Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Child Bride 1916 - Part Four

Jeevani’s new home had a lot more people than she was used to.  It was a joint family of her husband, his parents, and his widowed sister.  A cousin and his family of three children also lived with them.  Jeevani had overheard Amma inquiring about this cousin.
Amma sat crossed legged on the manji bed one late afternoon unraveling yarn.  She rolled the wool into a neat ball while Jeevani held the yarn between her hands sitting beside her.
Biba, the town crier waddled in as the sun was hanging low overhead.  Grabbing the mooda, she forced her large behind onto the small seat.
“Biba, just the woman I wanted to see.”  Amma cried.
“So glad to be welcomed.”  She looked at Jeevani. “Look at her, so grown up.”
Amma leaned forward and asked, “Who is this cousin at Jeevani’s in-laws?”
“Who knows what the truth is?”  Biba dismissed at first.
Amma continued with her wool rolling, as a faint smile formed on her face.  She had planted the seed and everyone knew Biba wouldn’t stay quiet for long.
Jeevani had watched the game of words and silence over her stretched hands as the yarn slowly unraveled around her fingers.
“I heard…”  Biba’s voice dropped conspiratorially.
Jeevani leaned closer on the manji bed trying not to look too interested.
“This cousin was orphaned as an infant.  Ameerni fed him her own milk.”
Amma gasped, “How is that possible?  Was she flowing?”
“Your son-in-law was a month old.  This infant was three months.”  Biba shared.
Hai rabba.”  Amma stopped rolling.  “So where is he now?”
“Quetta.  Some uncle from his mother’s side took him when he was ten.”
Amma slowly nodded, “So that’s why the family is moving to Quetta.”  She looked at Jeevani and ran a hand on her head, “Taking my daughter far away from me.”
Jeevani recalled Amma’s face from that afternoon.  She remembered the wrinkles around those sad eyes, the crooked frown from a curve in one corner of her mouth and specks of white in the thick dark hair.  Renewed tears started their journey. 
Jeevani suddenly realized that she never learned the cousin’s name and will have to call him Pahji, elder brother.  Relaxing back she recalled her husband’s name that she had learned at the wedding ceremony.  Her mother had reminded her of the age-old custom of never letting his name escape her lips – Ram Lal.  She also understood now the reason for her own new name.  Ram was the name of the legendary warrior king who had defeated the powerful Ravan for abducting his wife, Sita in the great epic, Ramayan. Jeevani remembered now that Ram’s wife was also called Janaki.
According to tradition, her mother had explained that a woman starts a new life when she gets married.  It was natural for Ram Lal’s wife to be named Janaki but somewhere in the Punjabi dialect, an ‘a’ dropped off.  Jeevani Kapur became Janki Khatri.  In her corner in the train, Jeevani realized that not only was she losing her home, her town, her family and friends, she also had to lose the one thing she had that was her own – her name.  Her new life had to start from a clean slate.
The train screeched to a tired halt after a laborious trek through the mountains.  It pulled into Quetta station with a sigh and a shudder.  An explosion of movement erupted around her.  Women searched for their luggage or called for the coolie to lug the baggage out.  At some point a voice called out to Jeevani.  She stood up and, partially blinded by the veil, tried to keep up with her escort.
To Be Continued

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Child Bride 1916 - Part Three

