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by Bhaswati Khasnabis
(Kolkata, India)

The sari that her father had bought from the fair measured only five haat, but it was enough to cover Parul’s nimble frame. She fastened it tightly around her hip and did all the household chores. Her brother was five years old and he constantly loitered behind her elder sister. Parul was fifteen, signs of early womanhood showed in her body. Her little breasts dangled freely, she hardly wore the bra; and during the time she heavily menstruated she was kept indoors. She was not allowed to perform the sandhya arati before the family Gods.

“Why should I not worship the Gods?” Parul had railed against such incredulous practices. “You become impure Parul, you know it is been mentioned in the shastras!”

Her ma closely monitored her daughter’s growth. After all she was saving her money to get her daughter married next year. If Parul was lucky she might not have to work after marriage. But things could happen otherwise and then she might have to work as a farm labor or as an ayah in a gentleman’s house uptown.

Parul’s father Jagonath worked as a farm laborer but his meager income was difficult to keep the family going. Besides his love for rum constantly drained the family income. He came home every night staggering; “Inkelab Zindabad” he would shout, that was how he awoke Jaya who lay clutching her son. He was also a member of a political party and his wife feared him. He walked a few miles each week and participated in processions.

Jaya worked part-time as a tailor in a local cooperative. Being extremely docile and submissive she concentrated more on family accounts and the health of her children. The mother and daughter shunned Jagonath’s waywardness but could do little about it.

Sometimes however Jagonath saw the flickering of good sense, he would then get generous and purchase a sari or two for Jaya or Parul but those occasions were rare.

As of recently, Parul had befriended Samrat a local boy and Jagonath purportedly felt happy about it. Jagonath had even caught the two together at the local fair. “Baba” Parul had whispered in Samrat’s ears and both had slipped furtively into the crowd. Jagonath speculated that probably Parul would elope with the boy because Jagonath would find it difficult to find a groom for his dark-skinned daughter. There was also the question of providing sufficient dowry. His neighbor Sadhan had recently got her daughter
married and had to pay plump dowry comprising of two lakh rupees in cash and a motorcycle. So in a way, Jagonath felt relieved. Though Jaya kept complaining persistently about Samrat’s complete lack of decency and greedy looks.

But Parul claimed Samrat had fallen in love with her. Samrat was ten years Parul’s senior. He was living temporarily in the village at his aunt’s place. He had wooed Parul with lipsticks and bangles. “ He has promised to buy a Chanderi sari for me in the Puja” Parul had reticently retorted when Jaya had tried to correct her.

“Trust me ma, Samrat loves me, he will keep me happy”.
“We hardly know him Parul, we don’t even know his parents,” Jaya had argued. Parul had not spoken further but Jaya knew the inevitable was knocking at the door.

Jaya worried a lot; she even felt scared that someday Samrat might impregnate Parul and desert him. She wished her daughter to have at least a secure future and a sound life.
Finally, the incident took place some five months later. Parul ran away with Samrat. Jaya found it dreadful because she loved her daughter. She had always found it difficult to tame her defiant daughter. The incident would now be looked down upon by the rest of the villagers she knew.

“Search for her in every nook and corner of the village. The lovebirds have flown away together.” The aged people joked.

Jaya waited for her daughter to arrive at her door some two or three months later. Repentant, her head hung low, a lot of sindur dabbed in her forehead speaking in an obsequious voice and then trembling and confessing her stupidity that's how she imagined it would be. She kept on waiting.

But she became alarmed when she received no message from her in six months. This time even Jagonath became worried. A complaint was registered in the local police station but to no effect. Six years dwindled in this way. Jaya virtually had become mentally unhinged after Parul’s disappearance. Jagonath too found his grief inconsolable.

Then one day Jaya received a postcard with a note scribbled on it. ‘Ma and Baba I am still alive. I am working as a prostitute in Kolkata’s Sonagachi area. Samrat had sold me here and I have been here for six years now. Please rescue me.’ Jaya quietly tore the letter and cried silently. May God help her she murmured.

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