By Maya Sharma (Thakuri):
It was past midnight. Kicking the door hard, Harihar yelled haltingly: “Hey you bitch in there, either you open the door or I’m going to break it. Look at this devil of a woman! She goes to bed so early on, with the all the doors closed. Shame on her!”
Ambika, having just finished administering her ailing son his medicines and putting him to sleep, was just about to fall asleep when she was suddenly awakened by her husband’s harsh and loud voice. She jumped out of bed and opened the door for him.
“Don’t you have brain enough to realize that your husband will come home weary and you’ll have to serve him something to eat? Blast it! All you can think of is filling your own belly. And mind you, I’m a man and, therefore, can bring in as many wives as I wish. And don’t you ever forget that you are only a woman that reduces into useless trash, like wet rags on the very night of her marriage,” Harihar shouted, swaying his body forward and backward in a drunken stupor.
“Shall I serve you food…….?” Ambika who had got quite used to hearing such groundless admonishments, asked him dispassionately.
“Why…? Are you the only one, in this house, who feels hungry? Don’t I too feel the same? Repeating the same damn thing every day, ‘Do you want me to serve you food? Shall I serve you food?’ None sense. You’d better cut out this kind of crap from now onwards or…. Or, I’m going to kick all your teeth out of your head some day. Don’t you ever forget that shoes fit fine on the feet and not on the head,” Harihar chattered away, swaying back and forth on a stool and hurling his shoes on to the floor after taking them off.
“No, I had just meant to enquire if you had eaten out elsewhere this evening, that’s all,” Ambika in a bid to defend herself said in a soft voice.
“Oh I see! Tell me if you aren’t saying all this out of jealousy? You’d better not compare yourself with Sapna. She is a modern young lady. She is just fabulous in the way she eats and dresses, and she is gorgeous—the way she carries herself and the way she prevails upon young men. She is not your type, wearing the one and only maxi that stinks of oil and turmeric all the time. And about this mug of yours, I find it always gloomy like a dark cloud….you ugly witch!” Harihar ranted and raved hurling his coat on to the bed.
Standing by his side meekly with a jug in her hand, Ambika poured water on him to wash his hands in a bowl she had provided. Then she reheated the food and put it on a small table that stood before him.
“So, you didn’t cook meat again today either, eh? Don’t you know that the food does not go down your husband’s gullet properly when there is no meat? How many times do I need to remind you of this? Oh God, you have been married five years and no brain has grown in your head yet,” Harihar retorted as he mixed and mashed rice, daal (lentill soup) and vegetable-curry with all his hand after pouring them all on to one plate.
And then he started eating, slobbering and littering his food about, all at the same time.
“Our son being sick, I was late coming back home from the doctor’s where I had taken him early this morning. Even here at home, he wouldn’t let go of me for a second. It has been more than a week, and here I am not able to get the clothes sewn ready to fill the customers’ orders on the due date. And besides, how can I buy meat when I have no money?” she tried to explain to him in her most docile manner.
“So, now you have even started teaching me who is running the household? Damn you and your food! I’m not going to eat a single grain of this. You eat it yourself,” he shouted, tossing the plate of rice in the air in anger.
Then, after washing his hands, somehow he staggered out of the door, obviously to go and empty his bladder.
As usual, Ambika, trying her best to control the wave of pain that was breaking her heart, and without a single word of protest, began to clear up the scrapes that were littered all over the floor.
Sometime later, Harihar ordered his wife from under the quilt, “Here, you change that dirty maxi of yours and come over here to bed.”
That’s how Ambika’s life had been. She had been going through all kinds of torture and insult ever since the day she had married Harihar at the age of seventeen. Everything had proved to be just opposite to the beautiful dream that she had had about married life. A woman’s body, for Harihar, was nothing but an object for self-indulgence and he derived immense gratification by toying with it and abusing it as per his own needs and desires.
Truly speaking, Ambika’s conjugal life with Harihar had become hellish from the very beginning. Harihar never gave his wife the status of a life-partner. He gratified his male chauvinistic instincts by intimidating her and by roughing up her body in a very brutal way.
He took great pleasure in reminding her each night, “The night is all mine and you are here only to dance to the tune of my music.”
