Sunday, May 31, 2009

Waiting for the Day

What if I die right now? A holiday in the college, mourning for few days and the rituals for the next thirteen days. Is there anything more than that that I deserve? Mom would create one more stream of tears in the endless sequence of those in her pathetic life. Friends would set apart the bad points about me and praise me for the good ones for few days and eventually forget me. My prospective husband will sigh with relief that the incident did not occur after the marriage. That is what is taking place ever since the mankind has been aware of the coupling of the life with death. That is what happens after every other soul departs from this earth and that is what will now continue to happen. Nobody can grieve long for a deceased, especially so when the cause of the death is suicide.

It has not been long since I have been ruminating all these things that seem absurd by any usual standard. I can not recollect exactly since when I made the habit of including this dismal option in my prospective fate. But I have been literally obsessed with the idea ever since the question of my marriage has emerged. What shall I do with the married life when I am not able to manage my affairs when I am single?

I would rather prefer to get one of my hands amputated rather than having this obscure illness inside the head. At least the people would then see the handicap, sympathize and behave accordingly. Ever since I was diagnosed with the problem, this thought has come to my mind hundreds of times. What do I do with the illness that even the doctors are confused about? How do I cope with this throughout the life? Who would understand my compulsions in the new household that expects so much from me as a daughter-in-law? How do I explain them the illness that even the doctors have been unable to make us understand?

All this started when I was eighteen or so. Those were the most difficult times in our family. We had lost our father two or three years back. Perhaps I was the one to be most traumatized by the incident after my mother, sister was then just a child. Mom was unable to hide her sorrow with me as with everybody else. That multiplied my own grievance as I haplessly watched one disaster after other befall on Mom. I disliked the way she pretended that I had nothing worth worrying about. That was why I spied to all her mumbled prayers to the never-to-be-seen god after she thought I was asleep in the night.

Indeed she rarely communicated anything grave with anybody all those years. I wonder how she could communicate so much with the doctor last time I landed up in hospital for the second time within a week. "Why all this after me widow reared her all these years with so much care. What did I spare doing for these two girls?" I was sure the tears had trickled down few inches in her face before being soaked by the loop of her shawl and to my utter dislike, a professionally emotionless doctor must have been watching all this. I was then just regaining the consciousness and felt like getting up and asking Mom to just leave the hospital and the doctor for better. "After so many years of hard study investing so much, the children of others are faring so well……" She was mumbling as the doctor began examining the other patient, I guess, as she interrupted her story.

To my horror she spelt the most grave words finally and I was wrong in assuming the doctor had engaged himself with the other patient. "Who will marry her now………and it has already been so late." She had only interrupted to make sure I was similarly asleep, or say, unconscious, so that she could communicate the doctor the real issue of her concern so that he would take it seriously and treat accordingly. I felt like jumping off the bed and asking Mom to forgive me for whatever I had done to her. That would, however, only worsen the matters as she had at least assumed that she had done the best thing possible in my interest: pleading the doctor for best effort with the last trick available. Furthermore, I was still drowsy with the medicines that the doctor had prescribed in the previous visit. I simply kept sleeping in the same posture: for the better at the moment though I am not sure if it would prove so in the long run.

Those years of hardship taught all of us a lot of things. I think we, my sister more than myself, became adults prematurely as our childhood was snatched by the fate. We understood pretty well that it was simply not feasible for us to have the interests and hobbies like the other children in the neighborhood. Both of us developed seriousness unusual for the age. There was, however an important difference between us. Nisha developed a good habit of communicating her troubles with us. I developed the opposite habit: I thought many times before sharing anything with people, even to Mom.

The first episode of my illness occurred when I was preparing for the first paper in the first exams of the college. I had been absent-minded throughout the year and had lost the drive to study that I had during the school years. Still that was enough for passing the exams, I guess. A day before the exams began, I herd the terrible news: the piece of land on which our house stood was in somebody else's name who had migrated from the village long back. Now he was claiming that it had been because of an understanding between him and our grandfather that we were staying there and we could not do so permanently. He had now given a worse option: a hefty sum of money that he knew we could not afford.

A panic struck my mind. I threw the books away, caught the hairs and threw myself into bed. No structured thought was coming in my mind. Twice I almost locked the room planning to go back to home abandoning the exams. I flattered and went back to the room each time. I was suffocated by the feeling of being trapped in the room. I can barely explain how I spent the night. The following day, it was already seven when I got up with unusual heaviness in the head that soon developed into a severe headache. The hours gradually passed by. It was already ten o'clock and few of my friends came to my room on way to the college for exams that were due to start at eleven o'clock. I brusquely told them I would be late for few important chapters were still to be read.

The clock on the wall ticked like a time bomb as each minute passed. I was torn into two by the anxiety about the future of my family and myself. I mechanically changed the dress and headed to door when it was a quarter to eleven. Then I suddenly imagined myself staring at the ceilings in the exam hall unable to write anything, only to score a huge zero. That would be my first failure in any exam yet most traumatic. What should have I done then? I stepped back thoughtlessly and threw myself in the bed as the headache was worsening.

The worst had happened; still the worse was to follow. When my friends came back from the exam hall, they found me unconscious, lying in the bed. After failed attempts at reviving, they took me to a hospital where I was finally referred to a psychiatrist who revived me with the coercive tactics. Then onwards I have got innumerable episodes of the illness and visited the psychiatrist with little results. Over these years, whenever I have to face the challenging circumstances, I can not simply bear the pressure and regress to unconsciousness only to find that my confidence to face this world plummeting with each episode.

The news of my illness added insult to the injury of my mother. What could the poor barely literate woman do to the illness that a specialist clinician could not treat? Lately I have discovered why she is too eager to see myself married. Someone from the village has suggested that the illness is pretty common among the girls who can't get married timely. And obviously, getting them married is the most logical way to cure the illness. Mom has since scolded and appeased alike for so many times to get married though I was able to find one excuse after another. This time she brought our lost father in between in her desperate attempt to placate me. "Had your father been alive till now, you would have been happily married for years for now. His soul will never forgive me for spoiling your life like this ……." This was more than bearable for me and I just left the room abruptly. After few minutes, both of us were crying in the same room facing away from each other and not speaking a single word to each other.

