Unspoken Thing

Originally published in Hindi as Kuch Ankahi

Imprint: Star Publications, 2007

Author: Mridula Behari

Translator: Lise McKean


Unspoken Things

Shivangi came in, walked right past her mother straight to her room. Rama called out to her. Shivangi stormed out and stood in front of her. Her defiant posture screamed, nothing you say matters to me.
Rama started with the scolding. “Can you imagine how worried we were? And you come in and don’t say a word?”
“Don’t let worrying about me interfere with your work. And don’t smother me with your concern.” Shivangi waited to see the reaction on her mother’s face and then went back to her room.
Rama worried about her daughter. She sat in her room alone in the dark. She didn’t talk to anyone and sulked at the slightest thing. She’s built a wall around herself, Rama thought. She deliberately does something wrong and isn’t a bit apologetic. Every argument led to a single point–the one point that made her vulnerable. Rama knew that beneath all this was an unanswered question. Everything was riding on the answer. But the answer wasn’t going to satisfy Shivangi.
Rama rested her head on the back of the chair. Was her restlessness new? Or has it been with her ever since that fateful day so long ago? What hasn’t she been through? What rocky ground hasn’t she crossed? An unspoken anguish grated on her. Relationships break up and come to an end. But their echoes linger and resonate in hidden recesses of the heart. Memories erupt at any moment. She closed her eyes. Only one thing occupied her mind. Mehdi Hasan’s wistful voice floated from the radio, “Ranjish hi sahi.” The lyrics spoke of her own life and touched her soul.
Kiskiskobataingejudaikasabab hum
Tumujh se khfhahai, to zamanekeliyaao
To whom will I explain the cause of our rift?
Be angry with me but for the sake of the world–come.
She imagined DN was standing right behind her, about to whisperheartfelt words. Despite his ruthlessness, at times she still longed to crawl into his arms and sob all her pain away. She wanted him to run his fingers through her hair and promise to end her loneliness. I want you with me, and you… I don’t know where you are. Isn’t he pained by my suffering? Doesn’t he have a responsibility to me? Why is it that what’s said aloud is true, but what’s communicated in silence with complete sincerity and surrender is wrong? The soulful voice on the radio made her more restless.
Mrinalini went into Shivangi’s room. She lay motionless on her bed. With feigned anger she asked, “Don’t you want to eat?
“Why wouldn’t I, Nani? I only ate two pieces of toast this morning and not a bite since then,”Shivangi said, throwing her arms around her grandmother.
“Keep quiet.Don’t you realize how much you’re hurting your mother? Icooked your favorite eggplant dish and we waited for you.”
She left her room, looked around, and, not seeing her mother, continued along with her Nani.Mrinalini was about to warm the rice and lentils, but Shivangi took it from her, added the eggplant, and began to devour it.
“Nani, you should be awarded a doctorate in cooking!”
Mrinalini was startled. Years ago someone else told her the same thing.
“Do you know, Nani, my friends detest eggplant? I tell them, taste my Nani’sbrinjal and you won’t stop licking your fingers!”
“Oh Shivangi, you’re full of hot air.”
“Not me. I’m telling the truth. OkayNani, you tell me. Am I wrong?”
“Not at all, my dear. You’re always right. And clever, too. But why do you give your mother so much trouble? She’s high-strung. The slightest thing can upset her. And you go missing for the whole day!”
How could she explain it to her grandmother? She wasn’t trying to hurt her mother. Couldn’t she understand her inner turmoil? Wasn’t she also caught in a web of desire? To tell the truth, even when she was growing up, she was hesitant and afraid.“Nani, your daughter is no pushover. She inspired such awe when she was Commissioner that even the most confident person shuddered just looking at her. All these histrionics are exclusively for me. She thinks I’ll melt with sympathy when she puts on that sad, hurt face.”
Shivangi got so worked up that she returned to her room without finishing dinner. Nani’s heart missed a beat–why did she bring it up with Shivangi? Where was her common sense? She went to Rama. “We must think about Shivangi. At her age she really needs a father.”
“Her future will be ruined if we start to reopen this.”
“First listen to me. I’m suggesting we start thinking about her marriage, of finding a suitable boy for her.”
Rama didn’t even try to understand her mother’s words. Their thinking always ran parallel, neither crossing nor converging. Each was trying to figure out what to do. Mrinalini wanted Shivangi married and the prospect filled her with excitement. A fairytale wedding danced before her eyes. A handsome, princely groom.Shivangi dazzling in a bride’s red sari, gold, and jewels. Flower garlands, wedding feasts, peals of laughter, the sweet strains of the shehnai, and feet tapping to the rhythm of the dholak. It didn’t stop with the wedding.All the later family rites and rituals, then the festivals of Holi and Diwali. She would love every moment of it. Wasn’t this why people said grandchildren were even more beloved than your own children!
Rama remained oblivious of her mother. Her thoughts roamed elsewhere. Shivangi was nurtured with all her love and filled her empty life with drama. Rama no longer could deceive her daughter.
Mrinalini watched the color change in her daughter’s face. “Come, let’s eat first.”
“You fed your granddaughter. Don’t bother about me.”
Mrinalini went to Shivangi. “The time has come, Shivangi, for you to find a boy you want to marry.”
“So you want to get rid of me!”
“You always twist my words. Tell me, what kind of a man would you like to marry?”
“A husband!” She thought for a moment. “He must have a father. If he doesn’t, he’ll be as rootless as I am,” she said with a laugh.
“Oh, how you talk! Finish dinner first. You hardly ate a thing.”
“I’m not hungry. Please leave me alone, I have to study.” She opened a book and started to read.
Sitting at the dining table,Mrinalini’s mind drifted to her own father. When they came to arrest him, fourteen-year-old Mrinalini couldn’t control her tears. Her father consoled her. “Manal, don’t be sad. Those who rule by terror can do little else!”
Wiping her tears she said, “Father, I want to go with you to jail.” One of her father’s colleagues was standing beside them. Her father said to him, “Brother Raghu, go fetch some hot jalebisfromSavji for my daughter. She loves them.” Raghu hustled away.
From inside her elder uncle called, “Oh Yadunandan! Why didn’t you tell me about the meeting you were organizing? You’re not the least bit concerned about our family’s honor. I don’t have much longer to live. Let me die peacefully and then you can do whatever you want.”
No amount of emotional blackmail could diminish her father’s fervor. He said to Mrinal, “My daughter! Don’t worry about me. Be strong and take care of your younger brothers.”
“I promise that they will be well looked after.” She wiped away her tears.
A crowd gathered at the gate where the government car was waiting. People were hailing YadunandanVerma. The day when they would leave bondage behind seemed so close. The prospect put everyone in high spirits. An uncanny feeling that something awful was about to happen accompanied the excitement. When Raghu returned with the hot jalebis,Mrinalini pretended to enjoy them.

