1 DAI MA
Sona! O, Sona…!
Chaudhary Balbir called out standing at corner of the narrow street. He was surprised not to get any response. Otherwise these people ran out of theirs hovels cowed and crouched at a single call. They knew him by his loud and domineering voice. He looked around, a bit miffed. Just then a girl came out panting in off-white frock. Her shaggy hair looked like old nest of a bird on a dead branch.
‘Chidi!’ Chaudhary stared at her.
She looked flustered and stood looking to the ground. When children of her neighbor called her chidi, she felt offended and hurled a torrent of abuse. But now she kept silent digging the ground fiercely with her left toe.
‘Where Sona gone dead?’ He thundered.
‘Dai ma not here. She went morning and…’ She stammered.
Here in the sweepers-basti on the outskirts of the village had lived Sona dai ma for the past thirty years. People had almost forgotten her real name. She was known as dai all over, even in the neighboring villages. When she came in this village- Phoolpur, she was least interested in this job though she had learnt it from her mother who was an expert in midwifery. Jagga-her husband had six zamidars’ houses where he would sweep and pick up dung and dump into compost pit outside the houses. About his half day was spent to finish the whole job. Sona would go to these houses for chapattis and return home late at noon. Besides, Jagga labored in the fields of the farmers. It was a seasonal work. Sona made fine baskets of cane which were sold in the fair held on Saturdays at Shahapur. Both were happy in their small world. It seemed they were made for each other.
When Jagga was suddenly taken ill and remained confined to bed, she was forced to take up Jagga’s job of sweeping the houses. None but Jagga understood her reluctance. She had instinctive dislike for the job. She was often scolded by her mother in her childhood.
‘Yes, you’re a princess, why’d you do this…?’
‘I like it not.’
‘You should be born in the family of zamidar.’
‘She is a child…’ Her father interrupted and took her away lovingly by hand.
Jagga lying in bed under the thatch saw her pick basket and go. He felt sad. Sona never let her feelings come out. She had her usual smile on her face. She knew that Jagga was so loving and caring. She remembered his words.
‘You need not go to the houses of zamidars, so long as I am alive.’
And he kept his word. He never let her go whatsoever.
‘Why are you looking so…?’ asked Sona putting her hand on his forehead
Jagga felt choked and only nodded with tearful eyes.
‘Worry not. You’ll be well soon,’ said she holding his hand
Hakim ji told her that Jagga had TB. She shuddered within.
‘Is it very…?’
Hakim ji kept silent for a while. She did not know whether he had heard her or not. It might be he did not want to answer such questions.
Hakimji put the doses on the ground. She picked them looking at his wrinkled face. As she got up and moved homewards, his silence created doubt in her mind.
‘Why he remained silent? Why…? Is it really serious? No, he is so wise, experienced. He’s cured many…He’ll do…he’ll…’ She fought her tears back and hurried home.
After Jagga’s death Sona felt lonely. If Bharto-old dai had not helped her, she would have lost charm in life. She encouraged her and helped revive her interest in this job. Sona regained confidence and went about the job. She looked satisfied except a few occasions of nagging thought which pushed her into chaos. But she gathered herself and came out of it.
As Sona returned in the afternoon, chidi informed her about Chaudhary’s visit at noon.
‘Chaudhary was angry.’
‘…angry! His wife has still time. I checked her two days before. No symptoms…Was I wrong? No, my guess hardly fails, but if so, then…’ muttered she
She had gone to Karanur-neighboring village quite early to attend a heavily pregnant woman. The poor lady remained in labor for hours. It was her first delivery. She had to take extra care. She had to remain with the lady all the time. Only after safe delivery and completing all necessary odd jobs she had returned. She was tired and hungry. She wanted to stretch herself for a while. But she knew Chaudhary’s nature. If he came here, he would create scene and mouth obscenities. The whole neighbor would see tamasha. So, she dragged her feet towards his house which was at the other end of the village. After the death of her husband he had seemingly a soft corner for her. He looked kind and caring. When she would go to sweep the courtyard, he spoke gently.
‘How are you, Sona?’
‘Achhi hun malik…’
‘Don’t worry. Tell me if you need anything.’
She nodded with bowed head while collecting dung into her basket. He stood staring at her for a while. His generosity on several occasions was a surprise to her. Otherwise he had never been kind to these low caste people. In the beginning she could not understand the reason of his unusual kindness. But later everything was clear in her mind.
When Sona reached there, she saw Chaudhary sitting in the cane chair in the verandah smoking hookah. Two children were playing there.
‘Come on dai sahiba!’ He greeted her with a sneering smile.
She hesitated a bit and then moved in without any response. He looked at the rhythmic movements of her round hips. She looked gorgeous in her tall and slender figure.
She checked the lady carefully. She had mild pains and little discharge in the morning.
