“So, shall we start the meeting?” Patil glanced at the gathering in the hall and asked. “Where are the father of the dumb girl… and the father of the dumb young man?” Patil threw a searching glance over the hall and exclaimed.
“Oh, why are you two sitting in a corner… that too, one on this side and the other on the other…” Patil observed light heartedly.
A wave of mild laughter spread in the hall.
“Come here .. in the front..” Patil asked them to come forward.
Then Patil once again glanced over the heads of the crowd and looking at the corner where Ganesh was sitting said, “And Guruji and Ganeshrao… you too, come a little forward… and Bhatji, you can move a little away.”
Guruji got up. Now Ganesh had no other go. While getting up he glanced at Madhurani. A naughty smile had spread across her face. Ganesh went and sat next to Patil.
“So Sarpanchji, what is the first item?” Patil took over the conduct of the meeting.
“What is there .. Fathers of the dumb youth and the dumb girl, both are ready for the marriage … what do you say Pandurang.. Raghu…?”
Both silently nodded their assent.
“The next thing would be to find out an auspicious date for the marriage,” Sarpanch said.
“What about exchange of gifts…” someone opened his mouth and asked.
That also would be taken care of… First find out the date,” Sarpanch said.
“What Bhatji, when is the next best date?” Patil asked Bhatji, the Brahmin.
Bhatji slightly leaned forward and opened his old, rusty calendar, the almanac.
He glanced through two-three pages and said, “After the traditional Tulsi-marriage, the first auspicious event is on the 27th of the next month.”
“What day is it?” Sarpanch enquired.
“Thursday,” Bhatji said.
“It’s the day of the bazaar,” someone muttered aloud.
“Bhatji, find out another date ” Sarpanch said.
On the market day, the village people were generally kept busy the whole day as such they mostly avoided marriages and other functions on this day.
Bhatji again looked into the pages of the almanac, the calendar, which he was holding in his hand and said, “next one is on twenty-ninth. A Saturday.”
“Fine. Then let us fix the twenty-ninth.. what do you say Pandurang?.. Raghu?..”
The two fathers nodded in assent.
Then, Patil said, “So, twenty-ninth is fixed. Now take the next item.”
Patil did not want the matter to prolong so he announced the decision.
“Now, let us decide on the exchange of gifts, “ one man sitting next to dumb young man’s father said hurriedly.
He seemed to have been already coached by the dumb young man’s father.
Patil glanced at the dumb man’s father and asked, “What do you say Pandurang… what are your expectations…”
Dumb man’s father merely shifted his position and listlessly glanced here and there.
Just then Ganesh noticed that Patil had signalled the village doctor. No one other than him would have noticed it. But as Ganesh was sitting close to Patil he did not miss it.
“One moment.. before we take up the issue of exchanging gifts, I have one point to raise..” the doctor interrupted. All eyes turned towards him. The doctor was normally mild mannered and rarely spoke at such meetings. People became curious to know what his point was.
“You see.. if the dumb boy and the dumb girl get married there could be a problem,” the doctor said keeping the mystery intact.
“Problem? What problem?” four five surprised voices exclaimed aloud.
The doctor took a pause to make the serious mood of the meeting more serious. The dumb girl’s father became nervous and scared.
“What problem? … tell us clearly, Doctor,” Sarpanch said with little apprehension.
“Come on Doctor.. speak out… don’t remain tongue-tied,” Patil said.
“No, I am thinking whether to tell it or not,” the doctor said.
“Hey Doctor … are you going to open your mouth and talk further or shall I give you a big blow under your ear?” a strong short tempered uncle of the dumb girl sitting next to her got up all provoked. The dumb girl’s father somehow calmed him and made him sit down. The Doctor had broken into a sweat. He glanced at Patil.
“Tell them.. go ahead … I am here, don’t worry,” Patil coaxed him.
If the dumb boy and the dumb girl get married, their children also could be born mute … there is a good possibility of that,” the Doctor said.
A dead calm engulfed the hall.
“Then, what does it matter?” someone exclaimed.
