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Story: Killing an Embryo

By Sahadev Sahoo | PUBLISHED: 19, Feb 2011, 13:29 pm IST | UPDATED: 21, Feb 2011, 13:13 pm IST

Story: Killing an Embryo “Today in the evening, we are going out. We will see a movie and take our dinner in a restaurant. There will be no cooking at home to-night. From the office I shall get the tickets booked in advance by our office peon.”  Sameer told while getting the scooter out of the garage to go to the office.

“I will see.” Manjula said.
“Nothing to see. You must be ready by the time I return from office.” He said, and observed, “You are always sitting alone in the house and putting all sorts of useless thoughts in your mind. Have you seen your figure recently in the mirror? How do you look? I shall not be surprised, if one day you go insane.”

“Okay.” She said and handed over the lunch box to Sameer. Sameer put the lunch box in the dickey and kick-started the scooter. Manjula stood until Sameer disappeared from her sight, and closed the door.

Manjula had not moved out of the house since their marriage three months ago. She never thought that her parents and relatives would be happy to learn about her marriage. She rather thought that her father would be angry; scold her mother, blame her for their daughter going the wrong way. She knew that her father would swear never to see her face till his death. Their relatives and neighbours would denounce her. Still, Manjula hoped that time would cool down their anger, heal the wound. With passage of time, they might accept her back treating her marriage as an accident; take her marriage to be a scar which remained on the body after the wound was healed. But she never apprehended her marriage would precipitate a caste conflagration.

The marriage news of Manjula reached the village within two days. The people of Gadnaik Basti were furious. Manjula’s cousin, Tukuna, Munna, and Bata uncle were sitting and gossiping in their chauparhi, their community pavilion. Sukuta of the Harijan Basti was passing by the chauparhi. Sukuta sold turmeric and mustard seeds or bartered those for old or rejected aluminum utensils. He carried his commodities in baskets slung in two sides of a stave, which he rested on his shoulder. His customers were mainly women.  He walked village to village declaring his goods in loud voice to attract the attention of the housewives. The housewives were his main customers. When Tukuna saw him going towards their Basti, he said, “Hey salaa, no one will purchase; don’t enter into the Basti.”

Sukuta halted, and said, “It does not matter if no one purchases. I shall go away. But why do you rebuke me, call me salaa?”
“You bastard, if I don’t call you salaa, then what should I? Do you expect me to show you respects?”

Sukuta got annoyed. He said, “Why are you calling me names like this? Our Sameer married in your clan. In that way, you are our salaa. How could you, on the other hand, call me salaa?”

Tukuna, Munna rushed towards Sukuta. They put off their shoes and beat him with it. Sukuta threw away his baskets and retaliated by slapping Tukuna on his face.

Gadnaik boys got beaten by a Harijan! Bata uncle cried for blood, called others of Gadnaik Basti. He unlocked the room of the chauparhi, where swords worshipped every year during Durga Puja were kept. He distributed those weapons among the boys. Sukuta, throwing his baskets there ran for his life. Munna, Tukuna, Bata uncle and others present in the Basti at that time, each holding a sword, spear or stave ran after him. Sukuta entered into the Harijan Basti and called others for help. Most of the male members of the Harijan Basti had been to work; a few were present: mostly women and children. Battle began; someone of the Gadnaik basti set fire to a house of a harijan. Arson and mayhem continued.

Sixteen lost their lives. Many more got injured. Harijan Basti was burnt to ashes. A child was sleeping in a hut. In the melee, he was forgotten, and charred to death. Many Harijans were injured; most of them were women and children.

This incident did not remain confined to the village. It had its echo felt in distant Delhi. The national dailies wrote editorials on atrocities on Harijans. The members of the opposition parties created pandemonium on the floor of the Assembly. Debate ensued in Parliament. The Chief Minister and other members of the Cabinet visited the village. The Chief Minister declared adequate compensation for the bereaved and the injured and for those whose houses were gutted. He assured the culprits would be brought to justice. The Harijan leaders residing in the national capital paid visits to the village to assess the situation, and put pressure on the state government to provide relief and security to the Harijans.

