For the following four-five days Ganesh never went to Madhurani’s shop. He did not have the courage to do so. Once or twice he had caught Madhurani’s eyes through the window. That was all. He found her looking at him with wide eyes. At times he would make out in her eyes the anger for not knowing why he was behaving thus. At other times, he sensed her loneliness. While on still other occasions he saw her silently appealing “If I have done anything wrong, please forgive me.” At times he felt amazed how Madhurani could convey so much through her eyes. Or was it his own convenient interpretation.
A commotion was heard outside so Ganesh looked out of the window.
“Hey Pandya .. come here, quick… It seems a ‘Guessing’ has been found,” a boy cried out and ran towards the village stream.
A couple of more young men ran after him. And the people sitting on the stone slab became uneasy and started looking here and there.
Ganesh saw Madhurani. Sitting at her cash counter she was talking to a boy. That boy, pointing his hand towards the stream, was hurriedly trying to tell her something. Then, that boy, too, ran towards the stream. Just then Ganesh and Madhurani’s eyes met. She gave him a dazzling smile. A smile had also started breaking on Ganesh’s face. But just then he remembered Madhurani’s furious outburst in the bazaar. He quickly moved away from the window.
The evening’s horizon was tinged in red. Just near the stream at the boundary of the village there was a field of sugarcane. Ganesh noticed that at one place people had crowded. Ganesh hurried towards the crowd. There were many more villagers scurrying towards the crowd. Ganesh increased his pace. It was fast getting dark as such some were carrying lanterns. When Ganesh reached near the crowd, suddenly everyone fell silent. Some began to look sharply at him and others at the centre of the crowd. At the centre of the crowd, the dumb young man and the dumb young woman were standing with bent heads. Just then Ganesh saw that someone hurriedly pushed himself through the crowd and began to beat the dumb woman.
“Bitch .. you chose our house to take birth..” he began to mercilessly beat the dumb woman. It was difficult to make out if she were screaming or crying. And no one was bothered about it. At this juncture the dumb youth screamed in rage and fell on the man. A few strong boys held him rooted.
“You have now no face left to show in the village. .. Now I am going to beat you until death .. It would be nice if you die while receiving my beatings… Instead of roaming in the village with your sin, it would be better for me to go to jail.”
Now Ganesh began to get an inkling of the whole issue. The dumb man and the dumb woman would have carried on their affair in the sugarcane field. And the person who was beating her must be her father. The dumb woman’s father went on abusing and cursing while his hands and feet were engaged in beating her. Initially Ganesh felt that what her father was doing was right. In fact, with every beating he was sensing a vicious pleasure.
Truly she had left no honour for her father to show his face in the society.
Had I been in her father’s place I would have strangled her.
The dumb one seemed quite capable of having an affair.
When she could not get any one, she chose the dumb youth..
Now her father would find it difficult to get her married.
Well, an old man, or a drunkard would possibly marry her and take huge amount towards dowry.
For some time Ganesh felt as if he were the dumb woman’s father.
But soon the happening began to irk him. He began to feel that what was taking place was not quite correct. Ganesh began to look at them from human angle.
Poor girl, might have fallen in love with the dumb youth.
Perhaps he too must be in love.
Why should only normal people love?
Is there anywhere written that dumb people should not fall in love?
They too, are like all others.
They too, have feelings like all others.
They too, have needs like all others…
Only thing was that they were dumb.
But they were dumb not by choice.
It was their fate. Suddenly Ganesh felt inspired. He was unable to tolerate the beating by the dumb woman’s father and he was also unable to see her suffer at his hands.
The dumb woman’s screams and the dumb youth’s sharp angry snarls began to get on his nerves.
“Stop, what are you doing?..You’ll kill the poor one?”
One loud voice rang out. The dumb woman’s father was startled. For a few moments everyone fell silent. Ganesh could not believe that the voice was his own. The woman’s father took no heed of Ganesh and once began to beat her.
“Why do you beat her so much… the poor girl may die…”
“Poor girl?” her father paused and looking at Ganesh said in a mocking tone.
The father once again began to beat her.
Now Ganesh stepped forward to intervene..
“Ganeshrao .. don’t interfere in this matter … you’ll be put to loss …”
“You do your work silently … don’t interfere in the affairs of the village..”
“This you not your taluka. … such things may be happening there … but we don’t allow them here.”
“Such thing never happens in our village … this could be the first time …”
“When I was small, Patil’s daughter was entrapped with a cobbler’s son…. Patil cut her into pieces and fed the dogs…” one old man reminisced.
“The British police had then come to the village… to conduct an enquiry”
Ganesh looked at the old man as though to silently ask, “Then? What happened thereafter?”
“The police asked one and all … but they could not even establish that the Patil had a daughter… forget about the killing…”
Ganesh looked at the old man in amazement.
Could this really have happened?
“But Grandpa, its an old story … today the world has made rapid progress…” Ganesh tried to convince the old man.
“The world might have made rapid progress, but does it mean that people should climb on each other?” a man wearing a slanting cap said.
Even in that serious atmosphere quite a few chuckles arose. Those laughing mockingly were mainly the young men.”
The dumb woman’s father was further incensed. In a fit of fury he lifted with both hands a stone that was lying nearby. The stone was quite big and heavy; As such he was finding it difficult to lift it. Now the dumb woman’s father lifted the stone above his head and was about to cruelly smash it on the dumb woman’s head when …
(to be contd.)
Original Novel by Sunil Doiphode
English Version by Anil Ekbote