The sky had a fistful of flickering stars that Maula Baksh didn’t notice. He was thirteen and looking for a doctor. There was none, and his mother succumbed to cholera.
Today, on this starless night, he was about to enter a door, which reminded him of his lost promises.
He had promised to make his wife a doctor- a Lady Doctor. But when he found a wife, she was so simple that teaching her alphabets became difficult. When she started reading, his daughter Lado arrived, already. She became the only woman whose tantrums he accepted. He wanted her to become the first lady doctor in the village.
Everyone at school failed in the middle level examination. Either all women were slow, after centuries of cooking and nursing, or else his daughter had inherited her mother’s sluggish genes. But finally, the girls revealed their secret. There was no teacher in their school.
That was the first occasion Lado shifted school. The new school was half an hour away, didn’t have chairs but a persistent cow stench. Maula Baksh overlooked all this, since chairs and cows are less important than teachers. Lado had long, oiled and braided hair and a light complexion like her grandmother. The rectangular building, sagging and yellowish, was loathsome to Lado. She desired to play “pithu gol garam” and “gulli danda” like her cousins. But amidst cow dung and heat, she learnt the most important lessons of her life. Years later, when withdrawn from this school, she shed many tears. She confused the stench with scent and heat with tranquility, now.
The new school was two hours away by bus, and Lado’s father had to go with her because the fields were unsafe in the afternoon. It had sports, laboratories and tiled washrooms. They prepared Lado so thoroughly, that she topped in her Matriculation. Kinnaird College in Lahore gave her a full scholarship; but Maula Baksh was short of the money to commute to Lahore. He went to his elder brother to ask for money but he wasn’t home. However, his nephew Chamku was present.
“I was about to come to your place!” Chamku beamed but was annoyed to hear of Lahore.
“You have already done a lot of tamasha! For seven years you sent her in a school where there was no bathroom and young girls went in the fields!”
“I immediately changed her school when you informed me of this.” said Maula Baksh.
“Doctor?” laughed Chamku.” No village boy ever became one, let alone a girl. Lahore? I have seen those girls, waiting for buses. Every Bicycle and Rikshawala eyes them like some public property, touches and curses them. Should strangers touch her private parts? Who will marry her after all this? You send your honor to roll on the streets like a football?” Chamku’s face reddened. “Those doctors? Obscene people! If I complain of leg ache, a doctor will herself take my shalwar off! Our sisters, daughters doing that? Never!”
Maula Baksh was shocked. He had never thought of Lado’s commuting in Lahore. He could enroll her in a hostel. But he couldn’t ensure she stopped traveling. Yet it was insane to stop her now. He had spent years preparing, selling his wife’s jewelry. The whole village was expecting a doctor to return from Lahore. He had promises to keep, to himself and his dead mother.
When Lado returned home, she could see her cousin and uncle sitting in their veranda. Chamku blushed. She wanted to complain about Chamku to her father. Since childhood he had been bullying her and peeping at her in the bathroom. He shouted on streets his Queen Lado shouldn’t study, thrashed boys and attempted to grab her.
“Bloody Matric fail tamasha!”, thought Lado.
Lado then realized why Chamku was blushing. He was the bridegroom! Her uncle was laying a siege to make her Chamku’s bride! Her father was currently resisting. Deep down she feared he would agree because he and uncle had a land dispute. This was the easiest way to resolve it.
“I don’t have any dowry yet.”
“She is our daughter too. Who would take dowry for his own daughter?”
“But we can’t send her empty-handed.”
“Well, we don’t need anything. Give her what pleases you. You must have collected something over the years?” said her uncle, eyeing the calf close-by.
“She can go to the city, study and then get married.”
“We are not letting a city servant enter our house, let alone a city bride. We will not have our nose cut in the village!”
“She wants to serve humanity. Save women in childbirth and protect children from epidemics.”
“Every being is born with a fate- no doctor can save those who are bound to die. A young girl in the city alone? You are justifying prostitution in the name of humanity!”
Maula Baksh regretted that his mother’s life had been wasted. She could have been saved. What he said then shocked Lado. Defying his brother’s logic, he gave a precise answer- “No.”
There were no stars, tonight. As Maula Baksh walked around the quiet village, a question pricked his heart like a Rose’s thorn. The crusader in him was silenced and a father spoke, now. Eventually his daughter will return to the village and need a groom. If people considered her dishonorable, she might remain unwed and childless forever. She had already grown so independent, guiding her mother on what to cook and wear. What if this poor farmer’s daughter flies so high that no villager can live beside her? What if she dies in poverty, alone? Before these thoughts concluded, he was already standing at his brother’s door.
His brother wasn’t thrilled anymore, but accepted Lado for Chamku. However, this time he wanted a cow and two calves, along with a bed-set and dining table.
Maula Baksh took quick, delighted steps to reach home and give Lado the sweet news. The news every girl is always waiting for, he thought. He cheerfully slammed
the news into Lado’s bewildered face and went in his room to count his money. The cash he had saved for Lado’s education would now go for her bridals. He would weigh her in gold. The whole village would remember this brilliant wedding. Every girl would envy Lado’s sheltered existence, full of children and happiness, milking cows.
The humming of a Shehnai brought him more peaceful slumber then ever- like a farmer after his harvest or a mother after giving birth.
Lado sat in the fields sobbing. Every drop of blood emerging from her punctured wrist reminded her of her grandmother. How she had waited for a savior in vain, and like every woman, she too watched her life ebbing out, down the drain.