This is Sanjhi, the river that borders our village. The source of our life and livelihood. We consider Sanjhi to be our mother, perhaps which is why I have forgiven her for splitting our village into two.
I am Jagga, the strongest and bravest man of my village, Nihala. I stand almost 6 and a half feet tall, with a chest so wide that no arms are long enough to encircle it. I now own land as far as my eye can see, and further still.
I say now because till a few years ago not even a stamp-sized piece of land was mine.
I was a green eared 13-year-old boy when my father died. I was 15 when I found out that he had been murdered. Murdered for his land. At 16 I found out that my mother-fucking Uncles had not only killed my father, their own brother but were now eyeing my beautiful mother. What could a scrawny 16-year-old boy and a young widow do against the power of 5 strapping men, I had heard my uncle’s guffaw, high on drinks, lust, and arrogance.
After my father’s untimely death, they had employed my Mother and me to work in the fields. Fields that had once been ours. We were given two square meals a day and a shed in a far corner of the fields to stay in. Clothes they and their families wore out covered our bodies and buffaloes were our room-mates. Not a day went by without us being reminded of the benevolence we shamelessly received. Or of how lucky we were to have a roof over our heads and food in our stomachs and how my Uncles had been to allow us to live with them.
My mother cried herself to sleep every night. Her tears that flowed worked in drying up mine.
One day as I was carrying the animal feed from the field to the barn I overheard my Uncles talking. From boasting about recovering money from some people to getting others murdered, the topic suddenly switched to my Mother. They were describing her in language so vulgar that it made me cringe to even hear the words. They continued talking about what they would like to do to her and how. A cold finger of fear ran down my spine as I understood that they were planning to rape my mother. I froze, and before I realized it I had peed in my pants. They called her ‘Parjai’, which meant Bhabhi, brother’s wife. How then could they have such evil intentions for a woman who was almost like their sister, my innocent mind questioned?
My mother, oblivious to this evil plan, was working at the other end of the field and was saved from listening to this crude and cruel discussion. I looked towards her, and as always her head was bent, against the sun or in sorrow, I could never tell. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want any harm to come to my mother. But my uncles were right, what could a 16-year-old scrawny lad do against the might of five grown men built like bulls?
I couldn’t sleep that night, I tossed and turned in my bed, my thoughts in as much turmoil as my body was. I finally woke up and walked to the bank of the river Sanjhi and sat by it, fear gripping my heart and tears I thought had dried flowing out unabated. The calmly flowing waters of the Sanjhi managed to cool down my rage. Finally, my tears stopped, and anger reared its head. I wouldn’t allow my bastard uncles to get away with their plan. I didn’t know what I would do and how but I knew it was my duty to save my mother. That was the resolve I made to myself as the sun came up, banishing the dark and brightening up the horizon.
I didn’t let my mother out of my sight for the next few days. I pretended to be asleep but lay wide awake each night, an iron rod keeping me company in bed and an eye on the door. I waited, my hands clenched and my senses alert, to protect my mother and her honor.
A month went by without incident and my teenaged mind began relaxing. I even wondered if the lewd conversation and intention were the results of some drunken stupor. Life went back to the normalcy of drudgery that it used to be and what I overhead kept getting fainter in my memory.
One afternoon my eldest uncle summoned me home, in the middle of a working day. They wanted some supplies for the fields, he said, and he wanted me to accompany his son to the city to get them. No warning bells rang, till he slipped some currency notes into my hand, giving me an indulgent smile and asking me to have fun in the city, with a suggestive wink.
I couldn’t even remember the last time I saw money, let alone touched it. My blood ran cold as understanding sunk in. With me out of the way for the next few days, my mother would be on her own. He and my other uncles would have full access to her. A lone cow at the mercy of hungry lions.
I didn’t know what to do or say to him but I also didn’t have the nerve to refuse. I dragged my feet through my chores, hoping the day would never end.
This post is a part of the Blogchatter Half Marathon.
I am writing A Fictional Short story – A River Runs Through It – for this theme. This is Part 1 of the story.