He also embraced me and put his face on my chest.
I don’t know why but some friendly voice within me kept saying, 'One should not allow a strange man to embrace you.' But I was stubborn and simply ignored that inner voice. Sabhagchand had one arm around me and said laughingly, 'What are you doing, my little doll? Whom are you teasing?'Sabhagchand had one arm around me and said laughingly, 'What are you doing, my little doll? Whom are you teasing?'
This time, I freed myself and told him, 'This is not done, Dada.'
But that ‘This is not done’ was so weak that Sabhagchand repeatedly embraced me.
Now I started ironing his clothes for him in his house. Before this, I used to iron Parbati’s clothes too but she would go away for work. At that time, I was the queen of the house and Sabhagchand was the king. There were rumors in the neighborhood that Sona had trapped Sabhagchand but those who knew me closely always said, 'It is strange for Sabhagchand to lure such a young girl to the extent that she is running after him like a lamb!'
Because I was stubborn, I began moving around with Sabhagchand even more after hearing all these rumors. For all this, it was necessary for me to have good clothes. I already had a machine and also knew basic sewing, that is why as soon as I got home I would stitch clothes for my neighbours. On the pretext of going for service, I would leave with Sabhagchand early each morning. On the days that Sabhagchand was away for work, I would do my stitching. At times when there were no groceries at home, Amma would ask humbly, 'Have these neighbors paid you something or not? They have really exploited you…'
'If they are exploiting me, then they are also paying me well, isn’t it?'
'Let me see what they have given you.' At that time I would show my mother wads of currency notes. She would say, 'Today I did not allow your father to go to the shop. All night he was coughing. He hasn’t slept at all…I’ll ask your brother to go and purchase some groceries.' I would quietly hand over the money to my mother and continue with my stitching. One day I overheard my elder sister telling my mother, 'You are too much. Allow her to save something so that we can get her married into a good family. Increasingly and unnecessarily, our reputation is being tarnished. You think Sabhagchand is a guru but what we are hearing in our neighborhood, you are not able to hear even though you are close by.'
While listening to this, I had pretended to be asleep. I was just lying down, but on the inside, I felt as though I was standing on a battleground. I was collecting an army of rupees through which I had to break the fort of poverty and enter into a place where the young prince of my dreams was imprisoned. I would free him from the chains of desire for dowry and marry him…' Instead, what actually happened? These incomplete houses where there was not even a single bird on its roof. Our bodies were wrapped in the fine bedsheet of Sabhagchand’s poetic language. I could imagine the flowered swings of the monsoon season…I would get startled at the smallest sound of a bird, give a jerk and cling to Sabhagchand.
This is how we enjoyed our honeymoon in half-complete houses with no doors and no bolts…this is how fourteen, fifteen, sixteen years of my youth faded in such conditions…this is where my I realized something about my femininity. I understood why a woman is known as the picture of mother earth. But listening to all of that, Sabhagchand got upset. He said, 'We will look at it but another job has come, there is a vacancy for nurses in a hospital and my friend has offered you a job there, with a big salary.' His tone was so humble then that I immediately said yes. Today, I realize that the very Sabhagchand - who always said that he had no fear of society - was so frightened at the time that he would have fallen at my feet had I refused.
Nevermind, the nurse’s job was just an excuse. The doctor was Sabhagchand’s friend. He told me, 'The nurses have to undergo an evaluation first.' He made me lie down and made me unconscious. That day instead of being on nurse duty, I was lying unconscious in the hospital. What was all this. For what? Even that I understand today because within a week I was told that there was no vacancy and that I could go back to my stitching.
Sabhagchand rented a house far away. Now, he was earning well as a real estate agent. Leaving Parpati and his two children at home, he started living with me in the new house. Every night I would come back to my mother’s house. At first, my sisters protested but when they saw that I was paying my mother the expenses for my brothers and sisters, they were quiet. Even then, sometimes there would be fireworks. It was as though a fire had burnt all night but somewhere some stick remained intact under the ash. It created a spark on being touched by the breeze and was saying, 'Sona has not burnt totally into ashes. Her inwardness is still alive.'
