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Sreya Mukherjee



Sreya Mukherjee


I Remember The Tales

I Remember The Tales

14 mins 235 14 mins 235

"Once upon a time there lived a king who had two queens. Dhruv was the son of the elder queen and rightful heir to the throne but Dhruv was despised by the younger queen. Since the king loved the younger queen more, she was allowed to continue with her cruel behaviour to Dhruv. One day while Dhruv was sitting on his father's lap, the younger queen asked him to get down. Little Dhruv was much pained by this and tears rolled down his eyes while the king remained a mute spectator. Little Dhruv was advised by his mother to take refuge in Lord Vishnu, as only God will provide him succor in his hard times. Little Dhruv ran to forest and meditated upon Vishnu's name as told by his mother. Finally, pleased with his dedication Vishnu granted him the boon that the brightest star of the night sky will henceforth be known as Dhruv Tara (star)."

The three of us sat around grandma while she told us our bedtime story. Grandma had such a huge repertoire of stories; some nights she took us to the land of fairies and some nights we watched the prince as he fought the hideous demon, while some nights we went to the land of talking beasts. Most of the nights my little brothers fell asleep before her story ended but even after lying on our makeshift cots I kept thinking about the prince, demon, fairy or whoever came to meet us that night in grandma's story. I always had umpteen questions after she finished her story but hardly did she ever answer them. Nevertheless, I continued asking them in the hope that one day they will be answered.

"I didn't like the king at all. If he loved Dhruv so much why did he never chide the younger queen?", I asked grandma.

"Sometimes we are bound by circumstances beyond our control. You are too young to understand this but surely you will get your answer as you grow old", grandma said.

"Even if I get the answer I will never forgive the king for being such a coward", said I, furrowing my brows to express my disapproval. "But more importantly", I continued "I am let down by Dhruv. He should have never resigned to the circumstances and accepted the injustice silently. He ought to have fought the injustice, and then his name would have been etched not only on the brightest star of the sky but also on the tallest of mountains and deepest of oceans of the earth."

Grandma scowled, "You talk too much. A girl who speaks beyond her limit is disliked by all. Girls should learn the virtue of silence." Saying this she shooed me away.

I lay beside my mother. We were sleeping on the bare ground. The temperatures refused to drop and thus we have resorted to sleeping on ground. Its not that we had the luxury of bed but during the cooler months of the year we slept on make shift cots. Anyway, it made no difference whether we slept on cot or on bare ground because both had equally hard surfaces; the luxury of mattress was not for us. It was mid July, and still there was no sign of rain. The crops had already failed. Father was very worried and had started spending sleepless nights. We did not had our own farm, father tilled the land of Jamidar Jethu(landlord uncle) and was allowed to keep 3/4th of the yearly yield.

Lying beside my mother, I was lost in the world of Dhruv and the cruel queen. My mother was sobbing; she did not bother to muffle her sobs because we all have grown used to it. Personally, I prefer Sorrow over any other emotion. While all other emotions such as happiness, excitement, etc. depart us no sooner than they arrive; it is only Sorrow that stays true to us. Sorrow is very loyal to its owner and I had always valued loyalty. Time will also teach me that beside Sorrow, Death also never abandon its loyalty to humans.

Though, I must admit the sobs of my mother were particularly rueful that night. I was shook out of my reverie and I turned towards her. Her red eyes were swollen in her gaunt face. I wondered what was there to lament. We had grown accustomed to forgoing dinner; even my little brothers had learnt to manage their hunger pangs. Resilience was another virtue that I valued. After a while, father came and sat beside her. Father hardly slept at night. He said sleep, like all other luxuries of life is not for him. Father was comforting mother in his own clumsy way. Now this was something unusual, because I have always been taught that women needed no comforting, since God had prepared them to endure all the sufferings of the world.

"Radha, stop sulking. This is hard for me too but there is no other option. I am doing this for our good, for her good", said father in his gruff voice.

"For God's sake stop pretending that this is for her good. You greedy monster, you have no heart. You are blinded by the glint of money", mother said between her sobs.

Father was enraged to hear such insults from his wife. A man will endure every insult but an insult from a woman, that too from his wife, is too much for him.

Quite naturally he slapped mother and said, "I wish you rot to death."

Next morning I opened my eyes to see mother outdoing herself in order to make our decrepitude single room hut presentable. In the 12 years of my existence, this is the first time I saw any effort was being made for tidying up the decrepitude shovel we called home. Grandma stood before me and in a high pitched voice chastised me for sleeping through whole morning.

