|“Tuniya, run and post this letter.”
“ Tuniya, bring cold water.”
“ I’ve put milk on the gas. Remain near, Tuniya. Don’t do anything.
When the milk starts boiling,turn the gas off.”
All day Tuniya is running. Back from school, she does her homework,
eats something and then it starts, one errand after another. The most problematic
as well as the most easy of jobs are all her responsibility. Tuniya will get firewood
from the market , Tuniya will water the plants, Tuniya will give mummy her
medicines, Tuniya will fetch in the dry clothes Tuniya will answer the door ten
times and shut it as many times. If an empty dish sent two weeks ago, to aunty
next door is to be collected, Tuniya will do it. She is so brave as to ask outright:
“Aunty, please, may I have that katora, the same one in which we brought you
“sarso ka saag.”
When guests turn up unexpectedlyTuniya had to go to Keravala
Memsahib to get ice. Who else dared to get ice out of her fridge?
Tuniya is thirteen but looks eleven. She dislikes drinking milk or eating
eggs. She is a slightly built child. Her waist is so tiny that her skirt often slips,
a little run and her tucked in blouse is out, that is why Tuniya has to wear a belt
or else loops at three places for the skirt hooks. To go to school, she has to get
ready, wear a tie and her shoes must shine. But when does Tuniya ever get to
wear smart clothes, whatever comes to hand is what she dons. Mummy and
Didi have short hair,even Colin.Colin does the dusting morning and evening.
She irons clothes and does all the preparatory work for cooking. But she is not
made to cook. Mummy says that if she does the cooking, untouchability will
taint them. Tuniya can never understand how they will be tainted. If Colin
makes the atta dough or cuts the vegetables it is fine , but if the same vegetables
are fried by her or the dough made into chappaties then it is tainted. Colin
is very fashionable.Nose in the air she has said that if her father did not love
liquor so much she would never have had to come and do work, that too domestic
Colin goes to three houses. Colin uses so much powder that neighbour
Devraj has dubbed her “powder and company”. Colin wears frocks with a high
hem and high heeled sandles.Even her body looks ‘high’ from certain
angles. Every sunday she goes to church and every saturday to the
movies. Sometimes she wears a new hair clip, or carries a new handkerchief in
her skirt pocket. When the neighbour’s ayah, Mary, asks “where is it from?”
Colin flashes her eyes and replies, “My boyfriend gave…”
Tuniya dislikes Colin. She feels that Colin is not a good girl. Those
things which anger Tuniya make Colin laugh aloud. She always looks as though
she is high on something. Nothing interests her but fashion and the cinema. She
is always dramatically narrating movie stories whether anyone listens or not.
Tuniya dislikes this kind of strutting about. She has asked mummy so many
times, “Why don’t you pack her off?” But each time mummy closes the topic in
the same tone with “Tunno you get ready in the morning and leave for school.
Baby has no time.Then I’m left alone. The matter is clear that I cannot do so
much work, If Colin, too, is not here to help, then I’ll be dead.”
Don’t know why mummy brings in the question of death at every word.
The other day when Madhury aunty had come from Jabalpur and wanted to
take Tuniya back with her during the holidays, mummy said “No, no, I can’t
send Tuniya .For one thing, Colin has gone on holiday and now you want to
take her away. I can’t manage all the work, I’ll just die.
Madhury aunty returned alone, though Tuniya longed to go with her.
“What was Jabalpur like?” she wondered. She’d read in her book about Bedaghat.
She wanted to go there and see how truthful books were. But how could she let
It is only for mummy that she runs the whole day. She even does the
things that she dislikes, like going to Pal Sahib’s house to phone Pappa, collect
water from Dr. Jagthiani’s flat downstairs when the taps run dry ,buy “kandha
batata” from the market and if mummy is not happy with the purchase, return
the same. Mummy made her buy everything in the world and then she would
pick faults.“ You’ve paid ten paise extra for the soap. Take it back to Wohra and
say we don’t want the soap. Fleecing us .Whatever price comes to his mind he
charges.Tunno you’re so big now and yet you don’t have the sense to buy good
ginger. This is not good ginger, dry and hard. Ginger is like badam nowadays”.
Now how does Tunno know how ginger is like badam? She finds ginger
absolutely unattractive, both to taste and sight. Is it that easy to return what has
once been bought! One sweats and cuts a cartoon figure.
One afternoon during the holidays water ran dry in the tap. Mummy
said immediately, “Tuniya get a small bucket of water from downstairs, at
least tea can be made.”
At Dr. Jagthiyani’s there is a handpump alongside the tap. Being on the
ground floor water is always available in their house. Dr. and Mrs.Jagathiyani
go to their clinic in the morning. They’re back by two-thirty or three in the
noon. After lunch they sleep with the air-conditioner on. The whole house is
looked after by their servant Ramji. He answers the telephone and the door ,
cleans the car and cooks the food. The whole evening when Dr. sahib and Mrs.
