Maternal Home – Madhav Bhandari

Padma looked quite forlorn that day. She was having distaste for all sorts of work. That was obvious, because her own brother had come to take her home, but had returned alone. There’s a saying, “Even a dog from one’s parents’ village looks quite loving.” What to talk of one’s real brother then?

Yesterday, when he arrived, Padma’s heart had leapt up with a number of hopes: of seeing her parents, of playing joyfully with her friends, and of having sleep of contentment albeit for a couple of days. But all those hopes had turned into thin air now. Her father-in-law made pretexts of several domestic chores pending at hand, and refused to send her. Her brother had to return all alone. For such reasons, Padma, a woman of a graceful face and joyous nature, was down with dejection this morning. It is true that when one meets and suddenly parts with a near one, even the subsided worries become fresh and live again. For two more months, she won’t be able to visit her parents again, because her father-in-law had said to her brother, “You don’t need to take the trouble to come here again. I shall myself send her this Baisakh1 with a friend to meet her parents.” “Send her now instead of sending in Baisakh1 ,” said her brother, trying to persuade the old man. But the man declined. He continued to stand on his words. Ultimately, the brother had to return, taking along his sister’s tears as gifts for her parents. Following this, Padma started counting the number of days she had in hand to visit her parents. ‘Two months full! Sixty days,’ she whispered to herself. ‘One day has waned today. There are fifty-nine days left now.’

Whatever the case, she had no option but to take care of the family chores. After all, she was a daughter-in-law. Padma fetched water. She prepared lunch and served it to everyone. She also took a couple of gulps, finished the kitchen work and sat down near the grinder to grind two pathis of maize seeds her mother-in-law had kept aside for grinding. She did not, however, find the work easy that day. She finished it with great difficulty, though the seeds were only half-crushed. After having massaged the feet of her mother-in-law and sister-in-law with oil, she finally moved to her bed shortly after midnight.

Padma’s husband was younger to her by many years, and was much shorter and thinner of build, fit enough to be taken in lap and whispered, ‘Little brother!’ Padma’s father had looked for many boys for her, but the match-making didn’t work with any of them, as her stars were a little too severe. A matching suitor had been found, but he was too poor to afford even the basics. So, her father picked the present boy, saying, “What difference does it make, even if he is younger by two years? Their stars match. They will have a harmonious life. Once he starts growing, a boy picks up height very soon.” When she went to bed, her husband was fast asleep. She drew his curled-up feet to massage. He woke up with a start and shouted, “Mother, what’s this?” Frightened, Padma moved a few steps backward. Again, he reverted to sleeping. She pulled his feet gently, applied oil, and slept beside him facing the opposite direction. With time, Padma had the feeling that the pain of her heart had subsided. She consoled herself with the hope that she would be able to visit her parents in Baisakh, if not now. There was no one in the family that could appease her mind. The mother-in-law had no other job save finding faults with her words, and chiding her. Only when Padma went out for field work, she found mates who entertained her. Farmhands, who gathered in the field to work, joked and made merry with her. She could

hardly surmise how soon the day passed, enjoying with fellow farmhands, joking and entertaining one another. Padma’s husband occasionally walked into the field, carrying afternoon snacks. On seeing her talk with others, he used to glance at her with squinted eyes, though he never made any remark. One day, her sister-in-law reported Padma’s mother-in-law about Padma enjoying with other farmhands in the field. At home in the evening, the old woman showed a lot of anger. For a while, she didn’t even let Padma hold her feet for messaging with oil. “Beware, lest you should become a nymphet! Be mindful of the prestige—both ours and your parents’. If I hear of you doing such nonsense again…” she said, and stretched her feet on Padma’s lap for massaging. Padma suddenly remembered her parents’ home. “Had I been there, no one would inquire about such a trivial thing. Wait until Baisakh comes…”

Days do not wait for the humans, no matter how they are. Soon, the year gave way to Baiskash—the month Padma would be allowed to visit her parents. She started envisioning many a thing: ‘I will be at my parents’ home soon. Young brothers and sisters will see me from afar and come shouting, ‘There comes sister Padma! Sister Padma comes home!’ I shall go smiling and bow down, first to greet my parents and then my brother. My brother will say, ‘When I came to take you home last time, the old man didn’t allow. I felt quite bitter on the way home.’ And I will say, ‘Oh, he is very reluctant about sending me away. Says, the old woman has backache, and she won’t even get water if I am away. That’s a mere pretext to hold me back.’ I will then take my little brothers and sisters on my lap and give them sweets.’

