This is Chapter IV of Kate Sarah’s novel TABOO. Please read previous chapters first by clicking the links below.
CHAPTER IV: RESHAM(Silk)
“Ama le marcha” said the lanky girl to her round face sister, Gayatri.
“Shut it” said the latter, as she inserted sharp needles into the black doll.
Resham was tan compared to her fair sister, Gayatri.
Gayatri was seventeen months elder to Resham. She possessed her mother’s beautiful skin and her pugnacity.
Resham trembled in fear as Gayatri mumbled words unto the door calling it Rose.
” You are Rose” and she spit on it. Pinning it with pins, she had seen the local Shaman do it and hoped to hurt her mother. She slapped the doll, punched it too and looked at thew docile Resham. Resham wiggled her head in fear.
Resham was her father’s daughter. She not only looked like her father, her calm demeanor, her serene voice all attributed to her father’s gene.
Nobody could guess Resham to be, Rose’s daughter. There was nothing that made her look like her mother.
Resham loved her mother, even though Rose’s measures for discipline sometimes were extreme.
Gayatri was sure that Rose hated both the sisters. Resham could not agree to this, “She always put extra piece of meat for me, no stepmother does that” she would tell her sister.
Gayatri was an obnoxious rebel; she once forced Resham to ask their father if Rose was their step mother. To this, Kaila laughed heartily.
Pritam Kaila was a singer who sang at local Mandirs. He had what the locals called the voice from God. When he sang, nobody could resist closing their eyes, worshipping the invisible God, he worshipped.
It wasn’t just his voice but his nature too was of a saint. His wife on the other hand was complete opposite of him and despised by everyone because of her sharp tongue.
Pritam Kaila knew Rose’s trouble.
“Show them your soft side and they’ll dance on your head” Rose would say to her Husband.
“Not everyone is like your father, Ama” he would assure his wife.
Yes, not everyone was like Rose’s father. They could be better or they could be worse.
As for Rose, she wasn’t willing to take that risk.
Rose never saw her biological mother. Her great grandfather made sure that she would never feel the absence or void of a mother.
The loss was great. It was unattainable because Rose lived in a household without women. Rose grew up in the neighborhood feeding on breasts of a neighbor’s wife. Her father married a woman who didn’t love her. Her stepmother gave birth to five sons of which two lived till adulthood.
Life was miserable for Rose. The troubles were handful but she lacked a companion and the worse of all things became the suffocating love of her father.
The world knew how Bir Birendra loved his daughter. Rose’s stepmother cursed Rose and her mother in her sleep. Bir Birendra never looked at his second wife as lovingly as he looked at Rose.
He never looked at his sons with such devotion as he looked after Rose.
“Maiya” he called her.
What made Rose leave her loving father and run off with a low class Gayine was a mystery only Three people knew and it was buried after the death of Rose and the other two.
Nobody understood the love of her father. She was too young to understand. Being raised by men and being motherless.
She knew she was hungry, starving for love and a warm hand on her head but she knew not that the hand was somewhere else too. She was seven years old. It had started with her. She was too young to understand the hand and the touch; the hand that belong to her father.
Everybody would tell her that her father loved her.
Everybody knew what she didn’t. So she accepted reluctantly the love her father gave her. As she grew old, she realised the discomfort of the relationship.
She couldn’t speak to her stepmother. She couldn’t speak such things to her brothers. She had no friends to talk.
She grew like a lonely Island surrounded by dead ocean.
Her father managed to give her an education to separate her from the crowd. As a result of which she was hated among her peers. She was called a horse lady, because she rode a horse to town for school. At thirteen, she read newspaper to her father.
She was fiesty girl at age and everyone swore no one could match her fire.
Bir Birendra would boast that he was able to keep his daughter, and marriage was out of question. If Rose was a pugnacious teenager, she was a docile creature for her father.
There was always a cold war with Dil, her stepmother.
Both the ladies were aware of each other’s feelings.
By the time, Rose was twenty, she accepted her fate. She learned the touch was wrong but she was so scared. She loved her father because she had no one to love. And she knew nobody loved her.
One day it all changed.
Rose loved Mahummad Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar.
But everybody knew, nothing could compare with Rashhi, a yesteryear star.
Rashhi was a new actress with winged eyeliner and hair so dark that night would hide itself under her locks.
Rose loved playing the characters Rashhi played and the villagers would often compare her with the Bollywood actress.
