“We should not wait for Manish to find a job anymore. We should go ahead with the Gauna ceremony. The new bride will bring her good fortune with her, and her good stars will surely help Manish to find a decent job.” Kamla proposed to her husband, Sukhiram.
“No Kamla, you can’t take irrational decisions like that. Manish is just 21 and he doesn’t even have a job yet. How will he shoulder the responsibility of a married life? Besides in our limited earnings of 4000 from my job, and 3000 from your younger son, Bhagwana, we cannot afford to add another mouth to feed.
“I don’t want to know the mathematics behind it. New bride is like Laxmi for the house. She will most certainly change our destiny for better. And any ways, now I am getting older, I also need someone who can take the household burden off my shoulders.” Kamla was a persistent old lady and her arguments were hard to challenge.
“Bhagwana is there for you. Look at how much he works, he wakes up at 5 in the morning to fill up the water tank and sweep the floor. Then he goes out to clean the cars of all big seths in the colony, earning precious 3000 Rs in a month. He brings by 9 am all vegetables and groceries for the lunch and dinner. He even cooks sometimes for you. After that he goes to school where he does well. He is also thinking of doing an evening job after school but I have forbidden him to exert himself too much. His 12th class boards are approaching. He should devote more time to studies now.” Sukhiram explained with a certain pride for his younger son.
“He is the younger one but more mature and responsible towards the family. How could you give birth to brothers as different as Manish and Bhagwana? One is a 5th class pass donkey and other like Shravan Kumar. He will surely be the support of our old age.” Sukhiram’s expectations from an older son were not met, which kept him in a constant state of worry.
“I am not worried about Bhagwana. He will find his way in the world. But for now we have to find something for Manish. Sometimes a wife is needed to boost the confidence of a man. Our Manish will find responsibility and sense after marriage. “Kamla wanted to leave no stone unturned for convincing her husband.
“I doubt that” said Sukhiram practically.
“I don’t want to hear a No. Please agree with me once. Women have more sense of the world than you men. I have a strong intuition for our new Bahu, Seema. You will see how our family will prosper after her arrival. Kamla was already dreaming sweet dreams of a being a strict Saas.
“Ok. If you so insist. Next time when I go to our village, I will visit Manish’s in laws. There we would select a suitable date for the Gauna.” Sukhiram surrendered.
Kamla was exceptionally happy to receive such beautiful, milk-like-fair girl for her Manish. All the women from the neighbourhood had showered congratulations. She was so proud today.
“Bhagwana, you will have to sleep in the veranda. Seema will share the room with Mansih from now on. Take out all your clothes out of the cupboard and arrange Bhabhi’s stuff over there.” Kamla arranged for the arrival of her Laxmi incarnate.
Seema, 19 years of age, covered in red saree and a long ghoonghat, stepped inside the room as Bhagwana cleared the space for his Bhabhi.
Bhagwana welcomed Seema with proper respects, even though he knew he would have to start an evening job, to accommodate for the new member. But he was hopeful Manish Bhaiya will get a job sooner or later. He had talked to one of his friends for a job opening at a STD booth. It would be perfect job for Manish Bhaiya, not much physical exertion and nothing much to calculate.
But he was afraid of hurting his elder brother’s ego if he approached him directly. He planned to arrange a meeting between the STD owner and Manish Bhaiya after the evening Arti at the temple. In this way Manish Bhaiya will consider the job not as a favour by a younger brother but as his own good fate.
Although Bhagwana had never tried to show his superiority in terms of the financial support he provided to the family, there was an unsaid mental tension between both of them, mostly arising out of inferiority complex of the elder Manish.
One week passes by.
Manish entered the house with a spring in his step. His smile was making good show of all his teeth. “Maa, Babuji, Seema, Bhagwana, listen everyone. I got a job. I met Ramesh unlce of “Ramesh STD and photocopiers”. He said he needed a young man like me to take care of his shop. “Manish chirped.
“I said I will take no less than 4000 Rs for this job and I will join from next week. He agreed to my reasonable demands. You know how difficult it is to find honest, responsible workers these days. I think I should have demanded 5000 Rs.” Manish thought on hindsight.
“4000 is not bad son. It is equal to how much I earn.”Sukhiram reasoned.
“Oh Babuji, you are lucky that an old man like you earns 4000 Rs, but a young man like me should not go for less than 5000, in any case.” Manish’s voice had quickly found arrogance.
“Ok. Leave it, you two. What’s important is that my Manish got a job. I told you, our Seema will bring prosperity to our house. Bhagwana, go fetch some Prasad to offer to our ancestors.” Kamla could not stop congratulating herself for bringing Seema to save their ill fate.
