Monday, October 22, 2007
The Court jester
It was not a play, it was life.
The actors did not know.
I was laughing, I was crying,
I was making all the show.
Hope lingering in my heart
Perhaps it was not the end of the day, it could not be
The end of the show.Silently and softly
The moon appeared from behind the clouds
And I was shown the door.
Only the joker in me smiled
Calling me ‘Lets go’.
Mr Basu watched his daughter scanning through the channels in rapid succession, a defiant expression hovering on her pretty face making it apparent that she was doing it on purpose. It was a Sunday and Mr Basu was deeply engrossed in the newspaper. He was particularly interested about what the editorial has to say about the outcome of the General Elections when he heard her sister Sheela say –“stop it Rubina- you are getting on my nerves. What is the matter with you, why can’t you stick to one decent channel” Mr Basu was a serene man both in looks and by nature. On the other side of forty, a moderately successful man, placed as a middle rank official in a Government undertaking, he looked what he was- happy and contended with life. He had his pyajamas and a T-shirt on, both of which were so dazzlingly white that it speaks of the efficiency of the mistress of the house.
Mrs Meera Basu was seated at the divan placed at the far corner of the room busy correcting papers of students of Class X. Mrs Meera Basu taught Mathematics in a reputed girls school. She would have fitted ideally in the role of an interior decorator –cum-house manager though. Everything in the room was just proper, not a single furniture or decoration piece would seemed out of place excepting the huge Homethetre too gorgeous and too gigantic for a middleclass drawing room and the flushed and obviously petulant girl, with disheveled hair, in a pair of old faded out jeans and a T-shirt, she appeared to be a wild flower in a terrace garden.
The girl now sprang up on her feet- all of you are after me, always finding fault – papa is angry with me because I have fared badly in maths – but what about language papers, I have scored so high marks and he never mentions that. Isn’t it unfair?
But Rubina why can’t you be good in maths also?
Because I do not like maths – papa – that is why.
Rubina – why don’t you ever listen to what your elders have to say to you? Your father wants you to be good in maths, so you should try. Sheela, who resembled her brother in looks only and not by nature sounded extremely annoyed.
Don’t start it again pisimoni(aunty) - Rubina wailed.
Mrs. Meera Basu spoke at last - you should be happy that our child has an independent mind- or would you have liked if she met the fate of shantimasi.
Please don’t start confusing me Meera. What has it got to do with the fate of Shantamasi, and who is she .
Mrs. Basu put down her pen, closed the exercise book, she was checking and came over to the sofa to join the other three
Shantimasi was the first born of a well to do family and she was a source of joy to every body who came to know her. She was a beauty to look at and a docile , demure and obedient girl child, that is so dear to all parents.
Meera , you speak as if you do not want your daughter to do as you wish.
No didi , really I do not want Rubina to obey blindly. Children should be given the right to express their own opinion. If she does not like maths, she should be excused and again if she is weak in maths that is quite natural and nothing to be ashamed of.
Was your shantimasi weak in maths ma, asked rubina.
No dear, she was good in all subjects including mathematics. She was so quiet and soft even her peers loved and adored her. She was not even sixteen when her parents were flooded with marriage proposals from families of prospective grooms and one of the applicants were one of the riches families in the city at that time. Though shantimasi had only completed school and although she was not quite inclined to marry yet her marriage was fixed and the dates were finalized as her parents never thought of asking her the specific question and Shantimasi was too docile and obedient to contradict her parents and like a good maid she felt ashamed to discuss such matters with them.
How absurd, Rubina exclaimed!
Yes she was true to our Indian culture, to be docile and obedient. Not like you people, having no shame at all. Sheela grumbled.
On the day of marriage shantamasi looked like a princess out of the fairy tales but her friends were disappointed to see the groom. He was not at all handsome. Though not exactly ugly, he was quite short almost the same height at shantamasi, hefty , a square chin, flat nose and close set small eyes. Her friends termed the pair as the beauty and the beast.
How mean- rubina cried. I hope the groom didn’t know.
Well I am afraid he did.
That is how people ruin others happiness- sheela put in. And for that matter it is not beauty but the pocket that matters where males are concerned.
