NOBODY LIGHTS A CANDLE
“I would say something if anyone paid heed. In so many years he never took my opinion seriously, not even once. Now that it is the question of our son’s life, at least now he should have remembered what I had said. When the man called he should have at least asked,” Shakuntala said as she chopped cauliflower on the cot across the kitchen counter.
Daulatram could not control himself any more. He came in and screamed, “You have a lot of sense, don’t you? I did say, but that man is not bothered about your son, he is only bothered about his niece.”
“Papaji,” said Pushpa keeping the washing she had on one side of the cot, “I had asked mamaji to do something. He did talk to the man but he said that a lot depends on what Adhirath says in his statement to the enquiry committee. Please knock some sense in him. Ask him to say what the lawyer has advised him to say.”
In the beginning when Pushpa had said her husband’s name in the presence of her in-laws her mother-in-law had reminded her of the tradition of seven generations of never uttering the name of your husband, always referring to him with a pronoun and admonished her to mend her ways. Adhir had told them clearly that they will live in the house on their own terms otherwise it wasn’t difficult to find a government quarter. What will happen, they will only lose the house rent allowance, it would not matter, at least they would be able to live they want to. It was probably an empty threat but neither his mother or father did not have the guts to call his bluff. Now they are used to these new fangled way of addressing the husband by name, of the wife using the intimate ‘tu’ in public. After Pushpa joined the family Daulatram had begun exercising some restraint in his conduct towards his wife but now that they were involved in protecting Adhir from harm they had opened a joint front against her who they thought was driving him to despair. Shakuntala had also found some relief from her husband’s habit of ordering her about all the time, not even fetching a glass of water for himself. Even now Daulatram avoided the inner room while Pushpa was in there. He kept shooting his arrows from the outer room. For three days now they had been talking endlessly of the pending enquiry. Adhirath had neither taken Pushpa with him to the lawyer, nor told her or anyone what advice he had given him.
Pushpa had prepared the file he had taken to Grover. Having sent the photocopy of the daily diary in the file Adhirath said, “I got even this when I was suspended? How strange. I had completely forgotten all about it.”
“I have got it. You remember Sunita? Sunita Katariya? She used to be with me in the Helpline. Now she is posted here in the thana. I asked her to get it for me. They would have given it to you had you gone and asked for it.” Adhirath fell silent.
But Daulatram had blessed her from the outer room, “Jeeti raho, beti, live long.” For the first time in his life he had addressed her as daughter. After that day when she had threatened to leave with her son his tongue had been held inside his teeth firmly. It was very stressful for him. When Bhikulal called today to say that there is a strong possibility of Pushpa getting promoted he could not hold back any more.
“God alone knows what is going to happen. The son is proving lucky for his wife. Ever since she has stepped into this house she has only brought him bad luck.”
“A woman gets her husband’s destiny with her own,” Shakuntala wasn’t about to lose the opportunity to berate her daughter-in-law. “There are some who simply erase all the happiness in their husband’s lives the moment they tie the knot.”
“This is in keeping with the new trend nowadays. Woman will have her own job, a bank account . naturally she will think only of her own career. Those days are gone when women used to hold their heads high only because their husbands held some high position. They used to be proud on the husband’s behalf. Yes, they used to be.”
“That is true,” said Sahkuntala bolstering his observation with her own, “Those were days when the wife of a doctor was known as doctorni and the wife of a thanedar was called thanedarni. Now it will turn out that the bahu is herself a thanedarni.”
That was a while ago and both were sitting in the outer room talking in loud voices to ensure that Pushpa heard every word who had got down the clothes from the clothesline upstairs and was folding them. That is when a tempo arrived across the lane and began unloading pipes and bags of rivets on the ground. Shakuntala went in to chop vegetables and when Bhikulal called again she had called out to her husband to talk to him about Adhir’s case.
Now that Pushpa also told them that all depends on Adhir, she pursed her lips and snorted.
“Has he told you what the lawyer said,” asked Daulatram.
“No,” said Pushpa shortly.