After this episode I could not refuse the proposal that came from a reasonably good family and thus I wait for the day. It is not sure if the proposed marriage gets aborted in case the groom's side knows about my illness before that day. I have no plans for that turn of events though it will be my instincts that will then determine what is to follow. I can read the concern, anxiety and apprehension in my mother's eyes too and probably they are more than mines.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


The most hostile trail to be traveled lay ahead of us now. The rain that had forced us to take shelter in the abandoned cowshed beside the trail had now stopped and there was the fragrance of the soil that had enjoyed the first shower of the winter. It had rained quite suddenly and we were wet before deciding what to do. We decided to take a short rest before beginning the last climb up the hill for the day.

Binod, who had proposed this journey out of desperation now seemed content to have the hair wet so that it will set properly. Combing the hairs with his fingers he tried once again to justify the trip: "I have not told the lead story of the day and that will now help us to cross this hill. The thing is that you should not harass me to walk any faster as I'll be loosing some of my energy in telling the story. " We were mused by the fact that he had finally anticipated some harassment from us in the remaining part of the journey. Though we were also no more in a position to walk fast, it was better not to let him know this secret. We cleared whatever ration was left in the bags before leaving the stone platforms beneath the Bar-Peepal tree. A caravan of mules came down the trail and passed us as we were beginning to walk up.

The top layer of the earth had been wet though it could be easily told that the dry earth was within millimeters from the top. The sun reasserted its presence above the mountain in the west by giving the clouds a bright yellow hue and it could be easily predicted that the sun was going to set within half an hour or so. The houses in the lap of the hill facing us were now barely discernable in the growing haze of darkness that had made the otherwise green bushes between the villages quite black. With the fall of the day, each of us was feeling increasingly detached from the realities that we had left behind at our homes and we were able to enjoy all these usual things that had never drawn our attention till then.

"All this happened when I was studying the Bachelors in Kathmandu." Binod had eventually started the supposedly lead story of the day. "I was like today, reluctant to start any relationship with the girls. That must be why I had very few girls as friends and, most importantly I cared little about them. Being an average student from a not wealthy family the worries about the study and the seasonal jobs were enough to keep my mind preoccupied. My room partner was, however, exactly the opposite. "

"Now please don't tell that the story is of your friend and not yours." Prashant interrupted: "We can't spoil this evening by listening the story of a third person. How can it be that you were not nuts about anyone during the college years?"

"Of course I also play a part in the story. That is why I am going to tell it now. This thing called love, I get still puzzled while thinking about it. And I am still not sure if the thing I am going to talk about is really love or something else. Whatever that was I am sure that can never coexist with the thing called rationale. However shrewd you may be in other matters, you surely mess up things once you are up to it. Indeed it is this factor of wild messing up of things that makes it so special and mysterious."

"Are you going to give us a lecture in the theory of love or there is something concrete worth dissipating the fatigue of the climb?" Prashant interrupted as he had been doing throughout the day as the dusk gradually covered us with the black blanket. Our sense of detachment from reality increased further in the weather that was close to ideal with the shower having brought the temperature to optimum level. I wished the dusk remain as such delaying the onset of full-fledged night indefinitely. All of us were eager to utilize this nostalgic moment by sharing a story that was romantic yet peculiar as every love story tends to be. But Binod was giving the theory of love that appealed two of us much less.

"I am sorry, but here there will be more theory than practical as I played a little practical and tangible roll other than exploring the theory of love. That will help the bachelor lads like you when you have to deal with things like this. You need not worry about the practice of love as it is cosmopolitan and it is, I assume unique in each case. But there are few things that are worth knowing even though they appear to be over-simplification at the first glance."

Binod could not continue as he found himself panting for breath in the steep trail that had now digressed from the wide mule-trail to enter to the terraces indicating a village was nearby. That would be our destination for the day. We enjoyed the plain part of the trail along the margins of the terraces that dissipated some of our fatigue. Indeed walking at the level or down it was equivalent to taking rest. This helped Binod to proceed with the story as the sickle-shaped moon appeared about to disappear above the hills in the west.

" The first thing is that you speak an absurdity if you claim that the root cause of your love, or relationship, whatever you say, is that you rationally analyzed the prospective relationship. May be, your relationship will turn out to be practically compatible and even ideal, but at the moment of its conception, it is the instincts that determine what is to follow. Sometimes I wonder if I can discard this faculty of judgment from my mind and let the instincts rule everything. In the story I am going to tell, the instincts play the lead role and the judgments the villain role. Both of you have a lot to learn from the story."

" Hey, we are not your teenager students. Now we would be relieved to listen what had actually happened that made you a philosopher like this." This time I interrupted.

In a turn that reversed the direction of the trail midway between the two terraces, Binod gave a glance to the moon, paused, pointed to it and spoke: "Love is like the fantasy of a child who imagines the full moon to come everyday so that the thing called night never comes with its full vigor. It is like the fantasy in which a child imagines how brightly the sunlight must be illuminating the top of the clouds after days of persistent raining and darkness. The child can imagine this land lying above the clouds so that it has never to bear the darkness and the sad rainy days. Similarly in love, you have to become a child again, and enjoy a setup in isolation, not in terms of its relation or interaction with the others. The moment you prioritize these things thinking them to be compatible with love, the thing called love is no more."

Finally we stopped interrupting Binod as we realized that he had little practical things to tell and it was no worth disrupting his lecture as we also had no better stories to tell. He took a pause, ran the stick he was carrying along the top of the wheat plants in the field that had just sprouted, turned back and gave us each a glance. Now the village was pretty close to us and the sounds of dogs barking at distance were accompanied by the high-pitch musical sounds of the insects. We had walked in the level for ten minutes or so and our bodies almost shivered as the sweat produced during the ascent had finally cooled making it wet everywhere.

