Saturday, April 7, 2007

In The Company of Strong Women

“Do you know Indra, why I have four cute sisters?’
She has once asked, it was a usual hot and humid afternoon. They were sitting in his room; the door was left wide open to make them visible to any passerby in the inner gallery. It was advised by Prerna and Indra found it to be very convenient and seemingly acceptable in the building.
It made some knotted souls uncomfortable and they gleefully whispered malicious gossip around. But adventurous Prerna was not perturbed at all and these meetings were held to discuss pressing matters. She could afford to be aloof of such silly concerns. His suggestion to hold such meetings in an aloof, usually deserted restaurant was mercilessly vetoed by her.
Indra couldn’t answer and stared blank at her rarely sad face.
‘Because in those days, they didn’t have that machine.’
‘Machine! What machine?’
‘Oh! You ignorant fool.’ She mocked surprise.
‘Yes.... I don’t have to cram irrelevant shit to pass ……those bloody exams.’
‘I know you love to hear that… want to see others defeated? You people are trained to make common people like me…. feel and think defeated.’
‘I just don’t want to know that. Is that clear, madam?’
Their raised voices attracted attention of an alert Shanno. She lifted the gaudy curtain to make herself visible in her usual finery. Sound of her anklets alerted them to lower their voices. She looked at them with smile and proceeded to hang a towel on the balcony railing. Taking her time, smoothing the wrinkles of the puffy cloth, turning it over many times, her numerous bangles making clinking noises, ears tuned and hungry for any exciting sound bytes. The gang of five was to visit her and watch some exciting film together and indulge in malicious gossip. She was excited by prospects of her tidbit’s being the juiciest. She was a generous host and ladies were addicted to her tasty pakoras and tea. Further her deaf mother in law was greatly envied by all visiting ladies. It gave them freedom to enjoy with video films, loud music and unhindered-uninhibited exchange of notes about vicious mother in laws and their wicked ways. She was envied too for her bulging purse, no kids to look after and a fawning husband. Every night Amma ji only looked forward to count wads of currency notes, brought home by Chouthu. After that she will put money in a hidden locker under her bed and sleep on it. It was rumored to hide a sizable booty in cash and she rarely left it unguarded. More over Shanno was the only house wife in the building to hold a separate bank account, generously funded by her indulgent rich father. It gave her immense standing in the gang. The bewildered gang members were astonished at tales of her premarital raunchy escapades with variety of lusty lovers. They sighed with envy and excitement as she shamelessly unfolded each episode with great explicit details. Some were repeated often on demand, and Shanno too loved to tell a juicy tale.