In the new house I accepted my role as a house wife by looking after Sabhagchand - cooking and feeding him. But what was this happening within me again and again...My whole life was turning into a battle ground where the wounded Rani of Jhansi was shouting, 'Oh traitors! May the hell fire befall on those who have locked away my wealth in their treasuries. My prince is still chained in the dowry system…and I, unable to break the chains of slavery and the helplessness of poverty…'
I don’t know how Sabhagchand got to know about my inward restlessness. One day, he shouted at me, 'What is all this? Why are you restless? Why have you created so much commotion…? I have not put any restrictions on you. I have kept you happy in every way. Remember the family from which you have come. Today there are so many dresses in your cupboard. You possess so much jewellery. That you don’t wear it is another question. But the bangles, rings, earrings etc, you have it all! What have your sisters got? Old husbands and step children. Maybe a couple of their own children. So what? Even dogs and cats have babies…!'
Stress had entered and flooded my life! I shouted, ‘Sabhagchand, even I don’t know what my problem is!”
'You must be burning in the fire of suspicion. You must be thinking that I visit Parpati because I give her expenses for my children’s upbringing as a duty…'
I was shocked. I wasn’t even aware that he had begun supporting his wife and children. Now I knew why I sometimes thought him to be an empty vessel. If there is a duty towards children, then there is a bigger duty towards the wife. Before I could even say something, Sabhagchand shouted, 'Just imagine, in spite of listening to so many complaints and insults, I have been with you and after being with you I have never even looked at Parpati. And you have swallowed me up like a snake…'
I don’t know what this fight was about. I reached my mother’s house, I decided that I shall never go back to his house. My mind said, 'You have swallowed Sabhagchand like a snake? Open your mouth and see! This mouth with dry lips is yours which is longing for a nectar. This longing has filled tension in your being.'
The winter season had not begun yet. On the earth of my body, the spring had bloomed and spread flowers and gardens. I must have been over thirty when Ramu, Leela Dadi’s brother was leaving a bundle of clothes with me.
'Hey you! Please explain to me what has to be stitched from which cloth?'
Ramu stood before me, near the machine. He looked straight into my eyes. A fish jumped from the ocean of my heart. 'Oh My prince!'
After a while I lowered my eyes and he said, 'All this Leela will come and do.'
I kept quiet. I didn’t even ask what ‘all this’ meant but I had grown so intoxicated that neither could I say anything nor could I stop Ramu from going away…
The next day, Leela and Ramu came over to my place. Leela said, 'Sonia did you see this adopted brother of mine? He has gone crazy about you!'
I started laughing. Looking at the deserted valleys of my life I said, 'Oh Leela, you are joking with me like this? Ok now tell me what do I stitch with these pieces of cloth?'
Ramu started coming in daily on pretext of those clothes. He said, 'Come with me to the city and I shall get you orders for stitching petticoats from my friend. Then you won’t have to work.'
'So strange Ramu! If I don’t work, how will I complete the order?'
'Sonia, the order will be so easy and huge that you could keep two machines and hire people to do the job. You can then go out to collect more orders.'
'Is that so?' I felt as if there were two sticks below my feet and I could now touch the sky. 'But Ramu, tell me if they do all the labor worth twenty rupees and I keep ten and pay them ten while I go for other orders, isn't it cheating?’
'This is how the world works. Otherwise laborers who build buildings would not be poor and would not be staying in hutments.'
'Okay, Okay, don’t give me more examples. I am fine with this stitching. Snatching another’s labour to feed myself…I would rather…'
My words were left incomplete because seeing Ramu’s forlorn face I began laughing. I said, 'Ramu why has your barometer gone down?’
Looking up at the roof, Ramu said, 'Who knows what’s in anybody’s heart…!'
If this ‘who knows’ may be me then I would give my life for a man like Ramu. Ramu too does not know how much I have longed for a beautiful and attractive man like him but I ended up with an elderly and fatherly figure like Sabhagchand!
Soon my life became a swing. I cleared one room, installed two machines and hired two girls for the job. When orders increased, I installed four machines for stitching petticoats and joined Ramu on the big streets of Bombay. Then in hotels…gardens…trains…plane…
Ramu asked me, ‘Sonia will you come to Kashmir?’
'Is that even a question? Where do couples go for their honeymoon?' At that moment we were standing on a railway bridge. I felt as if the January breeze had come here from Kashmir. It had gathered the cold on my saree and pallu…'Ohh' I was trembling and folded my two arms around me to protect myself from the cold,ut Ramu gave me such a look of love and said, 'You are pressing only the cold in your arms?'
