Short Stories >> Zindagi Moti Aayee
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
Translated by Arun Babani
(The story is set in the sixties in Kalyan camp. When the Sindhis migrated to India, they started whatever business possible to survive, upholding the dignity of labour).
She had large eyes, lively and full with vitality. She had beautiful hands. She climbed the steps, sprinkling milk (a marriage ritual). They held a clay lid over her head. A gentleman in a suit jokingly told a young girl standing next to him, "This lid reminds about the story of a fool where a lid was tied to a fool's mouth, afraid when he said something wise, "his wisdom may leave him." The young girl burst into laughter.
The ladies from the neighborhood had gathered were singing a ritualistic song.
The beloved has brought his bride.. But there was no joy or fun in it. One could hear sound of washing clothes from the neighboring house.
The bride was married a week ago in Poona but only today she had come to her new house in Kalyan Camp.
The neighboring women had come to have a look at the bride. Somebody said, "She looks like a flower."
Another said, "She is like Padmini"
And yet somebody said, "Gopal has ultimately won."
But the groom's aunty shook her body and said sarcastically, "What is she? Where is the color in her face? When my sister got married she had blood red cheeks. She was white and velvety.."
Everyone looked in the direction of the bride's mother-in-law. "The masjid had fallen, but its beauty was still intact." The bride's mother-in-law's features and looks were far superior than all those present. Her skin was dry and pale. She proudly said, "Ofcourse! My cheeks were such that everyone would ask if I had used creams. But those were the days of pure ghee. We had our own bungalows in Karachi.." saying this her smile faded from her face as if while thinking of the good old days the smoke of sadness had come upon her.
Next day Gopal's mother had arranged for ritual singing of Laadas - marriage songs. The neighboring women were playing the drums, and singing the ritualistic songs. Suddenly there was a noise; "The singing lady has arrived.. "The bride looked at her shyly. She was a slim and beautiful girl. Colored lips, cheeks painted, she came swaying and sat on the floor mat. As she met the eyes of the bride, she gave a big warm smile but the bride lowered her gaze.
The Laadas-marriage songs began. The singing girl's mother-in-law was on the drums. Her sister-in-law was singing and she herself stood in the middle, dancing. She even performed a small skit in which an unmarried girl prefers to get married to a young poor man rather than a rich old man. Everyone was challenging her that the young fellow would get you to fill water…give you simple clothes…make you wash clothes…make you do a job.." And this dancing girl was laughing and dancing and saying, "I will do it happily.. I shall wear it lovingly.. etc"
The loud beat of the drums made the heart of the bride quite excited. Her eyes got fixed on this carefree singing girl. Is dancing her profession or her hobby? The bride felt that for her, dancing seemed everything yet nothing. She had a silent smile on her face, and even to consider this profession as her hobby was a stupidity. But she enacted the skit so delicately that the bride’s cheeks became red and lips became dry. Her vision became so deep as if the dancing girl was describing the carefree girl hidden within her soul. The dancing girl lifted her chin and said, "Dear, he will look at you." Everybody started laughing. The bride started blushing. Suddenly she saw her husband standing at the door and she was even more nervous. As she got up to go, the little girls made her sit down, but her mother-in-law gestured to them to let her go out. The bride saw this gesture, but yet she allowed her mother-in-law to hide what she wanted to hide and she walked away to the porch of the barrack. The Laadas were over. The singers were leaving but the bride overheard what they were whispering while going, "There is no value for marriage singers in India. There was not much money offered." the daughter said, "People are bankrupt. They do not have enough to eat."
The bride overheard everything without looking in their direction, as she felt that her mother-in-law wanted to hide something from her and did not want her to hear. But her mind changed after a few days. So much was being hidden from her. She wished that somebody should tell her everything. She was ready for the worst but not for this kind of alienation and hiding from her. Two more days passed by. Now she was even more convinced that she was a stranger in this house. There was a cloud of gloom over the entire house. As if life sulked from her.
One night she put her head on her husband's knee and cried, "does the joy of marriage last only this much? Do I have to spend my entire life without laughing in this house?"
The husband kissed her beautiful innocent face but the bride repeated her question in the freshness of the morning, “What are you all hiding from me? I can see even Mom and Dad are hiding something from me. Have I brought in less dowry?"
"No dear" Gopal said, touching his eyes with her fair hands. "In comparison to your beauty even the guineas of dowry are pale, my queen."
"Leave jokes aside."