Prerna silently went on looking at him.
“Ok. I am going...If you don’t want to listen.’ She hissed, her eyes betraying deep feeling of hurt.
‘I am sorry… if you felt that way?’
She turned her eyes away.
“It’s okay…what it is?’ Indra knew there was no escape and he will have to bear burden and listen to her.
'It’s is that sonograph machine……… they now use to detect…’
‘Detect what?’
‘Don’t you know?’
“No! I said I don’t know. Didn’t I?’
‘Sex of the child.’
Indra was silent. Didn’t know what to say and how to sooth her.
‘Oh that?’
She remained silent, her face clouded.
‘You look sad.’
‘Yes I am sad. But do you bother?’ Prerna didn’t look at him.
‘I am sorry.’
“Don’t be, please. Its ok’
Indra avoided her steely eyes.
‘I shudder to imagine, if they had that machine in those times my all sisters might have all been aborted… killed. Why only my sisters! I too might have been sucked out of the womb, bundled and disposed off or thrown some where to be eaten by hungry dogs.’
‘Please Prerna? Why you think of all this?’
She didn’t reply.
‘Lets change the subject…please.’
‘So you don’t want to listen. I am going.’ Prerna got up.
‘No. It’s not that. Please stay…. I mean. Please tell me... and ...unburden your self.’
He waited.
‘I feel bad Indra. ………Being a girl… really bad.’
‘Don’t say that…. And of all the girls you are saying this? I am surprised.’
‘Surprised? Are you…. why?’
Both were silent. It was getting unbearable.
‘Those girls may have been fortunate …they perhaps. Didn’t hear… and if they did… might have not felt as bad as I do. They don’t take these things … the way…. I do.’
‘Please calm down.’
‘ I heard all this... my self.’
‘What? Heard whom?
Prerna remained silence. Indra held her hand and made her sit near him.
Shanno watched them from her vantage position, engrossed in her urgent business of spreading the towel on the rusted railing with great deliberation and expertise, taking her time, craning her long neck to see the unfolding action.
‘Don’t tell me. You mean.... your parents?’
‘Yes.’ Her shaking voice betrayed her practiced self-control and dignified poise.
‘Oh my god...please hold yourself Prerna. You are too strong a girl to take such things to heart. May be they didn’t mean…what you have been thinking.’
‘No. They did exactly say.... just that. It was as clear as a crystal.’
A sense of heavy gloom and helplessness was slowly filling the space.
‘They were discussing the huge finances needed to marry off... all of us...and how unfortunate they are to have five girls…they.... never ever wanted. And how my father went on demanding more commission from contractors and finding more ways to make money for impending marriages involving huge expenses. They were loudly wondering what sin they might have committed to deserve five surely must have been a great sin.’
‘When was it?’ Indra asked cautiously.
Shanno tried hard to catch whispers, but the low voices assured her further of a rumored affair; a promising young woman officer falling for a handsome scoundrel. She sighed with envy, trying hard to decipher the focus of seemingly intensely private lover’s argument.
Her fertile brains raced to decipher meaning in girl’s tense bearings and boy’s alarmed position, and then it hit her surety and prospects she loved. She was sure to score in the ladies gang by divulging the piece of a hottest scoop.
‘It does not matter, when they said it. But the fact is that they did say such things.... and I was unfortunate enough to hear. I.... do.... try hard.... to forget. But those whispering, repenting and angry voices haunt me so often. Hit my self-esteem like a sludge hammer. It's more painful, when they tell me how wonderful they felt when Pintoo was born after five of us. They aborted three unfortunate unwanted girls. Though, I love Pintoo...but some times I see him in a strange way. I can't explain it... I mean...’
‘I know that, Prerna.’
‘So what, if you know?’
‘Please. For gods sake... I mean... I didn’t mean any thing... offending?’
‘I know that you don’t mean any thing.... you never do. You are just listening to what I am saying now, because you don’t have any options. Why should you bother about it...and. if really you do, I suspect its just an idea for you... a good plot... for a new lousy play? You don’t know how I am feeling. How helpless I am... when I go over.... those horrible utterances of my so called loving and caring parents, killers of three unborn babies.'

‘I am sure, she is pregnant.’
‘‘Who is pregnant?’
Shanno looked around at expectant friends. She presided over the afternoon meeting of the ladies in her cool bedroom. They had assembled after finishing the back breaking daily cores and feeding kids returned with heavy bags, fight torn cloths and a bad report card from various schools, befitting the economic standing of each household. Shanno was obviously free of such boring-daunting cores and has planned the news breaking ceremony with due deliberation and care. She has personally informed the gang members to not the miss the session. She gave hints of making an exciting discovery after the persistent investigation expected of her.
“Guess…who is fit to be pregnant?” Shanno winked.
“Well what about you?”
“Oh come on, not so early yaar. Let me have a little more fun, than I too will get in the lousy rut you all are so eager to push me in to.”
Ladies laughed and suggested various names. Shanno smiled and gleefully vetoed them all.
“ One more thing –she is still unmarried.”
A sudden hush fell on the assembled gang. Elder ladies looked at each other’s face to know the dreaded answer. The forty plus ladies of the gang were troubled with a great sense of anxiety to know the girl’s name fast. They were troubled by seemingly strange ways of their own teen-aged daughters.

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