Sunday, December 11, 2016

Short Story: Laddo Ki Shadi

Bride's Toilet by Amrita Sher-Gil
The day hadn’t been as long as it seemed. The moon shone, reminding the lonely how lonesome they are.
Rasheeda had lived in Lahore for two decades. She had come here at fifteen, for work. She did not know this because she did not know the counting and the dates. It was a blessing she never recognized.
For knowing her own age would only remind her of the number of years she had spent waiting and working for a dream that had melted away. Misery was one of the things that evolved over the years, like white hair. She never figured out when it started growing but, one day, she noticed it when someone pointed out.

Her past was misty. It was as a faintly-recollected dream. She did not remember anything with accuracy or exactness. All she remembered was the things that made her cry and the things that made her laugh. Everything about the past was either funny or else sad, a series of disjointed pastiches strung together like a necklace of cheap beads.
Sheeda, as she was called by her mistresses, was a dishwasher. She had been washing dishes, for thirty years all year round, except for ten days, when she went to her village. When she was new in the city she would wash the dishes, telling all her mistresses that they better start finding a new maid because she would leave soon. She was getting married in a few months. Every Eid she wore henna, imagining the day she would wear it for her husband. Every plate and glass she washed for others would send her to a realm of imagination- her own would-be kitchen with her own plates and glasses with the same stains of leftover food, eaten not by strangers but her own husband and children. Whenever she liked a dinner set, she would estimate the cost and plan to buy it soon. But in no time, her approach changed. She started saving and buying things for her dowry. As much money as she could save because she was now paying for her younger brother and sister who went to school. In a few years she had a trunk of goods, electrical appliances, dresses and shoes.
One of her mistresses was Razia Khatoon. She lived next door, since twenty years and was called Polly by everyone, not because of her innocence but her funny face, a big round nose and small girlish eyes. She lived with her sister. Polly had been divorced after three years of marriage and had one daughter. Her husband had tried burning her and she had barely escaped with her life, leaving her infant daughter behind. But soon after escaping she realized that she had forgotten to bring her life with her when she had left her husband’s house. Her only brother had refused to keep her. Despite taking care of the entire household, and having little food when healthy and no ailment when ill, she still owed a big debt to her sister for letting her live in her house. She kept a track of every date, every cough and sneeze on paper. Over the years she had fantasized how her daughter was- whom she called Laddo. She imagined her face everyday, for all she remembered of her was the gargling noises she made during sleep as a baby. Every time some young girl got a marriage proposal, she told herself “I hope Laddo gets a man this good”. She remembered today that she had written to her daughter once to tell her she would come to meet her and bring her gifts. Since she counted everything she knew it was only five thousand days ago, but what she didn’t know was that her daughter had thrown away the letter, furious for being abandoned by her mother.
Sheeda and Polly were best friends. Polly would advise her on her dowry like she would have advised Laddo. Polly would call her at odd times when guests used to arrive, apparently for help but actually to ask for an explanation on why she lived in her sister’s house and not her husband’s. Sheeda would say “ Tell them you are here to visit.” A few months later, it became an illness, then a well paid job and then a help for her sister in raising children- this was the last excuse for her life. After this she would bluntly reply to the question, “ Will you keep me instead of my sister?” This was obscene when said to males, but not that she cared. She was clear about her past and present. There was a ray of hope-Laddo. Sheeda and Polly shopped in daytime either for dowry or else for cooking not realizing that the sun was bleaching their hair. In no time Sheeda’s younger sister got a marriage proposal and it was then that Sheeda realized how late she was. All the money and jewelry she had collected was given to her sister but not her dresses and appliances because she had dreamed of dressing up and using them for her children.
She was ashamed of being sad today. It was the day her younger brother had got a child. As she picked up the tiny girl, noticed the petite fingers and the twitching cheeks, she remembered how she herself had longed for a child. For the first time she longed for it as something unattainable, a faraway possibility. She had stopped wearing henna on Eid, for it was absurd to wash dishes with henna on. The plates she bought had got cracks in them. And today when she looked at the appliances in the moonlight—the television that looked like a dying giant, the mixer-grinder that looked like a car’s head light—the things seemed too old to be the dowry of even an old woman. Polly, on the other hand, had started dyeing her hair with henna, telling only herself it was fashion for she offered people no explanations anymore. It was only when she started counting the steps of the staircase and fretted about climbing them that she realized that her limbs were now exhausted and she was an old woman.
That night she was climbing the staircase when she slipped. The searing pain reminded her of her mortal being. She went to her room, fetched the money and came to call on Sheeda. “ We need to go.”
“Laddo’s village. I don’t want to die before she gets married.”
“What if she is already married?”
“Then I shall die in peace.”
“They won’t let you meet her.”
“ Then we can just look at her Baraat from a distance. I am her mother, for eternity. They robbed the peace in my life, I won’t let them rob the peace of my death.”
Thus, the two women collected all the goods they had collected over the years and left for the village which seemed to them a wonderland. They never returned and after a few days, everyone in the town forgot them. They were just two women, whose name had been writ since, two decades, on water.
This story was first published on

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