Not For Sale

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‘Got me?’ I asked gently looking at him.

He nodded –YES. He looked thoughtful. His usual geniality was gone. He removed his spectacles and rubbed his eyes. 

In the afternoon walking on the footpath with Prof. David and his wife, staying with us for a week I was trying to make them clear that our jawans in Kargil and Drass were fighting and falling for a noble cause. It was a tough fight as they were fighting the enemy from the below. Even then our brave soldiers were pushing back the intruders who were no better than monsters. Ironically, they were backed by the Pakistani troops. Our captive jawans were getting inhuman treatment. They were brutally tortured to death. Their mutilated bodies had caused a genuine outrage all over the country. People were angry, very angry. They were ready to go to any extent. No international convention allowed such bestial treatment. No religion would sanction it. It was nothing but sheer barbarism.

‘Yes. You’re right,’ Prof David agreed, face had a grave look.

‘Captives should get human treatment,’ he reiterated looking at me.

His wife Ms Lisa did not concern herself with politics or war but bothered much about people’s sufferings, in battle or on road. Her heart went out to the suffering people.

‘No human should suffer in any way,’ Lisa said looking ahead.

‘But…’ David was about to speak.

Just then our conversation was cut in by a woman, tall, sharp features, black complexion, and poorly clad in blue saree. She was young and smart. It seemed she was trying hard to beat the odds to stay cheerful.

‘Take it, mem saab ji,’ she said softly beseechingly to Lisa giving her two hand fans. She had a longing look and waited with a forced smile…

Lisa stopped there and looked at her up and down – pale and frail. The woman was still smiling without blinking her big eyes.

‘Take it,’ Lisa said giving her a twenty rupee note.

‘No… mem saab ji. Take fans first. Then give money.’ She insisted imploringly and got back.

She looked serious. No smile. Lisa looked at the currency and fans. Then the woman. She was standing full of dignity and self-respect. She had an expression of a hard worker, not a beggar. Her eyes said charity had no room in her life, whatever it was.

Certainly, it came as a complete surprise to Lisa. She had helped many persons by giving them charity during the past decade. It was sheer pleasure to her if she could alleviate suffering of some one.

‘Take it. No matter,’ Lisa said giving her the note again lovingly

‘No, mem saab ji,’ she said retreating her pace as if the note would scorch her hand. Affability was still on her face.

Now Lisa was compelled. She took the fans from her hand and gave her the note. The woman beamed at her and began to move. She looked happy at her first sale, perhaps.

‘Doesn’t your husband help you?’ Lisa asked her gently.

‘Pooh-pooh! Husband!’ the woman said with grimace.

She looked over men and women going on the road for a moment. Tears welled up in her eyes. She blinked them back and tried to look normal. Lisa read hidden anguish in her eyes. Perhaps, her eyes were not so deep that they could hold her deep grief.

‘Come with me, please,’ she said to the woman, still struggling…

Lisa took her in the park, just fifty yards away. Several men, women and children were there. Children were shouting and jumping. Some women were chatting. We sat in the corner near a flower bush – yellow and pink.

‘Your name, please?’

‘Neelu.’ She spoke lowly, head down.

‘Your husband does nothing?’

‘Husband!’

‘I hate the word,’ she said irritably. Her face hardened into an expression of hatred.

‘DOES…? YES. He does what he should not,’ she continued after a pause.

Anger flickered in her eyes. She muttered something under her breath looking far at the buses and cars running fast.

‘Where you come from?’ Lisa asked her looking at her face.

‘Bhinder, a small village.’ She said in low voice.

Bitterness was still on her face. It was so intense that she could not hide it. Might be she did not try to hide. Even people sitting nearby noticed it. They stared at her with enquiring look.

‘It is in Rajasthan?’ I enquired.

She nodded with a flying look over me, despair in eyes.

‘Who’re else in your family?’  Lisa asked her lovingly.

‘Chhota – husband, his younger brother and father.’ She said in one breath and heaved a sigh.