"I don't know exactly how the story started. But when I became aware of everything, it had been too late. My room partner had been teasing me with the name of a girl who usually greeted me in streets after seeing me with him many times. She was his junior, he told, but she behaved with him as if he were her teacher. I can't guess how the story would have proceeded had my Roopa been devoid of a 'real' girl friend as vigilant as she was. Now he began to convince me that this junior of him named XYZ was the best possible match for me in this mortal world. That was indeed his attitude: to exaggerate everything, even to create things that never existed. I sometimes wonder what a drive the nature has given few people to enjoy the things the way they do."

"When I sensed some unusualness in my attitude towards the girl, I tried to logically explain everything: that it had been a mere incidence that I met her. That she was like many other girls whom I had met and forgotten with time. That I was impulsively misinterpreting her gestures and the way she behaved with me was usual for any girl of this age to do so with every other boy they met with. That such incidents come and go in life and should not be accounted for seriously. But later I realized that the fact itself that I needed so many arguments to render my relations with her 'usual' made them essentially unusual. After all, it was the longing for her that took many forms. I eventually began to rationalize our potential relationship even before talking few completed sentences with her. I took it for granted that each smile she gave me was the unique compliment and the symbol of the prospective relationship while in reality, she would give a same smile for a man on a horseback with a heavy luggage on top of his head."

Binod was impressed by the way we were afloat in the ocean of story he had unfolded. Finally a story worthy of listening was coming and we did not feel like interrupting. The moon had touched the mountain in the west and was about to disappear when we sat in the stony platform at the bottom of the village. One of my distant relatives lived in the village when I was a child. I was not sure if they still did but I was hoping to make an arrangement for our accommodation by linking myself to the relatives and the village even if they had abandoned this long ago. That is how you get Bas in a village. Mopping the forehead with the white handkerchief, Binod continued the story as he sat cross-legged in the enormous flat rocks of the 'Chautari'.

"She behaved in a reasonably normal way. But, as my Roopa stepped up his scolding propaganda, my susceptibility to emotional fluctuations only increased. I became increasingly possessive of her. In an attempt to interpret them wisely, I misinterpreted her every other gesture. You know how shy we lads from village are in matters like telling a girl how we feel about her. We would rather eat dirt than proposing to a girl whose acceptance of the relationship is not guaranteed. That is what happened with me. As I kept erecting castles of dream in the imaginary world, in reality I was the same shy bachelor from a little-known group of bookworms in the college. I had no special talent and I was ordinary among the ordinary boys. She was, on the other hand, steps ahead in what they nowadays call 'personality development'. Later I came to know that she had got a multitude of admirers in the college and many had even proposed her."

"As in every other case, both of you know my attitude." Binod continued: "I am really clumsy when it comes to making decisions that involve the risk. I wonder why the nature makes few people like me who are scared of taking risk. From the outset, I argued that the girl would reject any proposal from me. That is what I was taught from childhood: perform the best but be ready to bear the worst. I became increasingly possessive of her but that was not enough to prompt me to tell her directly what I felt about her. Often the status quo does not last for long in such cases. Driven by the impulses, I nearly proposed to her one day but an unrelated incident took place to sabotage the process and for technical reasons I had to postpone the program."

"For days to come I was sure that I was going to take the risk and perform a life-sized experiment, something I had never done before. But for poorly explained reasons, my enthusiasm gradually waned over the days and I was surprised by the degree of detachment I developed within few days while it had taken weeks to cope with the emerging feelings about her earlier during the ascent phase of the relationship. Eventually I began to ruminate how ridiculous it would have been to hear a 'no' from her. Even if it were 'yes', that would have been the end of good part, as I have seen it happen with many other pairs who begin the relationship that way. "

"That was not the end of the story, however. It was shocking to realize how utterly mediocre the things had been all along though they appeared special so long as I was deep in love. To mention one, the way she laughed: that was the best laughter that I had ever seen. The way her well-set teeth glittered as she laughed giving a peculiar shape to the face: that drove me nearly crazy so long as I had the thing in me. The moment the love or infatuation whatever they call was over, I began to see a distortion in her face as she laughed. She somehow checked the extent to which the muscles of the face contracted and that added to the artificiality of the laughter and the ugliness of her face. After all, that was what many of the new-era girls did and the parochialism of this all was really disgusting. What was more disgusting was the way I interpreted the very same thing as one of the criteria of beauty. One after another I discovered so many petty things that keep lightening the castle of love so long as the emotion is above a threshold. The moment it dips below the level, everything turns ugly. I nearly shivered at the thought of getting paired with someone impulsively and discovering this hard truth after everything becomes irreversible.

That must be why people still consider so many factors before making a nuptial knot. After all any emotion can't last for ever at a level required to make everything look good. At the troughs there may be no problem but at the crests of the life and relationship you need something beyond mere emotion that can give a firm support to the relationship. You may feel like going after any girl who is quite beautiful and if you incidentally do so, you will be thoughtless for a period when your judgment will remain dormant. After you discover what had actually taken place, however, most likely it would have been too late to reverse everything."

"In the final year of the college, coincidentally, we taught in the same school. I understood that the journey of my Roopa with his mate was also going through rough terrains. So he was less enthusiastic in seeing me hand-in-hand with XYZ. He merely acknowledged that finally I would beat him by getting married earlier. I had no reason to protest now, so didn't respond. He did not insinuate further either as both of us had been aware of what would really follow. "

By this time it had been as dark as it was possible. We were really tired and each of the muscles in the body was aching and I was fearing for the worse: the cramps that sometimes trapped me in water while swimming. I had got an aura of these just before settling in the Chautari. That was why I did not urge them to begin walking earlier. Now that the cream part of the story was over, we had to lift our exhausted bodies and begin the short journey for the day that lay ahead before we reached the relative's house. I was prompted to ask Binod the final question: did she propose him while they taught in the school?

