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Woman's Era - - Short Story -

the 28-year-old groom, who held a tran­sient post in a gov­ern­ment hos­pi­tal.

From then on her real life be­came a copy of reel life, as un­mar­ried sis­ters and un­em­ployed broth­ers were put on their feet; and age­ing, ail­ing in-laws were still be­ing paci­fied and cared for. Re­al­ity was re­in­forced by the ab­sence of song duets in the Brin­da­van Gar­dens, or lul­la­bies on the gar­den swing with a bright moon shin­ing. Con­sci­en­tiously and silently she had worked, run­ning the house with an ex­tra touch of per­fec­tion and grace. Now, she was like the re­frig­er­a­tor or tele­vi­sion – a part of the fur­ni­ture – paid at­ten­tion to only when out of or­der!

“Aunty, can you hold my bag?” asked a sweaty school girl with coiled plaits hoist­ing what weighed like a 10 kilo rice sack on her lap, with­out wait­ing for a re­ply.

Child­hood seemed so far away. A vil­lage school teacher’s daugh­ter, Va­sudha had joined the small con­vent school for girls when she reached mid­dle school. Her old gov­ern­ment school had no toi­lets. Walk­ing a lit­tle fur­ther around a small hillock, she had grown to love the small school with only 15 girls in her class. The nuns were kind and stern by turns, and im­parted a whole lot of Bi­ble sto­ries be­tween maths, science, lan­guage and mu­sic lessons. Va­sudha had learnt to keep her coun­sel at home and re­vealed lit­tle about school. Once, she had hummed a Christ­mas carol at home. Her mother had flown into a rage and a row with her fa­ther had en­sued. Va­sudha, un­der­stand­ing the silent ap­peal in his tired eyes, was cau­tious there­after. Her mother was against ‘church schools’ as she re­ferred to the con­vent, fear­ing her daugh­ter’s con­ver­sion. Any­way she was sickly and it made no sense to ruf­fle her need­lessly.

the sto­ries she heard at school stayed with her. The morals clung to her young heart with stub­born­ness and she learned very young to ‘work hard never com­plain, speak the truth, never take re­venge, help out those in suf­fer­ing, har­bour no evil thoughts. Scary thoughts of fire, devils and suf­fer­ing had kept her within the walls of safety and out of trou­ble. Yet she se­cretly longed for a re­ward, some small ges­ture or to­ken to as­sure her that she had done the right thing. When she had timidly asked the kindly nun who taught them mu­sic, when the re­wards for do­ing good deeds were to come, the an­swer had been cryptic, “Never ex­pect any­thing in re­turn, Vasu. You may not re­alise your re­ward. Some­times you get them in this world, some­times in heaven.”

Her aunt Ra­makka had moved in with them when Va­sudha’s mother, af­ter de­liv­er­ing a boy, had re­mained in poor health and de­spair­ing in tem­per. Ra­makka wore white and said she be­longed to some mutt. She prayed a lot and spent a lot of time read­ing. When Va­sudha had asked her if she did not like colour, Ra­makka had replied in a rare fit of tem­per,”if you re­main un­mar­ried at the age of 28, and are poor in the bar­gain, it is bet­ter you start lik­ing white. Also, if you join a mutt, most men will leave you alone.” Puz­zled and a lit­tle scared by this new in­for­ma­tion, Va­sudha had gone about her busi­ness with greater sin­cer­ity.

evenings, while the oil lamps were be­ing lit, Ra­makka called out to Va­sudha and ex­plained verses from the Bha­gavad Gita (more at the be­hest of her sis­ter- in-law who still wor­ried what the con­vent was do­ing to Va­sudha). Va­sudha was greatly re­lieved to learn that Lord Kr­ishna agreed with her nuns. As he ex­plained to Ar­juna in the con­text of work and re­wards: ‘You cer­tainly have the right for pre­scribed ac­tiv­i­ties but never at any time for their

She still sought re­wards se­cretly, see­ing timely happy oc­ca­sions as ap­pre­ci­a­tion of her work. Once, she had hummed a Christ­mas carol at home. Her mother had flown into a rage and a row with her fa­ther had en­sued. Va­sudha, un­der­stand­ing the silent ap­peal in his tired eyes, was cau­tious there­after.

re­sults. You should never be mo­ti­vated by the re­sults of the ac­tions, or have any hes­i­ta­tion in do­ing your pre­scribed ac­tiv­i­ties.’

Maybe the fear that Va­sudha may end up like Ra­makka or the nuns at the con­vent, her mother found the en­ergy to hunt up a ‘suit­able boy’ when Va­sudha was just fin­ish­ing her sec­ond year in col­lege. Af­ter mar­riage, she stud­ied for an Arts de­gree through an open univer­sity, fin­ish­ing it af­ter the birth of her first child, Shubha. When Sharath was born four years later, she felt that her world was com­plete and she was re­warded.

still sought re­wards se­cretly, see­ing timely happy oc­ca­sions as ap­pre­ci­a­tion of her work. Maybe her daugh­ter would be­come a fa­mous doc­tor – a re­ward for her self­less mother­hood – or Sharath a lawyer (he ar­gued so much). Her silent hus­band was con­tent with his work and she be­lieved his hold­ing a steady job was re­ward enough. When she slogged at the wash­ing or scour­ing of the floors, or at the cook­ing of clean healthy meals, she prayed for her fam­ily’s good health in re­turn. She took good care of her in-laws and hoped her par­ents would re­main safe. Neigh­bours, stray dogs, beg­gars and rag­pick­ers re­ceived her kind­ness reg­u­larly.

