Ganesh saw that, outside, a young man of 21-22 and a young woman of 18-19 were quarrelling among themselves. From the way they were quarrelling it was obvious that both were dumb. Seeing their quarrel Ganesh smiled to himself. He looked at Madhurani’s shop. She was still laughing at the quarrel. Seeing her Ganesh walked towards her shop.
“Ganeshrao.. Look how the dumb ones quarrel.. did you ever see two dumb quarrel?” Madhurani saw Ganesh and commented.
“No, this is the first time I’m seeing it,” Ganesh answered her with a smile.
“Do you know why they are quarrelling?” Madhurani asked. Ganesh gave her a questioning look.
“Look, this dumb man was carrying a mug of water and was going towards the open yard meant for gents. And the other dumb was going towards women’s yard.. In the dark both dashed against each other.. and both their mugs fell down,” Madhurani gave a slap on Ganesh’s open palm and once again began to laugh.
Ganesh, too, began to laugh heartily.
Today, Ganesh and Madhurani sat chatting for a long time. Just then a man came hurriedly to Madhurani. He was breathless.
He began to speak. “Easy..first catch your breath and then tell me.. I am here itself. Am I running away somewhere?” Madhurani told that man jocularly.
He paused. Looking at Ganesh he got back his breath and taking out a key from his pocket handed it to Madhurani saying, “Take this. There were 15 sacks… I have kept them in your go down. He was about to place the key in Madhurani’s hand. On some pretext Madhurani turned the other side and began looking for something. Without facing him she said, “Keep it on the box”
The man, apologetically kept the key on the wooden box that was placed in front of Madhurani. Madhurani searched and brought a book and a pen. Then, turning to the man she said, “Only 15 sacks?... this time they are lesser than last time.”
“What is it that you are trying to say?.. Last time there were on 12 sacks.”
“Then, last time even the sowing was less..”
“Yes that is true but.. the calculation must have been almost accurate.
Madhurani gave the book and the pen to Ganesh and said, “Ganeshrao, make the calculation.. and tell him,”
That man said,..”Last time.. ..two and a half acres had produced 12 sacks of wheat. And this time, fifteen sacks from three acres..”
Ganesh began to calculate in the notebook. “No, Madhurani.. this time the returns are good… this time it is five and last time it was just 4.8..”
“I know it. I trust Sambhajirao.. I was just trying to pull his leg.. What do you say, Sambhajirao?” Madhurani looked at Sambhajirao and asked with a smile. Sambhajirao gave a shy smile.
“Alright. I will get going..” he said.
Madhurani once again gave him a smile and said, ”yes, you can get going now.”
He went away.
As soon as he was out of sight, Madhurani said, “Beast, he does good work … he also works hard.. but unnecessarily keeps falling over me.. Didn’t you see him, how he was trying to place the key in my hand?.. On that pretext he would have tried to touch me.. let him do this at home with his mother and sisters?
Her tirade was also applicable to Ganesh as such he felt embarrassed.
Next moment, Madhurani placed her hand on Ganesh’s thigh and said, “Shouldn’t one also have a proper status?”
Ganesh’s face once again brightened. He thought. Good, Madhurani did not say no to his attempts.
I am among the exceptions…
But it is not proper for people to take advantage of a widow’s helplessness.
“Ganeshrao, you seem to be strong in arithmetic.. you have finished the calculations in no time.. I never knew that you were also clever in maths.”
“Madhurani, now you are flattering me..”, Ganesh said feeling embarrassed.
There was no one in the shop or anywhere around. Taking advantage of this loneliness Madhurani said, “Ganeshrao.. why do you address me in the respectful plural…”
Startled, Ganesh looked into her eyes. Her eyes had begun to ooze sensuousness. Ganesh felt himself getting warmed.
“And you can just call me Honey .. or rani..Yes, you can call me Honey i.. Queenie”
Ganesh’s throat suddenly went dry and his hands and legs developed a nervous trembling. Though he shyly averted his eyes from Madhurani’s face, he sensed that Madhurani was still looking into his face with hungry eyes.
To carry on conversation Gaensh asked, “Who maintains the accounts of your shop?”
“I myself keep it. Why? Do you find me incapable?” Madhurani laughed aloud and said.
“No, not like that..” he was confused and he couldn’t finish his sentence.
“My neighbour Vilas helps me out now and then..”
“I just thought that I too, could help you now and then, What do you say Madhurani?” Ganesh said addressing her in the respectful plural form. Madhurani
“Madhurani?’’ Madhurani stopped him.
He quickly corrected himself and addressed her in the familiar singular form- ‘Honey’ But while doing so his face had turned red with embarrassment.
“Actually, I can do without help .. but if you have some other motive to help, then I am a game,” Madhurani said looking deep into his eyes.
Once again, he averted his gaze and now began to look at the wooden box kept before her. Madhurani had started fondling it. Her fondling revealed the uneasiness of her mind.
Ganesh now began to gather his courage. But he still could not meet her gaze.
She was sending signals to him …
It was necessary to respond to her signals..
Otherwise what would she make me out to be … unmanly..
No he must give some sort of a reply..
He began to think. He was trying to measure the consequence of every single move he was thinking of making.
What if she fell into my arms?
It would be so awkward…
It may also lead to trouble…
It is alright as long as it is only for fun…
What ever it be, I can take care of it when the time comes..
First.. let me respond to her signals...
He looked into her face. Her gaze was still lapping him. Again he averted his looks, feeling shy. Now he began to become angry on himself.
Fool, she is giving signal after signal…
and you are sitting like a dud …
losing courage ..
No, something has to be done...
The iron was red hot..
This was the right time to strike it…
At last he decided …
It was not possible to look at her ..
Looking into her eyes was like looking directly at the sun …
At least .. bending head ..
I should take her hand in mine.
He slowly gathered courage and began to move his hand towards her hand placed on the wooden box. His hand had begun to tremble. Even his legs had started shaking. Somehow controlling the trembling he began to move his hand towards hers. Outside cool breeze was blowing. Yet he had broken into sweat. At last he made a firm resolution and thumped his trembling hand on hers. But, before he could reach it, she had taken away her hand. He died in shame. He felt highly insulted. But just then her voice rang out.
“Bapu .. be careful .. or take a little less… otherwise like yesterday you’ll fall into a gutter.”
Ganesh lifted his head and looked up. An old villager with bristles on his cheek and chin was standing in front of Madhurani. He had held his hand before Madhurani. and Madhurani had placed two one rupee coins in his hand. The man held the coins in his fist and walked away without saying anything.
Oh, so Madhurani had moved her hand because that man had come…
Otherwise an awkward situation would have arisen….
By remaining alert Madhurani had avoided a difficult situation.
Ganesh thought. He was truly impressed with her.
Really, even while looking into my eyes she had retained her presence of mind…
And I ?…
With such presence of mind she was truly an ‘ asthavadhani’.
Now the traces of insult were wiped off from his face. He looked at Madhurani. She got up looking naughtily at him.
“Who was he?” just to hide his changed expressions he asked.
“Father-in-law,” she said.
“Come it is very late. I must close the shop.. otherwise people ..” leaving the sentence hanging she began to wind up.
“Well then, I too will make a move,” he got up and said taking her leave.
She once again smiled at him naughtily and got busy in winding up her work. As if nothing had happened. Truly her skill of moving from one situation to another was praiseworthy.
Staring at her quick, flashing movements he returned to his room. He was tracing heavy steps towards his room. Reaching the door he once again looked at Madhurani. She also looked at him. The naughty smile was still lingering on her lips.
(to be contd.)
Original Novel by Sunil Doiphode
English Version by Anil Ekbote