In total, eighty seven persons, belonging to both the communities, were arrested. Some got released on bail. Still twenty one persons, twelve from the Gadnaik Basti, were behind bars. Police camped in the village.

All this happened for her marriage with Sameer. Manjula felt guilty. An unknown fear gripped her. She felt as if someone had lurked somewhere in the lanes of the city looking for a chance to pounce on her. Her heart palpitated at any sound caused in the street or in the bazaar outside their flat. Although she was sure that it was not possible on the part of her rustic villagers to come to Bhubaneswar and harm Sameer and herself, still her heart failed her. The persons of her village working in Bhubaneswar in different offices must have hatred for her in their hearts, but it was not possible on their part to cause harm to Sameer or herself. But Manjula did not have the courage to face them. If she moved out, she might chance upon one of them in the market or in a restaurant. She feared such chance encounters.

Manjula stood in front of the mirror. She looked pale, with deep shadows under her eyes. Her eyes looked disproportionately large. She stroked her hair with her fingers. Her beautiful long hair had become sticky. Since long, she had not washed her hair.

Manjula thought, what happened had already happened, what was burnt had already been burnt. Munna, Tukuna could not return from the other world. She could not go back and again become a Gadnaik’s daughter. She had to accept the present, the reality. Why should she unnecessarily torment herself? She would take a good bathe, shampoo her hair, enjoy her food, and have a good sleep. After Sameer returned from office, she would go out with him, see a movie, and take dinner in a restaurant. She should forget everything.

Manjula was in the habit of washing clothes everyday before taking bath. Before going to the bathroom, she looked for clothes, if lying any in the house, to be washed. She found one pair of pants and shirt of Sameer. The shirt had gathered dirt on its collar and sleeves.

Just after their marriage, Sameer was looking for a maid servant to work in the house. Manjula did not agree; dissuaded him from employing one. They were only two. What was there in their home to work for? If a maid servant worked in the house, what would Manjula do? Sitting idle, she would put all sorts of useless thoughts in her mind. That would be unbearably painful. Physical work helped get useless thoughts off her mind. She did all the household chores: she cooked, rinsed the dishes, cleaned the rooms, washed the clothes and ironed the dresses. Still, she had time to lie or keep sitting idle on the sofa. During this idle time, all the inhuman and beastly incidents took place in the village intruded into her mind, and tormented her. If a maid servant came and worked for her, she would get more time and invite more torment. She was afraid of leisure. Sameer had bought a good number of books of her favourite authors. But she failed to concentrate on reading. Could someone enjoy reading in this state of mind?

She searched Sameer’s pant and shirts’ pockets before putting those in water for wash. She found a letter. The letter addressed to Manjula had come in Sameer’s office address. Sameer had not handed over the letter to her. She became curious. She recognized the handwriting from the address itself; it was that of her elder sister, Sanjunani. She read the letter in a few seconds.

Manju, didn’t you get poison? You soiled the name of Gadnaik clan. What did you see in that son of Bauri? Bauri weaves bamboo baskets and winnowing fans, and sells those to high caste people. He used to stand below our veranda and beg for cake and other delicacies prepared on festive occasions. You became a daughter in law of that Bauri! You will serve him, your respectable father in law; press his legs as a dutiful daughter in law!! Why didn’t you tie a stone in your neck and jump into the river? That would have been better…….

Sanjunani ended the letter there. She did not bother to sign the letter, perhaps out of hatred and disgust. She now understood why Sameer had not shown the letter to her. She kept the letter in the drawer of her reading table and went to the bathroom with the clothes to wash.

Sanjunani took pride in the history of Gadnaik clan. Sanjunani was the eldest daughter of their parents, she was the youngest and in between Prasannabhai. Manjula was at nine or ten when Sanjunani married; Sanjunani doted on Manjula and loved to tell her the rich past of the Gadnaik clan.

