this is umesh, i joined this forum as student i want some help i am posting here the short story named "Doiboki's Day" by Arupa Patangia Kalita. and you should help me by reading this story and posting your view about the suffering of the main character. what kind of suffering she suffers in her whole one day. please i am waiting for your reply
DOIBOKI'S DAY BY ARUPA PATANGIA KALITA
Take it, babu, take it! Give me twenty rupees and take it! How long am I going to sit and watch over this one fish? Tying the roe-filled kurhi with a tine strip of tender bamboo, Doiboki wound up her wares with deft hands. She called across to Mano and her friends at the other end o f the bazaar, “Are you there, Mano?” but there was no response. They must have gone home. Now she was on her own, with the descending darkness. But then, how could she have sold such fine fish for the price of water? The traders who used to pay her a fir price had suddenly turned stingy, behaving as if they were parting with their own flesh. Apparently, they had to pay someone a huge amount of money. Doiboki put a tamul, a piece of betel nut, into her mouth and cursed them roundly. “Bloody mekhela wearers! Swallowers of their own sputum! They want my fish free! Damned, miserable, low caste specimens of humanity whose corpses are consumed by vultures!” Doiboki felt a little better after her outburst.
Candles and small kerosene lamps lit up the bazaar. Doiboki’s neighbour Raghubir, the patato and onion seller, had stuck two candles in his net arched piles of onions and potatoes. He looked at the candles, his hands folded in a silent prayer, then turned towards Doiboki. “What’s the matter, DoibokiBai?? Aren’t you going home today?” Doiboki slapped her thighs in disgust. “Why, would you like me to stay and admire your beautiful face instead?”
Mekhela and sador:- the traditional dress worn by Assamese women.
Through the story, there are references to several varieties of fish. These are- Kurhi: medium sized freshwater fish; Kawoi: small fish which lives in tanks, water bodies, flooded fields but not in running water; Darikana: a small freshwater fish; Singi: a small fish which lives in muddy waters and has sharp bones near it’s mouth; Magur: a scaleless, dark fish, which lives in still, muddy waters; Kandhuli: medium sized, flat, scaly fish of silvery colour which lives in freshwater; Barali: big, scaleless, freshwater fish found in rivers, large tanks and water bodies; Sang: small fish living in muddy holes; Puthi: very small, reddish, still water fish with scales; Pabha: flat, scaleless, white-skinned, freshwater fish; Mirika: big scaly, silver coloured, freshwater fish; Goroi: a big freshwater fish of the carp family
She looked around her. As usual, Jaduram had arranged his greens and vegetables in neat little piles and was sprinkling water on them. It was time for the babus of the town to arrive. Ganesh, the masala dealer who usually sat between Raghubir and Jaduram had filled up the vacant space with his lemons arranged in order of size and hue. He had spent the entire day playing around with his vegetables, arranging and rearranging them like a child with its toys, Doiboki thought. A scathing comment rose to her tongue but she swallowed it in time. “What’s happened to Ganesh today, oi?” she asked instead.
Raking the small heap of ridge gourds, Jaduram whispered, “How could he come after the death of all those army men? When the bomb exploded on the bridge, Ganesh’s Village was instantly overrun by the military. Life has become impossible for them.”
A sudden shiver ran through Doiboki. She had heard similar stories.
It was growing darker inside the bazaar. Doiboki began to feel a little uneasy. Had the trader bought her basket of fish, she would have been home by now and lying on her cane mat, after an evening meal of rice. Mano and her friends had asked her if she wanted to go home with them but she had refused, hoping to earn a little more money. Luckily, it had not been a total loss. She would have some money left over even after buying her rations. If she could save a little more money, she would cut open her bamboo saving box and then she would be able to take her mother-in-law to the town hospital to get her cataract removed. Doiboki was already late today. Perhaps the old woman was trying to cook the evening meal, groping for things because of her dim eyes. Luckily, Doiboki’s eldest daughter was there to help the blind woman.
Doiboki bought half a kilo of potatoes. She had been lucky today, otherwise when did one buy potatoes? The old woman liked to have mashed potato with salt and mustard oil mixed in. Yes, it had been a lucky day. She had bought two kilos of rice; there were some three or four kilos at home as well. And her son must have caught some fish.
