[ultimate_heading main_heading=”A Pallid Morning – Short Story by Dr Manoranjan Mishra” main_heading_color=”#1e73be” sub_heading_color=”#8224e3″ spacer=”line_with_icon” spacer_position=”bottom” line_style=”dotted” line_height=”1″ line_color=”#1e73be” icon_type=”custom” icon_img=”id^48|url^http://ashvamegh.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Ashvamegh-ICO.jpg|caption^null|alt^Ashvamegh Journal Icon|title^Ashvamegh ICO|description^null” img_width=”48″ main_heading_style=”font-weight:bold;” main_heading_font_size=”desktop:34px;” line_width=”3″ margin_design_tab_text=””]translated from odiya story by chandrasekhar dasburma[/ultimate_heading]

published – Volume IV, Issue, XXXVI, January 2018

A Pallid Morning

Evening descended on village Haripur.

The brightness of sunlight gradually faded.

The chirruping of birds could be heard.

Mooing of cattle returning to sheds could be heard.

Their hooves sinking into the soil threw up dust.

Farmers were home-bound after ploughing their fields.

Narrow dusty roads inside the village criss-crossed.

On both sides of them, stood houses with low thatched roofs.

The houses had high verandahs. Windows stood in the middle of walls.

Houses stood adjacent to each other.

Verandahs stood at the front; attached to the verandahs were rooms.

Everybody here cooperated with the other.

Almost every resident was a farmer.

On the inside of the houses, stood the grain house and kitchen.

Dinner was being cooked on fire-places.

Smoke spread through the thatched roofs and went beyond.

Father smoked bidi sitting on the verandah.

Mother cut up vegetables, sitting close to him.

Lakshmi used a blower to light the fire properly.

Shankar, after returning from the fields, took the bullocks to the bullock-shed and tied them there. They were tired of working hard throughout the day.

He served them food.

Then he walked to the pond and washed himself clean.

He discussed matters related to farming with his father.

Four people and two pairs of bullocks lived in the house.

In addition, there was another helper to help with housework. Therefore, the number of persons rose to five.

“Oye, Shankar. Have you returned.”

One could hear the voice of father from inside.

Shankar was their only son. There was no one else to bank on.

Shankar was the favourite of his father.

Father was seventy years old.

Still, he was energetic. He still possessed the energy to plough five acres of field alone at one go.

But, Shankar didn’t want his father to work anymore.
“We don’t need more,” he would say.

“Let father rest at home. Mother will help father.”

Shankar, responding to his father’s call, arrived soon.

Father and mother both discussed with Shankar.

Let a daughter-in-law come to the house now.

The daughter of Raghu Samantray of the nearby village was their choice.

She had passed from minor school.

She was beautiful. There was nothing to worry about. “We are dead leaves. Who can say when we may drop down?”

She would be treated both as a son and a daughter.

There was no question of any partition as he was their only son. They just wanted a daughter in the house.

Laxmi was brought into the house. She excelled both in nature and appearance.

She had attractive eyes, nose like that of a parrot, and fair skin.

She walked slowly and talked politely.

Her manners were appreciable.

She treated her in-laws with respect.

What else did they require? She worked from morning till evening like a pigeon.

Shankar also worked very hard.

He never allowed his parents to work.

Be it sweeping the floor or wiping the house clean or drawing patterns on the wall or feeding the cattle or taking care of Nari—Laksmi did everything.

The neighbours spoke highly of her.

What a noble daughter-in-law Shibaji Samantra has!

The fame of the family spread far and wide.

She made her in-laws famous all around.

Throughout the day Lakshmi would work hard.

At night, he would give herself away completely to Shankara.

Shankara would be pretending to be asleep, with eyes half open.

It was as if he was waiting for Lakshmi.

The moment she arrived, he would pull her towards him.

Lakshmi never complained. She would embrace him for a long time.

She said it was her family.

Three years passed in the meantime.

Shibaji Samantray had spent a lot of money.

That year abundant crops grew in the fields.

The neighbours were treated to a sumptuous feast.

A farmer’s family –it heavily depended on farming.

But last year, something went wrong.

Drought affected everything.

But, there was nothing to worry about Shibaji and his family.

