Sunday, 7 July 2013

Rajraani (Royal Queen)

Note about the story:  This story has rural India as it's backdrop. I have used some hindi words and phrase in the story to be true to my imagination. 


Rajraani



Gomati was a middle aged woman. Her tall figure and determined look confirmed her once good looks when she had been young. One remnant of her beautiful youth was her infectious smile. When she smiled, she made others smile with her too. It was a legend that in her youth she could make men dance to her tunes just by a glimpse of her beautiful smile. Now those men no longer flocked her but one could see her flocked by neighbourhood children who would bring her little some things just to see her smile. Some would gather wild flowers from near the village pond, some would bring her colourful pebbles and some saved their last night delicacies to offer her in lieu of a smile. Gomati liked these children very much. They made her feel like a queen. No not a queen, a young princess who gets flocked by suitors from far off lands and bring her wonderful, strange objects to lure her into marrying them. It was her small kingdom, where she was the lone ruler.
The bigger kingdom was on the other side of the village. Raja Saheb ki Kothi,a  it was called. No King actually lived there but the patriarch of the family was called Raja Saheb by everyone. Raja Saheb was the wealthiest land owner; in fact he was the only land owner in the village. Every other family in the village either worked in his household or in his farms. No one had ever dared to cross him, advice him or go against his wishes. He was their protector, their provider. Raja Saheb was a big hearted man. Never did a soul return from his kothi without help and he made sure that he himself never returned empty handed from any favour he bestowed on the commoners. Principles were one thing and business another. His principle was to help but his higher principle was that everything comes with a price.
Raja Saheb had an open heart for women. He was very sympathetic toward the fairer sex. He personally made sure that no woman returned from his threshold empty handed. No woman ever returned from his threshold. He never discriminated between women on the basis of caste, colour or their age. They were all flowers in the wilderness waiting to be plucked and decorated in his bedroom. There were other women in his household – his wife, his daughters, his sisters – in – law and daughters – in – law. These women were, however, quiet invisible to him. He was the decision maker and these women passively and quietly obeyed all his orders. For ages these women had been living in tranquillity. There never was a trace of dissatisfaction and quarrel among these women. They never contradicted Raja Saheb. Gomati did.
Gomati was his favourite. She had first entered this house when she was sixteen. Her father was an ill-fated old man who had lost all his belongings to the claws of gambling. He had no other option but to offer his daughter to work at Raja Saheb’s household. His neighbours had warned him that they would be turned back since there was no vacancy at his house. Already several women of the village worked there day and night. But Gomati’s father secretly knew in his heart that he won’t be turned down. He just needed to make the right offer, to the right person at the right time. One fine morning, when he knew that Raja Saheb would be at home sitting in his arm chair and smoking at some imported tobacco, he took Gomati along to pay a visit. He knew that he would easily be admitted to Raja Saheb’s presence. Raja Saheb, even on such lazy mornings never returned a villager who came to him with an intention of some favour. He was right. They were called upon by Raja Saheb in his private chamber.
“What is it Manglu? What brings you here?”
Sarkar! You know these days my hands are pretty tight...” Raja Saheb interrupted “How much did you lose this time?”
“All my savings Sahib.
Arey kirani babu suniye jara. This chutiya too had savings. Where did you steal them from?” Raja Saheb said laughing.
“Arey Sarkar...” Manglu laughed nervously. “Sarkar, this is my daughter Gomati. She does small chores in neighbour’s houses and earns little money. It was her money that I lost last week.” Raja Saheb began scrutinising Gomati. Manglu sensed Raja Saheb’s eyes on his daughter. “Sarkar  if you could employ her in your house it will be a big favour.”