“Maa, I am really happy. If it had not been for the good fortune Seema brought with her, I would have never found a job. I will always take care of her.” Manish was a devoted husband in making.
Seema smiled taking away her veil from her head in presence of her in laws and said- “Today I can hold my chin high in neighbourhood. I am so proud of my husband.”
Kamla was offended by this act of disrespect showing her hair in front of elders, by the new bride. But excusing it for the great news of the job, she decided to let it pass. After all, her good fortune has rubbed on Manish and got him a job within a week of the marriage.
Bhgawana rushed to get the Prasad, feeling happy for his brother, but Seema’s act of removing veil was not received well by his sentiments. He felt veil was a way of showing respect towards elders, and was surprised Maa and Babuji tolerated such impudence.
“Devarji, months have passed by, I feel that you don’t give me the respect I deserve.” Seema caught Bhagwana studying in the evening.
“No, there is no such thing.” Bhagwana replied without taking his eyes off the book.
“Tell me, honestly, is something about me that bothers you, or you are just jealous of your elder brother earning more than you.” Seema fuelled a conversation.
“No, there is no such thing. I am happy for Manish Bhaiya, for doing so well. In fact it was I who had arranged... Bhagwana cut his sentence short fearing to hurt Manish Bhaiya’s new gained confidence.
“Then for what reasons you disapprove of me.” Seema persisted.
“Since you have raised the topic, I will let you know some of the things that bother me.” Bhagwana decided to release his thoughts.
“First, you don’t observe ghoonghat even in presence of Babuji. It is not befitting for a young bride to be so independent. People might mistake it for lack of etiquettes. Second, you take so much time purchasing the vegetables, making small talk and even joking with the vegetable vendors. People might mistake you for a loose woman.”
“Also the other day, when you were doing laundry you used double the amount of soap required and washed only your own clothes, leaving the rest in dirty piles. Also, you are the last to wake up in the family, after Maa has already cooked for all of us.” Bhagwana had opened Pandora’s box.
“These are really small things but if you add them up, they don’t portray an image of a responsible Bahu of a respected family. Maa doesn’t say anything as she thinks you are young and yet to learn the ways of a skilful homemaker. No matter how much I ask her to discipline you, she ignores me, thinking you are lucky for us, but that is no excuse for not helping in the household chores.” Bhagwana’s voice hinted of anger.
“So, you think I am a burden on your family. Do you know I sweep the floor twice a day?” Seema was offended.
“But that is all you do in the entire day. What I mean to say that you should respect the society we live in. Brides are supposed to follow some protocols, perform certain household duties, which you should do with pleasure not burden.” Bhagwana tried to contain his anger.
“Who are you to teach me about duties? I know what I am doing. You are not the sole bread winner of the house. My husband brings more to the house. It is natural that I have more leisure than others. I am young and yet to learn and adjust in the family.” Seema defended.
“And you think you are very mature, you are a devil in disguise. I have seen you lusting for my breasts when I bend down to sweep the floor.”
Bhagwana was red with embarrassment. She had indeed caught his raging hormones twice, glancing at her short choli.
“Please, don’t talk like that. Bhabhi is like a mother to the Devar.” Bhagwana flushed.
Seema smiled a sly smile.
“If you don’t want this thing to be told to Babuji, better stop complaining about me to your mother.” Seema patrolled the line between manipulation and black mailing.
“Not to Babuji please, he believes in me so much, I will lose all my respect in his eyes.” Bhagwana begged.
“Well, I know how much you care for Babuji. So, if you agree to wash my clothes every day then I can keep this a secret. And who knows, maybe I don’t mind if you stare at them.” Seema defied her innocent looks.
The unexpected flirtation and embarrassment made Bhagwana leave the room immediately.
“You know, Babuji has received a house and huge piece of land from his father. Do you know anything about that, on whose name it is, who will Babuji give it to?” Seema enquired from Manish.
“Yes, that was our ancestral land in the village. It will be distributed between me and Bhagwana equally. That is what normally happens in families.” Manish did not share the excitement about this piece of news.
“Ohhho, you are so innocent. You are the elder son with a wife, soon we will start our own family; our requirements are more than Bhagwana. So, naturally, you should get more than Bhagwana, who anyways is planning to study more, so he will not need that much land and certainly not the home.” Seema spoke with a certain clarity.
“You should immediately start getting in the good books of Babuji, maybe you can impress upon him our requirements when de decides to distribute his wealth” Seema planned.
“Humm, you are correct, tomorrow I will bring Jalebi for Babuji, he likes them so much.” Manish could see the sense behind it all.