"Wake up, princess. We are blessed that you finally decided to open your eyes and bestow us with your grace", she said in her usual sarcastic tone.

Though I was the object of her wrath but I appreciated her ability to be so creative even in her derision.

"The sun just rose. I am helpless if you consider this to be late afternoon", I murmured still half asleep.

"What an insolent girl! Don't answer me back or else I will smash your head. Now, please honour us by getting up", she continued, "What ungrateful progeny! we sell our souls for them but what we get back is derision. Hare Ram! Hare Ram!"

After I completed my morning chores, mother brought me the gaudiest, blingy saree I have ever laid my eyes on.

"Get ready quickly. I borrowed this saree from your Jamidar Jethi (landlord's wife). You may soil my shroud but please be careful with it and don't soil it", saying this she handed me the saree and went away.

I began draping the saree. All the male members of our family were sent out of the house to allow me some privacy; though I had not seen father since morning, apparently he was busy with "outdoor tasks" and I had no idea what those tasks were supposed to be.

I draped the saree mechanically. Grandma made me sit in front of her and started massaging my hair with hibiscus oil. I was too taken aback to think anything at all. In a household where cooking oil was hard to come by, hibiscus hair oil was a luxury that no one would have dared to think even in their wildest dream. However, later I learned that mother worked over time teetering on the brink of bonded labour in Jamidar Jethu's household to get hold of such luxuries for her daughter's big day.

After massaging my hair with hibiscus oil, grandma braided my hair and tucked jasmine flowers in my braid. Then she applied kohl to my eyes and said I looked prettier than the princesses of her stories. I was too flabbergasted to retort back. I went to the farthest corner of our home and sat down, incapable of comprehending the drama that was playing out before my eyes. Mother was busy preparing such delicacies whose smell was enough to draw all the nearby urchins to our home. My brothers were given the duty of keeping the urchins out of our house. Neighbourhood women thronged our house and congratulated us for our good fortune. They said Lady Luck has decided to bestow her grace on us. I remained the mute spectator in the unfolding drama similar to the complacent father of Dhruv whom I had so despised once.

I don't know how much time passed before I heard honking from the muddy road which lead to our house, on which hardly any motorized vehicle plied. The soft mud as well as the over-excited urchins made it difficult for the car to move any further. But, as we all know it is impossible to stop the rich and mighty from doing anything they have set their heart to. Thus the car screeched mightily and trod the soft muddy path leaving an ugly blemish of its wheel on the path's earthy face. If the car and its driver had their way they would have happily trod the urchins blocking their way, but it seems even the rich and mighty are bounded by some rules, dictated by society. The car screeched to a halt in front of our doors. I had always wondered how a non-living entity such as car exudes charisma and can effectively articulately the social standing of its owner. However, I must not indulge in frivolity while talking about cars because they are held in more regard by the society than people like us who are considered to be the dregs of society.

The occupants of the car alighted. My father ushered them in our house almost licking the ground before they set foot on it. They were asked to take their seat on the chairs borrowed from Jamidar Jethu's house. I saw three people occupying the chairs that were brought early morning. Our 'esteemed guests' comprised of an elderly man in a brown suit, similar to the one I have seen in hoardings; a middle-aged woman in fine silk saree and was bedecked with heavy gold jewellery; and a young man in grey suit probably in his late twenties. All the 'esteemed guests' had a haughty look etched on their faces.

I was in a sort of daze and my memory of that day is clouded. It seemed as if I had lost my ability to think, I just followed the orders that were given to me. I was made to carry a tray filled with delicacies and placed the tray before our guests on a makeshift table. I stood blankly before them.

"What's your name?” the 'esteemed' lady asked.

"Abha", I squeaked.

"How old are you?"

"12 years"

"Can you do the household chores properly?"


"Can you read and write?"

"I can write my name and read a little."

"Always be obedient to us, we don't like rebellious girls."

"Yes, madam"

"Fine, that will do. You may go now."

I kept standing where I was. Mother dragged me to the corner of house and made me sit. I sat there staring blankly at the cracked wall. After an infinite period of time, father held me by hand said, "I knew that one day my Abha would be the queen of a palace and will rule the world. Abha, destiny has opened a new door for you. I wish you all the best for your new life but first let's go to the temple and seek Shiva's blessings."