Raja Saheb, his eyes still on Gomati, pondered over the affair. He had heard from many men that Gomati had a smile to die for. He wanted to confirm this but his princely status withheld him from asking Gomati to smile. Nevertheless in the present circumstances the girl would not smile her natural smile. Raja Saheb wanted to employ Gomati right away but he didn’t want to look too keen. After all she was just a girl of sixteen, what would she think of him. Raja Saheb had learned it the hard way that girls at tender age had a larger propensity to shrink from older men who seemed too keen. After a considerable time had elapsed and Raja Saheb could see anxiety on Manglu’s face, he decided that he should now agree for Gomati’s employment in his house. He would later explain to Gomati personally the nature of her work.
“Ok. Send her tomorrow morning. She will come directly to me. Ok?”
Ji Sarkar.
Gomati hadn’t flinched an inch the whole conversation.
Gomati joined the next day. She was admitted to Raja Saheb’s personal services. She had to take care of him in every sense. She was explained that she will have to clean Raja Saheb’s room in the morning, arrange his clothes, and bring his morning tea and all sorts of other works. She was given a small quarter in his house and it was arranged so that Raja Saheb could call her even in the mid of the night. Her first evening at his house went uneventful. Gomati had heard of Raja Saheb’s reputation and knew that the inevitable would happen one or the other day.
When almost a week had passed and Raja Saheb thought it appropriate to call Gomati to perform his personal business. Gomati entered his room nervously. It had been almost a week and Raja Saheb had not seen Gomati’s die-for smile.
“I’ve heard you have a beautiful smile. Chhokre marte hain tujh par.”
Gomati smiled nervously.
“Oh, they are right. Your smile is beautiful even when you are shy.”
He waited to think what to say next.
“Come. Come here.”
Gomati approached.
“Sit”
Gomati sat on the ground beside his bed.
“No, no, not on the ground. Sit next to me.”
By now Raja Saheb had regained his boldness. He grabbed Gomati by her hand and forced her to sit beside him. Gomati sat their shyly. She looked like a baby tortoise coiled in its shell. Raja Saheb laughed loudly. His laughter ringed loudly in the rather quiet house. Women in other quarters turned in their sleep. Gomati felt she heard a few women whispering. The whole situation seemed funny to her. Where Raja Saheb’s wife should be sitting, there, she a commoner a low caste was sitting. In her week at Raja Saheb’s house she had noticed one thing that all was not well between Raja Saheb and his wife. They barely talked. Raja Saheb never smiled at her and she scarcely said a word in his presence. The household would follow his orders. Not even the day’s meal would be made without his directions. She knew she had to befriend the lion to survive this den. Gomati too began to laugh. Her laughter mixed with Raja Saheb’s laughter made a musical sound and Raja Saheb knew that he had won the battle. He was not much concerned about the war.
“You know how to massage?”
Ji Sirkar”
Then first massage my back and then my legs.”
Gomati began massaging his back. After a few minutes he stopped her.
“Do one thing, massage my legs only.” Raja Saheb shifted his position. Now he lay on his
Back and could see Gomati’s bent figure on his leg. It was very arousing for him.
“Move up a little bit.” “A little more...”
Gomati hesitated. She knew where he was going. Raja Saheb could not resist anymore. He
wanted to roar like a lion but he didn’t want to scare the lamb either. He was thinking of how to approach Gomati, how to tell her what exactly he wanted.
He finally said “Come and stroke my loins.”
Gomati was taken aback. She didn’t know what to do. She sat there frozen waiting for Raja Saheb to say something.
“You know how to scratch them?”
Gomati knew what was coming her way this evening but she had no idea that she was not prepared for it.
“Oh come on. Don’t hesitate. I am no stranger. You will enjoy it, trust me.”
He grabbed her hand and put it on his loins. He felt like someone had thrown an ignited match on smouldering coals. He could no longer contain the fire in himself. He pulled Gomati to his chest and began kissing her. How the rest of the night passed, Gomati could not remember. She lay there in a dream-like state. While Raja Saheb was at his work, Gomati was dreaming of far off lands, beautiful landscapes. She saw herself trodding sunflower filled fields. She bent down to gather a few dried flowers. In the process her hair filled with the pollens from the flowers. The smell was intoxicating. She had never felt such immense pleasure. Suddenly she felt an aggravating pain. And she returned to the present. It was unbearable. She wanted to shout but Raja Saheb shut her mouth tightly with his left hand. In a few minutes the jerking stopped. Raja Saheb lay beside her for a long time. He rose after some time and asked Gomati to straighten the bedsheet and go back to her room immediately after.
