by Nishaki Mehta, Post Doc/Research Associate
Honorable Mention 2008 Gerald F. Berlin Creative Writing Award
50 years since she had seen him. He still looked the same – flamboyantly attractive and careless but today her gaze was indifferent .The grit, which marked her brow, as a young bride was still evident on her weather beaten face.
At 14, married off to a 23 year old man as soon as she started menstruating, life seemed so predictable. Entrusted to a wealthy household in the vast deserts of Kutch, Gujarat, India stability would define her future or so she thought. But well, apart from being an attractive furniture item in the house smiling when asked to and being the victim of her drunken husband’s rage and rape night after night there was nothing more to the humdrum of her life. Oh yes! She bore him 7 kids in 8 years too. Crying herself to sleep, her health deteriorating with frequent child bearing, she had no option to accept her fate. Her children were what kept her alive and going.
She will never forget the storms of that monsoon- as always he came in drunk and since she was in the kitchen, he vented his frustration on their little daughter- barely 6 months old as he immersed her in the vomit clogged basin. Something, which she never knew existed, rose within her. Striking him with her cooking pan, she gathered her kids and marched out. She never looked back even once at the father of her children.
She knocked at her parent’s door for shelter and was shunned with the chiding “Go back. Simply accept your fate – if you walk out of your husband’s home, you will always regret it!” She slept on the footpath and decided that since this was her decision she will make the most of it. Bringing food home on the meager wages of a manual laborer, she attended night school amidst several other women who were supporting enough to help her and her kids. Most of these women were victims of domestic abuse and injustice. But they couldn’t raise their voice and admired her grit. They affectionately called her Rani Bai. Hard work and Lady Luck saw her as a primary then secondary school teacher of the district school. Finally on being promoted as the Head master she founded her organization – the Stri Jagoa Sammelan (Women Empowerment Organization). She helped women unconditionally and soon the women in her organization started selling the produce cultivated on the lands acquired by the organization, marketed the ornaments they designed, opened up restaurants and worked on promoting tourism in the picturesque Rann of Kutch. She loved her work. She had found a meaning and drive to live life.
“Rani Ma –come here”, tugged her youngest grand daughter. She was shaken out of her flashback reverie.
She was here to meet him today for the last time ever. She had to thank him for helping her light the dormant spark inside of her and to convey gratitude on behalf of the hundreds of women she had helped. She silently thanked him and bid him adieu as the flames rose from his final bed of logs transporting him to a distant distant world.