'Ahh...' This incomplete sentence created a lightning in my body. The trains had disappeared from the railway tracks below. The sun in the sky above us was covered with a layer of cold. And this bridge was a swing on which Ramu and I were swinging like Radha-Krishin. After a while, the happiness spread into the infinity and I collected myself and felt myself immersed in a strange pain. Taking a deep breath I asked, 'Shall we go…?'
Ramu was standing leaning on the bridge. He had a sweet smile on his face and kept looking at me and said softly, 'Sonia, you are really beautiful...'
Oh! oh! this boy has made the sky fall on me! From a restless happiness my eyes were filled with tears and I was laughing. 'Shall we go now Ramaiya?
People have started coming.'
Ramu folded his arms and started walking.
What is this law of nature? Ramu was walking like a straight arrow and I…I was like a crumbled wall. The strength from my feet kept leaving me. I had become a helpless creeper. I wish I had the support of a tree. Ramu held my elbow and looking at my feet asked, 'Is something hurting in your slippers?’
'Yes.' I said wailing in pain.
Ramu immediately removed a piece of paper from his pocket and kept it near my feet. He said, 'Keep your bare feet on this.'
My feet had become heavy and could not leave the slippers. Ramu sat down and helped me remove my foot from the slipper and keeping it on the paper he took the measurement with a pen. Again, he lifted my foot and lovingly caressed it with both his hands and put it back into the slipper. When his hands were touching my feet, I felt as if the earth was rotating and had rendered me incapable of standing straight. I put my hands on his shoulders and regained my balance…
While walking, looking sharply at me, Ramu asked, 'Sonia can I ask you something?'
I laughed and said, 'What difficulty are you facing of asking me permission to say something?'
'You kept your hands on my shoulders…why?'
Stopping him in his track and looking at his beautiful face, I said, 'Why? Why are you younger than me by ten years? First answer that…' Nobody had any answer. Only I know how that night passed… This new relationship had made me restless.
Ramu came in at around ten o’clock in the morning. I thought all night that I shouldn’t take this relationship with Ramu any further but my eyes had longed for ten o’ clock! I experienced such excitement in my body…
Ramu handed me a packet.
I asked, 'What is this?'
I joined in his mischievous smile.
I opened the packet, put the slippers on and stood up. How I wish I could thank him with an embrace. I laughed and said, 'Ramu nobody has cared for me like this in my life.'
Rubbing his palms, Ramu laughed and said, 'Is this called caring too much? Come with me now…A big order for stitching is waiting. After that, you will need a couple more girls for the machines.'Now the girls on the machines began whispering and I said, 'This place is small even for them…'
The girls said in unison, 'You can give us work to do at home.'
Keeping his hand on his chest and bending forward, Ramu said this in such a dramatic style that everyone started laughing.
As we were leaving for the new orders, my elder sister appeared. She said, 'I have come today, why are you leaving?'
Ramu answered, 'Didi we are getting a big order. We shall be back by afternoon. I have to go to work as well.'
We didn’t want to listen any further to her…putting on my new slippers and taking boxes of the previous order, I quickly walked out with Ramu. Ramu took me to a garden.
'What is here, Ramu?'
'Firstly, sit on the bench. Now see this rose.' He gave me a rose.
Today I noticed that Ramu’s hands and fingers were as soft as rose petals…I cannot say what doors opened in my being while smelling that rose.
Ramu said, 'I have made you sit here to answer yesterday’s question. It does not matter if boys are twenty or twenty seven.'
'And it also doesn’t matter whether we girls are twenty seven or thirty seven?'
'Oh...In the world of love only fools calculate the age difference…'
'Love! What are you saying Ramu?'
'Sonia, don’t deceive yourself.’ Ramu seemed to be watching me from the corner of his eye…I suddenly put my head on his knees and started crying loudly…
Ramu bent slightly towards me and brought his face towards my temples. Death could not be sweeter or bitter than this! There was a great commotion in my mind and body! Joy, sorrow, hope and hopelessness were forming such waves in the ocean of my mind that my eyes began overflowing…
'I will get married to you, Sonia' - this is what he told me! There were lights shining brightly in my universe! There were strong winds trying to blow them out!
'Ramu, do you know that at one time it was Sabhagchand’s association that had made me notorious?'
'I am not concerned about that…'
'I do not have the talent to help others progress and neither can I laugh showing pearly teeth! Nor do I have an attractive smile always on my face.'
'Sonia! You are not aware of what you have and what you don’t have. You simply are filled to the brim with one thing…'
This habit of Ramu of looking quietly!
