A group of women made merry on the banks of the Ganges in a weekly get together. The sparkling waters mirrored the happiness and shone brighter in the afternoon sun. Smitten by Gaura’s brand new red chiffon saree, Malti nudged her in the belly hinting to hide the hickey clearly visible on her lower back. “You are so lucky, woman”, Malti sighed and Gaura crawled in her attire with a coy gaze. It also happened to be the day of Teej where the ladies draped in their finery embarking upon the latter part of the day where they would take bath in the holy Ganges for the second time out of the total three.
3 in the afternoon. The holy Ganges rose up to its beauty as Gaura and Malti waited for Sitara, Suman and Beena to join the troop. They would start only when the entire group is there. As Sitara came clad in a green banarasi, panting heavily, everyone looked at her with their jaws dropped. She pulled pounds of gold on her waist, neck, ankles, hands, head and where not! Everyone envied about how lucky she was.
Sitara had put on the most weight after her 5th delivery and often found it dreadful to spine up more than 100 metres in one go. But she was happy as she finally got her tubal ligation done this year. Thank God, the last two deliveries were those of boys. Her husband was the zamindar of the town and had earned fortunes to feed a family this big, well. He was often found giving such an alibi when poked on the matter.
Beena came soon after accompanying her husband’s first wife, Anbarsi who he wilfully left for she couldn’t bear a child in last 6 years of their wedlock. This year Beena would desperately pray for a child as it is already the second year of her marriage. Beena and Anbarsi made good friends despite numerous reasons for them to detest.
Suman was no where to be found. “What would have happened to her?”, gasped Gaura sounding a bit wary. Just when they gave up and decided to start the ceremony without her, a woman all covered in old maroon Banarasi, carrying an older bronze plate piled with ‘Pooja Samagri’ came running in haste only to slip by her elbow, the muddy sludge right at the last footsteps is to be thanked. As a clumsy Suman regained herself and gathered all that was spread – the thali, the hurt elbow and her life, Malti handed her a handkerchief to clean the oozing blood.
“This doesn’t look fresh, seems like an old wound”, a probing Malti said. “No, no, I fell off the stairs last night and scratched myself”, Suman exclaimed with all the confidence she could accumulate. “Why didn’t Ramesh Jijaji come to drop you for the Pooja?”, asked Malti. “He left early morning for the city to run some business errands. I am all by myself”, said Suman. Something wasn’t right. Malti and Gaura exchanged a rather sherlocky look and decided to speak to Suman after they are done with the affair.
While the elbow bled profusely, Suman took 5 straight dips in the river along with the others. They prayed for their husbands’ good health, long life and prosperity. The orange sindoor shone brightly on their heads getting washed a little everytime they took a dip in the holy water, only to be filled again with copious amounts of sindoora as the the third change of the day approached. Sitara, Beena and rest of the ladies left soon after. Gaura and Malti, as they had spoken, accompanied Suman to her home.
“Why don’t you tell your parents and look for a possible solution? It’s been 10 years you are dealing with this. Why do you have to face this like you’re meant to? This has to head a closure.” said Malti in one breathe. Her voice was a painful mix of empathy, anger and care. And it obviously made Suman, a hell more uncomfortable than she was when she fell off the pavement a few minutes back.
“He does it only when he drinks and loses his senses. He feels bad later”, said Suman with all her conviction. She wanted to sound sure of what she was saying. To her and Malti’s dismay, she failed. Gaura nudged Malti to not prod her more and let her be. May be she felt the struggle of not coming up with the right words, of not being able to recollect the broken pieces, of wanting to keep it together, and to keep trying till her last breath as she had wilfully promised in one of the 7 ‘pheras’.
Gaura had long endured a sadistic relationship. One where marital rapes were a mundane. A thing of oblivion to many, her being included. There would be days when she found herself unable to sit bottom down, unable to pee, sometimes menstruate more than usual owing to early miscarriages. She knew, if at all anyone, she had to helm the wrath of it or else she would be considered an obnoxious woman for she can’t live up to the husband’s expectation. She always thought she was a good wife for keeping a stoic front. That’s what everyone else around her thought, too.
With a promise to meet after 4 hours, Gaura and Malti dropped Suman at her doorstep. “Thank God, my husband is not like hers. I am so lucky”, said a relieved Malti on the way, taking a stock of Suman’s condition.