Friday, September 16, 2011
In the old days---in fact till the early years of the last Century India had it's share of Child Brides---girls as young as 8 years old would be married off----sometimes to Men much older than them---even some old enough to be their Grandfathers!!!When these older Men died a few years after the marriage these poor girls would be condemned to live a life of a Widow---the term used was "Bal Vidhva" or Child Widow.Their hair would be shaved off and they'd have to follow strict dietary restrictions to prevent them from putting on weight---as a result they were often fed just enough to keep body and soul together.Since many lost their husbands before puberty they were often open to exploitation and abuse by certain male members of the Family as well as Society at large.This is the story of one such Child Widow----and how she finally found peace!!
The roomy,rambling houses of the Konkan are very picturesque with their Red tiled Roofs,and facades of thick Igneous Rock walls set with solid Shisham or Oak Doors and Windows.These walls are plastered with a thick layer of Mud inside and whitewashed.Most homes are picturesquely set in large Coconut or Betel Nut Groves ,lush Green Paddy fields surrounded with Orchards of Mango,Cashews,Pineapples and "Papnus"----a large Grapefruit like Citrus Fruit with a thick white Pith and pink coloured Flesh streaked with Red.This home was no different except for one thing---the huge family had dwindled down to one heir----and he was based in Bombay working with the Excise Department during the turn of the Century.In due course his only child ---his son Gajanan got married to Siddheshwari a few years later .Unfortunately Gajanan lost both his parents relatively soon after his marriage and as a result he and his young wife were left alone.A year or two after his parents' death Siddheshwari concieved---and then began an odd series of compelling dreams.Siddheshwari began by initially seeing a beautiful, rambling old house set amidst the shaded greenery of Coconut Grove----and the house seemed to be calling her towards it.Each night the Dream began getting clearer---the trellises,the Red tiles of the Roof gaining focus like a Photograph emerging slowly as it develops in the Chemical Solution it's being washed in.Once the facade became clear the interior Plan began emerging and the House began pulling Siddheshwari towards it---till finally she began pestering Gajanan to take her to the Village---for she wanted to give birth to the baby there!!Gajanan was loathe to leave Bombay--in the early 1930s the only service available for delivering Babies in the Villages was the midwives---and he wanted his first born born in a Lying -In Home with good facilities.
Siddheshwari however was adamant and finally Gajanan gave in---and applied for long leave.They left Bombay just before the 7th. month of the preganancy for the Village.Those days they'd travel to Sawant Wadi by Train and from there further to their Village it meant a two hour bumpy Bullock Cart ride---so it was pretty late by the time they reached.Siddheshwari had never visited the Family home before but the moment she set eyes on it she gasped---it was the House she dreamt about!!!The old house had been cleaned out by the elderly cousin named Bhima Tai living next door----and the couple settled in.The first night in the old house Siddheshwari dreamt of a little Baby---but it was a hazy figure.As the days passed the Baby came into sharper focus---and one night she sat bolt upright after her dream---filled with fearful revulsion--for the Baby was a tiny Skeleton----- stretching it's bony arms invitingly towards her!!!
Each night the Dream persisted---with the Baby growing more and more persistent----entreating piteously to be hugged close and cuddled.By now the initial shock had worn off and Siddheshwari was now feeling more kindly towards the skeletal baby---but still hesitated to open out her arms to it.Finally one afternoon she confided to Bhima Tai about it---and Bhima Tai stared at her incredulously---her mouth hanging open in shock!!
The tale behind the baby came tumbling out--haltingly at first but slowly gathering momentum as it progressed.It seems that Gajanan had an older sister named Malati, who was widowed at the age of 10 when her husband died of Snake bite.Her In-Laws agreed to keep her in their home for she was regarded as an unpaid Kitchen help and Cook.The family she had married into was large---with many members both male and female.malati attained puberty at the age of 13 and that was when tragedy struck.One of her male relatives noticed the changes in her appearance started making covert advances towards her and one day grasping an opportunity raped her.Malati concieved and when this came to light she was sent to her father's home quietly under the cover of night---for she threatened to reveal the name of the father of her child if ill treated or abused.Gajanan's grandfather was at a loss about how to deal with this complication but he sheltered his grand daughter and ensured she had all the comforts she needed.Unfortunately there were complications during the birth and she passed away after giving birth to the baby---a still born!!While Malati's last Rites were performed according to the Traditional manner, the Baby was buried clandestinely according to custom--in a deep grave somewhere in the Coconut Grove surrounding the house.This was done to save face and since only the immediate family knew of the preganancy it was thought that Malati passed away after a bout of Cholera!!Gajanan was born late in his parents lives and while he was aware of his elder sister the only memories he had of her were hazy sepia tinted Photographs since she'd died much before he was born!!
Both Siddheshwari and Bhima Tai came to the conclusion that this was Malati's baby who had perhaps willed her to come here for the birth.After hearing the story Siddheshwari felt a surge of love for the Skeletal baby---and forgetting it's terrifying appearance, she clasped it to her in her next dream---and the dreams stopped completely after that!!As the time of birth approached the Monsoon began--Rain began pouring down in buckets from the Heavens.As the Downpour continued the Coconut Grove became water logged and slushy---becoming impassable and adding to poor Gajanan's worries about how to get the Midwife home when the time arrived!!He began cursing himself for giving in to his wife---and landing both of them in this mess.Finally the hour of Birth approached and the house was Water bound---marooned in a sea of knee high Water----completely impassable!! As he was pacing up and down he felt a gentle tap on his shoulder---and turning around his breath whooshed out in a shocked gasp!!His sister Malati whom he had only seen in old Photographs stood there----and beckoned him to come inside.She told him to keep a supply of hot Water coming while she quietly and tenderly helped Siddheshwari through her labour---performing all the procedures efficiently----right down to cutting the umbilical cord of Gajanan's first baby--a beautiful baby girl!!When it was all over Dawn was just stealing over the Horizon and the Rain had lessened--falling gently as Malati placed the little girl in her mother's arms.Malati stood gazing with wet eyes at the Tableau of the father,mother and the baby-----and murmuring about how happy she finally was placed her hands on the heads of her brother and sister-in-law in a blessing and suddenly vanished completely!!So you see---Ghosts aren't always evil!!!