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GULKI THE BRIDE

Author(s): Dharmvir Bharati and Kathryn Hansen


Source: Journal of South Asian Literature, Vol. 16, No. 1, Part I: EAST-WEST LITERARY
RELATIONS (Winter, Spring 1981), pp. 165-177
Published by: Asian Studies Center, Michigan State University
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40873634
Accessed: 07-09-2015 02:41 UTC

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Bharati
Dharmvir
GULKITHEBRIDE
Translatedfromthe Hindi
Hansen
by Kathryn
"Hey,you blackfacedwretch!" SuddenlyGheghaBua openedthe door
to throwout the garbage. SpottingMirvasitting on the porchand singing,
she called out, "Did you swallowa recordplayer or what? You've been
screechingat the top of yourlungs since dawn. Godknowswhatyou do
all nightfor fun!"
Mirvamovedover a bit, for fear that GheghaBua woulddumpthe
garbageall right on his head. As soon as she wentback in, he sat down
again on the porchstep, dangledhis feet and begansinging in a lisp,
"Jus1remembrin'
you, mydarlin1--" The bitch Jhabri,waggingher tail,
whenshe heardMirva's voice. She sat downand
appearedout of nowhere
listened raptly to Mirva's song.
Thewholealley was still asleep. Mirva,whosereal namewas
Mihirlal, was the first to rise. Rubbinghis eyes, he wentand sat on
Bua's porch. Thenthe bitch Jhabri,thenMirva's little sister
Ghegha
Matki,and thenone by one all the childrenof the alley--the hawker's
Babu-son Mewa,the driver's daughterNirmal,and the manager'sson Munna
got together. Ever since Gulki had set up her vegetable stall on Ghegha
Bua*s porch,this groupmetthere. Beforethat the childrenused to play
on the hakim'sstep. As the sun rose, Gulki boughther vegetables from
camealong stick in
the wholesalemarket,loaded themon her humpback,
hand,and set up shop. Radishes, lemons,pumpkin,
squash, sometimes
cheapfruit she sold.
Mirvaand Matkiwerethe childrenof JanakiUstad, whohad died of
syphilis, and bothof themwerebornsickly, crippled and retarded. No
one wouldsit with themexcept Jhabri,and no one wouldlet themclimbon
their porchor sit at their shop except Gulki.
Today,as usual, Mirvawas the first to greet Gulkiwhenhe saw her
coming. "Salaam,Gulki!" he said, stoppinghis song.
Matkiadjusted her shorts,whichhad slipped downfromher bloated
a radish!"
stomachand begged,"Hey,Gulki, gimme
Gulki, annoyedfor somereason, ignoredMatkiand begansetting up
Jhabricameup, she threatenedher withher stick. She
her stall. When
and sat down,mutterfinishedarrangingthe produce,bent over awkwardly
ing curses to no one in particular.
Matkistood quietly for a minute and thenbeganto repeat her
Gulki once more
a radish!" When
refrain. "A radish! Hey,Gulki, gimme
snubbedher she fell silent, and movingaside, beganto gaze withgreedy
radishes. This timeshe said nothing.
eyes at the white, newly-washed
She stealthily stretchedout her handtowardthe radishes.

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-166Gulki shrieked,"Getyourhandsoff! Don't toucha one, you leper!


to eat, you stick like a leech. Get away!"
Wherever
you see something
At first Matkibackedoff, but thenher cravinggrewso strongthat
she reachedout and grabbeda radish. Gulki's face burnedwith rage.
and smackedMatki's hand.The radish fell;
She raised her stick of bamboo
her feet beganto wail.
Matkijerked her handsaway and stomping
"Gohomeand howlthere. I've already got all the alley kids hanging
aroundthis shop," Gulkiyelled.
"Did I give you the stall in returnfor this trouble? No peace even
for a moment's
prayer!"GeghaBua joined frominside. In the midstof
the uproar Jhabristood up and beganbarkingloudly.
"Left, right! Left, right!" A processionof several children
marched
across the intersection. Munna
Babu, the second-grader,led the
parade, holdingup a neembranchlike a flag. Mewaand Nirmalfollowed
behind. Theyhalted in frontof the stall. Gulki grewalert. The
enemy'sforces wereincreasing.
Matki,sobbing,told themher story. "Gulkibeat me! She pushedme
in the gutter!" Nirmal,Mewa and Munna
cameand examinedher wounds.
ThenMunna
Babu shovedeveryoneback and, grippinghis tree branch,
stood at attention. "Whohit her?" he demanded.
stood up withgreat difficultyand replied.
"I did!" The hunchback
' 11
"What
you do, hit me?"
not?" Munna
"Why
replied arrogantly. BeforeGulki could reply, the
her. Matkistuck out her tongueand madea face.
childrensurrounded
showyour
Mewasteppedup behindand jeered, "Hunchback,hunchback,
hump!"Andhe threwa handfulof dirt on her back and ran. Gulki's face
unclearly in a chokedvoice. The shadow
reddenedand she moanedsomething
of her fear darkenedon her face. The childrendashedup shouting,each
witha handfulof dirt.
Babul You better
Bua1s voice was heard. "Hey,Munna
SuddenlyGhegha
leave right nowor else I'll call yourmotherand have her twist yourears
a fewtimes."
"I'm going!" Munna
haughtilyanswered. "Hey,Mirva,blowyourhorn."
Mirvacuppedbothhandsto his mouthand sounded,"Dhutu,dhutudhu."
The processiondepartedand the captain chantedtheir slogan:
"Homerule for all .
BoycottGulki's stall."
The processionturnedinto the next lane. The hunchback
wipedher
tears, brushedthe dirt off her vegetables and beganto sprinklewater
over them.
or twenty-six. But
Gulkiwas not weryold, at the mosttwenty-five
her face was alreadywrinkledand she was bent at the waist as thoughshe
the childrenhad first seen her in the
of eighty. When
werean old woman