Rama often felt that her entire life was meaningless. She had a burning desire to do something altogether new and different, something important. She told herself it was impossible, that society wouldn’t allow it. Shivangi avoided her mother for a few days and didn’t say a word to her. What couldRama do? She looked atMrinalini with pain in her eyes, as if saying, see how she tortures me? Shivangi had shown her inquisitiveness in the past with questions like, “Mother, why do we live alone?”
“Alone? What do you mean by alone? Your grandmother and I are here with you,” Rama answered.
“I mean, everyone’s father stays with them.”
What could she say? She sidestepped discussing the composition of a typical family and said, “You’re still a child, you don’t understand.”
“I’m not a child! I’m in seventh grade. Where’s your wedding portrait? All my friends’ parents have one at their house.”
Trying to placate her she said lovingly, “Let’s have some ice cream. It’s right here in the fridge.” Back then the question hadn’t taken such a hold and it wasn’t hard to change the subject.

About the Author

Mridula Behari is an award winning author, novelist and playwright. She has authored 15 books including several short story collections, novels and plays. She divides her time between Jaipur,mChicago and San Francisco. Her works have been published and broadcasted across many national newspapers, magazines, Television and Radio. Kuch Ankahi is her first translation in English.

About the Translator

Dr. McKean has a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from the University of Sydney and M.A. in Asian Studies from the University of Hawai’i- Manoa. She first went to India on a one-way ticket right after completing her B.A. in Geography at the University of Chicago. She visits India and her husband’s homeland of France whenever she can.

An extraordinary saga set in India of a daughter, mother, and grandmother. The book takes readers on a journey that spans half a century. It begins in the early 1940s with Mrinalini, the teenage daughter of Yadunandan Prasad Verma, a prosperous lawyer turned freedom fighter. Inspired by her father and the Independence Movement, Mrinalini reads and writes revolutionary poetry and recites it at political protests in their North Indian town of Kabirganj.In the aftermath of a tumultuous rally, the son of a visiting freedom fighter escorts her home to safety – and kindles her interest in him. As the various characters draw closer, and coursereaders are left to observe how the consequences of big and small decisions ripple across and intersect across lives. Unspoken Things reveals the bittersweet fruits of life and love.

For translation rights please contact Jaipur BookMark at: jaipurbookmark@teamworkarts.com

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