One mad woman

  • She remained oblivious to everything that happened in the streets. She has made this walk to the city so many times that she can no longer remember at what junction she crosses the street or if she had a conversation with anyone
- Prakash Pradhananga
Setey Karki came and played his flute, like Krishna trying to seduce the Gopinis. Using his sweet words, he tried to persuade me. But I did not care a straw and went my way

Feb 11, 2018-Wearing a dress—which was torn in more places than one could care to count—using a rag as a muffler, and carrying a stick, the woman who lived alone on the hill was on her way to the city again. She remained oblivious to everything that happened in the streets. She has made this walk to the city so many times that she can no longer remember at what junction she crosses the street or if she had a conversation with anyone. Were her eyes looking at the street at all? No, she was marching towards her destination, but her eyes had turned inward, reliving the tides that had brought melancholy into her life. 

“Mad woman, mad woman,” a few kids were announcing her arrival to the neighbourhood. 

“Oi, who are you calling mad?” she forcefully demanded, but as she had no teeth, words coming out of her mouth sounded like empty gasps. “Children are scared and amused when they see me? So am I really mad?,” she asked, and after thinking for a bit, she responded: Yes, I am crazy. But I am a lunatic only in the eyes of the high-class people of this village. They were the ones who made me mad.” Then she gave a frightening stare to the children, who by now were calling her with all sorts of names, and she went her way. 

She kept walking. The children were far away, but their words “mad woman” still rang in her ears. She could not even care that the clouds were beginning to loom overhead ominously, heavy with rain. Only old memories came to her. Each accident that shaped her life reappeared in still images. It was as if she were flipping through an old album, and each image invited her soul to speak from the heights of despair. 

“As I was climbing the stairway to youth, everyone praised my beauty and rigor. Today the same people brand me as a lunatic and run away from me. Why am I like this? There is no one left that I can call my own. My boy, have I lost you as well?” 

“Ma, I won’t go to their house,” her son’s angry voice remained fresh in her memory. Hearing that voice again, she felt as if every inch of her body was pierced by needles, and she remembered how it all happened. She did not even realise that it had started to drizzle. 

“I had barely grown out of my teenage years. That day I had to go and collect fodder on my own. Nobody was around and I was cutting grass faster than my normal pace. Then Setey Karki came and played his flute, like Krishna trying to seduce the Gopinis. Using his sweet words, he tried to persuade me. But I did not care a straw and went my way.

“My father decided to get me married with someone from my village. Before my marriage, Setey came to woo me many times. I did not listen to him, since staying within my own caste seemed more desirable than eloping with the village landlord’s son.” 

The drizzle turned into a downpour. She took refuge under a big tree, where she remembered that her son was 10 years old when she became a widow. Her husband’s funeral pyre had barely cooled when Setey Karki visited her with a green ledger in his hand. He pointed that her husband still owed his family a lot of money. She told him that she was never aware of any loans. Then, he proceeded to threaten her. There will be a lawsuit, and things will be done, he claimed, to remove her from society. Naturally, she was scared. And, she pleaded to Karki to forgive the debt. So it was 

decided that her son would be taken to Karki’s new home in the Tarai, as a helper. For two years, her days had been spent in waiting for the young boy’s return.  Eventually, she had to suffer through the news of her son’s death.  And she did not even get to see the body. 

It is the immutable law of the universe that the helpless suffer from the hands of the mighty. Setey, by not delivering the body to the mother, had found a way of getting back at her for rejecting his advances. The woman’s suffering became directly proportional to Setey’s happiness. The more she suffered, the more he celebrated. Furthermore, following the death of her son, Setey also seized all her assets.

With the suggestion of a few helpful villagers, she filed a case in the court. But what would the court do? No bureaucrat was willing to listen to the old woman. When the rain subsided, the woman ritualistically resumed her journey to the city. And, either consciously or perhaps unconsciously, she started yelling: “Because of the high-class thugs of this village, I have lost my son. Everything has been stolen from me. Is there justice in this country? Is there a ruler here? If there is one, why I am needlessly suffering? Look at the bureaucrats; they are the living demons of our society.” 

Somebody who was nearby politely asked her, “Why are you shouting?” With an animated gesture, the old woman responded, “I am not shouting, I am only looking for justice.” Since the woman had barely any teeth left, nothing that came out of her mouth could be understood. 

Another man said to his friend with contempt,” Why are you talking to a lunatic…let’s go.” So they left. Having understood what they said, the old woman forcefully shouted: “Lunatic! Yes, yes…Crazy Lunatic is coming, run you bastards!”

But just as she had started she stopped, turned around and continued her walk. 

Wearing a dress—which was torn in more places than one could care to count—using a rag as a muffler, and carrying a stick, the woman who lived alone on the hill was on her way to the city again. She remained oblivious to everything that happened in the streets. She has made this walk to the city so many times that she can no longer remember at what junction she crosses the street or if she had a conversation with anyone. 

(Translated by Sandesh Ghimire)

Published: 11-02-2018 08:10

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