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-167theyweresurprisedand a little frightenedtoo. Wherehad


neighborhood,
she comefrom? Howhad she come? Wherehad she been before? Theyhad
no idea.
Nirmalhad in fact overheardher motherand fathertalking at night.
"Nowhere's one morebother,"her motherhad said. "Justbecause her
husbandkickedher out, whyshouldwe bear the burden? Her fatherowed
us a lot of money. Theysay that after he died, she got worriedthat we
wouldoccupyher house, so she left her husbandand camehere. Don't you
dare give her the key!"
"Whata low thingto say!" replied Nirmal
's father. "Justbecause
her fatherborrowed
fromus, howcan we take over the house like
money
that? I've already given her the key. Send a weekor twosupplyof
"
grain over to her.
"Oh, sure! I mightas well send the wholestoreroom! Do you hear
Buoi"
that, Ghegha
's fatherand her fatherwerebosombuddies,"
"Of course. Nirmal
Bua shoutedover. "Thepoor thingwas her father's only child.
Ghegha
Hermarriageruinedhim. But he gave her to such a butcherthat in five
years she turnedinto a hunchback."
's fathersaid.
"If the bastardcomeshere, I'll beat himup!" Nirmal
"Afterfive years she had a child. It wasn't her fault if it was born
dead. The son of a bitch kickedher downthe stairs. Her boneswere
brokenfor life. Nowhowwill she survive?"
"Look,son, let her opena shop," GheghaBua answered. "Myporchis
lying empty. She can pay a fewrupees rent and tend her stall all day.
Whatdo I care? If such a big porchisn't used by the people of the
whatamI goingto do with it? But she'll have to pay the
neighborhood,
rent, of course!"
The nextday this sensational newsspread amongthe children. True,
the hakim'sporchwas bigger, but it was madeof earth and had no covering. Bua1s porchwas long and pavedwith stone. It had woodencolumns
and a tin roof overhead. It was perfectfor manygames. The children
could drawlines behindthe columnsand play hopscotch. Theycould put
a woodenblock on a stone and makeit into a train drivenwitha bent
wire. When
Gulki tied bamboosticks to the columnsof the porchfor her
had invadedtheir
stall, the childrenfelt as thoughsomeunknown
enemy
territory.
Gulki fromafar.
Theyused to gaze, frightened,at the hunchback
Nirmalwas their sole informant
and her only reliable source was her
mother. On the basis of whatshe had heard, Nirmaltold everyonethat
Gulkiwas a thief. Her fatherhad runoff witha hundredrupees. She
too had cometo steal all their money.
said.
"If she steals the money,thenshe too will die," Munna
punishesall."

"God

fromher in-laws too."


Nirmaladded, "She musthave stolen money
Mewasaid, "That's not a real hump. It's all the money
tied on her
back. It's her husband'smoney."