“Arre what will he tell her. it is because of this ill omened woman that he does not even stay home nowadays. God knows where all he goes. Never does she talk to him nicely. On top of it threatens to leave him. Who will live with such a grumpy woman…”
Shakuntala was waving her small kitchen knife in the direction of Pushpa. Her voice kept rising with every word. Daulatram slapped her on the face. Exactly at that moment Varun came in waving his cricket bat, saw what had happened and stopped at the doorframe diffidently. Pushpa ran to him and hugging him close she coaxed him upstairs. Downstairs they heard screams for a long while. That night Adhirath came home not as late as his habit had been in the last few days. His mother was lying on the cot her face buried in her aanchal. Bapu was spread-eagled on the sofa, one leg off it. The door was open. It was obvious that Pushpa was upstairs. He served himself some cold food and took it upstairs. Pushpa did not say a word to him.
Before leaving for the office Pushpa handed two hundred rupee notes to her mother-in-law. Daulatram was reading the paper in the sitting room as if nothing untoward had happened. But Shakuntala’s eyes were red, her head bowed. Pushpa placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Ammaji, I never interfere between you two. You also don’t say anything about us, please. But tell me, is it not better than getting slapped around…” she let the rest hang in the air. What was the point of advising her in this age?
The mother-in-law shook off her daughter-in-law’s hand rudely. Her sympathy smelt of humiliation.
Adhirath arrived downstairs. Daulatram ordered from his sofa, “Make some tea.”
“What am I hearing?” Adhirath asked. “Did you hit amma again?”
“I hit my own wife. Had you learnt to be a man she would not be hissing at you. Threatens to go away. Standing behind the man is…”
“Do you know Varun saw you do it? What impact will it have on him? You don’t like anyone in this house, not amma, not Pushpa, not me, then get out. Leave. Go where you want to. See if anyone prevents you from leaving.”
“So you have filled his ears nicely?” said the mother-in-law to her bahu inside and threw the hundred rupee notes back at her. Picking them up from the floor Pushpa put them in the pocket of her kurta and left.
“You people have create such a dustup all the time, nobody cares what is to happen to me,” said Adhirath.. Outside the tempo began to honk. Pushing open the screen door Adhirath strode to the tempo, yanked open its door, pulled out the driver and gave him two tight slaps. “Saale, you are honking while you are parked here, you bastard? Is it a harmonium that you are fingering it all the time? Running illegal business residential area and creating a ruckus all the time. Making life a hell for others. I will get your license canceled, do you hear me?”
Driver was not one to be cowed. He took a pocket full of notes to hand over to the thana every month. Everybody in the neighborhood knew that the inspector was ‘suspend’ from his job. When he was posted in the thana this very driver used to salute Adhirath whenever he saw him and used to take Varun out for a spin in his tempo now and then.
“What will you do?” He now retorted. “Do what you can. Do you feed me that you raise your hand…”
All the workers had quit loading and were enjoying the fight.
The wife of the tent house owner ran downstairs from her flat and sais, “Arre bhaiyya, come on, spit out your anger, listen to your bhabhi, please, come in,” and pulling Adhir by his arm took him inside his house. Daulatram kept sitting on the sofa. Shakunatla was emerging from the inner room with two cups of tea. Noticing her red rimmed eyes the neighbor asked after her health and being told that she had a massive headache promised to send some food over and told her that eucalyptus oil works wonders with headache. Adhirath disentangled his arm and went upstairs. Would be best to get way from here. He knew he had been running away the whole week. He had spent a fortune on petrol when he could ill afford it. He did not know whether he would be able to keep his job. Is there a time for the family to call truce and hold their horses or not? There is his wife Pushpa who won’t bend her stiff spine at all and his father who will never learn to behave. He wanted to go somewhere far away. Wear the robes of a sadhu. Go to the hills and become a sanyasi and live in a charas and bhang induced fog. Only then would he be able to forget all this, get rid of all maya but the sadhus he saw on TV all seemed drowning in maya.
Half an hour later he had left the house, heavy footed, empty stomach and a near empty pocket. His mother did not even come to the door to try stop him. Everybody is selfish.