Back in her corner in the slow moving train, Jeevani sniffled.  Holding back tears, she realized that Amma and Bauji will not be with her for guidance.  She will have to quench her thirst for knowledge from someone else.  Jeevani aspired to understand the local culture and was intrigued by the tribal people.  She later came to realize that she was not alone in this fascination.  It was the arrival of these tribes from enigmatic lands that made the city dwellers endure anything Mother Nature had in store.  The imminent scorching temperatures, the icy chills of the winter or even major disasters like strong earthquakes were forgotten in spring.  The season was a time to welcome the visitors, the blooms, the delicacies, and other items from lands beyond the boundaries.  It was a festive time.
Jeevani for now was less cheerful than the season and was unable to appreciate the beauty outside.  She tried to absorb her new land through the long veil of her red silk chunni laden with gold zari border.  The gold jewelry adorned her person with a thick, collar necklace and a long kundan set hanging down to her chest.  Thick gold bangles covered her wrists, silver anklets and toe rings shone from her feet, and a small gold and ruby tikka hung down her forehead matching the dot on her nose ring.  She felt the burden, the gold weighing her down as much as the heaviness she felt in her heart.  She had left the only home and family she had ever known.  She missed her parents.
Jeevani recalled the countless shopping trips to the bazaar over the three years of her engagement.  They were not as much fun since she could not play with her friends anymore and Amma made her try on countless outfits.  Her parents’ room shone with all the gold, clothes laden with zari or sequins laid out for the grooms’ family for viewing before the wedding.
Over the waiting years the two families met often as her new family lived only a few mohallas down.  During their visits Jeevani was sent indoors but she tried to peek through the small window of her parents’ room.  It was usually the two women – the mother, Ameerni Devi and the sister in the white garb, the other Jeevani.  Amma filled them on their future daughter-in-law’s progress plugging the gaps with exaggerations.  Little Jeevani hoped the groom would visit too, but he never did.  She did, however, hear the women talk about him sometimes.  She learned that he had left Khushab to study in Rawalpindi. In another meeting she heard that he was planning to move to Quetta to join his cousin in the construction business and the whole family was moving with him.
Jeevani, in her lonely corner of the train, recalled seeing this groom only once.  It was the previous day at the wedding ceremony, and that too with his face covered in garlands and hers veiled by the chunni.  He was a tall boy and when she heard him speak to his parents, he sounded like a man.
To be continued

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Child Bride 1916 - Part Two

Jeevani wondered what this new home would be like for her.
Bauji had set her down weeks before the wedding.  Sitting on her usual seat of honor, her father’s lap, Jeevani had listened.

Puttar, your new home is the capital of Balochistan.  See here on this map,” he traced his finger across the spread out sheet, “this province spreads out into Afghanistan and Iran.”

“O ma! It’s so big.  I’ll get lost there.”  She exclaimed.

Her father smiled as the map sat sprawled on his large desk in front of them.  He pointed to a spot on it, “Look here, this is the Bolan Pass.  In spring, after all the snow has melted away, visitors of different tribes herd their sheep and goats and come into Quetta through here.  To them there is no Afghanistan or India or Iran, just one big Balochi Land.”

Jeevani leaned over to take a closer look.

Bauji continued, “These tribal people don’t live in one place.  When the Pass is clear and safe, they trudge through the mountains.  It is very rugged there and these nomads carry handicrafts to trade like mirror-work embroidery, carpets…”

“Does Quetta have bazaars?  Like the one we do here?”  Jeevani jumped in with excitement.

“Just as colorful as we do, but they are more fun in spring.”  Her father responded.

“What happens in winter?”  Jeevani asked.

Her father looked up with a faraway gaze, “Beautiful.  Those copper red and russet rocks, the crests of the mountains powdered with snow.  I can never forget such a charming city.”  A shadow then crossed his face, “I also remember very well becoming stuck there for days after a blizzard.”

Jeevani shivered in her seat and huddled close to Bauji to rest her head on his chest.  She could hear the slow thump of his heart beneath the white cotton shirt.  She thought she felt a wet drop on her head, but it could not be raining indoors.

“Jeevani, dinner time,” Amma called out from the kitchen.  Jeevani tore away from her father’s story-time to help with dinner preparation.  She had to learn to make good food for her new family.  Amma advised her on the regional delicacies of Quetta made from sheep and goats.

“Amma, what are we making today?”  Jeevani skipped in.

Kababs and tomorrow will be mutton pulao.” 

“Yum, I love Kababs.”  Jeevani licked her lips.

“Your mother-in-law will teach you the more ethnic dishes,” Amma assured.

“What are those?”  Jeevani asked.

Sajji is the leg of lamb and landhi is a whole lamb dried in the shade and preserved for the winter.”  Amma explained.

“Amma, why can’t you come with me to Quetta?  I like to learn from you.”

Amma hugged her daughter, tears wedged in corners of her eyes, and said, “Ameerni will make a good teacher and mother.”

to be  continued...