Jamai Shashti is a touching story about broken dreams and the courage to break free.
It was unexceptionally humid! Just about 6.30 in the morning and the earth had already heated up. Champa wiped the droplets of sweat with the end of her crumpled saree and quickly wiped away an errant tear. She wouldn’t cry and give them any sadistic joy.
The hand pump wasn’t working too and Champa had to pump for a very long time to fetch a bucket of water. The utensils needed to be rinsed and washed. There was a lot that was to be done. It was Jamai Shashti, that special day when son in laws were celebrated and pampered across Bengal. It was another story that she would miss going to her home. Her husband of a year had refused the invitation. Champa bit her lip and continued to work. She hadn’t wanted to get married. But she was nineteen and her parents wouldn’t listen to her. Moreover, this groom was from Kolkata and worked as a mechanic. He was any day better off than her fishing folks of the Sunderbans. It hadn’t turned out as planned though. Her husband wanted a motor bike, her mother in law, a LPG connection. Her brother had managed to get the LPG but not the bike. Champa winced as the edge of her saree brushed against her bruised back. Whipped the previous night with a belt, her husband Bhola had warned her to even kill her.
It was her first Jamai Shashti. She had seen her married friends come home with gifts; the shy groom would then be fed all sorts of Bengali delicacies. “The trees must be laden with mangoes and jackfruit,” Champa said as she washed the remaining of the utensils. Her sister-in-law Shanti and her husband would come for Jamai Shashti. She would quickly have to finish the chores.
“Champaaa..oo Champaa,” she heard her mother-in-law call and increased her pace of work. “I knew you would be lazing here. I wonder if you would even finish a thing. Oh my poor Bhola, he is tied up with this one for life. You don’t move a limb. Today if my Shanti has to work in the kitchen, I would rather throw you out,” the woman rebuked.
Champa fumbled and tried to convince the old lady, but like always, it didn’t help. Hurrying with the cleaning and preparing breakfast had left Champa drained. And then there was an elaborate meal to be cooked. The mention of the festival choked her mind. She would have been pampered too. This could be her special day too. Lost in her world of dreams, she was rudely jolted back to reality when she felt her mother-in-law pulling her hair.
“Shanti will be here any moment. Don’t go sobbing in front of my jamai. He will think we have been bad with you.” Champa nodded and chopped the vegetables and fried the fishes. As the sun rose, it got hotter. She wiped her face for the umpteenth time and congratulated herself as she finished cooking some of the dishes. Her joy was short lived though. Conch shells blew from neighbouring houses, announcing the arrival of their daughters. Champa couldn’t go home. Her eyes glazed and almost blurred her vision. The kitchen was her place of solace. No one would come here to check on her. Since the past year, she had spent her spare time here, reading news and recipes from the newspaper and dreaming of running her little restaurant someday.
She heard a whole lot of chatter and ran her palm on her crumpled saree and adjusted it. Shanti must have come. Her mother-in-law would call her anytime. For the next hour she waited for the call, but realized she wasn’t needed in the celebrations. In the sweltering heat of the kitchen, she sat and wondered if her elder sister could visit their parents. She must have. Her husband wouldn’t fail to buy new clothes for his in laws on this day.
Summoned to serve lunch, Champa felt her spirits rise reasonably. At least Shanti didi was happy. Her glowing face made Champa glow too. Somewhere a woman was happy and that was enough for Champa. But as she served, Champa’s eyes moved to the neck piece Shanti wore. That belonged to Champa’s mother – it was her wedding gift.
Steadying herself, she realized she would need to talk. She looked from her mother-in-law to Bhola, who seemed to ignore her presence. She would have to find her voice.
‘Now would you stand here or get the meat from the kitchen?’ Bhola growled. She nodded and walked to the kitchen, kept the bowl and grabbed the newspaper and quickly checked the contents of a particular story. Champa knew what to do. Opening the backdoor she walked out and kept walking until she reached the police station.
As she lodged the complaint, it started to rain, drowning her shame of being silent for a year. She felt the rain touching her bruised skin and feeling reasonably soothed wondered where she had got the courage to come to the police station. The newspaper reports about dowry deaths and domestic violence had rattled her and she had lived in constant fear each time Bhola or her mother in law hit her. Today, when her mother’s gift was snatched away it reminded her of what she was worth.
Undeterred by the questioning looks of her neighbours she watched as her husband and mother in law were taken away by the police. Somewhere a conch shell blew and Jamai Shashti got a whole new meaning for Champa. Sieving the devil out of the jamai, she smiled and reached for the gifts her parents had given her. A new beginning was awaiting her. Her streedhan would be her collateral for the roadside restaurant.
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