Jagathiyani go to the clinic, Ramji watches T.V. This is his daily routine. He
calls the T.V. T.B. He recognises each announcer. He has given them all a name
each : “first class”, “second class”,” O.K.” “useless”.
That day when Tuniya took the small brass bucket and reached
downstairs, Dr. Sahib’s back door was open. Tuniya went straight in. She opened
the tap, there was no water . Then she tried the handpump. That too was dry. It
was then Ramji came out of the kitchen and said, “Today there is no water
Tuniya reached out to try the tap once more when Ramji pointed to his
pyjamas, smiled obscenely and said, “Here, fill it with this.”.
Tuniya did not understand anything, but whatever she saw frightened
her. She stood up screaming and ran out. Who could be conscious of picking up
the bucket then?
Running, Tuniya reached her house on the third floor. Mummy stormed,
“You’ve not brought the water now drink your evening tea ! Nobody wants to
work nowadays. There is Colin,- say anything and she’ll pull a long face. There’s
you and your airs. Whatever is to be done I must do, whatever it is I must die.”
Tuniya’s mind was so upset and frightened that she would’ve done
anything. Mummy’s grumbling numbed her feelings. This is mummy, she is
not bothered about why Tuniya did not fetch the water. She just wants her work
done or else is prepared to die.
“And where did you throw the bucket ? Open your mouth and tell me.
This is the limit. Carrying an empty bucket twists her hands. There is me, when
my mother just hinted we were ready to stand on our heads.”
Now it starts-, she and her times. Now this record won’t stop easily. From
chopping wood to chopping off her head, the story will go on. The snake swaying
over nani’s head, mummy had smashed, the ironmonger’s place mummy
had found out, the thief had been spotted by mummy first, how she’d nursed
nani during her illness…..how could Tuniya explain that doing all that was easy
compared to going back downstairs and looking at that dirty thing, all for a
Didi is not treated like this by mummy. Didi doesn’t do any work for
her, yet mummy never complains to her. She doesn’t go to fetch “kandhabatata”
from the market, she is not sent to fetch water from Dr. Jagathiyani’s,
she has never stood in a queue to pay the electricity bill. She gets up from bed at
eight in the morning. As soon as she wakes, her orders start: “Colin heat my
bathwater. Mummy make me potato toast. Tuniya search for this kurtha’s
Didi goes to bathe and the whole household is busy doing her bidding as
if she is going to work. Mummy runs to hand over her watch and hanky at the
gate. Didi doesn’t say, “thankyou”.She only glances like a queen at everyone
and proudly walks out. She goes to college alone but it feels as though there are
four orderlies in front and four behind her. With what majesty she crosses the
road as if challenging the passing cars and taxis. Is there anyone who dares to
ask Didi:“ Why, madam, is this your father’s road? Is the footpath crossing for
Tuniya knows that when didi sets out for college half a dozen boys of
the colony get out of their homes. They scatter themselves here and there,
some near the bridge ,some at the crossroads,and some at the bus stop. Didi is
One had seen her dance at college and was captivated, another heard her
speak at a debate and was enchanted. Yet another, saw magic in her walk and
another, in her hair. Brother Abbu has been failing his L.L.B. for the past two
years. Didi does not look at anyone. With a toss of her head she waits at the bus
stop as though the carriage from Buckinnham palace is about to come and fetch
Once it even came, the prince of Rajgad’s car. Didi was standing at the
busstop when a chocolate coloured car came to a stop before her. The prince
was driving it himself. Very politely he enquired “Miss Sahay, I’m going to
college, too. May I have the pleasure of dropping you ?”
Didi glanced at him and said “Sorry I don’t know who you are.” The
prince bowed his head and left. He did not go to college. He was so upset, that
he not only left the college, but the town too.
Tuniya is very proud of her sister. Whatever Didi asks her to do, she
does. She clips Didi’s nails, washes her kerchief, combs her hair and straightens
her room. Once Tuniya was very tired. She’d been to the market five times.
Didi, too, had something to be done in the market. She wanted her maxi to be
collected from the tailors. Didi took a small bunch of jasmine from her hair and
presented it to Tuniya. So delighted was she that Tuniya forgot all her tiredness.
Inhaling the fragrance of the flowers she walked all the way to the tailors and
returned with the maxi. Her feet were aching, but the flowers were so lovely.