“Thats like my smart husband.” Seema said encouragingly.
“Maa, I will not cook food today.” Seema said definitively.
“But you never help me in any household work. I have been too lenient for too long. Now you have to assume some responsibility.” The Saas in Kamla surfaced.
“But Ma, I don’t enter the kitchen during these 4 days. That is why I ask you to excuse me. I feel hurt that you think I am a burden to you.”
“No Bahu. I didn’t know you were undergoing the women’s curse. You must take complete rest during these 4 days. I will bring your food to you.” The mother in Kamla resurfaced.
“But there is one thing. You cannot sleep with Manish in the room during this time. You will have to sleep in the veranda” Kamla wanted strict observance of all traditions.
“But Ma, there is no fan in the veranda; I can’t rest properly in all the heat. Could you ask Bhagwana to sleep in the room with me and Manish to sleep in the veranda?” Seema proposed.
“Devarji is like my son, there should be no problem with him.” Seema added.
“I guess so. Bhagwana will obey me.” Kamla was confident.
“And Manish will obey me. “ Seema was confident.
Kamla, was already feeling her elder son’s loyalty shifting towards his wife. A wife can drastically affect the mother son relation.
“Devarji, you can sleep in the room. I can’t sleep in the same room with Manish as I am having my periods.” Seema spoke as a matter of fact.
“Bhabhi, I understand. Such things are never said explicitly, and you should not call your husband with his first name.” Bhagwana reproached.
“Oh my dear Devarji, are we not friends yet.” Seema smiled cunningly.
“Anyways, I will sleep now, but don’t get any funny ideas seeing your beautiful Bhabhi sleeping near you.” Seema was deliberate.
“It’s too hot in here. Can’t we afford a cooler.” Seema took off her Odhna from her chest deliberately making the temperature a convenient excuse.
She moved closer to Bhagwana with every manufactured natural movement of sleep.
Bhagwana was trying hard to sleep, but the thought of her Bhabhi sleeping with her chest exposed but for her skimpy Choli, disgusted and aroused him at the same time.
As the night progressed, Seema put Bhagwana to more tests, and the moment she bared her breasts, Bhagwana woke up and left the room. He preferred to sleep with blood sucking mosquitoes on roof rather than sleeping with that shameless woman he called Bhabhi.
The next night was no different. Seema was quick to remove her Choli and expose her breasts. But before Bhagwana could leave the room, Seema held his hands and put them on her breasts.
The threshold had been crossed and Bhagwana was no longer the society fearing, cultured, idealist. He was in another world where shame, respect, virtues, vices, society, relations had no meaning. He did not how long he stayed in this world but it was almost dawn, when he came to his senses.
On the third night, Bhagwana was burning in guilt; he had lost his self respect. He was shocked at his weakness and could not face Bhabhi, Manish Bhaiya or his parents. He rolled his mattress immediately and decided to sleep on the roof, even if it meant, a whole night wrestling match with mosquitoes.
“Devarji, are you going on the roof.” Her voice was serious; it seemed she had been crying.
“Yes, that will be best for all.” Bhagwana had made up his mind.
“But Devarji, at least give me a chance to explain myself. I am sorry for causing all this trouble to you. But you see, I am a young woman and your brother Manish does not keep me well.
She was sobbing furiously.
Bhagwana was at loss for words or action.
“You can sleep in the room. If you don’t trust your Bhabhi, I will sleep on the roof.” Seema gathered herself back.
“No Bhabhi, you don’t need to do that, I am sorry as well. I should not have fallen for temptation. We can sleep in the room, its your last night, anyways.”
Bhagwana sensed no uncalled for movements from Seema, but he could not sleep. His mind was wandering no matter how hard he tried to control.
“Are you asleep?” Seema asked in a low tone as soon as Bhagwana closed his eyes hard enough to call sleep.
This is the last thing Bhagwana remembered before he was lured in the world of pleasure, guilt and timelessness.
When he came to senses he heard Seema crying furiously. Sobbing and taking deep noisy breaths.
“Calm down Bhabhi, it’s not your fault this time.” Bhagwana consoled.
“It is always the males fault. They think women have no feelings.” Seema was making considerable noise while crying.
“Stop creating so much noise. You will wake everyone up.” Bhagwana was getting scared now.
“Everyone should know what a devil you are. You tried to rape your Bhabhi.” Seema yelled.
Soon the whole family woke up and Seema vehemently sobbed and accused Bhagwana.
“You are a pervert. How could you have such feelings for your brother’s wife? Get out of the house before I kill you.” Manish was fuming with rage.