Some paddy of the previous year was still left.

They somehow managed with that.

They never experienced any deficiencies.

Of course, they didn’t know extravagant ways.

God is great; He manages everything superbly.

At the fall of evening, the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law would engage in idle talk.

Last year, the marriage of an acquaintance was held.

This year, another of the acquaintances was going to get married.

He has to be given many presents.

“With Dussehra coming, we have to buy clothes for some little ones.” Mother-in-law would yawn in the middle of the discussion. Lakshmi would immediately realise that was the time for her dinner. Father-in-law would be snoring after a hearty meal by then. Lakshmi would serve mother-in-law her dinner hurriedly, and take her own too. After everybody had gone to bed, she would go to hers. Days rolled by…months rolled by… years rolled by. The life of Shankar and Lakshmi passed peacefully. Time never waits for anyone.

One day during meal time, Lakshmi told Shankar, “Not anymore… no… never.” Shankar pulled her towards him.

“My darling, just wait for this year only. Then, you can do as you want.”

This time, Lakshmi stared straight into the face of Shankar. She said, “I am swallowing all these stupid pills only because of you. People have started gossiping. How long would I say, ‘What’s the hurry? Let a few more days pass.’ If I don’t have a child now, they would taunt me and say, ‘Shibaji Samantray has brought a barren woman as his daughter-in-law.”

“You spend the entire day in the fields. How would you know what is happening at home? That day Sulei aunt had come. She said, “Let Lakshmi bear a child. Let flowers bloom in Shibaji Samantray’s house.” Your mother replied, “Lakshmi is only twenty years of age. What’s the harm if a few more days go by?” Moti aunt added, “These sorts of things are quite normal in the towns and cities, O Shankara’s mother. In a village like ours, a child is born into the family even before the passage of ten months. People will speak evil. If there’s a delay. Please inform Lakshmi that whatever she is doing does not augur well for her.”

Shankara saw that things were taking an ugly turn. Laksmi threw the bottle containing on the floor and started sobbing bitterly. Shankar realised Lakshmi was telling the truth.

However, one of Shankara’s friends had told him that a childbirth at such an early age would affect Lakshmi’s figure adversely. But now, Lakshmi was insistent that she needed a child, not for her but for the family… for her in-laws.

Lakshmi gave instances of her friends who had got married at the same time as her. They all had turned mothers. Sunanda visited her last time with her baby. Sulekha had come a few days ago and reported that she was carrying. Even her parents wrote to her frequently advising her to go for a child soon.

This time, Shankar didn’t remain apathetic to Laksmi’s demands. The very next day, they visited the nearby village and consulted the doctor. The doctor prescribed a number of medicines. Lakshmi started swallowing the pills like an obedient girl. Shankara did the same. Their parents were visibly satisfied. Their son had realised his mistake. A new member would enter their family soon. Lakshmi grew contented. One night she dreamt—a bay bow was born to her. The baby had taken after Shankar. The dream ended all of a sudden. She found herself lost in the deep embrace of Skankar. She relapsed into sleep once again. Then, she woke Shankar up from sleep and asked, “What would be born to us—son or daughter.” Shankar smiled and said, “God willing.”

Both of them would smile.

Time passed. There was no sign of any delay in periods. Shankar thought deeply. What might be the reason? Could it be the excessive anti-pregnancy pills that she had consumed? Shankar was deeply perturbed. Lakshmi started losing her cool and feeling irritated. She was expressing her displeasure at everything. Even her parents and in-laws became visibly worried.

