Unshackled

The aroma of sweets…my mouth is watering! This halwai certainly knows his job.

Bright and sunny day. Spring now. Festive air. Such a delightful time.

My Suman is getting married in two days. Clothes, utensils, gifts for her in-laws…all is done. Sheela is giving her gold earrings to our jigar ka tukda.

I have mortgaged another part of my land. Anything for the children’s happiness! They are nice people- her in-laws. Didn’t ask for any dowry but customs are customs. Suman wants to study and become a teacher. She is blessed. They have promised to let her study after marriage. ‘Her job will be the dowry’, they said. Such nice people!

If only Rajender Babu will be nice too. The bank manager. He’s coming for the marriage. Will plead with him for some more time. Am sure he will not say ‘no’. The papers…arre I had to send him some sweets too!

I must send Sonu right away.

This boy! Must be playing bat-ball with his good-for-nothing friends. Need to talk to him. After Suman’s marriage I will. And I must remind him to touch Rajender Babu’s feet…he needs to learn the right values.

Thankfully the farm has not disappointed this time…the crop is flourishing. Harvest will be good. Will pay for the mortgage hopefully. But Sheela will not get her jevar back even this year. She’s not been to her peehar for five years now. Was so sad when she couldn’t go to even invite her folks for Suman’s wedding…can’t go without her jewelry. Ridiculous! What has a woman’s visit to her parents’ home got to do with her jewelry? But it’s our custom, the society rules can’t be overrun, what can I do! But how would I feel if my Suman doesn’t come home for years?

Ram Ram…what am I even thinking! She has passed 10th class. She will become a teacher…she would never need to pawn her jewelry. The son-in-law is also studying in college. He would not believe in such stupid traditions. Young people are sensible and bold. Education unshackles you. Sets you free.

Sonu would also be unbound if he studies well. He is such a free spirit. Impulsive. Dreamer. Wants to soar high. Wants to fly the fighter planes that boom over our heads everyday.

There are only two things we can do-kheti and sena. Either we feed the country or we defend the country. Babu ji did that. Went to the army. Sonu wants to follow him.

Shastri Babuji had said Jai Jawan Jai Kisan. Jai kisan? Really?

And Jai Jawan? Should I really let Sonu join the army? After what happened just last week? Two jawans from our neighboring village were among those forty that were killed in that gruesome blast. I don’t really know…

Oh, I forgot Pradhan ji had called us. Where’s my cycle?

They had come…the TV walas. With their big camera and truck with a huge dish. Would we sell our tomatoes to the enemy country even now? Pradhan ji had already told us to say no. Anything for the country, we said. And chanted Jai Hind. They smiled. The TV walas. The whole nation will watch us on TV. They promised. The truck with the big dish went away. I will go to the Panchayat Bhawan. After dinner.

I am the voice of the nation tonight. We will not let the enemy make curry with our onions and tomatoes and then lynch our jawans. Sonu also says desh ke liye kuchh bhi!

Pradhan ji has promised to request the Mantri ji for an alternative buyer for our crops. Nice, caring man!

Why is Suman’s father-in-law calling? I hope everything is alright.

A motorbike! For the son-in-law? Now? Just two days before the wedding?

I have already mortgaged the land!

Nice people! Yes yes, so nice of him! This greedy man would not get space even in hell. Motorbike. Huh!

Can’t let Sheela and Suman know. They would get upset. Even the crop export is not happening now. Why did I agree to the Pradhan’s order? Will that arrogant fool give me a loan for the bike now?

Sheela had asked to bring mehndi from his home. I should better go right away.

Mehndi is so good. Green and fresh. Suman will look so beautiful with the blood red…no no it would be what they call…maroon color adorning her hands and feet. Dulha and doli on her hands. Jamai babu’s name too. Looking so pretty, my little doll. Her green bangles tinkle. She’s blushing. Humming a joyous tune. Dreaming of marriage, jamai babu, blissful days…

Pradhan ji has agreed to give loan for the bike. So nice of him.

Will have to pledge the harvest to him though. Tomorrow. No option.

But anything for the children!

And Sonu says he will help repay all the loans. I will let him join the army.

Sun is setting over the horizon. It will go down into the river. Golden and red.

Just like Suman’s wedding saree.

Sheela will wear the green saree her parents gifted her on Sonu’s birth. Her bad luck marrying a poor man like me…

Dhol and manjira-drums and cymbals…the women are chanting prayers. For good omen. For Suman’s happy married life. Applying mehndi in her hands. Her husband would love her. Keep her happy. God bless.

It’s 8. They would have switched on the TV. Sonu is calling. He’s going to the farm.

Don’t want any food. Nor watch the TV. Will go to the farm in a few minutes.

The skies are scowling suddenly. Moon raging white.

The air still. Dank. Acrid.

Why are they screaming-the villagers, Sonu?

The trampling of hooves…so near!

Holy cows! Mothers! Scores of them!

What have they done to my beautiful farm!

It’s blazing. Red. The soil.

The tomatoes! Half eaten. Stamped down. Ran over.

A gooey mass. Green and red. Black.

My sweat and blood.

Hopes. Dreams.

Ruined! I am ruined! Everything is ruined!

Sun is hurting.

The land is gone. The crop is gone.

Loan for bike is canceled. Suman’s wedding canceled.

Sonu says we should go away. Nothing here now.

I agree.

We will go. Tonight. After dinner.

This kheer is tasty. The halwai knew his job, Sheela says.

But a little too sweet, she squirms.

I smile.

She is drowsy. Sonu and Suman too.

The pain is gone.

Peace.

They needed it. They are smiling.

Anything for their happiness!

Sleep is heavenly. I lie down.

Moon stares at me. Blankly.

Babuji beckons. Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan.

It’s cold. Serene.

Mother Earth, behold us in your warm lap.

We bow to…yo…

*Halwai- a sweetmeat maker, cook

**Jigar ka tukda- apple of her eye

***Jewar- jewelry

****Peehar- parental home

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Written by Seema Taneja

Seema Taneja is a former teacher of English. She expresses herself through fiction and poetry in English and Hindi. She also writes on matters concerning politics, economics, gender and lifestyle issues. Photography is her other love.