The Unadorned

My literary blog to keep track of my creative mood swings with poems n short stories, book reviews n humorous prose, travelogues n photography, reflections n translations, both in English n Hindi.

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I'm a peace-loving married Indian male on the right side of '50 with college-going children, and presently employed under government. Educationally I've a master's degree in History, and another in Computer Application. Besides, I've a post graduate diploma in Management. My published works are:- (1)"In Harness", ISBN 81-8157-183-5, a poetry collections and (2) "The Remix of Orchid", ISBN 978-81-7525-729-0, a short story collections with a foreword by Mr. Ruskin Bond, (3) "Virasat", ISBN 978-81-7525-982-9, again a short story collection but in Hindi, (4) "Ek Saal Baad," ISBN 978-81-906496-8-1, my second Story Collection in Hindi.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mirage: A Story to Recall

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This time I could trace my copy of the old Oriya magazine "Katha", and the issue dates back to September 1988. My first short story in Oriya entitled "Marichika" was published there. The magazine is now out of circulation. I had always thought of posting in my blog a translated version of the story. This time as I was spending a week off from my work at Bhubanswar, I could give a decent trial and was able to accomplish that. It's quite a feeling to revise one's own writing after two decades!

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It was raining incessantly. The chill in the wind made the trees pathetically shiver in the open. The crows and sparrows in the neighbourhood had gone into their hideouts in search of a little warmth . The roads were empty, muddy and dangerously slippery. A frog in the paddy field was croaking impatiently. It was a stubborn rain, out and out.


The weather had been like this for last four days. People of means were making the best out of this inclement cloudiness—they were huddled indoor, munching on their choicest snacks, a mixture of perched rice, bits of coconut, green chilly chopped into thin slices and mustard oil. They had nothing to do but to waddle along the time. The cool dimness afforded them pleasure, nay a delightful languor. But what was there in it for Madhua to enjoy? He needed no more rains; he would only welcome day and diet. Yes, diet and diet only would bring smile onto the face of his daughters Menka and Budhi.


It had been raining since Saturday and today was Tuesday. The elements were expected to continue for seven days, for the rain had started on Saturday. For the last two days Madhua and his family had somehow got on out of the advance wage for a day they had managed to get from the village moneylender. The cow dung cake he had saved had been used as fuel to cook rice; the green kansiri leaves that had grown on their own in the backyard had been the curry; and the bites of green chilly had helped to make up for the insipidity. All these consumed, Madhua had gone to the moneylender once again. Yes, he was the same moneylender, known even to the mongrels on the village road for his stinginess. And what else would he have pleaded for before the stingy fellow? The same old request, the same old prayer.


Saantey, would you be kind enough to give me two seers of rice towards advance wage? As soon as the weather improves, I’ll work for you and repay that, please,’ Madhua entreated.


You’re here, and once again? Have you worked for the wage you took as advance last year? You aren’t the people to trust, never. If I accede to your request, I should consider my money lost,’ Saantey was rude and wild in his gesticulations.


I swear I’ll repay...and as for the last year’s advance, I’m sure I’d settled them all,’ Madhua was not sure if he should have answered back.


I'd settled them--what do you mean by that? Well, what else would you tell if not this? If truth be told, altogether advance worth three days’ wage is outstanding against you. And here you’ve the guts to say that you’ve settled everything. I know it’s our mistake to pay you the advance at the time of your need,’ Saantey glowered at Madhua.


Madhua was about to stutter something. Probably he was trying to say, ‘Saantey, if you don’t want to accede to my request, it’s your wish, but for God’s sake don’t vilify me. Madhua would better starve than lie.’ Before he could muster courage to tell what he felt, Saantey had begun to shout, ‘First you get lost. One should avoid talking to people like you.’


Undone, Madhua turned homeward. The pattering raindrops were creating rhythm, landing on his palm-leaf umbrella in an irregular interval. The wind whistled as it passed through the gaps between the palm leaves. There was a big banyan tree, a little beyond the hamlet where Saantey lived. Even the canopy of the banyan tree allowed the raindrops to drip through it like a beggar’s umbrella that was miserably leaky. Somehow Madhua felt like standing there for a while. There was the cremation ground of the village, just a few yards away from the big banyan tree. It was literally too big, so big a place where many Saanteys and Madhuas had already coalesced. ‘Pity it is. Nobody understands the truth. Everybody is too busy to earn and amass, and in the process one does not know when he has reached the cremation ground. It is so near to everybody! And everybody is so ignorant about it! As one is laid onto the pyre, the fire makes him bare,’ Madhua resumed his walk as he cogitated about the unsolved mystery of human existence.


