Forgotten Short Stories : 3
In that Uraon village, Dulo was a lovable girl with a lot of pride in herself. And it was difficult to say what she possessed more - her beauty or her sense of pride. Dulo would love to wear her ornaments – her glass-inlaid earrings, a big red moonga chain hanging on her bosom and couple of loose-fitting rings on each small toe of her feet. Her large kohl-lined eyes shone with her innocence and her sense of innate pride. And her voice was endowed with the lilt of a song. She was especially proud of her curly tresses, and she would tie her hair in a bun at a rakish angle typically like all munda girls and stick a yellow sirgujia flower in it.
She had her father, Bhattu, always silent and self-complacent, and her mother, Doogi, most of the time flinging her arms as she would keep shouting. She had her brother, Jagrai, two years younger to her who was so clever in grazing the cows and the goats. Bhattu would be busy only during the days of farming; otherwise he would sit idle listening to the prattle of his wife – an endless prattle with her wildly gesticulating hands.
Most of the time, they would talk of farming, or of lions and snakes, or ghosts, or the innumerable problems in their life – the soaring prices, declining morals, or the prevailing weather. These were the common topics in their gossip almost everyday, or any day in their life. Bhattu would hardly ever say anything. He would keep listening to his wife’s babble most of the time with only occasional curt interjections. But on such occasions his face would contort pitifully and his eyes would shine momentarily, as if he were appealing against some judgement in a high court.
Dulo was a hard-working girl doing all domestic work as well as helping in outside work. She would go and collect dry leaves for the fire to boil the paddy grains, collect cattle-dung and make dung-cakes from it, would also collect vegetable leaves for cooking eatables, or pound raw paddy on the stone tongri.
Come night, and she would go to the akhara swinging like a pliant sprig and humming like a black-bee, and lose all awareness of her being while in her dance and songs. All was well but what irked most was that Dulo was now sixteen and yet not married. It was already the month of Katik and Dulo had gone that day in the afternoon to the market for buying provisions. Outside their home, Bhattu was sitting in the sun on a spreadout blanket with his brown-coloured dog lying by his side. Right then Doogi appeared and said to Bhattu – Aye Ji, Our bullock died last month; now what is to be done?” Bhattu looked at his wife with utter surprise in his eyes as if it was news to him. Then, after a pause, he said – “Oh, yes, our bullock died. But it was all the will of Bonga! All happens only as Bonga wishes.”
“No,no”, said Doogi, “I have a hunch that some sorceress has done some evil magic on our bullock. Even the Bongas in our home or in the village don’t help us. So, what to do?”
“ No one helps poor people like us. I can no longer plough my field with an odd bullock”, replied Bhattu.
“ But if the ploughing is not done”, said Doogi, “how will grain be produced. Something will have to be done for a bullock. What is a farmer’s home without a bullock? You must buy a bullock by any means.” But then Doogi knew, they had no money to buy a bullock, nor could they borrow it.
“Life has become so hard. It is just crawling ahead anyhow. So how can we think of buying a bullock?”, bemoaned Doogi.
Suddenly Bhattu came out with a solution. “But, in that case, we can sell Dulo in marriage!” At this Doogi immediately gesticulated with both hands in excitement and said -
“Oh, this you have been saying for so long now - to sell Dulo. Once when you needed to repair the thatch of our roof you said you’ll sell Dulo, again when there was that case for payment of the land rent, you were ready to sell her, or even when you wanted to dig the well you thought you’ll sell Dulo. But when have you been able to sell Dulo? And Dulo keeps growing and spreading like a sal tree day by day. One hardly knows when you’ll sell Dulo and buy a bullock!”
Bhattu seemed like saying in prayer. “Let someone come to buy her, and I’ll gladly sell her. But what to do if someone doesn’t come for buying her. And if at all someone turns up, he wouldn’t pay a handsome price for her. And you know pretty well the kind of girl Dulo is!”
“ Of whatever kind she may be, but she keeps on lengthening like an evening shadow. There’s no way to keep her with us anymore. She keeps crooning songs all the time, and as soon as she hears some mandar playing somewhere, her feet would start tapping in rhythm. And she would at once rush to the jungle on some pretext like picking vegetable leaves for cooking. But she has her days now. And we must sell her sooner. The villagers also have started saying this and that, and even Bonga often appears in my dreams. Only last night I sensed a shadow moving swiftly from east to west; whatever it may have been.”
In a brooding philosophical manner, Bhattu replied –
“But what can I do? Whoever comes asking for her hand, is not ready to pay a suitable price. And I am compelled to let it pass.”
Doogi again waved her hands wildly and said –
“ Of course you want to sell Dulo for the price of a bullock. But is it possible nowadays to buy a bullock for the price you get by selling your daughter in marriage? The price of a bullock is always much more than the price of a marriageable girl!”
“ What are you saying! When I married you I had to give two bullocks and one kath of rice before I could marry you. But you never remember your own case, and start talking of this and that only.” – Bhattu said wryly.