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-168"
Really?" Nirmalcried withdisbelief.
"Whatelse? It's not a hump. It's just fake!"
Mewa,encouragedbyMunna,was about to ask her whenhe saw the soapmakerSatti standingand talking to Gulki. She was saying, "Youdid well.
Tendyourshopfaithfully. Don't ever go to his place again, even to
let himtake ten,
spit. The son of a bitch! Let himtake anotherwoman,
that's his problem. If he ever comeshere, just let meknow. I'll gouge
out his eyes withthis kniferight here.
The children, frightened,backedoff. Satti said as she left, "If
you ever needanymoney,let meknow,sister."
For several days the childrenremainedtimid. But thentheyfigured
out that Gulki called Satti to frightenthem. This addedfuel to their
anger. Butwhatcould theydo? Finally theyinventeda technique. They
playedan old-lady gamebefore. Nowtheyrevised it a little. Tempting
Matkiwith the promiseof lime juice, theymadeher play the hunchback.
She walkedlike Gulki, all doubledup, while the childrenstarted their
dialogue.
whathaveyou lost?"
"Hunchback,
hunchback,
"I *ve lost a needle."
"Whatwill you do whenyou get the needle?"
"I'll sewa quilt."
"Whatwill you do whenyou sew the quilt?"
"I'll fetchwood."
"Whatwill you do whenyou fetch the wood?"
"I'll cook rice."
"Whatwill you do whenyou cook the rice?"
"I'll eat the rice."
"Instead of rice, you'll get a kick."
AndbeforeMatkicould say anything,theykickedher so hardthat
she fell forward,skinningher kneesand elbows. She bit her lips to
hold back the tears while the childrenshoutedwithglee, "Wekilled the
hunchback!Wekilled the hunchback!"Gulki viewedall this and turned
her face away.
Oneday the childrenbroughtMatkibeforeGulki's stall and madeher
play the hunchback.BeforeMatkicould reply, theyaccidentlypushedher
so hardthat her elbowstoo collapsed and she fell flat on her face.
werecoveredwithblood. She screamedso
Her nose, lips and eyebrows
is dead,"
loudly that even the boys, whowerebusyshouting"Thehunchback
becamescared. Suddenlytheynoticed that Gulki had gottenup. Theyran for
their lives. But Gulkionly cameover, took Matkiin her lap and began

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-169to washher face withwaterand wipe off the blood with her sari. The
childrencould not tell froma distance if she was beatingMatkior what.
All at once theyfell uponher.
When
Guild's shoutsfinally broughtout the people of the neighborhood, theysaw her half-clothed,hair in disarray, blood flowingfromher
teeth, lying beneaththe porch. All her vegetableswerescattered in the
street. Ghegha
Bua pickedher up, adjusted her sari and chided, "You've
got a poundof pride but not even an ounceof status! You don't shut up
whenyou should. Why
do you wranglewith the boys?" Whenpeople made
inquiries she said nothing,as thoughshe had been struckdumb. She
quietly rearrangedher stall, wipedthe blood fromher teeth, rinsed her
mouthand sat down.
Afterthat it seemedas if the childrenwerefrightenedby their own
deed. Theywerecalmfor manydays. TodaywhenMewaagain threwdirt on
her back, Gulki's blood boiled but she remainedsilent. As the procession,
chantingthe slogan, turnedinto the alley, she dried her tears, brushed
the dust off her back and beganto sprinklewateron the vegetables.
"Thesealley kids are real monsters!"GheghaBua said.
"Oh, don't say that, Bua. It's just myunluckyfate," Gulki sighed.
This timewhenit rained the sun did not appear for five days. The
Gulki set up
childrenwereall imprisonedin their houses, and sometimes
not. Aftermanyprayers,the downpour
finally endedon
shop, sometimes
s
the afternoonof the sixth day. The childrengatheredat the hakim*
porch. Mewahad broughta bambooflute and Nirmalhad collected neem
pods and set up shop. She was calling out, just like Gulki, "Cucumbers,
potatoes, radishes, squash!" In a short time manychild customerscollected at the shop. Suddenlythe notes of a songcomingfromBua1s porch
pierced the commotion.The childrenturnedand saw Matkiand Mirvasitand Mirva,holding
ting at Gulki's shop. Matkiwas eating a cucumber
Jhabri's head in his lap, was gazing into the dog's eyes and crooning.
Mewawentright over and foundthat Gulki had given themeach half
Jhabri's lice. Anuproarensuedon
an anna and theywerebusyremoving
s porch. Munna
the hakim1
said, "Nirmal! Don't give Mirvaor Matkia
single neempod. Let themstay with that hunchback!"
"Yes, sir," replied Nirmalcoquettishly. "Mymothersays not to
touchthem. Don't eat together,don't play together. Theyhave a bad
disease."
"Phew!" Munna
madea disgustedface as he looked towardsthemand
spat.
Gulkiwas followingit all, and she had even begunto get some
amusement
fromthis senseless hatred. She said to Mirva, "If bothof you
sing together real loud, I'll give you halfan anna."
Brotherand sister beganto sing:
"Youkill me,darling,
withyourdagger-likeglances- "

