Sindhi Story by : SUNDRI UTTAMCHANDANI
Translated By : MOHAN KESWANI
Touched Up By : CHANDIRAMANI
Not far from Ruki's home, stood two tall coconut trees with their needle like leaves, seemingly in conversation with the sky.
Ruki, was gazing at these needle like leaves swaying in the moonlight, in deep concentration .
Quite a few years earlier when she was young, her soft silken golden hair used to sway in the breeze, like these coconut trees.
Suddenly from nearby barracks two pigeons, flew towards these two trees and perched themselves on one of these.
Ruki's train of thoughts got disrupted and she exclaimed,' Oh what a beautiful sight !'
Then she went inside her house and said to herself, 'I wish this dark place was just as beautiful as outside. But then life is like that. Dark on one side and glittering like silverware on the other side .. One does not seem to get this brightness, even after an arduous search .'
She had thought that when Prem, her son, had finished schooling, the dark side of that era will be over.
But even after correspondence for one and a half years with a few firms and holding various temporary jobs, Prem was unemployed for the past two months;
Today also he had gone to hunt out for a job and was late in returning home.
Prem's constant search for job had made him exhausted and he looked pale.
In a corner of the house, she glanced at her daughter who was furiously working at a sewing machine with a bent body.
Ruki thought sadly,''What a miserable luck ! Gopi married a year earlier .She was happy but then within six months her husband got killed in a war .Naturally she came back to stay with me and she shall always stay with me'
These two factors had made Ruki's life dark and miserable
Suddenly her son Prem entered the room. He was holding a piece of cake in his hand.
" Mama ! Mama! Open your mouth , open your mouth. See what I have brought for you .'"
She opened her mouth and full of joy , swallowed the piece of cake..
She had tears in her eyes and a smile on her face.
She immediately understood why her son, who was a miser by nature, was putting a piece of cake in her mouth. Suddenly she felt as if sun was peeping through dark clouds.
Prem had an unusual gleam in his eyes He kept talking about his newly acquired job.
'Mama.just imagine, A salary of ninety Rupees per month and in addition free food, and uniform. You need not ask about the quality of the food. It has to be excellent and people will start respecting me for getting this job.'
Ruki, was silently giving blessings to her son.
' May you be always happy .' She kept saying.
" Suddenly she thought that her son, after wandering whole day must be tired and hungry and she went into the kitchen.'
She felt unusually lively; and her hands came alive.
Previously when she was in the kitchen, she would get so immersed in the past, that she forgot why she was in the kitchen.
But today it was different, and she fanned the coals furiously till they glowed red hot.
She remembered the childhood puzzle "Every house has a red bride". Meaning fire.
Definitely true but today she was reminded of another bride. The bride that her son Prem would bring home one day She had constantly dreamt about it.
At this juncture she thought about her daughter who had gone to her in-law's house also as a bride; but what happened? Misery befell her Her husband got killed in a war .and she was back home as a widow.
'Tut! Tut!!' Ruki started feeling superstitious and thought "At this auspicious time, why am I behaving like an idiot?
Quickly,she brought some rice dish and gave it to her son.
Today however, Prem asked a strange question. "Only this dish ?
Normally Ruki would have been hurt with such a question but today she burst out laughing.
She replied, "For the last two weeks you have not even known that you are eating the same dish everyday…. But today you have become observant. So tell me what is the reason for all this change? Tell me have you cornered some rich man for your job-so that you are smelling the delicious food already?"
In that instant Prem's face became pale; however quickly recovering his composure, he said " Mama, The pay will increase and is likely to be few hundreds per month".
"Then son, the work load will also increase, she said and continued "No one pays without getting adequate work in return. So what sort of work will you be doing?"
Prem suddenly felt cornered..
He said "Some, some exercise and obeying the orders. Nothing else."
But Ruki, although being an old fashioned woman was very intelligent..
It was very difficult for Prem to fool her. In a few minutes after asking a few questions, she knew the truth.
Ruki felt dizzy, went and lay down on the cot.
She felt like a drowning woman, whose stick, which was extended to help her come out of water, was suddenly snatched away.
Gopi, her daughter, asked her to eat food, but saying that she was not hungry, she kept lying down.
However on Prem's insistence she got up to eat but could not even take one bite.
Prem had no guts to persuade her to do so.
He thought "Oh after a great struggle, I thought I had brought some ray of light in this dark house, but how quickly with a slight whiff of breeze, the flame of hope got extinguished. In this house there was unhappiness in the past, but there was no suffocation like it is today. I wish I had the guts to keep the secret of the type of work to myself."