Many a time Didi would hand Tuniya her philosophy text and lie
down. This was Didi’s favourite method of study. Tuniya would read out from
Kant and Hegel to Advaida to her.Very quick is Didi’s intelligence. She retains
with photographic ease whatever she hears once.This is also the method she
uses to learn her dialogue in drama.Thus along with Didi, Tuniya also learns
the dialogue. Mother said :“ Gone, every one has gone. Six boys I bore, all six
have gone. Now I’ll go and sleep, peacefully I’ll sleep. From the moment I was
married not a day have I slept. I’ve spent my life praying either for this or that
one. Today puja for this one and tomorrow fasting for that one. Now all are
gone. Storms can come , what have I to lose? I’ve nothing to give or take from
the ocean. Even if there is only one dry rotten fish for a meal, who’s bothered!
I’ll put up my feet and sleep, real deep sleep”.
Didi’s acting was wonderful in J.M.Synge’s play. Each individual
amongst the audience was left wonder struck. Tuniya saw it herself. This was
didi’s greatness. Whether she was Dilbur Begum or an old mother, the character
she played came alive before you. That is why she does not consider the director
to be important. The director of the English association’s drama, ‘Antony and
Cleopatra’ was that Coorgi boy Jimmy. Didi never listened to him. Didi said that
she would handle Cleopatra’s dialogue in her own way. Professor Chauksi
admitted defeat and said, “She is a born Cleopatra .Let her handle the character.”
At the college Annual Day, Didi is always cheered. For coming first in
English, Hindi,Philosophy and language, she gets certificates. Along with this,
there are the singing, dancing and acting prizes. And there was a prize for
The Table-Tennis shield was won because of Didi and a special prize
for it followed. Getting up from her seat and walking up to the stage repeatedly
went against her greatness, Didi remained right there. In the wings one of her
worshippers was made to hold her prizes. From there she walked up to the
Chief guest and received her awards. Everyone heard her name and waited but
Didi was not in a hurry, she never panicked while going on stage.
Tuniya also gets prizes at school. But she gets so nervous that it becomes
an effort to walk up to the Chief guest. In her confusion she would
sometimes say “thankyou” first and then receive the prize, at other times her
tongue would go dry and she would not be able to bring out the “thankyou”.
Her hands would tremble. They were the same faces that Tuniya saw every day,
yet she got so nervous. Didi is not upset at all. The Chief guest is a total stranger
but Didi accepts the prize from him as though she were giving and not receiving
Tuniya is also sitting amongst the cheering crowd. Each time Didi’s
name is called, Tuniya feels taller. She longs to stand on the chair and clap, but
good sense prevents her.
After the celebrations Tuniya was returning home with Didi. The bus
stop was a little away from college. Didi carried some of the prizes and Tuniya
the rest. Tuniya felt that she had won them. After all it was she who helped Didi
learn the dialogue for the drama, and read out the Hindi, philosophy and English
Again and again some one or the other would congratulate Didi on the
way. A group of four boys came to congratulate her. Then one mischievous
looking small built boy among them said : “Miss Sahay we have a bet. Raj
Kakkad says that this girl walking with you is your sister. I say it is not possible.
Raj always talks nonsense. But I won’t let this fellow speak against your glory.
You tell us the truth. We have bet on an icecream.”
Didi said carelessly, “This is my sister Thoorna Sahay”
The boys looked surprised. They gaped at Tuniya as children look at a
zebra in the zoo.
|Raj Kakkad raised his hands victoriously.
“My information cannot be wrong. Isn’t that a bombshell.”
The other boy asked in shocked tones: “Your own sister, Miss Sahay?”
“Yes of course,” Didi replied laughing.
“ Born to the same mother?”
“And to the same father, too,” Didi added amusedly, at which they all laughed.
For the first time Tuniya felt like crying. What badly behaved boys, what
rotten jokes they cracked! Is this something to bet on? How many times she had
come with Didi to the college! What was she if not her sister, her chaprasi ?
When they reached home Tuniya did not say anything to any one, but
her heart cried. Who had time to look at her? They were busy patting Didi’s
back and kissing her. Pappa said proudly, “You are my brainy daughter, shabash.”
Tuniya was sent at once by mummy to the market to buy ladoos. The
neighbours would have to be given ladoos, Didi had brought home so many
prizes. All their children studied in the same college, but did anyone get so
Tuniya spent hours going from house to house – number seven, eight,
nine, Jagthiani, Dwedi, Alam Khan. Press the calling bell, the door opens, and
Tuniya with folded hands would say, “Namaste aunty, my Didi has come first
in all the subjects again this year. Mummy has sent sweets, namaste.”
Papa removed Tuniya’s school cup from the radio top and kept Didi’s
big cup there. The whole room shone with its brilliance. New shiny cups are so
wonderful. Now the photographer will come tomorrow. Didi’s photo will be
At night when Tuniya lay in bed she did not know where the tears came
from. She couldn’t understand why she cried, the tears kept pouring down. All
this crying chased sleep away.