The rest of the night Raja Saheb kept dreaming about Gomati and the pleasure he had experienced. Gomati could not think of the sunflower field again that night. She, however, thought of sunflower fields again the next night at almost the same time of night. It became a daily event afterwards for her. She would think of the sunflowers and the pollens and their smell every night. She grew used to it.
There was also a slight change in the affairs of the household. It began that day when Gomati disregarding Raja Saheb’s orders went into the kitchen and cooked dal filled dumplings for dinner. The women of the household were secretly happy. Today Raja Saheb’s new beloved would be flanked by him. They waited for his arrival. When Raja Saheb arrived for dinner, Gomati herself prepared his plate and took it to him. Raja Saheb was surprised. Gomati said she loved these dumplings and thought he should eat them too. Raja Saheb looked intently at her. The women of the household were looking through curtains of their rooms or through kitchen door. Gomati could sense their movement but she had no intention to back out. Raja Saheb, then ate quietly from his plate, washed his hands and went to his room. This was Gomati’s first victory. More were to follow. From that day since the present Gomati was the one to determine what will be cooked, when will the women of the house go to the temple, when would a girl get married or when was the right time for the naming ceremony of a newborn.
Raja Saheb too had grown old and accustomed to Gomati’s dictates. She would look after him and not let anyone come anywhere near him. Raja Saheb too never contradicted her. Gomati had settled herself in this lifestyle and she was assured that she would die peacefully in this house only. Hardly did she know that thrones get usurped and rulers are forced to step down. While Gomati was busy managing the household affairs, Raja Saheb was managing his own. A new girl had caught his eye. With a gait of a deer, this girl was the heartthrob of half the village. Raja Saheb had noticed her at a recent fair and had lost his heart to her. What if he was old, older men loved more ardently. The prospect that this girl may be lured to decorate someone else’s bed made her more desirable to Raja Saheb. He needed to take proper actions soon. He was a little bit cautious about Gomati. He knew she would create a ruckus.  But it was something he would handle later. His present concern was just getting Ramdulari under his wings. The girl needed to learn a lot of things and he was the only one who could teach her that. Raja Saheb was a cunning man who got what he set his heart on.
One fine day, Gomati heard the little grandchildren of Raja Saheb shouting feverishly. They were all calling her.
Gomati kaki, Gomati kaki look who is here!”
Gomati came out of her quarters looking curiously at the door. Raja Saheb was standing there with a young girl. She was not more than fifteen years of age. An old man came limping behind them.
Gomati bitiya. This is my granddaughter” said the old man. Gomati recognized him as the old drunkard from the neighbouring village. She looked at Raja Saheb questioningly.
“She will stay and work here till she pays off her grandfather’s debts.”
Gomati knew what was to follow. That day Raja Saheb ordered the new girl be sent with his evening tea. For dinner he asked Ramdularii what would she like to eat. In the night she was called for in his room for his personal massage sessions. Raja Saheb asked Gomati specifically to bring Ramdulari to his room herself. When Gomati was walking the new girl to Raja Saheb’s  room she could hear whispers in the rooms she crossed.
The next morning, when Gomati asked the maharaj to cook rice with fish curry for lunch he didn’t listen to her. The cleaning woman, too, forgot to sweep her room. Gomati was no longer the rajraani.
Now one could see Gomati on the other side of the village surrounded by little children who would bring flowers, coloured pebbles or wild berries to make her smile. 

