by Kiran Jhamb
Her name was Tiriya. She had no management degree but she knew how to manage people and affairs. She was poor but she never indulged in vulgar display of discontent and disharmony. She could convince, coax, charm, and confound most people to get her way. She knew how to manage her meager resources and was always very well turned out. Looking at her you could never guess her correct income. Scheming, plotting, conniving were in her life because most of the time society had made her stand and stare while life flew on - others getting what they wanted, but not Tiriya. People often misused the word ‘wickedness’ to describe Tiriya’s state of mind.
Tiriya’s parents had saved for her marriage from the day she was born. It never crossed their mind that spending on her education can be an investment. So she was not trained for any occupation other than that of being a wife. Money was her oxygen. The aim of her life was to join the diamond studded upper rung of women.
Flattery - understated, underplayed - but honed to a fine art was her style. She always had an ingratiating smile on her face. She would praise her rich female relatives so sincerely and would look so grateful for their good luck and so wistful for her own lack of fortune that every female heart would melt and overflow with sympathy. Stirred by a stormy sisterhood, many a time they would simply give her what she was wishing for, be it a trinket or a pure chiffon sari and enjoy the justified righteousness that they felt at having shared their bounty.
At times, she followed the simple method of borrowing. With proper amount of eagerness and hesitation for fear of imposing, she would advance “Madhu ben (sister), the gold set you wore on Diwali was wonderful. Simply wonderful! It was heavenly!”
“Did you like it, bhabhi (sister-in-law)?”
“Like it? I fell in love with it,” with eagerness, “Ben, may I take it to Akola to wear it for my brother’s daughter’s wedding? Please don’t keep it back in the bank locker yet. I cannot get such a set made in this janam (birth).” Adding a touch of humor, “My soul will hanker for it, unless you allow me to wear it just this once. Otherwise, if I die first I will come and haunt you.”
What could the good Madhu ben do? Obviously she agreed to lend it.
“Oh, ben it must be very heavy, no? Must be weighing five or six tola (twelve grams), isn’t it? I noticed how your delicate earlobes were looking harassed by the weight of the earrings.”
Tiriya being good at managing always planned meticulously in advance. Madhu ben, being poor and innocent, gave her set willingly with a gentle warning, “Take care of it.”
“Oh, sure, sure,” said Tiriya most fervently.
When Tiriya came after a fortnight to return the set, she was drowning in a flood of tears. She kept the necklace, the ring and one earring on the table and broke down. Sobbing made her incoherent but she conveyed somehow that she had lost one earring. The baraat (groom's procession) had just come, there were so many people, she had searched the whole marquee, and anybody could have picked it up. She was so so-so-so sorry. If only Madhu could forgive her. Tiriya would buy her a new earring. It wouldn’t be possible from her husband’s income but Tiriya would do washing and cleaning at the neighbour’s place and earn enough extra money to buy the lost ornament. Why did it have to happen to Tiriya only? Tiriya was the cursed one. Bad luck always trailed Tiriya.
On and on it went, till Madhu could look at the incident objectively. This could have happened with anyone; even with Madhu. The catch of the earring was faulty. Poor Tiriya, she was crying so badly. Why should Madhu take the paap (sin) of making her wash utensils and do other lowly things? Oh, well the earring was to be lost so it had been lost! Madhu consoled Tiriya and consoled herself also that the set sans earring had come back. One earring was comparatively a minor loss.
Tiriya showed her a pair of small gold hoops which her sister-in-law, Kalyani, had given her as a return gift. She wished that Madhu should keep them in lieu of the earring she had lost. Madhu pooh-poohed the idea. What would she do with this pair of small hoops? She never wore such ordinary things. Moreover it was gifted to Tiriya. With reluctance Tiriya agreed to do as Madhu asked
and became ready to keep the pair.
A month passed. Kalyani came to Madhu’s place. Kalyani seemed to be in a fierce temper. Madhu offered her refreshments and waited for her to come to the point. The small talk overflowed. Madhu, who always believed in being pleasant to others, complimented her on successfully managing the marriage of her daughter. Indeed she must have spent a lot if she had given her husband’s sisters, gold jewellery as gift. The hoops Tiriya had received were lovely.
“We never gave her any jewellery. That is what I wanted to talk about. Tiriya is a real bitch. She was so rude to me,” Kalyani said in a score settling voice, “Madhu ben, she didn’t lose your earring. She went to our goldsmith and told him to melt it and make a small pair of gold hoops for her. The goldsmith had liked the design of your earring very much that is why he got it xeroxed on a piece of paper before melting it. And that is how I came to know about the incident on a later visit to his shop. I am not afraid of Tiriya. You can confront her with what I have told you and also tell her that Kalyani has told you all this.”
Madhu was flabbergasted. Not even in her wildest dreams had she expected such duplicity from Tiriya. She sent Kalyani away but the matter was too serious to be ignored. She talked to her husband and together they went to Tiriya’s home and confronted her.
Tiriya looked suitably stunned. She couldn’t believe her ears that her own sister-in-law was spreading such vile gossip about her. Kalyani was not from a well bred family but surely Madhu knew Tiriya. How could Madhu ben believe such lies, such slander about her? Oh god, now this will spread among her relatives. Her husband would come to know about it. No, she could not face anyone with such a charge on her, with such a slur on her character. Death would be preferable. She would not like to live. She ran in and got the container of kerosene and doused herself with it.
Madhu’s husband looked helplessly while Madhu tussled with her to take the can away. Tiriya wildly searched for the match box. God wouldn’t be so cruel as to let her face such false charges. Life wasn’t worth living. “God I am coming, lift me.” She had the power of one who was possessed. Madhu had to call her husband to help her control Tiriya. Tiriya fell to the ground bewailing her fate. Madhu tried to pacify her, “Okay, okay! I believe you. You didn’t have my earring melted.” It seemed Tiriya had fainted. They could see froth at the side of her mouth.
Dheeru bhai's - Madhu’s husband’s - boiling point was by now reached. He started scolding Madhu for being so imprudent as to lend her ornaments. What are a few grams of gold after all? Now, if this foolish woman commits suicide, they would have to face police and, of course, adverse publicity. Besides her small kids would be deprived of their mother. He admonished Madhu, “You keep quiet and now let me handle the whole thing.” Madhu became a silent onlooker.
Tiriya regained consciousness when water was sprinkled on her face. She looked wild and started cursing her stars again. She was an ace exploiter, expert at manipulation by emotional blackmail. She knew it as a fact that her crocodile tears could turn even the most disadvantageous situation in her favor.
She had very adroitly cornered her gentle brother-in-law. As calculated by her, Dheeru bhai became ready to be manipulated. He scolded Madhu, “Why are you harassing poor Tiriya?” Though angry, Madhu donned the meek expression expected of her. “Can’t you see she is not guilty? Madhu, the fault was yours. You should not have lent the gold set to her. Here Tiriya ben, get up. I believe you; I believe that Kalyani is a mischief monger. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have suffered like this - only a pure person cannot see her reputation being tarnished. We are sorry, very sorry that we opened this topic at all. Never ever think of committing suicide, you have a lot to live for. Madhu should be punished for giving you such anguish.” He turned to Madhu and said with the voice of a judge delivering verdict, “Madhu, to show that you bear her no ill-will, you gift her that gold set here and now.”
Tiriya, the one without a management degree, like I told you earlier, was very good at managing people and affairs. ****