It was a beautiful evening with shades of marmalade on the horizon. She stared at the hues of the evening sky as the sun set behind the blue hills. She and her sisters eagerly awaited the arrival of their father. On days like this, when their father returned from the hunt, a feast was laid for dinner. As their mother set the vessels on the cemented floor for supper, there was a loud crash. She woke up with a startle.
She was no longer in her childhood home. What a sweet dream it has been! She was in her bed; in the house that was also hers; the place that gave her everything-her family, children, love, and riches. Except that it did not feel like that womb of a home where her parents had lived and loved.
Striding turbulent paths
I was not an easy journey that she had been through. Married at 14 to a man who was then 26, every day of those initial years in her new home was a nightmare. Her father taught her everything; all of the life survival skills- except how to retort when she had to.
The abuse she withstood was not physical, but she kept to herself the kind of harsh profanity her aurally sensitive nerves were subjected to. All the while, the man she believed in, the respectable and untainted gentleman was but a mute spectator.
During those days, when telephones were still a mystery in her part of the world, her house was one among the few that was illuminated after dusk. She had always envied those people who did not have access to electricity, for their days started at the crack of the morning light and ended when all other living beings in the neighbouring forests retired to their dwelling place.
At the crack of dawn, she would be up rushing with the household chores. And after all the mouths were fed and the responsibilities at home fulfilled, she rushed to the field. There she toiled until it was time for the vibrant avian folk to return to their nests.
Before winter arrived with the distressing frost and steady drizzle, the harvested grains had to be dried. The ones meant for storage went right into the massive, 3 feet high teak boxes. The other half of the grains had to milled and ground into fine flour- all manually.
Looking back, she wondered what gave her that kind of supreme mental and physical toughness. It did not matter; the journey is in its final phase – well almost. She had no regrets, except the fury that was buried deep down in the pit of her abdomen.
The Boundless Joy of Parenting
Two years into her marriage, she learned to ignore the taunting jeers that were a norm with the 50-year-old matriarch of the family. The spouse who left for work came home only to catch up on a few hours of rest. Though she drifted into spells of loneliness, it helped that her parents lived just an hour’s walk away.
Soon after she turned 17, he arrived, a plump mass of a bundle, with blood red roses for cheeks. The happiness within her reached a zenith. Dharma, she had named him. In the next 12 years, she had four more cherubic children, two boys and two girls whom to her were nothing less than celestial beings that graced her life with boundless cheer.
The years that followed were grim and challenging. It was the affection that she received from the paternal home and the devotion she held for her young ones that helped her wade through the troublesome times.
The Denied Inheritance
It was evident that the field where she toiled and the house that she lived in belong to her. It was a part of her husband’s inheritance. That was what she was told, and in concurrence with the times, the verbal announcement was to be followed by the next generation. There was no documentation process unless the property left the holds of the family.
She was a believer in promises. But her husband’s brethren failed to believe in the power of the given word. Soon they were gone- the piece of land she worshipped and her shelter.
After a few months of living with her kind sibling, she returned to the hamlet that she now called her home-this time determined to fight for her dignity.
With her savings and substantial help from her father, she bought a bit of neglected land, worked on it and saw a bountiful harvest after a year. In a few years, slowly it came up; the roof held by the intricate rafters that she now saw from her bed. Within every brick lies the rage that she had cautiously swallowed so that it would not disturb the fabric of her home.
Time moved on
Soon the years rolled by and one by one they left the house, except for the youngest. The youngest, named Kubera, stayed with his parents. The fields that now spread across the neighbouring hills were now his responsibility. He is to share it with his brothers (employed in the city) when the time comes.
Despite the distance, the love within the family grew strong. She visited her progeny regularly. She shifted between their homes and slowly the burden on her shoulders eased. If destiny were kind to her, that was when it should all have ended.
The troubles started when her companion of over 50 years took ill and was confined to the 6×6 feet space. The three years of his sickness was one among the biggest burdens she had ever carried. Like the occupants of her paternal home the people who flew out of her own nest, took turns in staying by her side through the tough times.
And then one morning, before the crack of dawn, he breathed his last. But before that, he had uttered ‘I am sorry, Devi. I had looked past your strife’.
‘That apology is rather too late old man; there is nothing you can do about it now. Go in peace’ was her reply.
