Kasturi was a plain Jane sister of Sattu. She was elder to Sattu. Poor Kasturi, though was an intelligent student but circumstances did not allow her to go beyond school education. She was a product of All Girls School, Khirni Gate in Aligarh. I remember having gone to her school twice: Once, with B. complex syrup on my hair, as my aunt mistook it for hair oil. It was detected only when a swarm of flies kept perching on my head: Second, to see Dilip Kumar’s Daag being screened in the school hall as part of cultural fest. The wall served as the screen. It is a sad film with scenes shot in dark. The poor ventilation added to the misery of the viewers. It was anything but an enjoyable experience. Kasturi would work hard. She had to do whole lot of household chores and yet attend school. She was innovative and took interest in subjects requiring creativity, e.g. cookery classes, embroidery classes, etc. I recall poor thing making Shahi-tukda just for me, strangely the dish was known as ‘Magistrate’. I can’t figure out why it was so named. She would do beautiful embroidery on casement cloth.
She was required to do all sorts of menial jobs in the house of her eldest brother (More about eldest brother next time). Eldest brother’s kids were Kasturi’s age. I would watch her do rigorous household chores with cheerful patience and efficiency. An orphan, she had accepted her lot. Was content with her lot and did not expect her fortune to change, certainly not for better. Another picture of Kasturi etched in my mind is she selling crackers on the eve of Diwali. It seems she bought crackers for Diwali out of the money given to her by her brother for something more important. She was after all a child with all the dreams. She bought choicest crackers and other fireworks. When her brother shouted at her, she sat on the stone platform in front of the house with her wares spread on a newspaper. When her brother saw her do this, she was persuaded to put off the sale and close the ‘shop’. I do not recall she could attract any buyer for those crackers but crowd, mainly of kids and street urchins, she did attract. There was yet another pastime of ours those days – whatever photograph we had, to get them framed. Major portion of our pocket money went to that shack where colorful photo frames were sold. Once early in the morning, we went far off in the market to buy ‘Lucky draw chart’ strangely called ‘Number lucky’. It was specially made for that rural clientele. A sort of wall calendar with sealed numbers on it. The goodies which could be had if lucky numbers drawn were skillfully and temptingly pinned on the calendar itself. Where was the need for us to buy any such thing? But no, we would not give it a thought. The desire to buy entire calendar perhaps sprung from the fact that lucky number never drew in our favor. So we wanted a calendar of our own. Keep drawing yourself from your own calendar and be happy.
I have so many fond memories of time spent in childhood with Kasturi. Roaming together in the market aimlessly. Playing together. Once we had gone to see Manoj Kumar’s ‘Shahed’ walking all the way to and fro Tasveer Mahal – a theatre quite far off from our residence. While returning we were so enamoured by the film, we were convinced that India got independence because of these martyr and nobody else. Not even Gandhiji.
When Kasturi came of age, the hunt for suitable groom was launched. Her elder “officer” brother had kind of delegated the task to other brothers in Aligarh. After all he was an Officer where is the time for such mundane pursuits. Kasturi and me were part of our maiden voyage to Simla and got the taste of what it was to stay in a palatial bungalow. I had eaten my first softy ice cream (cone) in Simla. Also attended my first-Kavi-Sammelan, of course, as audience where I saw Kaka Hathrasi, light hearted humours poet at his best. As I said in beginning, Kasturi was not beautiful – she was a beautiful person, but when it comes to her appearance it was not much to write back home. So one can imagine what a difficult task it was to every time making a “show” of her to the prospective groom. The party would depart with polite words “we would let you know”. Needless to say nothing was heard of them again. Each such ‘show’ left Kasturi more miserable and sad. I feel her very name was so very unglamorous and unattractive. The name Kasturi sounded more conservative and old fashioned than Sita, Savitri.or Parvati.
As the saying goes, there exists a groom for every bride and a bride for every groom. One Civil Engineer employed with CPWD had lost his wife and his folks were frantically looking for a suitable girl. This Engineer was at the brink of insanity, garlanding his dead wife’s portrait he would worship for hours. Promptly, the marriage was solemnized. This Engineer was hugely talkative. People would hesitate striking a conversation with him and once bitten they’ll ensure not to come face to face with him again. For, he was such a knowledgeable and talkative guy that if you utter 'television', he will start from J.L. Baird and trace the technology, history, civics and economics of television. Similarly, if one talked about say ‘headache’, his discourse on headache will leave one with rich knowledge of different types of headache, its causes, cures and yes last but not the least, most severe headache.
Post-marriage, Kasturi was promptly rechristened Ranjna. Now onwards, he would hate and pick up fight with anyone who dared call her Kasturi. So our Kasturi became Ranjna. Ranjna had suffered and undergone such miseries that she was so happy and caring in her ‘new home’. Kasturi proved to be very lucky to him. Although, I hate the very concept of an individual or newly born being labeled as lucky. By the same logic somebody will be unlucky too, which I find utterly absurd. Kasturi, alias, Ranjna proved lucky to her husband. He got a better job with higher pay and status in Oil Company. He was posted in North Eastern Region of India. We lost touch with Ranjna. Off and on we would come to know Ranjna’s exploits, she did this... Ranjna did that... She was rolling in wealth. Once with a newly acquired car, she drove all the way to a relative in another city to see and be seen. This wealthy relative had once off-loaded Kasturi from his car after she had sat with child like glee, she was asked insultingly to get down. Kasturi had neither forgotten the humiliation nor forgiven him. They built a bungalow in Delhi.. Kids were sent to foreign Universities. Money has a tendency to attract and keep strange companions. When her husband was away to North Eastern region, Ranjna would splurge her money on things trivial and superfluous. She was eagerly giving loans to people especially to those who knew her as a poor and helpless orphan. She was liberally hosting kitty parties... drinking... gambling...speculating.
Last heard, Ranjna became miserable and helpless. Kids married on their own and simply informed her. Husband got graft cases against him with gratuity, etc., confiscated. She was swindled of her last penny and blackmailed by those ‘money double’ racketeers. Her debtors refused to pay back.
Quite a journey for a small town orphan girl; from Kasturi to Ranjna and Kasturi again. Poor Kasturi!