Saturday, 6 July 2013

The Television

“That scoundrel sabziwala ( vegetable vendor) robbed me. There were better tomatoes at the next redi ( stall) and at a cheaper price too.”
“There goes the laundry van.”
Every week she waits for the bus at the same stop. She is not of the type who travels by bus.  But she still does, twice every week when she comes to drop off her daughter at her dance class. She returns by bus. This is the only time when she gets a chance to have some moments by herself. Besides at this time of the day the buses are not much crowded. She would board the bus and sit in the corner seat reserved for ladies. It was a treat for her. She would sit there and listen to other people sitting around her engrossed in their conversation. Their conversation in part bemused her and in part taught her things about life. After all it was during one such journey that she had learned about the homemade cure for common cold. Her children were too susceptible to catching cold. When she had discovered the cure, she in her mind had thanked the old lady who was telling the cure to one of her distant daughter-in-law. The cure actually worked. She no more had to worry about her children catching cold in winter. She cared too much about them. More than care she worried too much about them. She often had sleepless nights thinking about what her children might have to face when they grew up. She had to be prepared always for the sake of her children.
She had done a lot for her children. She thought not once before resigning from her position as the advertising head of a reputed firm. Her career could wait but not her children. Her train of thoughts came to a halt by a screeching sound. The bus she had to board had stopped just inches away. She straightened her saree and boarded it. She again thought what her neighbours may think about her escapades in the bus. Mrs. Ahuja would often tell her about the image it would project of her in the society. She once offered her, her car too. She didn’t need her assistance. She could ask her husband for the car for her return trip too but she needed those twenty minutes for herself. She looked around, a seat was vacant near the window. There were a few passengers in the bus, but enough to keep her occupied for the next twenty minutes.
“She will never be able to learn anything.”
“Why do you worry so much? She is just two years old.”
“But she hasn’t started to speak yet.”
“Some children start late.”
“She will be slow in learning everything.”
“You worry too much...”
She smiled. She never had to worry about her children. They were a bright lot and were sure to get their way through the JEE’s and AIPMT’s. Everything was planned. She had left nothing undone required for her children’s future, the policies, the coachings and online mentoring. Once they get through the exams their futures were set. What else was needed then? The world would be at their feet. She was a proud mother. Everyone in the society envied her good luck at having such bright children. Why wouldn’t they be? After all she had sacrificed a lot for them. She would stay awake at night with her children during their exams. She had never missed any parents-teacher meet at their school. And every time she met their teachers, they had only praises for her children. At school too, the teacher’s lauded her efforts for her children. They seldom met such parents. She always dreamt for her children’s bright future.
“I always dreamt about a beauty parlour of my own.”
Dreams, she thought, were such an interesting phenomenon. Everyone had different dreams. She had taught her children to dream big. She turned her attention to the two women sitting in front of her and talking about dreams. The two women were rather young, one of them would have easily passed as a teenage girl had she not seen her so closely. They were talking about their dreams in life.
“I had worked hard at Rina di’s parlour and now I have my own clientele.”
“It is good then, right?”
“Yes, this way I can start off pretty well in my parlour. And besides it will also help me to spread word about my parlour.”
“...”
The woman went on and on. These women were returning from a puja ceremony to mark the opening of a new beauty parlour. The older one of the two owned it. She was talking about how hard she had worked to finally fulfil her dream. Her companion thought she was fortunate. Finally she stopped and asked her companion about her dream. The girl had a very queer dream or so she thought.
“I want a television.”
“Oh! You want a television.”
“Yes, I dream of it every day.”
“ I don’t want one of those fancy ones which are there in the big shop on the Kalyani chowk. I just want a normal one.”
“ Why do you dream of a television? There are so many other things that you can dream of.”
“I know. Earlier I dreamt of a washing machine. You know its a thrifting industry, washing linen, drying them and then ironing them.”
“Hmmmm”
“People who earn big money want others to do their cleaning and washing. So a washing machine would have helped me to set up my own washing business.”
“Then...”
“But you know I want a television more. I will be able to know things. You know there are so many news channels these days. I can see foreign countries.”
“Yes, that is right. So...”
“Yes, I will continue at Rita di’s parlour. I can sacrifice this much for my dream.”
And the women kept on chattering about other trivial matters. These women sent her on a new train of thoughts. Something of immediate importance. Television. She had been pestering her husband for a new television for a while now. They had a television alright, but a new television of the newest model would have been better. She rarely asked for something from her husband and when she did he made sure to fulfil her wish. But this time, somehow, she had to remind him every day about the new television.  They had had a long discussion about the television. The television they already had was of the new technology but she wanted one of those she saw in the new commercial. One that would occupy a whole wall of their drawing room and would practically convert their room in a mini-theatre. Her husband had argued against it. He said they didn’t need it. Their present one was quiet enough. She was stubborn. She wanted it and she would have it. She, in her heart knew that her demand was ridiculous but once her heart was set on something she made sure that she got it.
But this conversation between the two women set her thinking. She was at first bemused at the girl’s choice of dreams but listening to her justifications, she went into some serious thinking. Here was a girl who dreamt of a television and that too not a fancy one and here she was who already had a fancy television and still she had spent days arguing with her husband for a new one. She thought about the girl what her life could be like, but she couldn’t arrive at some concrete situation. All she could deduce that this girl could not afford a television and so her dream was to buy a television. She felt a sudden surge of pity for the girl. She was reminded of all those lofty phrases and dialogues which were meant to inspire people to think and dream big. She was suddenly filled with a pang of pain and affection for the girl. This girl, right in front of her, all she dreamt of was a television, not a big house, not a fancy position at some company, not a prince charming, just a small television. This girl may live her whole lie dreaming about a television. She again looked at this girl sitting in front of her. She was young. She had a whole life before her. She again felt pity for her. Before this girl would realise, her age of dreaming would be over. She would be burdened by the responsibilities thrown at her by life. And now when she could dream, all she could dream about is a television. How weird, she thought, she had a television, a good one, the likes of which this girl can never dream of and yet she was adamant on throwing it away and replacing it with a bigger one. How weird, she kept thinking.