Before I knew, I was hauled inside the car which was already occupied by our 'esteemed guests'. I was squeezed between the lady and the young man while my father sat on the front seat beside the driver. The door of the car slammed shut and the dark window glass was rolled up. Through the tainted glass I could see my mother crying inconsolably while all our neighbours thronged our house craning their neck to have a better look of the car, envy clearly etched on their faces. But all I could think was the analogy of my situation with that of Dhruv's; how mother mimicked the complacent king and how I became the helpless Dhruv going to seek God's blessing instead of doing anything to change the course of my destiny. Grandma's words "Sometimes we are bound by circumstances beyond our control" hit me with full force.

In a blink of an eye, I zoomed past the territory of poverty that I had known all my life. The car halted in front of God's beautiful abode which I rarely visited because we were not on very good terms with God. It seems when you live under poverty's reign, you naturally antagonize God because your mind is too occupied with food and other basic needs to bother about God.

Anyway, we entered the temple. The priest lit the sacrificial fire. Then he tied a knot between my saree and the young man's garments. After that we circled the sacrificial fire seven times amidst the chanting of indiscernible Sanskrit hymns. Then the young man whose name I didn't know rubbed the sacred vermilion in the parting of my hair. The priest asked the God to shower his blessings on the newly wed, and declared us bounded to each other for life. The entire ceremony lasted thirty minutes after which I was once again hauled inside the car. But this time my father did not accompany me. He kept standing on the temple's stairs as the door slammed and the tinted glass was rolled up once again. He stood there staring blankly as the car zoomed past him.

It is strange how circling around fire can bind you to someone you have just met for life; but then I am no one to question the significance of these age old rituals. Moreover, I have always found life stranger than the bedtime stories of grandma.

After that fateful day, my life zoomed past me just like the car zoomed past the countryside while I stood silently, impassively almost in a trance having lost the ability to discern when the night ended and day broke because in the night of my life dawn never broke. All my days were alike and Sorrow was my only faithful companion in this lonely world. I woke up early, did all the household chores, got thrashed by my 'esteemed' mother-in-law but she was generous enough to let me eat twice a day, a luxury that was inaccessible in my father's house. At nightfall, I was dragged into the luxurious king-size bed of my husband, that remained out of my bound for the rest of the day since I slept at the servant's quarter. But I loathed the softness of that luxurious bed. Every night when my husband dragged me to his room and threw me on his bed gagging me, I understood that the demons of my grandma's story still live amidst us. Behind the closed doors of his room my body was exploited in unthinkable ways till he was satisfied with his exploit. Mostly I was thrown out of that luxurious paradise once his exploits were over and I had to drag myself to servant's quarter because my legs felt paralyzed and also I did not want to ruin the beauty of that palace by lying half naked on its floors. Some mornings I was thrashed by my mother-in-law for soiling the pristine king-sized bed with my dirty blood; she never understood that my blood never followed my instructions. Rather my whole body had stopped following my instructions. My private parts were always swollen, my back always ached and my legs always shook. But of course, I shouldn't expect to be treated like princess, for I was already in a castle, what more can I ask for?

One night my husband was too drunk to walk. But he was disturbed and wanted to vent his feelings. In a healthy relation, the partners should always express their feelings to each other. So, my thoughtful husband took the trouble of coming to servant's quarter dragged me out by my neck to the drawing room of his palace. He grabbed an exquisite brass vase gifted by some foreign emissary. I was really moved by this sweet gesture; in the two years of our marriage he never found time to gift me and I was ready to accept even a second hand gift. But my loving husband outdid himself by giving me the best gift of my life. He lulled me to eternal sleep by smashing my head with the exquisite vase. My lifeless body dropped with a thud on the carpeted floor soiling the carpet with my dirty blood dribbling from my smashed head. I admit I was little worried that my mother-in-law would thrash my lifeless body next morning for soiling her imported carpet with my dirty blood. But, surprisingly she was generous enough to shove my body into the crammed cupboard of her basement.

I don't know how long I have been sleeping in that crammed cupboard of the basement because it all seemed like it happened yesterday. My fellow dwellers, the spiders say that I have outstayed their expectations. But I don't mind their mean words because every night after feasting on gullible insects the spiders tell me a bedtime story, and I faintly remember how once I despised a complacent king for not helping his son and then I mumble to the spiders, "Sometimes we are bound by circumstances beyond our control."

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