Doiboki made her way out of the bazaar carrying her bundle of rice and potatoes. Transferring the money from the tucked-in ends of her mekhela to her blouse, she took long, rapid strides. The old woman must be nagging the children at home- Has your mother come? I wonder where she’s gone and died. The children troubled their grandmother a great deal, Doiboki thought, her heart quickening with tenderness.
The streetlights had been on for a long time. The shops were ablaze with light. Stepping into the glare, after having been in the weak flickering light of the oil lamps in the bazaar for such a long time, made Doiboki feel as if she was being stripped, exposed. There were two buttons missing from her blouse, and her mekhela, held up by a single knot, barely covered her thighs. The inadequate, narrow sador appeared to shift every now and then, as if to deliberately expose the blouse with its missing buttons. Doiboki felt as if all the men were gaping at her and …. did someone whistle at her? She moved the basket under her arms to her head along with the bundle of rice and potatoes. Then, crouching in the shadow cast but the basket, she started walking quickly- her head bent low, her mekhela slapping against her legs, satap, satap!
Soon she was outside the town, walking on the kuccha road that led to the riverside village at its southern end. There were fewer people now and not much light. The rice fields on either side of the road were wet and dark and glow worms, clustering like shoals of small darikana, winked in the dark. Somewhere a pack of jackals howled. A young rikshawalla sang his way towards the town, his empty riksha rattling down the road. Doiboki lifted her head to the sky. It was swollen with darkness like a pregnant river during the monsoons, with not a hint of light anywhere. The night was hot and sultry and after some time she took off her blouse. Weakened with sweat, the fabric gave way. Irritated, she tossed it into the basket, pulled her mekhela up over her breasts and carefully tucked the money back into its folds. The cool breeze soothed her body.
Cars and other vehicles seldom plied on that road at night. A little ahead lay the naamghar, the village prayer house. Doiboki had first seen the naamghar when she was a child-ruing wild without a stitch on.
It sat in a large compound with two vast tanks- Ganga and Jamuna-in front of it. These tanks never dried up, whatever the season. People traveled long distances to collect water from them to keep near their thaponas, their altars, at home. Right at the centre of the compound was an immense banyan tree. In these water lived two gigantic algae-covered turtles- Doiboki and Jashoda. When morsels of food were thrown into the water and the turtles called out to, they would appear on the bamboo platform that led down to the tank. Doiboki had heard about these turtles but never seen them. How could she? Dark-skinned people whose skins smelt of fish were forbidden to enter the naamghar. Her friends used to tease her incessantly, calling her “The turtle of the great tank”. Had her mother named her after one of the turtles? As children, Doiboki and her friends went to the naamghar at least once every day. People would sometimes offer the scampering bunch of urchins mah-prasad. But it had not been the lure of the mah-prasad alone that led them there. They were curious-What was it that lay inside the great house, surrounded by trees and tanks, to whip passersby bowed so reverentially?
Doiboki quickened her pace. Beyond the naamghar, near the sharp bend of the river, was the bridge that led to the village. Nets billowed in the breeze here, ad the place reeked of fish. Once she set foot on the bridge she would be safe, I her village, with its familiar comforting sounds- brawls, blustering drunkards, crying babies, the curses of battered wives.
A creeper of lighting shot across the sky. In the sudden flash she saw a black and yellow striped bakraj snake slither across t he road just as three trucks loaded with army men appeared, scattering the quiet darkness. Doiboki stepped to one side. She clearly saw the back wheel of the truck crush the snake. The skies rumbled once more and lightning flashed. The sight of the mangled snake pierced Doiboki like a singi, sharp and painful. Thefearless woman was suddenly gripped by a strange terror. Had her husband been alive today, would she have had to step out at night, for such a lousy little sum? Remembering the sturdy man who had passed away after only a week’s fever and diarrhea, hot tears rolled down her cheeks like drops of water slithering down the slippery surface of a magur.