Again I asked him what am I filled with to the brim. Bringing his fresh like a flower face close to mine, he says, 'Love…your love for me…!'
Whether I became red in the face or not but my eyes were filled with emotion and they closed. Hitting him on the chest with my fist I said, 'You are troubling me Ramu! Troubling me too much!' Ramu held my chin.
Suddenly I remembered something and I turned my face and stood. 'Now what happened madam?'
Taking a deep breath I said, 'Ramu you are so much younger to me, your family will never agree…'
Taking my hand in his, he said, 'It is my responsibility to convince my family members.'
Yes, he did take the responsibility. When Ramu’s old mother saw me, she embraced me in her arms and kissed my forehead! Happiness perhaps comes rushing like cold water and makes everything cool! Oh my mind! why do you shrink thinking that this flow of happiness will continue flowing forever like a river, but here the water had actually started rising in the river…
In those days my aunt overseas had written to us to get her house cleaned as she was likely to come here for a month or so for the treatment of an illness.
I took my aunt’s house keys and left with Ramu to clean her house. Ramu had taken a cleaner woman and a laborer along. We reached the sixth floor by lift. Ramu pulled me by the arm to the balcony, 'Sonia, today we are so high above the ground. Look at how the sky has come down!' I was surprised and I tried to feel this poetic expression but couldn’t feel anything. After an hour when both the servants had finished cleaning and had left, and I came out of my aunt’s bath tub, I saw that Ramu had taken a bath and was standing in the balcony. There were no tall buildings around therefore I felt that Ramu was right that the sky had come down…I was drying my long snaky hair with a thick towel when Ramu said, 'Is this the way to dry hair!' He himself stood behind me and started drying my hair and kissing them. On top of that he said, 'Ammi says that she’ll get us married this month itself.'
I said, 'My Ammi too has started getting my trousseau ready. My brother bought such beautiful sarees from his smuggler friend that I couldn’t believe my eyes. Ammi told him to keep them for my trousseau…When he got to know that I am engaged to you he began laughing and said, 'Ramu is younger to Sonia. he’ll slip.' But Ammi told him about your words that when an older man can marry a younger woman then why can’t a younger man marry an older woman…? Anyway after some discussion he agreed and he gave Ammi one thousand rupees happily and told her 'If you need to get something else made, do so as I have enough money these days…'
Ramu said, 'You have seen my house. It may not be as well decorated as this aunt’s house but it is good…'
I put my head full of snaky hair on Ramu’s chest, 'My Ramu is good. Then his house may be a cave or like a bird nest on the tree...' Ramu took me in his embrace and squashed me on the Dunlop mattress. There was no fear. No anxiety. Those who were meant to be united soon, might as well be united today!
This ‘today’ became very long. This ‘today’ began happening every day. In a few weeks all relatives started grumbling that this girl goes away every morning. Nowadays she doesn’t fetch many orders too; she has reduced her machines from four to two.
Both my sisters and mother were worried. My father hardly left his bed. I would get up in the morning and cook either eggs, fish or prawns, and I had kept the flour for rotis in aunt’s house. There was a strange contentment in this small household. Our talks were lengthy and when they were over we would simply hold hands and sit on the swing of the summer house. Ramu’s work was sometimes in the day and sometimes at night. He had freed his friends too from night duty. We both would spend our days in aunt’s place and reach our respective homes at night. At what moment had I wished for this season of spring that it did come true!
After some time something happened. My mother and sisters told me, 'Sonia! Have you seen yourself in the mirror?'
Yes, when I saw myself carefully, I was surprised. What had happened to me? My skin had loosened. The flesh on my body had crumpled. It is true that love makes a person mad. While feeding Ramu with my hands, I had forgotten myself.
'My mother said, 'Sages have said that being too sweet is not good. You ruined your health running after orders.'
I started looking at myself strangely in the mirror. Mother said, 'Now your brothers are earning well. You don’t have to struggle so much.'
I laughed and said, 'Why? Have you forgotten about making my trousseau?'
My sister said, 'These bundles of clothes and sarees that brother bought are for you only!'
She was right. I had kept my sarees nicely in a bag the other day. I cut the dresses and housecoats at night and gave them to the girls for stitching. Again, I went out in the morning.