With those going to the market, she ordered sweets and tika for her forehead to wear during her visit to her parents’ home. But the old man didn’t even make a mention of sending her. The month of Baisakh slipped away, day by day, but no one made a mention of Padma’s visit to her parents’. Gradually, she drew the conclusion that they were not sending her. Once again, she turned grim. But what could she do? She had no option save counting the days. What would be the next occasion? Teej? Oh, that was four months away.

There were merely five more days for the festival of Teej to arrive. Padma was convinced that she would be surely sent, because every married woman had the freedom to visit her parents during Teej festival. She had seen her sisters coming home during Teej, though they never came in between. She started waiting for her brother to come to take her away. After finishing the kitchen chores one evening, she was preparing to massage her mother-in-law’s feet. The old woman said, “I heard, everyone is fine at your parents’ home. A letter has arrived today. It says, ‘Padma’s brother has fever; he won’t be able to come to take Padma this time. Please let her come on her own.’ But you know, two days after Teej, your father-in-law’s annual shraddha2 of his dead father falls. This means, you won’t be able to visit your parents this time. It’s unwise for us to send you away, when there is a shraddha at home. I think, your father-in-law just sent them a reply, saying, “I can’t send her home this time, because the shraddha I have to perform coincides with the time. I shall send both Padma and her husband for four or five days during Dashain.” Padma said, albeit with some fear, “I can go early and return before time.” The old woman said, “Oh no! Does anyone return before time from her parents’? Once you are there, they won’t send you back before Panchami Puja 3 . There are not many days left for Dashain now. We shall send both of you.” Padma didn’t speak anymore. She covered her face with her shawl and shed silent tears.

It was Tika Day during the festival of Dashain. Padma was working with high excitement. Since her parents-in-law had promised to send her this time, she believed that she would soon be at her parents’ home. The old couple put tika of curd and rice grains to Padma and her husband. They first had curd and chiura for snacks, followed by a heavy feasting. Padma served lunch to her parents-in-law and her husband and then sat down to eat for herself. Padma was scrubbing utensils. Her father-in-law said to her son, “My boy! Take Padma and go to her parents’ today.” “Oh, no! I will go to my maternal parents’ home.” “What a fool you are! Shouldn’t you visit your in-laws?” yelled the old man. “No. I am going to my mother’s parents’,” he said, and lumbered away, carrying an umbrella in his hand. Padma was left gawking. The old man turned toward Padma and said, “What a fool he is! Look, he has moved away. Maybe he will be back after a couple of days. You can go after that.” At night, the old couple was sleeping together. The old man said, “Did you see my tricks? I sent the boy to your parents’. I have told him to stay there until the end of Dashain. If he had declined my words, you would have had to scrub the utensils yourself.” The old woman said, “Why won’t your son obey you? What use is his visit to the in-laws? They never give more than a rupee as dakshina 4. More, how could I handle the entire chore alone?”

___________________ 1 Baisakh is the first month in Nepali calendar, roughly extending from mid-April to mid-May 2 Shraddha is a ritual the Hindus annually perform in honor of their dead parents on the latter’s death anniversary. 3 The last day of the festival of Teej that lasts for four days. On this day, the women observe fasting and perform worships. ___________________ Madhav Bhandari (1936-2001) is a storywriter of repute. A scholar of Nepali as well as Sanskrit literatures and language, he retired after a long and glorious career as a university professor at Tribhuvan University. His published works include story collections Gaunghar, Madhav Bhandarika Katha, Parbati Parinaya, Calenderka Ghumtiharu and Nabirsane Koseli, besides a few co-authored critical works, plays and novels. He also wrote in Hindi and English, besides Sanskrit and Nepali.]