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Illa

Days began to shorten in the Sauviragram village; the leaves were changing their colour in the fields and were dropping off. The cotton balls began to crack and everyone knew that it was time to reap the fruits of their hard work. Harvest time had arrived; every farmer in the village was busy in his fields. Everyone wanted to work more and more so that their share of harvest to be given to the babus was ready. It was the busiest time of the year. After a busy day in the fields one could hear faintly the women folk sing “phu bai ohu/damlas kai mazy govinda tu…” Women used to sing this folk song while cooking and doing other chores after a long day in the fields.

Harvesting time was at its peak. One morning while all women and men of the village were busy working in their fields, Gopi kaki was looking for her daughter-in-law Illa who was nowhere to be found in the fields. She had been working in the fields since morning and could not find Illa there, “this girl will never come to her senses” she grunted. Furious, she then sent her younger daughter Archana to look for Illa and bring her back immediately.
Illa was sitting by the banks of river Godavari on a rock. The water was flowing quick and clear. She looked as pretty as a painting sitting by the banks in a short red antariya and large maroon uttariya with large golden borders, covering her head and the back. She wore red and golden bangles and had a “mang tika” on her forehead. She was deep in thoughts and tossing pebbles in the water. “I’m sick of this” she grunted loudly, “working and working all day and in the end never getting any consideration and be treated like cattle”. She was angry on the way she was treated because she was a woman and stared at the scratch marks on her arms. She began thinking about all the stories her mother told her that how women were honoured in the old days and how some men even used the names of their mothers in their name. Then she let out a heavy sigh and kept tossing pebbles. She then heard Archana call her name from far. She got up and answered back “what is it?”. Archana replied, “Aai has been looking for you and is furious. Let’s go”. She at once realised that she completely forgot all about time and how long she had been sitting there.
Back at home Gopi kaki was serving dinner to her son Madho and husband Gopal. Being men of the house they sat on wooden stools and ate while Gopi kaki never dared to look them in the eyes directly. Both were furious, one could easily make out by just looking at their faces. There was pin drop silence when they heard footsteps on the threshold of the house. Archana came in and started working in the kitchen and Illa sat by the door. At once Gopal kaka looked towards Madho and shouted,” it really is kalyug. This woman wanders around like a homeless sheep and you have no control over her.” He added, “In two weeks times the babus will arrive and we need as much hands we can on the fields. Do you know a new babu is coming this time? If she continues this shamelessness I would not hesitate in throwing such filth out of my house.” Madho got up and went out of the house throwing a furious glance at Illa. She ran after him with water to wash his hands but he threw the flask of water and slapped her hard. Illa fell on the stony floor, her bangles cracked. Madho angrily said, “you are a nothing but a problem in my life and tomorrow onwards you won’t set foot out of the house except for the fields”. He left her there, washed his hands and went inside. Tears trickled down her cheeks.
The next day was same like any other during harvest time. Illa ran in to Gorakh kaka on the way to the fields, a Brahmin by caste and the wealthiest man in the village who was boasting of his meet with the new babu who was the new in charge of the traders and told every kid in the village about him that he was from a far off land where they don’t live in huts like in a village and his skin was white like milk. The babus were coming from Paithan with gold and goods for barter in exchange for the bales of cotton. Everyone thought of the new babu like a master and everyone wanted to impress him. Illa, remembering what she was told last night, ran towards the field and started working. Madho saw Illa and noticed her every move.
Illa while working kept thinking of all that happened last night. She still remembered all she had heard from the elders of the village that how women were treated like the goddess of the house. She heard purohit ji quote what was written in the Atharva Veda that a women through marriage, “as a river enters the sea to rule there along with her husband, as a queen.” She sighed heavily and then looked at the sun go down. It was starting to get late. On the way she thought of stopping by the river bank. She thought she won’t stay very long and sit for a little while by the river Godavari. She sat on the rock by the river and washed her arms and feet, dipped her feet in the water and stared at her fresh wounds. This was the time Illa felt at peace. With the babus arriving soon and the harvesting time at its peak she hardly got time to relax. After a while she realized that she has to go home as it was getting dark. She unwillingly got up took one more glance at the calmness of the Godavari and went home to attend to other chores of her routine.
The days passed and only 5 days were left for the babus to arrive. Illa was exhausted from the work and wanted to rest but her husband was still out and she couldn’t even eat before her husband as it was what ideal wives do. It was getting late and after waiting for a long time she decided to eat something as she had to be up before anyone else did. As soon as she sat to eat Madho entered drunk and out of his senses and started shouting. Gopi kaki and Gopal kaka were not home and Archana was asleep who got up hearing loud noises but was too scared to react. Madho saw Illa eating and he kiked the plate palced in front of her and said, “How dare you eat before your husband?” and then he slapped her. He kept on shouting, “this is my house and you are my property. You are in this house to serve me.” Meanwhile Illa was lying on the floor and before she could recover from the slap Madho caught her by her hair and threw her out of the house and said, “You won’t enter back until you realise the value of your husband.” Illa couldn’t move for some time and then she knocked on the door but to no avail. When she could not think of anything she went to the temple near the riverside and slept there. Next morning when Illa got up she looked at the idol of goddess Durga and felt different. She decided that she wasn’t going to take that anymore. She wasn’t going to be a slave in her own house where she was brought as a girl with dreams and where she saw all those dreams die a horrible death. She didn’t even go to the fields that day.
Illa cleaned the temple and helped purohit of the temple with the duties. The purohit ji felt bad for Illa and asked her to stay with his family as long as she liked. She shared a room with Purohit ji’s daughter. Two days passed and Illa didn’t return home. She was at the temple the whole day praying and sometimes sitting by the river bank as it gave her peace… Archana came to know that Illa was staying at the temple and she went there while going back from the fields to meet Illa as she felt bad for her. They both were talking when Illa heard Madho’s voice calling out her name. He was furious and walked towards Illa and Archana. He slapped Illa and said, “Are you polluting my sister’s mind too? You shameless women! You couldn’t apologise for your mistake.” He raised his hand to hit Illa again but this time Illa could not take it. She pushed Madho away. Tears were rolling down her eyes. She saw a pot of water nearby and she threw that water on Madho. Perplexed, Madho stared at Illa angrily. He had never seen her like that. In two years of their marriage he hadn’t seen his wife this way. He couldn’t say a word.
Illa asked Archana to go home. Tears trickled down Illa’s cheeks and she then turned to Madho and said, “You call yourself a man! This is your manhood! You beat up your wife and throw her out of the house. This is what you married me for. What do you think you are?” she then looked at the idol of goddess Durga as if drawing strength and said, “I don’t understand where that time went when women were equivalent to goddesses, they were considered as laxami of the house. People like you go to temples pray in front of the idols of goddesses but go home and beat your wives up and consider yourself as superior.” Illa took off her ivory bangles and threw them at Madho, “wear these; this is what you deserve for what you do. If having a husband means to have a life worse than a slave than I don’t want this life. I would rather take sanyasa.” Madho was speechless. Illa continued, “Don’t forget that it was disrespecting a women that lead to Mahabharata and lead to the destruction of kauravas.” Illa’s mang tika fell, her hairs were loose and Madho couldn’t stand anymore. He kneeled in front of the idol of goddess Durga and couldn’t find words to speak up. Illa stood there like a Goddess herself had appeared in front of Madho to fight for the injustices done to Illa and to punish Madho for scarring the place of women as our Vedas guide us. Madho felt ashamed and scared to face Illa anymore. All that could be heard were splashes of Godavari against the rocks as if agreeing with Illa.