I have become lean, my flesh has crumpled…why has this happened? Walking engrossed in thought, I toppled and fell. The cement step hit my cheek. My cheek was not wounded, thank God, but getting into a local train I reached aunt’s house; by then my cheek had turned black. When I reached, Ramu glared at me in such a manner that I shrunk. We sat on the swing. Ramu was quiet.
'Ramu, why are you quiet? I had a fall and you aren’t even asking about what hit me. Oh, how painful it is!’
Ramu said, 'Actually, I have fallen.'
I touched his entire body and asked, 'Where did you fall? Where have you been hit?'
Ramu removed a letter and handed it to me.
'Who has written it?’ I put my arms around him…
I kept my head on Ramu’s knees.
When I heard the name, my heart started racing. I was shocked when I read the letter. What happened to Sabhagchand? He had written dramatically: Sonia is mine. Ramu, my brother, just look at your age! Every inch of her body has been marked by me… and so on.
I felt like I was hit by an earthquake. I got off the swing, sat on the floor and placed my head on Ramu’s knees.
He asked, 'What is happening to you?'
Our day was spent crying. God knows, I was ready to commit suicide. At one point, I tried to jump off the balcony but Ramu embraced me, put me in his lap and said, 'You seem like a child to me.' Touching my cheek he said, 'If someone else saw such a mark, who knows what doubts would arise in him...'
This sentence slashed me like a blunt saw. What just happened? The diamond of love had already started loosening from the ring of trust! Who knows it could fall any time…
It didn’t take much time. Rightly so, one day, the diamond fell off. Ramu changed. He doubted my every move. An ugly man looked up from the window opposite to ours. He looked up from the fourth floor to our sixth floor and Ramu said, 'Looks like a new lover of yours is being born here too…’
'If anybody besides my Ramu looks at me then I will blind him'
'What do you mean by sure? Consider it very certain!'
I was lying on Ramu’s knee at that time and he jokingly said, 'Many times I go downstairs to buy something or the other - you must be flirting around then!’
'My God!' I sat down with a jerk. 'Ramu, what has happened to you today? I am almost broken…'
'Oh you can’t even bear a joke? I am passing through reality. A lot of different girls are after me. My mother has been pestering me to get married.'
'Let’s go to the Brahmin to fix a wedding date.'
'What’s the hurry?'
'Why is there no hurry? It is so difficult to spend nights without each other.'
'Okay, I’ll tell mother and get the date fixed within a week…'
After a while he said, 'Your old lover Sabhagchand will not create trouble again?'
'You don’t realize what one goes through after he has tasted your beauty once.'
'I am not so beautiful…'
'You are a dangerous snake. Sonia you don’t know…in this one month, in this aunt’s house, how many times you have stung me…'
'And what about my diminishing energy? At home they show me the mirror and ask me why am I struggling this much when I am not even getting orders.'
Ramu kept staring at my face and then said, 'We should separate for a few days and see…’
I looked up humbly and prayed inwardly: ‘Ramu, don’t punish me like this! I can’t live without you.’
But I wasn’t one to accept defeat. I got up and said, 'Then let us lock up aunt’s house right now for a week.'
'Let’s go' Ramu said and got up.
Oh God, what is happening! I was astounded… I thought that he would ask me to stay back… but he was stubborn.
I was miserable when I spent three days struggling in his separation. I got my trousseau ready and got the new beds ready at the shop. I overheard someone say that Ramu had left for Singapore with his friends. Such a shock! No solution in sight... Goddess Sita, the earth gave you refuge but I have no such support…I thought of a poet’s verse, ‘One who has no strength and no talent, how can she spend days.’
All the lights went off in the middle of the night. The earth was burning through a silent bomb…Oh God; this winter season had shed the dry leaves from the trees. My own footsteps were giving me jerks while walking…There would at least be new leaves on the trees, but my winter…my winter may go on up until my graveyard!...
I have spent many years stuck in this cycle. Not tired, not broken. I have been receiving orders for stitching at home. Every year, a new machine is added. In a vast big hall this family of tailors has been bruising the cycle of time with the cycle of the machine. With the help of an army of money I conquered the fort of poverty but the devils of suspicion have taken my lover into foreign lands…What mountains do I climb…Ramu? Why did you make me Sonia from Sona? How do I forget that love? Why did you meet all my desires? Why did you bring Spring into my life?...Now with the coming of the winter season, all the doors of Spring have been closed.
In the garden outside my house, the evening comes every day. The redness of the horizon is on it. With that, the caravan of my past keeps passing on the limitless sky…
- Translated by Arun Babani