Tuniya crept silently to the bathroom. There she gazed at her face in the
No, it was not so bad as to be unbearable. Her hair was longer and softer
than Didi’s. Her skin glowed. Then why did those boys say that she was no one
of Didi’s? And if the boys were naughty, couldn’t Didi scold them? Couldn’t
she take her hand and state proudly: “Look, this is my sister, my own little
sister, can’t you see ?” What could Tuniya do to look like Didi’s sister !Should
she hang a placard round her neck or dip her face in flour, or peel off the skin on
her face !
At this point Tuniya recalled the red lehnga because of which she had
once been beaten.Didi was to dance in a competition at the Town Hall.A new
red lehanga,blouse and chunni had been made. Just before the competition Didi
went to the market at noon to buy red bangles and “jumur”. The tailor came
through the back door and gave the dress. The new red dress attracted Tuniya
so much that she couldn’t control herself. In a moment she took off her frock
and slipped on the lehanga.Settling the head covering, she was about to adorn
her forehead when Didi returned.
Tuniya was bloodless. My God, Didi saw her! Now what will happen?
Didi was really enraged.
|“ Why have you spoilt my dress? Tell me, tell me.” Didi shook her.
“ Didi it isn’t spoilt, I’ll take it off.”
Didi sat and cried saying, “Now I won’t wear this dress, it is quite spoilt.”
Mummy did not say anything to Didi. She only blamed Tuniya for having caused the dress to become dirty.
Tuniya spent weeks thinking did the dress get so dirty that Didi’s dance
got spoilt, that she did not get a prize and coming home lost an anklet?
After a lot of thinking at night, Tuniya decided that she would never pay
attention to boys. She would put all her efforts into her studies. She would never
go to Didi’s college again not even if mummy says so.
Tuniya’s day at school was very good . In English she got “very good”
and in drawing “good”. Her happiness made the rest of the periods pass
quickly. Then came the Maths period.Hodiwala sir’s class. The boys and girls
got maximum punishment in this class. The boys were caned hard. The long
lean cane travelled through Hodiwala sir’s class The “snak” sound of the cane
did not make the boy cry but their lips quivered. Tuniya’s body shivers too
when she hears the “snak” sound.
The girls are not beaten.They are detained after class and given imposition
to write. What sense was there in this, the mistake was in Maths and the
punishment– to copy out the lesson “Our Human Structure” nine times.Tuniya
never got this punishment, but those who did were her friends and she knew
that their middle finger would turn blue from writing so much.Tuniya’s sums
never go wrong but she does not like sir’s behaviour. When the students are
working out the sums Hodiwala rests his back on the window and looks at
everyone keenly.“ No talking”, he deals with the boys and moves to the girls.
“Let me see missy baba what have you done”, so saying he looks at a particular
missy baba’s sum. As long as he looks at the sum one of his hands keeps caressing
the girls back from shoulder to waist. He is particularly attentive to the well
built girls.But the girls dislike him. The bigger girls grumble amongst themselves
but say nothing aloud because they are afraid.
Tuniya’s sums are always right, perhaps this is why he never hangs
around her marking a quick right he moves on. Two or three times she managed
to solve those problems which even sir couldn’t. Hodiwala sir had only studied
up to S.T.C. The students called his degree “ sundas ticket collector.” God
alone knows where the ticket to sundas is to, one would have to ask them.
On Saturday papa got the sitting room cleaned. Papa’s room only Tuniya
could clean. Colin had no sense. Important papers would be treated like scrap
and thrown away. Tuniya knows that these papers are papa’s life. Mummy gets
irritated with this cleaning programme. She says that the time it takes to clean
the whole house, it takes to clean this one divan.Each paperweight has to
sparkle. The dusting and wiping done, the pincushion had to be redone with
pins, books arranged in the wrack. Where did she have the time for all this. But
Tuniya doesn’t get bored. She considers this job a “jugalbandhi of the sweeper
and the broom”.
The chader on the floor was changed .Books were arranged in order. The
radio cover and table cloth were put on, washed and clean. A great writer was
expected. Tuniya asked:“ Papa will his feet be bigger than the one who came
“Don’t talk uselessly”, Papa snapped.
Last time, too, a great literary personage had come home. The white
chader had one huge muddy foot-print on it which looked strange. My god!
Tuniya had thought– a foot so huge! She could trace out four or five spans
through it. She had thought, then, that great literary people had not only huge
brains but also huge feet.
But papa could not tolerate any jokes. Everything had to be clean in the
house. Come properly into the room ,say namaste,keep tea and leave. If a poetry
reading session was going on in the room, or a great discussion, never interrupt.
If you want to listen, sit quietly.