The bride had tears. She took a napkin and went to wash her face. Her mother-in-law’s door was still closed but it looked as if the in-laws and the gang of children had woken up long ago. As she was wiping her face and passing by the door, she suddenly heard her father-in-law's sharp voice, “You’ll be cursed, Gopal’s mother."
"Why are you furious? Now go and all of you expose yourselves."
"Is doing business same as exposing? If yes then we are like the rest of the world."
"I'm asking you why you couldn't find any other respectable business. Is manufacturing tin boxes the only business left for you?"
The bride standing outside took a sigh of relief.
The father-in-law coughed and said, "Who is stopping you? Then you search some other business for me."
"Okay, you wear female clothes and sit at home. I will go and search for a business!"
"My dear, you already have made me wear female clothes. Now do want to gag me? It's been fifteen days that the work has stopped.. Now I'm suffocated. The bride has come home. She is not a new bride any longer. Why don't you let me work?"
"I shall stop this business somehow or the other. We don't have only one son that we are through with it. There are still other children left. Previously we were just close family. Now there is an outsider. This secret can no longer be hidden."
Had you not kept a lid on the bride’s head, signifying that the secrets of the house will remain safe with her ?"
Suddenly a child came running out of the room and left the door opened. The bride was so embarrassed as if she was caught stealing. The in-laws too were embarrassed. The children all became silent. The bride hung the napkin on the hook and sat down besides the mother-in-law.
The mother-in-law took a deep breath and said, "My dear, come inside and sit here with me."
The bride was overwhelmed. She said, "Ammi, how much you care for me."
The mother-in-law smiled. There were tears in her eyes as if she was saying, "Yes daughter I care for you a lot but it is proving to be too expensive for me."
The bride looked at her mother-in-law wide eyed and felt devotion towards her. Looking down and scratching her nails she said, "Ammi the house that you came to see me in Poona is actually my aunty’s house. Our own home is in Baroda."
Everyone noticed the bride's sweet voice and serious attitude. The bride continued talking, "Our house in Baroda is just like your house. My father is now employed in cloth business but sometime back he also had a small stall in the market."
Everyone in the room was surprised. They kept watching the bride but she had taken the courage and spoken all that she wanted to. That is why, after a while everyone looked away from her face.
The bride noticed that as soon as everybody finished their tea, her father-in-law took the key and went out to open the adjoining barrack's door. The mother-in-law called out to him, "Listen…Please listen.."
But the father-in-law whispered, "Go to hell" and left.
The bride went for a bath. In a short while there were sounds of tin sheets being beaten, coming from the adjoining barrack. One by one all the children went there. Gopal was pacing up and down. Finally, as he was sneaking away into the next barrack, he faced his bride coming out of a bath. Gopal laughed sheepishly but the bride kept looking at him innocently as if she was saying, "So you too are hiding it from me?"
Gopal did not have any answer for this taunt. For a moment there was helplessness in his eyes and instantly he lowered his gaze. With a bucket in one hand and her wet hair in the other, the bride started walking out. Gopal kept watching her till she reached the door. A voice from inside was heard, "Have you come here to do labor work?" Gopal recognized his mother's voice followed by a sweet and melodious voice, "Ammi, there is no shame in labor." Gopal was filled with pride. Laughing, he went to the adjoining barrack and began to work.
As the wall struck twelve, the bride carrying a plate of bhajiyas, slowly entered the barrack. Everything became silent in the barrack. Her father-in-law, two brothers-in-laws, a sister-in-law and Gopal, all looked up. The bride had a big smile on her face. Pushing the plate of bhajiyas forward she said to all, "Please have." Her father-in-law took two bhajiyas and shook his head. Gopal took the plate and distributed to his brothers and sisters. Everybody was smiling while eating as if saying, "Oh now our secret is out" The bride found a treasure of intimacy in their smiles, because while returning, her feet were dancing and heart was singing. But as she entered the house she saw her mother-in-law sitting sad and morose. The bride kept the plate of bhajiyas behind her back and called out, "Ammi"
The mother-in-law was jolted and she asked, "My dear, did you take away the plate of bhajiyas from here?"Bringing the empty plate forward she said, "Ammi today the labor effort has got free from any fetters; I have distributed all the bhajiyas in that happiness."
"My dear, I tried hard to hide it.."
"But Ammi, just see how energetic everyone is, due to the running of the factory. Looks as if the sulking life has come alive again."
The mother-in-law was left gaping at the bride.