(The story was originally written in Odia and has been translated in to English, Hindi and Bengali. The Hindi translation of this story has been included in author’s book Rape Tatha Anya Kahaniyan (ISBN 81-7026-921-3), published by Rajpal & Sons, Delhi. Bengali translation has been included in her short story collection Dukha Aparimit (ISBN 978 984 404 243-8), published from Bangladesh by Anupam Prakashani, Dhaka. The English version has been included in author’s book Waiting for Manna (978=81=906956-0-2), published by Indian Age Communication, Vadodara.)
If Sonali had not snatched the pen from me, it would never have fallen down. Mum had cautioned me repeatedly not to take the pen to school. But it was so wonderful and beautiful that I was tempted to show it to my friends. I would everyday play with the pen for sometime and then put it in the locker. It was a foreign made pen which my Auntie had brought it for me. Light glowed out from it while writing. A tiny watch was also mounted on one end of the pen.
Mum said, “it must be very costly”.
I had taken it to school to show to Premlata, because whenever I told her about the pen she thought I was lying, and said, there was not at all such a pen in the world. I had taken the pen to clear her that I was not lying. Taking her to a corner of the field, I showed her the pen. With a fear that it might be stolen, I didn’t go out during the recess. Premlata had promised not to tell anybody about it, but disclosed to Sonali. After the school closed down that day, Sonali asked me to show the pen. At first I didn’t give her, and thought I would go home soon when the school bus came. But the school bus was late. Mum had cautioned me never to come by walking from school because there was a liquor shop on the way between the school and our home. Drunken people would be moving intoxicatedly. Besides, the path was horribly lonely, too. It would remain unnoticed even if one was kidnapped. But the most important thing is the broken wooden bridge over the canal. The canal was no more used; wild plants had grown, and it was chocked with slush. Even if Mum had cautioned me, I would sometimes come walking with my friends that way. Because, our school bus always used to reach our colony very late as it had to ply on other road and to halt at all the places. And on most days, it would arrive at our colony in the evening. If we would return by walking we could reach home at least one hour earlier to our bus . But Mum had cautioned me never to come by walking and I should have obeyed my mother’s advice. It was not fair to return home by walking. Sonali snatched the pen from me, and it fell in the canal. The pen was visible from above. If it would have been buried I would surely have returned home weeping, and never remained stuck in the slush. Sonali and I descended slowly down the bridge, and tried to hook the pen out with a stick; but it wouldn’t come. Still I did not like to go home back leaving the still-visible pen there. I stepped into the canal; my first foot sunk in the slush. With a fear that I might get burred, I looked helplessly at Sonali, but she asked me to go a little further and bring the pen.
My feet had been glued in the slush; I couldn’t come out. I stretched my foot towards Sonali: Pull me out. But she returned a few steps lest she should also sink down. And said; she would get someone there; and left me. She went up the bridge, and could no more be seen. And below – I, remained all alone there – amid the jungle of weeds.
Nothing goes right with me; this has happened even before my birth. My mother says, I came to her womb unwanted. When she came to know that I had been conceived she was unhappy the whole day. Thinking that it would be a sin she did not kill me at that stage. Before my birth an astrologer had told my mother, that she would give birth to a born-sick girl. She felt sad at that moment, but forgot it afterwards thinking that astrologers always told lies. But, perhaps the word of the astrologer came true. Strange things even happened at the time of my birth. I had torn the sac in the womb. Mum crawled in pain, and was rushed to the hospital. Doctor said both the mother and the child would have died if there was a little more delay. A thief broke into our house while we were in the hospital. And Mum said,”The child is inauspicious; thief entered my house as she is born”. The thief was a stupid one; he left the gold ear-ring my mother had kept carelessly on the dressing table thinking it was spurious, and only took away the ten rupees from the drawer. I vomited blackish in the hospital, Mum was scared. My belly was washed with pipes. And then as I caught infection and diarrhea, I was given Saline treatment after even only two days of my coming to this earth. I had had one or other ailment throughout.
I didn’t like my mother’s milk. She tried much, but I would not at all suck. Rather I would sleep happily with the powdered milk from a bottle. Know, why all this now comes to my mind? My Miss asked us in the last test, to write an essay ‘an autobiography of a Dustbin’. I could understand what it meant by ‘dustbin’ but could not understand what ‘autobiography’ was. With much difficulty I wrote a few lines. No one ever throws dust in the dustbin; I had seen it and therefore, wrote: Dustbin says, “Use me, use me”, but nobody uses it. Mum was pleased with the sentence, but said I was wrong. Autobiography means story of one’s own. That is, I should have written considering myself a dustbin.
