LAKSHMEE- A short story (Guest Post)
Many years have passed since she left this imperfect and unjust world, but still she floats around in my memories time to time. Today I have decided to tell the story of Lakshmee as was perceived through my eyes. Lakshmee was born as a first child in a family which had seen a girl child after two generations. Although a boy would have been more welcome in this case also, Her arrival in this world was tolerated or I dare say welcomed in much better way than many of other girls had in my village. At that time you could guess by the silence and gloom at home that a girls had arrived or by noise of celebration that a boy had been born. A feast was arranged as celebration for her birth which was generally reserved for boys. Her grandfather christened her Lakshmee, consoling his son that she will bring prosperity, material and money as well as many boys to family.
She was a very lovely child with plenty of smiles and comfortable with anyone wishing to carry her in his/her arms. Since she was first child in family, she was attended well. There were plenty of people in house who were unoccupied and now had something to keep them busy. Seeing a child grow is greatest of the joy one can have. After three years she had her brother born. A big feast was arranged with village band performing. Suddenly object of attention changed from Lakshmee to newly born boy who was named as Vaibhav. She enjoyed for few days all the traditional music and noise accompanied with her brother’s birth. A lot has changed in her status in the house but she hardly recognised it. She was constantly reminded that she was very lucky to have a brother who will fulfil all her dreams when he was grown up. So it was her duty to give him all the comfort, care, love and attention even if it was on the cost of her. She accepted it very readily and now onwards everything in her life was secondary to her brother’s happiness. She will sit all day long beside him, amusing him in whatever way she could, oiling him with her little hands, carrying him in her arms with unsteady steps.
Now she was six years old and had one more brother and a newly born sister. By this time she had came to understanding that brothers were more important than sisters in the family. Surprisingly she never resented this fact and accepted it as truth and reality like her mother. Her mother was indoctrinated in this philosophy from childhood and had never equal rather a very narrow space in her heart for daughters. For her boys brought her respect in family and hope for future but girls a misery in form of over increasing dowry demands. She had seen throughout her life differentiated treatment to boys and girls and had accepted it as reality. She never had any crisis of conscience in perpetuating this bias further. Some family in the village were changing with time. Girls in these families were getting increasingly better treatment and opportunities. The main driver behind these changes were mothers rather than fathers. Mothers, who had opportunities to witness increased role of women in society, supported their daughters more strongly.
Lakshmee now 9 years old was attending government primary school and best part she enjoyed there was midday meal which had been recently started. This scheme had brought life to otherwise deserted school with good number students waiting eagerly for midday khichdi. The students were getting free books as well as an uniform also. Her brothers were going to local convent school in nearby town by rickshaw. It was convent only in name, eduction provided was as best as mediocre but still better than primary schools where two teachers were teaching five classes. Her father said that he couldn’t afford sending her or her sisters to convent school and money spent on daughters was waste as he would have to give even larger dowry to better educated girls. Lakshmee never seemed to care about this and she felt very happy attending her school and in fact she proudly told her classmates that her brothers go to expensive school and one day they will become big people like engineers and doctors. She always dreamed of her brother success and she had attached all her own dreams and desires with them. Before going and after coming from school she would help her mother in household chorus and managing of her youngest one year old third brother ‘Vishal’. Vishal had started crawling and sometimes would stand and take one-two steps before falling down. One day Lakshmee was with him on the roof. Lakshmee was with her newly received books. She was eagerly exploring the book and for sometime took her eyes off her brother. When she turned her eyes towards Vishal, she found him standing on the verge of roof which was without railings. Her blood froze and in panic she rushed towards brother to get hold of him. Her brother was about to fall down. She caught him but she couldn’t control the momentum and fell with him in her arms. She landed on her back to the ground. With the noise everybody in family gathered there. Luckly due to rain previous day ground was wet and muddy so impact was not dangerous. Boy was safe so was Lakshmee with minor scratches to her hand and pain in back. Her mother was enraged at her and even Lakshmee was also feeling guilt for her carelessness. Her mother took the baby out of her arms and told her father to rush to doctor. She wanted to beat Lakshmee but her grandmother took her away. Her father went to doctor and got his son examined. He was found healthy and without any problem. Lakshmee was put with quike lime (chuna) on her scratches and given turmeric laced milk (Haldi-milk) for pain by her grand mother. After one week Luxmi was again same sportive like fawn. Her mother had not pardoned her yet but she felt that she deserved that.
Lakshmee entered fourteenth year of her life. She was a brilliant student in middle school and always stood first in class. In spite of studying in government school she was performing better than her convent educated brothers. But this fact brought further misery to her. Her mother resented that the one needn’t study was doing well and those who were expected, didn’t. Her school teachers suggested her father that she should continue her studies and one day she would make him proud of her. Her father said that in two years she would complete her 10th and that was good enough education for her. Once she was eighteen he would marry her as day by day dowry demand is increasing. Her In-laws and husband would decide on her education as they were the one to be benefited by it.
