Women@connect – By Sukomal Agarwal, Faculty GSLGC
This story is plotted in the 17th century in a city of Maharashtra depicting the ‘connection’ between womenfolk then and now
“ Holkar Gharane”
April 26, 1652
“ Holkar Saaheb Ooooo Holkar Saaheb…” a distant call heard by the womenfolk of the house busy in their daily chores in the ‘aangan’ surrounded by three rooms each on the two opposite sides, kitchen and workplace on the adjoining side and facing it the ‘baithak’ with the main entrance.
Holkar Saaheb is the head of the family, 60 years of age.
Holkar saaheb’s son Aghor rushed to the gate.
“ Namaskar bhau(brother), apan kashe ahath (how are you?)” said panting Aghor.
“Me thik ahe(I am fine), Aghor. Gawrav ne bolavane(call Gawrav)”, said the visitor in a stern tone with an expressionless face.
Aghor lost in his count of fingers (he had been counting ready bales of cotton in the backyard) called out in a murmur,”Gawrav, Gawrav…”. His words disappeared sooner than he uttered, not even loud enough for his own ears to hear.
The man waited. Aghor composed himself, shouted out loud, “Gawrav.”
The man had found a wooden horse lying outside the house, so he merely dropped in to ensure Gawrav was home, safe and sound. He handed over the toy, expressed his concern and left.
A two year old Gawrav (meaning ‘proud’ in marathi) and not Gaurav (meaning ‘pride’) already portrayed the traits, justifying his christening. But the issue to be resolved is, he is nowhere to be found. Gawrav nowhere to be found. All hands stop working.
Dressed in 25 metres of textile, the merchant brought in last year for barter, all kids of the house except the sought, came out running from different nooks.
How could Gawrav be missing!
Lopa (4 years old, Gawrav’s sister and Aghor’s daughter) was supposed to look after her brother. Where had she been? She had been playing with the puppets she made with the tit bits she found while sweeping the floor.
Creation is joyous, overwhelming and irresistible
Poor Lopa, she is otherwise very responsible, how could she…?
How could she…? What? Responsible? At the age of four? …caretaker of a two year old?
Girls are made, designed, framed, and mended in the womb itself to be “Responsible” – Law of Nature. Our beliefs timelessly get transformed from ’borrowed to inherent’(as if it has ‘forever’ been so).
The first lady of the house, her three daughter-in-laws, two daughters and three girls of the house, stand there frozen. Their expression, one of a prosecutor, as if echoing together, How could you Lopa, how could you…?
Lopa looks up at all lady figures to find, that one Saviour to hide behind. “Aai, oh aai…”(counting in her mind 1,2,3,…,8 and…?)
Where is Ila? O lord! Where is the 9th lady figure, Lopa’s saviour. Bread always falls the butter side down.
A tear trickled down her cheek, ears, red and hot as amber. No rebuking, no bashing, no thrashing, fear alone could kill her. If she would still survive, the tears that could not roll down would drown her.
Ilaa, you named her ‘Lopa’(as it hardly mattered to anyone else). Lopa-The Durga. But Dear Ilaa, “name” is not the master card that once inserted would transmit all virtues as well.
“Aai, aai, aai…” sobbed Lopa.
At the banks of Godavari, Ilaa jolted from a still. She has been here all morning in a deep slumber. Ilaa had been at peace. The storm within had apparently ceased. Suddenly she paced frantically towards “Holkar Sadan” instinctively, perceiving the hulla baloo. She was in the aangan in merely two leaps from the main entrance.
“Lopa”, she panted. “Thik sarvakahi aahe (Is everything ok)?” she said, composing herself and embraced Lopa as if giving her birth all over again.
Suddenly Gawrav appeared from nowhere, yelling, howling and growling.
“Aai, mala kaahi anna dya(give me some food), mala bhookh lagli aahe(I am hungry)” continuously repeating the words, throwing his left arm and left foot in the air and then right and then left and on and on getting fiercer.
Ilaa ran to get hold of him to calm him down.
Lopa’s moment of solace burst like a bubble. She had been yearning for a hug that would stay, a caress that would linger, a warmth that would emanate, but… its a luxury, dear Girl! You have foregone your breath of bliss, unnoticed and unaccounted for.