“ What do you mean .. what does it matter…” someone sitting near the father of the dumb boy got up and said, “ As it is it is strenuous to take care of one dumb person.. now if the marriage takes place, they will be two… and if their children also are born mute.. there would be a flock of dumb ones …who will take care of them …”
“We will care for them … you don’t have to bother..” the girl’s uncle declared spiritedly.
“And what about the heir of our family …. He’s also dumb … no, we can’t allow all this…“ another one taking side of the dumb youth’s father said.
“Look. First of all, everyone remain calm and quiet,” the Sarpanch intervened.
“How can we be, Sarpanchji? Are you going to take care of all those dumb children?” dumb man’s uncle, who was silent all along, said.
“We’ll find a way out … I may not do it alone but our village will make some arrangement.”
“It means the same thing…children will beg all along… and the villagers will give them food,” the excited dumb man’s uncle said.
“Pandurangrao .. get up… this meeting is called off … people are ready to give as many girls to our dumb boy as he would like to have.. and that, too, normal girls… not dumb ones.. the boy isn’t that desperate,” the dumb man’s uncle made the boy’s father get up.
“Don’t be hasty… Just also think of the boy’s feelings,” Seeing the meeting going awry, Ganeshrao opened his mouth for the first time.
“Who are you? ..” the boy’s uncle questioned.
“He is the Gramsevak of our village…” someone provided Ganesh’s background.
“You don’t try to act clever and teach us … do whatever the government has asked you to do and take your salary … don’t get involved in these affairs…” the boy’s uncle thundered at Ganesh.
As no one else supported Ganesh, he had to reluctantly fall silent.
“Come on Pandurangrao … no use sitting here even for a minute more… don’t worry about the dumb one’s marriage… I’ll shoulder the responsibility…” the dumb man’s uncle held the father by his hand and almost began to lift him up.
“Your boy has spoilt our girl’s life.. what about that…” the dumb girl’s uncle who was held restrained all the while by her father now got up and questioned.
“It’s not our fault… you were unable to control your girl.. this is your fault… our boy did not force her… it was your daughter who pulled him over her..” the dumb man’s uncle said leading the father towards the door.
“Hey you… mind your tongue,” one person from the side of dumb girl’s father got up and started hurling vile abuses. Dumb girl’s uncle could tolerate this no more
“You mother****…. Wait I’ll teach you a lesson… Sudama, catch him…” the mute girl’s uncle now rushed at mute boy’s uncle and said.
A few belonging to the dumb girl’s side ran behind him. Now people supporting dumb boy’s father too stepped ahead.
Soon a tussle began. There was utter confusion in the hall. Just then a loud and deep voice boomed in the hall.
“You rascals… get out, all of you.. go out.. and sit on each other’s chest or break each other’s head,” an angry Patil sent them out.
For a while an uncomfortable silence prevailed in the hall.
“Ramya… neck out all those people,” Patil ordered one of his servants.
Ramya and three of his colleagues stepped ahead and began to shove away one person after another by catching hold of their shoulders. The people jerked themselves free and began to move away.
Seeing this chaos Ganesh, Madhurani and other respectable people stood up. A total calm had now spread over the hall. The only sounds that were heard were those of shoes and slippers made by people going out. And, in between, brief arguments between the people and Patil’s servants.
“All of you, please take your seats… we try to do good to someone and that someone says he already has enough of it,” Patil said.
Without taking his seat the Sarpanch began to walk towards the door.
“Sarpanchji… wait for a few minutes… we’ll have our tea and then adjourn the meeting… as it is it is already adjourned… but still…” Patil commented.
Wondering whether to sit or to go away, Sarpanch once again took his seat.
“All others also please wait for a while ..” Patil said.
“Some people, unable to decide, merely stood in their places.”
“Take your seats… otherwise you will go and tell everyone that Patil has sent you away without even offering tea,” Patil said in a lighter vein.
A few people let out a forced laughter at this joke and sat down.
People from both sides who were clashing seemed to have gone out Because loud sounds of their clash was now rising from below.
(to be contd.)
Original Novel by Sunil Doiphode
English Version by Anil Ekbote