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Translated Fiction: Doiboki (Final Episode)

There was a huge lock hanging from the iron- filigreed door. Through the intricate wall she could see the raised platform for the Lord’s seat.
Doiboki final episode
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The ‘naamghar’ or the village temple was a forbidden place for women. Doiboki did not dare to defile the sanctity of the place. But a storm was raging. Soon it began to rain. What would Doiboki do? Continued from Part I and Part II

Translated from Assamese by Ranjita Biswas.

Inside, it was cool and dry. She shivered as her wet clothes clung to her body. She squeezed the water out. The place is filled with the odour of raw fish. She could almost hear the sound of something slithering in the inner quarters. Was it looking for her? She looked steadily at the monikoot (1). There was a huge lock hanging from the iron- filigreed door. Through the intricate wall she could see the raised platform for the Lord’s seat. A beautifully woven gamosa (2) with flowers covered it. On the lamp-stand two earthen lamps were still on; probably someone had lit them in the afternoon. In that dim light, she saw the gamosa was stuck with silver and gold flowers of different sizes – offerings by devotees. She bent down on her knees to pay obeisance. An earthen lamp which was still flickering outside the monikoot now went off. Suddenly something jumped down from the tin roof  on the huge doba (3) kept at the corner of the room.  Doiboki shook with fear. Again she could hear the sound of something sliding near the drum. Pervading over the unfamiliar sweet smell of the incense sticks, mustard oil and the burnt-out wicks of earthen lamps, the neatly swept earthen floor and offering of fruits, was the smell of raw fish. The basket in which she always carried her fishes now smelt more strongly, mixed with the raindrops. 

Doiboki felt petrified. What had she done? A place where even high-caste women, fair like Tagar flowers, were not allowed in, and she had the temerity to fill it with the odour of raw fish! She smarted like a catfish sprinkled with salt. She could feel her head reel. Her stomach churned with the fermented rice she had taken at dawn. She had not eaten anything else during the whole day. She could feel her intestine give way and then she vomitted. She wiped the sour-smelling vomit on the floor with her sador. She was scared to look at her cloth with its slimy vomit extracts. Yes, it was blood, blobs of blood. She slumped down on the floor. In her half conscious mind floated sounds of something slithering by, the splashing in the water by the turtles with moss on their backs, and the floating golden boat. After sometime, these too disappeared from her consciousness. Only her sador spread wider and wider, full of blood and slimy vomit. 

“She is still breathing.”
“See, she is moving, she’s moving.”
“No, she isn’t dead yet.”
“Why, she is sitting up now.”

Doiboki woke up to a great commotion as the village women peeked at her. She rubbed her eyes. Why, she was sitting inside the naamghar. Outside, there was a crowd of women. The hailstorms that pierced her the previous night were not there anymore. Where was her blood splattered sador? She looked at her disarrayed clothes, speckled with yellow vomit. What happened to the golden boat? And the huge turtle? And  the one who slithered around with that peculiar swishing sound? And, the silver and golden flowers which shone in the last lights of the lamp? She rubbed her eyes again and looked at the monikoot . The raised platform of the holy thapana, the flowers, the lamp-stand shone brightly in the bright sunlight. She bent down in prayer and, arranging her sador, came out of the naamghar. Her head was still reeling. Somehow she could walk to the place where the women had congregated and then slumped on the ground. 

Doiboki felt petrified. What had she done? A place where even high-caste women, fair like Tagar flowers, were not allowed in, and she had the temerity to fill it with the odour of raw fish! She smarted like a catfish sprinkled with salt. She could feel her head reel. Her stomach churned with the fermented rice she had taken at dawn. She had not eaten anything else during the whole day. She could feel her intestine give way and then she vomitted.

“Why, it’s Doiboki, the fisherwoman!” a beautiful woman from among the group of women standing under the peepal tree ejaculated. The women had come early today for their chanting of the naam as the menfolk had their own congregation in the afternoon. But before they started while they knelt looking at the monikoot from outside, a great hullabaloo erupted. They saw a woman’s body lying on the floor a little distance from the monikoot. Being born women, how could they enter the place to check? The priest in charge of the naamghar lived some distance away and usually came a bit late. Now, they sent a message to him. Soon the news spread like wildfire across the area. A lower caste fisherwoman was inside the holy temple! The whole village came surging to enquire.

Well, it was true, a fisherwoman was sitting on her haunches in front of the naamghar.

“I buy fish from her”

“She lives in that village.” Somebody pointed towards the locality across the river.

“How come she entered the naamghar?” The questions rained in from all quarters.

“No wonder the country is in such a shamble! Now, a fisherwoman enters the Lord’s holy sanctum!” Someone lamented loudly. 

