Screech, screech, squawk, squawk; the shrill voice rents the air. “What an infernal nuisance! Can’t let a man sleep in peace,” grumbled Karan. Silently, a veiled woman tiptoed into the room, went and picked up the cage housing the noisy parrot, Mithoo, and carried it along with her to the kitchen located in the backyard of the house. It was a close shave, she thought as she set the cage down on the floor and looking at the bird whispered, “We would have had it today, you silly bird! Couldn’t you wait till I got back from brushing my teeth?” Saying that she smiled at it, put some bird feed into the cage and then went about her usual task in that small cloistered place which was her home and hearth. The typical mud chulha had been lit to prepare the first meal of the day; parathas had to be stuffed, rolled out and kept ready to be cooked once her husband woke up from his drunken stupor.
If only her parents, long deceased, could see their beloved daughter now, she mused. And to think that they had had such dreams of making her a doctor till Fate intervened and they were snatched away in a freak accident when she was just fourteen years old. Left at the mercy of uncaring relatives who wanted to get her off their hands, she had been married off at the age of sixteen. Her husband, Karan, was a semi-literate man who owned a grocery shop in a semi-urban locality lying on the fringes of Delhi.
The matrimonial home was built in the manner of a rustic household with an urban façade. The exterior was painted a pristine white with a huge iron gate. Before her advent into the house, Karan had been living there all by himself as her in-laws stayed in their village, a couple of a hundred kilometers away in Haryana. A visitor walking into the house for the first time would be hit by the typical lactose smell of buffaloes, the moment the gates were opened. For, as one entered the house and strode into the courtyard, one side of the quadrangle contained the living quarters of the six buffaloes that they owned and storage for their fodder. Opposite the ‘buffalo row’ was the ‘human row’. That side had four rooms. One was used as a bedroom cum living room. That room was where his cronies landed up for drinks and stayed on till late in the night. The next two rooms were used, basically, as store chambers to stock supplies for the shop. The last room, which was the size of a small cupboard, was where she retreated to whenever there was a drinking binge at the house or in the event of having been beaten up black and blue for her sin in not producing an heir for him. That little alcove housed her for almost fifteen days in a month.
It was a dreary life, indeed. She had to bear the burden of looking after the house and also to man the shop when her husband whiled away the entire day playing cards with the same idle cronies plonked on the charpoy placed outside the house; all of them taking their turns in pulling away at the hookah. It made them feel very macho indeed. There was no one she could complain to about her tormented life for most of the women in that area suffered the same fate. It was a patriarchal society functioning in a twisted way to the detriment of the women living within it.
It was a foggy morning and the parrot had been squawking for over an hour. A neighbor came up to the gate and rang the bell. After ages, Karan came out and looked at the visitor with bloodshot eyes. Recognizing the gentleman from next door, he asked him why he had come.
The man said, ‘Son, your parrot has been shouting for almost an hour continuously. Is everything okay?”
“An hour?” exploded Karan. “Where is the bitch? I will fix her today!”
He staggered in. “Suman, where the hell are you?” he shouted. Doors opened and closed with a bang, there was the sound of a chair falling, the buffaloes started mooing at this upheaval and the parrot continued to screech on unabated; all these sounds reached the ears of the gentleman standing outside. With trepidation, he stepped inside to see if he could be of any help and found Karan sitting on the floor looking dazed. “She left me! She left me!” he screamed. “I will find her and kill her!”
In a few minutes, a crowd sensing a drama in the locality had started gathering in front of the house. Soon, came the sound of a police siren. They had been called in by the elderly neighbor of Karan. As the Gypsy with its flashing blue light reached the gate, the crowd stepped aside to let them enter. The police posse went in and closed the gate. After about an hour, Karan was led out handcuffed. The elderly gentleman remained standing at the entrance holding the parrot in its cage. A hush descended on the crowd. The parrot screeched “Maar Daala” (killed her!)
As Karan was bundled into the police vehicle, a bystander, dressed in an army uniform bystander turned to his companion and said, “You taught Mithoo well. Come let me take you away from this hellhole to a life of peace, happiness and await the arrival of the addition to our family.”
Moving aside a part of her veil, while her lover gazed fondly at her still flat stomach, wherein a life had begun to take shape, Suman smiled as the years of neglect and torture were relegated to the embers of the past.
NOTE: This short story is nominated for the SALISMANIA.com Best Short Story Of The Year Award 2017.