"Leave that for tomorrow. Another story starts from that point." Binod muttered. I was not sure whether he was serious or just joking as I could not see his face in the dark. Each of the option was possible and we had to wait till the other day to discover what had actually followed.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Story of a Little Hut

The news spread like the wildfire: Rama was found hanging from the branch of a tree in the jungle. She was last seen going to the jungle to fetch the dried foliage the previous day. Nobody inquired about her till late in the evening that day as it was usual for her to turn up late for some obvious reason. The other morning, however, it could be no longer ignored and the neighbours went to the jungle in search. On the way they met with the terrified villagers of another locality who were heading back to inform them after what they saw in the jungle.
To sum up, the scene was extremely unpleasant. The tree was not much tall and the branch was barely two metres above the ground. As such, her feet almost touched the ground as if they were reluctant to agree with the arrangement of the brain to end the life of every other organ. The rope used for binding the grass had found the worst job ever. The bamboo-made basket lay few metres away, inverted as if declaring the closure of the only chapter of life of Rama. With the eyes closed, the facial expression was remarkably emotionless with the head tilted to the left side. The froth at the corners of mouth gave way to a long mark of dried saliva all the way to the chest. In no time the tree was surrounded by the crowd from three or four surrounding villages except those who were too horrified by the description and feared the evil spirit.
The jungle, usually marked by a silence with occasional chirping of birds, was suddenly transformed into a huge bee-hive with humming and the murmurs. The awe-struck people had already engaged in hypothesizing the event as the people in the back jostled to get a glance of the body. A group of three young men was dispatched to the district headquarters to inform the police. Surprisingly there was no one crying for the departed soul as happens after demise of every person. The elders of the village were in the front and discussing what to do next.
This was not the first case of suicide in the village. Nor was it the first suicide by hanging. What was new was the way the villagers responded to the incident.
Her in-laws were more panicked than grieved; even their utmost pretension could not hide this fact. The house looked now more deserted than ever but something told that it was somehow expected. What followed were the formalities: the arrival of police who cut the rope and took the measurements and the photographs from different angles. Then the body was rapped with the white and yellow clothes and transported to the district headquarters where the post-mortem procedure was to be performed.

It was like the annihilation of the world for Sudha, Rama’s mother. Her first response to the news was the erratic scolding to the boy who had brought the information. Though he had been cautioned not to tell her the news directly, the boy could find no one else in the house. He talked awkwardly for some time about some nonsense that he could put in the words. Finally he stammered: “Rama aunty.......... yesterday.............. in the jungle.........” Sudha was alarmed, caught the arm of the boy and asked: “what in the jungle?” The boy did not no how to pronounce the word that he had planned not to tell her himself. Now there was no way out, so he tried to be more indirect: “when others went to the jungle yesterday, she was found hanging from a..........”
He could no longer utter another word as Sudha was suddenly transformed to somebody else. He was mostly terrified and slightly confused to face the situation alone. After fumbling for some time and cursing the boy, Sudha finally regained her composure but took a few long breaths and collapsed. By this time three or four other women had arrived and eventually understood what had happened. ‘Guhar, Guhar’, they shouted for help and rushed to bring water to revive Sudha. Her teeth were clinched as in epilepsy making it impossible to open the mouth. Finally somebody got the iron stirrer used for preparing the porridge, manoeuvred it to open the mouth to put some water in the mouth.
It took long to revive Sudha completely, by which time all the villagers had gathered surrounding her in a failed attempt to dissipate some of her grief with consolation. In contrast to the village of incident, the mood was extremely gloomy in this village where Rama had spent her childhood and teenage. While many women were unable to stop crying even while consoling Sudha, many others were sobbing and frequently went to the corners to give the tears their share of flow. It was the month of February when the mood is supposed to be bright with the exit of the chilly winter yet before the entry of hot dry days. That year the winter had seen less fog and thus the dry and hot days had arrived earlier, as if anticipating the flow of tears in this tiny village where the night seemed to set in the early afternoon.
Sudha had now begun to recount the old days in agony; mixed with shrills in between, repeating countless times how much she loved her only daughter, how she had compelled her mother to keep living in this hostile world. With many other women joining with her with their own recollections, and attempted consolations, all this gave rise to a melancholy that can be created in a circumstance like that only. From a distance it was difficult to determine if it was a choir performing traditional music.
Sudha was not the only widow in the village; indeed a widow could be found every fourth household in the village. It was not clear if it was due to the longevity of the women folks or premature death of the men, one factor was the usual age difference between spouses. Exceptional thing about Sudha: she had lost her husband earlier, in her late twenties; she refused to get married again even though she had no son to secure her old age. She had struggled too hard to save Rama from the insults and harassments a child of a widow was bound to suffer. She had done her best to educate Rama though it was simply beyond her means to send her to the college after she passed her school leaving exams.
She had grown much eccentric after sending away her only family member. After initial talks of ‘being able to perform one of the vital duties of life’ by securing the family for Rama, she had been increasingly reluctant to share her emotions with the neighbours as was usual. Something was troubling her but nobody was able to ask directly what the matter was. All the barriers were now swept away by the stream of tears and she was opening up: how badly the in-laws including the husband were treating Rama. How her poverty had finally strangled her daughter as the theme of all the duels in Rama’s home were, one way or the other, related with the ‘staining the honour’ of the boy’s family by the way she managed the marriage ceremony. Frank people told it was nothing but the paucity in the amount spent for dowry items that was at the root of the problem. The inexplicable turmoil Rama was in went only worsening as her husband had maintained a ‘distance’ from her and drastically reduced the frequency of coming to home from the city. It became increasingly clear that he had married Rama only because his parents insisted him to have a mannered daughter-in-law. Nobody from the village could ever know if he had practically married another girl in the city, not an unlikely option.
What followed then was the thing that occurred for the first time in the history of the village. Sudha decided to sell the little piece of the land she had in order to fight a case against the ‘murderer’s family’ hoping that will give peace to the departed soul of Rama to see the husband behind the bars. She had little use of any material thing, so was not dissuaded by the neighbours who warned her against risking the ultimate means of survival, the land. She became more impulsive and listened little to others though pleaded the teachers in the local school to help her in approaching the court. Sleep was now beyond her grasp, she was found talking to herself whenever the neighbours came to see her.
Five years have passed since. Rama is little talked about in her village. Nobody seems to talk about her husband either. They have also forgotten exactly when he was in the village last time or how long he spent in custody. His parents are doing as usual though more isolated then earlier, and appear working harder as the loss in fighting the case was followed by cessation of occasional ‘donation’ from the son.
Sudha’s village too has changed little. That bleeding wound inflicted on the village now appears to have healed with the scar: the abandoned hut of Sudha that is all set to collapse. Nobody is sure now when asked where she had gone. One day she was not there in the hut and nobody has seen her since. Many think she has assimilated herself in ‘Holy Ganga’ that is not far away. Others think she has gone for pilgrimage with whatever money was left. Nobody is sure and no one will be surprised if she again appears cleaning utensils in front of the hut.
When told about the story of the awkward hot in one corner of the village, a boy in early teenage years asks his mother: “what would have happened if Rama’s father had not got married altogether? That could have avoided all this disastrous misery and suffering.” That was what his mother also used to think sometimes. She also had the question, not the answer. That imagination was absurd yet fascinating. The other day, Rama came in her dream and answered the question: “was that the exception? No. That was the part of the routine instead. Was the misery or the suffering the result of somebody being born? No. That was the visible component of some larger than life phenomenon”. What is that phenomenon, after all? Even I have been thinking about it for quite some time though I am still not close to answering that question.
13th Feb 2009, Bhairahawa

