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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Moti Aapa - Story Of A Woman


It was getting uneasy for Manjunath to bear it any more. Sitting on the banks of the Majestic Brahmani River, which is the lifeline of his paternal village since time immemorial, Manjunath was pondering on what he did and what he should have done. The self-guilt that was hounding him for last three decades has already reached its climax. In the sea of ‘Should have or shouldn’t have’, Manjunath found himself alone drifting on a half broken raft. The eventuality of drifting apart and getting alienated was scarier than capsizing and dying out of suffocation.
The wide riverbed was looking marvelous with the reflection of red setting sun spread across the vast water body. The mixture of the blue water with the saffron colour of sun was looking like an astute creation of the master artist – the Almighty himself. The moon has long been up and spreading its cool persona on the river bank; The timely splash of the heavy beam light of the lighthouse at a far distance; A bunch of grown up boys are busy with a game of Kho-Kho; A group of elderly people having a game of cards; Occasional strollers carrying their Murphey Radio sets playing the ever green Vivida Bharti. Nothing has changed in this village, thought Manjunath. The beauty of this small hamlet far from the madness and hush-rush of the modern day stands as a testimony that time never changes or moves forward in some cases. Same set of affectionate and loving people of his childhood days. Many of them have already died and the rest banking on the mercy of their walking sticks to mobilize but the love hasn’t yet faded away. The genuine concerns in their eyes for your wellbeing. Those uncomplicated and unconditional caring. All that good of the world seems to have been carefully preserved in this small hamlet.
Manjunath looked again at the congregation of people on the riverbank, who are there in various attire and form; basking in the cool moonlight and enjoying the soothing breeze in a summer evening. The game of Kho-Kho was a reminiscent of Manjunath in this village. How he loved everything that was so fresh, natural and uncomplicated here. From the people to the freshness of the surrounding; from the simple lifestyle to the fresh prawns of the river – nothing has changed a bit. Why the whole world can’t be simple like my village, wondered Manjunath. Why so much hate and vengeance within everybody? Can’t they be as simple and uncomplicated like the people of this village?
What are you doing here alone?
Manjunath’s thoughts were interrupted. He looked back ever so gently to find his Aunt standing behind. Her eyes are full with care and concern for him; perhaps being aware of the pain that he is going through that moment. Hell, she hasn’t changed even. The same love, care and affection she has for him, which she used to have since his childhood. Time might have played havoc on her hairs, turning majority of them gray a little but yet she hasn’t forgotten what he likes and dislikes when it comes to some yummy home cook food. Still remembers how much he likes the reddish prawn curry with rice.
I was not feeling well inside. Felt like suffocating, so thought of breathing some fresh air at the river bank.
Don’t be so upset for what happened. It was not your fault. You never wanted any wrong for her. Do you? All that you wanted was good for her. So don’t curse yourself so much for this accident.
Nothing could have been more soothing for Manjunath than the affectionate consoling of his Aunt.
But, won’t you think; if not the misery of her life, am I not responsible for her tragic death? Won’t you think it should have been avoided?
No it was never your fault. The stubbornness in the voice of his Aunt was evident. As a mother she was worried for the depression of her son but Manjunath knows well within, he has gone wrong somewhere. How convincing Aunt may be, Manjunath was sure of his guilt and intentional ploy to inflict such grave emotional injuries to a poor lady. With all honesty, he never wanted the woman to suffer but live her life with a little peace and that is why he hid the most important truth of life from her. But was it fair? Shouldn’t he have disclosed the facts than hiding them?
He was almost forced back home by his Aunt as she didn’t wanted him to be sitting alone and going over the unfortunate incident again and again. For the first time the yummy prawns curry in front couldn’t manage to chase away the thoughts that were burning inside Manjunath’s head. After much deliberation Manjunath finally went to bed to wind up and perhaps relax his mind a bit which was jammed by wayward thoughts since yesterday.
From the window of the bedroom Manjunath could see the broken hut that was standing as ruins and memory of a miserable life full with pain and sorrow. Half of the roof was blown off during the recent cyclone. A broken fry pan and an aluminum glass, couple of worn out sarees thrown as a heap at one corner of the hut and a swampy small mat is all that one can find inside the hut as the possession of the inhabitant. The inhabitant is dead and it is only a little over 24 hours that the tragedy happened and yet it felt like; the house was never been occupied by any. It felt like the person was dead decades back and it is only the physical death that happened yesterday. In this gap of decades the person might have died a million deaths and somewhere Manjunath found himself as the culprit for those millions of death that a poor lady had to survive before leaving her body. Couldn’t he have done better for the lady whom they fondly used to call Moti Aapa? The affectionate association of AAPA which one addresses his father’s sisters was bestowed on Moti Aapa, still being no one of the family. The suo-moto relation that she was bonded with came from her love that she showered on Manjunath and all other kids of his time. She was their ever loving Moti Bua yet being no one of the family. She was there always in thick and thins, yet nobody knew what her relationship with the family.
