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The Truth Behind The Platform

The Truth Behind The Platform

23 mins 112 23 mins 112

It felt like several bands were playing inside the head. All efforts had proved to be futile. Urmila had a slightly higher expectation than her younger sister Choti but now that was also destroyed.

“Didi, now that you have got a place to live with Kaki, why do you want to get into a fracas with these people? Jethji (Brother– in– law) is not sending you away from here. If Jethji gets stubborn, will Kaka-Kaki be able to keep you? You live with respect in your in-laws house. Be happy!" Choti tried to console Urmila.

There was no sense of empathy in the message that was delivered in such a flat tone. So now does Choti also think that a wife should feel satisfied if she has a place to eat, drink and stay? This alone is the happiness that the sindoor on the forehead can provide! Whatever has happened to Choti? Has she forgotten the thin line of difference that separates the happiness of the world outside and inside? 

Urmila was losing her confidence. She wanted to ask if Choti would maintain this generosity if her husband were to get married to someone else and would she be just as satisfied with the few conveniences that the others throw in? But she did not ask these questions. How difficult it is to empathise with others’ sorrows like one’s own?

It was only Choti who would meet Urmila surreptitiously. She would tend to the wounds of her older sister. And console her that she was not alone even in the muted and darkest of nights. How many times had she sneaked stealthily into aunt’s house to say "Didi, stay strong. I will not allow Jethji to get married again. I am making all efforts for that." What happened to those efforts? Urmila knew that it was no mean task for Choti but why the curtness? At least she could have used words that would pep her up. Why did she speak so curtly today? Was she trying to get rid of her? After all, what could Choti possibly do? Urmila was also well aware of the mores of the outside world as well as those practised inside this house. She had studied the spoken-unspoken expressions of her mother-in-law over the years. She was familiar with the behavior of her husband. No words that are confrontational in nature are tolerated in this house. It appeared like Choti had figured out the core mantras that were needed to stay firmly grouted to this house.

A volcano erupted inside her heart. A whole year had passed in making all possible efforts to prevent Raghubir Singh from getting married again. Attempts were made to gain understanding about her shortcomings by talking to her father-in-law. She pleaded before her mother-in-law. She made several vain attempts to meet Raghubir. The Slokas of Saptapadi and circumambulating the fire seven times during marriage was not a joke that one could chant them one moment and forget them later. Raghubir ought to think again. Urmila will force him to rethink. But could she succeed? Her entire effort was as futile as searching for pearls in a desert.

I have a place to stay in my Kaka-sasur’s (father-in-law’s brother’s) house. I have only that much expectation from there. He did not want to get entangled in the domestic affairs of his brother. Every now and then this is what he had to say, “What do we not have in this house. Just stay put here.”

Kaki starts recounting the comforts provided in the house one by one. Urmila gets sad and wonders how she can tell them that these few moments of joy that are part of their charity only remind her of her helpless state. But what can we say to these people when fate had itself dealt a poor set of cards?

Tolerating the fact that she is being ignored for years had hardened Urmila. She had given up crying. She put on the facade of being tough. But after she returned from her meeting with Choti, she had broken down. No idea what kind of storm gained momentum in her hearts, her eyes simply welled up with tears.

When had the crack started to develop and when was she losing her place in the house? Urmila started thinking. Some aspects that are imbibed as positive skills in a daughter–in–law had proved to be a fault in this house.

Those were the days when not just in the villages but in cities too, no particular importance was accorded towards the education of a girl child. Urmila has gained knowledge of the letters through her father and could browse books such as Ram Charith Manas, Durga Chalisa, Saptashati, etc. In addition to the usual stuff given as part of dowry such as beds, boxes, suitcases etc, father had also given her a few religious books. This was the reason why Urmila was able to sit with those books in her spare time.

One day Seth Ratan Singh, who took pride in the fact that his daughter in law was able to read the Ramayan and Gita, came to the courtyard and said, “I have heard that your daughter-in-law can read the Ramayan very well. Do ask her to recite it for me.” It was the practice in the house to cover the body all the way to the hands with a veil (Ghunghat) while appearing before the father-in-law. Urmila did not come in front of him but recited a few couplets from Ramcharit Manas from behind the door. Seth Ratan Singh was overwhelmed. He did not mince words to praise her tune, spelling, divinity and proficiency. Mother in law’s eyebrows were taut. Just a small request from her father-in-law and such an elaborate, shameless and musical rendering of the Ramayan! This news reached all members of the family, including her son.

