AND THEN SHE DIED

This is a human drama - the story of Maya, born in a village in South India into a poor family. Circumstances force her to come to Bombay as a child of ten years.

Maya sets out to live her life in very trying conditions at a tender age. Her chance meeting with Gokuldas, her future husband, brings some respite to her otherwise dreary life. They are a very loving couple. Gokuldas tends to stray which leads to corrosion in the relationship. His cruel streak surfaces and manifests itself till it could no longer be borne by Maya.

This is a story of courage, determination, loss and triumph of an illiterate woman born in poverty and thrown to the wolves by circumstances of her birth and birth-place. This story will give hope to countless women who compromise with their circumstances and remain where they are. It encourages a destitute woman to no longer be chained to her fate but create her own fate and her own life. Some succeed …. some keep on trying……some die!

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6. DAUGHTERS

If it was not for the snake bite, Krishna would have been alive to share the joy of the birth of Maya. Savitri was sick as usual and had yet to gain strength. The effect of premature birth remained evident. Leaving Savitri in the care of her mother-in-law, Laxmi had gone to work in the fields. Krishna, a young lad of two, romped playfully behind her fully naked and with not a care in this world. Laxmi was almost overdue with her third child. It was the rainy season and the transplantation of the paddy saplings were on. Krishna was playing in the fields with a stick.

 

Then it happened. Laxmi heard a sharp cry coming from Krishna’s lips and her heart skipped a beat and then began to thud. She saw Krishna withering in the ground clutching his right leg. She saw the reptile slithering away. It was a cobra and its bite, she knew, would be fatal. Right in front of her eyes she saw Krishna dying and then his eyes became glassy. He was dead as she watched helplessly without uttering a word or even screaming. And then the dam burst. She began wailing loudly and beating her chest. Puttanna working nearby rushed to her and then seeing the dead child in front of him froze like a tableau. He had loved this child which he knew was not his blood and now the child was dead. In a zombie-like fashion his limbs began moving. He picked the dead child and cradling it in his arms began walking towards his hut. Laxmi slowly followed, fully bloated with the child in her womb, wailing and almost in a faint.     

 

The child was buried in the corner of the courtyard by the evening. There was hardly any eyes which were not wet….in fact every elder and the not so old, the teenagers, the slightly grown-up kids mourned the departure of this beautiful, naughty and mesmerising child. Almost all eyes - other than Puttanna’s. Though the child was simply lovable, he could not cry. “The child was not mine,” he reasoned to himself. His grief remained undemonstrated.

 

The next day Kalavati was born. Fully developed, a robust and healthy child, who cried lustily on her birth. She was not to be aware till a long time of the tragedy just before her birth or how nearly she escaped death as soon as she was borne.

 

Puttanna was not in a good mood due to the death of Krishna. This child, a girl, cannot be a replacement for him. He was a darling, everyone’s pet. And he did not ever want another girl-child. In such state of despondency, he began to collect the poisonous plant used to kill unwanted infants. It was mere coincidence that a neighbour saw him collecting the poisonous plants and was intelligent enough to connect the action with possible deeds that could go with it. She rushed to Laxmi’s mother-in-law and related to her what was witnessed by her. Before Puttanna could reach the hut, Laxmi was on her way to her parent’s house with the child in her arms and Savitri by her side. In spite of being weak due to the child-birth, she trotted away from the danger she envisaged. “I have to save the innocent child,” she resolved and trudged faster through the uneven path. At last she reached the safety of her parental home with the two kids.

 

Puttanna was wild to learn that his wife had scurried away with the child whom he considered to be a she-demon. He felt like preparing and imbibing the poisonous concoction himself. He also felt like running all the way to his in-laws’ place and forcing the poison down the latest born girl’s throat …. and then down Savitri’s throat .… and then down Laxmi’s….  He felt a million things and he was thoroughly confounded and confused. In the end, he drank toddy, threw away the poisonous plants collected by him and went to bed. Thus the threat was deflected and Kalavati survived.

 

Laxmi continued to live with her parents as the children grew up. Puttanna continued to live by himself with his mother. Anger subsided over a period of time, desire once sublimated now grew. Puttanna did not miss his offspring. He missed his wife and the conjugal bliss that he could have with her. One day when Kalavati was about ten months old, he could not bear it any longer and presented himself before his parents-in-law. Laxmi saw him coming and stood waiting for him at the door to the house. As soon as he reached near the courtyard, she made sure that he had seen her and then without a word of greeting went inside the house.

 

Puttanna’s mother-in-law came out of the house and welcomed her daughter’s husband. She gave him a small vessel filled with water to wash himself and after he had washed and dried himself with the small piece of towel that villagers normally carry with them gave him water to drink in a glass with a bit of jaggery.  

 

Yaake bandi neenu?”, she asked. “Why have you come? You remember your wife and kids now after all these months? What type of husband you are?” The questions just poured out as Puttanna kept quiet while avoiding a direct look at the speaker. He let her say what she wanted as he tuned himself out of speech and let his thoughts drift. Suddenly he heard her saying, “Baa, oota madona. Come, let’s have our meals.” These words were more welcome and Puttanna followed his mother-in-law to the kitchen to partake what was offered. As it was getting dark, she asked him to stay back and go the next day.

 

Puttanna did not ask for his children or cared to caress them. Kalavati crawled about and Savitri was, as usual, sickly. Savitri did not give any smile of recognition to her father who she was seeing after such long time and Kalavati did not know how to bother about her sire. Laxmi did not smile or speak. Puttanna waited for her to say something ….. anything! There was no communication between them, either overt or subtle. A mat was laid for him to sleep upon. Savitri and the children slept in the same room and his mother-in-law went out to the other room. When Puttanna could bear it no longer he just sidled upto where Laxmi was lying, held her tight and proceeded to make love to her. She surrendered to him and the lava, till then kept under leash, burst …. right in front of the children. The children did not care about the antics of the young lovers. The lovers were oblivious to the presence of the children as the passions suppressed for so long were being given an outlet.

 

The next morning Laxmi went back to her husband’s house along with him. Life began once again and routine set in. The children came one after the other …. all girls. Two more daughters came – Aarti and Sarita; and then came Maya. At the young age of twenty-nine, Laxmi was a mother of six! One dead son and five daughters!

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