A short story by Dev Kumari Thapa, translated from Nepali by Mahesh Paudyal
What a hen-pecked man! Not even aware of his wife wrapping him around her little finger, though he was a college teacher.
Mother was commenting with someone in the kitchen. Shyam thought, the gossip was about himself. Before that day too, his mother had counseled him many a time. Rupa cared for no one. She was beautiful and well-educated, having brought up in an atmosphere of freedom. Whenever Shyam remembered Rupa, he could not help a smile. It’s true that he had loved and married Rupa, in spite of knowing everything about her. On her part too, she loved and chose him from among numerous other youths and married him with her own will. Her character too was blotless; only that, she was quite liberal in her thoughts. It would have been better, if Rupa restrained herself in a little more. She was not just a woman now; she also was a daughter-in-law. But then, how much should anyone counsel her! She could not change her ways or did not even want to change them. In that case, what could Shyam do? Leave Shyam alone; every man in his position would be helpless.
Even the French warrior, Napoleon Bonaparte, who dreamt of conquering the whole world, could not keep his consort Josephine under control. Why so? Because, like Shyam, he also loved his wife very much. She was four years older to him, and a widow of a soldier in his own army. She was a spendthrift. Expenses for her clothes and cosmetics had rendered Napoleon’s coffers empty. When he was busy in the battlefield, she indulged herself in the lap of luxury. But then, Napoleon always gave in to her, and fulfilled each of her demands. He died alone at St. Helena, far away. Before breathing his last, he took the names of his motherland and his beloved Josephine. Some women are born merely to amuse their men.
Shyam smiled again, as if he was remembering a thrilling experience. His mother entered his room carrying a cup of tea for him. Beset by ill-feelings, Shyam could not raise his hood and talk with his mother. Instead, he kept himself busy flipping through the pages of a newspaper that lay nearby. Raising the issue of Rupa once again, Mother had said, “Good that you have got a wife, my child. But then, if your old mother has to do all the chores, what use is her presence here?”
He said nothing. Taking a deep sigh, his mother walked out of the room.
When it was fairly dark in the evening, Rupa entered the house. Seeing Shyam look dejected, she said with a smile, “Hello Professor!”
He giggled, but said with a grim face, “Why had you been so late?”
Rupa said lightly, “Am I your student that I have to give clarification?”
He shouted, “It’s not about clarification. I want to see that people do not critique you. That’s all.”
Rupa said in her natural tone, “Why should anyone critique me? I have not guilty of anything wrong. I cannot chang my inborn nature, no matter how much I want. Nor can you force me to change, Mister Professor! What are good and bad characters, after all? They are effects of the hormones one has. The pituitary gland in my head is more active; I am therefore more nimble, active and shrewd than others. Kamala nextdoor has less amount of thyroid, so she looks dull and people call her a good woman. That’s all you ought to understand.”
Rupa’s words made Shyam laugh. He was also rendered speechless. A lecturer by profession, he was a man of grave nature, a visionary, a lonely son of his mother. He loved his mother very much. He loved Rupa equally deeply. How wonderful it would be, if he could work a balance between the two people he loved! He could neither counsel Rupa, nor could Rupa appease her mother-in-law.
Shyam was spending his days amidst such dilemma, when his aunt — his father’s sister — and her young daughter, Shyama, paid them a visit. His aunt had come to town from the village to arrange for her daughter’s college education here. Shyam’s mother was meeting her after a long gap, and their meeting made both of them very happy. His mother requested her sister-in-law to stay with them at least for a month before returning to her home in the village. She advised her to admit daughter Shyama to her son’s college. Accordingly, Shyam got her admitted to his own college, and this made the mother’s quite contented.
After having lived with them for a month, the aunt returned to her home. Shyama started living under her aunt’s care, and studying.
Shyama from a wealthy and cultured background was of a serious nature and had a sharp mind. In no time, she had become everyone’s favourite at the college. Shyam was extremely delighted to see her progress. The brother and sister went to college together and returned home together.
With such a turn of events, the suffocating atmosphere at Shyam’s home improved to some extent, and there was some light now. Shyam’s mother started loving Shyama like her own daughter. Shyama also started helping her in household chores. Shayma established a friendly relationship with sister-in-law Rupa.
One day, Rupa asked Shyama to accompany her to the cinema. With all modesty, Shyama pleaded that she could only go after her examinations were over. Rupa went alone. By then, Shyama had come to know that her aunt had to do most chores in her own family, but she kept quiet, thinking it unwise to make a comment on someone else’s family.
After a short conversation with his aunt, Shyama went to her study. She could not focus for long; so, she went to the kitchen and started making tea. She gave a cup to her aunt, poured two for herself and for Shyam. She walked into Shyam’s room with the tea. Shyam was delighted on seeing her, and in a jocular way, said, “So you happen to be the cook of this family, isn’t it?”
With a smile, Shyama said, “Does it make one a cook if one does her own housework?”
Shyam said in a fond voice, “Sister, how happy mother is ever since you arrived here? I could not serve her as a son must. You serve her on both of our behalves. I congratulate you, and you have all my blessings.”
Shyama said, “Brother, you have me a place in your family. Else, I would be languishing in a hostel. You have also helped me with my lessons. I am obliged to you and can never pay for your favour. It’s my privilege to get this opportunity to serve you both.”
This way, brother and sister conversed for a long time. Shyam forgot the lack of a sister in his life.
Rupa returned home from the movies. Seeing Shyama inside her room, she said, “Shyama, the movie was wonderful. You didn’t agree to go with me.” Expressing his support for Shyama, Shyam said, “Can a student afford to go to the movies?”
Rupa didn’t like Shyam’s intervention. She gave a strange look and rushed out of the room. After Shyama was gone, Rupa returned and said to Shyam in a voice of dissent, “Two of you are together, both at the college and at home. I can see closeness growing between teacher and student.”
Shyam said in a light-hearted manner, “Are you jealous?”
Rupa said, “Go. Take the girl and leave her at a hostel.”
Shyam was astounded, seeing such a narrow outlook surface in Rupa. Counseling her, he said, “Pooh, what a mean thing you said! I thought you were educated and liberal.”
In the meantime, Mother came to ask Shyam to join dinner. The issue was dismissed.
That night, Shyam was restless for a long time. He could not manage even a nap. It occurred to him that Rupa, whom he considered an educated and magnanimous person, could also be envious. She had overlooked that jealousy was making her mean. Fie! Her thoughts were as mean as the froth on the surface of the sea. Where was the depth expected of an educated heart like hers? Shyama? Sister Shyama was a goddess born and brought up with ideals.
That night, he could not sleep.
After a few days, Rupa gave Shyam a new bit of information. She was pregnant. The news made Shyam extremely happy. Taking her into his arms, he said, “Congratulations! I think our baby will now make your pituitary gland smaller. Won’t it?”
Rupa blushed with embarrassment. Shyam was deeply moved by her newfound shyness — a novelty from Rupa.
Dev Kumari Thapa (1928-2011) is a story writer. She wrote stories both for adults and children. Though she was born and educated in Darjeeling, India, she later moved to Nepal and settled in Biratnagar. A nurse by training, she wrote form her schooldays. Her published story collections are Ekadashi, Jhajhalko, Seto Biralo, Tapari, Bhok Tripti, Pralaya-Pratiksha and Dev Kumari Thapaka Pratinidhi Katha. She also wrote some biographies and essays.
Mahesh Paudyal is a lecturer of English at the Central Department of English, Tribhuvan University. He is also a poet, fiction writer, translator and critic. He has the permission from the family to translate this story.
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