The suspicious minded Raghubir Singh, who was already uninterested in his wife, got up tensed. The Seth family was very influential in the village. Raghubir Singh was of the firm belief that daughters-in-law of such homes must be dominated so as to avoid the chance of embarrassing the family in front of the villagers. Urmila wondered how fragile was their pride that it could break by a mere displacement of the veil or by indulging in some small talk. Even as she tried, where she was expected to keep her heads bowed and accept matters reasonable / unreasonable, important / unimportant, she proved to be the kind of haughty woman who would lash out with her scissor-like tongue.

Urmila’s heart was torn into pieces listening to a long litany of abuses rained by her mother-in-law. The son was always in a state of hot temper. No matter how much influence Seth Ratan Singh had on the world outside, he was a mere puppet within the four walls of his house.

Urmila had acquired one more negative attribute now. Five years had passed since her marriage but she could not beget a child and elevate her mother-in-law to the status of a grandmother. Girls, who got married after her, had managed to fill their homes with happiness. Now it was her mother-in-law’s wish that her son, Raghubir Singh get married again but Urmila was not ready to leave the house.

Seth Ratan Singh had gone out for a few days. One day, when Urmila was within earshot, the mother-in-law told her son, "Raghubir, it has been a while since Urmila went outside. She must be longing to see places. If not anywhere else, at least take her for a sacred bath in Ganges."

The love that was displayed in the manner that the mother spoke and the way the son agreed to her proposal was a matter of utmost surprise for Urmila. She was a little suspicious. She wanted to ask Raghubir Singh what good attribute he had suddenly seen grow inside her to shower so much love. But she thought of how that might present a confrontation in an otherwise happy moment and refrained.

They left the house at the crack of down and by the time they reached the banks of the Sangam (confluence of Ganga and Jamuna), it was afternoon. The waters of the Ganges were dazzling in the rays of the sun. A closer look made one feel like rising waves could be seen in the water. Similar waves of happiness were rising in Urmila’s heart as well. Seeing the change in her husband she felt greatly obliged to mother Ganges and prayed for eternal love. Raghubir Singh was also praying but whether his prayer was for their everlasting relationship or otherwise was a matter that he and only he was privy to.

Urmila was literate but still she was a village girl. She had ventured out with her husband, with a little dream, a little faith, and a lot of innocence. She felt blessed getting a trip to the Ganges. Raghubir took her around, winning her confidence and walking ahead in a relaxed manner. It was getting dark but they were not in a hurry. It mattered little to Urmila whether it was evening or night so long as her husband was with her. After the darshan when Raghubir Singh brought Urmila to a dam, the evening was giving way to the dark. Sitting in front of the few small temples located around the dam were groups of men mostly consisting of priests and a few boatmen. At a distance were some Sadhus smoking ganja. Close to the Sadhus were some boys playing cards. There were also two or three shops selling materials required for puja. They were getting ready to close for the day. Raghubir Singh told Urmila, “We shall stay here for the night, go to Allahabad tomorrow for sightseeing and then leave for home.”

“Where will we stay?” asked Urmila in a doubtful tone.

"You don’t worry about anything. I shall make some arrangements”.

Casting a look all around, Raghubir replied, ”Just behind this temple and a little below, there might be a Dharmshala. Please wait here, I shall find out and return.”

After moving a few steps, Raghubir Singh returned suddenly. He whispered something into her ears. Urmila removed the necklace, earrings, and the other ornaments that she had on her person and handed them to her husband..

Raghubir Singh stepped down from the dam and went in search of Dharmshala. Urmila stood there waiting for her husband to return. The clock was ticking away. The men around were staring at her. She got a little scared. By now the lights of the city were glowing. Urmila could make out from the glowing lights that there was a colony to the right of the dam. Ahead, for about a kilometer and a half, was a deserted playground. The town lay beyond the playground. She looked around the dam and found utter darkness beyond. Somewhere in the midst of this darkness, mother Ganges was flowing but it was difficult to fathom it all in the darkness. There were no lights on the dam. Chimney, lamp or lanterns were needed to find one’s way.

