(putting the vermilion on the forehead of a married women- vermillon put by host)
Sri Shivshankar Srinivas (b.02.07.1953), village-Lohana, Madhubani Famous Maithili short-story writer Published works: Trikona, adahan, gaachh paatha (story-collections). Original Maithili: Shivashankar Srinivas
Translation : Gajendra Thakur
It was occasion of investiture ceremony of the son of Rambhadra Jha. The family came to village from Hyderabad; Kalyani also came. Kalyani was the only daughter of Rambhadra Jha. Rambhadra Jha's son was ten years younger than Kalyani and this boy's investiture ceremony was occasioned.
Kalyani had come; this was the news for her quarter of the village. That had a reason; the Brahmin girl got re-married after the death of her husband. She has come to village; and she has come for participating in the investiture ceremony! That was reason behind the excitement. Those people of the particular quarter of the village among whom widow-remarriage was in vogue were also amazed! Different types of gossips were in vogue, particularly among the women folk. Different arguments were made and logical deductions were deduced; finally the major point of discussion turned towards her groom. Someone was talking-“Groom is excellent, has smiling face.”
Second one was asking-“To which caste you belong?”
On that the third one was telling-“whatever is, when married with a widow, then whatever he is.”
“What type of job you have?”
“He is in Bank.”
“Then it is good.”
“Whatever be, Kalyani would remain happy.”
In that way people were discussing this topic.
Kalyani’s re-marriage was not something that had never happened in society but for her lineage people it was certainly a new type of event. That marriage was solemnized not in her village but in Hyderabad. Rambhadra is working there, he lives there with his family.
Kalyani’s first marriage was solemnized five years ago; her wedding took place in village itself; with much pomp and gaiety. She got married in a respectable family; but luck was not in her favour. After four months of marriage her husband died in a rail accident, he died on the spot. Rambhadra and all his members of the family were in village when the news came. As soon as the news came everyone was in shock especially the family of Rambhadra. The whole village was mourning; that was an uneasy situation.
Rambhadra Jha did not leave Kalyani at village; only three days after the incident his family left for Hyderabad. This action of Rambhadra was critisised by the society.
After some time Kalyani’s mother began creating an environment at home in which Kalyani should understand that her marriage itself had never taken place. What has happened has passed. That was like a dream. But it was not easy for Kalyani, she took time to adjust. She was living in Hyderabad; the city runs on its own pace. A different environment is there and began to supply fresh air to Kalyani. Slowly, she began getting lifeline.
During that time she was studying in B.A. She was regularly attending college. One day her classmate Preeta introduced Kalyani to her (Preeta’s) elder brother. First Kalyani winced, but softly and slowly Preeta impressed upon Kalyani. It gave Kalyani the needed energy to come out of the vagaries of destiny. She was able to break the shackles, the shackles that her different kind of upbringing has brought into her. Preeta’s family was from Uttar Pradesh. Earlier they were Brahmins; but for them there was no bondage of caste now. The whole family of Preeta consented for this marriage. The matter got pushed further forward. Kalyani’s mother took this proposal in an ecstatic way, when it came. She always wanted to re-marry Kalyani. She came forward. The environment of enthusiasm became aromatic. Kalyani got married.
The news travelled to Village without delay. Many people of the village reside Hyderabad. Some of those came to village around that time. They all informed the villagers about this incident. In a flash the news spread throughout the village. For some time great discussion ensued; and that was discussed not only in the village but also in the whole vicinity. But after some time everything started to settle. Some people spoke against this but most of them took it in right spirit. The same discussion has now re-surfaced when Rambhadra Jha’s family has come here for the ceremony of investiture.
In Hyderabad, when the date of investiture ceremony was fixed then itself the matter whether Kalyani should be invited or not came in forefront. The mother herself did not want that Kalyani should go to village, it was amazing. She, internally, feared the village people. In her mind was the fear that the people may outcast her family during the investiture ceremony. In the ceremonial rituals the participation of people from village is compulsory. And again for the feast eight Brahmins are required. She put her fear before Kalyani’s father. Rambhadra was not in agreement with the viewpoint of her wife. He put his logic- “If people had decided to outcaste us then they would outcaste us; whether Kalyani accompanies us or not. The more we would fear the more they would threaten.” But the heart of her wife was not solaced. Rambhadra Jha kept silence then.
Time came nearby. One day, in the morning, Rambhadra was reading newspaper. The inquisitive wife came and sat near him. Rambhadra knew what she would tell and she told the same thing- “When you go to office today please return by Kalyani’s house. Tell her about the investiture ceremony of her brother and invite her to come. How could we leave her? She is our child. Bauwa is her brother and the only brother. She would accompany us, whatever be…” While speaking, tear came out of her eyes, she could not speak any further.
