Again Dumriwalih has not been in sight for some days. When she comes, she is continuous. There are four families around this courtyard. She does the sundry works for all of them. Now she is seen at the tubewell with a pile of utensils and washing them with ash. And now she will be helping at the stonemill, grinding the grains to flour.
The courtyard is swept with cowdung and water on the occasions of festivals. The sweeping was done more frequently before than it is today. Now it is only on festivals.
There was a time when the courtyard was broomed everyday. It is not so now. Conflict may be cause for it. Primacy is changed now. Washing clothes and bathing with soaps are more important. Brooming the courtyard is ignored.
Brooming daily is not a thing of today. It is only when the courtyard is to be swept with cowdung and water. So, for the sweeping Dumriwahih was looked for. Most of the time she did the job. She got lunch for it and rice and potato as ration to take home.
There is a festival in the month of Ashwin. On this day, cowdung cakes are made by a virgin. These cakes are preserved for two months upto Agrahan. In Agrahan, there is a festival of new crops. New grains are offered to the fire. For this, the Fire is made with these dungcakes.
So, in the Ashwin festival, Dumriwalih was looked for. She did not turn up even after being sent for.
The rituals were to be done and they were done. Courtyard was to be swept and it was done. One of the mistresses did it herself and purified the courtyard.
Dumriwalih was not a servant here. If she had free time and needed something, she would come and do something. If it was not so, she would not turn up even for months.
One day Lallu’s mother said to the mistress, “You know sister?…Why did Dumriwalih not sweep the courtyard?”
She said, “No.”
“You did the second Birth Ceremony in the month of Baisakh. So many men got dhoti and so many women got sari. She got nothing. She said that she won’t work as she didn’t get any sari.”
The mistress began to think. How was it? She remembered that the bale of saris were in the hands of her elder daughter- in -law. If someone were to sweep the ceremonial canopy, she would not do so without wearing new clothes. If anyone initiated a ritual, she had to be in new clothes. She knew that the bale of saris was in the hands of the elder daughter-in-law. But could not remember who got it and who missed. After the ceremony, people went to their work, far from the village. The daughter-in-law also left.
Again Dumriwalih began to come to the haveli. But when the mistress called her, she did not pay any heed. In a way, she had stopped talking to her.
Again, another day, Lallu’s mother told the mistress, “Sister, do you know why Dumriwalih did not get her sari?”
She replied, “No.”
“In Baisakh, she caught fever. She was bedridden for months. She has already lost her husband. Her sons did not care for her. So, she remained bedridden. But she had life yet in her and so she stood up again. For the whole month of Sawan, rains continued. Now as she is able to walk around, she comes now and then.”
“Now say, who’s guilty. What’s the guilt of ours.”
“Quite right. She was also saying, if she were well, she would have got the sari and would have feasted also, at least for ten days.”
“Oh! It’s so. I was also wondering. I saw so many people in the ceremony but she was to be found nowhere.”
“Whatsoever. She says she must have her sari.”
“Should it be so? You tell me, the ceremony was in Baisakh, and one should demand for it now?”
Afterwards she tried to talk to her. Said, “Dumriwalih, will you wash the presser-cooker.”
Dumriwalih said, “It’s too late now. Bedra must be troubling the daughter-in-law. It’s not possible now.”
Thus she never did any work for the mistress. Whenever Dumriwalih came in her sight, the mistress wished to ask her for a work. But every time Dumriwalih made an excuse and got away from her courtyard.
She wondered. She worked for others very diligently. She thought she should not ask her for any work. However, sometimes it seemed to her that Dumriwalih would do if she asked her. Therefore, she asked her. But, every time Dumriwalih answered back. The mistress could never speak her mind. Now she was hurt, now she wondered.
Lallu’s mother said, “Are you listening, sister? Dumriwalih will not give up. She shall take her sari.”
The mistress was happy then. Said, “Tell her, it doesn’t matter. I shall give her a whole sari. But … What should I tell you … It’s disgusting.”
Dumriwalih resumed to do some smaller works. The mistress also said, “It does not count. I will give you a sari.”
She worked till afternoon. The mistress gave her lunch and seeing her off, she said, “Dumriwalih, come in the evening. I have to grind grains. Come and help me at the stonemill.”
And Dumriwalih nodded.
That day the mistress waited for her in the evening. She did not turn up. At last she herself installed the stone slabs for the mill and began to pull the handle of the upper slab round, alone.
The grinding was almost over when she saw Dumriwalih coming.
She did not talk to her.
Dumriwalih said, “Oh! You have finished all of them. I had also been saying, it’s late. Mistress must have ground all.”
She sat at the other side and began to pull at the handle with the mistress.
The mistress said, “What could I do? I waited for you. Anyhow, it was to be ground.”
The mistress took the flour and went. Dumriwalih put the stone slabs to their place.
The mistress said, “Dumriwalih, get my clothes washed. I have bathed late today. Could not get time to wash my clothes. They are there in the bucket at the table.”
She said, “When will you give me the new sari? Give me, please.”
“You wash the clothes. I’ll give you a sari. I will.”
“Now when will you give me? Will you give me when I die?”
The mistress was stunned at this response. She opened her box. Took out a new piece of sari. Looked at it, opening the creases. She set the creases back and came out in the verandah and said, “Take this, O.K. Keep it well. Wash it well. Wash it with detergents when dirty. You have got a good sari.”
After that, the matter cooled down. Time passes and it passed.
Another sacrid Eleventh Day has come up again. The courtyard is to be swept with cowdung and water. Again, Dumriwalih is being looked for today.
Dumriwalih has not been coming here for many days now. Someone has to be sent for her. She has to be called for.
Translated by Narayan Kumar Choudhary
Prestige is a translation of a short story Maan, by Jeevkant, a Maithili poet, short-story writer and a novelist. This story was published in Antika, Jan-March, 1999. This was Antika’s first issue. Jeevkant, born in 1936, has been writing in both Maithili and Hindi.