When kings were ruling, their ancestors were working as generals in the king’s army. The king had conferred their ancestor with the title of Gadnaik. The title passed on from one generation to another. During king’s rule Gadnaiks were one family. Now they had become thirty four. But the eldest member of the family was entitled to the title, Gadnaik. Her father was the present Gadnaik. British rule replaced the king’s. Gadnaik became Zamindar. But they had not given up the title. All the villages of their Panchayat were under their Zamindari.

Zamindari was abolished after the country attained independence. The last Zamindar was Brajasundar Gadnaik, her grandfather. Brajasunder had died much before Manjula’s birth. Sanjunani had seen him. He rode a horse.
Sanjunani loved to say that when Brajasundar went on horseback, carrying cows even gave him the way, cleared off his path. If there was quarrel, both parties came to Brajasundar for justice. He was invited to other villages to arbitrate dispute. His judgment was respected by all, abided by both the conflicting parties.

Manjula had seen the respect her father commanded when she was a child. Her father’s presence instilled awe and respect in other people. The people of low caste would put off their shoes, if they wore, and hold in their hands at the sight of her father sitting in chauparhi. They would bend their bodies and keep hung their right hands. They would close their umbrella, if they held open. People gathering somewhere and discussing anything in loud voice would either stop or lower their voice when they saw her father coming in their way. The boys of other community while playing with Gadnaik boys, if were beaten by the latter, were afraid of protesting. Their guardians had words of caution for them: don’t play with Gadnaik boys, keep distance from them.

Many villages tilled the land of Gadnaiks on share cropping basis. The people of Harijan Basti worked as labourers for the Gadnaiks. Whey they fell on bad days, which they were prone to, they used to come to the Gadnaik family and bagged for rice or money.

Things changed gradually. The share croppers purchased land and tilled their own. The welfare Government gave land to the landless and provided home for the homeless. The Harijans got land, home. They got loan from the Government to stand by their own feet. Some purchased rickshaw, some other purchased cows. They earned more by pulling rickshaw or selling milk. In past, if it rained continuously for three/four days, fire of the kitchens of the Harijan Basti got extinguished. They had to stand below the veranda of Gadnaik families for food. Their lot improved. They no longer begged for food, stood below the veranda of anyone. Unless invited, they even did not come to the marriage or other ceremonies of high caste people as they did in past.

The letter, no doubt, disturbed her. That was her elder sister’s mind. But the next moment she thought, now what was left off the Gadnaik clan? Biswamber, her father did not give up Zamindari style of living even long after zamindari was abolished. He idled away the time just sitting on their chauparhi. When need arose, he sold off the land and met the expenses. If Prasanna Bhai had not got a job, all the land would have been sold and they would have become pauper by now.

Sanjunani said Manjula soiled the name of Gadnaiks. How did Prasanna Bhai keep the name and prestige of the Gadnaiks? Father sold land and bribed a good sum for Prasanna Bhai to get the job of a Range Officer in the Forest Department. At home, the way he praised his DFO, a court jester would not be praising the king during the Raj. Prasanna Bhai was posted at Balugaon. The marriage of DFO’s daughter took place. He supplied the entire quantity of tiger prawns, a specialty of Chilka Lake, required for the marriage feast. He went himself to his Boss’s house with the prawns to impress the DFO, as in the past, village fisherman used to come to the house of Gadnaik to give fish on such occasions.

Sameer reasoned, “Manjula, you blame yourself unnecessarily. One day, the Gadnaiks and Harijans would have fought. They were looking for a pretext, which they found in our marriage. Had we not married, they would have found another. Their clash was inevitable.”