She would imitate her in every tone and temper. Her small wooden apartment was plastered with black and white pictures of her idol.
During the late 1950’s Rashhi and the famous Bollywood troupe decided to grace this small town Darjeeling. Along came the Superstar Hero. The news spread like wildfire. Rose couldn’t eat or sleep. She wanted to be under the same cloud as her idol.
So she went, to visit this great Indian actress unable to contain the excitement.
The small crowd of coolies gathered at the heart of Darjeeling, Rashhi had come in a new ambassador car with the directors and the crew. The famous Bollywood actor overshadowed her beauty, but to Rose, he meant nothing. Rashhi couldn’t ask for equal attention among the coolies and the Babus, men during her generation enjoyed certain status in the society just for being born.
Little did she know that she wasn’t the only one.
But her pride was deeply hurt.
The crack of insecurity seeped in, who knew the beauty with winged eyeliner had a harmartia. Her head ached for two days. On the third, the director dragged her to a calm tea estate not far from main town. She hopped and danced in bun shoes. On the fourth day, they had to halt because of the crowd which gathered up to sneak a peek.
The sun shone high in the sky.
Rose was there among the crowd with winged eyeliner and pink Chiffon saree.
The spot boys and directors pushed their way through the big crowd. Everyone chanted their names, the hero’s mostly.
Amidst the crowd, Rashhi could hear a girl shouting out her name loud. She saw that the girl had Rashhi’s picture cut from a magazine.
She saw a pink blouse and bangles jingling. Rose had an unusual face that didn’t belong to the current crowd. Hers was the face that belonged on the big screen and on the walls that the painters painted before a premiere.
Her face jabbed Rashhi, Rose was pure beauty untouched by the lotion inside the vanity box. Her rosy cheeks and pink lips were a gift from the mountains. Rashhi averted eyes fanning herself, the crack of insecurity had opened up again. She pulled the director with her, insecure about his knack for natural beauty.
Rose saw her ignorance. The idol had fallen from the pedestal. She didn’t scream Rashhi again. She didn’t cry. No, she wasn’t a crier.
She walked all the distance to home. Tore down the pictures from her wall and sat by the furnace that evening, burning the papers like a pyre. No one talked about the famous Indian actress again.
Rose married Pritam Kaila, a singer from a different village. Rumours had it that they eloped on their first date. Her stepmother had all sorts of dirt on her.
Her father was away in the army serving his nation. He believed what he was told on letters by his wife. He sure had given Rose all the freedom, she was feisty girl who rode horses, a girl who read newspapers out loud to make the old women in her locality jealous of her privileges.
The old wives of her village spat curses. A girl knowing more than a man was a dangerous trait to carry on earth. It would be impossible for her to find a suitor. Worse, the marriage wouldn’t last. Knowledge was dangerous for girls who were born to mend the wall of her in-laws.
That’s why her society claimed woman to be casteless; less a liquid that would take a shape of any container.
Who would prove that to Rose?
“I’ll kill the man who wants to marry me” she’d announced, and that was the reason nobody dared. Perhaps if she’d known the weight of her words, she would’ve never even uttered them.
Her father was very proud of her statement. It was when she turned twenty, things took a different turn.
All the girls her age in her village started a married life. Her stepmother too would prompt her to do so.
At first she laughed about it. The laughter died slowly when the days went by. She was told incapable of marriage, was told nobody could bear her tantrums; reverse psychology in vivid display.
Every night seemed to be torturous.
“Your friends are happily married. Are you going to end up a spinster? Be a burden to your father? I have already snatched my son’s share to you, how many more?”
Her stepmother was true. But she couldn’t marry any man.
Pritam Kaila sang bhajan-kirtans in different temples. He lived under the charity of his meager salary. Heaven knew that his voice was a gift from God that drew Rose to the temple.
She was never religious. She came to listen. She saw the owner of the voice. He was a dark boy around the age of seventeen with a white vibhooti on his forehead.
The moment Pritam Kaila saw her, he knew she would be his wife. They finally met one asar evening after the Sangati.
It was dark, she could hardly see his face but he could see her, he had always seen her.
She courteously drew her hands into a namaste. He was flustered and bowed a hello with his hand on his heart. Her friends giggled at this.
Next week, Pritam Kaila with the help of his friends and wrote seven pages of declaration to her.
Rupa handed the love letter to Rose, she was unwilling to take it but Rupa threw them at her saying, “It has your name on it. If you won’t take it, someone else might read your letter”.
