Hand lent by Dhiraj Singh
  Ai Ladki — 4  

  Vol I : issue 1

  Noam Chomsky
  Amartya Sen
  Ashis Nandy
  Nabaneeta Dev Sen
Raj Kamal Jha
  Martha Nussbaum

Krishna Sobti
  Ramakanta Rath
  Mrinal Pande
  Antara Dev Sen
  Only in Print

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Krishna Sobti

The daughter enters the room with a bowl in her hand - Ammu, let it cool down a bit. Itís very hot.

- Look, ladki. Something is flickering on the glass window behind you.

Quickly turns to look.

- Ammu, there is nothing there.

- You canít see it. I can. A day from the past is glimmering on the window.

It was raining heavily that day. There was still time before sunset.

I was standing against the window, looking at the hills after finishing my work. Thunder and lightning. Water gurgled down in streams from the tin roof.

I saw someone, wearing a mackintosh, come up the hill. When I looked carefully, I knew it was your father. Standing there, I had been thinking of him.

I quickly opened the door. He said - I hadnít knocked yet. How did you open it for me?

I saw you coming. I felt as though you were coming holding the finger of some child.

Your father was solemn at first, then he laughed - Do you feel lonely during the day?

No, I donít feel lonely. But I must have seen you because you were on my mind. Change your clothes. Iíll get you tea.

Ai ladki, why are you looking depressed? I havenít kept anything back from you. I found that day in the maze of memories. The mind has its own ways.

Ladki, even water burns. And even snow melts. Sunlight is not a she-deer that gambols around. Sunlight is controlled by the sun and even the earth is enamoured of the sun. Are you listening?

When a little daughter puts on earrings for the first time, she looks very pretty. A tagadi around the little sonís waist looks still prettier. And the first innocent smile on the lips of a child is very charming. To see with oneís own eyes the first steps of tiny feet ó is the blessing of life, ladki.

I can see your father clearly. He is feeding honey to the child on his lap. Sometimes drops of grape juice. Sometimes he touches the babeís lips with a pomegranate seed with such absorption as if there is nothing in this world beyond this lila.

Ladki, this is not maya. No, no. Life and living are not illusory. Leaving this world is an illusion. Is there anyone of flesh and blood who can savour juicy mangoes, ripened on the trees, after his death? No. No one made of five elements can do such a thing. Ladki, this world is very enchanting!

The daughter touches her motherís hand.

Wind, shadows, rain, light, darkness, the moon and the stars ó the lila of this world is unique. Amazing!

Next morning on waking - The doctor has given me great relief, Susan. I slept comfortably through the night. I can put up with minor aches and pains. But the suffering of these last two days has crushed me. I have become very irritable. I donít know what Iíve been saying to you.

The daughter, pouring tea into a cup - Ammu, you have tremendous control over yourself. I couldnít have borne so much suffering.

- Ladki, giving birth to a child alone makes one familiar with the finer shades of pain.

- Ammu, why these pin-pricks?

- And pain of many kinds. Slight pain, sharp pain and still sharper pain. Ai ladki, the game of life is contained in it.

Seeing the daughter smile - Ladki, once a womanís body passes through this storm of childbirth her nerves and muscles get toughened. How could you have acquired such capacity to endure pain?

- Leave me out, Ammu, tell me when you conceived your first baby?

Ammu with enthusiasm - I was alert, I did my daily chores with alacrity. Ladki, making a baby is like performing a yagna ó at that moment a woman draws particles of energy from the whole cosmos to recharge her own strength. She feels that she is living a special kind of existence. She watches the firmament within her. While creating life, she becomes one with nature, its textures and rhythms.

- Ammu, what happened when the baby was about to be born?

- I was making tiny frocks for the baby, when movement started inside. Your father was getting ready to go to bed. I said - You canít sleep tonight. You have to call Jacob quickly.

- Then?

- Then what? All the preparations had already been made. The moment the doctor entered, my first daughter arrived.

- Ammu, were you sad to see that it was a daughter?

