The wails, the pleadings for mercy followed her. The devilish laughter of the man, as he beat and pulled the woman inside, still reverberated around her.
Her legs wobbled like jelly but she plodded on. They would be waiting for her at home. Home…
Home was her infant son. A weak smile lit up her face behind the veil. She loved the kid.
The sack of pathi* weighed down her hunched shoulders. The stench of cow dung didn’t trouble her anymore. Neither did those cries for help. There were far too many to bother about. Her own had died by now. They would die too, very soon.
She didn’t know how old she was. May be around twenty. In her village nobody remembered birthdays. When you have hunger gnawing at your innards you don’t remember the niceties of life. She was also born on just one of those days. Her parents rejoiced at her birth. Every new child adds to the burden but is welcomed heartily. More mouths means more hands to work and earn.
She hurried along. Food had to be cooked. The men would be home any time. They would be famished. She didn’t want to incur the wrath of her mother-in-law by being late again.
‘Oh maa!’ She pulled at the salwar* again. It had been scraping against the last night’s bruises on her thigh. Gajender didn’t take kindly to ‘no’ from his woman. But it wouldn’t be so painful if she could wear the soothing mulmul* dhoti* they wore back home in Bengal…
She served another roti to her mother-in-law*. Ab te tu khana banana seekh gayi sae*. Gajender belched. Rajinder, the older of the two, nodded his agreement between mouthfuls. He eyed the sweat soaked body of the woman turning another roti on the chulha*. One fire had sated his hunger. Another fire raged in his hungry loins. It was his turn tonight.
She knew that gaze too well by now. And the routine. She had to feed and settle the child in the mother-in-law’s room before that.
As the child latched onto her breast, she propped herself against the wall and closed her eyes. She could do with some rest.
She worked in the farms with her parents. Gajender was visiting the village to supply some farming equipment to a local vendor. He had met her in the weekly market. They met a few more times. By the pond, behind the shrubs. She fell for him, even if she didn’t completely understand the endearments he whispered to her. Love knows no bounds of language. And with his droopy eyes, broad shoulders and muscular body, he was the dream man most girls of her age aspired for.
The parents didn’t agree to his proposal. ‘You’re not one of us. Champa wouldn’t be able to adjust with the different culture and language. Even your food is very unlike ours’. She heard them argue with Gajender. Then the voices turned to whispers.
Two days later she was on her way to her new home. A new bride. The red saree lent a radiant glow to her face flushed with excitement. She loved the tinkling of glass bangles her friends had gifted her.
Lae aaya janaani tu! The old woman blessed her son even as her new daughter-in-law bent down to touch her feet. She inspected her from top to bottom. ‘She’s a bit weak but I will fix her.’ She didn’t understand the matriarch’s words but the tone of approval relieved her. Before she could put down her cup of thick milky tea, the old woman brusquely thrust bagfuls of vegetables into her hands. ‘Chop them’.
The thought that her husband was going to celebrate their wedding elated her. The raucous revelry went on till late. Glasses clinked every few minutes. Gajender carried outside the platters of food his mother was cooking. The younger woman kept washing the mound of soiled utensils.
Her body ached. The journey had been long and tortuous. She had never travelled so far from her home. All she wanted was to sleep now but how could she? It was her suhaag raat*. The biggest night of life, they called it.
‘When would the husband come?’ she wondered as she lowered herself on the bed. Those few stolen hugs and kisses behind the shrubs had awakened unfamiliar sensations in her blooming body. ‘Don’t let him near you so easily. Make him want you.’ Her friends had giggled. She was aching for the magical moment now.
A sudden noise startled her. She had drifted off to sleep. The room was dark. A whiff of liquor assailed her nostrils. She flailed in protest. He clamped her mouth shut and grabbed her.
After what seemed like an eternity he eased off her body, spent. She lay beside the snoring man, her virgin breasts sore with the mauling he had subjected them to. Was this the magic the girls had teased her about?
The sticky wetness between her legs repulsed her. A sudden urge to have a cleansing bath hit her. She wrapped the saree and opened the door. A beam of moonlight illuminated the room.
She slumped on the floor in disbelief. How could this be?
Her screams pierced the dead of night. Rajinder, her brother-in-law lay sprawled on her bed. Had he…did he…how could he?
Gajender kept mum as she wailed bitterly. ‘How could you let your brother take your wife? She spat in disgust.
‘Because he is older. He has the first right, you slut!’ Her mother-in-law’s words stung her.
The girl was dumbstruck. It took her a minute to realize the implications of the old woman’s words.
‘I married Gajender, not his brother. He deceived me with his sweet words of love and brought here on false promises. I will not stay with a man who allows his brother to rape his wife, who doesn’t love me.’ She wiped her tear streaked cheeks and stood up.
A stinging slap threw the raving woman against the door. ‘Love? I paid thousands to your old man. I own you, woman.’ Another kick landed her at the feet of Rajender. He had been woken up by the commotion. ‘You are our joint property now.’ He laughed demonically as Gajender grabbed her by the hair and dragged her into the room.
It was indeed the biggest night of her life…the longest. The new bride. Raped brutally on her suhag raat. Twice.
The routine was set in motion. Both brothers would spend every alternate night with her. The mother approved indulgently. Her sons deserved equal love.
She fought back. They thrashed her. She tried to escape. They caught her, gagged her and imprisoned her. She broke the window to seek help. They broke her body, her spirit to live.
But she never called her parents. She had given up being their daughter the minute she knew that they had sold her.
She toiled from morning to night. Her mother-in-law’s hawk eye and acerbic tongue ensured that she didn’t get a moment to herself. Tending to the cows, home and hearth. Lending a hand in the farms when the men ordered. Sowing the seeds…
A seed blossomed in her womb too. They rejoiced. The test confirmed their expectations of a son. Whose? Rajender or Gajender? She wondered but dared not ask.
The ‘son of Gajender’ was welcomed with a grand celebration. It didn’t bother her. Nobody knew her name. She had forgotten who she was. She was anamee – a woman without a name. It didn’t matter anymore. To anyone.
May be it would, to her son, when he grew up. A tear trickled down her shut eye.
‘Sleeping again, you worthless woman! Have you forgotten that Rajinder is waiting for you?’ The old woman rasped. She snatched the sleeping infant from her lap and kicked her. ‘Go!’
She switched off the light and sat down on the cot. Unthinking, unblinking. It would be over in minutes, she knew.
He entered the room. She removed her salwar, lay down and opened her thighs.
Pathi: cow dung cakes used as fuel
chulha: mud stove
roti: Indian flatbread
salwar: loose bottom wear
mulmul: a kind of soft cotton
dhoti: long stretch of cloth wrapped to cover the body
Ab te tu khana banana seekh gayi hai sae: Now you have learnt to cook our kind of food (Haryanavi dialect)
Lae aaya janaani tu: you have brought your woman
suhag raat: wedding night
Photo By: Annie Spratt
This is an entry for Greenhorns-3, #Metamorphosis, an Exclusive Writing event for the Feathers club members of room8 by ArtoonsInn.
Check the event guidelines here: https://writers.artoonsinn.com/metamorphosis-greenhorns-3-writing-event/
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