Tuniya was no stranger to the world of books. She loved books. She read
anything and everything which came before her. This writer who was coming, Sri
Muktidooth, she had read his novel too. She had a strong desire to see him. Tuniya
wanted to know how he understood the minds of people so well and so
easily. Does he have some kind of stethoscope like doctors do !
Something else that Tuniya did not understand was that some writers
produced fifty books and were not considered important, while another writes
one book and is declared great. Papa explains this a little and then ends up with
his usual “but you are still too small….”
Tuniya is not all that small. Her head and heart are full of questions.
Why?why?why? In her home lots of writers and artists come. They are different
kinds of people. Once an artist had come. He had three hundred rupees in his
pocket and boundless hope with him. He wanted to battle in the films. He looked
so innocent. He stayed many months in this very room. Every morning, with his
sling bag on his shoulder, he would set out walking in and out of studios and
sets. At night, tired and crestfallen he would return. Papa would eat with him
and sit talking encouragingly till late at night.
Next morning, he would start out again. After three and a half months of
running around he got a role in a film, that of a goonda at a bus top, one who
threatens with a knife and empties people’s pockets and then gives out a strange
loud laugh “Ha!ha!ha!ha!”. At home, the rehearsal of kissing the knife and
giving out this laugh, drove Tuniya out of the room. She did not know why she
felt that this role was an insult to the artist. Since then, he became a goonda in
many films. In two or three years, he became a well known villain in the film
world. He bought a flat in Juhu, got married and refused to even recognise
But it made no big difference to papa. He was neither disappointed, nor
insulted. He found other friends. But mummy kept grumbling – “As long as he
had no home or income, Phalaneji hung around your neck. Today he has a
home and an income, and has turned away. At least, now, stop this kind of
hospitality. In today’s world, no one belongs to anyone. What did you gain,
trying so hard?“
Papa never complained even once. Heaven knows how many people he
had loaned money to, from five to fifty rupees, who just vanished. For years,
mummy wrote this account in a register; defeated, she finally stopped. Papa
said “What’s wrong, the whole of life is a give and take.”
Mummy said “Your whole life is just give give.”
Mummy gets angry very fast. She finds fault in the best of things. New
tenants had moved in No: 21,a Mr. Pie. One day his daughter, Vinaya was
playing in the front lawn, with two or three other girls. Tuniya too joined them.
They all played with the skipping rope and then played ‘I spy’. As soon as she
returned, mother questioned : “Whose permission did you take to go ?”.
“Why didn’t you change your clothes ? Did you see the clothes of the
other girls, they look like angels.”
“You will shame us.”
There, the whole evening was spoilt. It is impossible to tolerate mother’s
scoldings and she’s the one who scolds most. After this, she doesn’t give one,
the right to cry or sulk. She falls sick herself.
Then starts papa’s admonitions : “How many times I’ve told you Tunnu,
don’t make mummy angry, her blood pressure shoots up.”
“You are not bothered about mummy. Come on, give her some water
“In the evening, take mummy to Dr.Gamguly’s.”
The doctor examines mummy’s blood pressure. Tuniya feels very
repentent. She is the one to get scolded and to feel sorry and she is the one to go
to the doctor, she is also the one to apologise. But it makes no difference to
anyone. No one answers Tuniya’s question of whose blood pressure should be
checked, the scolder or the scolded.
Far from all these problems, Didi is running in a totally different direction.
Nearly every evening, there is some show or other. After the show, Didi comes
home, removes her makeup, changes her clothes and lies down on the bed with
closed eyes. A little later, papa or mummy come and look at her. When she falls
asleep, the light is gently switched off, with papa saying, “Baby is really going
through strain. Give her an apple every day.”
Tuniya wants to share everything with Didi. Yesterday, she told Didi
what a great literary personage would be coming today. Didi said, “Oh! I
would’ve liked to stay and listen to his words. But what can I do? Tomorrow a
new rehearsal starts. Mine is the main role.”
Papa is all excited in the morning. Sri Muktidoothji’s novel and poetry
collection are being read and discussed again. At various places, red pencil
marks can be seen in the book. A real lively discussion with Muktidoothji was
to take place. Tuniya also reads. This room has a different atmosphere. Here
the mind mingles with the books. One notices neither time nor work.
Just then mummy came and said, “Tuniya, come we’ll go and get stuff
Tuniyas’s happiness and excitement are quelled.
Sanichar means pile of dirt dry fish, the waste of the market, hot sun,
sweat,dust, boredom, kandha batata, rice, masala……….
In the whole of Bombay, there is no rickshaw except in this Sanichar.
This rickshaw makes her body shrink and tremble.
