Across the Bridge - Chapter 1
Continued from "Chased Out by Past"
As the chariot of the old warrior sun, satiated after its diurnal ritual of piercing the heart of space, cajoling the bosoms of buds and flowers, leaves and blades, descended from the sky to its destination, its glow turned from sharp to subliminal. Blue of the sky blended with red in a blush so familiar of a couple tangled in an amorous embrace for what appears like eternity during which the thought of separation never crosses their minds. The blush descended upon Kesari Nagar and a jamboree congregated on the bridge in its own diurnal ritual. Someone passing by sat on the brick fence of the bridge over a canal that emanated from a bigger one some kilometers upstream. The bigger canal had its origin in the Ganges Canal deriving its name from its source, the Ganges, which thus is an ancestor of the canal flowing by Kesari Nagar. A farmer returning from the fields removed the heavy load of cattle food from his head, placed it onto the ground and joined the earlier arrival. Someone returning from his shopping trip to a nearby town and a few from the village going out for their usual walk, joined them. Some were just spurred by their internal urge to walk to the bridge to join in. It did not take much time for the gathering to have representation from all ages, all dresses, and any other distinguishing feature, except that there were no females except a few little girls among children who were there for amusement, not to participate; no one would allow them. Earlier arrivals found places to sit on the fence but the later ones had to stand. Discourse ranged from Prime Minister Nehru’s peace policy to Hindu-Muslim strife to the upcoming wedding of someone’s daughter to the expected yield of grain in someone’s field and everything in between and around. Frequently the order in the beginning turned to chaos as the cordial arguments and counter arguments in the beginning evolved into heated ones almost to the point of turning violent but never did, and things became somewhat orderly again. All was soon forgotten and the ritual resumed the following day.
At this time of the day, bicycles never went outwards, they headed towards Kesari Nagar passing by or crossing the Bridge. The gathering always appeared to be quite oblivious to the passing bicycles and their riders in spite of an exchange of greetings but no relevant detail ever missed their observant eyes. It all changed when one of the participants who was loudly and passionately arguing for his position trying to drown the other voices down, which always preceded the onset of chaos, suddenly fell silent and peered in distance. Pin drop silence followed immediately for he certainly must have spotted something of some immensity to drop his argument so abruptly. Every head turned in the same direction and every eye peered trying to spot what he had. They all spotted a bicycle with a woman on the bar joining the seat and handle in front of a paddling man, a detail no one in the crowd missed; neither did they miss the identity of the paddling rider. Identity of the man and his whereabouts before noon were not in question, they were shocked at having missed that something was unusual that day. Everybody in the village knew almost everything about everybody all the time even if someone was going to visit a relative or going to town for shopping. Thus, not having been able to guess that the paddling fellow was up to something that day was a letdown to them all. At this time however, the matter of immediate concern was to establish the identity of woman before they came any closer; there was no glory in knowing it later. The woman’s face was covered with a veil formed by pulling the end of her sari over her head, which indicated that she was a daughter-in-law of the village. After a few couldshebes, notatalls, and the like, it was decided by consensus that she had never before set foot on the soil of Kesari Nagar. The conclusion followed: Marva brought a woman! This was not difficult to guess since there was no woman in the parental family of Marva who would need a veil to enter the village except his mother who was at home. Marva had already passed the normal age of marriage in that community and the only way he could find someone would be by unusual means. People in the gathering thought that he got lucky to meet someone and brought her home. As Marva came closer, they asked him who she was; his one-word response, ‘Gharwali’ confirmed their guess.
This is all what the children needed who had been quietly but intently indulged in the pertaining activities. They ran through the fields crushing crops with impunity oblivious to the screams of the farmer while the dirt road by the fields lay embarrassed. They were too involved in their shouts: “Marva brought luga-i, Marva brought luga-i; not just any woman, ‘luga-i,’ a status indicative of utmost intimacy. The news spread faster than the fire once had in the sugarcane fields when someone had dropped a piece of burning coal, inadvertently or to inflict damage on someone for some reason, the details of which no one knows or everyone knows but pretends not to. Marva’s mother, who appeared to have known of the upcoming event, assumed her role immediately and ordered her daughter to sweep the floor with, “I have been asking you for a long time, you should have done it already.” The sister said nothing but complied immediately. Women in the village discontinued making dinners for their husbands returning from the fields to attend to a more urgent matter, which was to rush to Marva’s parental house packing it like sardines in a can and the street in front of the house was no different. Back on the Bridge, the conversation took a different turn starting with, “What an old fox Marva turned out to be, carried on with an affair so secretly, not letting anyone having even an air!”
