“MOTHER” By Krishna Dharabasi
For a long time, I had a longing for visiting the place since I was haunted by reminiscences of that house. I had built the house with much pains and sufferings. I had spent all nights of poverty and privation. More than these hardships, I had experienced a terrible problem while purchasing that bit of land. No property did I inherit from my parents. It is no exaggeration to say that I stood on my feet myself. Father had already passed away when we were small children. There is still another story of agonies that my mother had borne. Who has ever traveled in the world of poverty as much as I have done?
We can claim that we never saw tears in mother’s eyes. But her eyes often looked gloomy, tired and fearful. They seemed as if they had wept quite recently. Seldom did a natural and pleasant smile appear on her face – merely the formal and artificial movement of muscles. We were accompanied by despair and exhaustion from the morning till our bed time. Since I was the only grown up son of mother, she consulted only with me about whatever situations she needed to ask for advice. My brothers and sisters might also have understood these problems of our home. But I always felt that only I had understood most about these. Today also, I feel that I have been carrying the heaviest burden upon my shoulder.
Hardly had problems of home dwindled when I bought her home after marrying her. The divide of poverty was widening. As brothers and sisters were growing bigger, there was an urgent need of their education. Mother’s health was worsening, and barley could I rely on my temporary job of school. It was not possible to meet all expenses from the income of temporary job of a primary school. Mother was struggling harder than ever before in this world of pains and sufferings. But never did I hear her express the feelings of defeat. We had already brought home a young, immature girl of eighteen years old as a bride. We added one unfamiliar person to our family members. Only had mother made all these arrangements. I was twenty-four years old. I was elated at having a bride in my heart. All and sundry of my village came to see the bride. Everyone praised her, and said that she was lucky. They blessed us, putting tika on our foreheads. It was the only day that I saw my mother happy after such a long time.
She was endowed with the unusual habit of taciturnity, seriousness, and diligence. At the outset, I did not care much, thinking that she was shy. As I noticed the same habit in her for a long time, I made her speak and laugh, teased her doing whatever things I liked, and thus continued to mould her every day. I told her that it would be difficult to live if any restriction appeared between husband and wife. She came from a wealthier family than ours. She did not have to choose between what to eat and what to wear. But when she came to our family, she had fallen into an old abyss of poverty. We were always in the situation to worry about the evening meal every day. I often saw her muddled when she entered the kitchen. She would be confused at not finding salt, oil, and rice there. She had the habit of taking milk tea always in the morning, but it was difficult for her to drink even black tea at ours. After all, she did not complain. Though she did not speak out, I felt this, observing all these situations. Neither did she insult our poverty nor remembered the prosperity of her mother’s home. All these hardships of poverty were acceptable to her as if she had been born into our family. Seeing her, I always became passionate, and felt glad in my heart. Sometimes, I felt that I had been fortunate enough to have my loving mother embodied in my wife. I would find much feelings of mother in her. Even today, words fail me when I have to describe her role to make my personal and family life golden, peaceful, and pleasant.
How did this maturity happen to develop into a girl six years younger than I was? Sometimes, I would wonder, gazing upon her. Having noticed me staring at her, she would ask me shyly and angrily, “What are you staring at, without any purpose?” I would smile pleasantly – a different laughter. Our family life was very pleasant. Children took birth as time passed. She grew more mature, and mother earth. Along with mother’s aging, duties and responsibilities of the family shifted to her shoulder. Never did she complain of onerous burden.
Our economic condition improved every day. After a few years, the job also became permanent. The salary went on increasing. As an extra source of income, tuition also thrived. Sitting at private exams, I also passed B. A. She did not show interest to study higher than S.L.C. She loved home more than the job. She was the queen of home. She had all authority. Neighbors were also happy. Mother was happier than anyone else.
One day, when she was not at home, sick mother asked me to sit by the side of her cot and said, “Look, my dear son, a good omen has prevailed at home. After her arrival, our home has become brighter. Sufferings are diminishing. Prosperity is on the rise. Feminine has been averted. The home abounds with plenty of children. You are prospering every day. Daughter-in-law has occupied my position. She is also your mother. She has taken as much care as I used to. Know her. Never make her cry.”
Mother became more sentimental. She remarked, “How much can I live now? Though living, I am aging every day. This world is yours now. Take care of your brothers and sisters. Manage everything well. I have already told all these things to daughter-in-law as well.
I wonder what had happened to mother that day. She had never wept that way. She emptied all her feelings repressed in her heart for life. Tears dropped like a water spring from her eyes. I also could not control myself. That was the first and the last day for both son and mother to sit together and fight all the pains and sufferings of life. Evidently, mother became seriously ill after some days. Medicines stopped to work. One day, following the inevitable truth, mother went to her reward. My wife wept bitterly, placing her head on mother’s legs, but no sound came from her mouth.