Well shantamasi was lucky to get a very loving mother-in-law. Shantamasi was her favourite and she showered her with love and affection and even parted with her most precious jewellery and adorned the bride, for which the other daughter-in-laws never forgave her.
Where is the cliché in this tale Meera. It proves my point that those who listens to their elders lead a happy and prosperous life- Sheela added with satisfaction and Rubina looked at her mother - hurt for being let down.
But I am not finished yet. Everybody told shantimasi that she need not carry on her studies and instead start looking after her family like the good old maid-
And what is so wrong in that say- Sheela asked indignantly. In those days women did look after the family and need not think about earning as their men folk took care of that abundantly. So what is the point of needlessly wasting time and money on studies?
Yes! that was exactly what her mother in law said and though shantamasi would have liked to study further she concentrated on domestic matter instead.
What a waste of human talent that was what her friends and teachers said
By the time shantamasi was 30 she was the mother of four, one being lost at birth. Her husband on the other hand never pursued any particular job. Instead after finishing his studies he spent his money speculating in share market . He speculated and he lost, as he did not have the knowledge of the markets, but he was spoilt and being the youngest of the siblings nobody ever really criticized or questioned his him. Shantamasi also did not do so and thus started their downfall. With the passage of time her husband got addicted to bad habits like drinking and others that follow drinking.
What are they. ma- rubina asked curiously.
You wouldn’t understand because you are too young. One day when you grow up you will know what these are.
Shantamasi should have put her foot down but she was molded in such a fashion that she could only cry and fret making her husband angry and ultimately he started hitting her in fits of drunkenness and in frustration. Her husband lost money in markets, his friends cheated him and he was going down in all fronts – he was a broken man , an alcoholic, and he blamed it all on her.
How unfair! Why didn’t shantamasi protest?
One day when shantamasi made up enough courage to confront him and ask why do you behave this way, he answered
Because of you
Because of me? She was so hurt and bewildered.
Yes because you are no help to me. I cannot turn to you for guidance or in distress. You can only look pretty . Beauty and the beast indeed. Should have known beauty without brains is of no value. His words were worse than physical blows to her.
Shantamasi was shell shocked. She loved her husband and did everything to please him but she did not know that people tend to take her kind for granted. Her husband found an easy prey in her , an escape route to blame all his misfortunes on her for he knew she will never speak out, she will brood and cry but will not fling the truth at his face.
Slowly and steadily shantamasi was being consumed by depression with no one to turn to for consolation. Her children were too young and she belonged to that creed who would not discuss about her husband’ short coming with family relations. She will stay cooped up in her room, with the lights off- she won’t look after her children the youngest being only five year old. The children slowly came to terms with the state of affairs and were reared by the maids and servants, for in those days, even not so well to do households too kept servants and shantamasi was still rich. In the absence of the watchful eye of an mistress the servants also started taking their shares from the household when a day came that there was literally no money to pay the debtors like the grocers, the dhobi, the salaries of the servants and even the tuition fees of the children who where going to schools. One day shantamasi’s father came and took her and the children away leaving his son-in-law to fend for himself. Her father was quite influential and rich and he took the reins in his hands.
So I told you the good are blessed by God- sheela said with relief.
But God did not bless her. For her own father sent shantamasi to a mental asylum as there was not really any advanced treatment for mental illness at that time and he did not want the children to grow up under the shadow of a mental mother. Shantamasi perished in the asylum. The children grew up on their own . their father passed away . only the youngest of them used to cry secretly for her mother- she missed her gentle touch, for she used to sleep with her mother and even when her siblings were going to school, she still remained at home and stuck close to her mother.
But how do you know that she missed her mother- mama?
She was more or less my age and a friend of mine. She used to confide in me.
The grandfather was growing old but he looked after everything. Before his death he was a happy man to see both her grand daughters married to able men and both her grandsons earning handsome salaries .
What happened to her ornaments ma? Rubina , at this tender age was extremely fond of jewellery, not only for wearing them but she nurtured in her hurt a secret wish that one day she would be a jewellery designer, making intricate designs out of precious jewels and metals.