‘You may take one or two days,’ said Sona patting gently her stomach
‘Take light food,’ added she
The lady stood up with a smile.
‘Do light daily chores.’ With the instruction she came out.
‘Sab theek…?’Chaudhary asked her coming close to her.
‘Sab theek hain…’ Sona said without even glancing at him and walked fast homewards.
Chaudhary nodded, saw her walk fast. She looked behind once and saw him smile under his half-grey moustache.
Sona was a sensitive woman. She knew that after delivery a woman had her second birth. She took all care and delivered a baby safely. She could imagine mental state to see the woman in labor pains. These were very delicate moments. They could bring joy to the family. A slight error could be disastrous and the family could wash hands of both jachha and bachha. So, she remained serious and tense all the time. It looked that she had not smiled for years. Or she did not know how to smile. She spoke in whispers. The woman in labor felt her soothing presence. Her complete devotion was so assuring. In her mind she prayed constantly. She held her breath till the child gave a cry. Then one could see joy dancing in her big eyes. A warm smile lit her face. She felt relaxed and easy. She looked skywards with closed eyes for a while. As if her silent prayer were rewarded.
Sona went through the whole process in her mind before attending to the woman. At this she felt thrilled. But in her lone moments her motherhood cried. She would become restless. None was there to understand her restiveness. She had none to bare her soul to. Tears welled up in her eyes. Her desire for becoming a mother was so intense. As if her existence had lain in it. Though she knew her wish was useless. But even then she wanted to see a child in her lap. She wanted to feed a child. She wanted to feel the child totter from her stomach up to breast. She wanted to experience a thrill when the child walked unsteadily holding her finger. She longed to hear a joyful cry in her small yard. She would kiss and cuddle it.
Her whole being was possessed with the thought of child. As though it were first and last dream of her life. She lived with this dream the whole day. No matter if it was wishful dream.
The knock on the door startled her. She got up to see through the small crack but there was none. She felt someone was there. She opened the door and saw Chaudhary’s servant standing under the neem.
‘Chaudhary has sent for me?’ She wondered.
He nodded and walked away with putting the corner of chador on his nose. Sona smiled and came in her small room. She picked up the few things she needed there. She hurried to Chaudhary’s house without wasting a moment. She sent other women out of the room and checked the lady patiently.
‘What’s the situation?’ asked the old woman of the house
‘Today by evening.’
The old lady looked satisfied with the observation of Sona.
‘I’ll come in the evening.’
‘You need not be sent for,’ said the elderly woman
‘No…no. I- I’ll come.’
Sona came out and saw Chaudhary walking up and down the veranda with short steps, perhaps waiting for the news. He stared at her a bit longer silently like a judge in beauty pageant. She understood the intention behind this sort of stare. Often she overlooked and spurned his every overture. His lecherous look disgusted her. She had an instinctive dislike for him. So she ever avoided his look or conversation whenever he tried. Today she felt surprised to find that the feeling of dislike disappeared almost. His stare soothed her bruised and lonesome soul. She chuckled. Many thoughts flooded her mind. She dismissed them immediately and kept walking. Again she was overpowered like an electric charge. She resisted the temptation. She remained torn within whole noon. Her state of like and dislike kept her smarting.
Chaudhary like a sniffer dog smelled the change in her being.
Even before dusk Sona reached there. There was a period of waiting... She chatted with the woman. After some time she had begun going into labor. She asked the ladies present there to go out. Only four elderly women remained there to help her.
‘Lie down here,’ said Sona
The woman lay down. She was feeling uneasy. Sona stood by her bedside waiting for labor to increase. She was watching her face showing painful expressions. There were lines on her forehead. She kept her lower lip between her teeth with closed eyes. Then she began to take long deep breath with a hiss.
‘Open not mouth,’ said Sona sternly
‘No, lie down,’ said she holding her hands firmly
One hour passed. Labor pains deepened. Sona looked cautious.
‘Take deep breath.’ She shifted close bending over her.
‘Close your fist.’
Now the woman began to cry. Sona jumped into action.
‘Hold her hands,’ said she to other women standing there
‘You, hold her head.’
‘You come to this side and hold her legs.’
Sona folded her legs covering lower part with a cloth and held them tightly. The woman was writhing in pain. She was crying aloud trying to move her hands and feet.
‘Save me, save…’
‘Chup! Cry not…’ Sona barked without looking at her.
The other women were helping her by caressing her head. Her cries continued. Sona looked relentless.
‘…enjoyed then…now cry.’
Sona held her knees tightly looking grave. She focused herself on the legs which the woman was moving.
‘Shut mouth…deep long breath…more deep.’