They discussed the matter with Lakshmi. “This is perfectly normal. There are numerous instances of couples having delayed child-births. Even some couples had their first child after ten years of marriage. Don’t worry at all. Everything will be set right.” Months passed into years. There was no sign of Lakshmi bearing a child. Four years of marriage was completed. Everybody at home grew worried. Lakshmi started blaming Shankar, “This is the result of forcing down my throat those pills.” Shankar would retort, “How am I to blame for that? My friends advised me not to go for a child for a few months. They said your wife’s beauty will be affected. Science has progressed a lot. We can have a child anytime we want. What would happen if we don’t have a child.” Lakshmi put her fingers on Shankar’s lips and said, “Don’t talk like that. Creation is the law of nature. Why should we, otherwise, come to the world? Every girl dreams of a good husband and to set up an ideal family. Our family consists of husband, wife and children. Just think, if you didn’t have any parents, wouldn’t you feel lonely? Your parents have grown old; they need a doll to play with. Don’t prevent them from that joy.” Shankar saw tear welling up in Lakshmi’s eyes. She was searching materials for creation. She was seeking children, which any mother would seek. What can be done?  That day their neighbour Sulekha aunt was whispering something into mother’s ears. Shankar could hear only a part of the conversation. Sulekha aunt said, “Nowadays, childless couples can have something called ‘tube baby’. Why don’t you go for one like that?” Shankara’s mother heard about this for the first time. She felt bad at first. Then she thought, “Where’s the harm? The child would, in any way, come out of Lakshmi’s wound.” She, however, failed to pass the message to Shankara. Shankar, on hearing the conversation, felt terribly upset. What was his mistake or Lakshhmi’s? would she agree to this? Was it acceptable to have a child born through unnatural methods? There must be some problem in every person. If there was no hope, why would the doctor say, “It will take some time.” If Lakshmi was told about it, she would be completely heart-broken.

With the passage of time, Shankara marked that Lakshmi wasn’t talking to him well. She visited temples frequently. She had undertaken many vows. Her in-laws understood her feelings quite well. The other day mother advised, “What don’t you take her on a tour?” Lakshmi immediately retorted, “What has happened to me? I am perfectly healthy… mother. I’m eating, drinking, sleeping.” Shankara guessed rightly that such talks always bore some implicit message. He explained to Lakshmi, “There is nothing to worry so much about. Time is not ripe. With the passage of time, everything will be set right.” Lakshmi wasn’t ready to accept. Many people had started accusing her. Should she listen to everybody like a stone? How was it possible? A human as she was, she would certainly feel hurt even if someone pinched her. She passed through such a phase of great confusion. She found herself trapped in the cobweb of many inexplicable thoughts.

Would she really remain infertile? Wouldn’t she be able to bring joy to the Smantray family? Would she cause a mountain of grief to stand in the way of the joys of her small family? Whose mistake was it? Who was responsible for her state? Lakshmi cursed herself.

Finally, all of them decided that fresh examinations would be carried out by a specialist doctor. Shankara went to the town. He saw the streets crowded with people. By the time the examinations were over, he had already spent seven days in the city. Changes appeared in Lakshmi’s physique. Perhaps she understood everything. She always cried bitterly. Even a stone would melt at the sight of such a bitter wailing! She started growing weaker. Her happiness disappeared. Leaves didn’t sprout on trees.

Raghu Purohit was famous not only in his own village but in the surrounding four or five villages. He was said to have the ability to read a man’s destiny. He could read the lines on one’s palm. He could read horoscopes. He received Shibaji Samantray’s house on receiving a special message. The moment she saw her, he said that her grief would vanish soon. He didn’t have much to say to Shibaji Samantray and Basumati Devi, his wife. Lakshmi was keeping track of the conversation from the nearby room. Raghu Purohit said that such incidents were quite common. If the first wife agreed, the husband could marry a second wife. After a few days, the first wife would also get pregnant. Then they could live happily. They should consult their son and daughter-in-law in this regard. The solution might appear a little difficult but was worth following. By this, the dignity of their family could be preserved.

Raghu Purohit went away but he put Shibaji Samantray and Basumati Devi in a quandary. Who would ask Shankar and Lakshmi such a question? There could be a storm in the house if someone dared ask it. Shankar might leave home. Such a noble daughter-in-law like Lakshmi might leave home and go away. It was a grave problem. But, Lakshmi solved the problem at once. She said, “If it was possible; if Raghu Purohit’s words could be trusted, she had no problem if her husband accepted a second bride. Let him come back home. I’ll tell him that another bride will come to the house. I’ll have another sister. You don’t worry at all.” Shibaji Samantray marked that tear rolled down the cheeks of Lakshmi when she said this. Her words were laced with sadness and grief. He heard everything but remained silent. How was it possible? Why should he agree to it after all? What deficiencies did Lakshmi have? How much she had cared for them all! What right had they to double her grief?