There were strange fears and suspicions building their nests in Urmila’s mind but she thought of many reasons that convinced her to believe that Raghubir Singh may be stuck with some kind of problem. Despite the strong possibility of having been cheated, the feminine instinct prompted her to wait patiently for his safe return. Even after hours of wait, Raghubir Singh did not turn up. She had no idea that a journey which had started with so much joy and happiness being showered on her would end in such a pathetic and tragic manner.

There was a small temple just opposite to the place where Urmila was standing. An aged priest was sitting there. Somewhere, Urmila sensed a ray of hope. She mustered enough courage, went to the temple and after wishing Baba with a pranam, sat beside him. When Baba raised his hand in the form of a blessing, Urmila broke down and explained her predicament.

Raghubir Singh was unconcerned about the rustic, village girl (this is how he had perceived Urmila) who was left alone in the dead of the night seventy kilometres away from home. There was no possibility of her returning home. She might die somewhere or possibly sitting with the priests by the river bank, readying sandal paste for them. Raghubir was happy with his achievements as he had taken possession of not just the money but all her ornaments as well. He spread the news all over the village that there was a huge crowd at the Sangam, and she may have drowned when she stepped down to the river to take a dip. Or else, taking advantage of the crowd, she may have escaped somewhere. Who will trust a bad character? I was busy with my bath and meditation and when I turned my attention to her, she was not to be found. I searched for her extensively but losing all hope, I returned heartbroken.

But Raghubir Singh’s happiness was faced with a huge setback when Urmila appeared near the door looking like a stranger the next evening. He was surprised and the mother-in-law stood up adamantly. " Having spent the night outside, a lady with a bad character has no permission to enter this house" said mother-in-law.

Urmila’s tender consciousness revolted and the nerves got taut in defence. She thought of shouting out that if at all one had to be punished, it should be her son who left me helpless and ran away. She wanted to ask her where had their self respect disappeared at that time? It is thanks to the priest Baba because of whom I am standing at my doorstep safely. But she remained silent. She knew that everyone was trying hard to evict her from the house and she would never let that happen. Even after showing a little anger, a little authority and pleading in the end also did not manage to open the door for Urmila.

Although Urmila was filled with fear, shame, shyness like any other woman from a village, her internal pain and suffering differentiated her from others. She had in her the strength to sacrifice her fear, shame, shyness and stand up against injustice. She spent the entire night in the company of barking dogs but did not approach the neighbours for any help or shelter.

The next morning, Raghubir Singh's aunt Kaki, hurling abuses at her sister-in- law, came to take Urmila to her house. Urmila refused, saying, "If you indeed want to get me an entry, get me into this house where I belong after marriage. I refuse to go anywhere else.” But when Kakapleaded with her, she could not refute and agreed to go to their house out of sheer respect for him.

Urmila could not stop Raghubir Singh's second marriage. Urmila spent two further years toiling by the day and staying awake at night trying to find a solution to the myriad of worries. Somehow the memories of the dark and scary night when Raghubir Singh got married the second time would weave their way into every night of Urmila’s life. Not just in the nights that passed, they also made it to the memories of the night Urmila got married. How casually did Raghubir chant those Vedic mantras and repeat the sacred vows! A casual circumambulation around the fire.. the sindoor holder.. Urmila would seethe in humiliation. She would get up in anger and sit up on her bed and then try to contain herself and wait for the ever elusive sleep. She wondered why she was lying there? Did she still nurture hopes of Raghubir Singh's return in her life expressing regret for his harsh behaviour and repenting for his misdeeds. Such a strong desire to hear just that one sentence from Raghubir Singh’s mouth. Would Urmila pardon Raghubir Singh if he accepted his mistake? Urmila’s longing eyes were stuck in the anticipation of Raghubir’s possible return.

Father visited her several times to take her back home but she refused. There is something here that prevents her from going. Probably some dreams, some wishes, some hopes, and something more important of all – her own self respect.

In the past years she had swallowed all desires that she had. For days she had not combed her hairs, not seen the mirror. She had almost forgotten to apply sindoor or kajal (kohl). Caught amidst the highest order rustic women, gripped in the clutches of conservative traditions, the aware and sensitive Urmila was conferred the title of "Pagli” (Mad woman). When and how the name got stuck is not known correctly but now elders referred to her as “Pagli” and youngsters referred to her as “Pagli Kaki”.

