|Ai Ladki 7|
Ammu is lying quietly. In no mood to talk. She removes the bangles from her wrist and pushes them under the pillow. Bundles up the sheet covering her and throws it on the floor. Removes the pillow from under her head and keeps it aside. Tosses the cushion towards the door. In an attempt to pull out the bedsheet under her, she tosses her head right and left.
Susan, on entering the room - Ammiji, what are you doing?
- You can see what Iím doing.
- Ammiji, you shouldnít do it.
- One has to do it when it becomes necessary.
Ė Iíll change the bedsheets, Ammiji.
Ammu starts taking her bandages off, quietly. Throws the cotton, gauze and bandages into the pan.
Susan goes and calls Didi.
The daughter, drawing near, in a gentle tone - Ammu, well, what are you doing?
- You know what I am doing!
- By pulling the bandages off like this, the sores will start oozing. Are you feeling hot?
- No, Iím feeling cold.
- The daughter switches off the cooler.
Ammu angrily - Hot or cold, whatever it is, now remove everything from here and put it outside.
Ammu tries to remove the chain from her neck.
- Remove it. I donít need it. Now I donít need anything.
The daughter, lovingly - Ammu, not like this.
Ammu keeps staring with eyes opened wide.
- Ammu, anything you wish to have...?
Ammu, sharply - Quiet!
- Ammu, what is bothering you? Please tell me. Do tell me.
Ammu keeps looking towards the door for a long time. Then she signals to her daughter to come near her and says, as though whispering in her ears - Remove my body in the same way as I have removed the bedsheet covering me. Fling my body away from me. I canít bear it anymore.
The daughter continues to bend over her mother, alert, silent.
Do not keep my clothes in the house. Throw all of them out. Somewhere far away. So that you donít see them.
The daughter, in a flash, as though she has instinctively caught something from the inner recesses of her motherís mind, in a controlled voice - Things will be done according to your wishes. But I, too, have to say something and you must listen to me. I will not give your clothes to anyone. Iíll wear them.
Ammu, did you hear me?
In this matter, even if you order me, I will not listen to you.
The tension on Ammuís face dissolves and she buries her face in the pillow.
The next morning Ammu appears alert.
- Susan, you are dragging your feet today. Didnít you sleep well last night?
- I slept well, Ammiji.
Was I feigning sleep then? Susan, you sleep only if your patient sleeps. If the patient remains awake, you also have to keep awake.
Listen to me, Susan. Come close. The papers have been signed. Now itís time to get ready.
The documents are all ready. Susan, just go and peep outside.
Can you see any patch of cloud in the sky?
Susan goes out and returns from the balcony.
- Ammiji, the sky is absolutely clear. No cloud. There is bright sunshine.
- Well, prepare my bath. Today, I will not get my body sponged. Iíll have my bath in the bathroom under the shower.
- Ammiji, shouldnít we first consult the doctor on the telephone?
- No. His advice is limited to medication. His task is over. He is not the doctor of my body any more.
Susan, there is the Chief Doctor, high above these doctors. When the time comes, instead of collecting fees, he collects the whole human being.
- Ammiji, let me wake up Didi.
- Let her catch some sleep. A big task awaits her. Itíll be good if she can have some rest.
Bring me the soap you are going to use and show it to me.
- Here it is, Ammiji.
- No. Not this. Thereís a box in my cabinet, take out a cake from it. That soap doesnít make the skin dry. Itís specially meant for children.
The daughter stands close by and looks on anxiously.
- Ammu, why not have some breakfast before you take your bath?
- As you please. What are you going to give me for breakfast today?
- Whatever you like. Mango juice, toast, egg, paratha, yoghurt, butter...?
Ammu smiles - Youíre fattening me before sending me up? What hard labour awaits me there? Ladki, itís only in this world, here, that one can use oneís hands to create beauty and order. Up there, people donít have separate individual hearths. Nor does a fire kindle in oneís body. Who has seen Heaven with his own eyes? Places of pilgrimage for the living all lie here, in this world. Nowhere else.
Night. Ammu, in unconscious sleep, fearfully - What has happened to you people? Both of you are sleeping unmindful of me. Get up and attend to me.
The daughter bends close to her - Ammu, whatís the matter?
- Crows are making such a lot of noise ó caw-caw-caw... I canít bear the beating of their wings. Scare them away. Drive them far away. Beyond my hearing.
The daughter opens the window and makes noises as though driving away the crows. Then she closes the window and by way of reassuring her mother - Ammu, go to sleep now. All of them have flown away.
- Who daughter?
- Pigeons, Ammu.
- Were they only pigeons?
- There must be a cat lurking outside to pounce on them.
- No, Ammu, thereís nothing outside.
- You donít know, daughter. There is a lion crouching there. He will eat them up.
Susan spoons water into Ammuís mouth.
- Who has placed the earthen lamp under the tree? There is a wind blowing. The lamp will be extinguished.
There are cracks in my body. See, my limbs are falling apart. Whoís this man with a bright blue face? Has he come to fetch me?
Call my son quickly...
Come close to me, son... bid me farewell.
Susan, why is it so dark? Donít remove the ladder from my feet.
Iíll climb the ladder myself. Bring me my white shoes.
I have to go up to Mashobra.
Ladki, tell your father to wait for me. Iím coming. Why are we going via Kali-bari? They must be sacrificing goats and buffaloes there.
A copper-coloured monster is after me. How can I slip past her?
Sheíll lift me by her horns.
Where are these clouds of darkness coming from? Why are you covering me?
Donít touch my eyes. Ladki, call your brother. Call him quickly.
He will untether my horse. Iíll ride it across the sea.
The daughter, touching her motherís hand - Ammu, pour water over your head and bathe. Everything will be all right.
A deep sigh, a shudder and then there is silence in the room.
Krishna Sobti is an Akademi Award-winning Hindi novelist. Ai Ladki is also a successful stage production. Translated from the Hindi by Shivanath