The naamghar was surrounded by vast, open stretches of land. There were huge fields in front of it, and passing by the place, even in daylight, a timid person would find his heart pounding. Usually when Doiboki and her friends approached the nammghar they would see the ladies sitting in front of it, singing their naam and bhajans. No woman was allowed to set foot inside the nammghar. The sorais and sakis offered by them were taken inside by the naamgharia while the well dressed women knelt and prayed at the steps by the entrance. In summer, Doiboki and her friends would stretch out under the shade of the banyan tree near the naamghar, hoping that one of the women, after finishing her naam, would give them a plantain leaf filled with mah-prasad. Once in a while, one of them might call out, “Doiboki, my daughter and son-in-law have come. Could you bring over some good fish?”
Now, as Doiboki neared the naamghar, even the faint steady glow of the oil lamps in the distant huts seemed to disappear. There was darkness everywhere. Doiboki took out a tamul and thrust it into her mouth, remembering how once she would cross this same bridge with friends. In the light of the setting sun, their skin would glisten like ripe jamuns.
She had never been out so late before. Blast those traders! If they had only paid her a fair price as before, she would have had no problems. Doiboki’s head throbbed at the thought of the price they had offered for the live, roe-filled kurhi. About to spit out a heartfelt curse with the betelnut juice, she stopped. In the field opposite the naamghar she could see some sharp beams of light bobbing up and down like silvery kandhulis somersaulting in shallow waters. Doiboki quickly, quietly, sank to the ground. The thunder and lightning seemed to grow fiercer. Looking beseechingly at the naamghar, Doiboki folded her hands, praying…. “Hei Bhagwan, what is this?” In the flashes of lightning Doiboki could clearly see some soldiers wading in the water, like villagers chasing fish towards enclosures with their fishing gear. A great barali seemed to wriggle in their hold. She heard cries of pain- as if someone was being tortured. Doiboki shivered helplessly, images o f the mangled bakraj enveloping her. The beams of light had once more turned into somersaulting kandhuli.
The barrier, sustained by years of tradition, suddenly snapped. She rested her hand on the gate of the naamghar. The crowd of men were coming, under cover of darkness, towards the road. But even as she was about to push open the gate, Doiboki hesitated one last time, fear tripping trough her body. What was she doing? Could she enter the temple of the Lord? She saw the bamboo fencing in front of her. Like a wall of stone. She knew all about the golden boat that floated on the water of Ganga and Jamuna at night. Whoever saw the boat vomited blood, and died. But……if anything were to happen to her now, the old woman and the children…..Doiboki pushed the gate open, ran in blindly. She stumbled and fell under the peepal tree.
The military men were on the road. A sudden beam of light licked her body. A stern, harsh voice floated up to her, “Kaun hain?” Doiboki crawled into the furrow. Boots clip-clopped on the road. Jeeps roared to life. For a moment, as the many vehicles sped off towards the town, it was as busy as day.
There was an anthill somewhere inside the furrow of the peepal. Her fall had disturbed the ants and some came crawling out now. They stung. Doiboki quickly moved out of the hollow, shaking her sador briskly, the smell of the lack ants and their eggs fillingher seses. Lighting danced on the waters. Intense fear, combined with the heat of the night, made her feel as if her skin had been roasted. She looked around for water to slake her thirst. If she couldn’t get a drink of water now, she knew her heart would burst. Even so, she told herself, she didn’t dare drink from Ganga and Jamuna.
Yet she saw herself moving slowly towards Ganga.
There was a sudden noise in the water, which was soon lost in a sharp rustle somewhere near the edge of Jamuna. Doioki’s heart was pounding. She remembered Pado Kaity’s brother who, while returning to the village one night, had heard the two turtles splashing around, khalap khalap, and had walked in impulsively to take a look. On that moonlit night, Doiboki and Jashoda appeared near the bamboo platform when he called out to them. But as soon as he threw some of the roasted gram he had on him, Pado Kaity’s brother had turned blue, as if from the poison of the revered one around Siva’s neck.
The rustle from inside the hollow had died down. What could there be in the hollow where she had left behind her fish smell to mingle with the odour of the ants? It was said that everyone was afraid to touch Pado’s brother’s dead body. What happened to his corpse? Had the crows and vultures gorged on the stale flesh? She had never asked.