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Erosion

The sun was setting in the west as usual. But for Kabita there was something new and unpleasant. As the villagers kept heading back to their dwellings with their cattle and goats, the sun cast a deep pink glow in the western clouds. It would have pleased her to watch this amazing scene reflected in the pond as she used to imagine a second sky to exist below the water level, with its own silent and peaceful world. Today she was reluctant to watch her own image in the pond bending forwards.

Not wishing to go home early, she sat on the rock beside the pond and watched the darkening sky aimlessly. Many of her childhood fantasies about the mysteries of the nature were related to the sky: she used to imagine reaching the sky by placing a ladder over the mountain-top that was the highest point visible from her home yet unconquerable for her. She used to even dream of going to the sky for a picnic with the cooking utensils inverted! Later when she was able to scale other mountains similar to that one, she realized how ridiculous her idea about reaching the sky had been. She was practically in contact with the sky as seen from her home but the nature of the sky had become further elusive and away from her grasp. This was exactly what she was now feeling about the life, after so many years and with so important implication for her day to day life. What hurt her the most was the fact that how bluntly she had misunderstood the realities of this life. Now after so many days of confusion, she was sure she had to make a hard choice and most shockingly, the ideology that she cherished so much till then could barely come in her defence. Indeed this was further deepening the conflict within.

The dusk brought an uneasy silence and she was forced to drag her feet towards the home as she anticipated what would face her there. She ruminated what it would be like if the dawn never came again, just if the earth stopped spinning in its axis because of some unusual happening that occurs only once in the imaginable time span.


What she disliked the most from her childhood was the asymmetry in the role to be played by different categories of people and the way the others dealt with them. She was well aware of the discontent that her mother harboured with her married life. After many aborted attempts at rebellion, she had practically surrendered to the ‘welfare of their family’ that had inadvertently grown in size as the three children were born. She was also assured of the irreversibility of the knot once tied, even now in the given set of social circumstances. This awareness had made her quite alert even during her teenage years when she used to watch other village girls being sent to their new home.

Everything had changed or at least it appeared so when this new thing called the communism had entered the village. When she was twelve or thirteen, suddenly there were rumours about the presence of the ‘atheist goons’ meeting secretly in the jungles and the terraces in the outskirts of the villages. When they dared to meet openly after some major event in Kathmandu, they were quite a different lot. They talked about abolishing all forms of coercions, oppressions and exploitations based on the cast, gender, economic status or whatsoever. They had the simple ways of living and talked in simple language understood by everyone in the village. Soon many of the village youths joined them openly and it was no longer a taboo to become a communist.

The pace with which the communists built their organizations in the village was amazing. They appeared to have answer to every question the young minds could ask. Those were the years when her trust on the god and the religion was beginning to flutter. This combined with the communist promotion of atheism was decisive in making her an atheist and this changed her outlook of her life a lot. A new sense of confidence emanated from the conviction that she was a part of a larger effort to change this world for better.

They were never told exactly how, but all of those involved in the organizations of the communists were convinced that the contributions made by all of them would one day sum up to bring an altogether different world, after ‘liberation’ through a grand revolution.

It was during one of the usual ‘classes’ that were frequently delivered by someone higher in the party hierarchy. This time the audience were the members of the student wing of the party in the local high school. She was the tenth grader and thus the one of the leaders of the students. In the later part of the session the teacher asked an awkward question: was marriage an indispensable part of life? If or if not, why? This problem appeared simple enough; yet as everybody pondered over it, it became increasingly difficult to answer. It was usual for many of the students to get married even while in the school and the question was far from irrelevant.
Now she does not remember exactly what the others answered, but she answered it so finely that the teacher appreciated it wholeheartedly as all the other students looked at her with envy. That answer was one of the reasons for which she was rapidly elevated in the ranks of the organization.


She had planned big for her holidays after the SLC exams. First thing she did was reading the book ‘Mother’ by Gorky. The party had allotted the task of establishing the student units in three of the neighbouring villages for her during the period. The household tasks came next in the priority.

It was a month of February when she had gone for grazing the cattle in the fields that were opened after harvesting the wheat. She spotted increased activity in front of her home from the distance but could not make out exactly what it was. Everything was in order when she was back home but soon she was invited by one of her sister-in-laws of neighbourhood for a secret talk. A proposal had been floated by a boy’s family from next village to her parents for her marriage. The parents, not much sceptic about her involvement in political activities, never imagined she would dare to disobey them in vital matters and as was usual, had given word to the boy’s family after examining what her prospective life would be in the new home.