Va­sudha had bent over back­wards, for­wards and side­ways to please the world and give of her­self un­con­di­tion­ally. She felt oddly mis­shapen and wind­blown. But the feel­ing that some day, some­where, it was all go­ing to make sense and be worth­while, kept her go­ing.

“Mor-kate, Mor-kate,” yelled the con­duc­tor and she sprang out of her reverie, promptly spilling out of the bus with a gag­gle of teenagers. She cheered up as she wove through the crowds reach­ing the Valli Silk House at the end of a crowded al­ley. The façade be­lied the wealth of silks in­side. She ven­tured hap­pily to the shop, paid the at­ten­dant a thou­sand ru­pees and waited as he filled out her card. She spent the next half hour run­ning the var­i­ous silk saris be­tween her fin­gers, ask­ing their names and prices, and watched a lit­tle en­vi­ously, the other cus­tomers select­ing and buy­ing a great many saris.

stepped out into the sun­shine and took a swig of wa­ter from her small wa­ter bot­tle. She hur­ried back to the bus stand and was dis­mayed to find the bus al­most full. The driver was yelling at the flower sell­ers – women with vo­lu­mi­nous bags burst­ing with fra­grant flow­ers – to get in­side. They sat near the en­trance of the bus, talk­ing and swiftly ar­rang­ing and knot­ting flow­ers into tri­colour gar­lands – the white of the mallige, the orange kanakam­bara and green maruga leaves. The con­duc­tor was a heavy-set man with a foul tem­per. He was push­ing against the women and curs­ing them at the same time. The abuses stopped for a sec­ond when Va­sudha handed him the ex­act change of 19 ru­pees, and then he moved on scold­ing the col­lege boys and oth­ers on the foot­board. ”Get in­side, get in­side. Go by auto if you can­not ad­just,” he said to a gri­mac­ing se­nior cit­i­zen. He con­tin­ued as he rat­tled his bag and deftly dealt with tick­ets and ex­ple­tives. He re­turned to stand be­side the driver as the bus be­gan to move. Stand­ing be­hind the driver hold­ing on to a strap, Va­sudha lis­tened to the con­ver­sa­tion of the two khakhi-clad ‘bus man­agers’,

“Ha, ha, smash that yel­low ‘soap box’. Look, that fool of a woman can’t drive.” The bus veered dan­ger­ously close to a yel­low Nano. The bus braked and honked ran­domly at ve­hi­cles and when it stopped sud­denly near a bus stop, a young boy balanc­ing on the foot­board fell down rolling on the road. Va­sudha’s heart missed a beat for the boy as old as Sharath.

”What if he had got run over or had a head in­jury. Drive slowly,” she was as sur­prised as the rest of the bus pas­sen­gers to re­alise it was her voice ris­ing loudly in com­plaint. The con­duc­tor eyed her scorn­fully and said, “Madam, it’s a good way to re­duce pop­u­la­tion. Let them die, the use­less dogs. You hold on prop­erly.” Even as the bus restarted, the con­duc­tor whis­tled to let an­other pas­sen­ger squeeze in.

was an old man who was still pant­ing from hav­ing run a few yards to catch the bus. He swayed dan­ger­ously as the bus made a sud­den turn and the con­duc­tor yelled, “Where to? Get in­side, get in­side.” The old man stum­bled over the bags of flow­ers and the women cursed.

”Get up, woman. Let the old per­son sit,” Va­sudha spoke again, this time a young woman mak­ing to grudg­ingly va­cate her seat. The old man sat down grate­fully. His white cot­ton shirt was sweat soaked and he was still breath­ing fast, look­ing very pale and worn out. His neatly combed white hair was in dis­ar­ray and he lifted his hand un­con­sciously to smoothen it. His left hand was clutch­ing a square leather pouch and his fin­gers trem­bled as the con­duc­tor ex­tended his hand say­ing, “Quick, where to? Now give the cor­rect change.”

Sud­denly Va­sudha saw the old eyes widen in fear and pain and he clutched his chest with his right hand. Beads of per­spi­ra­tion lined his fore­head and up­per lip and he looked up at the con­duc­tor in agony.

”Now what? Don’t tell me you have no money,

Va­sudha had bent over back­wards, for­wards and side­ways to please the world and give of her­self un­con­di­tion­ally. She felt oddly mis­shapen and wind­blown. But the feel­ing that some day, some­where, it was all go­ing to make sense and be worth­while, kept her go­ing.

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