Was he right in hiding an important truth of life from her? Manjunath was still thinking about it all the while looking at the torn out hut of his Moti Aapa.
The earliest that Manjunath could remember of Moti Aapa was a charming and beautiful woman in her mid-twenties, with a pair of highly expressive eyes and a set of black and curly hair. Standing at a mere height of 5’ 3”, she was beauty personified. Being the only daughter among four brothers, Moti Aapa was dear to all her brothers. At that time they could be the poorest family to live in the village. They didn’t have any land which they could possibly call theirs. Nobody even was too sure from where they migrated to this village and since when they are settled in this small hamlet. All her brothers used to work as daily wage laborers and their income was restricted to few months of the year when the entire village gets busy cultivating rice. For the rest period they get engaged in sundry items earning almost nothing. The income of few months during the time of cultivation has to be consumed by a family of seven for an entire year. Most of the time the family has to survive with the soup made out of a glass of rice and only salt added to bring about that much needed taste. Hardship of enormous struggle was always there in the family. From having a square meal per day to have something to cover their modesty; let alone decent, they struggled for each and every basic bit of human need. Amidst the struggling life, the family always seen in the best of their jolly mood with Moti Aapa leading from the front with her ever charming smile. Manjunath had never seen Moti Aapa in sorrow or looking sad barring once or twice.
Manjunath took a turn in his bed while trying to remember his early days with Moti Aapa.
They were told Moti Aapa was married since she was a small girl and her husband that time was working as a daily wage laborer in a cotton mill in Surat. Nobody knew anything about her husband. How he looks; if he is tall or short; was he fair or dusky; was he bald or had good amount of hair on his skull. Nobody had any idea to which village her in-laws belong or the surname of her husband even. Many say her husband was an orphan and they got Moti Aapa married to him when she was barely 6 years old and her husband 12 at that time. After that her husband left for Surat in search of work and Moti Aapa stayed back. After a gap of 13 years her husband returned back from Surat with some money so that the marriage could be commensurate. Few months after that, her husband left for Surat again leaving Moti Aapa behind with a promise of taking her to Surat at the earliest. Nobody has heard of him since then and it could be a good eight years. Occasionally he sends some money for Moti Aapa through money order and that was the only evidence that Moti Aapa had to believe she has a husband somewhere in this planet who is not only alive but also sends her money occasionally. As Moti Aapa didn’t had any in-laws or in-laws place, she had to stay with her brothers and a perpetual hope that someday her husband will comeback from Surat and take her along with him. Perhaps this hope was a driving force for Moti Aapa to live another day with joy.
Whenever Manjunath leaves for school or while returning back, he used to find the smiling face of Moti Aapa greeting him. Still being a kid Manjunath could realize the pain behind those charming smile. He knew the pain that Moti Aapa was trying her best to suppress within and yet failing at times. The pain of being married and yet not. The poverty and hardship that she could see her brothers had to go through year after year; just to arrange enough food to fill half of their empty stomachs. The red color Saree that she thought she would buy someday when she got married but yet to do so. Forget the red Saree, it is only the three Sarees that she had, the purchase date of the earliest of which could easily go back to half a decade earlier. So much of pain inside but so loving and charming from outside – that was perhaps the hallmark of Moti Aapa
The childish and naughty aura was at its pick among Manjunath and his friends that time. Every day was a new day of adventure and more often than not end up inviting at least half a dozen complains from villagers against Manjunath and his team. Moti Aapa was a party to few of those complains. Being tallest among the kids, Moti Aapa was always in demand to help out in plucking mangos from the nearby mango garden. She used to do that with eagerness as Manjunath and his friends were dear to her. The ire of the garden caretaker was always aimed at Moti Aapa as she was the only adult among the gang of thieves and hence, the complaints of the theft were addressed at Moti Aapa and her brothers. Many times she had to listen to a good earful for us from her brothers but yet she would be more than ready to help the kids out the next day.
The rarest of rare occasion when her family could afford to cook some cake or other yummy food, Moti Aapa always cared to keep aside a good portion of her share for Manjunath and his friends. Among all his friends and siblings, Manjunath was dearest to Moti Aapa. Manjunath could still remember the days when his mother was critically ill and was hospitalized for about four months. Moti Aapa stayed back in his house and took care of Manjunath and his siblings every day.