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-170The door suddenlyburst openwitha bangand GheghaBua dumped


a
pitcherof waterover bothof them,yelling, "Scram,you blackfaces!
Just little brats and you're already singingwhores'songs! Nota thought
for sister or daughter. Andlisten, you hunchback!I'm telling you, I
didn't rent out myporchto opena brothel. Don't comehere withyour
singingparties!"
Gulki brushedthe wateroff and replied, "Bua, they're just kids.
Theywereonly singing. What'swrongwith that?"
"Yes, indeed! Just kids! You're still a babe in armsyourself. I
warnedyou not to talk back to me. I can be yerymean. For one thing,
you haven't paid the rent for five months,and thenall the scumof the
collects here. Go on, get yourshopout of here! I don't
neighborhood
wantto see yourface fromnowon. GoodGod! All the childrenof sin
have been bornas demonsin this neighborhood.It's a wonderthe earth
doesn't split openand swallowthemup."
Gulkiwas stunned. She really had not paid the rent for five months.
Her sales werenot sufficient. No one in the neighborhood
boughtfrom
her. But she neverthoughtthat Bua wouldturnher out for this reason.
As it was, she wentto bed hungry
had
twentydays a month. Her garment
ten patcheson it. Her housewas in ruins. She slept in a little space
on one veranda but she could not keep shopthere. She felt like grasping Bua's feet and pleadingwith her. ButBua bangedthe door shut just
as emphaticallyas she had openedit. Ever since the rainy season had
started and the east windshad begunto blow, Gulki had been getting
terrible pains in her back. Her legs wereunsteady. She was badly in
debt to the wholesalemerchants.But nowwhatwouldhappen? Out of
sheer frustrationshe beganto weep.
Just thenshe hearda noise and raised her head fromher knees.
Matkihad seized the moment
and grabbeda freshmuskmelon,
whichshe was
Gulki glancedat
devouringgreedily like someonefamished. For a moment
her swollenbelly but thenshe remembered
the melonwas wortha full ten
paise. In a rage, she dealt Matkithree or four swift blowswithher
bamboo
cane. "Thief! Bitch! Maywormsinfest yourbody!" Themelon
droppedfromMatki's hand but she pickedup the pieces fromthe gutter
and ran. She neitherscreamednorwept, for her mouthwas full of melon.
Mirvawas watchingall this, stupefied,whenGulki turnedon him.
She beganto beat Mirvain a frenzy. "Getout of here, you little
bastard!"
Mirvawrithedwithpain. "Givememymoney
and I'll go."
"I'll give youyourmoney,just wait!" A swishof her bamboo
cane!
Mirvafled weepingtowardsthe hakim*
s porch.
was watchingthe
Silence prevailed at Nirmal'sshop. Everyone
events. Mirvacomplainedto Munna
about the hunchback.Munna
said
nothing. Thenhe turnedto Mewaand spoke, "Mewa,tell him!"
Mewahesitated a bit and thenexplainedtenderly,"Mirva,you've got
a disease, right? So nowwe can't touchyou. Wecan't play together.
Yougo sit over there."

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-17111
I'm sick, Munna?"
Munna
softeneda bit. "Yes, don't touchus. If you wantto buyneem
pods, thensit over there. We'll throwthemover to you. Understand?"
Mirvaunderstood. He noddedhis head and wentto one side and sat down.
Mewaput a neempod by himand forgettinghis hurt, Mirvabeganto peel
the ripe pod and take out the seed.
At that moment
GheghaBua shoutedfromabove, "Hey,Munna! You all
get awayfromhere. I'm going to unplugthis water."
The childrenlookedup. GheghaBua, her sari pulled up above her
knees,was wadingthroughthe wateron the roof. The drain pipe was
cloggedup withgarbageand the roof was flooded. RightbelowwhereBua
was standingwas Gulki's produce. The childrenwerefar fromthere but
in orderto warnGulki, she had called out to them.
Gulki got up moaning. Because of her hump
she could not stand up
straightand look towardsthe roof. She stared at the groundand shouted
are you openingup this drain? Why
don't you open the
up to Bua, "Why
one over there?"
"Howcan I? Mykitchen's over there, isn't it?"
"Myproduceis over here."
"Well,so it is!" Bua flashed her hand. "Herhighness1produceis
here! She has a toughtimewhenit comesto payingthe rent, but listen
to her talk so highand mighty! Whatdo I care if yourproduceis here?
This drain's goingto be opened."
"Goahead and open it! We'll see!" Gulki suddenlysnappedback.
No one had hear this tone fromher before. "True, I haven't paid the ten
rupeesfor five monthsbut whosold mycowto Basantu? You did! Who
tore downmywesterndoor and had it burned? You did! I'm poor. My
father's dead. Let the wholeneighborhood
comeand kill me!"
"Howdare you call mea thief! You little slut!" Bua in angerresorted to dialect, KhariBoli.
The childrenstood by mute. Theywerea bit afraid. Theyhad never
seen nor imaginedthe hunchback
like this before.
"Yes, yes! You, the driver, his wife--all of you ruinedmyhouse.
Nowyou're goingto washawaymyshop. Okay,we'll see. The weakalso
have their God."
"There! Take that! If you've got a God, thentake that!" Bua,
ran and shovedthe garbagedownthe drain witha stick.
like a madwoman,
A six-inch streamof dirtywaterrushedonto Gulki's shop. First the
small squash fell into the gutter, thenthe radishes, cucumbers,
spinach,
and gingerwereall sweptaway.
Gulkigazed wide-eyedas thoughcrazed and beganto beat her head
tones. "Oh,my
against the wall, weepingconvulsivelyin heart-rending
father! Why
did you leave me? Oh, mymother! Why
didn't you kill meas
soon as I was born? Oh, motherearth, whydon't you swallowmeup?"