As I recollect memories of home today, all my past life unfolds like a book before my eyes. Its letters and pictures appear one after another. As many times as I want to go home, my legs do not step firmly on the ground. My whole body is reduced to burden. My face turns black. My body has been unable to accept though eyes are full of pictures of life like those in a film. What is the meaning of these tears flowing due to the repentance while I am standing on a terrible cliff of guilt conscience today? Life cannot return to the past by repenting over the guilt. However, these unexpressed feelings of burden have crushed me on my chest.
Troubling myself, attempting a lot, making myself mentally ready, collecting a lot of justifications, and weaving sensitive stories, I had reached home after one year.
Everything had gone disorderly. The surrounding had no attraction and brightness. The ever blooming garden of flowers was completely destroyed. The vases of flowers were broken, cracked and empty. The biogas plant was dry as it was empty of cow dung. The garden was barren far beyond the house. Plants of beetle nut had attainted their maximum height. Freely grown branches of seesam trees had turned the garden shadowy. One pole in northern face of the building had given way to its level as it had descended. Termites had made their way to the top. The hinges on a kitchen window were dangling due to the decay of wood. Grass in the courtyard had grown everywhere, giving way only to a foot trail. My eyes were full of gloominess that reminded of a dry mountain in Chaitra.
I moved my eyes far beyond, and saw that neighbors’ fields were rich in crops; cattle, and crops all were thriving. The village appeared as pleasant and bright as before. Electricity and telephone had reached every home. Wide graveled roads heralded the advent of development in the village. But seeing the deplorable condition of my home, I wanted to cry bitterly at the place where I was standing. Anger aroused in some corner of my heart. Should not a person living in the house take care of it as I had bought so much of land with so much difficulty? Should the person make the whole world laugh? Shouldn’t one deliberately forget what had gone before to start a new life? My whole world where I had taken so many pains was transformed into a worthless thing!
The house was dead silent. No movement of people was there. All doors were closed. No human beings appeared in the surroundings. A fear crept in my heart. The house looked as if no people were living there. Didn’t they abandon the house? I cleared my throat to know if anybody was inside. I felt I was in a very difficult situation. I wondered if anyone had seen me. Hurriedly, I wanted to enter the house. At my departure, I had thought to myself – I will not see anybody in the village. I will reach home directly, remain inside and see my wife’s face. If she talked, I would lighten the burden of my heart. If she didn’t, I would see her once and return in the evening. Staying in Birtamod at night, I will return with a bus of four O’clock in the morning.
No lock had hung outside. I thought that someone must be inside. With trembling legs, I climbed up the ladder. On reaching the verandah, I rolled my eyes far beyond. Everything I had discerned seemed like my own. As I had spent all my childhood there, everything appeared so familiar. My eyes became bright. All of a sudden, I had a feeling that my heart was delighted. I felt that I had returned to my own life. Slowly knocking at the door, I called out, “Who is inside? Why have you closed the door in the afternoon?”
No movement sounded for a while. I knocked at the door once again a bit forcefully. I felt the movement of a person inside. My heart became heavy. I felt something like fear, awkwardness, and witnessing a crime and so on. I could not decide what to do. Moving a bit farther from the door, I leaned against the railing. My whole body was vibrating inside.
Someone opened the lock from inside. I could easily figure out those habituated hands to open the lock. Those fingers opening the lock were of Rajani. First a half panel of the door opened. A half head peeped through it. I saw her at a glance. My eyes became dark – fearful and sick.
Neither did she utter anything. Slowly did she come out, went inside again, brought a mat, and spread it across the cot. She descended, climbing down the stairs. She went to the tube well, and washed her hands and face. She opened the kitchen door and got inside. After a while, she came over, holding a small water vessel and a glass. Standing in front of me, she offered me a glass of cool water. I held the glass with my trembling hands, and drank water without a pause. Standing beside me, she wanted to add more, but I signaled ‘no’.
I sat on the cot slowly. She descended, carrying the same water vessel and glass. She entered the kitchen, came out, and entered again with a few splints and bits of wood. A fire emitted smoke.
After a long time, she brought peeled boiled potatoes, and pickles of salt and chilies, and went back placing beside me. After some time, she came back with a glass of black tea.
I was observing all these scenes quietly. I was impatiently waiting for her to sit beside me, cry, utter displeasure, and get angry. But I could see none of these signals on her face. Neither did she look like getting angry nor seemed like crying. No change occurred in her serious temperament.
I stayed quietly for a long time. The snack beside me was getting colder. I could not look straight into her eyes. The more silence prolonged, the more awkwardness increased – it grew quieter and more tranquil. My defeated mentality was getting more afflicted with a heavier burden. I felt my heart boiling somewhere inside. I had a quick glance at her face. She was staring at a distance, somewhere far beyond. She had an emaciated face, and blackness around her both eyes; wrinkles had formed in both corners of her eyes, and also on her forehead. Plenty of strands of hair had turned grey. There were cracks in her fingers. Her dress was very filthy and worn out. I guessed that she had not combed her hair with an interest for a long time.
