THE BLUNT THORN
On a cool November evening, Jyotsna sat on a Sankheda swing knitting a sweater for her grandson. She heard the gate open and eager footsteps approaching her. Her daughter Pratima gently tapped on her shoulder.
“Oh! I thought it was Pratik! Good you came now. Both of you could have tea together and fight over wafers like you did in childhood,” remarked the old lady. Sitting in the verandah of the lovely bungalow that Pratik had built, Pratima was effervescent and could not wait till her brother came to the table.
“Aai, aai, you know what! My colleague’s son is getting married and all friends have decided to hire a mini bus and go! You know where?” ranted Pratima. “ Guess, Guess where? Manmad!” There were no pauses but Jyotsna’s stomach churned. Yet, keeping a straight face she replied, “ You were born there. But we came here when you were a toddler so you may not remember anything! And there would be so many changes now!” Jyotsna spoke softly.
After Pratik returned, the siblings sat at the small table sipping their favourite mom-made chai with wafers and biscuits. Pratik’s wife would return with the kids shortly. Pratima talked about her plan of going to Manmad and requested her mom to be at her apartment with Paraj and her husband. She’d return on Sunday evening and join work on Monday. It was fine with all.
While Pratik had become a successful Chartered Accountant, Pratima was an officer in a government office. Her husband Durgesh held a responsible position in a corporate office. With the children settled now, Jyotsna had left her tribulations behind and was grateful that finally she could lead a relaxed life.
As per the plans, Pratima and her colleagues left for Manmad while Jyotsna held fort. The excitement of going was brimming as she packed many saris for different rituals. Sunday evening saw her back home. After dinner Pratima excused herself and retired early. Next morning she had packed the lunch boxes and sat in her room. Dismissing it as fatigue, Jyotsna left her alone for some time. Pratima emerged after some time and sat before her mom.
“How was your trip?” a small talk initiated by the elder lady. “Ok. Good arrangements but….” Pratima paused and spoke with some hesitation. “I had a very strange encounter, aai.”
“After the wedding rituals. we were just strolling outside the mandap when a well-dressed elderly gentleman came with a walking stick and suddenly tripped and fell. I went to help him back to his feet. He was trembling and I asked my friend to get water. An over-dressed, heavily made-up elderly lady came and scolded him for leaving his seat,” Now the mom was a bit restless and rubbed her palms nervously.
The old man was later helped towards the dining hall, Pratima took a deep breath and said, “ I sat on a chair waiting for my friends to join me. A lady came and took the chair next to mine. She pitied the man who had tripped a few moments ago calling his life rather ‘unfortunate.’ She revealed his name and I was aghast! The lady noticed the pallor and asked if I was ok.” Pausing a little she said, “ the description of the man exactly fitted my dad… working in the railways, had a wife and two kids named Pratik and Pratima… but he got involved with this female and the wife was sent off never to return… the man lived with this lady thereafter…” Pratima was now almost breathless.
Jyotsna raised her hand to pacify her daughter who was disturbed and impatiently waiting for some answers. She cleared her throat and spoke with loads of sadness. Jyotsna had to delve into the past much against her wish. “I always told you that I was a widow, didn’t I? Well, my life was almost like that. As Vasant’s wife I was very happy. We had a nice compact house, he had a steady government job, two lovely kids- I couldn’t have asked for more..” she trailed off lost in distant thoughts.
“Vasant, was a doting husband and father. When Pratik was three years old he was down with high fever. The railway doctor treated him but his mysterious fever continued. We got hold of a private physician who recommended that we call a child specialist. All this would mean a lot of expenditure. I pawned my two gold bangles and mangalsutra. Luckily it was not meningitis. The money was still short as the treatment prolonged. Vasant arranged to get some money- I knew later that it was from this lady called Sindhu. To her name was plenty of inherited wealth- gold, property and what have you!. She had joined the railway service on compassionate grounds when her husband had died some years ago. She came to visit us and I touched her feet out of gratitude for saving my son,” with moist eyes Jyotsna narrated, “you were just a year old then. I soon realized that Vasant was coming late from office citing that he was working overtime to get some extra money so that he could get my mangalsutra and bangles back. I felt a sense of pride. A few weeks later he got my trinkets back but continued his so-called ‘overtime’. I realized that that the man who demanded frequent sex from me was not bothered about it any more. I dismissed it as his tiredness. One day his senior colleague whom we called Jadhav kaka came to look us up.” The pause was sinister.
“Reluctantly he mentioned that Sindhu had given Vasant money to get the ornaments back and that every evening he was at her place. The whole railway fraternity knew about his new-found love! How would I know? I barely went out except to the market. Jadhav kaka suddenly was quiet. ‘Have I done something wrong Vahini by revealing the unpleasant truth?’ he asked softly. I shuddered at the thought of losing Vasant. Do I accept his unholy relationship or confront him? The thoughts were horrible.” Jyotsna suppressed a sob.
“One night when the kids were asleep, I asked Vasant about the rumours floating around. With a guiltless face he justified his action. “She’s the one who saved my son. She’s alone and needs company. What is your problem if I spend time with her. She gives me both physical and material happiness,” was his retort. My blood curdled. Such audacity!
“Hope you realise that I am your legal wife and you have two kids and you have a responsibility towards the family,” I had whimpered.
“I am not neglecting you, am I?” the defiance was evident. That is when I had to make up my mind. I was ready to forgive and start life again with him but he refused to change. I was shattered. How much could I cry and plead?
“Suma atya, my father’s cousin, was a social worker in Nashik.. I sent a handwritten letter to her with Jadhav kaka and asked her advice. On the pretext of the summer vacation, I packed our bags and came here. No questions were asked by Vasant,” Jyotsna wiped her eyes which were brimming with tears. “We stayed in an outhouse of her friend’s bungalow. I was ready for a life in a shelter home…” she said haltingly.
Pratima extended her hand and held her mother’s trembling hand in hers. “After a couple of months of living on dole given by Suma atya, I was told that I should shift to Malegaon, A doctor couple had started their nursing home and that they needed an honest and diligent person to work for them. I had no experience of work of any kind, The doctor would provide a self-contained room in the premises. I agreed,” Jyotsna reminisced. “Those were the days of strife, of stretching the rupee to its last point. But the employers were understanding. As I had passed my intermediate year in college I knew English and was able to help them with case papers. The doctor lady-Muktatai- as I called her- was a reincarnation of an angel. She taught me many things..” she trailed off with a lump in her throat. Pratima vividly remembered how as children they were locked inside the small room while the mother went to work and returned to give them food. Later the kids attended a local school.
Jadhav kaka and his wife paid them a couple of visits. “They too were aware that I was eking out a living. They brought grain and oil whenever they came. For Diwali once he gave 200 rupees for you kids. With that I opened my first bank account. He mentioned that Vasant was still with his lady love and had become a recluse. It didn’t matter to me anymore. Later, kaka passed away and a year later his wife too departed for good. Both their sons had taken their share of the property and gone to Mumbai. That was the last thing I had heard from Manmad.”
Pratik came to Nashik to pursue his degree and had continued getting scholarship. Now, I am only grateful that the nightmare of hunger and paucity of money is over and you two are well settled. Wasn’t my life that of a widow?” Jyotsna looked at the dull clouds outside and wiped her face with the pallu. After a few moments of silence she spoke, “Pratima, if you wish to relate this to your brother I won’t stop you. The thorn of being so cruelly jilted is still embedded in my flesh- only now it has stopped hurting..it has been blunted.”*
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