Short Story of Social Issue – Kumari’s friend
In the 1960’s India was really conservative. Things were really different from what it is today. In a small village called Thuravur in Kerala there were two really close friends Priya and Kumari, two 14 year olds, who were way above all of these conservationism. Kumari was from a family that was spear headed by Purandar Bhat, a really powerful landlord who had a real big say in the village matters. He had a really nasty look on his face and maintained his moustache cleanly combing it with Coconut oil. All the people listened to him as he had money. He had with him most of the property deeds which he had taken from the poor farmers after they could not pay off his exorbitant interest rates. He had three sons and two daughters. Purandar was so scary that even the cows in his cattle shed were scared of even his shadow. Purandar’s wife Renuka was also scared and intimidated by him. She was his second wife. There were rumours that he had killed his first wife within a month of the marriage.
As it was in a village setting, most people knew each other well. Purandar’s neighbour was Janardhana and he was a devout Brahman too just like Purandar. All families had their own pieces of land that would be tilled by the lower castes. Kumari and Ritu were two sisters who had too many rules imposed on them from their childhood such as ‘Behave like girls, you will be married soon.’ or ‘You need to remember that you will have to cook well as you have to soon cook for the family you will be married in’ etc. Kumari was around four years younger than Ritu and was the youngest in the family. She was perhaps more pampered than the other children but those words ‘You are a girl’ always bound her.
Kumari and Ritu’s brothers always got the better deal. The girls used to think why the hell is this injustice meted out to us. When they heard stories of rebirth, they used to think in their next birth let us be born as boys. ‘At least It gives us more freedom’ she told Ritu. Ritu was comparatively quieter of the two. She used to agree with what Kumari had to say though she was elder to her.
Priya’s family was living in absolute poverty. They used to find it difficult to make both ends meet. It was very difficult to contemplate life tomorrow as today itself was a struggle. Priya used to wear the same old half torn uniform and her classmates used to make fun of her. During lunchtime all her classmates would wait for Priya to open her lunch, which used to be wrapped in a smoked banana leaf and wrapped in newsprint. She used to carry steamed tapioca as it was cheap to source. Though all the classmates were not too rich themselves, they used to get rice and curry with at times a piece of fried fish.
Kumari and Priya used to have their lunch together outside on the side of a ground as they were pure vegetarians and could not tolerate the smell of fish. Kumari had tried egg, however could not quite enjoy the taste of egg and its smell. Thankfully no one at home knew that she had tried it. Priya used to share her tapioca with Kumari and Kumari her rice and curry. It was nice to share food was their perspective. Priya used to come to Kumari’s house at times, only when Kumari’s father was not around. She was scared of Kumari’s father as he was a tyrannical figure in their view. An opinion that Kumari too shared.
There were proposals coming in for Kumari by the time she was 13. ‘Oh god mother, how can you get me married so early’ she asked her mother with a big question mark on her face.
Her mother replied ‘ I married your father when I was 12, you are at least older than I was.’
It was sad that despite our country gaining independence, things were not too different in rural India at that time. Child marriage was prevalent. Girl children did not have much education and not that the boys were any better.
Priya’s father was working in the Local Civil Supplies shop, where he used to pack the ration items. It was hard physical labour but did not pay him much for the household expenses. As a result, Priya’s mother used to work in households doing odd jobs for the family to survive. They were saving around 5 rupees a day for Priya’s marriage. Priya being the only child they had it was easier to concentrate on saving up for her. Though saving enough money was a big challenge. Marrying off a girl in a village was no mean task, there would be so many people to feed. The dowry that the groom’s family asked was also becoming a challenge. Proposals coming for Priya were all asking for a lot of dowry and it was impossible for Priya’s parents to conjure up the kind of money that was being demanded.
Rashmi was another girl who studied in the same class as both Priya and Kumari. Rashmi had lost her mother to Tuberculosis a couple of years ago. Her father was another real rich landlord who was around 58 years of age. He used to come at times to drop Rashmi in his old car. He was one of the rare people in the village who had a car. It was not surprising to note that he used to eye the other girls in the school when he came by and Priya was one of them.
One day Priya was walking to school along with Kumari when the car stopped right next to them. A big voice thundered from the car ‘Why dont you come along with me, I will drop you to the school, Rashmi is unwell and can’t come to school today’ He said and continued ‘It is the typical girl’s problem,’ he said.
‘What Priya, has it started for you?’ He enquired running his hand over his moustache which was a mix of more of grey hair and less of black.
‘Are you not ashamed?’ she screamed and taking Kumari’s hand both of them ran towards the school. She cried on the way to school and in the school and all attempts Kumari made were futile.
A couple of days later, when Priya was getting back to normalcy she saw the car parked in the lane near their house. The old man was seen coming out of their house. Her parents were smiling and thanking him. From a distance she was wondering, what is he upto now? She kept walking towards her house, her heart beating with all force when he came near her. His presence was starting to irk her.
He reached out for her head and touching it said, ‘Be ready now, just a few more days..Be patient till then’ He said softly.