She wasn’t willing to take the risk.
The love declaration ended with a death threat. He’d hang himself if she denied him. He had asked her to meet at the border where their village met. The day was Sunday as the tea garden celebrated its Sabbath and the time was 4pm late afternoon.
When Rose went to meet Pritam Kaila she had no intention to run away. He stood at the Machan the tea workers had set up amidst the field of tall grasses. He had combed and oiled his hair. He stood with a red rose. He was in fact few inches shorter than her, a few years younger than her. But he had courage which made Rose blush.
She had come to reject his proposal but somehow she couldn’t. They sat in silence for half an hour. He wasn’t a talker. He started with small talks. Then she dropped a bomb. “Do you think you can marry me?”
“I want to”, was his reply.
She didn’t ask about his family or how much money he had. She said, “Take me away from here.”
So he took her to his village. He was an orphan raised by his sister who welcomed them with a brass plate and light. His younger siblings had died in infancy and his older brothers were scattered around the border district of Nepal. There wasn’t a big ceremony, he was a poor seventeen year old young man. They were married the next morning by a local pundit.
When her father, Bir Birendra received the news, the first thing he did when he reached home was to beat his wife black and blue in front of his young sons and asked the priests to do a funeral rites for his daughter.
A show for the people around for his hurt ego. When the news reached Rose, she smirked and finished a desi chicken all by herself. Gayatri was born the following year. After a year and half she conceived again and thought it to be a son, she decided a name. She was disappointed when a girl popped out but the name remained.
Resham they called her.
After five years, a daughter again. The couple decided that three daughters would suffice.
“Kaila, it’s better to die abandoned than to bear a son for life” she told her husband.
Pritam never actually cared for an heir. He had nothing to give his next generation. Whatever little he owned, his wife had multiplied it with love.
That was the reason he called his wife Laxmi.
There was friction between Rose and his sister but they knew she had a mellow heart.
His sister died when Resham was ten. The household work doubled.
Their village was made up of mud huts. Apart from few houses which was wooden, the plantation workers had mud housed with a tin roof.
Pritam Kaila had a house made up of sal wood. He had a pigsty to call his own and a small house garden for herbs and vegetables.
There had been disputes between Rose and their neighbours; however, Resham and Harkey, the neighbour’s son, were close friends.
Harkey was two years older than Resham but he had always been her friend.
Since her early childhood days, Harkey would only ask for Resham. He had confessed Gayatri to be pretty but to him Resham was beautiful.
It was not a secret, Harkey’s admiration and his devotion towards Resham. At age sixteen he looked sickly, devoid of ambition and goal in life.
He had asked Resham to never cut her hair. She being a good friend had kept her promise. Her hair was long flowing down to her waist carefully braided, black onyx with a line in the middle of her head, she had two plait.
She loved reading upaniyas of Kovind, Shiv Kumar Rai and had a handful of Hindi books to entertain herself.
Gayatri didn’t like Harkey. She knew his infatuation with her sister, which she didn’t understand.
To her Resham was a nitwit, careless, guileless girl and she had her reason not to trust Harkey.
Harkey belonged to a Brahmin family whose issues with caste system were well known all around the village.
His father had a son from wedlock who was born mute. Harkey’s father was not allowed to marry the woman he was in love with. She was already pregnant with a child when he married Harkey’s mother whom he had never met.
Her only fault was that she wasn’t a Brahmin. Worse, she belonged to a lower class.
Indeed she was a beautiful woman who could have any man in the world.
She was in love with one man who could not breach the unjust custom, the evil in the society. She lived in a world where they told women to be casteless and shunned them because their father had one. She died giving birth to a beautiful healthy boy who was raised by her brothers.
The boy grew with a name that was more of a cuss.
He was called Chaitey because he was born in April. He grew up to be a sturdy boy, because of goat milk that was fed to him in substitute to his mother’s milk. He grew strong but mute. So they called him Lata Dammai and Chaitey Dammai.
They teased him because of his disability and often mistaking him to be deaf, they spoke words which he understood, yet remained unhinged by it.
He knew his parentage. He couldn’t acknowledge his father, and his father never called him his son.
During Dashain, his father would give him a pair of old trousers and a shirt. Sometimes he’d hand him some money. He was okay with the little silent conversation of give and take.
He would only bow during festive seasons.
Rose never understood this caste system and this riled up her uptight neighbors as she’d only mingle with the outcasts. As a result she was scorned by the upper caste society and was called a good neighbor by the marginalized.
