Read below chapter 1 of my novel, ECHOES FROM PUNJAB
Available on Amazon---Kindle, Nook, IPAD, Computer and paperback
“When will the monsoon ever start? July is almost over and this agonizing heat is so unbearable,” says Jasmine, sitting under the pipal tree, fanning herself with her scarf. She is playing a mango game with her siblings and friends in the courtyard of her house in the northwestern Indian state of Punjab. A bucket of small, juicy mangoes is placed in the center. They are to be squeezed thoroughly into one’s mouth within a set time limit. At the end, the leftover pits are counted and the person with the highest number wins. Little does she know that this is to be the last time she will play this game for a long time to come.
Jasmine, a beautiful, slim girl with intoxicating eyes, is a student in the nearby college. Little does she know that she, a simple, carefree girl of seventeen years, would soon become a bride, destined to live a life of responsibility and sophistication far, far away.
With no electricity in the village, which means no fans or air-conditioners, sitting in the shade and breeze of the tree is a real treat. Their front door stays open all day long, and beggars, bangle-sellers, and the kulfi-wallah (ice-cream man) walk in and out of their courtyard routinely. After finishing their morning chores, the neighborhood women often drop by to gossip and to rest for a while under the tree.
“Ah, I heard that last night the butcher beat his poor wife again,” Lajo whispers in Bibijee’s ear.
“Oh, merya Rubba, women are so weak and helpless,” Bibijee, Jasmine’s mother, laments loudly, holding her head.
“Women aren’t weak,” Jasmine’s daadijee, grandmother, says. “Some of them are really bad and they deserve to be beaten. Do you know how badly that woman treats her mother-in-law? One day her husband caught her red-handed when she was pushing his mother out of the house with a broom.”
“Ahaho, the times have changed,” Lajo replies. “It’s no longer our era, the Satyug, when women understood that their place in the household was to serve their in-laws tirelessly. Now, it is a new age and women, especially the educated ones, have become more daring.”
“Only a few classes of education transform them into birds with wings,” Preeto says.
“A woman is like a brass vessel: more you rub, more it shines,” says Jasmine’s bhuajee, paternal aunt, joining the conversation.
Lajo starts to sing a folk song referring to a woman’s life:
I’m a piece of driftwood
Kicked, pushed for centuries
Broken from my family tree
Rattled in the stormy river…
Jasmine exchanges glances with Bibijee in disapproval, but keeps quiet. There is never a winning situation with these illiterate women.
One day as soon as they finished afternoon tea, a yogi, dressed in a deep orange ankle-length chola and with long sticky hair, walks into their courtyard, chanting, “Hari Rama Hari Krishna.”
He keeps staring at Jasmine. “Your bitiya is born with lucky stars,” he says to her mother. “Her unique beauty tells me God has devoted many years to create such a face with those enchanting eyes.”
Immediately Bibijee reacts with outrage. “Go, go away, yogi! I have seen many charades like you,” she scolds. “What a shameless person, flirting with my daughter.”
“Believe me or not, I am telling you, this girl is born with lucky stars,” he repeats. And without hesitation, he asks Jasmine to show him her palm. Curious, she obliges him.
“You are getting married very soon, believe me or not,” he says.
“Tell us, yogi, is he handsome?” Jasmine’s friend, Simran, jumps in.
“Yes, I see a tall, fair, handsome life partner,” the yogi continues. “I see you will cross the seven seas. You will have so much money that you will bathe in milk and honey.”
Bibijee, always skeptical of palm readers, gives the yogi alms and tells him to leave. Jasmine, however, is quite concerned, and asks Bibijee several questions.
“You are only seventeen and still have a year to complete your college degree,” Bibijee assures her flatly, putting an end to the talk of arranged marriage.
Bibijee’s words put Jasmine’s mind at ease. But, fate intervenes. Within a week, Jasmine’s economics professor, Ajit Singh, approaches her father with a marriage proposal. He fell in love with Jasmine at first sight, but, fearing scandal, had kept it to himself. He intended to wait until Jasmine finished college, but was moved to act after he received admission to a Ph.D. program in America earlier than expected. Ajit hoped to marry her and leave for the USA by the third week of August.
Ajit proposes his plan to Jasmine’s father. Her father, eager to join his daughter with a respectable and ambitious intellectual, agrees that the marriage can take place as soon as possible. Since Ajit had already obtained his student visa and passport that he had applied for months ago, Jasmine’s visa and passport is ready within two weeks.
At Jasmine’s wedding, Bibijee blesses her daughter. “Break the old wives’ ignorant belief that a woman is a piece of driftwood or a brass vessel,” she says. “Live your life with dignity, self-respect and traditional values.”
Jasmine does not respond. The sudden change in her destiny has numbed her senses. Her friends, realizing her inner pain, console her, "Ah, you are so lucky to marry a handsome man and going abroad."
After the ceremony, as Jasmine’s friends and sister get her ready for the Doli, the departure from her parental home, they sing a folk song which is customary for this ritual.
We, the daughters, are a flock of sparrows, oh babul (dear father). One day we will fly, leaving our childhood nests. Our journey is unknown and some of us will fly far, far away.
Normally the departing daughter cries relentlessly, but Jasmine could not shed a single tear.
Note: My novel, Echoes From Punjab, is published and currently available on Amazon.com
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