Tension was still on her face. Her look was angry and fierce. Her black lips quivered. She fell silent, looking nowhere.

‘I’ll help you if you are in some trouble,’ Lisa said shifting a little towards her.

At this Neelu looked straight into her eyes. She simply trusted her. The tension was beginning to ease now. She stood up and drank water from the tap nearby in cupped hands. She rubbed her eyes with wet fingers. Now she felt a bit relaxed. She squatted down. I was curious to know about her life. And all that had pushed her into such a mental state.

‘Why you don’t live with them?’ Lisa asked her gently.

‘They’re not men but brutes, dirty people. Very dirty.’ She said giving vent to her suppressed anger. Her tone was very harsh. Women in our country don’t speak in that tone about husband or in-laws. She must be fed up, I thought.

‘I’ll murder them if I…’

She burst out striking her hands on the ground. This time she could not hold her tears back. After all how long one could… They trickled down her cheeks. She wiped them at the back of her hand. We all sat in silence.

‘Please, relax. Tell me what’s happened?’ Lisa asked gently and lovingly patting her cheek.

‘Yes, tell us. We’ll help you.’ I tried to console her.

She spoke no word. It seemed she didn’t believe us. She was still indecisive. 

We kept looking at her. Her lips quivered. She was staring into space. We waited for her to speak.

‘Really!  You will help me?’ She breathed looking at me as if suspicious.

‘Of course…’ I tried to assure her.

She fell silent again digging the ground with her toes. Then she lifted her head. She took a few deep breaths to calm herself down. Then she began in low voice:

 ‘I was married six years ago to Chhota. He was hard working. My father gave me all that I needed. I worked in the fields with Chhota and father-in-law. We had fairly good income from our two fields. We had good times. We were happy in our small world. My father-in-law was a drunkard. He would abuse me. I was helpless. I could do nothing. I had to tolerate all. The other day my husband was out of village for a week.’

 With these words she kept silent looking downward, uneasy and nervous. She moistened her lips with tongue. She dropped her eyes.

‘Please, go on’, Lisa urged her lovingly.

‘Hmm…’ She nodded.

She began -‘As usual I went to the field. Before noon father-in-law joined me there. I never liked his company instinctively but I didn’t let him know. I continued working as before. I did not look towards him. After a little while, he came close to me. I sensed something. So, I moved away from there. Then he came to me again on some pretext. I was upset but kept calm. It was difficult for me to hide my unease. Anyhow, I kept working with the sickle. He made a pass at me. I didn’t relish his intention.

‘You’re my father. Don’t think this and that. I’m your daughter.’ I made clear to him.

He began mouthing obscenities. I stood up and walked home leaving him there alone. The next day he again tried to hold me in his arms. I felt the heat of his breath. I opposed strongly. Now it was too much.

‘You, old nut, should be ashamed of yourself.’ I screamed out at him in anger.

I was so upset. I was in tears. I wanted to strike my head against the tree. I wanted to fly away. He got angry and slapped me noisily. I ran home weeping and cursing myself. I didn’t cook food the whole day. I kept lying in the bed. In the evening Chhota came back. I told him the whole dirty story. But he didn’t believe me. He laughed it away. He doubted me instead. He beat me badly that night. I passed the night under the tree outside the house.’

Neelu broke down. Lisa patted her hand lovingly.

‘Don’t weep, my child, don’t weep.’ She consoled her though she herself was in tears. All of us sat feeling sorry for her.  After a few moments she resumed:

‘In the morning I begged Chhota falling at his feet not to leave me. I wept and wept. But it was of no use. My tears did not melt him. I came to my father’s house. I remained there for three months. He had the responsibility of three more children. He was unwilling to keep me. I was pregnant. He could not think a way. He was helpless. He talked to Chhota but could not persuade him to take me back. Instead he demanded money he had spent on my marriage. My father was helpless. Even the police did not help us. Nor did the community people. On the advice of a relative I was married off to a widower. He was double of my age. He paid Chhota a handsome amount. Chhota – my so-called husband sold me like cattle only for the sake of money!