She’d call Chaitey home for dinner, fed him good food and gave him good clothes. He in return of Rose’s good gestures would cut wood and carry water for her.
Puberty hit Chaitey like a landslide. It swallowed him whole. He grew tall. His shoulders became broad. His face grew manly with hair growing around his head long and rough like a lion’s mane.
At age eighteen, he had surpassed the list of good looking men in their thirties. He looked more mature than the most married men.
Young girls at the locality would talk about him while filling their Gagri with water.
Old housewives would talk about his good nature and strong hands that chopped trees in three blows.
There was a secret he had kept with himself and that was often mistaken with hysteria.
Chaitey Dammai saw ghosts and spirits. That’s what he believed. Every full moon night, he’d disappear in the nearest woods and would often found speaking in sign language only perceivable to himself. He spoke with someone in the bamboo forest which was known to be a lair of Forest spirits.
So one night, the village men tied him by the post of a cow shed.
The moon rose, the jackals howled in the night, dogs cried and Chaitey protested.
When someone asked him about his miserable condition, he replied in language permeable only to few that he had an appointment with someone.
A shaman was called.
The witch doctor then performed an exorcism more for the crowd gathered around than for Chaitey who confessed it was a woman with a long waist length hair in white who waited for him beside a Kholsa, near the spring water.
The shaman whipped the young man with a bamboo skin and the crowed watched agape.
The exorcism was complete when Chaitey begged for mercy at midnight.
Next morning he was too tired to act insane. He kept quiet. They assumed he was cured.
It was then Harkey told his best friend about his future. Quite openly he asked “I know everyone marries at a certain age. Whom will you marry?”
Unaware of the hint, Resham replied, “I’ll marry a soldier. Just like my grandfather”
To this Harkey came to a conclusion to win her heart. “In case I became a soldier, what then?”
“My worries will fade away. I’ll marry you then” she innocently replied.
Delighted by such answer, he told her, “You have to promise me now Resham, you’ll wait for me”.
Uncritical as she was, she nodded her head in promise.
It was a month later when they found a letter. Harkey had ran away to become a Laurey(soldier).
Resham wept because he didn’t say his goodbye.
“Oi, Gayatri. What if Ama finds out?” she told her sister as the latter buried the doll inside the heap of stones.
“She doesn’t believe in these things ” she joined her hands and chanted prayers.
Resham had a question at the tip of the tongue. She was in dilemma whether to ask her sister or not. The unknown kept appearing on her face which Gayatri read.
“What?” She asked Resham.
“I was wondering, are you a Boksi(witch)?”
There was a flash of light. She didn’t know what happened. She could only feel a warm sensation on her cheeks.
Resham didn’t cry, she was glum.
Her brown cheeks were marked with thick palm.
Resham didnt know how to put up a fight.
“Oo foreigners”, Gayatri jumped when she saw a ginger and a blonde crossing the small stream with their guide.
Europeans often came to hike around the area.
It was a pleasant sight for the villagers. The Europeans documented the lives of villagers and found a sense of aesthetic beauty in their simplicity.
Gayatri jumped around them as they avoided the two teenagers.
“Foreigners, adopt me. Give me money!” she spoke in accented English. The words she had learned in school, years ago.
The guide shooed them away.
When Rose saw the marks on Resham, she made sure Gayatri had the same mark, and she did.
That was the rule in the house. The sisters shared everything, even pain. Gayatri decided to revolt. She refused to eat food that night. Rose wasn’t a woman who put up with her children’s obstinate habits, she knew the game better. To teach her eldest daughter a lesson, she locked the kitchen.
Gayatri sobbed herself to sleep.
Resham was sorry but she could do nothing. “I’ll run away one day” Gayatri told Resham in between her hiccups.
Harkey was missed deeply by Resham. She had become depressed; Gayatri had her own crowd and didn’t like Resham to be a part of it. In her own way Gayatri took pleasure in seeing how dull Resham had become in Harkey’s absence. Gayatri who was quarrelsome before was social now and would walk with groups.
Chaitey Dammai always envied his half brother Harkey, not only because he had a family, but he had a girl like Resham. To the village women and Gayatri, Resham was a dull, lanky and unattractive girl. For Harkey and Chaitey, God knows, Resham was a woman.
