by Avantika Debnath
I married into a family in which it was perfectly acceptable to demand lots and lots of money from the daughter-in-law's father. But, if the daughter-in-law walks out of the house to work and earn money, it is believed to damage the family's so-called prestige. I am sure, the likes of this family are thriving in every nook and corner of this nation. Strange is the direction of the thought process that guides such people. If the bride supports the family with her hard-earned money, the inflated ego of the husband gets hurt. But, no one will know when the father of the bride transfers money from his account to his son-in-law's account. No one will know when the mother of the bride brings her jewelry in a lunch box and hands them over to the mother of the groom to sell them or use them to her heart's desire.
No one will know.
"I have returned that money to dad," I replied. "Abhi told me he wanted that money only to show, not to use, so once he met that purpose, I transferred the money back to dad's account," I replied to my mother-in-law.
"What? You returned all that money to your father. What an Alaksmi girl God has given me as a daughter-in-law! Why did you return the money to your father?"
"Because that was my baba's money, and it belonged to my baba's account."
"Really? Good. You are your baba's daughter, and you belong to him as well. Now just like the money is back in his bank account, you go back to his house." She said pulling my hand and dragging me out of my room. I tried to free my wrist from her fastening, but she had a firm grip. "Leave my hand, maa. If you want me to go, I will go, let go of my hand."
"Why are you talking to my maa like this, Meera?" Abhi reprimanded me, himself intimated by his mother.
"Leave my hand, maa. I will go." I tried some force to pull my hand out of her grip while she pulled me near the staircase.
"Fine, go then." She stood at the edge of the staircase and pushed me down with all her strength. I rolled over to the first division of the stairs. I had fallen flat on my stomach; I suffered an acute pain. A pain I had never felt before. "Oh! What kind of pain is that!" I placed my right palm on my stomach trying to pacify the pain. It didn't help. I tried to pull my left hand too, to put it on my stomach. But I realized, I couldn't move my hand. And then I felt a throbbing pain in my left wrist too. I just couldn't move my left appendage. I turned my head at my unmovable hand; it appeared disfigured. It was not the way my hand is supposed to look.
"Abhi..." I stretched my right hand towards him seeking help. He was standing beside his mother at the edge of the staircase looking down at me, trying to understand what had just happened. He was about to come down the stairs, but his mother held his hand and yelled, "Papushona! If you dare help her, know that you are not born out of one father."
"I wasn't shocked that Abhi didn't come down to help me. I wasn't shocked at his cowardice. I was appalled at my stupidity of asking help from him. I regained the control of my mind. I knew I was the one who was hurt, and I was indeed the only one who could help. I pulled my arm back and pressed my lower abdomen. My left hand lay motionless just like my legally, socially, religiously wedded husband stood static upstairs looking down at me. I tried to find some support on the wall, somehow trying to pull myself together. I could feel something on my palm. Something wet. I brought my right paw in front of my face, and I looked at it. I found blood. Soon, the blood drenched my yellow saree in red. I could see the blood flowing down the stairs. I couldn't feel the pain in my abdomen or wrist anymore. Because the pain that emerged in my heart was more significant than the physical ordeal, my body was going. My eyes followed the blood flowing out of my body, and covering the steps of the stairs, one after the other.
Toffee (my pet) rushed in. Though my mother-in-law tried to stop her by blocking her way, she hurried towards me. She sniffed the blood, and then looked at me. As I kept my hand on my abdomen again, she licked my hand. My tormented face had a throbbing expression. I was gasping for air. My throat became dry. No tears. Tears, I guess, I saw in that animal's eyes while she sniffed through the blood that was flowing down the stairs and then looked into my eyes. Abhi's mother went downstairs to get a mop. Once his mother was out of sight, my husband gathered some courage to come down to me. He walked me to the washroom and stood outside while I cleaned myself. The blood would just not stop. The white tile of the bathroom floor was red with my blood. I had never witnessed a sight as dreadful as that ever.
"Papushona.... tell her, not to touch the bathroom walls with her bloody hands. We got the house white-washed just before your wedding." I heard my mother-in-law's voice from inside the kitchen downstairs, loud enough to be heard inside the bathroom on the first floor.
I somehow managed to drain my blood down the washroom pit and struggle to wrap the towel around me with my right hand. My left side was still numb and appeared disfigured. But I couldn't afford to give much attention to my hand; I feared a far more significant loss. On opening the bathroom door, I found Abhi standing still. My heart warned me against looking into his eyes, but I looked. They say eyes of a man are the reflection of his heart, mind, and soul. So I dived into his eyes that day. I tried going deep into him through his eyes, and explore every corner of his soul. I was desperately trying to find some remnants of a human conscience. But I failed. I failed myself. I looked away. I was just about to place my only conscious hand on the wall outside the bathroom when I saw Abhi extending his hand to catch mine. I froze my movement for a while.
"It's okay, Abhi. I have washed the blood off my hand. Don't worry. I won't mess up the wall."
My heart refused Abhi's support, and this time I didn't disobey its decision. I scaled the wall to my room. I was careful enough not to touch Abhi for assistance or let him hold me. With great struggle, I had washed his last remains from my tired body.
"Don't touch me anymore, Abhi. I will be sullied. This fatigued body of mine has no strength to clean itself again."
(The above was an excerpt from the novel, The Bridal Pyre - Nainam Dahati Pawakah, by Avantika Debnath. Based on real-life experiences, the book is narrated by the author, in exchange for a promise of anonymity.)