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Translated Fiction: Kajro (Part II)

The Chief Gaonkar had given Tilgo permission to use the land beneath the kajro tree on the other side of the river; but this land
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This story was translated from Konkani by Vidya Pai. Vidya Pai has translated eight Konkani novels and many short stories for leading publishers like Oxford University Press, Harper Perennial, Sahitya Akademi, National Book Trust, Katha, The Konkani Language and Cultural Foundation, Mangaluru, etc. The Konkani story appeared in the monthly ‘Jaag’ in October 2021. It was made into a Konkani film, ‘Kaajro’, that was well received.

The Chief Gaonkar had given Tilgo permission to use the land beneath the kajro tree on the other side of the river; but this land was under the government’s jurisdiction, it belonged to the Forest department. The problem of acquiring land was solved, but the Chief Gaonkar had set another thought buzzing in Tilgo’s head. He would have to leave the village, and that too, because he was childless.
‘You have no sons!’ The gaonkar’s words had shaken him to the core and tears rushed to his eyes. Tilgo controlled himself with effort. He swallowed hard so that the sobs that were building up in his throat, couldn’t emerge. Draping his towel over his head, Tilgo set off home.
He entered the hut with leaden feet. ‘You’ve been given the land under the kajro tree, Goklya. We must go now.’
He brought the tray that he had assembled earlier and placed it near the tulsi plant. He whittled a wooden stake till one end tapered to a point and struck it into the ground some five feet away from the tulsi. He placed a wooden seat close to the stake.
Tilgo went inside and picked Goklem up in his arms, summoning all his strength. He carried her out of the hut and seated her on the wooden seat in front of the tulsi. He poured some of the hot water in the bath room into a bucket and carried it to the tulsi. He loosened Goklem’s hair and poured four or five tumblers of warm water over her head. He had bathed the corpse, as the rituals of Death prescribed. He wiped her face first and then passed the towel over her wet hair and arms and legs.
He rubbed some coconut oil into her scalp, parted and combed her hair and knotted it into a bun. He unfolded the new sari and looped it about her waist, fastening it with a knot. He made a few pleats and tucked them in at her waist, tossing the other end of the sari over her shoulder. As Tilgo smeared some kumkum on her brow he realised that her wrists were bare. He went into the hut and picked up the bangles that were placed on the shelf. He wiped them clean and slipped them onto her wrists. He struck a match and lit the oil lamp and joss sticks. He plucked a few flowers from the garden and tucked four of the blooms into her hair.

Tilgo spread Goklem’s legs wide apart and squatted between them. He lifted each leg and stretched it along his thigh and ensured that her arms were slung forward over his shoulders. He adjusted the bedsheet slightly and drew both the lower ends together knotting them at his waist. He maneuvered the upper edge of the sheet carefully and tied the upper ends together at his chest. He looped a towel about Goklya’s waist and knotted the ends tightly in front of his stomach.
The whole process took a lot of effort and Tilgo sat there quite drained. Summoning all his strength, he finally lumbered to his feet, slipping his hands under Goklem’s thighs and hoisting her up with him. The two ends of the sheet that had been fastened at his waist came loose in the process and he had to tug at the cloth and make a fresh knot.
Tilgo bent down slightly, grabbed the pick axe and slung it on his shoulder. He paused outside the door of the hut that stood ajar. ‘Come with me,’ he said to the cat that lounged at the door, ‘your friend won’t be here any longer. She’s moving to a spot under the kajro tree.’ And then Tilgo made his way out of the courtyard with Goklem strapped to his back.
The sun beat down fiercely as Tilgo walked towards the river. He wanted to get to the river bank, cross the river and get to the spot beneath the kajro tree…
‘Don’t go this way, it leads to the temple. Don’t you know that the temple festival is going on? We don’t want you to pollute the area….take that track, the one that the cattle take…. ’Shivlo gaonkar stopped him midway. ‘Move fast, now. It’s almost time for the MLA to arrive. Couldn’t Goklem choose a better time to die!’