Dejected and irresolute, Madhua was literally drifting homeward. The house of his friend was to come on his way. He was half inclined to drop in on his friend, to know what the family was doing to spend a rainy day like that. On a second thought he dithered. Who could tell it for sure that his friend, finding Madhua at his door, would not jump to conclude that he had appeared there to borrow something? In case he came to offer him something to eat? Why would he diminish the share of his friend from whatever meagre he might have arranged for his meal? It was just possible that like him his friend and his entire family of ten were waiting empty stomach for something to come to them. If Madhua called on them, they would share their grief, not food.


In the meanwhile, while Madhua was still busy thinking and dithering in turn, he had reached the gate of his friend. His friend was quick to make out Madhua’s indecision and called him.


Both the friends were suffering the same fate. They opened their tittle-tattle cursing their common enemy: the cruel weather. Madhua could mark that his friend’s family had already upended the cooking pots near the hearth after finishing its cooking and eating. Yet Madhua narrated his misery as the context came. There was a real exchange of misery-talks: Madhua listened to whatever his friend had to say and his friend reciprocated the gesture lending his willing ears. There was no offer of help from his friend and Madhua had expected neither. Thereafter both the friends rolled a bidi each out of tobacco and sal leaves. Somehow Madhua felt a little relaxed as he had a few puffs at the homemade smoking stick. His stomach was really empty, so much so that the smoke had its powerful presence felt there. He almost forgot about his house and all its depressing circumstances. The next moment, as he saw Malli, the youngest daughter of his friend, he was reminded of his own daughter Menka. He felt as though Menka had reached there in search of him and she was demanding her food; her mother who had reached there chasing her daughter and who was quite unable to stand her daughter's tantrum, began to thrash her in the presence of her friend. Everything unfolded before him like the scenes of a biscope. And Madhua returned home right away.


Madhua’s wife was waiting for her husband to return. She had already cleaned the cooking pots, brought a bunch of cow dung cakes up to the hearth and she was waiting for Madhua to bring her something to cook. Now, seeing her husband entering home empty-handed, she was filled with grief. Her face contorted out of despair. Madhua came home, sat silently leaning against the wall and breathed out a few shuddering sighs of anguish. Everything was silent and soundless for almost half an hour. The house had four souls: the couple themselves and its children, two of them. Hunger was reigning the moment; none had words to articulate. The girls had slept to keep the pangs of their hunger at bay. Fine, that was good for them, good for their parents too. The ferocity of the wind outside had redoubled. The rain was in full action, loud and deafening, as though a quarrelsome woman in the neighbourhood was settling her old scores with them!


Madhua’s wife was feeling a little relaxed as her daughters had drifted into sleep. Would they sleep like this for ever—oh no, she was not able to think more. Nay, she was reminded of what lay in store for her the very next moment. Menka and Budhi—her two daughters would get up and cry for rice. They were only kids…and what did they know of the indigence in the family? They knew it only too well, how to creep for food as and when the worm of hunger in their belly bothered them. They won’t allow their mother to rest in peace. What big point would it serve if they were asked to behave? What would it achieve if they were dressed down on every pretext? If they just woke up, what should she do as mother? It was of no use to blame her husband, either. Where would he bring stuff from? And at this time when the rain had turned his sworn enemy? Despite the weather, he had ventured outside in search of something to warm the hearth. That he failed in his attempt was a bad luck. Would not god provide anything for the beaks to grub out, the beaks that He had himself created?


There was nothing that Menka’s mother could have done except that she would fall back on her savings…and her savings consisted of half a seer of chipped rice. That was something she had saved for a purpose: Her daughters would celebrate a Khudrankuni festival in the month of September. In a way the rice was their own saving, for the children had themselves gathered the paddy panicles during the last harvesting season. The entire grain out of that had been used up and what remained were only the chipped particles. They were not fit for cooking real steamed rice. Nevertheless something edible could be prepared out of the stuff. Menka’s mother had hidden the stuff from her husband, lest he should ask her to cook on a day of scarcity. She was really secretive about that. Given choice, she would not like to exhaust the stuff and allow her daughters to skip the festival. She would not like to deprive them of the fruits of their labours, for they had really put up with the biting cold of December to gather that. She knew if she made her daughters unhappy on the day of Khudrankuni festival, she would have to incur the displeasure of the goddess. So, what should she do now? The oppressive silence started to hurt her. It only reminded her that she should accept the reality. The day had only starvation in store for her family and she should expect nothing better. Her own stomach had long started rumbling. She was reminded of an incident of the previous rains. Madhua had brought a coconut from the village and it had hardly formed the pulp inside. Probably Saantey had thrown the fruit away after sipping the water from it. Madhua had prised it open and started eating the pulp. He had then almost forgotten his hungry children. A father could be so heartless—Madhua’s wife could not bear it. She had snatched the coconut from her husband…and she had severely flayed him till she got exhausted. And what about today? With her children grimly fighting their hunger in sleep, how would she keep mum hiding that half a seer of chipped rice?


