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When She Laughed, It Felt Like The Laughter Bottled Inside Her Came Bubbling Out!

Posted: December 16, 2020

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In the delusional state, Amma laughed aloud, perhaps the laughter was bottled inside her under all the stringent rules on woman’s etiquettes!

“Stop laughing so loud. It’s evening!” These stern warnings were a part of Amma’s upbringing. She firmly believed in evil lurking in the dark, not in the human form but rather a Yakshi, the formless mean spirited ghost on a hunt for laughing girls.

“Lata, you question a lot. Good girls from decent families listen to their elders, without back answers and questions.” Inside her head, Lata felt enraged. It was not as if Amma let women laugh aloud during the day.

Amma believed the voice of a woman travelling outside the four walls of the house could only bring a bad name. A young unmarried girl’s voice was even more precious, something to be locked inside a treasure chest. On the other hand, alcoholic men of the family brawling with the rickshaw driver on the road shone their manliness.

“The world isn’t equal. We are born unequal and treated unequally.” Lata was speaking at a meeting with some thirty women. What was she at the age of thirty? None like the other women sitting in front of her, with vermillion on their foreheads and the ends of the sarees covering their heads.

She believed they could empower themselves!

In Chalagudi, women had come to listen to Lata during one of their women’s group meetings. Years ago, Lata had organized a small rebellion that led to the closure of a nearby liquor shop. She had hoped her act of courage would bring a change in the village. But it went back to the same in a few days. One could not stop men. Men were powerful and most of the time intoxicated.

“But we can empower ourselves. Make ourselves financially independent.” Lata continued the interaction with the women’s group.

“Didi, do you think it is easy to complete the household chores, take care of our children, hold these savings group meetings, and also plan to start an enterprise?”

Recently, Lata had come up with a plan of starting a small enterprise of broiler farming. Livestock was considered to be a man’s occupation.

Lata had lost track of time and geographies in the last eight years of her work.

That night after the women’s group meeting, Lata lay in her bed and allowed her mind to dwell in the past. In her head, she was the young Lata in her long, ankle-length bright orange-hued skirt and a matching blouse with flowers in her hair. She didn’t like herself in the mirror with the kajal in the eyes and painted nails.

All Lata wanted was freedom

“Shouldn’t you rather be happy for the new dress and food on your plate?” asked Amma. “Should I be… when you snatch away my freedom to be anything but to dream of becoming a perfect wife to an unknown man?”

As a reader, if one would run through such a story – the girl gets married, bears children, and later takes care of her grandchildren. Life’s goal is accomplished, a woman’s body put to complete use in its mortal existence.

Lata could have garnered the courage to leave her home. Something she saw was possible, watching the cinema on television. Such characters were a bad example for young girls. Or, so Amma believed.

“What would Acha say?” Lata would think. A father was supposed to stand by his daughter, protect and nurture her. Acha had been nowhere near this idolised figure. He was a disgrace, serving a sentence in jail for some petty crime. Though for Amma, her husband was wrongly framed for being too naïve and for protecting his male ego.

One day, as Lata walked across the road to buy groceries, Sanjukta greeted her. Sanjukta was visiting the town to collect data on school-going girls. It was a hard task considering the families closing their doors on her face. The reluctant answers and a general refusal to interact with a town-bred girl. When Sanjukta saw Lata, she had a glimmer of hope that this young teenager could help her with the task.

“Amma, I want to help Sanjukta didi in this work. She has come from some agency in the city who want to help girls with further studies.”

“Lata, enough of this nonsense, try to get something cooked before we die of hunger!” Amma was patiently waiting for her husband to return, to have their daughter’s wedding and then for the culmination towards her end in religious piety.

And she finally got it!

After dinner, while Lata was spreading the mat to sleep in her room, she heard Amma laugh. Unusual behaviour for Amma who only knew cribbing and crying, maybe howling at her neighbours but never laughing. “Perhaps, the Yakshi caught her,” thought Lata.

That was the beginning of Amma’s dependence on Lata for money. Lata went to Sanjukta and asked for some work. Sanjukta took Lata with her to the town, to meet with her seniors who were ready to take Lata as one of their surveyors.

Lata survived the world without Amma. She rather took care of Amma through the hospital visits for the deteriorating mental state.

In the delusional state, Amma laughed aloud, perhaps the laughter bottled up for an entire lifetime following her stringent rules on woman’s etiquettes and cultural uprightness.

After a few months, Lata sat in the women’s group meeting in Chalagudi discussing the credit/debit balance in their passbook. There was a burst of big laughter at the end of the meeting. They closed the meeting with tea and snacks.

That month, there was a profit of Rs.10,000 in their account from the livestock enterprise.

This story was shortlisted for our short fiction contest Muse of the Month for November 2020.

Picture credits: Photo by Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz from Pexels

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