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  Wild Flower  

Sex & Violence
  Vol II : issue 1

  Amrita Pritam
  Mrinal Pande
  Evelyne Accad
  Gagan Gill
  Selina Hossain
  Only in Print

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Oil on canvas by

Amrita Pritam

Angoori was the name of the very new wife of the very old servant of the neighbours of my neighbours. One reason for her being new was that she was his second wife. In Punjabi, they call a man who marries a second time duhaju. Etymologically, a man who has entered a second life — a second life in marriage. The fact that Angoori was in her first life in the marriage made her new. It was not even a year since she had been given away as a bride, so she was still new.

Some five years ago, when Parbhati had gone home to perform the last rites of his first wife, Angoori’s father had come forward and wrung dry his parna, the towel hung over his shoulder. Now to tell you the truth, no man’s parna is drenched with the tears shed for his wife. In fact, it is soaked in water during the last rituals. But if a father comes forward and wrings the parna of the bereaved husband, he is saying: “I give my daughter in place of the woman who has passed away. There is no need for you to weep any more. See, I have dried your towel.” It is a simple rural custom which replaces the old with the new.

This was how Parbhati was married to Angoori. But Angoori was too young and her mother was bed-ridden with arthritis, so the ceremony of giving her away as a bride was delayed. One by one, five years passed and the time came for Angoori to be given away to Parbhati. He told his employers that either he would bring his wife to the city or he would move back to the village. The employers were not willing to feed two persons from their kitchen. But when Parbhati told them that Angoori would make her own little kitchen by the servants’ quarters and cook her own food, they agreed to let her stay. So Angoori came to the city.

For a few days, Angoori kept her face veiled even from the women of the colony. But after some time, the veil was lifted. Walking about with her silver anklets jingling, Angoori became quite popular. The jingle of her anklets was matched by the jingle of her laughter. She would spend most of the day in her quarters but when she came our, laughter seemed to jingle at her feet.
“What is this you are wearing, Angoori?”
“This is the anklet for my foot.”
“What is this on your toes?”
“These are my bicchia, my toe-rings.”
“What’s this on our arm?”
“Oh, this is my amulet.”
“What is this that you wear on your forehead?”
“We call it albind.”
“Why aren’t you wearing something on your waist today?”
“Oh! my tagdhi (waistband) is too heavy. But I will wear it tomorrow. Today, I am not wearing my choker either. The chain broke. I’ll get it repaired tomorrow at the bazaar. I had a nose-ring too. It was quite big. But my mother-in-law kept it.”

Angoori would wear her silver jewellery with aplomb and show them one by one, very happily.

When the season changed, Angoori found her quarters too suffocating. She would come and sit right outside my house. There’s a tall neem tree and an old well. No one in the colony used the well, but the labourers working on the road fetched water from it. They spilled water all about, and it was cool.
“What are you reading, Bibiji?” Angoori asked me one day as I sat under the tree.
“Do you want to read?” I asked her.
“I don’t know how to read.”
“Why don’t you learn?”
“It is a sin for a woman to read.”
“Is it no sin for a man?”
“No, it is not.”
“Who told you all this?”
“I know it.”
“Then am I committing a sin by reading?”
“No it is not a sin for a woman of the city. But it is a sin for a village woman.”

p. 1 p. 2 p.3

  Amrita Pritam is one of the pioneering woman writers of contemporary India. Her poetry in Punjabi won her the Jnanpith and Sahitya Akademi awards, among others. She lives in Delhi and edits Nagmani, a literary magazine in Punjabi