By Urmila Pawar
First two pages of Aaydaan (The weave of my life )
On their way to the Ratnagiri bazaar, our village women and kith and kin, carrying neckbreaking headloads of firewood and grass, bamboo bundles and sheaves of grain-stalk, raw and ripe mangoes in season, would stop at the foot of the climb and first attack our ancient ancestor with choicest curses before attacking the climb. Why curse the ancestor? Because he had chosen to settle in Phansavale village, abandoned in a dip between cliffs and crevices, like something forsaken by God.
Between the village and the bazaar stood two upright hills, their rugged, twisting slopes covered with pebbles and stones that knocked your breath out as you climbed; slippery paths that could send you hurtling into nowhere if you lost concentration for a moment; and two streams that wound through the forests and valleys, swirling over small and large embankments. As if that was not enough, there was still the long, unending road to town covered in mud and dust, so that every stubbed toe and stumble brought the ancient ancestor to mind.
These hills and valleys echoed with an occasional blood-curdling roar of a tiger and stories flew around of people having spotted one. Besides, assorted snakes, serpents and vipers, slithering around as though to inquire after the health of passersby, brought your heart into your mouth. Beyond the hills stretched the bare scrubland, wearing an armour of dense green prickly plants as sharp as the teeth of the reptiles. The wind whistled across it, tossing you about, while your heart thudded with the terrifying tales you had heard of water witches sitting on the wells. Sex maniacs hid behind bushes and pounced on women, leaving their honour in shreds, making them wish for death.
When the rains began, life itself had to be put on the line. The rain tearing through the sky, claps of thunder splitting your ears, large streams flowing down the slopes, stones and rocks revealing themeselves through the flattened mud like sharp teeth grinning at you, burgeoning bushes, a forest gone wild, rivers in spate spanned by rotting bridges that could give way any moment, all these amounted to facing questions of life and death every day. But hunger in the belly conquered all, and women still went to the bazaar with fire wood and fodder tied up in leaves or plantain plant skins or rugs. These gaunt, dark-skinned bodies dressed in rags, with their thin legs, bare feet, lifeless faces soaked in sweat or rain, hollow stomachs, calloused palms, bony fingers and heels with cracks like ploughed earth, appeared like near-dead bodies, driven by the will to live, dragged bumping and crashing over rocks. This gruelling life had fallen to their lot because of that ancient ancestor. Why would they not abuse him then? The thought would bring on a fresh salvo of curses. “The corpse-head, why come here to die? Let fire consume his mug…” “Were the whoreson’s eyes gouged out…” “Did the motherfucker not see these cliffs and crevices? Had thorns bled his rotten face…” and so on.
Our mother was one of those women. We had heard these very same curse words from her. Later my father, a teacher, left Phansavale for Ratnagiri, where he built us a hut-like home on the way to the bazaar so we could get an education. But before we settled there, our mother too had suffered the hardships of life in the village.
Translated by the eminent writer