When in the evening Rambhadra returned his wife asked- “What was her answer? You went there or not?”
Rambhadra Jha spoke in pleasant mood- “You know, after hearing the news she started dancing with excitement, began making different programmes.”
“And he!” her wife asked, she had certain fear.
“Who?” Rambhadra Jha questioned.
“Not ask, on his face I felt a distinct type of contentment. He is gem, really.” Rambhadra Jha while replying looked at his wife. He observed sudden change of her face-expression. He felt that wife had not been happy over the news of her son-in-law also agreeing to go. She wants to take along her daughter only. But ambhadra did not say anything.
Only when Rambhadra Jha and all came to village, people saw that Kalyani and her husband, both, had come. The people saw it, then how they would remain silent? Gossip started. Different types of talk were in air; but all within control. Rambhadra did not get any non-cooperation from anybody. The feast went well; the food-serving during the feast went well. All work began well; help of the people was received at every stage. Whenever a man or women comes to house his or her eyes always look for Kalyani ,Kalyani’s mother observed this. The eyes look for Kalyani’s husband. Feeling this, she feared people, she was restless. Had it been in her capacity, had she known some magic-spell she would have turned Kalyani and her husband invisible; so that they would see all the people without being seen by anybody. But that was not possible for her. Powerless, she would start unbalancing. She would begin thinking types of possibilities and would fear all these.
For Kalyani, all this was not happening. She was completely normal. Her husband was enjoying and was carefree. People were coming, mostly the daughters and ladies; and joke and comical topics took rounds. Kalyani would become hilarious. The high-pitch laughing would make her mother anxious. Like a hunter was being hit at her head. She thought in her mind- “Somebody would feel uneasy at her laugh and would start putting hurdles. She should remain calm and disciplined but it would not be. When she returns to Hyderabad She could live in whatever way she likes.” After sometime her mind started abashing. And one day she could not control her and told Kalyani, “You would not remain disciplined? You are swallowing poison and sleeping in the east-wind. This is village, you understand? People may object to all this, think of that.” Hearing mother’s voice Kalyani was surprised. Seeing and thinking of her new face she became exhausted. Like rice-soup her enthusiasm began dipping down. Suddenly she became lazy, time began to pass. The work relating to investiture ceremony of sacred thread began.
The preparation ensued. The sacred Marba (rostrum) was erected. The ceremony of bringing clay for auspicious rite was performed. The rostrum was repaired, smeared and polished with dung. Then rostrum was written and painted.
The day was the day before the sacred investiture ceremony. On that day was to be held the sacred bathing ceremony. The drum was being drummed and pipe was being blown. The preparation for worship and invocation of family deity was underway. The ladies, old and young, were singing good-omen songs. The fragrance of festivity had spread all over. The whole environment became musical.
Here now the rite of Sinurhar (putting the vermilion on the forehead of a married women- vermillon put by host) was to be performed. The preparation was underway for putting oil and vermilion by host to the women who took part in the ceremony. The ladies would be given gifts, they would receive it their folded-sari, and there hand would get rice cooked in milk along with fried chapatti. The married women participate in this ceremony and they feel the happiness; and feel the well being of their husband; therefore the nearest and dearest relatives are generally called for this ceremony. So the mother of the boy invited the clans-women nearest in lineage. Any newly married, daughter or bride would not generally come. But why anyone should feel neglected? A minimum of five married women are compulsory for the rite; if all are called then it would be a minimum seventeen. She invited one and all. She invited all but that did not include the name of Kalyani. She was not invited.
The function of Sinurhar was to be held in front of the room of home-goddess, the mother of the boy was busy for arrangements. Kalyani was there in eastern house’s southern partition. Kalyani was sitting in front of the window. From there she was hearing to and looking at everything. The newly-weds, daughters, women were making line for Sinurhar. The joyous mood was all-over and was resulting in sporadic springs of laughter, now and then, it was enough for changing the mood of anyone, changing mood to a pleasant one.
Onlooking and overhearing, Kalyani now and then was trembling. She could not imagine that in the Sinurhar function of her own brother’s investiture ceremony she would not be present. She stood. She stands up in front of the mirror. Other day she would have been shy, shy after looking to her own image. That look seemed unrecognizable today. She thought- “Why I came here? For enjoying what?”
Her concentration moved towards her mother. At once she remembered her grandmother; by remembering her she remembers more of the silly rituals then of her affection. Everybody, her mother and aunt including, were in dominance of her disciplinary rituals! What would be get touched? On what matter she would get angry! Her grandmother thought that the unmarried and the married both are contaminated. She ate food cooked only by men or widow. Among men the widowed were also not debarred.