But the essay was very difficult, Mum? She said, “Why difficult? We used to write in our childhood ‘Autobiography of an old ox’, ‘Autobiography of a farmer’ etc” “It would have been better if I had been asked to write my autobiography.” Mum laughed, “How long have you lived that you would write your autobiography?”, and went away. Sonali had not yet returned with anybody, and I still there, stuck in the slush. Mosquitoes were a bother. I was buried almost knee-high; and was sinking lower even with a little movement. With such fears I could not drive the mosquitoes away. Why did I get a name like Titili? (1) I cannot fly like them from flower to flower in the wink of an eye. As I cannot be so agile and active like them, I have to bear all the abuses at home. They all scold me saying lazy, dull and lethargic. Mum says, after I was born, I would always get into sleep even before the milk from the bottle was finished; and got moved me. No one in the hospital had ever heard me cry. I was not crying or making limb movements like other children. My elder brother takes me by calling ‘sister of Kumbhakarna’.(2) I love to sleep; I love it very much. But no one likes me for this nature of sleeping. I fall asleep while watching television. Get some beating as I drowse off while studying. Mum says, this sleep is my enemy. It has stunted the growth of my intelligence. It has obstructed all the paths to my brain. Therefore, I am so dull in studies. Whoever has taught me, has become irritated in a few days, and has beaten and scolded me.
Sometimes I feel as if I am born only to be abused and beaten. And all this is only because of my studies. I remember many things, but never studies. There was always a disturbance among my parents regarding my studies. If Mum beats me in anger while teaching, Papa would rebuke her. And when Papa sits teach me mathematics I cannot recall the tables. Sometimes I cannot even recall the ninth table. Infuriated, Papa would press my neck, and ask repeatedly, “Nine sevens are/ nine sevens are? Tell, tell quickly or I’ will kill you.” Mum would rush out of the kitchen and say, “Tell daughter, nine sevens are sixty-three.” Papa would now rage upon her, “She has become so dull only because of you. Don’t have a bit of patience!” And then, he would maul me on my back. “Can’t say the ninth table, why should you need? You are born as a curse for us!”
Mum would once again come out of the kitchen and say, “How do you say such things to your own child?” They get into a quarrel only because of me, that I feel anger with myself. In the quarrel mother always succumbs to a defeat before the wide, infuriated eyes, and roaring of my father. Mum weeps profusely. I wish to fondle her at such times.
I can’t remember studies but I still remember so many things. When I was a child, I couldn’t write ‘m’ that Mum once again threw me out. Everything looked dark to me for sometime; still the windows of intelligence didn’t open up. So many tutors have been changed during my childhood. When a new tutor came asking him to sit in the drawing room, Mum would serve tea, and starts talking about me as one would talk to the Doctor about one’s disease.
“The girl cannot remember studies. When she was a child she would develop fits if there was a little high fever. She used to be given medicine to keep her asleep. she is a bit dull perhaps because of that ,Of course ,she hasn’t had those problems after she was five .she has sound mathematical intelligence; but fails to cram up . IQ is also low .I am tired of trying upon her .see ,if you can ,,,,’’ And the tutor says, “If she is sound at mathematics everything else will be all right .There is a different technique of teaching ; you please don’t worry for her.”
I felt myself as a serious patient at that time .As my grand father ,when he was ill , had to be moved form one doctor to another doctor ,one hospital to another ,and again to a nursing home- my condition is also like that .He had same disease that blood circulation to most part of his brain had failed .At home they were talking of a stroke .But ,has a great part of my brain dried up ,and became a desert ?Well, is there so much desert in Africa ? One is Kalahari, and the other is Sahara, but I always forget which one is in south and which one is in north; and therefore, get some beating at school.
There are some children in our school who are even duller than me, but Mahapatra miss beats me more, and scolds too. No one loves me even at school. Like my grand father shifting from hospital to nursing home ,I have also changes many schools .All I remember about my first school is that there was a bulky miss, who used to hold my hand and make me write pages after pages. But I never write if she dropped my hand .she would rage and roar, “I ‘will tie you to that mango tree. The monkey will bite you,’’ There actually was a monkey in that tree; and I was very much afraid of monkeys .I would close my eyes in fear when I saw its teeth.
