This story is based on a true incident, though I have incorporated enough fiction to make it sound unreal. In India, there are some villages in Maharashtra where there is a practice that is still continued. Once the girl child reaches puberty, she is taken to the “market place” and put on auction. The highest bidder gets to be her “husband” for the agreed upon time frame. There is exchange of contract notes to formalize the purchase. After the time is over, the girl is once again put on sale with a higher price since she is now “experienced” in giving pleasure. If she gets pregnant or has a child, her price increases further since she is fertile. The girls are helpless sheep who are sold from one customer to another with absolutely no say. When the parents are the exploiters, who can she go to for protection? All the villagers as well as certain local authorities are “in” on the story since everyone gets a slice of the pie. The parents know that their retirement plan is insured once a girl child is born. It really hurts me to write about this, but how else will people know?
Madhu didn’t know that she was pregnant. She did wonder if she was overeating, since she had developed a disgusting bump on her perfectly flat stomach. Every morning greeted her with unwarranted nausea that no matter what she ate, or didn’t, never seemed to recede. Her husband, the insensitive man that he was, couldn’t tolerate the delay in his daily routine every time she went to throw up. The result was another round of sound beating that left her feeling more nauseous than ever.
While Madhu was too young to understand that what she was feeling was the joy of motherhood, she did notice that her curves became more pronounced as she wrapped her sari around her lithe body. Her senses had sharpened to the extent where she could no longer be near him without gagging. He, as was his nature, continued to hump away no matter what she was feeling. In fact he seemed to like her growing body so much that he was amorous all the time now. She knew that the easiest way to minimize the suffering was to let him finish whatever he wanted to.
It was only when Nitu Kaki gave her a sly look before congratulating her “husband” that she knew that she was no longer alone. She didn’t know whether the thrill that she felt was a happy or a sad one. There was a definite shiver that ran down her spine when she saw the money sign light up in those beady eyes. The pig! All he could think about was how a vagina would mean a lifelong means of sustenance. She would house a foreign body inside her for nine whole months, bearing the added weight and discomforts; and he would continue being the cruel monster that he was while also getting a prize at the end of it. How was it fair?
She knew that she had no rights on her own life; that was her parents. Two sets of cash hungry people who had rejoiced that a girl child was born. Now, they could sit back and relax while her body would earn for them year after year. Oh no, it wasn’t prostitution. After all, how could parents sell their daughter away to strangers? No, Madhu was legally married to new men every year in exchange for a paltry sum of money. Her new “husband” could use her for the designated period of time before returning her to the market, for a new buyer to take her home instead.
Three hundred and sixty five days of letting a stranger play havoc on her mind and body had broken Madhu’s soul. She had learnt that her birth was the result of some karmic repercussion that she must now fulfil. There was no one to hear the heart-wrenching sobs that broke the silence of the night. Every night his lust and anger left a mark on her face, like a new shade of lipstick around her swollen lips or maybe the latest purple eye shadow that was so popular with young girls. Since the first time that she had been put on display some five years ago, Madhu had been married to eight different men. Each, a new chapter in the nightmare of her life; each had made sure that they left a stamp of their existence on her.
Her first husband had paid a hefty amount to break in her spirit. He especially enjoyed watching her bleed and would ensure that a knife was always at hand when he came to her. At twelve years of age, she was unaware of the skills of a wife. But he would not tolerate any “laziness” on her part. What her mother failed to teach her, his fist and legs managed in a very short time. The day he returned her, he had demanded that her parents pay him for wasting his time training her, instead of being able to enjoy her services. That had led to a really loud fight that had culminated with her crying herself to sleep again that night. Of course, everything was her fault. The customer was always right.
She had settled down into her routine of surrender, till she was rudely shaken awake by the news of her new status. She would be a mother. She would bring a child to this hell. She would go about every day of her imprisonment wishing that her child would stop crying as it would irk her husband-of-the-moment. She wasn’t even going to think about the extra hardships that would follow if it was girl. Like a calf fattened up for slaughter, the little one would be protected from the evil eye of the spirits as well as the men who surrounded her. She would be taught to be a perfect joy to whichever hearth she would be sold to. While beating up an asset as valuable as a girl would be foolish (it could lead to scars), keeping her hungry would serve the purpose and leave no marks.
That night when Madhu went to sleep, she had the weirdest dream that she had ever had the misfortune to have. She dreamt that she could talk to the little parasite curled up in her womb. With nothing dangling from in between its legs, the fetus knew that its fate was doomed. She would be born to a world where the darkness hid inside the people while their bodies were bathed in light. Her body would soon lose all pretenses of being hers to do as she pleased. She would be just another robot waiting in line to give maximum satisfaction to the owner. Oh, how the fate depressed her! At least in the darkness of the womb there was a sense of safety, who would protect her once she was out?
is ripping at me,
clawing at me,
dragging me in,
taking my sin,
my life’s no longer mine,
can’t you hear me crying,
why won’t you let me die,
why won’t you let me die,
is circling me,
tearing at me,
keeping me in,
stripping my sin,
my life was never mine,
can’t you hear me crying,
why won’t you let me die,
why won’t you let me die
Madhu knew that she could no longer bear hear the wailing. It was beginning to grate on her conscience. Slowly but surely it was stripping away all the walls that she had built around herself. She knew that surviving was no longer important if one could not live. Without freedom, even a royal palace would be just another name for a prison. She had to break free.
That was the last time that her husband saw her. When he awakened from his drunken stupor, he roared her name out loud till the entire basti (village) quivered with his anger. All the search parties came back empty handed. There seemed to be no trace of Madhu. When her parents denied seeing her, he ranted on and on about a refund till the village elders suggested that maybe he should keep quiet. After all he was the one who had lost her; her parents could in return ask for a greater compensation. And that’s how the fifteen seventeen year old Madhu was declared dead after a few months of vanishing…
But somewhere on this dark and dingy planet, in a place hidden from prying eyes a baby girl was brought to this world, kicking and crying at her sudden freedom. Her mother shushed her with a fat teat before the noise drew unwanted attention. They were on their own with nothing to hold them back. Madhu finally knew what it was to be free.
Matthew writes these amazing short stories that never fail to inspire me. This one was inspired by his story Whispered Words. You can read it here. Do check out his blog for some mind boggling tales.