Doogi’s hands waved up and down again as she retorted –
“That was an altogether different time when prices were low. That was a time when man was truly expensive and everything was cheaper. But nowadays things have turned around. Man is cheaper and things are much more costly. Today if you want to buy a bullock for the price of a man, it can never be.”
“Then what to do? We urgently need a bullock, but where to find the money?”
But Doogi remained totally unconvinced, gesticulating as ever with her hands and blabbering all the time. Bhattu meanwhile had fallen silent. Doogi then rose and went to her neighours, first to one, then to a second and a third neighbour, with her prattle continuing. When she went to her fourth neighbour and found her absent, she continued to babble with the neighbour’s husband.
The next night as Dulo was returning after dancing at the akhara, her dance-mate Jabara, at a lonely corner, began teasing her –
“Hey, Dulo, for whom are you wearing this yellow sirgujia flower in your hair?”
“For you”. Dulo gave a mischievous smile in the moonlit night.
“ And for whom is this large tarpat you are wearing in your ears? And this moonga chain in your neck?”
“For you, didn’t I say?”
“ And the ravishing looks in your eyes, and your youth and the bloom in your body billowing like a river in flood – for whom is all that?”
Dulo, a little embarrassed by such passionate praise, smilingly said –
“ Everything is just for you, if you like!”
“But how can I buy you at your high price. You very well know that even bullocks have become more costly than men nowadays. Where can I find so much money? Just think!”
Jabara’s words sank into Dulo’s heart like a dart of love. After a moment she said –
“Then just forget it. I shall come to you like a dhuku partner!”
“ This will be still more difficult. Your mother will raise a hell with my mother!”
“Come, let’s flee to Bhutan.”
Dulo impulsively caught hold of a corner of Jabar’s shawl and firmly asserted, as her whole body shivered and tingled – “ No, I can’t leave my parents; nor my hilly village. I would neither go to Bhutan nor let you go anywhere either!”
“Yes, Dulo, I too can’t live without you. Now, come let’s go!”
“In that thick forest!”
And both stealthily headed towards the dark forest in the moonlit night as they heard the jackals howling!
Next day Bhattu was trying hard to console Doogi who was sitting by his side holding her head in both hands, much against her usual nature. Tears were flowing down her old cheeks.
“ Don’t bother too much, Doogi! If Dulo is gone, her fate will take care of her. We’ll think of an alternative for buying a bullock.”
Just then both Dulo and Jabara appeared before them. A shy, blushing Dulo hiding timidly behind Jabara. Doogi’s eyes shone with fire, but she didn’t say a word.
“But my dear son!”, said Bhattu to Jabara. “If you wanted to take away Dulo, you could have asked for her hand?
“Baba”, replied Jabara, “ I didn’t have the courage. I knew I was very poor! How could I pay the price for marrying Dulo? Where could I get enough money to bring a marriage party and arrange for their feast?”
Bhattu remained silent. He drew a long sigh and said –
“Oh, I had always thought that with the price of Dulo I would buy a bullock.”
“Baba”, quickly replied Jabara, “What if you couldn’t buy a bullock? I am there. I can work harder than any bullock for you. I will always serve by your side in your farming, till I’m able to repay Dulo’s full price!
Bhattu felt overwhelmed by Jabara’s reply. He at once rose and took Jabara in his arms in happiness. Even Doogi’s eyes glimmered with her inner happiness!
Few today would remember a story –‘The Three Boons’ written by a ghost writer ‘Ghosh-Bose-Bannerji-Chatterji’. The Hindi short story ‘Varadan ka Pher’ was the most hilarious piece prescribed in the Hindi textbook in the Matric class of schools in those days. The real name of that funny ghost writer was Radhakrishna, from Ranchi, who spent a large part of his life in utter poverty and misery. He was born (1910) in a lower middleclass family in utterly indigent circumstances and his whole life is atragic tale of extreme penury and hardship. He began early as a prolific and talented story writer as early as 1929, and within years was proclaimed by Premchand as ‘among the five topmost Hindi short story writers’ of his time. In his four-decade long literary career, he wrote about a hundred short stories, published in 5 collections, the last one posthuhumously (in 1998). He died on Feb 3, 1979.
Radhakrishna is now a forgotten name in present day Hindi literary world. But he is, perhaps, the solitary Hindi litterateur who has given some of the finest short stories about the millennia-old Adivasi life and culture in Bihar. The story given above, along with another story on Adivasi life, and some other long forgotten Hindi short stories translated by me into English, are soon going to be published in a new collection.
Bihar’s contribution to Hindi literature has always been ignored in the mainstream history and criticism of Hindi literature, but with the publication of this new collection of translated - old and forgotten – Hindi short stories, it is hoped that the high attainments of some of these writers from Bihar can easily be acknowledged as comparable with the best short story writers in world literature. Comments from readers are most welcome.
© Dr BSM Murty
Photos: Courtesy – Google & Gadyakosh