Chaitey had seen his brother look at Resham and he coveted her then. As the days passed, his desire lost its duplicate borrowed greed and he saw the girl for who she was. Resham was unlike her sister, she had a bright smile that was joyful on her tan face. She was generous and polite but everybody made fun of her because she was a quiet bird, repressed under the guidance of her mother and the shadow of her sister.
Chaitey hated how Harkey made her laugh. He always wanted to touch her long hair that was plaited in twos most of the time, with a line parting them running straight from her forehead to the nape. She had dark oily hair, greased with mustard oil, and under its own volume had a village of lice that was weekly evicted.
Resham had bloomed from a girl to a woman. Unbeknownst to her, Chaitey had fallen deeply to her vague charm. The mute man was always caught in his own anxieties when she was around. Resham misinterpreted his anxiety as hate, she thought he hated her. It was true Chaitey spat when Resham crossed his path. He would make sounds that that terrified her. So that evening when Rose asked her to fetch milk from Chaitey’s shed, Resham hesitated.
“He hates me. I do not know why but he hates me”, she was in a verge of tears as she explained her fears to her mother.
“Why would he hate you? He has no brain to hate anybody”, Gayatri replied. “Besides, you are too ugly for such attention”, she laughed mercilessly.
Rose took careful measures while using knives, though Gayatri always aggravated her. Rose tried her best to be gentle while using sharp objects. Squash skins were peeled meticulously, “Go Resham, I am playing with a knife, you don’t want to upset me now”
These were times when she missed her best friend. Every evening, Harkey and Resham would walk hand in hand to fetch the milk from the shed. Since Harkey’s departure, the evenings were gloomy for her.
Chaitey was dazed that evening after the sore beating from the villagers. The aluminium bucket was filled to the brim with frothy milk. The shed had a smell Resham was accustomed with. Resham decided to conquer her fears and put up a brave face as she stood tall in her mother’s hand me down wrapper and a tight blouse. Her skeletal features were just a silhouette, a dark visual entity to Chaitey. The long thick harmless braided hair danced in front of him teasing him of insanity. He did what he had to yet no one understood.
At his arm length corner, an axe was tucked between the bamboo rod and the tin wall. He pulled the hair and chopped the devil’s tail.
Resham returned home empty handed with half of her hair cut and open. Her eyes swollen with tears, there was no sign of assault on her body but the girl was trembling to her bones.
Her wailing knew no bounds as she fell on her sisters arms. Her mother stood by the door, terrified for the very first time in her life. Resham’s clothes were intact; there was no sign of physical attack but the hair. That beautiful hair which Resham loved more than anything in the world. That one element even Gayatri could not have; her one beauty which was essentially just hers. Resham wasn’t sexually assualted but she felt violated.
Rose stood by the door with a sharp hooked knife, the more her daughter wailed, the more her heart sank. It took her ten minutes to reach the shed Chaitey’s uncle owned.
She saw Chaitey surrounded by his uncle and few men. His head was in his hand, his senses had returned. The long black tress was on the ground. The men were partly terrified to see Rose with a knife.
“Bhauju, he is a lata and a mad man. He had no intention to harm her. He mistook her for a witch”, Rose didn’t attack Chaitey. She had always pitied the motherless child. She stood by his side and asked him in her own made up sign language if he liked her daughter. His eyes had a shame yet he managed to smile coyly. Rose smirked slyly.
She drew closer to him and put the knife inches away from his eyes and warned him loudly for all the men to hear and shiver at her boldness. Her message was clear, the mad man and his company understood every word and the silence of it.
“I shall pluck your eyes. I shall cut your fingers and I will slit your throat if you come near my daughter”.
Chaitey didn’t fear Rose but he respected her fear for her daughter. Rose had a fire in her eyes, indeed she was a mother who loved her daughter as much a mother should love.
Gayatri asked Resham to cut her hair and the latter wasn’t able to comprehend that her long mane was reduced at one part. Scissors were handed to Rose whose eyes turned red and moist when she cut the length of Resham’s hair short. Resham wept as if she was being flayed.
Rose mumbled few curses at Chaitey, while sucking in her tears.
Chaitey Dammai could never forget the eyes of Rose. Her pupil was black but had more water in it. Resham had her mother’s eyes but darker just like her hair. Chaitey’s eyes were brown like the trunks of trees he used to chop in three hits. Rose’s eyes forever stayed on his mind; perhaps because they were the eyes of a dead woman he would one day kill.
Her eyes had already started haunting his nights as the Andolan flames started burning from the south. The year ripen to Chiyasi; towards the end of Mangsir, Resham turned fifteen.