Smell of Pan and tobacco filled the air. With his grey stained teeth he grinned, sat in the car and his driver drove away slowly. Time seemed to go ever so slowly.
She reached her house and her father said ‘You are ever so lucky, Rakesh has agreed to marry you without a penny.In fact he will bear the expenses of the marriage and also help me in getting a good job in the city at a good salary’ He continued.. ‘Maybe he is slightly old, so what..who cares about age’
He stated that. Priya was shell shocked, she did not utter a word and went straight inside the house and sat in corner in stunned silence. She felt she was being treated like a sacrificial lamb. What can I do? What are my options?
She could not sleep that night, she wanted to talk to Kumari so desperately. However it was real late and she would not be allowed to go out. She just lay low thinking she would explode when she spoke to Kumari. Finally in the morning, she was getting ready to go to school when her father spoke to her.
‘No need to go to school, you are anyway going to get married soon. Rakesh’s man came and sent this for you.’
There was a dark red and white saree with beautifully embroidered flowers laid on the makeshift cot along with some jewellery and some cash.
‘He wants to marry you on February 10th.’He said.
‘Oh god, today is the February 1 already’She thought to herself.
She calmly replied to her father. ‘It is ok dad, I want to meet Kumari. You can take my name of the register’.
Her father was surprised, he had not expected his daughter to take this news so lightly. He nodded his hand and his eyes filled up with tears.
Kumari oblivious to all of this came and told her how a dog chased her. She was smiling all the way. Alongside her Priya walked like a zombie. Kumari was surprised and enquired why Priya had changed overnight. Priya did not reply to this and was silent the whole day. She even did not get lunch and refused to share lunch with Kumari as a result of which Kumari too skipped lunch that day.
In the evening, while returning from school Priya just abruptly started crying. She kept crying and wailing. She finally embraced Kumari so tightly, she nearly choked. She then broke the news of her marriage.
‘What? That old man? How can you Priya..I will talk to my father and yours and stop this’ She said.
She was about to walk away when Priya held her hand and said ‘It is ok. If my father is happy with this, I will marry him. I just wanted to tell you that I am not attending school any longer’, She said and ran away.
It was perhaps the last that Kumari saw of Priya till the day of the wedding. Kumari’s father was also amongst the invitees. Kumari did not want to attend the marriage, but her father told her
‘She is your friend, isnt she..You dont want to come along to celebrate her happiness’
What happiness Kumari thought to herself. How she wished she could stop this wedding. Alas, she was helpless.
Just before the wedding function was to start, Priya called for Kumari.
‘Thanks for everything, I wish we could be friends for some more time, alas noone could help me when I wanted help’
She said and clenched her hands tightly. Her jewels sparkled bright and specially the nose ring which had a real diamond. It shown real bright. Then she started wearing her make up and told Kumari to leave for now. Rashmi was helping her apply the makeup. Her classmate would now become her step daughter. Kumari with a heavy heart went outside and joined her father and brother who had come along.
The lunch must have been good as the villagers kept praising the cook who was summoned specially from Trivandrum. There were items that the villagers had not even tried till them. There were also five types of sweets. Kumari could not eat and refused to eat. Her brother and father had their fill and burped loudly along with many other villagers.
Once the marriage was over all people went back home with full stomachs. Kumari was thinking all about her friend. That night seemed to be a long and never ending one.
Early in the morning, she saw her father running towards the main road where Priya’s house was situated. It was not too far from her place and there was a river which flowed by. She was not too sure what was happening. She too ran,
‘They have not been able to find Priya since last night’ Someone screamed.
‘Where is she? Did she run away’ Another enquired.
A man with a beedi suddenly screamed ‘Maybe the river’.
Kumari’s heart started beating louder. The news spread thick and fast. It was strange, however noone saw her.
The cops arrived, someone had called them ‘I did not even touch my wife. She has been missing since last night’ Rakesh said. He was lamenting at not having been able to enjoy his first night. What a bas*ard, Kumari was thinking to herself.
A few days later there was still no trace of Priya and police was investigating. People seemed to be getting back to their normal lives. Priya’s name was continuously being flashed in Newspapers and all description of her jewels. A group of fishermen claimed to have found a skeleton which had a nose ring on it. Rakesh was summoned to the Police station in Allepey to check and he fainted seeing the skeleton
‘Yes, yes …that is her nose ring, I got it specially from Chennai for her’. He said after he gained consciousness.
The police handed over the skeleton to him and asked him the usual questions. All seemed like a normal case of suicide to them.
‘She must have had someone else, who she liked and that must be why she did’ Rakesh said.
When the body was brought to the village, people were still raising questions about her character and not about the old man who wanted to marry a girl who was old enough to be her grand daughter. Kumari continued her studies and did her graduation in Law despite all opposition. She decided to continue her fight against such oppression wherever it happened, all the while regretting that she could not save her friend when it mattered most. Those words that Priya last spoke continued to echo in her ears for the rest of her life.