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-172Bareheaded,withhair disheveled, Gulkiweptand beat her breast while


the rain waterof the last nine days poureddownfromthe roof.
The childrenweredumbstruck.Theyhad understoodeverythingthat
had happenedso far, but whathad happenedtodaywas beyondtheir comprehension. Yet theysaid nothing. OnlyMatkiwentover and beganto pick
floating in the gutter, but Munnascolded,
up a large greencucumber
"Don't you dare steal a thing." Matkisteppedback. Theywereall bound
by someunforeseenfear or apprehension. OnlyMirvastood apart hanging
his head. It beganto drizzle again and theywentback one by one to
their houses.
The nextday the porchwas bare. Bua had pulled up the shop's bamvine in their place. That day the
boo poles and planteda cucumber
childrencameout but theydidn't have the courageto go onto the porch.
It was as thoughsomeonehad died there. The porchwas completelydeserted. Andthenit rained so hardthat the childrencould not comeout.
and so
On the nightof the fifth day therewas a terrible downpour
muchthunderthat Munna
got up fromhis cot and crept in with his mother.
The roomdancedwith light as the lightningflashed. The patter of raindropson the roof grewa little softer; therewas a gust of windand the
trees sighed in the breeze. Thentherewas a terrible, deafeningsound.
was also startled but she did not get up. Munna
Munna
's mother
peered
into the darknesswide-eyed. Soon he heardsomepeople of the neighborhoodtalking.
Bua's voice. "Whosehousehas collapsed?"
It was Ghegha
"Gulki's," camethe far-offreply.
"Oh,myGod! Wasshe buried?"
"No. Todayshe slept at Mewa'smother's."
Munnalay still and these questions and answersmovedacross himin
the darkness. Thenhe shiveredand cuddledup close to his mother. As he
dozedoff, he clearly heardthe hunchback
sobbingagain in that fullthroatedway. She mighteven have been sitting in Munna'sowncourtyard
and weeping. In his drowsiness her voice seemednear at times, thenfar
wereweepingin everycourtyardof the neighoff as thoughthe hunchback
borhood,but no one heardexceptMunna.
Nomatterever madesuch a deep impressionon the children's minds
Gulkiwas in
that their attentioncould not be distracted fromit. When
frontof themshe was a problem,but nowher shopwas gone. She wentand
slept in Satti the soapmaker'shallwayand beggedfromseveral homesfor
her food. She did not appear in the alley anymore. The childrentoo
wereabsorbedin differentmatters. Since winterwas approachingtheir
meetingsoccurredin the afternoons,not in the mornings.Theywouldget
together,forma processionand the alley echoedwiththeir slogan, "Vote
Bual" The municipalelections had been held in the past few
for Ghegha
two
theyformed
days and the childrenhad learned this then. Sometimes
parties, but as neithercould find a better candidatethanGheghaBua,
votes for her.
theybothshoutedand demanded
Onthe day that GheghaBua1s patience had runout and she had descendedto the porchto give her first election speech, adornedwith

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-173choice curses, she saw the postmancoming. She stoppedin astonishment.