Well she owned a huge collection of beautiful ornaments pure gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, pearls to say the least and her father distributed them equally between the two daughters keeping a pair of kankans and a necklace for brides of the two sons.
“Have you seen the ornament ma? Are they more beautiful than yours?” “Well of course I have seen them and her ornaments were much more than mine”.
Meanwhile, twice the asylum authorities wrote that shantamasi has been cured and should be taken home to make room for the ill. But her father ignored the letters. But why ma? Because while getting her granddaughters marriage he declared her daughter dead for in our society at that time and even now mental illness is a taboo in the marriage market. To see to it that his two granddaughters get secured homes the old man had to swallow the bitter pill.
Her youngest daughter got married to a very broad hearted man and both of them decided to bring back the old lady.
So nice of them. I told you a good soul is always rewarded at the end. God never rejects them totally. Sheela’s deep faith in the divine grace for the good found a foothold.
When the daughter saw her mother after nearly 25 years, to say she was shocked is to underestimate. Her mother has changed beyond recognition, the daughter could find nothing in the old lady that she could relate to her image of her mother. She saw a human wreck, an emaciated old woman, almost skinny and stooping with a kind of frightened but cunning look in her eyes. The woman could not trust any body and cringed away from any show of affection. Only time she showed any interest or responded was when she was served food and she ate them as if she was starving all these 25 years.
Poor woman, God should not have made her suffer so much, being such a good soul, what will happen to people’s faith and trust on Him- sheela lamented.
What happened next ma- did her daughter loved her mother still mama?
Yes dear, her daughter loved her even more but they could not keep her with them for long. After all it is hard for normal men and women to stay with a person afflicted with mental disease- although she was cured vastly but the doctor’s declared that she could not be cured completely. She was not in touch with society for such a long time, she spent her time among mentally ill persons and most probably than not ill treated. She would not take bath unless told, wont dress properly, would make things dirty, especially the toilet- in a nutshell she would behave like a child minus the child’s innocence and lovability. People started asking questions and the daughter and her husband started avoiding visitors until the daughter could take it no longer. When the daughter showed signs of nervous breakdown her husband thought enough is enough. He could not sacrifice his wife’s well-being especially while she was in the family way and the old woman was once again sent back to her old resort- the mental home.
Oh no ma, so selfish of them. How could they do such a cruel thing. Rubina almost broke into tears.
God has strange ways of meting out justice- we ordinary people should not try to judge his act.- it was sheela again.
How is shantimasi now ma?
She is no more. Four years back one day her children were notified by the asylum that their mother has passed away. They all heaved shies in relief- only the youngest one thought that may be her mother was living so long in the hope of a deliverance- but after she was taken back and then rejected by her own daughter, may be she lost all hope and with that the desire to live.
Her daughter is a hypocrite, if she realized why did she let it happen. Rubina was strong in condemnation.
Shantimasi had a handsome amount put in the bank by her father in her name, from which all her expenses were being meted out so long. But now the amount was divided between her four children. They accepted it with gratitude and humility and most of them put it in a fixed deposit. But only her youngest daughter went out and bought a Sony Home theatre, which was so rare and costly those days, that only people like the business tycoons could afford to buy. She bought it so that she could be constantly reminded of her mother
Rubina sat beside her mother in stunned silence, remote in hand, looking at their Sony Home theatre . After a while she said, with a slightly shaky voice– mama I think your shantimasi cannot be blamed for her weakness of character- what can she do if God made her that way. And her daughter, here her voice shook even dangerously, should not be blamed. Think of her, only five and without a mother to look after, here I am almost twelve and my mama does everything for me. Her voice chocked and she started crying… mama I love you so much.. I am so sorry… I will be a good girl and listen to what you and papa say. I promise mama I will be a good girl
Sheela wiped her tears with the corner of her saree . .
Mr Basu looked up from the paper he was studying so carefully and said. We may start from this moment. Come on Rubina bring your exercise book of maths, we will start practicing from this moment.
Instantly the girl jumped up- oh papa, you are always after me… I don’t want to do maths now, and for that matter , never at all.
All three elders smiled indulgently.