“You are a curse on our family and humanity. I am ashamed to give birth to a son like you.” Kamla moved to tears.
“Babuji, please you should believe me, I can explain.” Bhagwana turned to his father for consolation.
“I have been quiet for a long time. But now you have lost all rights as a son. I break all relations with you. I forbid you to come near my funeral pyre when I am dead.” Sukhiram vanished in his room, without any further word.
It came as a huge blow. He had dedicated his life to his parents and now his held his head in shame.
He left the house immediately without meeting any eye.
“Three years have passed. You have not given me any gifts as yet. But I will give you a gift today. You are going to be a father.” Seema said.
Manish was exhilarated and jumping with joy. He had given up all hopes of a progeny.
“Seema I am so happy ask me, any gift you want.” Manish was indeed happy.
“Ok If you want to know what I want. Listen, I want 2 gifts.” Seema had it all planned in her mind.
“First, I want you to buy me a mobile. I want to talk to my mother in the village. I miss her so much.” A mother in law can never take the place of mother.
“The handset is expensive not to talk about the additional recharge required.” Manish reasoned.
“I have found out, nowadays mobile are available on cheap instalments.” Seema had done considerable research.
“But it will add to the monthly expenditures.” Manish pondered over the overheads.
“You work for Ramesh STD. You have expanded their business from photocopying and STD calls, to selling mobile recharge coupons and computer printing. If it were not for your vision they would have closed long back. It’s nothing unfair if you take a coupon or two for your personal usage.” Seema spoke as a matter of fact.
“May be I could. Ramesh ji trusts me like his son. We won’t even notice if a few coupons are reported lost. I can think about it.” Manish acquiesced.
“Second, I want you to talk to Vakeel sahib for registering your father’s property on our name.” Seema pushed further.
“Well that’s not possible. It is not for me to decide. Babuji will decide when the time will come. He is not going anywhere and I am sure my brother Bhagwana will return someday to his parents? I am sure Babuji will forgive him.”
“My dear, you have to take the initiative. Babuji is not keeping well these days. Heavens forbid, if something happens, we can’t risk losing our only family asset. Also, I think if Bhagwana has an iota of pride in him, he will never return. Babuji might go back on his words, but surely we must honour Babuji’s word. Bhagwana should not be even close to his funeral pyre.” Seema spun her web.
“Also, I was thinking that the property registration should be on my name. It will save any future doling out of property to Bhagwana. I know, you can get emotional and weak sometimes. Who knows, evil Bhagwana might try to use you emotionally for some property gain.”
“Moreover, it is you who has been taking care of Maa and paying for Babuji’s medicines. By what right can Bhagwana claim anything?”
“It would not have been possible without you. These are very simple gifts you ask for I would have brought you the moon, if only you had asked.” Manish, proud to be a father, said comforting Seema.
“My dear husband, you don’t have to worry, it is my duty as your wife to make life easier for you. Husband is the only God of a devoted wife”
“2 years have passed, since Babuji expired. Had we not sold some of our land, Babuji would not have been cremated with all the proper rituals. See timely decisions always help us.”
“I agree”. Manish said.
“Maa has practically stopped living with us. She spends most of her time in the nearby temple. She doesn’t even talk to me. She has taken Babuji’s death a bit hard. I have a suspicion that her mental balance has left with Babuji’s atma.” Seema continued.
“How can you say something like that about my mother?” Manish was offended.
“She is my mother as well. It is me who takes care of her while you go way for your work and you think I am calling her mad. You know, she doesn’t sleep in peace at home. I feel so sorry for her. Old age is great curse.” Seema controlled the discussion.
“You are right? I worry for her also.”
“I heard from our neighbours about a temple outside the city. It is a brand new temple of all Hindu Gods. Some rich man constructed it in the memory of his mother. It has an ashram with all basic facilities for old, homeless, disabled people. I am sure for a little monthly donation they can accommodate Maa as well.”
“My mother will not leave her own house.” Manish found the whole affair incredible
“But it is for her good. She will be peaceful devoting her whole time to the service of God. You have seen how she has almost renounced family life. And she will have company of other women of her own age. She must be so alone after Babuji left us.”
“Moreover your own daughter is growing up; soon she will demand her own room. I want to give everything to my girl that I could not get. You don’t know how much I have sacrificed for her.”
Seema’s eyes were wet with genuineness.
“Don’t cry Seema, have I ever denied your wishes. I trust your decisions. You wish the best for our family. I will talk to Maa about it, tomorrow.” Manish said apologetically.
“Oh Manish, I will fast for 14 Mondays, praying for your long life.”
“You, me and our daughter, we will be one happy family.” Seema said triumphantly.