- Ai ladki, donít try to be clever! Ask yourself. Were you and your sisters treated any differently from your brothers?

- No, Ammu, never. But girls in all families are not treated like we were. Usually, the birth of a daughter brings gloom.

- Ladki, your parents never made any distinction between a son and a daughter.

Listen, itís important for a mother to give birth to a daughter cast in her own image. It is an act of piety. A daughter makes the mother immortal; she never dies thereafter. She becomes eternal. She is here today. She will be here tomorrow. From one generation to another ó from mother to daughter to daughterís daughter, then her daughter, and so on and on ó thatís the source of creation.

- Ammu, say something in praise of the father also.

- His role is no less significant.

The blood of a father runs in the veins of his children. All praise to the father! Devotee of the goddess of Night! It is by his grace that the lamp of the family is lit. Thatís the law of Nature. It invests the father with the power to provide the seed of human life, but keeps him out of the process of shaping the body.

The father stands outside and the mother delivers the baby inside. Thatís why the mother is called janani (birth-giver) she makes the babyís body grow in her mind and in her body.

The daughter, smiling - Ammu, youíre speaking the language of books.

- Ladki, so what if I havenít read Patanjali? Knowledge can be imbibed by hearing, observing and also by experiencing.

- Yes, Ammu!

- Every male considers himself to be supreme. Do you know why?

Because he is blessed with the musk. Ladki, life is like a deer ó a musk-deer. It spreads its perfume through this transient world and flits away in no time.

The woman holds this fleeting deer for a few moments and becomes the creator. This is the play of creation. From here starts the cycle of generations... an unbroken chain of progeny.

Ladki, the soul of the world resides in this. The body dies, not the soul. Water dries, but not blood. It flows in oneís childrenís children, and then their children.

- Ammu, the male...

- The male has a deep desire to have a son. This desire occupies his whole being. It is ingrained in his nature and in his inclinations.

Being a father, he thinks of sons, grandsons, great-grandsons ó a whole line of descendants. Are you listening? What are you thinking about? A family doesnít come about by mere wishing or doing; itís the result of what one has earned in oneís previous lives, the fruit of oneís pious deeds. Ladki, a father is like a reservoir of water. He provides sap, generation after generation, to the family tree.

A grandson has greater claim than the son. He may turn away from the family, but he never neglects his duty.

Ammu with a smile - I can see the way to deliverance. Ladki, I need something to wet my throat. If youíre giving me something cold, let it be lime juice, otherwise hot tea.

The daughter places the tea tray on the table.

You have done the right thing. I wanted something cold, but the urge was for tea. Ladki, experience, reading and thinking sharpen the intelligence. But life alone gives it meaning. The mind thinks. But the mind is controlled by the soul.

- And, Ammu, what about the heart?

- The heart is a big trickster. The soul alone is pure and true. Consciousness and awareness. Awareness is like water ó pellucid and clear. That alone is the presiding deity of this body.

- Ammu!

Suddenly, with asperity - Enough of sermons! Now let me rest.

The daughter gets up and moves towards the door. Ammu calls to her - Come back. Let me finish what I was saying.

The daughter sits down in her chair again.

- Yes, Ammu, carry on.

- The waters in which man swims make the woman fruitful. He shatters the night into fragments. She picks them up to make a garland out of them and wears it around her neck. For her, making a baby is like wearing a jewel around her neck. This why a mother is blessed. The soul emerges out of the waters of her sequestered lake and enters the body before a baby born.

- Ammu, youíve put it beautifully!

- Ladki, that is how a mother defeats death. Do you understand? Only one who is not blessed with fruit is perishable.

The daughter, embarrassed; starts looking at the ceiling. Ammu, annoyed - What are you looking for? Thereís nothing left anywhere. Go read and write a book. Thatís what you will do all your life. Thatís alI youíll do.

Long silence.

Ladki, a pitcher full of water is better than a vast desert. There is nothing in your account-book, absolutely nothing.

- Ammu, let it be. Tell me something about fathers.

