CREATIVE FICTION : The Watery Debt by Ragini Parashar
It was a busy month. Letters to be read and replied to, servants to be instructed, gifts to be wrapped, ghee laden sweets to be prepared, and several egos to be fanned. Oh, the confusion of motherhood! It was either a daughter's first Teej or her child's. Or her second child's. Thankfully the sons were still away studying. It was only so much Shanno could do.
Bhanmati, the same proverbial goddess who connected two families together in holy matrimony, was getting to work. The divine timing had tickled her into putting the finishing touches to another matrimonial show piece.
“Shanno, why is that door closed?”
The lady jolted at the sudden question but soothed the very next moment on realizing it was Rajeshwar ji. She turned around to face him. Four daughters and two sons later, her heart still skipped a beat on seeing his well groomed, besuited charisma. All her silent single mindedness, sincere prayers, unaffected belief and good karma had led her destiny to be entwined with him. What was marriage but a gamble? Either a lifelong ticket to grumble or be thankful. Hers was the latter, of course.
He adjusted his tall frame in the maroon upholstered wing armchair and looked around, casually exhausted. She smiled to herself, revealing soft dimples that lit up her pretty face. Keeping her wooden embroidery hoop aside and gathering her green satin skirt carefully, she got up to arrange for tea. Her man was very particular about how he had it. And she felt a certain satisfaction in doing things as he liked.
She came back with a huge tray, carrying a pastel pink and gold bone china tea set. Some categorized it as a colonial hangover, but she knew it was his way of savouring life. What was a Lahore University alumnus, if not superfluous in his own little ways?
“You didn’t answer my question, Shanno,” he reminded her, biting into a freshly baked whole wheat biscotti, topped with white, homemade butter and nuts. She sighed, “Oh, it is Darshana. She likes bathing by the well. I cannot fathom the thrill this girl gets by washing her hair everyday, playing around with water - throwing it all over my carefully tended garden, the cow shed and the stone tiles."
Just then, the door opened with a bang and the girl in question emerged, chuckling to herself, carrying a small empty steel bucket, with her hair dripping wildly. On spotting her father, the gaiety vanished and she froze, lowering her head out of shyness.
An officer with the state agriculture department, he had just delivered a haughty lecture on 'water conservation in agriculture' at a university. Only to have his own daughter wasting bucketloads of it? No.
“You will have to pay for this wastage one day. In ways you cannot envision right now.” The officerness of his diktat vanished as soon as it had come, and the fatherly love damned him for having said this bit. He took a quick, last sip from the cup, put it down noiselessly, and left the room to take an afternoon siesta. The ladies were left guessing.
The warning seemed to be taking the shape of a prophecy. Her days of frolicking were numbered indeed.
A sudden throbbing near her temples and twitching of the left eyebrow alerted Shanno. Her migraines were rare and ominous. They had dutifully struck her the day her daughters' alliances were on the verge of being fixed. Of course, she understood the pattern only when her third daughter got married. Was it time for the last sparrow to leave the nest?
She had just started applying a balm on her forehead to lessen the throbbing when a servant came rushing in. A letter had arrived from their native village. She hastily opened the envelope, only to find her rich landlord of a father-in-law's neat handwriting informing them of an exceptionally bountiful harvest, after a few pleasantries.
Bhanmati couldn't hoodwink her. Every time a girl was to be married off, this was the case. Her girls carried such bright luck for themselves! She felt calmly anxious but continued planning for lunch, mindful of the fact that she was mildly testing her intuition for the one last time. The future daughters-in-law would enter this threshold whenever they were destined to. For all she cared. A good son-in-law had suddenly become the need of the hour.
Roughly two hours later, a jeep's screeching sound was heard outside, followed by the familiar footsteps.
He had news.
Rajeshwarji's official visits to villages for seed distribution, interaction with local farmers and field inspection were coupled with sincere enquiries about eligible bachelors around. On one such routine visit, a village chieftain had guided him to the neighbouring town, where a young army officer - Brahmin of course - lived.
The jeep was reversed.
"What good timing, sir. He is home as part of his annual leave," beamed the boy’s father. All the credentials were duly cross checked in the next one month and the alliance was fixed. Nay, sealed.
Bhanmati was pleased.
December 20, 1965
I am sending this quick note instead of a full fledged letter due to paucity of time. God bless my mother-in-law’s nephew, for he agreed to make a quick stopover at your office. I did not want to miss this opportunity to send my recurring thoughts to you, no matter how inconsequential they may seem to be.
Pitaji, I stand rectified. I have paid my debt for the last, current and the next birth already. Just as you had predicted, I could have never envisioned the mysterious ways in which life works. Every drop counts in this arid village. It is only my wise heart which overflows, with love and longing for you all. Captain Saab is good, surrounded by the solid state of water. The frosty cold of military vigilance is keeping him company. Life is balanced. And how!
About the Writer:
Ragini teaches English. She has a penchant for storytelling and philosophizing literature. An aspiring children's author; she believes in keeping an ear to the ground, quite literally.