Shankara returned home late that night. On the way, he had to encounter a spell of unseasonal rain. He was thoroughly drenched. By the time he came to the bedroom after feeding the bullocks, it was about nine o’ clock. Lakshmi wasn’t asleep. Anyhow, she had to discuss the matter with her husband. She had to instil peace in the house. Shankara might get angry but his anger would not last long. Shankar changed sides and found Lakshmi staring at him. Pulling her up towards him he said, “Are you not feeling well? Has anyone told you anything? Say what you want to say. Why are you staring at me like that?” lakshmi replied, “If you listen to me without getting angry, I’ll tell you something.” Shankara said, “I’ll listen to whatever you say…other than children. You have had enough of your fastings… you have had enough visits to the doctors…I have had enough of my worries. Not anymore. We are happy the way we are. If a need arises, we will adopt a child. There’s nothing to worry anymore. Now say what you want to say.” Lakshmi shrank a little and said, “Is it not better to give birth to a child of one’s own womb than go for an adopted child?” Shankara flew into a rage and said, “What’s this?… talk straight.” Lakshmi regained confidence and informed about the advice given by Raghu Purohit at one go. She said, “There’s no harm in the proposal. This way we can save our family. Another bride will come to the family. I don’t have sisters. I’ll have a sister…I’ll not grow jealous of her. For you, I’m the first queen; she will be the second queen. There have been many such instances according to Raghu Purohit. If I can become a mother, what greater joy can be there? Don’t you want this? If you don’t agree to my proposal, I’ll die. I’ll never talk to you.”

Shankara left the bed and stood on the ground. He had never heard of such things. He had never seen such things happening. For the last four years, Lakshmi had been sleeping on that bed; now another woman would sleep there. He had taken shelter, in rain or shine, in the corner of Lakshmi’s saree and now, his body would be warmed by another woman’s breath. He hissed like a cobra. Lakshmi was undeterred by his hissing. She said coolly, “All right. I’m leaving this house and going away this instant. Maybe you will bring her after I am gone. However, don’t disrespect her.” While Lakshmi opened the door, Shankar stood blocking the path. He said, “Is it a decision of your sane mind?” Lakshmi answered, “It is the decision of the family. This family is mine. The honour of the house is my responsibility. You are mine too. Your problem is my problem and our problem. We both are responsible for this. I need a solution.” Shankar was standing; he sat down on the bed with a thud. Lakshmi cried bitterly like a small child.

The weather had cleared by morning. The night’s rain had subsided. Father and mother invited an astrologer to fix up a date. It was a complex problem. Who would agree to such a proposal? Still then, a girl was brought from a poor family on payment. The entire cost was borne by Shibaji Samantray. His lineage would be saved. Saving the lineage was his first and foremost duty.

Parvati entered the room with a jingling sound. It was their fourth night. For any married man, this was the most remarkable night. But for Shankara? What would he do? Lakshmi was in the other room. Shankara and Parvati slept in this room. The lamp was burning… the coconut already offered to Gods was lying nearby. He had to eat it. Then he had to lift the veil to have a look at Parvati. Parvati would blush at first… then… everything would turn dark. He felt as if he saw Lakshmi… Shankara shouted and hugged her… Parvati said, “I’m Para… Apa is sleeping in the other room…don’t shout.” Shankara ran out of the room shouting. Night had deepened. The lamp kept on burning. Parvati stood at a corner. The door of Lakshmi’s room stood open. Lakshmi was not at home… Shankara’s shouting woke up Shibaji Samantray and Basumati Devi. They saw Shankara running out shouting Lakshmi… Lakshmi. Had anything happened to their dear daughter-in-law? They ran after Shankara.

Shankara ran breathlessly… like a madman. After he ran his father and mother. “O my God! This is our Lakshmi.” Lakshmi was hanging…from the banyan tree… froth appeared on her face. Her eyes reflected a win…others had been defeated—Shankara, his father and his mother. Who knew what was there in the prediction of Raghu Purohit. It was as if an undescribable pallid dawn waited for them all.

About the author: 

Dr Manoranjan Mishra is an assistant professor of English at Govt. College, Angul, Odisha.