It was like the sky falling. She regretted for not expecting this scenario that now looked so obvious. Like the initial blackout on being asked about the indispensability of the marriage, her mind was desperate for a new ‘life-saving’ idea. Marriage was the last thing she would wish right then as that would practically put her journey to the sacred destination to the end. Even otherwise, she dreamed of being educated in the college like few others in the village that was scores better than getting married right then and being trapped in household mess.

The party then emerged as the saviour when the local unit decided in favour of avoiding the marriage. After two days she escaped from the home with one of the comrades to live in his relative’s home in a faraway village. They returned after the news had travelled to the to-be-groom’s village and the marriage was aborted. This brought a lot of shame and embarrassment to her family as the villagers termed the act of eloping with a young man as her ‘marriage’. But as the party had enough influence in all aspects of the village including the social life, she was accepted back in her family.

Thinking all this made her dizzy and she felt relieved nobody was there to see her face at that moment, that must have been expressing so much disgust. She had silently slipped into her room in the dark and now sat in the floor like the disgruntled queen of the fairy tales, exhausted after a quarrel with the king. She had faced many turbulent times in the past but all of them paled now in comparison of the current mess of events.

Seven long years had passed since the episode of the spurious marriage. The one to face the greatest setback during the period was the communist party now divided in many factions and chipped away by the rightist parties. Most of the devoted leaders of the ‘rising’ age were now away from active politics, many of them in odd businesses while most others working hard in the Gulf countries to make up for the lost years and to fulfill the family responsibilities. The party organizations were still there but in terms of vitality there was nothing compared to those old days of dreams. The current batch of leaders also talked about the struggle and the invincibility of the movement. The destination of the proletariat revolution had not changed but it had come no nearer by the efforts over the period, instead she felt, it was receding further in the future.

The erosion in the vitality of the party was capitalized by the new bunch of thugs in the village who reminded her of the old days before the dream of a better world was born. There was once again the boom in the sale of alcohol and the gambling became the renewed addiction among the working age populace. Smoking hashish was no longer a crime and even the sophisticated injectable drugs had befriended the youth. There was no organized effort to straighten a crook who battered his wife while intoxicated. The women and the girls who had begun to make their voices herd through united efforts once again regressed to being the property of the men in the family. Demanding a ‘decent’ dowry became once again acceptable.

Her mood grew darker and darker in the dark room as everybody in the home began to be frankly worried as she failed to turn up that evening. To avoid further speculation, she lit the lantern to indicate that she was there and every one in the home was relieved.

Her youngest sister entered the room with the same innocent look as ever. But she could now read something pitiable in her expression: how little she knows about this skewed world. Her satisfaction with the world will last so long as she fails to discover the real world.

As expected, there was the gathering in the evening with one of her cousin brothers as the additional member. After much lacklustre, finally a proposal had finally been made for her by a boy from another village. Her age was now exceptionally beyond the usual age of marriage and this could be arguably the last proposal from a bachelor. The matter would be more difficult once her younger sister got married. This was why everybody was dead serious in the matter and all of them understood this though nobody spoke in direct terms about the situation. Indeed it was beyond explanation, so obvious.

She was not in a position to refuse the proposal. Whether she accepted it was the question even she was not sure about. All the towering personalities whom she had vowed to follow were lying in the rubble now, not in a position even to share her grief; let alone alleviate it. The path that she unequivocally believed led to the better and brighter world appeared to terminate now abruptly with nobody by her side to advise her about the alternative routes.

Learning from the previous experience, the precaution was now taken: her nod was awaited before giving the decision to the boy. This was the purpose of this gathering. She felt almost suffocated by the dead end to which she was now obviously heading. Her silence was interpreted as the approval and finally the deal was set to be sealed.

I don’t know if any new twist comes in the story as during the spurious marriage to change the course. This time I’ll make sure I follow this story up once I am there in the village.
10 Feb 2009

The story of Justice

Somewhere in the hinterland of Pakistan, there was a girl who exceptionally got the opportunity to get education in a city. When she went back to home in the village this time, her intentional disregard for the burqa, created the furor among the elite villagers. Her advocacy for education for other girls made the situation inflammable. She was adamant on her stance and would face the village elites with eye-to-eye contact, that puzzled the other girls and women who could not even imagine this. This extreme absurdity of the girl along with her growing influence became the big headache for the elites whose hegemony was unchallenged for decades.

The village was about to adapt with the eccentricity of the girl when a militant hailing from the region came home after many years. As soon as he heard about the girl, he gave no second thought and gave his verdict: she should be stoned to death right now. But the village youths had still brighter ideas regarding how to deal with her. Finally everything was planned well.

The other evening, the ‘city-dweller’ girl was teaching a group of girl children how to write Urdu alphabets.

“Just let the other children go. Then we will execute.” A boy murmured to others in a group of six boys after peering inside the room through the window. “It will get darker also by then. It will be better”. Somebody answered. “In the name of allah, we should teach the lesson to the other girls as well. No need to wait anymore. We are obeying the order of almighty to eliminate the infidels”. The militant spoke in a decisive voice and stepped forward.

After entering the room, he ordered all of the children to go out, who hurried as they saw the lethal weapon lying across his back.

“How dare you disobey the god? You were brainwashed by infidels on the city and came here to spoil the young minds. They are killing our people all over the world and you come to this village as their agent, for this immoral act, no punishment will be enough, still we are going to try one. Would you like to be shot or otherwise?” the militant almost shouted these words in half Urdu and half Arabic while pointing the rifle to her.

This all occurred so swiftly and unexpectedly that the girl was confused. Was this the reality? A man who was never seen in the village earlier was now threatening her life. She took a long breath as if to assimilate the significance of developments.

“How exactly am I disobeying the god?” She asked in trembling voice “and who are you to judge this?”

“Your damned teaching of the young girls with the propaganda education of the infidels is bound to ruin our sacred culture and religion. They have taught you to altercate with the village elders. I am here to enforce the holy laws of our shari’at court. Would you like to bear the ugly death right now or after one hour?” he once again pointed the rifle to her forehead.