had a postcardin his hand; he was lookingfor Gulki. Bua
The postman
dashedup and grabbedthe postcardand read it in a glance. Her eyes
widenedwithamazementand after telling the postmanthat Gulki lived in
Satti' s veranda,she ran to Nirmal'smother'shouse. For a long timethe
twogossipedand consulted, and finally Bua cameand sent Mewato go get
Gulki.
When
Mewareturned,not Gulki but Satti the soapmaker
was with him,
and as usual the black knifeshe used to cut the soap cakes for the shopat Bua as she enteredand
keepersdangledfromher waist. She frowned
haveyou called Gulki? She owedyou ten rupees for
spokeharshly,"Why
the rent but you ruinedfifteen rupeesworthof her vegetables. Nowwhat
do youwant?"
"Oh, dear God! Whatrent, daughter? Comein, comein!" Therewas
an unusualsoftness in Bua's voice. As soon as Satti entered,Bua slammed
with curiosity. Theyall
the door shut. The childrenwereoverwhelmed
ran to the lattice in Bua1s courtyardand stood peeringin.
Inside Satti thundered,"So he's sent for her. So what? Whyshould
Gulkigo? Now'
s a fine timefor himto remember
her! Sure, nowthat his
mistresshas had a baby, he wantsGulki to go there and sweep,makethe
meals and feed the child! Meanwhile
his child will laugh and play with
his mistressright in frontof Gulki's eyes."
Nirmal'smothersaid, "But dear, she'll be stayingwith her ownhusband,won't she? Nowthat he's written,Gulki shouldgo. A manis a man,
after all. He can leave one mistressand take on twomoreat a time, but
can a wife leave him? Godforbid!"
"No, but if she doesn't leave him,shouldshe go and get kicked
around?"Satti said.
Lord KirshnakickedKubja in Mathura,
"Comenow,"Bua replied. "Whan
her hump
disappeared. A woman'shusbandis her god, daughter. Let her
go!"
"Oh, I know
whyyou're so interestedin her all of a sudden. You
wantto get Gulki's housefromher husbandfor nothing. I understandit
all!"
Nirmal'smother'sface blanched. ButBua was not so easily vanyourtongue,I warnyou! Weknowaboutyour
quished. She rebuked,"Watch
Chaili tar. Andthat boyManik--"
"I'll pull out yourtongue,"Satti shrieked, "if you say another
word!" Andher handwentto her knife.
"Oh, no! No!" Bua, frightened,steppedback ten paces. "Areyou
me?"
goingto murder
Satti wentjust as she had come.
Threedays later the childrendecided to go to Hori Babu's well to
catch wasps. At that timeof year their poison was inactive; the children
caughtthem,took out their little black stings and thentied themto

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-174arrived back in the


Mewa,Nirmal and Munna
strings and flew them. When
alley each flyinga wasp, theysaw a manseated on a tin chair on Bua1s
ry ears, squint eyes and hair
porch. His featureswerestrange--hai
slick withoil. He worea shirt and dhoti and old, discolored boots.
Matkihad her handout beggingfromhim,"Gimme
a penny! Just one
penny!" Whenshe saw Munna,she clapped her handsand said, "Gulki's
husbandhas come. Hey,Munna
Babu, this is the hunchback'shusband."
Thenturningback again, "Gimme
a penny!"
The three childrenstoppedout of curiosity. Just thenNirmal
's
motherbroughtout a glass of tea. As she gave it to the man,she
's handbandbeganto scold her. She set the
spottedthe wasp in Nirmal
a.
waspfree, called Nirmalto her side and said, "Son, this is rnyNirmal
Nirmal,this is yourbrother-in-law,greet him. Son, Gulki is not from
our caste but whatdifferencedoes that make? Gulki is like Nirmalto
us. Nirmal
's fatherand Gulki's fatherwerebosombuddies. Onehouse is
left as a tokenof that friendship,nothingelse," Nirmal
's mothersighed.
"So, does he have anyobjection?" Bua cameup. "You've already
more. Have it
given hima hundred
rupees. Go on, give three hundred
signedover to yourname."
"Notfor less thanfive hundred." The manopenedhis mouth,spoke
one sentence and shut it.
"All right, it's done. You are our son-in-law. If you say five
's motherrefuse?" GheghaBua replied.
hundred,howcan Nirmal
Suddenlythe manstood up. Satti was approaching,followedby Gulki.
Satti stood belowthe porch. The childrenmovedoff. Gulki raised her
head and looked up but then, embarrassed,she coveredher headwithher
sari and pulled it downover her forehead. Satti stared at her for a few
secondsand thenroaredout, "This is the butcher! Go up, Gulki, and slap
his face! I dare anyoneto say a word!" Bua dashedinside the house,
was tongue-tiedand the manbeganto retreat in confusion.
's mother
Nirmal
don't you go up, Gulki! The son of a bitch has cometo take
"Why
you back."
Gulki took a step. Everyonelooked on stunned. Theman's face
wentpale. Gulki pausedfor a moment
on the steps, lookedat Satti, hesitated, and thensuddenlyran and fell at the man's feet. Sobbing,she
cried, "Alas, whydid you leave me? You are all I have in this world.
Whowill offer a handfulof waterfor mewhenI die?"
at Gulki, swalSatti' s face darkened. She scowledcontemptuously
lowedher phlegmin anger and muttered,"Youbitch!" Andshe hurriedly
walkedoff.
Nirmal's motherand Bua strokedGulki's head saying, "Don't cry,
daughter,don't cry! Sita too had to endureexile in the forest. Get up,
Gulkidear. Changeyoursavi, combyourhair. It's inauspicious to
appear beforeyourhusbandlike this. Comeon!"
Gulkidried her tears and wentinto Nirmal'smother'shouse. As the
childrenfollowed,Bua scolded, "Scram,you all! Do you thinkwe're
handingout sweetsor something?"