The Curse that befell
Upon the old man’s loss, a gloom descended on the once happy home. She spent her evenings by the fireplace, mostly weeping, sometimes in the company of a few steady friends. On one of those days when she felt immobile and lethargic, she saw a strange looking man at her doorstep. He was Kubera’s guest.
The man was tall and built well. His extensive features and dark complexion sent a spark of instant fear across her mind. He entered the house and performed strange rituals in front of their sacred altar. Once he was done with them, the odd-looking man ate from her husband’s massive bronze plate-the one that was considered sacred and was reserved for occasions.
Once he left, she felt something churn within her; deception had made its way into her happy home. When she encountered Kubera, his reply was lethargic and only gibberish. The very next day, Kubera asked her to hand over to him the entire pension amount that she now received after her husband, which she kindly denied. The pension fund was her only source of income and her saving grace.
Post this incident, peculiar rituals and the arrival of bizarre-looking men were a norm in the house. Every time she tried to sleep, visuals of disfigured men scared her. Deep within her, she knew it was the dreaded sign of a warning.
Least did he know a simple refusal would steal away her dignity. She was meted with unfair and bitter behaviour. Every morning she was greeted with boorish expressions and impolite greetings. She was served nothing but leftovers, sometimes not even that. The faces that once helped her with utmost cheer and courtesy in the presence of her husband now shone an amalgamation of disrespect and inconsideration.
The plate with leftover food was sometimes flung at her feet, and she was denied entry into the kitchen. The very same place from where she once fed several hungry mouths- both family and strangers was now out of her reach.
As she lay down looking at the ceiling, drifting in and out of afternoon slumber, dreaming about her childhood and her father’s bountiful hunt, she heard a growl from the interior layers of her abdomen. Like that vicious storm that she had learned to suppress over the years, she doused the flames of starvation and made up her mind that she has had enough of it.
The house was empty, as it usually is at this hour of the noon when a blanket of silence descended on the village. She made her way through the valley to the nearest bus stop.
When she landed at her daughter’s house, much to the bewilderment of her child and the exhilaration of her grandchildren, she swallowed her lament and all the anguish and soaked in all the love. She failed to realize all those years of subdued outrage was bubbling inside her.
The Despicable Return
With weakness consuming her, she had no energy for hate. As the clock ticked, rather peacefully in this new place, she made herself useful by assisting in the household chores. Then one frosty morning, she puked the remains in her stomach and saw traces of the vital red fluid in it. Strangely at that instant, she knew her time was up.
Days passed, people visited her often, and the bitter taste of the medicines lingered in her mouth all the time. She was grateful for the friendship she had built over the years and the rapport she shared with the people of the village.
Then one fateful morning, as much as she tried to open her eyes, she couldn’t. She heard voices buzzing around her. She could only partly move her lips. She heard her daughter and grand-daughter call out. She opened her eyes to look at their faces- but couldn’t keep them open for more than a few seconds. They were forced shut soon.
She sensed movement. Was she floating? It felt like someone had just scooped her. Then, there were noises of vehicles passing on a busy road, and people crying around her. She slowly drifted back to a sweet dream.
The Vengeful Flame
She opened her eyes because the dingy smell was suffocating her. Least did she expect that her end would happen here, the very same place she ran away from. Through her half-opened eyes, she saw faces all around her, the ones that mattered the most- her sisters, daughters, and grand-daughters. She saw their moist eyes. ‘Your duty has been done, dear ones. Send me away with smiles; the curves that raised my spirits all my life’, she wanted to say. But, her tongue wouldn’t function.
She spent the next 48 hours spitting all kinds of liquid that were forced into her mouth and occasionally throwing spiteful remarks at the people whose sight sent a chill down her spine. It was increasingly difficult to believe that the one she protected in her womb, a human that came to life from within her was capable of such atrocities.
She wanted to yell, to scream at her son, his wife, her other sons who were spectators and curse them with all her might. But now she lacked the vigour to fight, for she had spent every unit of her strength in making their lives better. She ingested her fury one last time.
There it lay the dark tunnel, the final path of her journey. All of her memories are now history. As she floated past the threshold, she could not look back. For the last breath from within the realms of the bronchi imported with a mighty force all of the doused flames that were now draconian. The blaze would soon turn into ashes everything she called her own and everything she took pride in. The fire would stand testimony to the wrath that was buried within her. She floated away with no regrets and no desire.