First, she has to see mummy arguing about the prices at each shop and
keep quiet. Just catch the bag and stand. Then when mummy is satisfied, go
and buy the goods. One has to watch the scales carefully and see that the sales
woman doesn’t tilt them with her stick. With this same cunning mummy buys
the month’s goods from Sanichar. Then, with the same guile, she will choose a
cheap rickshaw. There are two considerations for her choice of rickshaw. The
rickshaw should be cheap and the driver, humble. Mummy gets irritated with
those who are noisy and loud. On getting into the rickshaw, mummy will keep
the bag of tomatoes or the cannister of oil on the seat beside her and would say
“ Tuniya you sit below here. The tomatoes may get squashed if kept below or
the oil may spill. Its only a short distance after all.”
If there were no tomatoes or oil mummy was sure to spy some
neighbouring aunty whom she would invite on to the rickshaw. To Tuniya she
would say : “ Tunnu, you sit at the edge, here near my feet. No, no sister, you
don’t worry, my daughter is very straight and obedient. She’ll sit where she’s
told and stand where she’s told. Children after all, they remain as we keep them.
Tuniya doesn’t want to sit like that. She feels ashamed. If a school mate
or teacher were to see her, she would be utterly embarrassed. She is in the eighth
standard. She is not a baby. Is she a servant to sit at people’s feet ? If mummy
wants to invite a neighbour why can’t she take two rickshaws?
When Tuniya sits like this, her underwear can be seen, or at least Tuniya
feels so, and she feels that the whole world can see it too. For shame!
What can Tuniya do? Her frock is not long enough to be pulled down in front.
From behind, mummy’s chappal is poking her, and in front this problem!
Tuniya is made to suffer this Sanichar trip many times. To top it all,
mummy treats this like a pleasure trip. Now if on reaching home Tuniya were
to keep the bags and ask if she could go to No: 18’s Pinhaj Daji, mummy would
snap and say, “Sit quitely. Did you go out or fry papads just now? No one stays
at home. Whatever is to be done, I must do, whoever must die doing it, I must.”
Once mummy starts, she will not stop quickly. She pauses and continues
on the same topic again. She empties packets of daal into tins, and the
commentary continues, wheat is put into canisters, the oration continues. The
kandha and batata are put into different baskets and her words flow on. Slowly
the tone will change. Tuniya will follow mummy around, as if tied by an unseen
wire. When mummy turns, she too turns, when mummy bends, she, too, does
Mummy irritably says, “Can’t you hear, the sun will soon grow hot.
Hurry up and pick it all up”.
Papa looked up from the book and said : “Why do you start off in the
morning ? Do you know anything besides atta-daal ? Tuniya will not go. Such
a big writer is coming. He will arrive anytime now. Who’ll make tea here ? If
you have to go, take Colin with you. “
With one angry glance at Tuniya and papa, mummy stocked off.
Papa the great! Tuniya was delighted. Saved by a hair’s breadth from
the Sanichar, and Colin really trapped ! She was just getting ready to leave after
finishing the house work. She’d even stolen a flower from the vase to put in her
hair. Tuniya knew it. When she (Colin) will have to sit below in the rickshaw
all her airs will be squashed.
She was fortunately saved by papa. Now, when papa asks for it, she’ll
make such first class tea that even Muktidothji would be surprised. There was
some soaked daal which could be made into pakoodas.
Didi won’t help. She has not even woken up. When she gets up and is
ready, then it would be “Thath, thath, thai” all the time. Only yesterday her
play’s twenty-fifth show was over. Today a new rehearsal will start.
Muktidoothji came an hour after his appointed time, like some magic. He
was wearing a spotless white khadi kurta and pyjama. His arrival brought in his
laughter too. Papa was very happy. Mukthidoothji first gave an interesting lecture
on the carelessness of officers with lots of examples. Papa listened silently.
There is no telling when he becomes the brave officer and when he turns literature
lover. Once, just like this, a poet had spoken carelessly, and papa got annoyed
and started talking. The poet was describing papa as an unsuccessful man, while
papa called himself definitely successful.
But Mukthidoothji was, to begin with, the same age as papa and also he
had a different way of talking. Tuniya is surprised. Papa had told her that
Mukthidoothji had neither a job nor a business. But how relaxed he was, not a
care about anything. A majestic demeanour , deep resounding voice, a way of
smoking cigarettes and very attractive.He did not eat anything but praised the
tea very much.
He asked :“ Who made it ? Your wife?”
“No, Tuniya did.This is my younger daughter, Thoorna, she’s very good
at her studies and in making tea.”
“Ha,ha,ha”, Mukthidoothji laughed,“ this girl will go far. I say that any
one who can make good tea can do the most difficult things in the world.”
