Rabeya Khatun is a novelist, born in 1935, who published her first novel 'Madhumati' in 1963. Her publications include: 'Mon Ek Shwet Kapoti' (1965), 'Ononto Onwesha' (1967), 'Rajabagh' (1967), 'Saheb Bazar' (1967), 'Ferari Surjo' (1975), 'Onek Joner Ekjan' (1976), 'Jiboner Ar Ek Naam Dibos Rojoni' (1980), 'Bayanno Golir Ek Goli' (1984), 'Baganer Naam Malnichara', Ei Birohokal (1995), 'Ei Bhora Bador Mah Bhador' (Second Edition, 1995), 'Rabeya Khatuner Nirbacita Premer Upanyas' (1995), and Priya Gulshana (1997). The celebrated novelist has won many accolades including: Bangla Academy Award (1973), Lekhika Sangha Award (1980), Nasiruddin Gold Medal, Humayun Kadir Memorial Award, and Uro Shishu Shahitya Award (2003).
Delera walked out of the dining room. Like a thief, she had very carefully scouted out her perimeter and tiptoed back into her room through the twilight of the night with her plate carefully hidden and tightly grasped within the folds of her clothes. She had sighed out relief after having stashed away the plate. As soon as she was about to sit down, she blew out the light instead on hearing footsteps outside her door. She had then tiptoed to stand grazing by the windowsill. There was no one there; it was just a hungry dog running in circles in search of a dry bone. Delera could not contain her depression. Her sleeping sorrows had rose crashing like the waves of an angry sea in the dark room. It was that one single thought that had risen, welling up within her, accentuating her sadness. Her fatigued body wanted nothing more than to fall down into the safe haven of her bed. But only one apparition would allow itself to float on the irises of her two eyes — the face of her husband Azahar. It was five years from then that they had shared their first night in the monsoon. Delera could not taste the life of a wife even for one night or even a day since that night. It was that one word 'Kabul' that still binds them to a contract of marriage, other than which there remained no other connection between them. She had been under her father's protection for the five long years. Azahar would not take her to his own house, but would rather stay at his father in-law's place. He was least bothered of making a living for himself, but somehow had started to do something that made him keep busy with himself at all times.
Delera's father was a clerk at the courts. His situation was deplorable with four families to feed, on top of which was the added hardship of looking after a daughter. Rays of hope and joy had broken out all over his face as soon as he had heard news of Azahar to have landed a job of sorts. But Delera's hopes were crippled once again. Azahar had shown his true love for his family as he had taken the whole of his salary directly from the courts to the post office to have mailed it all to his mother. It was as if Delera was no one to him — just a trophy. Where was the time for him to even glance at any of the joys that she would care for? He would not even let her listen to end of whatever piece of a string he had given her. He had on many occasions poked at her with his stinging words, “You know not the value of a husband; you don't know how to respect him”. She had fallen silent every time while trying to retort back. What could she have said to someone with such judgements?
Delera's playtime friends poked at her with every visit, “The new bride! Looks like you are set on settling at your father's place even after marriage”. On the other hand, her mother was beginning to be fed up with Azahar's behaviour. She could not stand the influence he had on her daughter. Delera was not stupid, yet she had to act dumb at all times. The countless times she had to endure a beating from her mother because of stealing money from her suitcase to make Azahar happy. Even though she was absolutely ashamed to be on the receiving end of a beating in her youth, she would still go ahead with the thefts just to keep her husband's wishes. The mother would advise her daughter to teach him a lesson, “He will not smarten up unless he hits a wall”. Delera would always be hurt in even thinking to hurt her husband. She would always think that let him be careless towards her and even mean — he was still her husband, her first love, and it was this exact love that was her curse. Because of this love her mother and her younger sister would point at her as a criminal. It was as if everyone in the family had ostracized and shoved her away from them. And that was why she would save her own meals, and steal them away to her room so that he could have them on his return.
'Knock, knock, knock'. The distracted Delera had thought it was the dog who maybe had found a bone. She had jolted onto her feet as soon as the sounds fell loudly on the door once more. She stood to the side after opening the door ajar. Azahar had entered the room. While taking off his shirt he said in a mean tone, “What was happening all this while? I have been standing for so long and was as if the door would never open!” Delera was silent. All the inflictions, small or big, had turned her mute.
