It was her 16 year old daughter, her hands firmly on her hips and her eyes glaring down at her mother. Her posture exhibited a command and confidence that many young girls her age lacked.
“Are you going to sit there and take this kind of a treatment, all your life, Mom?” said the young but firm voice.
Durga looked up in the direction of the voice.
It was her 16 year old daughter, standing in front of her, her hands firmly on her hips and her eyes glaring down at her mother. Her posture exhibited a command and confidence that many young girls her age lacked.
Durga gave her daughter a meek smile as the only response to the question.
“Don’t smile at me!” her daughter shot back at her furiously, obviously flustered at getting no response from her Mother.
“I am saying this for your own good. Dad doesn’t pay any attention to you. I have watched him since the time I remember. He hardly talks to you. He stays out all the time and comes home only in the middle of the night. He treats you like a piece of furniture. And you just sit there and say nothing.”
“Whereas, you toil so hard. You do all the work in the house though we can easily afford a maid. You make food for him, you keep it warm and wait up till he comes home and eats it. He has not even so much as thanked you for it. Has he ever said a kind word to you in return? In-fact, has he even said a word to you?” her daughter demanded, as Durga watched her brushing her short hair off her forehead.
Durga smiled to herself. Her daughter was growing up into a fine girl.
She stood upright with no complexes about her developing body. She spoke with confidence, sans any arrogance. She was a brilliant student who aced all her tests and she even represented her school at State Level badminton. And to top that she had a sense of fairness and was not afraid to speak out her mind.
Durga couldn’t help but admire the girl standing in the front of her, a perfect picture of beauty, brains, and boldness. No one could have dreamed of the conditions in which she was born, and how her life had begun.
Her daughter continued, quite oblivious to what was going on in her mother’s mind, “You know, Dad is not such a bad man. He has never mistreated me. He has never stopped me from doing anything. You remember when I wanted to start playing badminton? He did not object at all. In-fact I have never seen him objecting to anything that I want to do. So I don’t understand why he treats you like this. But it has to be your fault, Mom!”
“There has to be a reason why he looks through you as if you don’t exist. And the only reason I can think of is because you are not demanding enough. You should be demanding your rightful place as his wife. It’s your RIGHT!” fumed her daughter.
Durga continued to look at her daughter. She did not mind being lectured at by her. Over time, she had raised her daughter in a manner that encouraged her to speak out, to stand for herself. That she was now preaching to her own mother, was something Durga had decided to take in her stride.
If anything, she was feeling rather proud of her daughter, at the moment. She was going to turn out to be a fine woman when she grew up, and all her struggle and sacrifices would be worth it.
“Tell me Mom, have you ever in your life, demanded anything? Anything at all? Have you ever in your life fought for something? EVER?”
Durga’s eyes grew misty as her daughters words fell on her ears. Her eyes were blank as her thoughts took her back in time to that night…that night which was perhaps the most important night in her life….
She had woken up with a start, in the dimly lit room of their small hut in the village.
It was a basic one room hut which stood by itself within a stone wall. There was a small well a few meters away from the hut inside the stone compound.
She and her husband had built the hut together. Brick by brick, stone by stone.
She had always liked helping her husband around, even after doing her household chores. And her husband in return had always treated her with kindness. Never had he said a harsh word to her.
And when she had gotten pregnant, her husband was the happiest person in the world. He had gone about distributing sweets to the entire village in anticipation of having a son as their first child.
When the labour pains had started and the baby was about to be born her husband had rushed through the village looking for the midwife and had pulled her from the middle of her meal and almost dragged her to their hut, to the same room where she lay now.
She was exhausted and with her baby safely beside her, she might have slept for another few hours. But something had woken her up.
She looked around the room not seeing her husband there.
The village did not have any electricity and a small lantern stood on an old wooden table by the side of the rickety bed that she was lying on. The flickering light of the lantern cast patterns of shadows dancing on the wall.
She put out her hand besides her, searching and groping around on the bed.
“My baby….Where is my baby?” she screamed hysterically, startled to find an empty space where her new-born baby had been lying, before her sheer exhaustion had driven her into slumber.
The midwife, who was patiently sitting by her side, placed a hand on her chest.
“Lie down. You need rest. You are too tired,” the midwife said, attempting to calm her down.
She grabbed the midwife’s wrist as she demanded, “Where is my baby?”
Her gaze followed the midwife’s eyes, out of the open window on the side of the hut, past the flickering lamps placed outside the hut, towards the small courtyard between the hut and the stone wall.
She noticed the shadows in the courtyard. It appeared as if some people were standing there and a slight commotion was taking place outside.
She pushed the midwife aside as she got up from the bed, steadying herself against the wall, trying to gather her strength as she painstakingly walked towards the door of the hut, to get a better look at what was happening in the courtyard.
Her eyes widened with horror as she saw the scene in front of her eyes.
Her husband was standing beside the well in the courtyard surrounded by around ten of the village elders. A few women stood meekly at a safe distance from them, watching the scene unfolding in the front of their eyes.
Her husband stood there with one hand on his waist and in the other hand he held the small, just born baby.
She looked at the face of her husband. There was anger in his eyes along with a speck of dejection as he held the little bundle in his hand, almost effortlessly.
“Is this what I deserve?” her husband boomed as if demanding an answer from the village elders.
“Tell me….What have I done to deserve this? A Girl? What am I going to do with this …. this … this girl!” he spat out the words as if this was the most disdainful thing which could have happened to him in his entire life.
She watched the village elders standing calmly in the front of her husband, nodding their heads. Not one of them was trying to stop him, as if they were in agreement with his apparent predicament.