Ilaa is not bound within the shackles of narrow perceptions of her existence, glorifying inclination towards her ‘laadla’ and ‘rajdulaara’. But the maxim –‘borrowed has become inherent’ reaffirms itself at every instance. The irony is, Knowingly or unknowingly, the so-called stronger lot demands protection and security from the so- called weaker race. These and innumerable other thoughts have swayed through Ilaa’s head and heart time and again.
Ilaa upholds her existence on this planet of life, as the bride of Aghor, as a daughter-in-law of Holkar Saaheb, as the mother of Lopa, as one of the cotton pickers and cleaners, as a communicator to the traders from Paithan(because of her dexterity to crack best of deals with utmost ease),as a caretaker not out of obligation but concern for all as one entity, and crucially as the mother of Gawrav. She is all of these but Herself.
It is the era of inception of ‘Hypocrisy of human civilisation’. The paradigm shift of status of women in society, from powerful to powerless is evident from the alacrity at the micro planate but the macro still asserts, centuries old, unrealistic portrayal of preeminent stature of women ; as an inevitable and omnipotent fraction of society.
It is human nature to cohere the unscientific and inexplicable to the cosmics. Despite the fact that Ilaa belongs to an age when the so- called worshippable race is eventually conforming into the downtrodden section of society, her rationality relates more to the times of honour for women than the existing winds of futility. How could one explain the reasons behind such contradiction of ideologies of Ilaa and the times she belongs to? Hindu mythology allegedly imbibes a dogma that souls commute between bodies birth after birth. Ilaa reaffirms this conjecture. Ilaa in vedic times had been Goddess of knowledge, Goddess of speech, Goddess ruling the Earth. Somewhere deep down, we tend to believe, Ilaa of Holkar house in 17th century, through her previous births has carried grains of valour and divinity in her subconscious.
This time of the year is hectically scheduled. The cotton seeds which had been planted way back in August, had all this while been nurtured like babies. Every tiny seed is well fed like a mother does to her new born and well protected(against hostilities of nature, pests, weeds etc.) like a father does. The caretakers have witnessed the evolution, bit by bit; moment by moment with held breaths and sighs of relief and contentment. After bloom cotton bolls become visible containing upto 25 seeds which open and burst forth into fluffy cotton. Beckons the time to harvest. The cotton is picked or stripped in huge quantities all at once.
This year Holkar’s began harvesting through as early as mid january owing to a good produce. They are close to finishing the tedious task of picking cotton from farms to the ‘aangan’, where it is meticulously cleaned for any contamination of leaves, weeds, seeds, anything other than the fluff. These are bound together in huge loafs to be finally made into bales to be handed over to its ultimate bearers. The process is a physical as well as a mental turmoil tantamount to the upbringing of a girl born to a couple, who is snipped and uprooted to be planted elsewhere, unaware of the congeniality of the environment, for her to flourish. The journey of belonging to where she never belonged and not belonging to where she forever belonged. The re-rooted ‘Flora’ tries to enroot itself, it does or not, but it stands not to fall. The leaves may not be as green, flowers may not bloom, grow it may not, but it stands because it is meant to, because it is destined to.
The modern day women may have largely overcome the challenge of being a burden by proving her mettle in being a celestial blessing, despite all odds. The doctrine of ‘my own girl is not actually my own’ has entered our genes so deep and profound that however hard we try to abort it consciously, our subconscious has forever lived by this maxim. We may not discriminate between our sons and daughters but more often not, we do not even realise the chronic harm. An ailment could well be weilded, primarily by its diagnosis and secondarily by resorting to the rightful recourse.
Ila was born and brought up in Nevasa (70 kms from Paithan). Ila was married to Aghor at the age of 13 in 1633. It was the same time of the year when cotton in Sauviragram was being made into bales to be passed on to the traders from Paithan. ‘Shinde Saaheb’ of Nevasa was one of the tradesmen who had been to the village that year and was immensely impressed by the stature of ‘Holkar Saaheb’. He offered Ila’s hands for a lifetime of wedded life to ‘Holkar Saaheb’s son, unaware and least bothered about, who or how was his would be son in law. Marriage or gamble, such a vital decision taken as promptly as yet another deal of barter, in time even less than that. “Marriages are made in heaven”. So just close your eyes (in fact, all sensitivity) and take a plunge.