Doiboki pressed her arms around her body and found it soaked with perspiration. She wiped her face with her palm. It reeked or roe-filled kurhi. Carrying this odour, she had dared to……She licked dry lips. Desperately, she looked around for some water to drink. She walked down the steps of the bamboo platform to the water’s edge and bent down to cup her hands. But she just could not bring herself to do it. How could she use these hands, polluted as they were with the smell of fish to….
Doiboki sank down on the platform, the cool waters lapping at her feet. Then, like sang suddenly springing free of the fishing line, Doiboki’s hand shot out and brought up some water. She drank thirstily and even sprinkled some on her head, “Bhagwan, forgive me if I have sinned.” Then she stood up abruptly, her feet creating small ripples on the waters that lapped the bamboo platform.
There was not a sound anywhere. The thunder had stopped. The sky was a heavy black, the colour of her body. The trees and leaves were absolutely still.
And in that silence, a sudden splash in the water. Salap salap. Doiboki strained her ears. This was not the sound of fish beating their tails against the waters. She shivered. Who had told her the story? Where had she first heard it? Sometimes in the middle of the night, a golden boat floated on the waters of the tanks of the naamghar. Two great, green-backed turtles always swam by its side, guarding it like sentries.
People said that the sudden death of her sturdy husband was a mysterious affair. On a dark, moonless night, dripping with rain, the reckless man had gone out of the house, oblivious to all warnings. The fields opposite the naamghar had been inundated with shoals of kawoi. When he returned in the morning, his basket was laden with fresh red, glinting kawoi, each the size of a man’s palm. That was the first day the man had shat blood nonstop. People had whispered that he had seen the golden boat on the waters of Ganga and Jamuna on that moonless night. How else could a healthy man be reduced to such a state, in the space of one night?
Seeing the blobs of blood in the courtyard, his mother had beaten her breasts and cried, “Gluttony, it was sheer gluttony! Oh, why did he go out on that moonless night, on his father’s death anniversary, to fish in that haunted field? So what if it had been flooded with fish?” Doiboki seemed to her mother-in-law’s voice breaking out of the silence, distorted by pain and grief. “Greed, sheer greed!” Her mother-in-law had hurled veiled taunts at her. And now, with the money tucked in the folds of her mekhela burning her like red hot cinders, clawing at her like sorat leaves, Doiboki told herself she had been greedy too.
The noise in the water grew louder. Drops of water splashed on to her feet. Her eyes had grown accustomed to the darkness and she could clearly see a huge turtle waiting near the bamboo platform. Like a kawoi jumping out of a bamboo basket, Doiboki bounced back on to the bank. Trembling, her eyes fixed on the pond, she knelt down. The turtle continued to wade in the ankle-deep water on the platform.
Tears blinded Doiboki. She was afraid to look at the tank. Was the golden boat floating in, unmanned and rudderless, a cursed sight that made people vomit blood and die? The sound of another splash…..Two great, algae-covered turtles would be guarding the golden boat.
She ran towards the naamghar without pausing to look back, but stopped at the door. Even the ladies sang their naams from the steps- the ladies who were as beautiful as the vermilion-coloured senduriputhi, as fair as the smooth milky white pabha, whose clothes glittered like the shining scales of a mirika-they too said their prayers here. Doiboki had seen them since she was a child.
She sank to the ground, her headburied between her knees. The noise the water had ceased. She looked reluctantly towards the naamghar. A crowd of glow worms winked within it in the dark.
Doiboki started walking away, slowly. The wind had whipped up by now and the rain that had been threatening to descend came down in a great deluge. The large trees began to sway and Doiboki was forced to retrace her steps. She stood at the spot where the ladies sang their naams, soaked to the skin. The tin roof of the naamghar rattled. Hailstones the size of lemons began to pelt her. She knew that a part of the naamghar near the entrance was kept open; only the sacred area, the monikut, was locked. When she could not bear the assault of the hailstorm any longer, she took a small step inside, but came out immediately to stand under the hail that threatened to crush her. Finally, her exhausted body could take no more. She crept into the naamghar.
