11 min read

Translated from the Urdu by Meenakshi Jauhari


Our body is old but new blood courses through it always. Life depends on this new blood. In this timeless world, in every single atom, in each branch, in a tiny drop, this novelty keeps echoing like a song hidden away in a musical string, and this ancient woman is still a new bride.

From the time Lala Dongamal has married again, his youth has come back afresh. When his first wife was alive, he spent little time at home. From early morning until ten or eleven, he’d be occupied with his pooja rituals. After that he’d have a meal and leave for the shop, returning at one o’clock in the night, tired. Then he would promptly go to sleep. If ever his wife Leela asked him to come back a bit earlier, he’d get annoyed. ‘Should I shut down the shop for you or stop doing business? It’s no longer enough to offer a pot of water to Goddess Lakshmi to appease her. Nowadays, you have to rub your forehead at her threshold, and still, she looks upon you askance.’ Poor Leela would go quiet.

It happened six months ago. Leela was running high fever. Lalaji was all ready to leave for the shop when Leela hesitantly said, ‘I’m not feeling well. Please come back early today.’

Lalaji removed his pagdi and hung it on the peg. Then he declared, ‘If you feel better by my sitting here, I won’t go to the shop.’

Crestfallen, Leela answered, ‘When am I asking you not to go to the shop? I’m only asking you to come back early.’

‘So, do I sit at the shop and have fun?’

Leela didn’t say anything. Her husband’s invective was not new to her. On the other hand, for the last couple of weeks she’d been having the painful experience of not feeling valued around the house. If her youth had dimmed what was her fault in it? Is there anyone who stays young forever? In reality, their relationship of twenty-five years should have morphed into a deep spiritual bond that remains unprejudiced by appearance, that begins to see beauty even in flaws, that, like a ripened fruit, is sweeter and more delectable by far.

But Lalaji’s calculating heart weighs everything on the scales of profit and loss. When an old cow is unable to give milk or produce children, then there is no better place for her than the gau-shala. According to him, it was quite enough that Leela continued to be the mistress of the house, living and eating in comfort, and existing. She had the right to get as much jewelry made as she liked, or do as much charity and pooja as she wanted, or observe fasts. Only, she had to stay away from him.

Alas, our human nature with its deceitful trickery – life’s delights that Lalaji wanted Leela to renounce, he himself ardently sought those very pleasures. Leela was considered old at forty; he was still young at forty-five. In a way, he was now repulsed by Leela, shorn of the ardor and emotion of youth. And he hated her all the more when the poor woman, painfully conscious of her flaws, resorted to greasepaint to cover up those pitiless depletions of nature.

‘Mother of seven sons, hair now peppered black and white, face wrinkled like a washed piece of flannel, and still, you have the craving for mehndi and turmeric paste, sindoor and colour. Women and their nature – who knows why they are so obsessed with beautifying themselves. I say, what is it that you want now… why don’t you reconcile yourself to the fact that your youth has faded, and that it cannot be brought back, in spite of all your exertions.’

But he himself kept dreaming of young age, his mind never drifting far from it. During winters, he’d have dry fruits and medicinal herbs; twice in a week he’d dye his hair, and he was also corresponding with some doctor about monkey’s glands and their uses.

Leela saw him standing lost in thought, and said in a melancholic voice, ‘Can you tell me by when you’ll get back?’

Lalaji softened his tone, ‘How are you feeling today?’

What should Leela say? If she says she’s feeling very poorly, the man might just sit here and rail against her all day. If she says she’s fine, he’d leave, and free from all worry, get back at two in the night. Hesitantly, she offered, ‘I was fine till now, but now I’m feeling a little unwell. But you go, people will be waiting for you at the shop. Only for god’s sake, don’t stretch it to one or two o’clock. The boys go to sleep, and I don’t feel at all good… I get anxious.’

Sethji sprinkled some love in his words and said, ‘I will return by twelve, definitely!’

Leela’s face fell. ‘Can’t you come at ten?’

‘No chance before eleven thirty!’‘Not even at ten thirty?’

‘Okay, at eleven!’

Eleven o’ clock was agreed upon. Lalaji made a promise and left. In the evening, however, a friend invited him to a mujra. Now how could he refuse the invitation? When somebody invites you cordially, is it civilized to turn him down? He is not asking you for anything, nor expecting any favors from you, he’s only calling you with friendly informality to be part of his gathering. It becomes mandatory for you to accept. And who in the world is free of the morass of domestic troubles? Every day there’s something or the other: sometimes someone is sick, or there are guests, or there’s a puja in the house; sometimes this and sometimes that. If a man thinks that he’ll go after he’s freed from household worries, he’ll have to break off all his relationships with friends and acquaintances. For, its unlikely he’ll ever shake off his entanglements.

