“YOU’RE YOUR brother’s enemy.”
That’s the limit. ‘I am my brother’s enemy’. But accusation is flogged on me. And it is by none other than my husband. How can I be so? I had no reason to hate my brother. He had never slapped me when I was young; he never curtailed my pocket money when I was in school; nor he objected to my going to swimming pool, even if his number one enemy Mr. Khan’s wife was a trainer there.
“Don’t talk more with that meat-eater woman.”
That was what he commented about Mrs. Khan. My brother is a simple man. In fact only my relatives know that he is my bother. All other people in our town believe that he is my father. And they rightly believe so. When my father died I was of two years, and when mother passed away I was of ten. My brother and his wife are my parents de facto.
My father was a goldsmith. My brother is a goldsmith. My father employed men from our caste only. My brother does so. My father trained these men in making ornaments by putting so much strain on their eyes that they would get eyesight almost lost. And when they were nearly blinded, my father would gift them the spectacles with the glasses of the color of his choice. Only after that day a worker, the man with the green glasses, would be branded as a skilled worker. It was talk of the town that my father respected only the blinded men. My brother is my father’s son. He has changed nothing. He has total ten men out of which seven are blinded. My husband is one of those blind men.
I IGNORED WHAT my husband told me. He was my brother’s man. Had I been in no hurry for the venture I was to under go, I would have flogged him back for taking my brother’s side. But I was in hurry for completing my mission. The train for Delhi was to depart at six o’clock morning. And I was the only person to go for seeing off Madhuri, my brother’s only daughter. My brother was unaware about her journey.
“Do you know Sudha, what people do with young girls in big cities?”
“They are not man-eaters. And Madhuri is quite mature.”
MADHURI HAD JUST completed her high school. She wanted to undergo a degree course in fine arts at Delhi. The talks about studying outside the town created a cyclone on our family floor. It destabilized several objects. My brother tried his skill.
“Madhuri, my dear, you have studies much more than any other girl in our caste. Now be practical.“ By ‘being practical’ he meant to start working in kitchen, learn some needlework, and get ready for marring a man the family would be finding out for her.
“Papa, I want to get a degree.”
“Dear, only those who want to be servants need degrees. You are already the master of ten servants working in our shop.” This was the text. The subtext was: no college study, no going away from hometown. It was the resolution on the issue of her future. Had her father known that she was going to study fine arts, the wording of his resolution would have been stricter, perhaps. Madhuri did not object, but her eyes turned on me.
“But brother, now a days many girls go to cities for studying.”
“Don’t you know she is my only child?” My voice was silenced.
IT WAS NOT the case that my voice was silenced for the fist time. The air within the walls of our home always felt it uncomfortable to hear a free voice. I recalled my high school days. In those days I had pledged my heart to a man who wrote poetries, kept his hair well-plaited, and did my homework of English language. He did all these things while sitting with me under a banyan tree. By passing of a year, the tree had become wider in air, deeper in land, and thicker in size.
And then came the hurricane. One day my brother scolded his wife heavily, as he believed that she had failed in keeping careful eyes on me. The wind of his rage was so powerful that it would have razed out all the banyan trees on the earth. I saw and heard everything the couple transacted. The issue was mine; the life at stake was mine; I was the last person to be consulted. One week passed, event-less.
“Sudha, my dear, come. Sit here.”
My brother started fondling my head. It was not new for me. He loved me so much. “Look dear, now you should learn everything a good woman should know. Be practical.” By this he conveyed to me a one-line order: Go to the kitchen and forget what is going on outside of it.
Without uttering a single word about my affairs, my dream-canvasses were torn into pieces; the ongoing study was axed; and within a month my marriage was arranged. He chose a man, a pig, who worked in his shop. The boy was an apprentice and was yet to be blinded. He got his salary upgraded and was gifted a good house in our street.
“WHAT WILL YOU DO now?” I had not yet left the battlefield where Madhuri was fighting. We were in a secret meeting, on third floor terrace of my brother’s house. Madhuri was a thinking face and her mother a soundless, a helpless onlooker.
“I will go for the study.”
“Your father would kill me.”
“Mama, nothing like that would happen. I know Papa. He would not tell anyone in the town that his daughter has gone for study without his permission. He is such an egoistic man. But in that case I should not take money from our home.”
The girl was bold. But the honesty for the money was surprise of my life. The air was conducive for the freedom. The decision was taken. Only the money for the initial cost remained an issue. The girl firmly denied taking money from home without telling her father.
I still remember how her mother was trebling when I had gone to my home. I had conceived a decision, too. I returned soon. Under a scheme, Madhuri was supposed to go at her maternal uncle’s home for three days. In fact she had decided to board the train going to Delhi.
“You keep this money.”
“No ifs and buts if you want to study ahead.” I gave her a weighty wade of notes and a truckload of good wishes. Her mother was a fearful soul.
A YEAR HAD PASSED since Madhuri boarded on the Delhi bound train. She frequently talked with me on phone, and sometimes with her mother, but never with her father. He was still a rock, red with anger. But Madhuri was right. He said to every one in the town that he was very much proud of his daughter studying at Delhi.
It was vacation time, yearly vacation, and Madhuri, instead of going to her home, had come at my home.
“Aunty, let us go to our shop. I have purchased gifts for everyone in our house, even for the workers in our shop.” She told me when the morning whistle blew. The girl was bold. I accompanied her. On seeing us the shop was dead silent at all the corners. The blinded and yet to be blinded men just smiled on receiving the gifts from her. All were pigs before my brother. Madhuri went near to him, fearlessly.
“Papa, I have painted Goddess Durga. It’s for you.”
It was the crack. The man with rock straight ego crumbled on hearing his daughter’s voice after a long recess of one year. My brother, being a staunch devotee of Goddess, first bowed his head at the painting. Once he took it in his hands, his eyes failed to contain the flood of tears. The flood washed out all the anger and dislikes he had kept inside since a year.
MADHURI IS TO return to Delhi today. Her vacation walked on the talks about the life in Delhi. She made us wandering on the roads and streets of Delhi, its gardens, its slippery streets, full of cars and cows running on. The railway station of our small town, the town where only the blinded are considered as skilled, is ready for witnessing the flight of a girl. We all are present here, including my practical brother, along with all of the blinded men.
When the train whistled I saw a bird flying in the sky, flying and singing a song of freedom. Madhuri has earned her freedom. She got it not due to anyone’s concession. She did not get it as a gift. She acquired it by courage and her desire to be free. She flies out of our age-old platform. And who is that? Someone is sitting on her wings. Who is she? It is Sudha; it is I, the woman who has lost the wings.
I am flying with her. I am flying on her wings. (Image courtesy Wikimdia commons)