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Freedom!

About Kathakali Mukherjee

Kathakali Mukherjee, born 1971, was a student of Sanskrit – Epigraphy and ancient Indian history. But her interest in language and literary studies led her learning another couple of European languages as well.
She worked for media libraries in Kolkata; also spent several years as technical translator, process and team manager with German and Indian software companies in Bangalore. Currently staying in Gurugram or Kolkata, she is engaged with reading and writing.
Apart from experimenting with short stories, she works on literary translation of fable and fairy tales as well as historical fictions. She is exploring the treasure trove left by esteemed Bengali and German authors between 18th-19th centuries these days.
She writes poems during her busy days when time does not permit her to sit at the writing desk.
Her blog: https://medium.com/@KathakaliM and https://www.indiblogger.in/kathakalim
Her self-published works:
"You and me" is a collection of poems https://www.amazon.in/dp/B01NCSMHK9/
And her effort of translating a selection of articles from Lokrahasya “Secrets of the Humankind – Satiric Articles by Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay,”: https://pothi.com/pothi/book/ebook-kathakali-mukherjee-secrets-humankind

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Another pair of bangles was sold!

Chetna decided to sell her jewellery having no other option – she needed to arrange food for herself and her daughter.

Chetna recalls those years. She frequently resorts to the world of her memories these days. She always hated her past. But nowadays she can’t help taking shelter under the shade of recollections – only that saves her from exasperating loneliness.

She got married thirty years back. She was nineteen then. Her widowed mother was happy to get her ordinary looking daughter married to a man having a tiny shop in the busiest paper-mart of the city. But what Chetna realised shortly after marriage was that, she got married to a stingy person – obsessive about every single penny he earned. She could not tolerate her husband’s habit of keeping count of daily expenses after coming back home every evening. The man had no sense of romance at all!

Before marriage, she dreamt of a life in company with her in-laws family. On the other hand, her husband planned a life in isolation, for him and his wife. Soon after marriage, he moved to a cheap one bedroom accommodation leaving his parent’s home. Chetna later realised, avoiding family members was his way of bringing cost of living down.

The life inside the ten by twelve feet room suffocated her for years till her penny-pinching husband became ready to make another addition to family. She was allowed to conceive after six years of her marriage. The birth of a baby brought relief in Chetna’s choked life, while her husband found another bone of contention to shout at her – the expenses for a newborn baby.

One day there was some Re.1 mismatch between debit and credit in the daily accounts book and that squirrel woke her up in the middle of the night to ask whether she had spent that amount for some reason! She felt disgusted with the man. She did not want to stay with the miser any longer. “Earning livelihood by selling own jewellery is better than staying with a miser”- she had a clear opinion about the relationship.

Chetna came back to her paternal home – a rented place where her parents were staying since ages, with her one year old daughter. Her father had passed away long back. Her mother, though dependant on family-savings to maintain livelihood for her and one jobless son, was not bothered much about the addition of that one and half. Her husband was probably happy to get rid of his wife and child – some unnecessary expenditure above all. He didn’t show any interest to take them back. That way Chetna fulfilled her aspiration of feeding herself and the daughter selling her jewellery, not letting the daughter be fed by a miser man’s earnings.

Six months passed.

Chetna’s brother secured a salesman’s job in a small firm, some two hundred kilometres away, in the meantime and her mother moved to her son’s place. The very strong-willed Chetna, who did not see the world outside home at all, was determined to stay in her paternal home only. She was trying to save some jewellery by skipping food every alternate day in her mother’s absence. But on some afternoons, Basanti, the next door neighbour visited her taking some rice, dal and vegetables in a plate.

“Chetna, have some food. You have to live for your child!” – She would place the plate before her. How could she skip lunch when a compassionate neighbour was there to force her to have it?

Basanti arranged her admission to a nearby sewing school. Chetna needed to sell another pair of bangles to collect the course fee this time, but at the end she foresaw the likelihood of getting a job – means for herself and her daughter.

Two years passed. Chetna never imagined she could become a master in the art of sewing! Her expertise was good enough to find a teacher’s job in a prestigious sewing school.

Basanti, the neighbourhood girl got married to Chetna’s brother. The couple and their mother came back to stay with her. This seemed to be a big help for her – she could never learn cooking even with her best efforts – even after staying with a miser man for seven long years. Basanti took up cooking for entire family. This was time for Chetna to take the financial responsibility. Her not-so-well earning brother and sister-in-law started producing children soon.

“Aunty, why don’t you save a little money each month? I have heard Ruby aunty goes to post office every month to deposit money in her savings account.” Asked Chetna’s ten year old niece one day. Ruby aunty was a neighbour earning her livelihood by sewing.

Chetna burst with anger: “You miser girl! Don’t you know saving money is sign of having stingy mind? How could I raise all six of you if I was that mean?”