There was some truth in this argument. In course of time, the Harijans and other low caste people of their village became conscious of their rights. Elections and party-politics gave them power. In the changed circumstances, the socially discriminated people, the Harijans and other low caste people, got united against the Gadnaiks. Whatever might be the situation at the national level, if Gadnaiks supported one party, the others opposed it. In a democracy and in vote politics, the vote of Sukuta Malik had the same value as that of Biswambar Gadnaik. In the number game, the Gadnaiks were definitely the losers as they were outnumbered by others. But the Gadnaiks were not prepared to lose their predominant position in the village society; they could not accept defeat, the reality.

In the last Panchayat elections held in the villages, they were about to fight during counting of votes. Counting was going on in the primary school. The people of Gadniak clan were sitting under the banyan tree near the school; the Harijans and others were under a peepul tree opposite the road going by the side of the school. The Gadnaik boys passed acrid comments targeting the Harijans, the Harijans answered back matching theirs. On that day, they did not, of course, go beyond war of words. They were afraid of a fight. In that event, the Harijans and others would have to run to police and court at the cost of their work, which they could hardly afford. The Gadnaiks, on the other hand, feared the number of the low caste people and their newly acquired audacity. Had they been beaten by the untouchable Harijans, who were once their subjects and service providers, and whose shadows were even considered polluting, they would have lost their esteem by other villagers, and their friends and relatives. But how long could they avoid an imminent clash?

Manjula listened to Sameer’s analysis and reasoned that she could not be held responsible for the carnage. Still, she could not extricate herself of the guilt either. After what had happened, she could never set her foot on the soil of her birth till her death. She could not return to her near and dear ones.

Sanjunani questioned what she saw in Sameer. Really, what did she see in Sameer?

Sameer was one year senior to Manjula in the village school. He was a good student. After Matriculation, he went to town to read in the college. He availed of the monthly stipend as a scheduled caste student. Besides, he gave private tuition and earned something to supplement his income. He stayed with other students of like condition in a mess. He did not depend on his father for money. His father was also not in a condition to help him. Rather, when his father was in need, he helped him with ten or fifteen rupees. Sameer was building his own career and life.

The next year Manjula passed Matriculation. She took admission in the same college where Sameer was a student. The college had a small girls’ hostel.  The students were selected on the basis of their marks they had secured in Matriculation exam. Because of her low marks in Matriculation she did not get a seat in the Hostel. Her father called Sameer and told him to arrange for her stay in a private girls’ mess. Sameer arranged a mess where three other girl students were residing. He took her responsibility, looked after her needs. Whenever there was any need, either Manjula or any of her friends of the mess sought for his help. In the village, Manjula was the daughter of the Gadnaik and he, a Harijan boy; but in the college Sameer was a senior student. But Sameer did not mind doing something for them. Most of the days, Sameer bought vegetables, and did some other errands for them.

Often Sameer figured in their discussion in the mess. Reena told that Sameer, though a Harijan boy, did not appear to be of low caste. Geeta told that Sameer’s eyes were deep and beautiful; he looked really handsome and irresistible when he smiled. Nirmala was of the opinion that Sameer’s heart was pure and clean. When he smiled his purity of heart got reflected on his face, which made him really handsome. Manjula knew Nirmala, though she did not express, had weakness in her heart for Sameer. When she met Sameer her tone became more endearing. Her praise for Sameer irritated Manjula, but she did not speak on her face.

Sameer went to university to do his M.A. Manjula went the next year after graduation. In the university hostel, Raanjeeta, her roommate one day said, “A devoted and loyal lover becomes a good husband. A woman has to be fortunate enough to get a good husband.”

“Who do you mean to say so?” Manjula asked.

“You may not speak. Your roommate is staying almost twenty four hours a day with you. Do you think she is such a fool not to notice it in your behaviour?”

Manjula got frightened, kept mum. Not for Ranjeeta found it in her, but she became aware that she was in love with Sameer.

Sameer got an officer’s job in the Reserve Bank of India. Manjula was still in the university doing her final year of M.A. Sameer’s M.A result had just come out. He came to Manjula with a packet of sweets, called her from her room and said, “I have something to say”.

Manjula’s heart beat increased.