Inside there was not a drop of rain, only a refreshingly cold breeze that washed over her. She squeezed the water out of her clothes. Instantly, the smell of raw fish filled the place. And then she heard it, the rustling sound once again, this time from inside the monikut. The thing must be out looking for her!
She stared at the monikut. There was a huge lock o its iron grill. Through the grill she could see the floral gamosa on the thapona. By its side, two wicks flickered in the oil lamp that must have been lit that evening. In this light, soft as two glow worms, Doiboki was the many flowers made of gold and silver placed onn it. She went down on her knees before the thapona.
Suddenly, a lamp that burnt on a mound of earth outside the monikut, guttered out. There was a muffled noise, as though something had jumped off the roof on to the huge drum in one corner of the naamghar. Doiboki shivered. She could hear, once again, the rustling sound of the revered one near the drum.
She tried to concentrate on the many smells that floated in the naamghar-the mild sweet fragrance of the incense sticks and camphor, that of mustard oil, the smell of burnt-out cotton wicks in ancient oil lamps mixed with the fresh smell of the mopped mud floor, the smell of the soaked gram and moong Prasad-but for her only the stench of raw fish stayed, overpowering all else. Her rain soaked basket reeked of fish.
Doiboki’s heart started to pound. What had she done? She had spread the odour of fish in that holy place which barred its doors even to those women, fair and fragrant like the gardenia. She flinched like a magur on which salt had been sprinkled. Her head reeled. She had left home at the crack of dawn, after a meal of leftover rice soaked in water. Now suddenly, without warning, she retched, then began to throw up noisily. Hastily, she mopped up the slimy, sour smelling vomit with her sador, afraid even to look at it. Surely there was blood, clots of blood, yes, certainly there was blood. Wearily, she lay down on the floor and, in her semiconscious state, she heard the same rustling sound. She saw two green-backed turtles splashing around a golden boat that floated on the waters. Then everything blurred. Only blotches of blood and a sador soaked in blood, unfolding to its full length………..
“She’s moving, she’s moving.”
“She’s not dead, not dead.”
“She’s sitting up. The woman is sitting up.”
Doiboki woke up to a babble of female voices. She rubbed her eyes and looked around her. She was right in the middle of the great naamghar, a crowd of women peering at her from outside. The hailstones that had pelted her had disappeared. Where was the sador soaked in blood? She looked at the crumpled sador on her body. It was stained with huge patches of dried vomit. Where were the gigantic turtles and the golden boat, the long one that rustled around? And the gold and silver flowers glittering in the soft light of the oil lamps?
Doiboki rubbed her eyes and looked at the monikut. The gold and silver flowers, the brass oil lamp, the big sorais of bell metal glittered reassuringly in the daylight. She fell to her knees, her head touching the ground reverentially in prayer. Then, arranging her sador, she came out of the naamghar. Her head was throbbing. Still unsteady, she reached the spot where the women sang their bhajans and slumped heavily to the ground, just a little distance from the monikut.
“Isn’t this Doiboki the fisher woman?” one of the women, who was as beautiful as the vermilion-coloured senduriputhi, cried out in astonishment. The men folk were to have a meeting at the naamghar that evening, so the ladies had come in for their daily prayer in the morning instead of the afternoon. And the sight of an unconscious woman in front of the monikut created a stir among them.
What were they to do? The women were not allowed to enter the naamghar and the namgharia lived quite some distance away and would take time to arrive. A messenger was sent off to inform him. And the new- A fisherwoman had entered the hallowed, jagroto naamghar- spread like wild fire. People stormed the naamghar to stare at the fisherwoman who was indeed sitting at the entrance to the holy place, her head between her knees.
“I often buy fish from this fisherwoman.”
“She liver in that village.” Someone pointed to the village at the other end of the bridge.
“How did she enter the naamghar?” The question was asked by many, in many different words. “Why won’t out country be destroyed by fire? A lowly fisherwoman has entered God’s holy temple?”
“There will be disaster. Our country will surely burn,” old Banamali Sharma wailed, beating his chest.
“Even the women who share our beds are not allowed to set foot in the holy place, and now this fisherwoman has……” spluttered Krishna Mahanta.