“There is no law in this ruined land and you can shot me if you want. But what you are doing is in the blatant violation of the Allah’s teachings and he will never forgive you.” She tried to be more composed and raised her voice. “Your barbaric acts will be ultimately judged by the almighty and you will suffer for inhuman injustice that you are cultivating. Killing one will never deter our determination for justice……”

“Enough, Enough”. The militant banged his foot twice in the floor, speaking in English this time. “You deserve a death worse than shooting and that will teach you how to fight for your damned justice”.

He then signaled with hands to other boys, four of whom entered, caught the girl in hand and began dragging. He came out of the room, fired twice in the air to remind the villagers not to interfere on the matter. In the dark, the fainting shrieks of the girls were heard. Otherwise, the silence and thus peace prevailed in the village.

The other day, the girl was at her home but barely alive as the group of six had raped and assaulted her throughout the night taking care not to kill her outright. She had been given a lifeline: if she can perfectly contain this news by shutting her mouth, she won’t be killed. But this was impossible for the rebellious girl. She would rather die than suffering this humiliation quitly.

On the fifth day, a group of heavily armed militants arrived in the village and an important announcement was made: Everybody in the village should turn up on the ground of local mosque the next day at 12:00 noon for a special event.

In the ground the other day, a turbaned man stood on a makeshift stage with machine gun led militants on his either side. Then he began his fierce speech that was somehow a new occurrence to that village. “With grace of the almighty, today we have come here to perform a sacred task, the task, indispensible to maintain the morality and the ethics. We should punish those who trespass the rule of god without mercy so that nobody will dare to do so again. What can be such a punishment? The adulterers who defame the glory of married life, who challenge the omnipresence of the almighty and who threaten to break the sacred laws are to be punished that way.”
The speech was interrupted by shrill crying of the girl who was rapped in a red-line-on-white cloth, being dragged by three militants.

“In name of the sacred almighty”, the speech continued, “ we are going to teach a lesson to all the adulterers this way.” The preacher took a stone from a bag kept under the table and so did all the others militants. He then threw the stone to the girl who appeared to be tied inside the cloth. That followed a series of stones one after another. The villagers stood almost frozen as the girl first yelled violently and finally everything became fainter and fainter till few militants fired in air in celebration.

I constructed the plot of this story from a recent news story from Pakistan in which a girl was stoned to death for ‘adulteration’ after being gang-raped. To create the final seen I have taken help from the movie ‘The Kite runner’ based on Khaled Hosseini’s novel which vividly depicts the life in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime. For the social background I was offered some help by the documentary ‘Swara: A Bridge Over Troubled Water’ directed by Samar Minallah. This film explores the age old tradition in Pakistan in which a bloody dispute between two families is settled by getting the daughter of the murderer to any of the family member of the victim. This innocent girl then incurs the wrath of her new family and suffers a tragic fate for whole life.
This story attempts to start a serious discourse on another most controversial issue: Justice. Just like the human rights, it has got different meanings in different contexts and even in a single context for different people. ‘Justice’ has been the motive behind almost all of the insurgencies and conflicts around the world. Nobody advocates against it but it has been the most battered virtue in the modern world.
In the story above, the justice for the educated girl means the respect to the rights of people to live a dignified life. This dignity, for women, comes from abolition of the masculine and the feudal hegemony in the issues like how one should live. This, in turn, comes from a non-extremist education that gives knowledge and promotes skills helping the women to be economically self-reliant. This needs to challenge some of the established norms in the society like the taboo for educating the daughters.
On the other hand, justice for the militants comes only when the Shari’at laws can be Implemented throughout the world after crushing the infidels who have spoiled the once-sacred empire of the god by promoting nudity, adultery, blasphemy and atheism. Demolishing the institution of the infidels to avoid their influence from poisoning the faithful masses is thus the only way to achieve the justice. The girl in the story formed a prototype of a poisoned soul intent on poisoning the others in her village to upset the sacred tradition. Thus she became the biggest threat in establishing the justice.
In the confrontation between the two opposite saviors of the justice, the far more powerful militants prevailed over the poor girl resulting in her brutal murder preceded by the gang rape that illustrates the hidden aspect of the drive of the extremists to justice. One way or the other, the girl was to be killed once she dared to educate other girls defying the taboo, but the episode of rape was created to teach other potential defectors how the issue could be dealt practically. Also, any potential victim of the rape would also know how she would be dealt in case she was unable to comply the threats to keep the matters hidden. This practically assures many of the prospective rapists the impunity leading to scores of untold stories of rape.