She inched closer to them, her eyes growing wider at the spectacle, a terrified look creeping into her eyes as she realized where this was heading.
“Is this girl going to further the name of my family? My bloodline? Is this girl going to toil in my fields? Is she going to grow up and earn for my upkeep? NO! She is not. But I will have to feed her, spend my hard earned money on her. And what do I get in return?? Nothing. Not even the satisfaction of having someone to carry forward my name!, her husband shrieked as he glared at the little bundle in his hand, almost like a madman.
“And you … God! I prayed to you for a son. I prayed to you every day. And this is what you give me? A bloody daughter instead of the son I wanted?” he wailed at the sky even as the village elders nodded their heads in agreement, as if it was nothing but God’s wish, and He was a party to the blame.
She watched as her husband stretched his hand over the well, the just born dangling dangerously over the dark emptiness below.
“You gave her to me,” he said, looking up at the sky. “You gave her to me…. You take her back. Yes! Take her back. I don’t want her. She is coming right back to you.”
He was about to throw the tiny bundle in his hands into the well, even as the village elders looked on.
It was her scream which made him stop. A scream like no one would have heard before. A high pitched scream which would make anyone’s blood curdle….which could have stopped a few hearts from beating.
She pushed through the throng of people, pushing the village elders aside, as she reached the side of her husband within moments, even as all eyes focused on her.
She did not know where she managed to get the strength from, but with a strong jerk she snatched the little baby from his hands and shoved him aside, watching him lose his balance and fall down to the ground.
She picked up the sickle lying on the edge of the well as she looked down at her husband who was by now making an effort to get back to his feet.
“I dare you! I dare you, you monster! Touch my daughter and I will chop your hand off,” she said, with such ferociousness in her voice that her husband froze on the spot, deciding not to get up on his feet, looking up at her, seeing a completely transformed woman standing before him.
She stood there in front of the well draped in just a thin saree, the wind blowing her hair across her face, the big blot of red ‘sindoor’ on her forehead slightly dishevelled. She had one of her legs placed on the stone besides the well, as she clasped her daughter firmly to her chest. Her other hand held the sickle, firmly pointed towards her husband, leaving no doubt about her intent and capability to use it if the need arose. Her eyes were wide with anger, the flame from the lanterns flickering in them, making it appear as if there was fire in her eyes. Her gaze was steady, looking at the monster by her feet, daring him to make a move… Durga…
“One step…. take one step towards her and I will kill you. If I can’t kill you now, I will kill you later. If I can’t kill you while you are awake, I will kill you in your sleep. But remember… If you so much as harm one hair of her head, I will cut your head off your body. She is MY DAUGHTER! And I will fight for her till the end of my life,” she said looking fiercely in the eyes of the man who was responsible for the birth of the little child.
The ferocity in her voice combined with the almost calmness in her eyes and the undaunted steadiness of her hand gave a chilling impression that she meant what she was saying and would not hesitate to act as per her words.
She stood there for some time, her gaze shifting from her husband, to the village elders, to the onlookers, as if daring someone to make a move. There was complete silence in the courtyard. Not one word was spoken. Not one voice was raised. Not one movement was made.
The baby in her hand gave a small, almost inaudible whimper.
She looked down at the tiny open eyes of the baby, as if it was looking in awe at the one who had given birth to her. She touched the small innocent wrinkled face gently with her finger.
“My baby”, she murmured, “No one will harm you. Ever.”
She looked up from her baby to give one last glare across the courtyard as everyone stood rooted to their places.
Slowly, she started moving towards the hut, her baby held firmly by her side, the sickle still in her other hand, dangling by her side.
“You….You are dead to me… Do you hear me? You are dead to me. For me you don’t exist,” came the trembling voice of her husband from behind her.
She did not turn back. She did not respond. She did not care. She pulled her daughter closer to her looking into her eyes.
“I will never let anyone harm you. I will protect you till I have any life left in me. I will raise you such that you will be able to protect yourself even after I am gone,” she promised her daughter, who gave a light kick in return with one of her tiny legs.
She closed the door of the hut, bolting it behind her as she lay down on the bed, placing her little baby beside her, in the same spot where she was, before she was taken away.
She placed a comforting hand on the baby’s chest feeling the tiny bundle of life breathing peacefully, her heartbeat resounding against the palm of her hand.
Her other hand was still gripping the sickle, not wanting to let it go. She looked at the peaceful face of her sleeping daughter, a face blurred by the tears in her eyes.
At that moment, she knew that she had saved her daughter from a certain death, but in that process she had lost her husband. She knew her marriage would never be the same again. She knew her husband would never treat her with any affection and might perhaps even leave her. Their relationship was now beyond repair. But she had stopped him from making her lose her daughter forever. It was a price she was willing to pay, happily.
Her daughter’s voice broke her out of her trance.
“Tell me Mom! Have you ever in your life fought for your rights, fought for anything at all?” came the firm voice again.
Her eyes cleared as she looked at her 16 year old daughter again, as she wiped the hint of tears which had crept up at the corner of her eyes.
Durga got up and stood herself in the front of her daughter. She pulled her close and hugged her tight, much to her daughter’s surprise.
“I love you,” she said as she patted her daughter’s head.
Her daughter looked up at her, noticing the tears in her mother’s eyes.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you, Mom. I am trying to help you here. At least one day, fight for yourself…okay?” she said with pleading eyes, her voice softening.
Durga looked down at the sweet loving face as she brushed the tears away from her eyes. She nodded, giving her bemused daughter a tired smile.
“Maybe… Maybe someday I will fight for myself too.
Image source: YouTube
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