Then began a series of speeches. The leaders who went on the dais along with Madhurani began to greedily deliver speech after speech. As if now they had got a good opportunity to wax eloquent. As the speeches were being made, at some places workers sitting in the audience broke into appreciative claps. When they clapped hard, other people also had to clap and show their appreciation, may be just to keep up their pretence.
The workers who broke into applause kept clapping every now and then as though it also was a part of the work allotted to them. And then the remaining public also broke into loud applause. As series of speeches was being made, Madhurani’s speech, being, something special was kept for the last.
Ganeshrao had no interest in listening to the same boring speeches made by the leaders. Yawning a little, he glanced at those sitting around him. There, at one place, sat an old man who looked familiar. Ganeshrao tried to recollect where he had seen the man. That man noticed Ganeshrao. But he quickly averted his eyes. Ganeshrao now began to move towards him. From the corner of his eyes the man saw Ganeshrao approaching him. By now Ganeshrao had reached by his side and was trying to recollect his name,
“Your face looks familiar, Seems I have seen you somewhere….?” Ganeshrao asked giving a questioning look
“Ganeshrao… is that you?”… the old man asked.
“Yes…but who are you?” Ganeshrao enquired.
“I am from Ujni…” the old man said.
Quickly…the pictures from old times came alive in Ganeshrao mind and then he recognized the old man.
Oh..he is the dumb girl’s father….
Pandurang…. No, not Pandurang. Pandurang was the father of the dumb youth.
He is perhaps Raghuji….
“Yes… now I have recognised you…” before the old man could introduce himself Ganeshrao answered quickly.
“How are things?” Ganeshrao enquired.
“Fine… I am doing quite well… I get to eat twice a day… What more does a poor person like me need.” He said with a deep sigh.
Ganeshrao did not get the answer he had expected. So he asked more openly, “How is your daughter doing?”
“Daughter?” he looked at Ganeshrao questioningly.
“I mean…the dumb one,” Ganeshrao made himself more clear.
Ganeshrao had not known the dumb girl’s name. The whole village knew her as ‘the dumb one’
The old man gave a sad look at Ganeshrao and silently turned his face towards Madhurani on the Dias. Perhaps he was trying to hide his feelings.
Ganeshrao fell to thinking.
“Had he asked a wrong question?”
Had he unnecessarily touched a raw nerve?
“Forgive me, I had no idea. I had just asked casually…” Ganeshrao said patting the old man’s shoulder.
The old man once again looked at Ganeshrao. This time Ganeshrao saw that his eyes had moistened.
He looked at the dais and exclaimed….”Sir…it was her fate….what else?”
It was indeed wrong to have started this subject.
But it wouldn’t have been nice if it were left midway.
“Why? What happened….? Ganeshrao asked.
After that bastard …the dumb one got married…. They had seen another boy for her…..” his voice got choked as he proceeded.
The dumb girl’s father paused. Ganeshrao waited for him to tell him more.
Even her marriage was settled…. I sold my farm and arranged for a handsome dowry, but…” the old man could not continue.
All possibilities flashed before Ganeshrao’s mind.
But …what happened….
Did the new groom also discard her?...
“But… as soon as she came to know,,, she gave up eating and drinking…For fifteen days she did not eat a morsel or drink one sip of water…. A day before she was to get married she died…. She left all of us and went away… Poor girl was set free…” the old man said wiping tears.
“What?..She passed away?..She left you?… Ganeshrao exclaimed in surprise and disbelief.
Ganesh did not have the courage to ask the old man anything more. The old man was still gazing at the dais. Perhaps trying to hide his uncontrollable sorrow.
Truly, she must have loved the dumb boy with all her heart.
People ought not to have come in the way of their love.
What right did they have to behave as they had?
Ganeshrao gently patted the old man’s shoulders and walked away with a heavy heart..
... Continued ..
Original Novel by Sunil Doiphode
English Version by Anil Ekbote