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