She had put a flame on the light, put the plate on the bed, and closed the door. They say that dawn breaks after the night, but there was as if no respite from the darkness that Delera's life was engulfed in. Her mother had tried to make her understand. Delera would not listen. Venom had risen within her — she could not stand anyone even pointing at Azahar. She had cried her heart out and finally managed to talk him into renting a room, and move out.
It was the same old life; the same old pain.
The tasks at hand for Delera were far less than that of Azahar every morning. He would meticulously weigh out the rice, count out the vegetables, onions and garlic to be used in the cooking starting from actually going out for the groceries. The days when there was a pull on the wallet, Azahar would dine in the hotels, while Delera would go on fasting. He would always deny from paying the rent, “You ended up saving so much for your father; do you think I don't see that? You brought me here, so you will be the one paying the rent”. She paid the rent by pawning her earrings.
Azahar had spited her for doing such a thing, “Why did you have to pawn them? You really think I am here to eat up your father's entire property don't you?”
For one who has nothing but tears, it's no use to waste precious time in counting them. The days had gone on. One different day, Azahar with blood-shot eyes had yelled at Delera, “Why the sudden interest in socialising with the neighbours and the house-helps? You're spreading rumours about me aren't you? Just wait and see; I'll send you off to the village tomorrow.”
Delera was made to go to her in-laws like a parcelled package. The first things she had to listen to were, “So! The city-girl finally thought of visiting the village, has she?” Words escaped Delera's speech. She had no choice but to make amends to her husband's mistakes. Azahar had immediately returned back to the city as soon as he had dumped her at his home. A black night had veiled Delera's life. All the days in the past, all the days that were to come, all of them were bitter to her; laced with bitter poison. What would she have survived with? She could not win over her aged father or mother in-laws even with her dedication towards their care. More frequent than none they would end up calling her a black widow, even in front of others, “Not only has she depleted all our son's wealth on her whims and wishes, on top of which the poor boy could not send money in fear of her. And of dowry? Not one penny has been sent our way in that respect.”
The concerned neighbours once voiced their concern, “Why do you complain? She is giving it her all in taking care of you around the clock!” to which the mother in-law had retorted, “Yes, yes! You all have turned a blind eye towards her! Don't you understand why she cares so much? Her father has disowned her and her mother doesn't even care. What else does she have besides us?” That was the day that Delera had truly broken down. She had failed to achieve even one moment of joy in her entire life. Wherever she looked, even in nature, all she could see was pain and feel hurt. She had thought of how the ones unhappy in this world were stripped off the opportunity to make others happy as well.
It was out of chance that she had got to meet a childhood friend in the days of her exile. Ruby was a rich woman with good taste. She was saddened on hearing Delera's stories. She came to know of the revolution of the feminists through Ruby — their opinions, their demands, and how their organizations were reaching high in different corners of the world. There seemed to be a spark of some happiness in Delera's desolate life. Her sight at that moment had spanned over the whole world when she took a better look at herself. She let Ruby know of what she had felt. She would crawl, if necessary, to the free spirited women who held the positions able to change the lives of all the deprived women of Bengal. She would stand by them to help all the others like herself. Even though Ruby was enthusiastic of Delera's visions, she could not recruit her. There were too many barriers in Delera's life. Besides the ties to tradition and the society, Delera's husband held too much of an ownership over her life. He would suck dry the teat he hangs from, the rights given to him by the very same society, before letting go.
A storm had taken form in Delera's mind through the lonely dark night. Quite a few questions took birth that night. Ruby would return to her busy schedule in the morning, while Delera would remain rotting in the darkness of the night that engulfed her.
Is it true then, that the life of a neglected woman is cursed? Are women the only ones who are answerable to their husbands? Do they not have any responsibility for their wives? Does the society only want to suffocate the women with all the responsibilities? Are all the injustice in the world because of the woman? All the cruelty because of her? Each question after another kept coming back to hit her against a the cruel rigid wall of a new question...
Translated by Hasan Ameen Salahuddin
Illustration By Ujjal Ghose
(R) thedailystar.net 2012