Anjali Deshpande


By the time Pushpa made the morning tea he had got up. Having dressed Varun for school she said, “Come back immediately after dropping him. Need to talk.”

Pushpa rarely spoke in the room downstairs unless there were guests. Her pots and pans spoke and they said a lot of things. The tawa getting off the stove, the pressure cooker letting off steam, spoons stirring inside pots, water being poured into jugs, every utensil spoke of the mood of bahuji. Today the kitchen implements were silent. Pushpa’s words too were formal, official. Brief. Precise. Adhirath left without a word. He wanted to go away somewhere. What would she do if he did not return immediately? Will she apply for leave and wait for him? No way, did not look like she would waste her limited leaves of absence on him.

When he reached home the tension had deepened. “He is asking for 25 thousands. I have told her,” said his mother.

“I have some in the bank. Will manage the rest from somewhere,” Pushpa said ignoring her mother-in-law’s words. “Whatever you do, consult someone first. Don’t do whatever you think is right.”

Adhirath suddenly screeched, “Of course, I should do what you think is right. Listen to you. What do you care? You say deny everything. As if it is so easy.”

“Bahu is saying the right thing,” said Daulatram. He was sitting alone in the sitting room but he could always participate in the discussion from there too.

“You did what you felt that is why you are in such deep trouble,” Pushpa hissed gnashing her teeth. “Who asked you to go buy this problem? You went there to invite the bull to gore you and now that it has you should at least get someone to give you the right medicine.”

Adhirath came out in the sitting room.

“She says I should deny everything.”

“She is right. Otherwise you are useless. Yu are the only one who wants to become Harishachandar. Nobody says, yes I did something wrong. Nobody admits to a wrongdoing. The worst of killers say they did not murder,” Daulatram said.

“Okay, okay, now you keep quiet, talk about this after a while,” Shakuntala was saying to Pushpa inside. The family was now divided among males and females but Adhirath felt as if everyone was ranged against him.

“Don’t worry. Let her have her say,” Adhirath screamed. “Since yesterday she has been at it. Let her take out her anger. Let her abuse me as much as she wants to.” He strode inside and stamped his feet.

Losing what little control she had over her emotions Pushpa said, “Do what you what to. It is not a question of 25 thousands. It is about your obstinacy. Let me tell you I am not going to put up with it. No way.”

“What, what will you do,” Adhirath shook off the restraining hand his mother had laid on his arm. He moved menacingly towards Pushpa. It seemed as if today he would also do what only Daulatram had been doing in this house. He would hit his wife.

“First you listen what will happen to you,” pointing a serving spoon at him Pushpa said. “If you do what you want to, you will lose your job. You will go to prison. Prison. And don’t think I will stay on to look after your family. I will leave with my son.”

“Hai Ram,” said Shakuntala hitting her forehead with her hand and sitting down on the cot as if she had fallen down. “Have you heard? Are, this is the custom in their caste. These people just take on another man whenever they choose. They go live with any man. I had told you to begin with…”

Daulatram ignited in the sitting room and propelled by the nervous energy his rage produced he walked inside and said, “You will leave? You won’t get a chance. We will throw you out right now. Here I am supporting her, saying bahu is right, she is talking sense and this bitch is showing the caste she comes from. Just grab her by the hair and throw her out…”

“Keep quiet, both of you,” Adhirath screamed at the top of his voice. “Selfish people, all of you, nobody is bothered about me. Yes, I will go to prison. You go where you want to go,” he threw his words at Pushpa and ran out to go upstairs. Pushpa left the stove burning and ran after him. For a while they could hear loud screaming from upstairs. Shakuntala had turned off the gas. After two hours Pushpa left for office and Daulatram went upstairs to check on Adhir and found him plonked on the bed his head held in his hands.

“When there is tension in the house everybody tends to lose their heads,” He said. “Come eat something and get some rest.”

“Will go, go to the lawyer. If you have some money please lend it to me,” Adhir said in a cold voice.

“Yes, of course,” the father caressed the son’s back. “Whatever we have is for you only.”

In the late afternoon he called Nitesh and went to meet him. He lent him five grand like he had promised to do and heard the tale of his fight with Pushpa.

“Yaar, she may have said it in anger, otherwise she is very nice. Has a clear conscience. Don’t take her words to heart. The advice she gave you is good advice.”

“So you too turn out to be on her side,” Adhirath said. “Listen even in anger a person says what they have in mind.”

“Don’t feel offended, but without you it is not easy for her to live there. All the time she is mocked at.”

“Has she said anything to you?” Adhirath looked at him with slanted eyes.

“Uncle keeps saying things about her to me,” Nitesh said. “Says she is the only one who wants to implement Ambedkar’s programme of intercaste marriage. Do you know what he said once…let it go.”

“What? Since you have begun telling me might as well tell all,” said Adhirath.

“Yaar don’t get too tense. All will be well. These things keep happening in the family.”

“No, tell me what were you going to say?”

Nitesh kept his silence. Even after being asked many times he refused to tell Adhirath what it was his father had said to him. What could his father have said that he had not said in his presence earlier and many times? That she was of a lower caste, lowest of the low, with no education and no culture. They wear discards of others. They eat what others throw away from their plates. Here she wants us to use civilized language but in their caste they use foul language and abusive epithets even to call their children. Who knows perhaps she went with her mum and dad to collect garbage from people’s homes. It is just as well that their mohalla is far away, had she been from somewhere close by they would never have been able to show their faces to anyone. In every house garbage collectors come early in the morning. Earlier they used to carry shit on their heads, yuck, nobody ever drank water from their hands. And if they ever asked for water to drink we used to give them water from the mug in the latrine to drink out of. Who knows, the bhangi from our mohalla may be their relative. Wouldn’t that be great? He would come to collect garbage in the morning and it will turn out that our inspector son will be touching his feet, inviting him in and feeding him tea and biscuits. He had heard it all.

For a long time his mother had cooked her food separately. She would ask Pushpa to clean the bathroom. “Scrub it with acid. You would be tirained to do it well.”

Nitesh was right. Pushpa had put up with a lot. In the beginning she used to tell him about how she was continually humiliated, she would cry sometimes. Then after she got to know the habits of her in-laws she began to argue with them. Then she declared that she would cook and everyone would have to eat what she cooked. She was so stubborn about it that in the end everyone had given in. Only after a year the untouchability had slowly disappeared from the house. But even now she had to hear a few taunts about her caste. So what was left that Bapu may have said to Nitesh that he cannot tell him? But Nitesh too was determined to not tell him so he quit persisting after a while.




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