“Were you not afraid to enter the naamghar with a woman’s impure body?” Baruani’s voice quivered with a strange dread.
“She will die. She will surely throw up blood and die!” cursed Saikiani, snapping her fingers.
Doiboki tried to get up but sat down again. Her head was spinning. She could feel the bile rise in her empty stomach. Pressing her forehead with one hand, she suddenly threw up. The floor was soaked with the foul smelling, yellow vomit. And finally, when the pain in her stomach subsided and her body felt lighter, she stood up with folded hands and tried to say, “The army, the hailstorm….” But as she stood up a hundred rupee note, a fifty rupee note and several ten rupee notes fell out from the folds of her mekhela.
“Where did she get all that money?” shouted Mahantani, who had never had even a hundred rupees of her own to spend, nor earned a single rupee in her life. “She must have surely stolen the money and taken refuge inside the naamghar.”
“Who knows if the gold and silver flowers….Naamgharia, why don’t you take a look and see if anything is missing.”
“Yes, how does one trust these low caste people? She must have had some ulterior motive for entering the naamghar.”
Doiboki picked up the notes. Someone spoke up in slightly jocular tones, “Ladies, why don’t you feel her body? See if she has hidden anything anywhere.”
The throng laughed.
Doiboki’s fulsome, dark, magur-like body peeped out of her disheveled clothes. The eyes of the men seemed to lick her skin. Baruani, thin and flat as a bamboo strip on a weaving look, suddenly saw her husband staring intently at Doiboki’s ill-covered bosom. She pounced on Doiboki, grabbing her by her hair. “How can anyone trust a woman with no sindoor, no conch bangles? Who knows what lover she may have brought in with her?”
“You are right. Whatever her motive, she must certainly have been accompanied by someone.”
“Come on, spit it out! Who was with you?”
“Where has he gone?”
The abuses hit Doiboki harder than the lemon sized hailstones. The sharp-tongued fisherwoman was reduced to silence. Suddenly she saw a small dark-skinned boy on the bamboo bridge at the entrance to the naamghar. At the sight of his sturdy limbs, she felt her heart break. Everybody said that the boy was the image of his father. The child took one look at his mother and stared running across the bridge.
Holding her nose with one had, one of the ladies rummaged through Doiboki’s basket of rice and potatoes. “What have you got here?”
Doiboki’s head throbbed. How dare they call her a thief; her hard earned money, spoils; and accuse her of stealing the potatoes and rice she had bought for the blind old woman. Doiboki bristled. She stretched out her hands like the sharp fins of a magur about to be trapped. Her dark body empowered by the poison of the singi, she pushed away the woman rifling through her bundle.
And then…..a familiar odour wafted up to her in the breeze. She looked up. The people were looking over their shoulders, at the bridge on the river.
Their dark bodies glistening in the sun, groups of people were storming towards the great naamghar, clustered together like a nest of goroi fingerlings.
Coming into her own, Doiboki slapped her thigh in her customary fashion, “Yes, I’m a woman. We’re impure. We menstruate. We give birth to babies. I fish for a living. I’ve sinned by entering the great naamghar. But I’m not a thief. Last night in fear of the army, the hailstorm….”
Her words were cut short by the blows that began to rain on her, her dark body blackened by the shadows of the people-those very people who would abuse her if her shadow so much as fell on their paddy spread out to dry.
The dark, sturdy little boy came running into the naamghar, shouting, “Ma, Ma!” Somebody gave him a push. And from the dark depths of the crowd, Doiboki let out a heart-rending scream. “Don’t kill me, oi….the old woman, the children….”
Like a fishing line descending on a nest of goroi fingerlings the scream wound its way towards the dark-skinned people clustered on the bamboo bridge at the entrance to the naamghar. And like tiny kawoi emptied on to the ground, they poured into the naamghar from which they had been barred since the days of their forefathers.
The blind old woman, holding on to this one and that, groped her way in the direction of Doiboki’s screams, “Doiboki, oi, let’s see someone harm you. You are my child, as good as a son. This blind old woman who in her prime could stop a fully grown rohu with a swipe of her pole, is not yet dead, Doiboki, not yet dead!”