“To tell the truth, you are my inspiration. Only for you, I got the job so soon. I hope you will not disappoint me’.

Manjula got numbed. She could not speak. A few moments passed. Her silence made Sameer impatient. He asked, “What is in your mind? You may say ‘no’ but say it”.

Manujula said, “Please give me two days, let me think” and returned to her room.

Manjula sought the opinion of Ranjeeta. Ranjeeta said, “You know Sameer since your childhood. If you feel, you could be happy with him, you should agree to the proposal. Besides, now he has become an officer with a good salary, there will be no problem. You can go against your parents’ outdated beliefs and stand against them”

 

“But… “

“There should be no ‘but’ in the mind in the last decade of the twentieth century. Is there any guarantee that you will be happy with a husband who you don’t know till the fourth night after the marriage? As far as I have seen him, Sameer is good. Why should a daughter suffer for the vanity of her parents, for their age old obsolete social values, for their sticking to outdated tradition?’   

The next day Manjula called on and conveyed Sameer her yes. They married in court after Manjula’s M.A. exams were over.

Of course, Manjula had known Sameer since their childhood. Both belonged to the same village, both were students of the same school, both went to the same college and university. But how much did she know about Sameer? She knew Sameer to the extent he had wanted her to know. She had seen him what Sameer had shown her about him.

Their marriage was not even one week old. Manjula was frightened reading the details of the violence and bloodshed from newspaper. Almost all male members fled from their village, and were absconding to avoid arrest. Manjula was feeling uneasy, getting headache. Sleep did not come over to her; she felt restless lying on bed. Sameer placed his hand on her chest, and without unbuttoning, put his hand inside the blouse and kneaded her breasts. Manjula protested, saying, “Please, I don’t feel like…” and flung his hands off her chest.

Sameer did not heed her protests. He dragged her to his side with force, pulled off her saree, tore open the blouse and jumped upon her half naked body like a cat catching an un-alert rat. He bit her lips, face, and breasts.  Manjula gave in; turned away her face from him in disgust.

Manjula lay on the bed in horror and tolerated his torture. After the poison of his desire drained off, Sameer fell off listless. Manjula stood up, switched on the light and found on her neck, face, breasts bruises caused by Sameer’s nails and teeth. Her body shivered with pain and hatred. Majula got angry and asked, “Do you make love or rape me?”

Sameer just mumbled, “Sorry”.

Manjula never thought that Sameer could be so violent, and hurt her in any circumstance. He did not care for her mental condition, never bothered to understand her.

Within this short period of their conjugal life they had already quarreled for three/four times.

The Administration had organized relief camps in the village primary school for the people of Harijan Basti. The people whose house had been burnt were staying in the camp. Sameer’s parents and brothers were also in the camp with other people. Sameer said to Manjula, “I think I shall bring father and mother to stay with us”.

Manjula said, “Should we bring them now? Let us wait for sometime, let some more days pass…”

News appearing in the newspapers on the affairs of her village: news of murder, arson which followed their marriage had been haunting her mind. She felt guilty and restive. She knew her village people. If Sameer’s parents and brothers would come to stay with them, everyday in the house the discussion would be on Gadnaiks and Harijans. His parents would berate the Gadnaiks, her parents, which would be intolerable for Manjula. But Sameer misunderstood and snapped, “I don’t mean to say that Gadnaik’s daughter should serve my parents, press their legs, be an ideal daughter in law. But does she even mind to boil a fistful of rice for Bauri Harijan?”

Manjula got annoyed and shot back, “The Gadnaik had not gone to Bauri Harijan to give his daughter’s hand in marriage with Bauri’s son.”

Manjula’s anger shot him down. He stopped arguing, and talking to her for two/three days. Manjula tried to convince him and said, “If you like, you can bring your parents.” Sameer said, “It’s alright. We shall bring them later”.

