The scorching heat of the afternoon followed by the sudden downpour had made it difficult for the people to fly kites on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan. But now that the deluge had stopped, the people emerged on their roofs as ants emerged from their castle. The downpour had cooled the evening and cleared the sky and brought some relief to the people. The Trikuta hills and several other hills and mountains that surrounded the plain region betrayed their dominance. As far as one could see from the rooftops, the silhouette of the giant mountains didn’t fail to mark their presence. The beautiful sunset had created an ambient atmosphere of trance. Streaks of pink golden rays ran parallel above the stretched silhouettes of mountains. Everyone was taking in the cold breeze of August evening, conscious of the rhythmic movements of inhalation and exhalation. The various plants and trees surrounding the houses had not dried yet. Drops of water remained present on the leaves as morning dew. Just as a snail glides along the path slowly, the dewdrops on the leaves glided and merged into each other and eventually fell off the leaves into the soil beneath. The aroma of the earth that arose from the merging of aqua and soil stimulated the olfactory pleasures of the beings. The people had started coming to their rooftops from every house. Some people were here to play the sport; some were to help, and others were the spectators.
Two brown sparrows perched on the parapet undisturbed took note of their surroundings, contributing their part as spectators from different species. A purple sunbird perched on a high bough of a tree sang a song to summon his comrades to witness the once-in-a-year moment. The initiation of the event started with loud music on the loudspeakers. Pieces of electrical tape were being cut and wound on the fingers lest these get severed by the ‘pucca dor'(a string of either plastic or cotton covered by powered glass) which they had specially ordered. The people made sure that the triangle of the thread (kite knots) was perfectly aligned and anchored and they rubbed the dorsal side of the kite on their head and looked assertive as if their weapon of choice was ready to hunt others’ down. When the people were immersed in tying the kite knots, a tailor bird referred to as ‘darzi’ by the locals paid a brief visit to the lawns, and gardens of the neighborhood and retreated to its niche stitching leaves to make its nest. The helpers of the kite flyers held the kite from its horizontally opposite corners in their hand hiding their face and traced some steps back making the length of string between them tighten and on the count of three, gave a little push up which was then maneuvered by the kite flyers.
I have to dress myself in red today. Sorry Somesh, for being unfaithful to you. I could have fought them all but for our children. They say I must agree to their plan. They are both so grown up now – Jia and Sahil! They advise me on everything as if I am a little child. But marriage? No! No! That cannot be! Everyone tells me that I have been married to Pratik for years. But why do I draw a blank at that? Pratik is nice, familiar, comfortable; we even share the same house! Just the other day I had to chase him out of my room – he was lazing around as if he belonged there! And then there is that wedding album! They carry a hundred of our wedding pictures – happy moments frozen in four by six glossy papers. Such vibrant colours – if only my memory was as sharp as these. But memory fails me. It becomes as fuzzy as a Delhi winter morning, unfocussed, blurred yet somewhere just within reach. Only I have no access to it. By the way, have you ever known anyone who forgets her own wedding? All of them forget that I am a widow, Somesh’s widow. It is not for me to marry. I remember pishi, my father was so protective about her, yet could he save her from a heartbreak? She left eating fish, gave away all her ornaments, wore only white and remained buried under the weight of various rituals and customs. She looked like a ghost biding her time in this world. Wasn’t this the fate of all widows? Wasn’t this what grandfather told her, she being the apple of his eyes? I remember feeling so sad for her. I wanted to find a prince charming to take her away from this repressive world. When I said that to her once, she smiled – a smile of such sadness that my heart shattered into a thousand pieces. I never repeated it to her again. But look at my own children – harping about their own mother’s wedding in which they too claim to have participated! Disgusting, yet I cannot bring myself to be angry with them for a long time. If they are mistaken, it is my duty to lead them to the truth.
I am waiting for my father. I glance at the clock. It is not yet time, and he never delays, but I am impatient. As I fidget with my things, I suddenly feel a chill enveloping me. Shivering involuntarily, I glance up sharply. The study door is swinging on its hinges. Sure enough, Dad is ready.
“I’m sorry,” he says with an apologetic smile. “Is it very cold?”
I smile back. I am so glad to see him, I cannot complain. “No matter, Daddy,” I say as I cross over to shut the door still gently creaking in the wind from the open window beyond.
I come back and look at him. He is wearing a faded shirt, and he looks frail and old, but his face shines. Is he in perfect health, or is he so glad to be with me?
Today is Saadat Hasan Manto‘s birthday. Considered to be one of South Asia’s finest fiction writers, he is known for his candid and honest style of writing which was often considered provocative. There has been a lot of debate on his style of writing since time immemorial. While one may continue to argue on that but the fact still remains, that he is one of the greatest short story writers till date. Which leads us to the question: Why does Manto arouse antagonism amongst the intelligentsia?. Let’s try to decipher that.
Short story authors used to need a collection of stories before securing a book deal. Writer Zhang Wei and book critic Yan Jingming both expressed publicly through a literature forum last year that short story writers struggle with a limited readership and a small slice of the publishing pie. Short story anthologies rarely make bestseller lists.