There was a well for potable water in front of the house. Half the village quenched their thirst with the help of that well. Urmila would also go there to fetch water every morning and evening. Whenever there was a large crowd at the well, she would sit under a pipal tree. If Bihari was there by the well at that time, he would help fill Urmila’s buckets. Urmila would get some reprieve from drawing water from the well. This routine accompanied Urmila for years as did her sad and expressionless face. But one day, as Urmila was drawing water, Bihari got there and taking the rope from her hand, started drawing the water. Urmila looked at Bihari. His eyes displayed a deep sense of belonging and sent a strange, romance-like feeling through Urmila’s body, her hitherto bare eyes seem to want to converse. She wondered as to why the stony heart that she had acquired these days, was melting away like a candle today. Why did her breathing which had been steady for years gain such a pace and thrill her? The bucket got filled. Urmila glanced at Bihari once more, lifted her bucket and proceeded homewards silently.

Now she felt as if she was drowned in a strange sense of joy. The box of make-up items that had been relegated to a corner for years and ignored, was opened and out came the oil, comb, bindi and kajal. Kaki would give a sideways glance at her and smile. Urmila would bury herself in shame. She would reconsider dumping the box in a corner, spoiling her looks and donning a plain face. But the more she wanted to regress, the more the blazing fire in her heart would pull and take her ahead.

Urmila would think - Bihari was only filling the buckets and she only filled her eyes with view of him. But how come this had resulted in so much change in her. How has her monotonous daily routine changed so much? There was a battle of thoughts going on in her mind and she seemed to be losing the battle. She did not want to be a loser. She will let Bihari know that he need not fill her buckets. What does he think of himself? A wife deserted by her husband is not so vulnerable that others show sympathy and then cash on it.

Urmila was in a state of turmoil. The more she tried to get herself out of this mess, the more she found herself getting entangled.

The changes that could be seen in Umila were inviting murmurs at home as well. Even Raghubir Singh, who had no concern for Urmila’s desires, feelings or needs, ignored every affectionate glance of hers and turned a blind eye when Urmila was crumbling bit by bit, became aware of the minute wave that had begun erupting within his heart.

One evening when Urmila was sitting under the pipal tree with an empty bucket, Raghubir Singh reached there all too suddenly. Urmila got a shock seeing him there. She rose and stood up. Raghubir Singh thundered, "Why did you get up in fear? Is it because you were caught in your act?"

The words pierced Urmila like arrows but she swallowed her pain and asked fearlessly, “What act?”

“Waiting for your beloved with an empty bucket and asking me what act?”

“Beware, mind your words. I can wait for anyone. How does it bother you?”

Raghubir Singh didn’t expect this level of temper from her. He was stunned. His tone softened and he said,“I have nothing to do with you but hear me carefully. You cannot lock your glances here with anyone here. Till I am alive, I will not allow my family’s name to be insulted”.

Urmila hissed, "Quiet, I say keep quiet." You are so concerned about your reputation. When you abandoned me among the vultures where was your reputation? For years I have been working in others’ homes, you do not mind your reputation then? Who are you to stop me? You have deserted me. You have got married for the second time. On the basis of what relationship do you exercise your authority now? You do not need to keep an account of what I do and what I do not. Do you think that I do not have the ability for rational thinking?”

Urmila’s facial features and colour of her face had changed and she was seething in anger. Raghubir Singh was totally stunned and kept staring at Urmila.

Urmila shrieked, "What are you looking at? Go and enjoy your time with your wife. Stop worrying about me. I am not an ill fated soul like you. I have a perfect understanding of right and wrong." 

Urmila was shaking in anger. Raghubir Singh was hanging his head in shame. He looked around to console himself that nobody was watching him. Then he gave an angry look at Urmila and left the place.

Urmila went back to sitting in her place.The storm inside her was louder than the noise of the crows on the tree. She sat drowning and rescued herself from the storm. She regained her senses only after Bihari had filled the buckets and brought them before her. Urmila got up hurriedly. It was not easy for her to extricate herself from the past. She picked up the buckets with her lifeless hands and headed home.