One night, Harihar had reeled his way in, in his usual drunken stupor. That night too, he began finding faults and kicking up a fuss on baseless grounds as soon as he had entered the room. And he didn’t stop short of even kicking and punching her when she had tried to protest against the accusations and allegations that he had levelled against her.
“Just you wait and see what I’m going to do to you later.” Harihar threatened her after thrashing her mercilessly and then he left the room for a short while.
Petrified as she was at the fearful anticipation of another round of atrocities at his hands, Ambika went sobbing to a small room inside and lay down by her son who was fast asleep.
Harihar, after he had entered the room, went straight to where she was lying and thundered harshly, “So, you are relaxing here, eh? Get up and come to bed. Move quietly unless you want me to start kicking you into shape again……….?”
“Let me sleep here with my son tonight,” Ambika begged.
“What did you say? Just repeat that again. How dare you defy your husband’s orders? Looks like the last thrashing I gave you was not enough,” Harihar reached out for her hair in his bid to drag her to bed.
The racket in the room woke their son up and he began to cry loudly.
Ambika squirmed hard to free his hands from her hair but Harihar was all out dragging and slamming her to the floor more violently.
Then, Ambika, in the heat and excitement of the moment, happened to dig her teeth deep into one of his thighs.
“Ouch!” Giving out a loud cry of pain, Harihar let go his grip on her hair. Picking up her son from the bed quickly and putting him on her lap, Ambika began patting his back in order to calm and comfort him.
Overcome, probably, due to the loss of face that he had suffered in the eyes of his wife, Harihar was all set to attack her again with his right fist raised high in the air when, suddenly, he fell staggering down on the floor with a big thud. Finding her husband in this unexpected condition, Ambika tried her best to raise him to his feet again and again but all her efforts were to no avail.
Ambika had to call the neighbors who helped her take him to the hospital.
The doctor, after examining him, declared that Harihar had had a paralytic stroke. He could only see and hear but was unable to move any part of his body.
For a period of about two months, Harihar was given all kinds of treatments but there was hardly any sign of improvement. All throughout his stay in the hospital, Ambika spared no energy in her efforts to make him stand on his feet. Seeing Ambika devoted to making him move day in and day out, all his folks extolled her as a mighty woman who had in her the prowess to win her husband’s life back even from the clutches of Yamraj, the god of death.
Harihar was brought back home after a stay of almost two months in the hospital.
That evening, Ambika boiled rice, lentil and vegetables all in one pot. She served it to her son and to her husband. Then she ate the rest herself.
That night, she smeared her legs and arms with oil that had ground garlic and turmeric powder mixed in it. Then she went up to her husband’s bed taking the left over paste in a diuri® From the diuri, she took some of the mixture in her palms and smeared it all over her husband’s face. She then poured the remaining mixture on to her hair and wet her locks until they were very greasy.
“You’re averse to the smell of garlic and turmeric, aren’t you?” Ambika said, smiling derisively at her husband who was lying and gawping at her with a surprised look in his eyes. And she added sarcastically, “Oh, I’m sorry, I have forgotten to change into my stinky maxi….. This maxi I am wearing has none of the smell or stain of garlic or turmeric in it. So, let me first rub some turmeric and mustard on it, is that okay?”
And she went to the kitchen and returned with more of the concoction and smudged and sprinkled it across the maxi she was wearing.
“Isn’t it true that you loathe the smell of garlic? But I love garlic. Mind, if I chew some?” she said smiling as she put some cloves of garlic in her mouth.
“Will you please sniff this and tell me how you like the smell of my garlicky breath?” she asked, taking her mouth close to his nose and blowing some air into his nose from her mouth even as she munched more garlic.
The bizarre and unnatural behavior that Ambika was showing towards Harihar filled him not only with surprise but also struck him with a horrific sense of alarm.
She added, “It’s the first night after our marriage that I am coming of my own accord to lie down with you, placing my cheeks next to yours.” And she asked him calmly, glancing at his eyes, brimming with tears “Is this okay with you if I lie down here to sleep?”
And, even as she was rubbing her cheek against his, gently but firmly, she murmured in his ears, “The night is mine just as well and you are here only to……..”
®diuri—- a small pot used especially for the purpose of heating any kind of liquids.
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