‘Be careful, let her not move hands and legs,’ said Sona to other women
‘Birthing began…child coming…head almost out,’ whispered Sona joyfully
The woman was crying loudly swaying her head. Seemingly no one was heeding to her pitiful groans. Sona took baby’s head in her cupped hands lovingly. The woman lay still with eyes closed as if she were unconscious, flaccid.
Sona tied the umbilical cord of the baby tightly with thread and slashed it carefully with new blade. Then she put her two fingers into its mouth. Afterwards she hung it by holding feet and patted back twice or thrice.
‘Cry!’ The elderly woman smiled.
‘Boy!’ Sona cried in delight turning to the elderly woman waiting eagerly for the news.
Sona began to clean the baby with cotton pad which she had kept ready. Here and there she cleaned patches on the pink body with the help of mustard oil. The child was crying in short breaths. After going through the whole process she wrapped the child in a soft silken cloth and put it in the arms of the old lady-mother-in-law of the woman. Her old eyes lit up. Puckered face flattened. After all the moment had come she had been waiting for so long.
Sona felt relaxed. No tension on her face. After performing all necessary tasks she returned home and lay thinking about the job she would do for the whole week in Cahudhary’s house. She would bathe both jachha and bachha and wash their clothes. She would plaster the floor with cow dung and then hang branches of neem at the door and light fire in earthen pot. All ladies of the house would obey her. And jachha would follow her instructions. She would be an essential part of her bedroom. She could have free access to the room. After a week panditji would christen the child.
Then…? I’d be untouchable, dirty, mean, only sweeper. I won’t touch the child. Nor its mother. They’ll keep their distance from me. No free access to the room. Even my shadow will pollute them! Their room, everything there and…Why? During the whole week I was good, ominous for jachha-bachha and everything. And now bhangi- petty person.
Tears stood in her eyes. She felt helplessly miserable. Actually, during the week she developed a strong attachment to the child. She touched the child with motherly feeling. She caressed it and sometimes avoiding others’ eyes she kissed it. She pressed it against her breasts and closed her eyes in sheer pleasure. She tried to spend more and more time with it. So, she was unable to snap her emotional relationship. It was distressing for her that no one understood her feelings- motherly heart brimming with affection. She was paid grain and gur for her week-long services. And all ended for them. But not for Sona. She took time to come out of her emotional mess. Every time she suffered silently and accepted the situation with resignation. And life dragged on the old rut again.
Today was her last day at Chaudhary’s house. The whole place was teeming with life. The guests and neighbors had thronged there. They were enjoying good time. Children were playing yelling at one another. The women sang and danced at night. A big feast was thrown. Sona saw the child longingly in the lap of mother. Everyone looked happy. Their movements and activities displayed joy of their heart. Chaudhary in white kurta and dhoti with an air of triumphant came to Sona sitting at the door lost somewhere.
‘Take it.’ Chaudhary’s words brought her out of reverie.
She looked at him with a faint smile and spread the corner of her cotton sheet which perhaps, her husband used to tie around his head while going for work. Today she wanted Chaudhary to look straight into her eyes and read unsaid.
Chaudhary poured grain and gur into the sheet.
Sona tied the contents in the corner of the sheet and kept silent as if it were more than enough. She stood up glancing at the women of the house. She walked homeward like the man who had lost all in gamble. She was lethargic and listless.
As Sona lay in bed at night, she was overwhelmed once again by the idea of child-her own child.
I’ve all that can make me mother. I’m young…fertile…eager, full bloomed breasts. I can conceive…I can care my child…I can bear pains…I can bring up my child. I can love, feed, kiss- my child! My child… But how?
Chaudhary! He is drawn to me…tries to touch me, his eyes speak his lust. Now I can use him. He’ll be happy. Only once…enough to conceive. He is so sturdy, so eager. A small hint is enough. I’ll go to his garden…right place, evening… perfect time. No one will be there. Only we both…full of desire…thirst.
Sin! No sin…nothing like... If sin makes me mother, it’s good. I’ll do it- do it. I’ll be satisfied. He’ll be…Yes, tomorrow evening. He’ll be there. I’ll be there.
Sona shut her eyes and lay murmuring softly.
He holds me by my hand. We’re lying busy in foreplay…kisses…fondling…cuddling. He peels my clothes. Then naked. Completely. I begin…feel manly touch on my breasts, lips, then moves caressing hand between thighs. A surge of…thrilled whole being. I shiver with… He holds breasts tightly and again showers of kisses. After so many years I feel like groaning…just then man enters and groans let out. He is furious…I like it. He too. Eyes close as he moves up and down. I feel as if in a vast pool of joy. He pumps…We lay clung to each other.
Yes I am… I’m sure…now wait for full nine months. Not long time. I feel something move in…I’m a mother-loving, caring feeding. I can hear shouts of joy. I sing lullaby as my mother used to. I remember bed time tales, I’ll…I’ll…
Sona forgot count of time and she lay caressing her stomach lovingly.