The niece could not disagree with her – her aunt had really taken the responsibility of all six of her siblings along with own daughter. Chetna’s sewing school was making profit. She was social and not stingy in any sense of the term. The golden hearted lady used to spend every single penny she used to earn. Moreover, she borrowed from neighbours and relatives to donate whenever she found anyone in misery. Obviously, she could never save any amount from salary; her bonus used to be spent in clearing debts. But happiness was reigning in life.

Chetna was always cheerful, always welcoming – a lady, whom even the most nitpicking neighbour used to adore.

In fact, all of them – Chetna, her mother, her brother, and all children in the family were happy. Only exception was probably Basanti. She became a woman of few words in last few years. She kept herself busy in daily household chores – cooking, cleaning, washing, copulating and giving birth to children. None had ever asked her whether she was happy. She never failed to join family gatherings, making everyone certain of her happy involvement in the team of eleven. But if observed closely, she was the only person in the family who would chat with walls when none in the family stayed around.

She used to wonder what kept her sister-in-law so jovial all the time. Is that because she had a job? Is that because she was earning? Or is that because she didn’t have a husband? Basanti was never sure, and it was not possible for her to talk to the sister-in-law any longer, as she did years back. Her compassion was paid off by Chetna through financial endowment, naturally placing her in the donor’s role in the family from the earlier beggar’s one. Basanti developed some grateful respect for her, which created a natural barrier between them.

Basanti’s mother-in-law was protective about all her family members, which developed her habit of not discussing with any of them about the other. Hence, Basanti had no option of asking her as well. Still, she wanted to know Chetna’s secret of happiness; finally found asking the walls the easiest option! Walls turned to be her best friends in due course of time. She could complain to the walls about her not having time for breakfast, sometimes about not having any food left for her in the cooking vessels after everyone’s lunch was over. Complaining to the wall about the uncaring husband, reluctant mother in law, naughty children or high handed sister-in-law was easier than interacting with family members.

In course of time, all four of Basanti’s daughters and Chetna’s daughter got married, reducing the number of family members. Only two of Basanti’s sons were still studying in school. As usual, Chetna borrowed a high amount of loan from colleagues and relatives for dowry and wedding celebrations. But her employer, the sewing training school started seeing bad days in contrast. Girls of younger generation were no more interested in learning sewing; they all wanted to study in college. Chetna was upset seeing the change in young generation but how could she bring students back? The feeling of contentment was still prevailing in the family, but a cloud of misfortune started forming slowly over her professional life. She could not pay off debts for several months.

Their domestic bliss faced a big jolt when one of the debtors came home one day. He urgently needed the money back. Chetna’s salary was already reduced to half, making it impossible for her to pay off, naturally forcing the needy lender to shout at her. He had no other go but to leave, cursing the mindless lady, who never had a habit to judge own monetary condition before borrowing. Her brother was not home at that time. As soon as he returned home from office, Chetna was the first person to give him a vivid description of the incident. He listened, without disrupting her for a moment – and then replied, “Well, we should move from this home then; I guess that will ease your burden well enough.”

The elder sister was not ready to hear such an easy conclusion; what she expected was some money instead. Moreover, she was scared of the eventuality of not seeing her nephews around. But her brother’s decision was conclusive.

The silent Basanti tried to pursue her husband saying, “How can we leave her like this? Children are fond of her”.

The husband replied, “Start packing instead of chatting”!

“Who will pay the school fees for the boys? What’s more, leaving a woman alone does not look good!” – was her last attempt to convince her husband.

Her efforts made him yell – “Will you listen to me or not? Sons will take up labourer’s job if we cannot pay their school fees. And we are not leaving her alone; ma will stay here”.

As an exception, he entered the kitchen that night while his wife was preparing dinner. “Listen Basanti, don’t you want freedom? You have spoilt your entire life serving under a whimsical extravagant lady – don’t you want to experience a little happiness in the end?” He whispered in the ears of his wife, as he used to do years back in there youth during lovemaking. Basanti’s heart melted like a glacier, giving birth of a free-flowing river by the revelation of the unexpected empathy from her husband. She never imagined freedom would be available so easily, so close! Her eyes were filled with tears – she could not even express her gratitude to her man.

After a couple of days, Chetna’s brother, her sister-in-law and nephews were leaving home. The active brother found a home on rent through one of his friends. Their luggage was being loaded on a small transport-van. Chetna was still not convinced that part of her happy family was leaving her; she continued asking everyone whether they were really leaving home, at times making kids remember not to forget come back safely in the evening. At last she asked Basanti hysterically. “Are you – really – leaving me?” Basanti remained silent as ever – she was counting minutes for her long-awaited freedom.

After making an outcry expressing a spontaneous disapproval, Chetna felt exhausted. So exhausted, that she sat beside her mother. Her mother was sitting on the veranda like a stupor, as usual. She broke silence only after all left home along with their van. “Why are you so depressed today, Chetna? You found your happiness once through freedom, years back – let them find happiness in their freedom today.”

Chetna was sitting speechless.

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