Outwardly Ruki seemed calm, but deep inside she felt extremely disturbed. Her condition could be compared to a mother goat, who sees her kid being dragged away to be butchered.
She kept thinking "Oh why are they recruiting my Prem in the army? Why is this Devil war asking for my Prem's blood? No! No! I shall not let this murder be committed."
After forty years her nerves had become numbed but the maternal instinct came bubbling out.
She went near Prem, extended her hands and touched his face and his body.
"What is it Mama ?" asked Prem, who was still awake.
"Prem, please do not accept this job,"she burst out.
"Why Mama! After all we have to save ourselves from death due to hunger"
"Son, what is the sense of killing some one to avoid one's own death?"
Prem was annoyed. Scratching his head, he started thinking. "After all there is no other way".
He remembered his matriculation days when he had written an essay against. War.
It read "If humans have to wage a war, why fight each other? Why do they not wage a war to remove impediments created by nature? Let them change the course of the rivers, creating rain in deserts by scientific means, break hillocks, making this earth and mountains to change for the betterment of the mankind."
The Essay continued,"Governments of different countries, because of fear, are waging Devil's War, and spending so much money on creating armies, but if these resources are spent on mother Earth, and the armies utilized to work for the betterment of human beings, it is certain that the Paradise from above will come down to earth and in this world one would consider this as top duty performed."
Prem had written a lot more and his teacher had said, "Prem, you are a gifted writer, Change the world with your pen."
But this pen and writing had weakened and cracked against today's problems.
"Prem why are you so quiet?" asked her mother..
Prem, lying down on the bed, felt a few drops of sweat on his neck.
Ruki on the other hand could not tolerate Prem for not answering, and her past came rushing back to her like the waves of the ocean.
She said," Prem, in December 1941 during cold weather I remember dressing you very nicely and you really looked like a prince. Right at that time a telegram came informing us that Japan had bombed Singapore, in which your sister Gopi's husband was killed and your father went missing. After that for the next three years, carrying you in my arms, I went from pillar to post for help . Government gave me only Rs. Thirty per month and for getting that I, along with hundreds like me used to stand in queues. You had just started studying in school. So tell me my prince, how did I manage?"
She continued "Son, today you are searching for a job with status but I, since that fateful day, have forgotten all about status and dignity. I had only one wish and that was to give you good education, so that one day you would become an important man".
Ruki's eyes were filled with tears and they started dropping like the monsoon rain falling from the dark clouds in the dark night.
She felt like a bride who on the first night kept waiting for her husband who never turned up.
She continued, " Six months after the war had ended, one day your maternal uncle knocked on the door. He had brought a person along with him and when I looked at him, I fell down on the floor with a great thump. He was your father. Yes your father! What had become of him? His hands and feet had become paralysed. He had become completely deaf. He could barely see with the eyes. Your uncle narrated the incident just as it had happened. It seems that while the bombing was going on, and he was running towards the shelter, he tripped on a sack, and could not reach the shelter.
She continued, "The noise of the bombs made him completely deaf. Even his arms and feet had been hit by the bomb splinters. Listening to the screams of wounded people, had also affected his brain and he had become insane".
Ruki asked, "Prem have you gone to sleep?"
"Son, Your papa's partner gave your uncle Rs. twenty thousand rupees for me which came as dim light in acute darkness. Your uncle, while giving the packet to me said "Here sister! This is the future capital to help Prem and Gopi".
Ruki continued , "But where is this capital now? When I bought this house, people were jealous. The rent from a portion of the house was just enough to sustain the house expenses. But the ever devilish war did not even tolerate that, and it took even nastier turn. Partition of India and Pakistan took place. Hindus and Muslims were at each other's throats. Hundreds of thousands of people got killed and millions became homeless. Your father got killed in these riots. Someone put a knife through him."
Ruki's hands automatically went to her eyes, as if she was trying to push away the sickening happenings.
Wiping her tears and keeping her hands on Prem's head, she said, "Son, kudos to that lady Zeenat, who gave us shelter and saved my little prince. Son, from that day onwards, I hate war and ever since no earthen lamp has been lit in our home. But you are the only lamp of hope left."
Prem said, "Your lamp of hope will only burn brighter when I become an officer and with this ordinary education how will I become an officer except in the army? If there is war between India and Pakistan, I will take you back to our old place, where you lived and ……….."
Ruki felt as if some one had slapped her with force. Like a wounded lioness she jumped up from the cot and grabbing Prem embraced him as if he was a small kitten, who was being snatched away by a ferocious blood sucking beast.