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-175The next day Nirmal'sfather, Gulki and her husbandspent the whole
day at court. When
theyreturnedin the evening,Nirmal'smotherasked,
"Did you get the official papers?"
"Yes, theyweresigned in frontof the judge." Thencominga little
closer, he whispered,"Wegot the housedirt cheap! Nowsend the twooff
tomorrow."
"Givemethe hundredrupeesfirst. I have to give Bua her share, you
know." Nirmal'smothersaid sadly, "Thatold hag's too clever. She's got
all her money
buried. She'll turninto a snakewhenshe dies."
In the morning
everyoneat Nirmal'smother'splace was talking about
the sale of the house. Seeing the ritual items, the conchshell, bell,
bananaleaves and sacred foods, all the childrenexcept Munna
gathered
around. Nirmal'smotherand fathersat on low stools. Gulkiwas wearing
a yellowsari drawndownover her foreheadand was cuttingbetel nut
while the childrenwatched. Mewacameup and asked, "HeyGulki! Hey,
Gulki, are you going to go withour brother-in-law?"
The hunchback
blushed, "Get away! Stop teasing." Andshe smiled
shylyin a waythat wouldbecomea charming
youngwomanbut whichseemed
repulsive on her uglywrinkledface. She pursedher black chappedlips,
closed her eyes slightly, and in a grotesquemanner
coveredher head with
her sari and straightenedher back so as to hide her hump.
first looked aroundand
Mewasat downbeside her. The hunchback
thenwhisperedto Mewa,"Whatdo you thinkof brother-in-law?"
Mewa,out of indecision or shyness,gave no reply. As thoughrationalizing to herself, Gulki said, "Whatever
happens,he's myhusband. Who
should be kept in submission."
else is there in timesof need? A woman
Aftera fewmoments
silence, she again spoke, "Mewa
Binai*Satti is
angrywithme. Evena real sister wouldn'tdo whatSatti has done for me.
This Bua and Nirmal'smotherare just after their owninterests, don't I
know?But son, I can't leave myhusbandjust because Satti says to. That
can't be."
A little child crawledup to Mewaand sat down. Gulki looked at it
for a moment
and said, "I sinnedagainst myhusband so Godtook mychild.
NowGodwill forgiveme." Againshe was thoughtfulfor a moment.
"When
he forgivesyou, will he give you anotherchild?" Mewaasked.
not? MayGodprotectyourbrother-in-law. The fault lies with
"Why
mealone. WhenI have anotherchild, the otherwife will lose her power."
Just thenGulki saw her husbandstandingat the door talking to Bua.
coveredher head and shylyturnedawayfromhim. She
She immediately
said, "Dear God! Howthin he's grown. Whocares for his foodwhenI'm
not there? The otherwife just looks after herownaffairs. Here, Mewa,
take these twopieces of betel leaf to him."Againa repugnantpose of
cameuponher face. "Youmustswearnot to tell himwhosent them.1
modesty
Mewatook the betel over but no one paid any attentionto him. The
manwas sayingto Bua* "I'm takingher but let memakeit clear--youtell