Sometimes my mother says in grief,” All fault is mine, Thinking that it will be convenient to me in my service, I sent the girl to school even she was only two and a half years old , “ And if ever I say the same thing to her with same anger, she would get angry ; and say ,” What else would I do ? Would I leave you alone with the house-maid? Wouldn’t have you cried without seeing me for so long? You know, sometimes I find you, when I return form office, lying with shit and pee in the napkin? There fore, I sent you to school so that you would play with other children, and wouldn’t be looking for me .But that miss ruined your future .I had told her that there was no need to teach you. You would only go to school and return. Such was my discussion with her,’’
I don’t know whether my mother did the right thing with me or not. Unlike my brother I cannot replay anything promptly nor can I nurture my anger upon mum for more than two minutes. My mother says, she made my brother learn all the twenty-six English alphabets by making him write those in the yard with a broken candle of the filter. Sitting him on the wing, she made him learn the rhymes. While feeding him she would tell him stories about Dhruba, Prahallad and Shravan Kumar, but that can not be possible with me. Her service at that time was in much tension. And, she was in so great tension that she was even thinking of quitting the job. She had to listen some grumbles in the office if she was a little late to arrive, or a bit early to leave. And perhaps because of this, she couldn’t take much care of me. Mum says, my foundation is weak; therefore, I am always weak in studies despite all efforts to teach me.
If I tell mum the same thing, when she beats me mercilessly, “you didn’t teach me from the beginning; why do you beat now?”, she would get angry; and say, “most parents do not teach their children. Did our parents teach us at home? You know, my father didn’t know what form I was in. he didn’t even know whether my school name was Padmalaya or Aparajita.He sent my uncle to get me admitted in school. My uncle couldn’t recall my name or the year of my birth. He told my name as Yasoda, and guessed the year, and as a result I still remain one year older than I actually am. I read with that and became a somebody. Besides, the father of Annapurna, your class-mate, is a driver; does he teach her? Still she comes out first in the form. The father of Vaijayantimala is a watchman; yet how does she read well? One can read well if one wishes.
Yes, I remember from this name of my friends, that the names of all my friends are like Annapurna, Vaijayantimala, Premlata and Rupkumari. There are also boys in our forms with names like Hiralal, Jagannath, Prasant and Baburam. My brother would always laugh at such old-fashioned, humble names; and tease me saying, “You read, in a poor school; you don’t know anything,” I always want to read, like my brother, in a big school. I told it to my mother. She scolded my brother, “There is nothing like rich or poor in schools. Therefore, you wear uniforms.” But I was obstinate to go to a big school. My brother would tease me saying none of my friends’ fathers was rich; and I would ask to take me to his school. My mother said, “How can you go? You don’t read well!”
My brother and I took admission in the best school of our city. My brother got admission after an interview, and my mother had approached the principal for me. After reading in that school for a few years, my brother moved to a more tip-top and best school , and I, to the worst school of the city. Because, I didn’t at all read in that previous school. Of course, when I was new in the school, my class-teacher would sit me in the front row only because I was daughter of my mother, but could never prove myself deserving for that row. I did not at all like to write anything. Nor did I listen anything in the class. After I returned home, my mother would go through the lesson-notes of my friends, and then help me finish the homework, Gradually, I lagged far behind in my studies, just as I am now sinking lower and lower slowly in this slush. Palommy, Arpita, Amrita and others ridiculed me, and no more befriended me. Expert for one or two, I failed in all other subjects. Our principal sent for my mother, and humiliated her. But, is study the greatest thing in life? My mother says, “Yes, it is; and the life of an un-educated person is dark”. Kiran, our house-maid has not read at all; but she is so happy! Unlike me, she doesn’t have to remember the spelling of distance or disturbance! I don’t know what happens to me that, if the first letter of the word is‘d’, I read it as ‘donation’, although it is ‘duration’. And, I would read ‘separation’ instead of ‘superstition’. I cannot understand the difference between ‘constitution’ and ‘constituent’. I feel tired even at the sight at the of a book, as if I have a very long way to go. I lose interest in reading after only one paragraph.