Within these three months and some odd days of their marriage, Manjula, staying together under one roof, watching him closely, analyzing his behavior and their conversation painfully realised that Sameer was really not in love with her. He got infatuated with a daughter of Gadnaik clan, wanted to make the Gadnaik girl his possession. She noticed that Sameer was not that distressed at the conflict and violence which their marriage resulted, as she was. He was not that sad for the death of eleven persons of Harijan Basti; rather he was visibly happy with the killing of five including Munna and Tukuna of Gadnaik Basti.

Recently they had an argument leading to angry exchange of words. In the evening, both were chatting about the incidents of their village. Manjula said, “People of our Basti were seething after they came to know about our marriage. Had people of your Basti remained cautious for some days, this problem would not have arisen. Sukuta, I believe, had deliberately gone on that day to our Basti ostensibly with the purpose of selling turmeric and mustard seeds; but to tease the Gadnaiks and put salt on their wounds. Had he not gone on that day, within two/three days of our marriage, this might not have happened.”

Sameer said, “No one in particular should be blamed. This is an outburst of accumulated anger, a reaction of the Harijans against years of exploitation and oppression by generations of your clan”.

“My father has not exploited your father. In past, when Gadnaiks were exploiting your people, what were the people of your past generation doing then? What did prevent them from reacting?”

“They were weak and inactive in the then prevailing social system. Now things have changed. But, your people are not prepared to accept the changed reality.”

Sameer’s line of argument exasperated her. She snapped, “Society, social system, etc. are all lofty and useless talks. The fact is that you are jealous. You don’t tolerate Gadnaik’s way of good living. Your eyes were closed, they opened. They made the road, you walked. They set up schools, you read. They opened your eyes, you saw. Now you ………”

Manjula stopped there. Sameer also. Both became conscious of frequent use of words like ‘you’ and ‘us’ in their discussion, a discussion between a wife and husband.

The calling bell rang. Manjula opened the door. Sameer entered with a smile on his face and said, “You are not yet ready? See the watch; it is already twenty five past five.”

Manjula felt her head reeling. She went to the bathroom and vomited. Sameer asked, “What happened? Are you not well?” He looked worried.

Manjula washed her face and fell flat on the bed. She said, “Perhaps, I have conceived.”

Sameer could not get the point. He asked again, “What?”

“Perhaps I am going to be a mother”.

Sameer became happy; his joy could be read from his face. He lifted her up, embraced and went on kissing on her lips and cheeks and said, “Don’t delay. Change your saree. We shall go to see a doctor.”

Manjula felt that Sameer was not bursting with joy for going to be a father, but for the fortune of having a child by him form the womb of the daughter of the Gadnaik.

After two days, there was news in the front page of a local daily under the caption “Mysterious death of a newly wed couple in Reserve Bank Colony.”

Bhubaneswar-19/9 Sameer Mallik, an officer of the Reserve Bank of India and his wife were found dead under mysterious circumstances. The wife of their neighbour says that doors of Mr. Mallick’s quarters were closed till around nine thirty in the morning, which she considered unusual, and pressed the calling bell switch. But there was no response. This raised suspicion in her mind, and she called other neighbours. They found, all the doors and windows closed from inside. When repeated knocking at the door by them failed to waken them, they informed the police.

Police broke open the door. The dead body of Sameer Mallik was lying in the bed room. His wife’s dead body was hung from the fan. The police discovered a bottle of poison from the kitchen.

The neighbours say that they had not noticed anyone coming to them last day or the day before. The police suspect, Mrs. Mallik might have killed her husband by poisoning the food in the night and committed suicide by hanging herself from the fan. The dead bodies have been sent for post mortem.

It may be recalled that three months back on the issue of marriage of Manjula, an upper casts girl with Sameer, a Harijan boy, there was a violent clash between Harijans and higher caste people in Govindpur village of Jajpur district. The violence had resulted in sixteen deaths and many more injured belonging to both the communities. Police are still camping in the village.       

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Also read: Sahadev Sahoo: Writer who reads life, Face to Face with Sahadev Sahoo: Life inspires a good story


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