She thought, "One war took away my son-in-law, the other one made me a widow and the next one may take away jewel of my eye."
Ruki could not think any further and she started shedding tears. She went to the cot, buried her face in the pillow and tried to suppress the frustration created over years.
Prem could not succeed in consoling her even after he tried so hard to do so.. His condition at this time can be compared to a dam maker, who, himself is drowning in rising waters overflowing the dam.
His thoughts took a sudden turn to the past.He went and laid down on the bed.
He thought, "Even after going round whole of Bombay, I could not find a job with status. If I do not join the army, what will I do? Become a labourer? Sell snacks on the road? Carry basket full of goods and sell them? And then …… my school friends will taunt and tease me on the road."
They will say, "Prem oh Prem!, Carrying a basket of goods does not suit your status" - ha! ha! ha! Prem now has no guts to raise his eyes and look us in the eye.
Prem said to himself, "Certainly I will be ashamed of myself."
Prem's mother on the adjacent bed kept thumping the pillow, behaving almost like a mad woman. Her heart was almost at a bursting point.
She exclaimed, "Oh How long will I carry on like this?"
Prem's ears could not bear her sobs sounding like small round waves in a pond.
Prem who lay on the adjacent cot, thought, "Millions of mothers must be passing through this nightmare that whatever their men made with their sweat: Power generating units and buildings, will turn into ash due to war."
Near the barracks, all was dark and quiet, the only noise audible was of the rain falling outside.
Prem became indecisive about accepting the job.
Brooding over it, he gradually fell asleep.
In his sleep, he dreamt of his father.
He screamed, "Who is this? Is it my father ?"
His father's body was smeared with blood and he had a knife through him.
He screamed, "Prem! Do you still want the war in India ? Come I shall show you somethimg."
Yes it was the voice of Prem's father.
Prem dreamt that on either side of the no men land, big armies were poised against each other. They were shooting at each other. Their weapons were making a deafening noise. The flash of the weapons showed countless dead bodies which were piled up on each other. Some of them were limbless. Blood curdling screams were heard, with the injured asking for drinking water and help.
In his dream, Prem's father shouted "Prem! Move forward, with me. Don't stop here".
There was a very big blast with deafening noise, and suddenly everything was enveloped in thick dark smoke.
When it cleared, Prem saw that everything seemed normal people were in the bazaars, buildings were standing, school going children were sitting quietly on the benches, and in far off distance he saw farmers ploughing. However they all had a colour of dark coal.
Prem went forward and tried to pick up a child, but instead found a pile of ashes. Same with his own house. He thought of going to the first floor to fly kites but when he took the first step, the whole structure became a heap of rubble and ashes.
Prem screamed, "Oh what has happened to our house ? I had to bring mother here."
He started feeling dizzy.
He said "Father What is happening ?
Suddenly what Prem saw was that on either side of no man's land, miles of roads were burning like crackers at Diwali time and millions of people were having spasms and dying.
The buildings were collapsing with deafening noises.
He asked, " Father! See that!! Zeenat Mahal is engulfed in fire" Oh father ! I do not like this scene of death. I do not want it. Zeenat saved me by putting turkish cap on my head, and informing the Muslims who were carrying knives that I was her Hameed, whose father was killed in India. Father, Zeenat is a good woman. What happened to her home"?
He started crying and bawling like a child.
The father replied,"Son, This is known as war, which benefits only some blood sucking selfish people, but not the common man, who in turn, gets destroyed."
"Father this total chaos, and blood every where, is affecting my heart and I may soon turn into an animal. Father ! Why is the knife still sticking in you ? Why don't you remove it ? "
The father replied, "this knife, which you see sticking out from my chest was the result of stabbing me by an ordinary person like you who was paid to kill me. Oh how I wish he knew that while he was stabbing me, there was someone else in India slabbing Zeenat's husband."
"But father I shall not let the knife remain in your chest even an instant longer."
Saying this Prem got up with a jerk, thus coming out of the dream.
Where was his father?
On nearby cot Ruki, with red sunken eyes due to lack of sleep was peeping though the window and looking at those two tall coconut trees.
Now it was a different view. Instead of moonlit night, it was the dawn of the morrow.
Prem, caught hold of his mother's feet, and said, " Mama ! Father showed me the war, in reality."
He continued, "I do not want this war. I want peace. I am prepared to do a labourer's job, or carry goods for sale on my head but I shall not join the army."
The mother hugged her son fervently.
From the barracks the pigeons had started flying in search of food!
- End -