The bus stopped and she stepped out. She was still thinking about the girl and her dream and the television. She was still thinking about herself. How could she, she who sacrificed so much for her family did not understand the idiocy of her demand. She had never thought twice when it came to sacrificing things for the comfort of her family. She had done a lot for them and now she was quarrelling over a petty television. She remembered all those times when she would buy a new game console for her son or a new dress for her daughter and just pass by the jewelleries’ counter pretending she didn’t desire them. It felt like a long decade stood between her. She had come a long way. And now they were pretty well-off so they could easily afford a new television. She unlocked the door of her apartment. She switched on the light and the first thing she saw was her television. It looked old and did not synchronise well with the new decor of her house. It was old after all and they definitely needed a new one. She made up her mind. She always did this. She has to have a way. This television must go. 

Neighbors

The sound from the stereo grows louder
Some heavy metal music  comes creeping in
Everyday this happens
Everyday I listen.
I don’t know my neighbors
That is the way down here.
People don’t know their neighbors
And they know the TV stars.
So, I don’t know my neighbors
Except that they love
Heavy metal and loud sounds.
I often wonder if they really know
This music and others in their collection.
I sit here in my solitary little apartment
Listening to this metal stuff
When I suddenly catch
Some argument going on in their house.
I realize they shout pretty bad
And they throw insults at each other
And when it grows louder
They put on the CD of some rock or metal.
They, too, don’t know their neighbors
But they care what their neighbors might think.
So each day when they return home
After battling another day of survival
They quarrel and while hey quarrel
They put on some heavy metal.
They probably like this music
Or maybe they want to appear anglicized
Before their neighbors
Whom they don’t know.
Nobody knows their neighbor

That is the way down here.