The village school was situated outside the village as it was catering to at least five villages in and around that region. Students from each one of these villages used to walk down to attend the school. But for the students of Manjunath’s village it was more than just a walk. Along with a considerable distance to be walked the students had to cross the river as well. Lack of any availability of a bridge it was used to be a boat ride to cross the river. That was perhaps the biggest charm for Manjunath and many more kids and the biggest reason to go to school every day as that is the one occasion they were not abstained by the elders from taking a boat ride of their own. No boundary, no scolding if they touch the running water below or for that matter if they lean dangerously close to the water bed while taking the ride.  
The river was the life line and the boat junction at the shore used to be like a bus stand with people waiting to take the much required boat ride to get across for their work, do marketing or even posting their letter in the neighboring village post office as it was again the lonely post office installed to cater to at least five villages; much like the school. On their way back from school Manjunath used to see the post peon travelling along with them with his khaki bag and his ever reliable bicycle to distribute the letters in the village. Manjunath and team were very friendly with the post peon and occasionally help the poor man in his mail distributing job against the promise of some lemon candy which they never got. Every time there is less than ten numbers of letters to be delivered or if there is no money order or telegram to dispose the post peon would ask Manjunath to distribute them in the village. Such requests were always welcomed by Manjunath and team as it was helping their old post peon uncle from avoiding the boat ride and some bicycling.
On a Friday evening in the summer, while returning from school Manjunath came across the post peon on the opposite shore. As usual, there were only three letters to be delivered in the village and he wanted if Manjunath can do the favour. Even though the intense Kabadi game was waiting for Manjunath, he still agreed to help him and how Manjunath is ruing that decision till today. Shouldn’t he have agreed that day; things could have been entirely different. Shouldn’t he have agreed that day he might not have so much guilt today to carry.  
While on the boat Manjunath scanned the three letters to see how much walk he needs to do to deliver each of them at their destination and to chuck out a shortest route plan so that he is not too late for Kabadi as well. The third letter in the heap had some surprise in it. A letter in the name of some unknown person with the address of Moti Aapa? Who this person Haladhar is? Haven’t heard of this name? How is he related to Moti Aapa? Could he be her husband? Who has written to her husband via an address where he hasn’t visited for last eight years? Could the sender be her husband himself? If so then why the hell he has addressed himself in the letter than addressing Moti Aapa?
Out of nowhere a million questions, many of them absurd hit Manjunath from all the directions. He again looked the letter to see if hasn’t done any mistake. He scanned through each line of the address and looked at it all over again. After three rounds of close scanning he knew he hasn’t done any mistake. In fact it was addressed to Moti Aapa home only. Curiousness hit Manjunath once he was sure he is holding perhaps the first letter that ever been send to Moti Aapa by any one. Should he open and read it? Will that be considered rude and wrong? Anyway as there is none at Moti Aapa’s place who can read or write, it would be him only who would read it eventually. When I will read it half an hour later, then why not now? Curiosity took the better of Manjunath and he tore open the letter to read the contents.
Dear Haladhar Babu,
Hope you are good in health, gesture and wellbeing. This is your mill manager Rustam Bhai from Surat.
Since you left for your in-law’s place to bring your wife, we all here are little worried. We got to know from the newspaper that the train you were supposed to take, to go to Cuttack from Surat had met with some kind of serious accident near Ahmadabad. Most of the passengers are feared dead and we are worried since then. We have checked from the railway authorities but they failed to give any concrete information about you since you were not travelling in a reserve ticket but a general ticket. As it is already fifteen days since the accident and we are yet to hear anything from the railway people or you, we are hopeful that, you were unharmed and have reached at your in-laws place well.
As we all are worried for you, it would be good if you can send us a telegram of your wellbeing and confirm when you are joining back in duty. To inform you, I have paid Rs12/- towards room rent advance to the house owner as deposit and I am sure the house would be clean and ready by the time you come here with your wife.
Please drop us a telegram as soon as possible as we all are worried for you.
Regards
Rustam Bhai
The world stood still for Manjunath for few seconds. It was indeed addressed for Moti Aapa’s husband whom none has seen yet. It is fifteen days since the accident and no words about her husband. He hasn’t reached village yet. If he was alive and safe he must have reached by now. Was he dead? Or was he missing?
Another set of questions jolted Manjunath from inside. Should he deliver this letter? Can he perhaps take the pain and announce to Moti Aapa that the husband for whom she is still waiting with bated breath is no more? Can she digest this news? Will it be appropriate if she is informed about the facts or be allowed to continue the way she is and keep on waiting perpetually for her husband to return? Can Manjunath tolerate seeing Moti Aapa in white Saree being a widow and all other pain an average widow suffers through? Are the sorrows not enough in her life that another bigger sorrow is forced upon her? Will not it be good that she is not deprived of that only joy of her life being a married woman and the wait for her husband to turn up and take her along with him? Will it be a crime if the facts are hidden from her and let her live her life with some joy at least?
