Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Juhi, Daughter-in Law of Roohi

- For Gurudev Thomas Lux*

Roohi, my mother's father's uncle's fourth daughter-in-law
was Ma's father's only relative in our father's village.
Even Roohi's husband's great-grandfather was related
as a brother to my father’s grandpa's grandpa. I called Roohi
grandma, and she treated me well. But she was one vicious 
matriarch, and her docile son married Ma's friend Juhi.

From their primary school days, whisperers Ma and Juhi
shared stories. After marriage, both talked of Mas-in-law.
Roohi, villagers said, had magical powers. All the vicious
events, deaths or diseases of cattle or men in the village,
were begotten by her squinted, accursed glance. Roohi
spewed the vilest curses… on villagers related, unrelated

to us. I was ten that morning, when an uncle, related
to Roohi, told us that on a dung-heap lay beaten Juhi.
No one dared to help her – for all were scared of Roohi.
No one dared to help her or suggest the recourse to law.
Ma and I carried Juhi back from the Shamshaan of the village.
She was turned into a red-blue pulp by that vicious

ma-in law. No movies show that bodies can face such vicious
blows. After twenty stitches, an enfeebled Juhi correlated
her story: “…for bringing the lowest dowry in the village,
for stealing and misusing Roohi's son’s money.” Later Juhi
testified: “I was attacked by ghosts.”  As if the men of law
couldn’t tell! But who could have dared to implicate Roohi?

I was fourteen, when we caught a rumor that Roohi
was starving a pregnant Juhi, another whim of her vicious
wisdom. My Ma carried prasad as food to Juhi's ma-in-law,
and fed Juhi. Ma succeeded as her father's family was prerelated
to Roohi. On the pretext of my birthday, next day we rescued Juhi
and smuggled her our on a bouncy tractor to her father's village.

At twenty-five, after three years in the US, I visited our village.
Grandma and I visited a bedridden, cancer patient Roohi.
I saw she was a shriveled dried grape now. So was Juhi,
who after twenty-six years of strife, was nursing her vicious
nemesis. Roohi had to be reminded about how we were related. 
She said, "Be good Vivek, be as good as is my daughter-in-law."

Fanning away Ma-in-law's flies, sits an aged Juhi. I feel awed by the village.
How many times have I related this story: the image of a dying Roohi,
juxtaposed on with her former vicious avatars and the ever forgiving Juhi.

Notes: Prasad is sanctified food served at Temples and the villagers believe that it cannot be refused if offered.