The Other Way

Sarala has cried countless times in her life. But this night in her forty-fifth year has no similarity with the sad nights earlier. She kept flowing tears that soaked her pillow. She was feeling dizzy and somewhat disoriented as the events in her remote past kept flashing in her mind, one after another.
“The widow will live for ever, that is what she thinks. Otherwise, why such a greed for the property?” These were the words of her sister-in-law spoken in a whispering voice to her husband on that fateful evening. Sarala couldn’t withstand to hear a single word more, went to the room and threw herself to the bed.
“The world is not as you think. In the long run it is only money or property for which anybody will look after you. Though it feels bitter for you to go and live with in-laws when the brothers are here, it will be ultimately the better option for you.” These words of her father spoken before his departure were now reverberating in her ear. Why was she unable to read the message in the face of her father when he was speaking these words?
This all started when she rejected her brother’s proposal to sell a piece of land that she had got from her husband’s family to cover the expenses of his daughter’s marriage. She suggested the alternative to her brother: Help recover her money lent to the villagers and use it for the purpose. She could not risk selling the land that was the only thing that would last till her old age.
This sad night reminded her the events that she had so desperately tried to forget for ever. Actually this was the first time she explored them in details. Image of her husband that she had suppressed for so many years was now coming vividly. She had been to her mother’s home due to an urgent call when she was supposed to see him off the last time ( Nobody ever imagined that would be her last occasion to see him forever). As usual there was nothing much to worry as this was a routine for him to go to the work after a short break at home.
She had never examined the significance of that night when she was supposed to be with him but was not. After these twenty long years, she was terribly missing her husband. Till now she had avoided thinking what her life would be had her husband not died.
It was the month of June, the busiest month in the year as the millet and paddy were planted in a very short range of time. In a matter of ten days, the muddy terraces would have an entirely different look with abundant waterfalls in the green terraces of paddy field. People would call that month during which ‘you sow a kilogram to harvest a quintal’.
On that fateful day, She had gone to her neighbor’s field to plant the paddy. As usual the day was full of humor as the men and women kept scolding each other in the oddest ways possible. Recently married couples would be often the soft targets for this. Unlike the other days in the monsoon it was not raining that evening instead the sky was getting clearer and they noticed the bright pink hue in the cloud above the western mountains. “The sky is laughing, and I noticed it for the first time this year” an elderly woman announced while stepping out of the pool of mud after planting the last plant of paddy for the day.
On way to home she felt exhausted on thinking the routine of washing the dishes after the late dinners in the short nights of summer. “I’d be pleased to sleep hungry rather than doing all the household work till late night” she thought with exhaustion. But she sensed the unusual air while approaching her house. Many people were heard to whisper inside while few of them in the verandah were giving an odd look to her. She was sure something had gone wrong but she could not imagine. People were hesitating to speak to her clearly. Finally her mother-in-law broke into a loud cry.
One of her elderly neighbors approached her and spoke in a choked voice: “Dulahi, we have to withstand all sorts of disasters. Whatever has happened, happened forever and we can not get it back by mourning…………..” Sarala was now waiting to hear the words that would tear her apart into two halves. “……………Your husband was shot while performing the…………..”
Everything turned black, she collapsed. A state of delirium gripped her after few minutes. When her sensorium was getting clearer she felt as if loosing the control over her body. As she recovered to full consciousness, she had developed a state of denial. She would not accept anything was lost. Nobody would dare to remind her what all had happened. She developed this odd defense mechanism to cope with enormous stress. She would be often found laughing when the entire village was mourning. She mechanically obeyed others to complete the post-mortem rituals but on the fourteenth day she was found to be wearing a bright red kurta which was so strictly prohibited for the widows.
Everyone in the village agreed that she developed some mental problem and they would be extra careful while dealing with her. She would go to the festivities more frequently and to places where she didn’t go earlier. Children would often accompany her instead of her usual friends on such occasions.

After these twenty long years she realized how oddly she had behaved during the period. The terrible conflict in her mind resulting from the efforts to suppress the idea of losing something important could now be observed from a distance. She became aware of the fruitlessness of all her efforts as her pseudo-confidence finally gave up. Today the life appeared to her, like a drama in which the actors utterly fail to perform but the audience can not leave because the theatre is locked. Bizarre thoughts were crossing over her mind. Life had been the hang post for her but she kept denying this fact and assumed it to be something else. Now she was no longer able to deny it.
Marriage was something she never praised. It played many tricks with her. She has seen innumerable marriages in her life time but still the sight of a girl in wedding costumes being sent to her new home creates panic in her. She can’t avoid imagining the worst and thus prefers to avoid the farewell part of any marriage altogether.
These twenty years of denial, repression and silent suffering were about to come to an end now. She had to make a bold decision now because she could tolerate the humiliation no more which was always there but was exposed by the words of her sister-in-law that evening.
What should she do now?
Emerging from the depth of her forgettable past, she was now troubled by this question. Had she become a burden to her brother’s family? For the first time she examined this possibility seriously. Though she had not heard a single word of offense from anybody in the family, a number of gestures could now have had a similar meaning. Two marriage proposals brought by the neighbors were later understood to be initiated by her brother. In each case the widower had a questionable image and she rejected them with the apprehension of suffering a fate similar to their earlier wives. She noticed a change in the way the family behaved after the episodes.

For the first time in her life, she was sailing a boat. She was supposed to fetch something from the other side of the river. She was amazed to have the skill fine enough to sail in such a big river. She kept sailing, but to her astonishment, the bank on the other side was receding away. She had to sail faster but the wind was blowing in the opposite direction and the sky was getting darker. When she looked back, this bank was also moving away. She imagined that a heavy rain upstream in the mountains must have caused the river to swell like this. She was amazed by her own ability to keep sailing in such adverse circumstances.
Shortly, she noticed someone swimming towards her though a good distance away. She tried to give a signal by shouting but could not. Viewing the receding bank on the other side, she doubled the speed of the boat towards the person. Though it was growing darker, still she could spot the swimming creature. Finally she reached to him but she didn’t know how he could be safely brought to the boat. In an instant some miracle had happened and the person was on the boat without trouble. Now she tried to look at the face of the person but something happened…………….
By some unfortunate event, she was awakened. Still it was dark outside and everything was silent. Though with some anxiety, now she was feeling far better than before the sleep. This was the first dream of its kind in her life. Earlier she often used to fail to cross the river. Sometimes she would find herself standing on an small island with the water on both the sides. She would never sail a boat but the one on which she was travelling would often sink. On occasions, se would keep swimming but would be awakened before reaching the other side. The other times the bridge in which she was walking would end abruptly midway over the river.
The night turned out to be important. In the last quarter, her confidence was growing and she was coming out from the disoriented state. She now felt being repelled by the brother’s family as she recollected many incidents that she had ignored till now thinking to be insignificant.
The following day, she summoned her brother and announced her decision: First, she would donate all her land to the local school whose financial bankruptcy was well known. Second, she would immediately leave the home to live in a small hut close to the school where she would start teaching the students of primary level.
She didn’t wait to receive the response of her brother who was too perplexed by the developments and left the home with a small luggage that she had prepared that morning after coming back from the Headmaster’s house. She was going to begin a new life and it would start with a ceremonious felicitation from the school for donating the property. She had nothing to regret. The lock of the theatre where the ugly drama of life was being unfolded was now broken and she was free to explore the world. She could only imagine how delighted he husband would be, were he able to see all this.
“The widow will live for ever…………..” These words were once again reverberating in her ear. These words had the ability to change the course of her life. She could not decide how to thank her sister-in-law for that. Indeed you can benefit others when you actually intend to harm them!

28 Aug 2008, 12 Bhadra 2065, Bhairahawa.