Monday, February 9, 2009

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.

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