Ganesh spent the entire afternoon listening to Kharade Saheb’s prattle and glancing through the office files. As anticipated, complete charge was not handed that day. Maybe it would take another day. And, if Kharade Saheb continued his prattle it may also take another two-three days. From his chatter Ganesh realised that Kharade Saheb wished to continue working in the same village as being nearer to his own village it was convenient for him to work here. Thereby he would also be able to look after his agriculture. From his chatter he also made out that the villagers had played a good role in his transfer and as such his talk, in general, reflected his displeasure with the village.
In the evening, returning to his room, all tired and spent, Ganesh thought that he would lie down for a while and only then go to Sarpanch’s in the night for dinner. He unlocked the room and entered it. He switched on the light. The light came on, but it was very dim. Hell, in a village there is always a problem with the electricity.
May be dim… but at least there is some light ..
Even that is more than enough.
Seeing his bed rolled out and got readied by the Sarpanch’s servant he felt relieved. While entering the room he had purposely avoided glancing at Madhurani’s provision store. Stepping into the room, he shut the front door and threw himself on the bed. He was lying silently on the bed. But though he was lying silently, his thoughts were not prepared to remain still. His body was tired but his mind was not ready to feel the tiredness. He began to think…. He had spent the whole day in accompanying the Sarpanch, looking into office work and listening to Kharade Saheb’s chatter. But there was not a single moment when he had not thought of Madhurani. She had refused to move away from his mind’s eye. Her ardent eyes and mischievous smile kept coming to him. Even now, the situation was no different. He tried to brush her away from his thoughts and in this attempt he turned and tossed. But would turning and tossing change his thoughts? He thought a smoke might calm him. He was used to smoking one or two cigarettes every day. Today, he had not smoked even one. But for having a smoke, he must go to the shop. Then, deciding to go, he suddenly got up.
How long could he avoid facing her?
Isn’t it always better to face a problem instead of running away from it?
He got up. Went to the bathroom. Took cool water from the earthen pot in the cup of his palm and washed his face. There was a brass round jar kept nearby. He took out water from the pot in the jar and poured it on his hands and feet. Then he returned and went to his bag. He opened the bag. A neatly folded towel was kept right on the top. He pulled it out. Wiped his face. As he wiped his face the aroma of the washing powder emanating from the towel soothed his mind. At least for a few moments he remembered his wife. He removed all clothes from the bag and looked at the bottom. At the bottom of the bag there was a family photo showing him with his wife and son.
One realises the importance of people only when one goes away from them...
The thought flashed in his mind. He once again neatly packed his bag. Now, standing, he began to wipe his hands and feet. After wiping them, he began to look around for a place where he could hang the towel to dry. On the wall, near the window he saw a hook. He hung the towel on the hook. While hanging the towel on the hook he peeped out of the adjacent open window. There was quite a crowd now in the shop. Maybe because it was the evening hour. Even on the platforms outside flocks of people sat, some of them smoked beedis, some were getting chillums ready, some were crushing tobacco and others merely sat chit-chatting. He went to the door and put on his slippers. Coming out he threw a glance at the shop. Several curious eyes from the platforms turned to him. He locked the door from outside and went near a group that sat outside the shop. He sat beside them, all alone. The group comprised young men of marriageable age. The young men were busy slyly throwing glances at the cash counter. Ganesh sat pretending as if he had not noticed them.
“Must pull her into the fields and churn her nakedness,” one from the group exclaimed. “Until all hindrance tear themselves open,” another added.
Then the whole group burst out laughing aloud.
“What rot! These youngsters of today…” Ganesh thought. He never knew when he got up and stood in front of the shop, before Madhurani.
Madhurani saw him and gave him a sweet smile. Even after managing the cash counter for the whole day there wasn’t a little tiredness either in her movement or in her gestures. She still looked fresh and pleasant like a blooming flower-bud.
“Yes, Sir, what can I give you?” she asked.
“Give me some Wills”
“Why some? Take the whole thing,” she commented and let out a frank laughter. Ganesh also joined her in the laughter.
“Hey, give one wheel,” she instructed the servant lad of the shop.
The lad was busy in serving one customer after another.
Means, he would take some more time….
Ganesh looked around. There were a few customers standing near him. Just next to him was a pretty child of 7 or 8, wearing soiled cotton frock that was darned at several places. She had lavishly applied oil to her hair and had tied her small pigtails with soiled red ribbons. She was holding a small glass bottle that had a string tied to its mouth.
“Tai… ground nut oil, one chhatak,” she said addressing Madhurani.
Madhurani could not hide her affection for her. She tweaked her cheek and said, “Just a moment, little one.”
“Youfru hafrave coframe afraffratfraerfra mafrenyfri daysfre,” even during her busy schedule Madhurani said something to the child.
“Ifra hafradfra gofronefra tofru mfrayfra ufranfracfralefra’sfri tofrawfrunfra,” the child answered her with a broad smile.
Enjoying their talk, Ganesh was listening to them gently smiling to himself. However, Ganesh couldn’t make out what they had said to each other.
“What is it?” Ganesh asked, his curiosity raised.
“Nothing… It is our special language,” Madhurani said naughtily and once again tweaked the child’s cheek. Possibly it was their code language. He remembered that his sisters used to talk similarly in his presence. When he asked them what they were saying, they would not reveal anything. He had tried hard but till the end, his sisters never let him into their secret language.
On the other side of the child was an old woman clad in a nine-yard sari. And next to her, stood a woman, who looked like a labourer wearing sari-like cotton attire. While looking around Ganesh’s glance fell on the sky above. It had become quite dark. Just then electric street lights on cement poles were put on. Ganesh noticed that many of those sitting on the platform raised at least one of their hands and did a revered namaskar.
Ganesh once again became introvert and got immersed in his thoughts. He realised that though he was standing before Madhurani and was not looking at her, yet the attraction in his mind for her seemed little satiated.
“Yes, take this, Sir”
Her melodious voice brought him to senses.
Seeing the cake of Wheel soap that she had kept on the wooden box before him, Ganesh could not help laughing. He began to laugh loudly.
“What happened?,” she too laughed and asked.
“Not wheel soap, I had asked for Wills cigarette.”
“Is that so? … Sir, here you can only get Bristol or Charminar… No one here smokes Wills or Wheel, whatever you call it,” she clarified.
“Then, give me Bristol. … and also a match box.”
“Hey, give Sir , one Bristol and a match box,” she instructed the servant.
She would tell him to bring an article and the servant would silently hear her. He neither said ‘yes’ nor ‘no’. But he paid full attention to her. Even now he heard her. But now he had taken the bottle from the child and had gone to pour oil in it.
“Hey, give him first. He is waiting from such a long time,” she interrupted. The servant threw a glance at her and holding the bottle in his hand he took out a packet of Bristol and a match box and gave it to Ganesh.
(to be contd.)
Original Novel by Sunil Doiphode
English Version by Anil Ekbote