As Marva dismounted, his mother rushed to greet and lead the newcomer into the house. The new arrival with her head, forehead and chin covered with a part of her sari followed worming her way through the packed can with the skill of a snake after a mouse in a labyrinthine, thick bamboo forest to reach the stool woven with jute twines that was placed to welcome her. Women must have asked her name but that was immaterial for it had already been established that she would be known as Marvun, naturally. The ritual of examining her looks and all that followed, so did the comments and questions, but what was more important was the circumstances that landed her in Marva’s house, or his parents’, which the older ones proceeded to unearth with their contrived questions in a sympathetic and soft tone, a skill they had mastered with lifelong experience and were not modest in boasting about it. This was to be displayed at the siesta time the next day, part of which was spent in gossiping. At this time, the women would leave with some polite congratulatory comments or no comment at all.
Women got an opportunity to party after supper. The house of the parents of Marva was quite small. So the dance was held in a neighbor’s house. According to the custom, Marvun was asked to initiate. She took a few clumsy steps and sat down. That was sufficient to initiate the jubilant party that followed. At about midnight, women spotted Marva lurking nearby and they started leaving with smirks and hinhins to leave Marvun for her Marva.
After lunch, siesta was routine for farmers. It was too hot to work at that time and they needed some rest after lunch before starting in the afternoon. During this time, they smoked, gossiped and took some rest. Women in small groups congregated at their usual meeting places. Few of the older ones smoked, the younger ones would knit, make noodles, and the like; all the others, old and young, stayed for the company and to participate in gossiping. Those who wanted to rest would leave whenever they felt like. Little children were allowed to be present since they were considered to be too young to appreciate their indiscreet expressions and language, some of which often made way in their conversations. Gossip could be started by anyone on any topic. At that time Marvun was a fair game, in fact, the fairest and the most urgent one. Given the nature of the event, this topic also provided them a good opportunity to indulge in some juicy conversation; due to the surrounding mystery, their imagination could run wild to allow them to create their own scripts.
A voice was heard to start the thread, “I know why she left her husband.”
The most senior one, Sanjo, the name she acquired for being from Sanjay Pur, was not going to be superseded by some young novice. She seized this opportunity to boast of her skill at unearthing all the secrets. Sanjo took a puff on her hookah and declared, “What do you know you little girl born yesterday, I know even the size of the thing that hanged between the legs of Marvun’s husband, now former.” Swiftly as usual, Sanjo having discovered the ultimate, became the one who knew all about Marvun’s past including the fact that the thing only hanged most of the time. With “I say sister, during the day, at work, it’s alright, but is bed a place for it to hang!” she declared her verdict with a touch of finality that Marvun was perfectly justified in leaving him, concluding with, “If a man uses it just to pee, he is not even worthy of being called a man, let alone worth living with.”
A younger apprentice aspiring to fill Sanjo’s shoes someday, added, “Even a donkey can do that, eh auntie?”
“You, foolish girl, learn something; donkeys put it to a very good use and satiating the sights of the likes of Ghanto is an extra service they provide.”
Ghanto looked piercingly at Sanjo, in response Sanjo only smirked.
“Hin hin,” followed in chorus.
“Hope Marva can keep her.”
“What if not, her kind can ride some other bike-bar and move on.”
Tales of Sanjo’s departed husband’s prowess were usual icing on the cake, “I tell you sister, your brother-in-law was a man in millions. Why do you think I visited him in the fields when Lallu could deliver food in a jiffy?”
In another gathering, another theory was being proposed as fact by Tajo from Taj Pur, Sanjo’s counterpart, “She was worth nothing. Her husband was educated, had a good job. All she had to do was to be a luga-i in bed that she was supposed to be and she’d have lived like a queen. Now she can bust her butt scrapping grass from the fields and the banks of canal. There is more to being a woman than just pee and sleep.”
“Or just lie there like a log,” another one not so senior added.
“That’s included in my comment,” Tajo quipped.
Others joined in with smirks and hinhins, “Hope she can keep Marva happy.”
“Happy or not, she is secure with him; he is lucky to find someone, anyone.”
A young bride seeking to divert the direction of conversation asked, “Do men talk the way we do, auntie?”
“You, foolish little girl, of course they talk the same.”
“Haaaa! What dirty minds do these men have!!” and laughter follows.
“How do you know auntie?”
“Bed is a potent bridge between men and women, you, ignorant little fool. They live in different lands separated by a canal, village on one side, fields on the other, but there is a bridge in between, the ultimate meeting place where all the differences dissolve like acridness of tea and sweetness of sugar together with the mellow flavor of milk in a teacup.”
“Now Marva can meet his Marvun on the bridge too, eh auntie.”
“And they can mix milk in their tea together.”
Continued to “Dancer with Bells”