Now the dumb woman’s father lifted the stone high above his head and was about to cruelly smash it on the dumb woman’s head when ..
“Wait,” a deep voice boomed.
Every one froze and began to turn and look back. The dumb woman’s father obediently threw the stone aside. Ganesh turned and looked back. The village Sarpanch was standing there. Earlier, Ganesh had seen the calm and benign face of the Sarpanch. But today, for the first time, he was seeing the Sarpanch’s skill to face such a volatile and complex situation,
“Raghuji .. what if she is your daughter .. it does not give you the right to take law in your hand,” Sarpanch went near the dumb girl and said. Standing beside her he threw a determined glance over the crowd as if he was saying it to the entire village.
When so many people are standing here, how could such beastly thing take place? ..
Have all of you lost your sense?..
I can understand the girl’s father…
He was under the influence of devil’s rage.
But what about you?
As Sarpanch asked each one no one dared to meet his stare that pierced through their minds and bodies. They all hung their heads.
“Is the dumb youth’s father here?” Sarpanch asked the crowd.
The crowd became restive. A few young men were holding the dumb youth captive. From somewhere amidst the crowd a villager, scared and frightened, hesitatingly came forward.
“Come forward …here…,” Sarpanch asked him to come forward and stand to one side.
“And dumb woman’s father…Raghu ..come here…stand next to him..” Sarpanch instructed the dumb woman’s father.
He came and stood beside the dumb youth’s father. Dumb woman’s father was all cowed and subdued. He looked at the dumb youth’s father. But the dumb youth’s father didn’t even show the courtesy of acknowledging his presence. He stood in arrogance and totally uncaring.
“Hey, set the dumb youth free,” Sarpanch ordered.
The young men who were holding the dumb youth captive set him free.
“Now make the dumb youth stand here …next to his father,” Sarpanch told one of the young men.
The young man held the dumb youth by his arm and made him stand beside his father.
“Now, bring your daughter and make her stand next to you,” the Sarpanch instructed the dumb woman’s father. The woman’s father slowly walked to the girl. She was still lying on the ground and, hiding her face, was weeping ceaselessly. Her father stood beside her. He hesitated for a few moments. He did not know with what authority he could now make her get up. He stooped and lifted her holding her arm. She got up moaning and weeping. For a moment her eyes met those of her father and moved to the core she fell into her father’s arms and began to cry in vigorous spasms. The father’s eyes too welled with tears. Unknowingly his hand began to gently pat her back to console her. Seeing this Ganesh got a lump in his throat.
“Bring her here,” the Sarpanch, in order to wind up the scene, instructed once again.
Raghu stepped away from his dumb daughter and holding her by shoulders brought her to the front. He stood at his earlier place and made the dumb daughter stand next to him on the left. The dumb girl hung her head and stood silently. The poor girl, she did not have the courage to face such a big crowd.
It was for the first time that Ganesh saw the dumb girl from such close quarters. She was extremely pretty. She was fair. Her build was slender and shapely. In all this beauty there was only one flaw, she was dumb. If some one did not know that she was dumb, he would have easily fallen in love with her at the first sight.
“Now, all of you listen to me…” the Sarpanch said.
The father of the dumb girl began to look eagerly at the Sarpanch. The dumb youth’s father also reluctantly looked at him. The poor dumb girl still stood silent, with her head hung in shame. And the dumb youth some times glared at the Sarpanch and then looked at the dumb girl. While looking at the dumb girl, his eyes revealed the concern and compassion he felt for her. Poor young man, he seemed to be really in love with her. Though he was dumb, he was eloquently expressing his love for her, perhaps he could not have expressed with such intensity had he been able to talk. Even then, no one other than her could have understood the depth of his silent sentiments.
“Do you wish to keep up your honour?” the Sarpanch threw a question at the people.
Only the father of dumb girl looked at him helplessly. Dumb youth’s father was avoiding all eyes.
“Does your village love its honour?” Sarpanch asked in a deep voice looking at the dumb youth’s father.
Dumb youth’s father somehow managed to meet the Sarpanch’s gaze.
“In that case, listen. I am announcing here the decision of the Panch”
All strained their ears to hear what the Sarpanch had to say.
“Get these two married on the earliest auspicious day.”
All looked at the Sarpanch with great disbelief.
“Why did we not think of this?” ..they must have perhaps thought. All people seemed to agree to this proposal.
“What Raghu, do you agree to this?” Sarpanch asked the dumb girl’s father. “Yes, Sir .. If the boy’s father accepts my daughter he will be doing me a great favour,” the dumb girl’s father said happily spreading his shoulder-cloth in anticipation of receiving the favour. The dumb youth’s father did not react. He seemed to have fallen into thinking.
“What Pandurang, is this agreeable to you?” the Sarpanch asked the dumb youth’s father.
“Yes Sir ,.. as you wish,” the groom’s father replied with some apprehension.
All people beamed happy smiles. Ganesh was looking at the Sarpanch with great appreciation. This indeed was real leadership.
Truly, Sarpanch, I accept your talent.
Sarpanch had instantly given a generally acceptable solution and solved the problem,
“What are you all gaping at each other .. Come start your work.. we should get them married as soon as possible, “Sarpanch said happily and began to trace quick steps towards the village.
All people also began to happily go after him towards the village.
Some over enthusiastic youth began to raise slogans in happiness and excitement.
(to be contd.)
Original Novel by Sunil Doiphode
English Version by Anil Ekbote