She went near her husband. With an artificial rudeness in her tone she commanded, ‘Can you hear me? Go and bring some fuel wood. I had saved half a seer of chipped rice for Khudrankuni festival. I’ll make porridge out of it.’


Hearing that Madhua gawped at his wife, as though he was too nonplussed to believe what he had just heard. And he wondered, ‘Is that true?’


Madhua’s wife retorted, ‘How can I allow my children die of hunger? But I warn you, just leave the idea of taking a share from that porridge. There’s only half a seer of chipped rice. When I clean it for the final round, the quantity will still go down. Whatever I cook out of it will not be sufficient for the children. Do you understand?’


Madhua was happy and he went to the rear verandah. Every inch of it was sodden and he was not sure how to collect fuel wood there. He was reminded of the stack he had made for Saantey. Only a single plank out of that would be better than the entire pile of sodden cow dung cake heaped near the hearth. Madhua found a coop lying there in disrepair. The birds had been sold out months ago. The coop was of no use now. So he started to dismantle it. While doing this, Madhua thought, ‘Even if Menka’s mother prevents me from eating the porridge, I’ll take at least a slurp out of it. I’m too hungry and not a grain has found its way into my stomach since last night. Whatever Menka’s mother says, I’ll bear them but I’ll slurp something. And that is for sure.’


As Madhua entered the kitchen with some fuel wood in his hand, he was taken aback. His wife was crying. She was beating her head against the wall too. Madhua could not muster courage to enquire about the matter. In time his wife voiced her bitter complaint, ‘The mouse here are our enemy. They won’t allow us to store anything at all. They have eaten away my rice. They’ve sealed my fate. Now what can I do? My children are hungry, now what can I do?’


Madhua now got the matter sussed. For rainy days, his wife had kept half a seer of rice hidden from her husband but the mice have munched them up. A moment ago Madhua had thought the smouldering hearth would to go into flame on its own and now, with this realization that there was no rice to cook, it would succumb to the all-pervading dampness around.


The rain outside had not yet stopped. His hopes gone, everything appeared hazy to Madhua. His emaciated body was stricken by disease and helplessness. The severity of hunger started to numb his guts. Behind his helplessness and his incapacity, a feeble stream of fatherhood was threatening to evaporate into nothingness. Madhua had no inkling of it.


Now Menka got up and called her mother, ‘Ma, Ma, I’m very hungry. Give me whatever you have.’


The mother was trying her best to make her daughter understand that there was nothing at home to feed her. Whatever she had saved so long was eaten away by mice. But Menka had neither the patience to listen to her nor the trust to accept her explanation.


Menka’s mother was overwhelmed by a sense of futile anger. She was about to thrash her daughter but Madhua came rushing. He took her hand in his nimble grip just in time. Each looked at the other’s face for a moment. Then Menka’s mother covered her face and stifled her sobs that threatened to explode into a bitter cry. She left the spot to collect her guts that cried out for an immediate healing.

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By

A. N. Nanda

Bhubaneswar

26-01-2010

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i surely enjoy your own writing style, very exciting,
don't give up and keep creating due to the fact that it just simply nicely to look through it,
looking forward to see much of your current content pieces, enjoy your day :)

6:06 AM  
Blogger padmalayaa7 said...

Respected Sir,
The simple message of the story is poverty, starvation and resultant frustration. But the inner meaning is: are not we facing the same sort of failure to grasp opportunities once in a while? Sometimes it so happens that we are helpless in the hands of destiny who takes our exam by giving fail marks before we appear. In our personal life, student career, in a job situation everywhere we see the chances going away one by one in front of us making us silent spectators, being unable to hold a single catch.

9:42 AM  
Blogger A_N_Nanda said...

Hi Padmalaya,
Your comments remind me of the article of Nandita Das I recently read in August 14 issue of "The Week". Captioned as "The Privilege of Choice", the article quite incisively says that choice is not everybody's cup of tea. Basically it is the privilege of privileged class; there are people who do not have choice of choosing what is best for them and who are forced to accept as things come their way. So you're absolutely right, Padmalaya, when you say that very often we're reduced to being silent spectators. In fact at times one may feel life is passing him by and I can imagine how depressing the thought could be. People may construe it our lack of smartness, but then it's their facile remark only.

Thanks for sharing ur view.

A. N. Nanda

11:58 AM  

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