The more I observed her, the more I got to know about her plight, and more tears welled up in my eyes. My heart began to melt, and I became more sentimental.
Glowing brightly like a bulb, she had entered into my golden period of youth, and into that world of poverty of our home. Weeding, embellishing, and beautifying, she had glorified both my body and mind. Gradually, wants of home had declined; the home teemed with pleasure and happiness. She would take care of me with her fingers as loving as those of mother’s. I have slept many times with my head on her lap. When I could not fall asleep, she would stroke my head, and caress my hair to make me go to sleep. She was neither possessed with any kind of arrogant of a woman, nor had any unlikely demands. Never did she impose with any kind of demand like jewelry, clothes, and travels. She devoted her life only to my satisfaction and pleasure. She never quarreled with neighbors, and flew into a rage with children nor got fed up with visitors. What a personality devoid of any kind of negative attribute!
Today, like an orphan, helpless, and widow, she has been changed into a solitary person to look after and manage all this household work and property, and turned into an abandoned statue.
I cleared my throat once to attract her towards me, and spoke forcefully – “Do boys sometimes make a call? How long ago did they go?” She threw a quick look.
Her eyes had grown black, and bigger. Her nostrils had distended. Her face had all of a sudden gone distorted. She stared at the ground for a long time. I further added not to lengthen the silence, “I did not have enough money. I managed to collect one hundred thousand by borrowing some money. I had asked them to be alert in their journey, and take care of mother.”
Her eyes were shedding more and more tears. Her sobs also got louder. She had stood, holding the railing firmly.
“The boys will return after three years. They may earn money, and manage the household business. You will have company after the elder one gets married.”
I was muttering alone whatever I liked. I had managed to control myself with much difficulty. Tears that welled up to the edge of my eyes had begun to dry up. She was not uttering anything, but merely staring. “I have committed an unforgivable mistake in my life. It cannot be repented. It does not even allow any room of remedy. I have to bear only the unpleasant result stemmed from it.
Silence ruled over for a long time. I felt that I had finished all subjects to chatter myself. Tearing a long silence, she coughed once. It sounded very bad. I reckoned she had fallen sick. It moved my heart too much.
I spoke again, “Rajani, why do you feel bad? I have already admitted my mistake. I have apologized. I have not turned away from my duty and responsibility. I often ask for you wherever I am. I have been supporting you economically as much as I can. I have done useless work, but there is no escape from it. It happened that I owned someone’s young daughter. She has also given birth to children. I also have to look after them. I have indulged myself into this predicament. In this physical life, I cannot extricate myself from it. Except for you, I have no other person to share all these with because I feel that you are like my mother, Rajani.”
I had become much more sentimental. It was my turn to shed tears. I wept for a long time. I was emptying the feelings that had filled to the brim of heart for quite a long time.
I became a small child. I could not talk at all. I had become much more sentimental. It was my turn to shed tears. I wept for a long time. I was emptying the feelings that had filled to the brim of heart for quite a long time. I became a small child. I could not talk at all.
She approached me slowly. She stroked my head with her trembling hand. Her touch calmed down all my body. My mind that was bubbling like soda water became cool and peaceful. I gazed upon her raising my head slowly. Her face had turned normal and calm. Seeing me staring, she spoke slowly, “Take care of yourself. Take care of your health. Love that young girl and her child. I have already accepted myself. I have experienced all colors of life. I have no complaint. Do not cry like a child now on. Accept the results of your deeds.
You do not need to come over here off and on. Seeing me repeatedly by a husband who has run away with a girl will insult me. The village community does not approve of it. Do not defame me. We spent together some period of our lives, but that has grown as old as our age. I have relished a desire to become a respectable woman at this age. I do not accept any physical contact with an outsider. I have no relationship with you now even if we are equally related to our children. It does not look morally good to repeatedly see a husband who has run away with a girl.”
Her speech was unusually forceful. I had never thought that she could express so powerfully. I had imagined a plethora of things for her to cry, express sadness, get angry, and despair of staying alone at that age. But she proved herself to be a woman with breast as strong as a cliff, and a learned woman.
My heart sank into gloominess. The fingers upon my head became a burden. The path that I had mapped to come here stretched miles long. Realizing myself that I had changed into an outsider to my own wife, I knew for the first time that I was sinking and becoming non-existent.
It was almost evening. I thought that it could be late to reach Birtamod. I got up quickly, and descended slowly. Standing at the courtyard, I looked up once. Standing at the verandah, she was staring. Tears were falling. She had not wiped them.
Translator: EDA UPADHYAYA