All the tutors who have come to teach me are of different natures. Upon sometime, an unemployed engineering student used to come our home to teach me. He would teach regularly for one hour. As he had much other tuition, he would never stay even one minute more than his hour. He would ask for the bulky lesson notebook as he came. He would always learn from other students about our daily class lessons, and write the answers in my note book. I would sit silently while he wrote the answer. He would, then, ask me to cram those lessons by the next time he came; and would storm out of our house, But he know well that I couldn’t cram anything. He would ask me questions as the unit test approached; and I could never answer. He would, then, punish me; make me sit like a chair; twist my fingers through pencil. And sometimes, he would pinch my nose and ear, with the sharp nails on his left hand to bleed. I cannot weep before him; tolerated everything silently. Mum could never know anything as she was in the kitchen. But when she comes to know it later, she would feel sorry, massage ointment and said she would ask the tutor that he need not come anymore. But the next day, she would speak smiling, “Sir, please don’t beat the girl. Her ear and nose had scratches yesterday.” Neither my mother nor I was little satisfied with this tuition. My mother said it was better to buy guidebooks than have a such tutor; he never tried to make me understand the lessons. And my tutor was dismissed. Mum vowed that she herself would teach me; and taught me too without caring for her household work; she would make me finish my lessons regularly. But I would always get frightened even at the sight of the teachers, and I could never show them my lesson-notebook. There was not even a single red-mark in my notebook for months. Out of shame my mother didn’t go to the school, lest the teachers should counter-allege. Rather, she would often weep, blaming all this upon her luck; and weeping she would say, “the doctor said when you were born that none of the mother or the child would survive. But see you survived, and me too. You suffer so much sorrow, so much beating and abuses; and thinking of you, how pathetic I am!” seeing my mother weeping, I wipe tears from her eyes, and say, “please don’t weep, Mum. I’ll read well this time.” Our principal flung away report card of the final examination, and ordered to bring the parents. She showed the report card to my mother, and said, “see it. Shall I promote the girl? It is not enough to get the child admitted in a school; one has to teach at home. I’ll drop this girl.” But God knows why my mother never told, “My son comes first in the upper form of this school; I’ve never been a bit careless,” She stood there with drooping head, and words did not come out through her lips. It seemed as if she would break into tears with only a touch. I was astonished at her patience. The Principal kept rebuking my mother as if she was a little student. I wished to kick and turn down her chair. Mum did not speak anything on our way home; not even during the meals. While going for rest, she said, “why did you come to this earth dear? If at all came, why didn’t you take birth in a wealthy family?” I didn’t say anything; not did I know what I should say.
My school was again changed. They brought me to this school because the course here was lighter. It was really much lighter. English of form one was being taught in form five. Still, I couldn’t do that. I never like to read or write. My brother used to go on excursions to Mumbai and Chennai; participate in science exhibitions. Also used to go for trecking on behalf of school to Hill-Station. But in our school, we didn’t go even on picnic. Our teachers always told against the Principal; and the principal also dismissed them from their service. Atleast two or three teachers used to be changed in a year. Hiralall here always pees in the school’s well. Baburam broke his leg while jumping from the roof. Annapurna was a lice-headed girl; and she always teased me because my mother still wore dress instead of saree. I never wanted to read in such a school. I was aware of the nature of the children of this school. So I didn’t want to bring the pen; but I had to bring only for Premlata.
But, where is Sonali? Did she go back home? One uncle passed here by bicycle. I called at him, ‘Uncle’, but he could not hear. I have buried up to my waist; but what shall I do? Shall I really get buried here to death? Sonali is not a good girl. I felt like weeping. My mother would have waited for me at the gate unaware that I am here buried in the slush. While scolding me, she says, “…. Go….die”, but really die, she will weep much. She may weep now, but she will not have to weep everyday. Shall I die, then? No…. I shall not. Because Mum had once shown my horoscope to an astrologer who said, “She will not read, but her luck is not so bad. There is a danger from fire for this girl, lethal danger….”. My mother wept profusely that day.
“I know, her in-laws will burn her to death….Why don’t you understand, dear; even, well-educated girls are burnt these days because of dowry. And, you don’t read, too. I reared you with so much care; but someone will burn you….’, she began to sob as she said all this.
So, I shall not die buried in the slush. Someone must come and rescue me. I’ll be saved. If I die here now, how shall I be burnt? No, I shall not die now. Even if I get buried up to my face, people will drag me out with my hair. But, Sonali should have returned by now. Someone is coming towards the bridge; I waited a cow passed after a few moments. But someone must come, before night sets in. My mother will get worried and send people to search me. They will open the locks of the school to search me; also will be searched road sides and my friends’ houses. But will they look below the bridge? Who knows? No, no; they must see, because I cannot die buried in slush; I have to be burnt to death.
(Translated by Ipsita Sarangi)