Stories Varied - A book of short stories (Part 2, page 1 of 4)

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Part 2

Close to the city of Paithan, in a small village called Sauviragram, which lay along the banks of the great river Godavari, lived a woman named Ilaa. Being cotton farmers, her family was well to do, but not among the richest in the area. It was the harvest season, and cotton had to be picked from plants. The wholesalers and traders from Paithan would be arriving in just a few weeks, carrying gold and goods for barter. They would exchange what they carried for the cotton that the farmers grew. The bales of cotton had to be ready in time! Work was at its peak!

But Ilaa was not to be found in the fields. She wasn’t working. Instead, she was sitting by the banks of the great river Godavari.

‘I am sick of this!’ she grunted loudly, dangling her weary legs in the languid waters. [*]

‘Why not,’ she thought, ‘am I not a victim of the unmaking of the mores of yore that brought woman’s life to this pass?

Gazing at the Sun, setting by then, she felt it symbolized the loss of sheen, of woman’s high noon of life, pictured by her grandmother in bedtime tales.

‘If only things remained the same,’ she began to speculate about her would-have-been life, ‘I would have gone to a gurukula to become a satyavadini at fifteen, and who knows, I might have blossomed into a Maitreyi of the day, if not a modern day Ghosa. Moreover, I would have been entitled to choose a man I fancied in a swayamvara, oh, what an appetizing prospect it is. Won’t that prove our ancestors were wise enough to realize that woman’s liberation lay in her right over her body to entrust it to the man she coveted? But how ignoramus the progeny of the wise have become to ordain woman to remain illiterate and live in ignorance! How she’s given away in marriage, to a man of her father’s choosing, lo, when she hasn’t even matured! What else is woman nowadays if not man’s vassal? How sad that women of Sauviragram, or Paithan for that matter, can’t dare dream about things, which their ancestors took for granted. Maybe, same is the case with fair sex everywhere in the once fair land named after my namesake.’

As though to bring to the fore her dreams gone sour, the flow under her feet picked up stream.

Ilaa was born into a family of marginal farmers in Paithan. While mother earth, all along, had seemingly conjured up with the rain gods to make it bountiful in their paddy fields, as though not to deplete their meager landholding, mother nature too had ensured, over the generations, that their home had a single issue, male at that. But much before she was born, as her grandfather died prematurely, though being hale and healthy, her father, bitten by the quick-buck bug, threw caution to the winds and wagered on the cash crops. That was in spite of the protestations of his mother and pleadings by his wife. As though to prove the old adage right that greed brings in grief, coinciding with his decision to harvest cotton, the kapas market went into depression. While prudence suggested course correction, as his gambling instinct got the better of him, raising the stakes at the next outing, he took the neighbours’ land on lease for making a killing. What with the pests of Paithan too turning greedy, the failure of two successive crops, besides reducing him into a farmhand in his own land, made his mother a maid in a Brahman household. Though his wife wanted to follow suit, as his mother was averse to it, she was left at home to fend for herself the meagerness of their means.

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