It took good five minutes for Manjunath to come to a conclusion to all the questions that were internally hitting him like thousand pound hammers. He looked one more time at the writings of the letter and tore the letter to smallest possible pieces one possibly can and threw them into the vast water bed. Let the truth be buried forever and it is not a bad bargain to let Moti Aapa live her life with all charm than a miserable life of a widow; thought Manjunath.
Time sped away after that incidence as it always does. Manjunath had to leave his village for higher education and while waiting for the boat to come, Manjunath could see Moti Aapa still dressed as a married woman weeping her heart out. Perhaps he did the right thing by not divulging the truth was Manjunath thinking while on the boat.
Every time Manjunath came to the village during the vacation he used to see the ever charming Moti Aapa sporting coloured clothings and that line of Sindoor on her forehead. A sense of satisfaction used to sweep Manjunath of his feet every time he saw Moti Aapa happy and joyful. As he approached to finish his graduation it is all but lost in some deep corner of his heart on what he did that Friday evening and if he was wrong or right at that. The charming and smiling face always used to convince Manjunath that he did actually the right thing.
Post-graduation Manjunath didn’t visited his village for more than a year as he was busy preparing for the banking examination. Finally when he did that, he went to his village to let know all the good news of him being selected to work for a premier bank of India. For the first time Manjunath marked few gray hairs on the scalp of Moti Aapa and the joy she felt when told about Manjunath’s job.
Time passed by more quickly than one can imagine and proportionately the visits of Manjunath to his village went minimal and minimal. Gradually people of his childhood days grew older and older and many left the journey in between and left for heavenly aboard. The visits of him margined to once in couple of years. In the hassle of the demanding world and the job of a Banker Manjunath gradually forgot the person he always wanted to be happy. Two of the brothers of Moti Aapa in the meantime have married and settled on their own, with no contact with Moti Aapa. One brother went to work for a contractor in Kolkatta and never returned and another died as the age took the better of him; leaving Moti Aapa all alone.
A long and perpetual wait for that mirage called happiness and being together with her husband seems to have taken a toll on Moti Aapa. She looked way older than her age and started to lose her mental stability. Most of the time she was seen wondering in the village as if she is searching for someone with whom she can share her pain and pour her heart out. Perhaps she wanted to cry.
When Manjunaath finally got posted in the nearby village branch he decided to pay visit to his ancestor home and meet all his uncles and aunts and of course Moti Aapa. He bought that red Saree that Maoti Aapa always wanted her husband to gift her. A pale and visibly disturbed looking Moti Aapa greeted him when he went to his village after a long five years. Where is that charming smile? Thought Manjunath.
Moti Aapa, this is for you. Told Manjunath while handing over the Saree.
Moti Aapa looked at it as if she is failing to recognize who the person is gifting and why
The same Saree that you always wanted to purchase. Added Manjunath.
Moti Aapa again gave that bewildered look and stared at the Saree again to put things into perspective.
After a hard stare she finally smiled and put her hand on the head of Manjunath with affection.
Ohh.. How much I wished my husband to buy this for me. She finally said and a drop of tear broke the boundary of her eyes and flow down.
Manjunath thought for a while and looked at a pale Moti Aapa she always loved.
But you know, I think I should tell you this now as I feel you should know this. I have hidden this within me for years together and I can’t bear it any more. Manjunath said this in one breath without looking up.
You know, your husband is long dead and it is me only who knows this. He then narrated the entire story and how he decided to hide the facts from her. He never looked up or at the face of Manju Aapa to notice her reactions.
When finally he looked up he found a more bewildered Moti Aapa still staring at the Red Saree with no change in expression. She again put her hand on his head and looked with more astonishment at him for what he just said.
Manjunath stood up and turned back and the next day he was back at his office desk busy with his work when a villager of his village interrupted him.
Manju, Moti Aapa died today morning of drowning in the river.
How this happened? Asked Manjunath with a broken breath once the news sank on him.
Don’t know how but since yesterday she was roaming around the village in search of you and was murmuring – ‘I just want to ask this him. Why he didn’t tell me that time’. I don’t know what she wanted to ask and what she was never told about earlier. Today morning we saw her dead body floating in the water. Must have died yesterday night.
Just wait outside. I will join you, said Manjunath after a considerable silence.

P.S - It is a true story based on the experience of my Father as a kid.

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2 comments :

  1. Dude!!

    Start writting short stories as profession. Will earn good money for sure.

    ReplyDelete
  2. 'welcome to sajjanpore' ki yaad dilaayee!

    ReplyDelete

 
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