There was a lot of activity at the village temple

Tilgo didn’t say a word. He bowed his head and turned back. The route that the cattle took was overgrown and lined with thorny bushes. After walking a while he saw a narrow track to the right that led towards the river.
My wife is on my back. She seems to grow heavier with every step I take, he said to himself.
‘O Goklya! I didn’t think you’d just slip away leaving such a burden on my head,’ he exclaimed. ‘You left too soon. Do you hear me?’ he asked as he got to the end of the wooded track and on to the path that led to the river.
‘The village is behind us now, Goklya, we’ll soon be beyond its limits. I have no one in the village now.’
‘The gaonkars have expelled me from the village. They’ve driven me out of the village on Dussehra day.’
‘Can you hear the sound of the flowing water? Listen well. We’ve got to the river now. Your place is there, on the other side. Can you see that kajro tree?’
‘Say something, Goklem. Talk to me for a while, before you go.’
Tilgo had reached the bank of the river. He grabbed Goklem’s legs and tugged them towards him, tightening the knots on the sheet that had come loose as he walked.
The river gurgled along and Tilgo tried to decide on the route he would take as he stepped into the water. The pebbles on the river bed were smooth and slippery with moss and he knew that he would lose his balance if his foot got stuck between two stones. Sit tight now, he said to his wife. Tell me if you’re feeling scared. I have to cross the river.
Tilgo slowed down, putting one foot in front of the other very carefully, as he strove to maintain his balance …. They were midway through the river, now.
‘Ye Goklya, listen …… let me tell you about my father and mother. One day my father had to cross the river during the rainy season. My mother was with him. It was raining heavily up in the hills and suddenly the water level in the river began to rise. A huge wave swept them both away ….their bodies were never found.’
‘Did you hear what I just said?’
‘Shall we jump into the water too, and get swept away?’
Tilgo was wading through a stretch of waist-deep water and was almost drenched. They got to the other bank and the sound of the drum being beaten in the temple carried to their ears. Lord Ravalnath’s spirit must have taken possession of the gaonkar who carried the holy tarangam aloft.

The river gurgled along and Tilgo tried to decide on the route he would take as he stepped into the water. The pebbles on the river bed were smooth and slippery with moss and he knew that he would lose his balance if his foot got stuck between two stones. Sit tight now, he said to his wife. Tell me if you’re feeling scared. I have to cross the river.

‘Goklya, listen ….….!’ The huhh …huhh….huhh….sounds that emerged in unison from the throats of the assembled devotees carried to their ears. They could hear the drum beats picking up speed…….Tilgo was enthralled by the sound of the drum. He would behave as though he were in a trance as he pounded on the drum ….
He took the path that sloped up from the river and wound past the kajro tree into the forest. It was so huge that two men standing with their arms outstretched would not be able to encircle the trunk. The whole area was bathed in its cool shade.
Tilgo dropped his pickaxe and went up to the dry stump of a tree that stood on one side. He squatted on the ground before it and carefully untied the knots in the sheet and towel so that Goklem remained propped against the stump. He straightened her neck, rested her hands on her stomach and collapsed on the ground…. He sprawled there for a while, as though transported to another world. Tears welled up in his eyes and then flowed unchecked.
‘Goklya….ei Goklya …get up now. Take this pickaxe and dig a pit. Let us both sit inside it. I don’t have any more strength…..’
‘Look at this kajro tree. It’s root is bitter. The bark is bitter. The leaves and the flowers and the fruit are bitter, too. But the shade it casts is so sweet,’ he said.
Tilgo got up and walked over to his wife. He passed a hand over her hair, pushing back the strands that had fallen over her face, and planted a kiss on her brow.
‘Take a careful look at the vegetation in this forest, Goklya, there are so many different types of plants growing here. The leaves and flowers and fruits and colours are varied, but they don’t look upon each other as different. It is we human beings who emphasise differences. Different types of plants grow in close proximity in the forest but there is no strife. Human beings are different. Caught up in issues of caste, they are always ready to pick up a fight. They threaten and curse ….. but that’s enough, I’ve gone on and on. You must be tired of my words. But I must tell you this, Goklya. I begged the villagers for a patch of land to bury you in the village ….. but I failed. This will haunt me for the rest of my life.’
Tilgya’s gaze was drawn to Goklya’s right hand which was clenched in a tight fist He stared at her fist for a long while and then painstakingly pulled her fingers open. Nestled in her palm was the gold coin. Tilgo examined the coin closely and then slipped it into the pocket of his pants. He rose to his feet, picked up the pickaxe and chose a relatively clean spot to dig a pit. He traced a square shape on the ground with the pointed edge of the pickaxe and flung the gold coin into that space.
‘I’m buying this patch of land with your own gold coin, Goklya. Forgive me!’ he said. Summoning up all the strength he could command, Tilgo struck the earth with his pickaxe, digging a grave to bury his wife.

The End

Images courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

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