Ila was married off pompuously. Relatives and acquaintances came walking to Nevasa (around 90 kms). The only transportation was human feet. But for a privileged few ‘paalkis’ or ‘palanquins’ were arranged. It is a chair on four posts which is carried by four labourers on their shoulders. A few ‘palanquins’ were arranged at Aghor’s wedding for the womenfolk of the house and ‘Holkar Saaheb’ and a brightly decorated covered palanquin for the new bride. Aghor walked all the way beside the ‘Head of the family’ and on the way back as well, when he should have been with Ila, his destined companion for life.
Companionship, the sole purpose of two souls getting wedlocked is best defied in a marriage, where it can best be justified. The fact then and the fact now, remains, both shouldn’t be seen together, should ideally not spend time together, should be lowest on the list of priorities. An ideal son and daughter in law would be one who would get married to all other relations in the family except for the only one, primarily significant.
Ila was all draped top to toe. She could only sense the happenings but not see anything. This is the same intelligent, smart, active, pride of the family, Ila, known for her wisdom. Although she was deprived of any formal education, she would learn all that her brothers learnt. Her father witnessed her expertise in applying whatever she learnt but never acknowledged. Girls are meant to be virtuous, so it is taken for granted and not applauded. Their sincerity, concern, sacrifices, endurance, have forever stayed and grown only to be disregarded.
Ila reached home amidst strangers. One being who was supposed to take care of her was nowhere to be seen. She kept sobbing all the while, only to be made fun of. Women also possess a virtue of short memory.The ones who are now being indifferent have been through it all as well. The apathy is rationalised – ‘every girl has to bear it’. Salutes to their evergrowing degree of acceptance of ‘Come what may’.
The dusk set in, the house got dark. Ila was sent to a room in the backyard, lit with a small lamp in the corner. The door creaked open, a huge figure entered. Must be Aghor, Ila sat there unsure. Tiny Ila, 13 years old, and this supposedly lad, appeared to be gigantic for her. He must have been atleast 25. He appproached, no looks exchanged, no words. In the daylight he wouldn’t even recognise his wife. Marriage is merely a formal certificate to appease a man’s genital appetite.
She believes in designing destiny and hence, with every passing day she tries to communicate with Aghor about the kind of relationship she desires. The hypocritical creatures that men are, every night would be a hope and every morning despair. She has two children, a girl and a boy with two miscarriages in between. She delivered a boy in the family after 16 years, who is already two. So her current task at hand is to satiate her so called husband’s manhood and yield more Holkars. None around would ever understand the pangs of being abused every night, because it is but natural. Its a ‘hush’, ‘hush’… Once married, parents disown, and in laws own (as a property).
Ila is not an exception either, she has accepted it all as her fate, and playing her roles better than presumed. But today is just one of those days of outbursts. As she sits on the banks of Godavari, entire life is replayed in front of her tranced eyes. As she looks back, there’s not a moment of love, warmth and affection , she has exchanged with Aghor. The talks that make other women blush, make her restless. Aghor and Ila are leading independent lives as unconnected individuals. Of course, they have momentary bonds of physical intimacy without an emotional connect. She is pondering to find her sake of existence as a Holkar, but in vain. Godavari is serene and still as if speechless to the queries of her confidante.
Suddenly the head wins over. The first thing it does is –accuses her of being selfish and guilty of wasting so much time on her own self. How could she? There are people, incidents, things, tasks, lined up to be attended by her and here she is… pampering and caressing herself?
Ila rushes home. Sooner than later, after she has sorted the Lopa and Gawrav issue, she is so engrossed in her daily chores- sweeping(oh so much filth all around) cooking(hurry! Everyone must be hungry) Almighty Cotton needs to be attended to. Oh my! So much needs to be done. A woman is a facilitator all her life. She alone can be so readily available as an ensured provider of whatsoever, from materialistic requirements to mental support system. Race against time, every moment of the day, every day of the year, every year of her living until the last breath.
The D- day arrives, this year Pratishthana(present day Paithan), sees traders from Europe, The cotton cultivators are awed with the glorification of their produce.
Ila finds another day of solitude with Godavari. The vision is vivid now. Ilaa devised for herself a timeless mission of bringing the women from oblivion to the forefront. She pledges to incessantly envisage upon the boys of the family to regard the role women play in their lives; and consistently stand by the girls to let them do whatever they have been doing forevermore; with a comprehension of their own existence as living and thinking beings.
A woman’s omni presence may make her counterparts, tacit but her inevitability cannot be disdained.