- By becoming a father, man is the loser. He is left out. A woman with a child stops dispensing sensual pleasure every now and then. She becomes the mother of her child. Even if you donít have such fundamental knowledge, you surely know that the soul and the body weave together the romance of this world. Alone they arenít of much worth. I hope you understand this much?

The daughter, irritated - No, I donít know anything!

- Ai ladki, itís not just a matter of love and attachment; there is something more to it.

Tell me frankly. Has someone known you the way you desire? Loved you?

The daughter remains silent.

If you canít compromise, donít know how to yield, who will come forward to hold you? Today you are where you were yesterday. Tomorrow also you will be where you are today. Am I talking sense or not?

- Yes, Ammu.

- Ladki, the companionship of someone makes a tremendous difference to oneís life. There is efflorescence within and around.

Say something. I am the only one talking. Unless one steps on a ladder what virtuous deeds will one achieve? If you miss an opportunity once you may have to wait for several lives.

When she sees her daughter smile her tone becomes soft - I say all sorts of things. If fate is well disposed, opportunities arise by themselves.

The daughter breaks into laughter.

Ammu, in a subdued voice - A sparrow has just flown past me. See that it doesnít fly into the fan, No, it is not a sparrow; it is a rabbit. Catch it and give it to me, otherwise it will run away, run far away.

Susan, bending over her - Ammiji, may I change your wet clothes?

- So, it finally occurred to you. You do as you please change the bed sheets, hand over my medicine, write up the chart. Thatís all! Otherwise you donít pay attention to your duties.

- No, Ammiji, that isnít true.

- Susan, are you cooking mutton? Just the thing I want to have today. My back feels cold. Ladki, good that you did order yakhni to be cooked. Otherwise I wouldíve thought that it was going to be my last meal today.

- Ammu, why do you say such things again and again?

- You are right. Iím obsessed with the thought that I have go, I have to go. Ladki, when the One above notices the person who must depart, it doesnít take Him time to announce the date of departure. But tell me, mulberries will ripen next month. Wonít they? How many days are there to next month?

- Only ten, Ammu.

Ammu with concentration, counts on her fingers - One, two, three, four, five, six... Still many more days, daughter.

The daughter caresses her motherís forehead.

Ammu, with alertness - Have you seen birds flying in the sky? And seen ten green shoots bursting from the branches?

Felt the breezes of changing seasons? Walked barefoot on grass wet with dew? And basked in the mellow sun of winter?

Ladki, this world is filled with infinite blessings. There are other pleasures in this world apart from the pleasure of the bed. Do you know that?

- Yes, Ammu.

- Never feel sorry for yourself. Keep despair at armís length. I am not anxious about you. You can neither be tormented nor torment anybody. But tell me, when the need arises, whom will you call?

The daughter, after a long silence.

- I wonít call anyone. But I will respond if someone calls me. Thatís all. Are you satisfied now?

- Ladki, youíre my favourite child. Beneath this stony hardness, there must be springs of water.

The daughter, petulantly - Ammu, thereís no need to talk about such things. I am what I am and will remain so!

- All right, I agree with you. But bear in mind that you will be all alone... Now there is no need to allow an outsider to enter your life. No one can be forced to run. Only he who runs on his own, is called a runner.

- Not everyone can.

- The resonances of a self-reliant person like you need a vast sky and a wide earth. Donít bother about trivial matters. Those who restrain their heartís desires, see a limited sky.

Their race ends with their homes and hearths. They go on making piles of chapatties around them; keep spinning spiderís webs. Are you listening? That sort of life also does not offer much.

- Ammu, letís talk about something else.

- After Iím gone, I wonít come back to tell you all this. You are not subservient to anyone. You are independent. Ladki, that is your strength, your power. Do you understand?

- Yes.

- All my life Iíve been hearing members of your family say ó yes, yes. Soft words. I know what they mean.

p. 1 p. 2 p. 3 p. 4 p. 5 p. 6 p. 7

Krishna Sobti is an Akademi Award-winning Hindi novelist. Ai Ladki is also a successful stage production. Translated from the Hindi by Shivanath