Just then Didi came into the room, all dressed and ready. In a white sari
and blouse, how fresh she looked, like a flower. Rohini Bhate tells all the students
to come in white. She says that dance is a satvic act . She herself always wears
white. Having greeted Mukthidoothji with folded hands and a namaste she said
to papa “papa we’ve to reach at exactly eleven o’ clock at Rohini Bhate’s
class.Today ‘ Vasanth Sena ‘rehearsal begins”.
“O.K. go ahead ,” papa said.
At that moment, Mrs. Raheja came in from number four. Even on
Tuniya’s saying that mummy had gone to the market, she went to the kitchen to
look for her, then returned to the sitting room and sat down. A debate was
going on between papa and Mukthidoothji about whether literature was to be
great, had to be popular or not. Mukthidoothji connected popularity with pure
business, while papa looked at it as the mind of the people. He kept quoting
Ramcharithamanas to prove his point.
Mukthidoothji said that Ramcharithamanas was popular not because
of its literary qualities but because of its religious tones.
Mrs. Raheja sat for a while stroking one heel with the other. Then she
said “Tuniya, I’ve made idli batter. Give me the mould so that it will cook
Now she’s come to the point. Why does aunty make so many excuses?
She could have said as soon as she came that she wanted the mould. What does
she know about who is sitting in the drawing room.Really, Tuniya is surprised.
All the women in the colony are alike–they have the same habits–get up
in the morning and put on make-up, always think about eating and drinking
,sleep in the afternoon, watch T.V. in the evening and declare at night, “Today,
I’m very tired.” Tuniya doesn’t ever want to become like that.She wants to become
like Mukthidoothji.She feels that the important questions of life can only be
answered by literary people.
Mukthidoothji wanted to know if Madhav Mishra still stayed in this
“Yes, he does”, Papa said. “Nowadays he’s very sad . Doesn’t go any
where. He lost his wife recently.”
“No, it was cancer.”
“I’ve forgotten his house.Some eight years ago, I’d come once. Which
number is it?”
“One hundred and eight.Away from this block, there on the turning of
the third street, among the quarters built there.”
“Tuniya will show you–She knows.Tuniya daughter, just take
Mukthidoothji to Madhav Mishraji’s house,” papa said.
“ But brother,returning I’ll have one more cup of tea”.
“Certainly, certainly” Papa’s smile widened.
What else did papa want,his mind is made to welcome and extend
hospitality. If he could, he would sit day and night with wide open doors waiting
for guests.His appetite is tied up with his friends. If there was no one to eat with
him, then till three he wouldn’t even think about food.Let a friend come, and
he’s hungry by twelve.
Tuniya did not waste any time. Immediately putting on her slippers she
set out with Mukthidothji.My God, how tall he is like a mounain! While talking
if she had to look up to him she’d surely get a crick in her neck.
Mukthidothji saw that Tuniya had to run to keep pace with him. He
slowed down. He asked:
|“That was your sister wasn’t it?”
“How do you know?”
“She looks a lot like you.”
Tuniya thought that she either heard wrong or that Mukthidoothji spoke wrong.
“Everyone says that she doesn’t look anything like me.”
“She looks a lot like you. Do you know, Thoorna, God has the best
printing press.However man tries, he cannot create that which God can. As books
are printed all alike, in the same way God makes each family’s nose and features,
like a black print. That is why people without knowing say “O baby, your nose
is just like gran’mas, your smile is just like aunty’s. God is a great seal maker.”
Mukthidoothji laughed at his own words.Tuniya immediately asked “You
believe in God?”
“ Why, does it seem to you that the numbers of those who believe in
God are lessening?”
“I don’t know . Papa once said that as people became more educated,
their faith in God was diminishing.”
“ This is what papa said. What do you say?”
“I also feel so.”
“No, papa feels that , that is why you feel so. Tuniya, think differently,
can faith in God ever go from our country? If right now I keep a stone in the
middle of the cross-roads and adorn it with flowers, then see what faith your
people have.Nine out of ten will stop here, bow and put offerings of flowers or
fruits. This is faith.”
“No, faith. Even then there is a faint difference between faith and
superstition.You’re very young or else I would’ve explained.”
This being small was so maddening. I was following matters so clearly
and a sudden break came,“ Now, you’re too young to follow.” Right now
Mukthidoothji was a guest else Tuniya would’ve asked:” What should be done
to become big from small? Should I stand on my head?
|Mukthidoothji looked gravely at her, “Tired?”
“No.” Tuniya moved her head in negation.
“Which class are you in?”
“What is the name of your school?”
“How do you go so far?”
Here, we’ve reached Madhav Mishra’s house.
Mishraji is at home. Tuniya’s job is done. She’ll go. Mukthidoothji will
now be immersed in conversation with Mishraji. Both, literary people, both
talkative. Tuniya knows what Mukthidoothji will remember, which class, which
school, name of school, children are asked these questions by everyone, and
immediately forgotten. Papa’s friends also ask her her name each time and
forget it each time.