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-176her too--if she wantsto stay withme, she stays as a servant. I'll have
feeds her child and
nothingto do with her. If she waits on mywoman,
cleans the house, she'll get breadto eat and a place to sleep. But if
she ever talks back to her, thenthere's no telling! Myhandis yery
next time I'll take her yery
cruel. Last timeI gave her a humplife-breath."
not?"Bua said, and takingthe betel fromMewa's
not, son? Why
"Why
hand,stuck it into her ownmouth.
Nirmal'smothersent Mewaat 3:00 to fetch the horsecart. She had a
headachefromall the activity, so Gulki alone was makingpreparations
for the journey. Matkistood in the corner. Mirvaand Jhabriweresitting outside quietly.
Nirmal'smothercalled to Bua to ask whatshouldbe donefor the
farewell. Bua answeredin irritation, "She's not fromour caste,after
all. Just fill a pitcherof waterand offer a pennyin prayer. That's
enough." AndBua busied herself again withher eveningduties.
As the horsecartdrewnear, Jhabribeganto runback and forthmadly.
shesensed that Gulkiwas leaving forever. Mewaput the big
Somehow
bundlesinto the cart with his little hands,while Matkiand Mirvastood
beside the cart. Gulki cameout, head bowedin stonysilence. Nirmal
walkedin frontof her carryinga pitcherfulof water. The manwentand
got onto the cart. "Nowhurryup," he said gravely.
Gulki steppedforward,thenpausedand took twohaif-anna coins from
the fold in her garment. "Here,Mirva! Here, Matki!"
overMatki,whoalwayshad her handoutstretched,was at this moment
comeby such bashfulness that she stood up against tha wall, her handsat
her sides, and shookher head, "No!"
"No, dear, comeon, take it," Gulki called to her affectionately.
Mirvaand Matkitook the coins and Mirvasaid, "SalaamGulki! Hey,
mister,salaami"
"Nowcomeon, the train's about to leave," again he spokesternly.
"Waitdear. Is this the wayto see off a son-in-law?" A completely
unfamiliarbut loud voice was heard. The childrensawwithsurprise that
was approaching.
Munna'smother
to comefromschool so I could give himhis
"I was waitingfor Munna
snack, and then I saw the cart comeup and figuredI shouldcome. Good
heavens,Nirmal'smother,whatkindof a wayis this to bid farewell to a
paste, rice and vermilion.
daughter? Go,Nirmal;bringsometurmeric-powder
Quickly! Get down,dear, fromthe cart."
Nirmal'smother'sface clouded. She said, "I've done all I could. I
hardlyhave to showoff to anyone."
"Of course not, sister. Youdid whatyou could, but the daughterof
is the daughterof the wholeneighborhood.It's myduty
the neighborhood
too. She has no parents but she has got the neighbors. Come,child,"

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-177her foreheadwithpaste and gave her a coconutand some


and sheannointed
clothes whichwerehiddenunderher sari. Gulki, whountil nowhad maintained total silence, burst into tears. For the first timeit seemedas
if she weregoingfromher maternalhome,leaving her mother,leaving her
little brothersand sisters- and she wepthoarselyin strangetones.
"Now,now,hushup. Herecomesyourbrother,"Munna'smothersaid,
Munna
approached,dragginghis school bag. Seeing the hunchback
weeping
withher head on his mother'sshoulder,he was completelydumbfounded.
"Come,son! Gulki is leaving today. She's yourbig sister, isn't she?
Cometouchher feet. Comehere," his mothersaid.
Howcould Munna
touchthe hunchback'sfeet? Why?But his mother
said to. His mindturnedfull circle in a moment
and he wenttowards
Gulki. Gulki ran and embraced
him,weeping,"Alas, mybrother,nowI am
going. Nowwhowill you quarrel with, Munna?0 mybrother,whowill you
fightwithnow?"
felt tears welling up withinhis chest. Just thenthe man
Munna
called again and Gulki, moaning,took supportfromMunna'smotherand got
into the cart. The cart clattered off.
Munna'smotherturnedaround,Bua remarked
When
sarcastically, "Why
don't you sing a fewfarewell songs too, sister! Gulki the bride is going
to her husband'shome."
Munna'smothergave no reply. She said to Munna,"Hurryon home,son.
Yoursnack's ready."
But crazy Mirva,whowas sitting with his feet draped-overthe water
spout, beganto sing perverselyat the top of his lungs.
"Thenewbride drapes the veil over her
head.
She's gonefromthe neighborhood,
heyRam."
This was sungat the farewell of eyerygirl fromthat neighborhood.
shouldn't
Evenas Bua glowered,Mirvacontinued,and Matkispoke up. "Why
we sing? Gulkigave us somemoney." Thenshe too joined in, "Thebride is
gone, heyRam! The bride is gone, heyRam!"
Munna
stood by silent. Matkicameup to himtimidly. "Munna
Babu%
the hunchback
gave mea half anna. ShouldI keep it?"
replied withgreat difficulty and twobig teardrops
"Keepit," Munna
the veil of those tears, Munna
tried to spot the
filled his eyes. Through
horsecartin the distance. Gulkiwas wipingher eyes and lifting up the
curtain to look back at everyone. At the corner the cart turnedwith a
lurchand drewout of sight.
OnlyJhabriwentout to the street withthe cart and thenreturned.

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