“There will be a great disaster, you’ll see, the land will be on fire!” Banamali Sharma thumped his chest in despair.

“We don’t allow our own women to enter here and you, a fisherwoman, dare to…” Krishna Mahanta fumed.

“Weren’t you afraid to enter with your defiled woman’s body?” Barua’s wife’s voice shook with fear.

“Die, she’ll surely die vomitting blood.” Mrs Saikia pointed her finger cursing her. 

Doiboki tried to get up but toppled down again. Her head spun, her empty stomach turned with gastric juice. She held her head and vomitted. The foul-smelling yellow vomit wet the earth. She felt a little better now; her head cleared too. She stood up. Joining her hands in appeal she tried to say something- she muttered words like  “Military, hailstorm…” etc. When she stood up suddenly a hundred  rupee note, a fifty rupee note and a few ten rupee notes fell down from the knot in her mekhela. 

“Where did she get so much money?” Mrs Mahanta shouted. She never had any money of her own to spend.

“She must have stolen from somewhere and hid here.”

“Who knows if she was eyeing the silver and gold flowers here?”

“Hey naamghoria chief, check if anything is missing.”

“Who can trust these lowly people? God knows what her plan was!”

 The people shouted in unison. Doiboki picked up the notes. 

“You women, check her body, maybe she’s hiding something else too,” somebody commented sarcastically. A round of laughter ensued.

Doiboki story of a fisherwoman
It’s Doiboki, the fisherwoman! Illustration Shubhraneel Ghosh.

The men’s eyes ran gloatingly over Doiboki’s voluptuous dark body shining like a catfish as she stood in her carelessly wrapped mekhela-sador. Mrs Barua, thin like a reed, suddenly saw that her husband was staring unblinkingly at Doiboki’s body sans the blouse. She lost her temper and ran to catch hold of Doiboki’s hair. “Don’t believe this widow! May be she came here with her lover.”

 “That’s quite probable. Whatever she came here for she must have had an accomplice.” 

“Who was with you?”

“Where has he gone?”

Their accusations pierced Doiboki sharper than last night’s hailstorms. Even her famous foul tongue went silent. Suddenly, she saw a little dark boy running up the bamboo bridge towards the naamghar. His strong limbs made her feel like crying out. Everybody said he looked like his father. The boy looked at her from a distance and then ran away.

A woman, holding her nose with one hand, was searching the basket with the packet of  rice and potato .What’s here? Suddenly Doiboki lost her head. They were calling her a thief, the money she earned so painstakingly was damned as her stolen money, even the few potatoes she had bought for her blind mother-in-law received the same look of suspicion. Like a catfish with fins spread, ready to strike with its sharp bones when an enemy tries to catch it, she spread her hands, they were poisonous like the Shingi’s fangs. She pushed the woman who was examining the packet of rice. Suddenly, her nostrils flared as she sniffed a familiar smell. 

The congregation’s attention was now riveted on the bridge. A group of people, their black bodies  shining in the sun, were hurrying towards the naamghar. They stuck together, like Goroi fishlings. Doiboki looked at them and  then, in her familiar way  of slapping her thighs when challenged, she declared, “Yes, I am a woman. I bleed when having my period, I give birth to children. I am a fisherwoman, I earn my food selling fish. Yes, I have sinned by entering the temple. But I am not a thief. Last night military and hailstorm..” she could not finish as slaps and punches rained on her body. The same people who would have jumped up angrily even if her shadow fell on rice grains spread out on their courtyard, now touched her body. A little boy calling out “Ma, Ma” ran towards the naamghar. Someone pushed him too. From the darkness of the human wall Doiboki cried out to the sky, “Don’t kill me, my little children… my old blind woman…”

Her cry reached the group of dark bodied people on the bridge and stirred them as did a fishing rod amidst a thick cluster of Goroi fishlings. They jumped up in unison. Like small kawoi fish poured out from a sepa (4) they poured on the naamghar which they had never ventured into. The blind woman held onto someone to walk towards where Doiboiki’s voice came from. “Doiboki, Oi Doboki,” she shouted,  “Let’s see who dares to  harm you! You are like my son. In my youth I caught a rohu with one swipe of my pol (5). I am not dead yet.”

The End

Notes:

  1. Monikoot: sanctum sanctorum
  2. Gamosa: Hand woven towel
  3. Doba: percussion drum
  4. Sepa: A trap made of bamboo to catch fish
  5. Pol: A trap to catch fish
Arupa Patangia Kalita is one of the foremost contemporary writers of Assam. Her writings reflect many facets of Assamese life. She has received numerous literary awards including the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2014. Her books have been translated into multiple Indian regional languages and also feature as study material in some colleges.

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