Dakmani--the Story They All Loved
Dakmani is 18 today. Her wistfully animated eyes, ravishingly attractive face, raven-black hair, glossy moistened lips—well, there is a long list of her graceful high points to adore, which her fans just cannot exhaust. She is such a girl who presents, as though, a new look to her beholders in her every appearance. She is happy with her intrinsic beauty and she is even conscious of it, but then again there is something exquisite about her that she likes more than anything else. It is her name, sweet and unique: Dakmani. Attractive looks are also there in other girls she meets, but name? Can anybody else boast of such a tuneful name as Dakmani does?
She is at the forefront of the meritorious students in her class. And all her teachers are busy associating their names with the streak of successes this talented girl goes on to achieve. Even she herself has grown tired of repeating the stories of her successes before her mother. In the depth of her heart she has always wished it, ‘Ah! If I’d my father with me, how he’d rejoice my successes!’ Not all her friends are as beautiful as she is, but then they have their fathers to dote on them. How lucky they are, indeed!
God’s world is really complex and here not all can get everything they long for. To be happy means to remain content with what one gets and not to grouse about the things unattainable. Dakmani has, quite early on, learnt this unassailable truth of life and destiny. So she has resolved to better her lot by preparing herself for the life ahead—by learning those extra things that have made her popular and respected: writing and speaking, playing and performing all the way to success and recognition. After all, who has not been impressed following her achievements during these eighteen years?
Often Dakmani has wished that her mother should share everything she has kept hidden from her, but the mother has never felt any such need. Rather she has always dreaded the idea of having to scratch her old wound to bleed before her darling daughter. On the other hand, she is happy listening to those daily success stories of her daughter. These sweet little stories have added zest to her life, emboldened her resolve to fight the regrets of her failure that have never ever ceased to torment her.
But one day Dakmani manages to discover the truth; a truth that vividly explains the first chapter of her life. It is no less engrossing than a story penned by an accomplished storyteller. The informant is none other than a veteran postman.
‘It’s a long story, my daughter, and that happened right before our eyes many years ago. Those were the days we’re working at a post office named Khas Mahal. The flow of mails into the hands of postmen—oh, my God! It was just non-ending! Whatever we did to clear the load, they made practically no difference to the workload; we’re only to be greeted by another avalanche of receipts only at the crack of dawn.
‘Alas! We’d letters and letters, but not the one a woman so desperately longed to receive. Literally starving for information, the hapless lady used to reach the post office as soon as it opened in the morning. She used to take a seat on the porch of the post office just to wait there patiently, hoping that there’d be a letter for her in the heap of letters received at Khas Mahal post office. But then she was not so lucky, never was she. At the end of sorting, the postmen of the office used to go out for distribution and the woman would return—this was a story repeated at the post office day in, day out. It appeared the fellow from whom the lady was so eagerly awaiting her letter had himself forgotten her.
‘Days gone the woman looked different: she was now in the family way.
‘Look, a lone woman in an unending quest of her letter and now she was in such a condition—it only made people feel suspicious. Who thought what, it was just immaterial to me; it all depended on the upbringing of the person how he chose to explain the situation to himself. But I for myself definitely thought that the lady was from a good family. Maybe certain plight had brought her face to face with such a gruelling situation. I didn’t know anything more than that and I was not in favour of thinking indecent things about a woman in distress.
‘Then one day she got a letter. It was just a post card—as open as that. The message had nothing great in it to rejoice. The author of the letter had written that he won’t come back. He had acquired his family, away from her and beyond the boundary of the land she knew. He was straight and forthright in her rejection. He just didn’t want to own up and foster his old relation.
‘When the woman reached the post office that day, I was the fellow who informed her about the letter. “Namaste Sister, a letter in your name at last. Are you really willing to take that?”
‘Most probably, she’d the scent of the grimness of the contents. And she was shaking from head to toe. It appeared she was left with no stamina to endure the truth. Maybe she had even a premonition of it. She only said, “Mandalji, could you please read it out to me?”
‘And I’d read it out to her. The subject matter was all negative. Blaming it on the destiny, the letter stated that it needs the support of good luck to find a dream come true. But he wasn’t so lucky as to take her love to a happy end. There’re many such literary expressions, virtually a labyrinth of them, yet the truth was lurking behind it. The fellow had left your mother in the lurch; rather he’d rejected her once for all. In the name of love, showing her the sweet dream of a lovely future, he’d simply eloped with the girl, but in a matter of just a few days he’d himself absconded. Abdicating one’s responsibility could be so easy! A helpless girl was left here alone to make his daily rounds of Khas Mahal post office for a letter, a letter that would carry the hopeful message of her happy reunion with the person she’d once loved.
‘In fact she’d hardly the time to listen to the whole of the letter read out to her. The labour pain had set in. We’re a folk of postmen, ignorant of the dos and don’ts of nursing a woman in labour pain. By that time people had already started to arrive in great numbers for their postal businesses…and here, on the verandah of the post office, something unprecedented was happening. A fellow or two among us ran for waving a rickshaw so that the woman could be shifted to the hospital. I also ran towards the tiffin room where I quickly joined the dining desks to form a cot. Then I went near your mother and helped her to stand up and proceed towards the room. “Please, my sister, please try to reach the door.” She only did as I suggested.
‘The entire post office had no woman employee. Yeah, strangely it was so! And what was that precious little we, the confused male fellows in a post office, could have done to alleviate her pain?
‘There’s a woman in every man and that woman from the corner of my soul urged, “Remember, my son, how you made your mother suffer as you came to this earth.” And I kept standing there near the door waiting patiently to take your mother to the hospital.
‘Finally everything happened as God wished. In a matter of just three small minutes sounds wafted out of the room—not one but two. One was the cry of a baby, that of the newborn, nay yours; the other was a sigh of relief, the feeble declaration that the pain of childbirth was just over. Leaving all the inhibitions behind, I’d entered the room. My curiosity had goaded me to reach there; my human desire to console and encourage had taken me there. I was the person who had covered your body with his own towel. I don’t know how those words occurred to me, but I had uttered them: “Dakmani, don’t worry. The ambulance will reach here any time now. You’ll go into the care of your doctor, leaving behind us. Little girl, you’d forget us soon, won’t you?”
‘Really, an auto-rickshaw had reached the post office by then. Two of you, the mother and the baby, left the post office and headed for the hospital. Of course, the Postmaster had accompanied you.’
In this way, Dakmani comes to know the sequence of events that culminated with her birth. She thinks, often birth stories of great persons are as gripping and as profound as the great works of fiction by literary highbrows—be it the birth story of Lord Krishna or of Jesus Christ. Now Dakmani passes through a phase of ambivalence. She is happy because she is special even from the very day she took birth…and at the same time, she is sad because her father had so heartlessly left her mother even before she was born. God only knows how she will be able to fill up the gap of her father, now that he has fallen from her esteem.
Before she was able to think about her, about her nebulous surroundings or even before she was actually born, many events had happened. Dakmani has no knowledge of them. Yet she endures them even to this day. She has always been curious to discover them. Today she has succeeded, even if partially, and she will one day come to know the rest.
Aha! Dakmani is like a lotus born out of mud…and the lotus has every right to know its past. Or else how does it sustain its beauty and emit its fragrance?First written in Hindi-- 05-09-2007
Translated by the author-- 18-06-2009______________________________________
A. N. Nanda