She remembers that when she was child, during her visit to the village when she came from Hyderabad, and when she would visit other’s home on invitation, people pointed finger towards her and indulged in murmuring. Although she was a little child, she understood that they had been talking about her. Later on she knew that they had been talking about her grandmother. Among the whisper makers, all were married women. During those days she was not that much mature but later on she knew that in her society people regard widow as bad-omen. So most of the time, among themselves, those married women criticized widows. They regarded the look of widows as bad-omen. No men look towards other man in this way nor do the women. Today Kalyani remembers the hawk, the haw in the story of the fowler, who hunted and brought fowls to the fowler. Even later on when the fowler remained asleep then also he would hunt, even without any provocation.
The hawk hunted the fowls. She thought that men were fowlers and the ladies were hawks. The women were hunting for the other women. She felt uneasiness. She felt that somebody has enflamed her body.
See, mother did not invite her? Who cares? From this point what is going to happen? But in the investiture ceremony of her brother she was not invited? Not for any other reason, she wanted to participate simply for the sake of enjoyment, for feeling the satisfaction to have participated in the function along with the brides and daughters, this continued haunting her. Not only she felt haunted but now she felt awkward. Then her eyes moved toward her husband. He too was seeing the Sinurhar episode. She felt what her husband had been feeling! And then she saw her mother coming towards her. Her heart started beating fast. Her whole body became lighter. She got transformed into a child, she felt it suddenly. But mother did not come to her. She stopped at eaves; Kalyani stood and came near door, she saw that her father was standing there. Kalyani stood behind an obstruction.
“What are you asking”? She heard her mother asking.
His father said- “I am not seeing Kalyani in the Sinurhar function.”
“Oh God, You will not get intelligence ever.” The wife told in high-pitch angrily.
“That’s how?” The husband also asked in high-pitched voice.
“She is my daughter. She is ill-fated; we repaired her ill-fate. We did not think over Dharma and Adharma.” She told angrily to her husband- “This is pooja of home-Goddess, for those who are married, who have not widowed.”
“But Kalyani is not in that category.”
The Wife’s voice became harsh- “Not ask any false queries. Because of her I would not allow any wrong to happen to my son.” The wife left while replying. Rambhadra Jha’s senses came to a halt.
The whole courtyard came to a standstill. Many did not like the attitude of Kalyani’s mother; but were merely whispering. No protest came forward. But Kalyani became restless. Her mother thinks of her as bad-omen. Her head felt like cracking. What should she do? She should not stay here anymore. She internally resolved.
But that resolve did not remain for long. Before she would take any decision her eye looked to her brother who was sitting on verandah. She on looked him from there itself. She remembered the events right from his childhood to till date. The sibling bondage, her heart trembled. She thought like weeping in the laps of her father. The tears came out of her eyes. But how should she weep? How should she weep on this auspicious day relating to his brother? She wiped her eyes with sari.
She looked towards her mother. Mother was performing the rite of Sinurhar. Mother turned towards one side once for putting something and then Kalyani saw that also on the face of her mother there was no peace. Kalyani saw her move downwards and taking the vermilion. After putting oil over the head of the married women she would now put vermilion. Kalyani turned and came in front of the mirror; saw the vermilion line over her head and this enthused energy into her.
She thought- “She won’t go. She won’t go leaving the function of her brother?” Looking towards the innocent face of her brother her heart got filled with affection. She thought- her mother thinks that she is bad-omen. But her father does not think so. And brother? What would he think at this tender age? He is a boy. He is her sibling. She won’t go. But how she would remain as such? She thinks for some time, she on looked the Sinurhar function. Her mother was putting vermilion on the heads of the lucky married ones. She thought that the function of Sinurhar would be performed by some married! She got strengthened at this thought. From her room she came to the courtyard and moved towards the Sinurhar. In her hand she took the plate which contained rice cooked in milk; and the fried chapattis. She moved forward and passed rice cooked in milk; and the fried chapattis in the hands of her sister-in-law who was lined up in front. The sister-in-law accepted it joyfully. Then Kalyani’s cousin sister Lalita took hold of her and put her in line. She took the vermilion plate from Kalyani’s mother and put the vermilion on Kalyani’s head. The mother felt awry; so felt the others. But the glaring face of Kalyani standing in the row filled them with emotion. Everybody liked it. Kalyani’s mother looked backwards surprisingly and saw her husband smiling with closed lip, on looking his daughter. Kalyani on looked and saw that her husband‘s face is full with affection. He was seeing at her joyfully.