It was past midnight but Raghubir Singh lay tossing and turning in his bed. The impact of the insults he faced today did not allow him to sleep. An ordinary woman could give him such a reply! What is her status? But look at how her tongue works - like sharp scissors. I cannot see her perched atop my chest, playing a game of love with a stranger and being unable to do anything about it. Yes, it will never happen.

It was not hot outside and yet Raghubir Singh was drenched in sweat. The poison injected by Urmila was beginning to overpower him. On the other hand, Urmila slept well after many years.

One day when Urmila had completed her housework and was combing her hair, Kaki entered and informed her that Raghubir Singh had beaten Bihari badly. Bihari was unable to get up. It looked as though his legs had gotten fractured. The comb fell off Urmila’s hand. She had the inkling that Raghubir Singh would not keep quiet but that he would take revenge this way was not expected by her. "So this is a punishment that Bihari got for filling two buckets of water"?

Urmila stopped going to the well. She got the news of Bihari’s hospitalisation. His family wanted to lodge a police case but Bihari asked them not to do so. One of Bihari’s legs had to be amputated. News spread that Bihari had gone to Raghibir Singh's house with the intention to burgle and therefore Raghubir had beaten him up etc. etc.

Urmila was once again taken over by a long silence and depression. She did not like the place and took a decision to leave the village.

Once on a hot summer day, when the family members were busy taking a nap. Urmila got out of the house under the pretext of some work. Coming near the well she stopped for a moment. She took a nice long look at the pipal tree and the well. She remembered Bihari and longed to see him. But then she moved forward bearing her ache silently.

By evening the news spread about the disappearance of Urmila. Searches were made at every place. Searches were made even inside wells and ponds but Urmila was not to be found. Raghubir Singh was happy. Nobody else had the desire to extend the search further. After two to four months the news came that Urmila had gone to her elder sister’s place. Then after a few years, news came that she had jumped into a well.

She was a Sati, Urmila Sati.

‘It was said that the attitude of her brother -in -law was not good towards her. Urmila gave up her life but did not compromise on her self respect”

“She was a daughter -in – law of a reputed family and followed its true tradition”

‘Her husband had left her, but she remained sincere to him forever.

“She became immortal.”

“She became a Goddess.”

There were as many tributes as there were people.

Hearing the word Pativrata, Raghubir got the brilliant idea to make the name of the family immortal. It was publicised that Urmila came into the dreams of family members. That the very many difficulties of the family were getting solved. Raghubir Singh's mother dreamt that Urmila wanted to permanently reside below the pipal tree. Raghubir started taking actions to propitiate that wish. He started making a platform under the tree. In big, bold letters it was mentioned, “Seth Ratan Singh’s son, Raghubir Singh’s wife, Devi Urmila alias Pagli Kaki’s platform”.

Raghubir has seen the world. He knew how easily people forget. He knew that his misdeeds would soon be forgotten. Gradually prayers will start getting offered at the platform and along with it the family’s name would be immortalised. He had played a clever game to last a long time. In a world full of worries, there is no dearth of people who pray to trees, rocks, platforms with the hope of lessening their burden.

Gradually the news spread far and wide about how the grace of Urmila or "Pagli Kaki" fulfilled the wishes of the people. By the time it was evening, the platform would glow in the light of the many lamps that would be lit there. The more serious the wish, the more the oil that was used in the lamps. There was even a carnival that was organised there on a weekly basis. The cleanliness of the Chabootara and the regular rituals were entrusted to a pujari and supervised by Raghubir Singh with great interest.

Bihari went around the whole village with the help of crutches but he never ventured anywhere under the pipal tree. What difference does it make, if Bihari doesn’t go to the platform? Raghubir Singh has become immortal. By constructing the platform and arranging a carnival every week, Raghubir Singh had displayed a sense of offering for his dear wife and it was a matter of praise for the entire village. Urmila aka Pagli Kaki had not achieved anything in her living years but now she found her powers increasing by the day. Today, it is around sixty to seventy years since Raghubir Singh left this world but the platform continues to dazzle with lamps and so does the power that the clan wields in the village.


Original Story:- Chabutare Ka Sach -चबूतरे का सच -A Short Story In Hindi By Asha Pandey

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