Papa thinks that after tea we must offer a meal to Mukthidoothji.
Mummy has not yet returned from the market. When she comes she’ll
grumble: “Here start his parties. If he was so interested in extending hospitality
he should have married a halwai. The whole day I spend in the hot sun at the
market and now I must die at the kitchen fire.”
Tuniya would cook something before she came. But what? Besides a
potato dish there is nothing she knows. If Didi were here, she would persuade
her to get out some paneer. Potato- paneer vegetable could have been made.
But didi has gone for the rehearsal.
Well good or bad Tuniya will cook something. She will not say, “no” to
papa.If it turns out bad she’ll say, “Sorry”. She’ll cut up a lot of salad. There’s
chutney and pickle, she’ll give that. Papa will buy the sweet.
She will not leave any work for mummy. For one thing, mummy will
return tired, and secondly she will get angry. If mummy liked, during the holidays
Tuniya would cook for the whole house. But liking is the problem. Mummy
does not like food cooked by anyone else. She has sent away so many servants.
Some made the chapathies thick and others cut the vegetables too fine. She
didn’t like the cleanliness of one and the thieving hands of the other. Mummy
cooks deliciously, but she is not capable of teaching anyone. She gets irritated.
Mukthidoothji came. First he drank tea. Papa requested him to stay for
food and he politely remained.
Tuniya singlehandedly arranged everything. She went running to make
hot ‘phulkas’. She did not mind at all. How often does Mukthidoothji come!
“Your daughter’s voice is very good. Why don’t you get a radio audition
Papa said with interest and pride: “Where does she have the time for the
radio! And again only those artists go to the radio who have failed on the stage
or on T.V. The radio is for the third grade showman. She is a well known stage
artist. She has regular shows. Once she was even invited for a part in a film. It
was quite a famous producer. But you know putting a child into that is wrong.
She’s been learning kathak for two years. She’s also to go to college. She is
always first in her class.”
“Who, this Tuniya?”
“She’s still a fool. Knows nothing. That was my elder daughter Papiha.”
“No, Sahay sahib, I’m talking about her, your younger daughter. Her
voice has a certain culture. Nowadays it is very rare.”
Bringing in the ‘phulkas’ Tuniya heard: “Your younger daughter …”
Tuniya couldn’t believe it. In this house people always praised didi. Her
singing brought applause, her dance was commended. Didi’s certificates were
displayed. Didi was great. Just ask Tuniya about didi.
Bringing in the jug of water Tuniya heard Mukthidoothji’s voice: “Sahay
Sahib, the voice tells you the character of a person, the voice of true, pure people
rises from the navel travels through the chest and becomes a rich harbinger of
culture before it leaves the throat. Your younger daughter’s voice has all this.
Her voice has possibilities of greatness.”
Tuniya’s being sang like a sitar. Was this true? Was all this really being
said about her? They all make fun of her, don’t they. But they are not laughing.
They don’t look as if they were in a jocular mood. They’re talking seriously.
Why should such a great writer lie? Perhaps it is a lie. He’s only making her
happy or pleasing papa . But this does not look like mere pleasing.
When did she speak in front of him, he was the one who kept talking.
Could he have discovered this jewel of truth from her few indistinct answers?
Tuniya thought he considered her foolish and therefore did not talk much.
Papa noded and extended a plate of sweets. Papa started talking about
his family, “ In my house we all have good voices. My father’s voice was also
very good. When he sang out the Ramayan the whole muhallah would assemble
to hear him. It was difficult to control the crowd. Papiha’s voice is the best.
What can I say, if she were here, I would have her sing for you.”
Tuniya is not interested in this ancestral history. Now her family can
make her boil tea, bring water, cut vegetables, nothing will affect her. Today
she has gained enough, her ears are filled with music as she hears again,“ Your
younger daughter …your younger daughter …”
Translated from Hindi by Usha Menon.
Mamta Kalia is one of the more recent Hindi writers of today. She has
carved a niche for herself in the field of short story writing. As an English
teacher her knowledge of western culture and literature has made it possible to
understand the impact of the West on the educated Indian mind. It is this very
feature that helps her paint a realistic picture of a North Indian household today.
Her portrayal of character and use of colloquial Hindi add a flavor to her
style which remains inimitable. While translating her story I found it necessary
to retain certain words and phrases like ‘batata’, and ‘then I’m left’ and so on as
they contributed to the overall effect of the atmosphere. The description of the
Anglo Indian house help is particularly striking as it is cleverly contrasted
with a more traditional outlook of the child narrator in the story.
USHA MENON. Teaches at the All Saints’ College, Thiruvananthapuram. Her doctoral work was on Sri Aurobindo. Interested in women support activities.