Chhi chhi!  She spat furiously. Her eyes were red.

Is he my husband? Should I call him husband?’ she asked looking up.

Silence.

‘No, he can’t be your husband. He’s certainly a brute,’ Lisa said angrily.

‘What happened then?’ I wanted to know.

 The widower- my new husband brought me his home. Anyhow I tried to adjust myself to new life. But I was uncomfortable in the new house. By and by I was beginning to feel normal. Hardly had I recovered from the shock when the marriage proved nightmare. He treated me no better than a slave, animal. After two years, he was tired of me. He wanted to make money by selling me to his far-off relative. I happened to know about his secret plan.

‘I’m not for sale.’ I made clear to him.

‘You can’t sell me. Understand?’

‘Keep silent, bitch,’ he shouted, looking angry. Then he mouthed obscenities.

He had his men in the police as well as pyanchayat. So, he was least worried. He knew how to keep police in his favor.

‘What happened to your child?’ Lisa asked her.

‘Child! He didn’t want any child.

She paused with tearful eyes, covering her face with both hands. Then she began to sob uncontrollably.

‘Miscarried.’

 Her body was racked with sobs. Really, her motherhood wept. We too were moved to see her.

She wiped her tears and then began:

‘He fixed money more than he had paid to Chhota. The date for my third marriage was fixed. I was horrified. I wanted no more marriage. I made up my mind to oppose it.

‘Listen to me with open ears. I’m NOT FOR SALE,’ I shouted to him, ‘You can’t sell me.’

‘Clear?’

He beat and threatened me of life. I thought, ‘death is better than this hellish life.’ I decided not to enter a new relationship. I was tired and hungry but determined. I kept calm. He mistook for my calmness and was delirious with joy. A week or so passed by. I behaved as if yes-man.

In the dead of night I risked to leave the house. I wandered here and there. Anyhow I came here in search of job. I could get none. Now I live on these fans. I’m helpless and alone in this world. I need no more than a square meal and clothing. As she ended her tale, and raised her head, tears trickled down her cheeks. This time she did not wipe them. But Lisa did.

‘Will you keep me as your servant?’ She asked softly hoping for some relief.

‘Do you know anything besides making fans?’ Lisa asked her.

‘Yes.’

‘What?’

‘Sewing.’

‘Nice.’

‘Your problem is solved.’

‘Would you like to do something for her?’  Lisa asked me.

‘Yes. I’ll fight a legal battle for her,’ I said confidently without understanding her real meaning.

‘Legal battle will not give her food.’

‘Then?’

‘Can you give her servant quarter?’

‘Yes. She can live there till she gets her rights.’

Neelu came to live in the servant quarter. I started all preparations for the legal fight. It was twilight. Then dark night like Neelu’s life. The morning was clear. The Sun was shining bright. Dew drops on the grass and leaves were sparkling in golden beams. Birds were chirping. Neelu was busy finishing her daily chores. Just then Lisa knocked at her door.

Neelu opened the door and saw mem saab.

‘Take it, please, she said to Neelu giving her a sewing machine. Brand new.

‘Start your life anew with it and forget your bitter past.’

‘Sewing Machine! For me!’ She let out a cry of joy.

Her eyes were full of tears. Tears of joy and thankfulness. No word escaped her lips though they quivered. She went on looking gratefully at mem saabji go till the hedge hid her.

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Bijendra Singh Tyagi
Bijendra Singh Tyagi

B S Tyagi is an acclaimed Indian bilingual writer, poet, reviewer, storyteller, novelist, and translator. Some of his books are The Political Philosophy of Dr S Radhakrishnan (1994), Judicial Activism in India (2000), Coalition Politics: The Indian Experience (2008), Wait (2013), Insaf (2017), Dai Ma and Other Stories (2018), The Burning Night (2020)., and Autumn Colors (2023).

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