Raising five children was not easy. Grandmother was too old to be of much help. Her mother would get irritated with en-ending domestic work. She would frequently loose temper, specially if any trouble created by girls. Lakshmee was prime target as in contrast to her younger sister who never enjoyed studies, she would try to get every opportunity to turn pages of her books. She would rarely complain and seemed to be putting no ear to constant nagging of her mother. She would eat anything even two-three day stale food. She was especially fond of eating stale chappaties with hot tea. Now raining season was going on. Very few people in village had toilets. It was very cumbersome to relieve oneself specially for women in rainy season. She caught diarrhoea which was very common in this season and every year one or two people died because of it. She was having motions and was vomiting from morning only. Nobody seemed to care. Her grandmother gave lemon water time to time but Lakshmee lost her strength very fast. By evening she was not able to rush to the fields to relieve herself so she would use backyard of her house. In the evening her mother told to her father to bring some medicines. His father said that early morning he would call Sharma doctor who was from nearby town but he was only doctor available for nearby villages. He was not MBBS but he would practice allopathy medicines. He would prescribe and sell most of the medicines himself only charging a very low fee. All night Lakshmee would be running up and down the backyard. Mother and father thought that she could pull up and there was no need to worry too much as in the morning only she would be provided with medicines. In the morning mother was aghast at seeing whole bed dirty. She shouted at Lakshmee but she somehow gathering her whole strength told her mother that she couldn’t move her body. Now her mother new something terrible had happened. Her mother started waling and shouting as well cursing that neighbours has done some black magic which is causing all the problem in the house.
Her father ran to Sharma doctor.He and Sharma doctor came hurriedly on Sharma’s moped with drips and glucose bottles and started putting glucose to Lakshmee. He told her father that all the trouble was due to deficiency of water in blood, due to low volume of blood on account of this deficiency, there was less oxygen reaching to brain. It caused paralysis which could be reversed if proper medication was given but it was not guaranteed. Her mother never believed the doctor and believed black magic by neighbours was the only reason. She wanted to consult Ojha (Black magic heeler) in neighbouring village. Many of the neighbours gathered with different types of advices and recommended different specialist doctors. Some suggested a multi speciality hospital in commiserate headquarters while others suggested a Homoeopathic doctor in district headquarters who was equally good but quite inexpensive in comparison to multi speciality hospital. Father decided to go to Homoeopathic one as he was not ready to stake all his money for her sake while he was not sure if she would ever recover. So her father arranged a auto and took her to homoeopathic doctor. Her mother accompanied with her women friends went to Ojha.
Homoeopathy doctor began his treatment. Slowly-slowly she was recovering. Now she could move her fingers and hands a little and sometimes legs also. Every day she was regain control of her body progressively. I still believe that it was her strong will rather than the medicine that was recuperating her. Father would praise the doctor endlessly and mother would give credit to Ojha. Ojha had said to her that neighbours had installed three strong ghosts, a Brahma (dead Brahmin ghost), a Marhi (a dead child ghost) and a jinn ( a moslem ghost). But slowly slowly he would remove them with his sustained efforts but it would be a difficult struggle. Her mother was confident that his efforts were going in right direction.
Time passed by. December came. Now she was much better and everybody was confident of her recovery. She could now sit down on her own could stand supported with a stick for few minutes. But now she was suffering with small cold. Doctor had suggested to keep her protected from cold. But Lakshmee wanted very badly to walk. By afternoon she was walking slowly-slowly with the help of stick. She was very happy. Now a days everybody was very sympathetic to her. Her brothers and sisters would devote considerable time to her and her mother would make her favourite dishes now a then. Her father would bring sweets frequently for her. She has not remembered any time till now being treated so well. Whole family was happy to see her walk and wanted all neighbours to see it. Lakshmee walked all evening supported by his brothers and sisters but around 6pm she was shivering and heaving very badly. She had strong fever. His father rushed to local medicine shop who would also prescribe medicines for small ailments. He gave him some medicines for fever and some injections to be given in morning when Sharma doctor would come to his Dispensary. His father gave medicines to her but her condition worsened. There was no transport in the village and one could get one only in the morning from nearby town area. Around 4 AM she closed her eyes and bade goodbye to this world. Probably she died of pneumonia. But nobody know for sure and her mother is confident that it was black magic.
I find it very difficult for me to judge her passing away. Was it better for her to leave this unequal or unjust world where girl is still a burden? Were her parents responsible or the society they were part of? Or as countryman we ourself who very much like to discuss and then forget that there are villages in our country without proper sanitation facilities, worthwhile education facilities, road connectivity, transport and basic health facilities. Perhaps I know the answer but ashamed to admit it.
Written by my elder brother, Manish Kumar Singh