Lalaji went off to listen to the mujra and thereafter returned at two am. As soon as he got home, he promptly turned back the hands of the clock. But he could hardly turn them back by more than an hour. Two am can be made to look like one am — the clock can be safely blamed for an hour’s delay — but two o’clock cannot be pulled back to twelve o’clock. He came in stealthily, and woke up the servant. It was good he’d already eaten. He then crept to his room and lay down to sleep. Leela had waited for him for a long time, every instant with increasing pain and restlessness, then drifted off to sleep at some point. Waking her up would be waking up a storm.

In the end, poor Leela could not recover from her illness. Lalaji grieved deeply for her death. Friends sent telegrams offering their condolences. For many days, people came and went, expressing sympathy and regret. A daily newspaper carried an obituary of the dead woman, sketching a word-picture filled with hyperboles for her intellectual and cultural merits. Lalaji expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the praise-mongers. His sincerity and loyalty were further spotlighted by his instituting a scholarship for five girls in the name of the paradise-attained Leela. ‘She didn’t die, saheb, it was I who died! The light that showed me the way is extinguished. There’s nothing now, but to live and weep! I was an insignificant creature, God knows in reward for what good deed, the merciful divine bestowed this boon upon me. I wasn’t even worthy of worshipping her.’ Etcetera.

After six months of self-denial and keeping to himself, and upon his friends’ vigorous urging, Lala Dongamal married a second time. After all what could the poor man do – one needed a companion in life, and in this age, the need for a companion was even more keenly felt. A man especially needs a girl when there is not enough strength in his legs to stand.


There have been jaw-dropping changes in Lalaji’s life ever since the arrival of his new wife. He is no longer immersed in his shop. The business suffers no downturn even if he doesn’t go for weeks at a stretch. The propensity to draw pleasure from life, that was shrinking day by day, is re-greened with the infusion of this tonic. New buds are sprouting in this plant. A brand-new motorcar has come, and the rooms have been redone with new furniture. To keep up, there are additions among the servants. A radio has been installed and Lalaji’s aged youth ripples with more enthusiasm and fervor than youth itself. Just like the light from an electric bulb is clearer, more beguiling than the light of the moon. When his friends applaud Lalaji for his youthful temperament, he responds with bluster. ‘Bhai, I have always been young and will remain that way. If old age comes anywhere near me, I will blacken its face, place it backward on a donkey and drive it out of town. I don’t know why people associate youth and old-age with a man’s age. Youth has as much connection with age as religion has with etiquette, money with integrity, beauty with embellishment. Today’s youth…you call them young?! Arre Saheb! I wouldn’t exchange an hour of my prime with a thousand young ages of theirs. It seems like they have no enthusiasm for life, no passion… what is life but a big heavy drum dangling from their necks.’

He has been etching these same words with some well-chosen revisions on the pages of Asha Devi’s heart. He is seen constantly coaxing her to come to the cinema, theatre, a stroll by the river. But for some reason, Asha does not seem in the least impressed by these attractions. She goes with him, but after a lot of prodding.

One day Lalaji returned from the shop and said, ‘Come, let’s take a boat ride on the river.’

It was the rainy season, and the river was swollen. Rows of clouds paraded in the sky like international troops resplendent in variously colored uniforms. On the roads, people could be seen joyfully singing the ‘barah maasa’ and ‘malaar’, songs of the monsoon. And rope-swings had been put up under tree-canopies in gardens for women and children’s enjoyment.

Asha remained disinterested. ‘I don’t feel like it.’

Lalaji persisted, pressing her with a touch of admonishment. ‘How is it that your temperament does not incline to leisure activities?’

‘You go, I have several tasks to attend to!’

‘God has given us people to do the housework. Why do you need to work?’

‘Maharaj doesn’t cook the meat curry properly. You won’t find it tasty when you sit down for your meal.’

Asha spent a large part of her spare time rustling up all varieties and kinds of food items for Lalaji. She had heard from somebody that after a certain age, men’s lives are focused on the gratifications of the tongue. 

Lalaji’s heart-bud burst into flower. How much Asha loves him that she’s sacrificing an outing to attend to his needs. And then there was Leela … ready to tag along wherever he went. It was difficult for him to shake her off and he had to cook up all kinds of excuses. Leela wanted to be conjoined with him all the time, spoiling all the fun. 

Lalaji said, ‘You have a strange disposition. A storm won’t sweep in, if one day, the meat curry is bland. In fact, if you keep indulging my rich man’s quirks this way, you’ll turn me into a pleasure-loving creature. If you don’t accompany me, I also won’t go.’

Asha countered, trying to get the noose out of her neck, ‘Why, aren’t you also spoiling me by taking me roaming here and there…? If I get into this habit, who’ll do the housework?’

Lalaji went on, in a large-hearted manner, ‘I absolutely don’t care about housework – don’t care even as much as the tip of a hair. I want you to stay far from the grind of the house and not feel stressed. …And why do you insist on addressing me so respectfully, with “aap”? I want you to address me with informality, “tum” or “tu”, reprimands of love, angry rants even… but with your deferential, distant “aap”, you put me on a pedestal like a deity. In my home, I want to be like a mischievous lad, not a demi-god.’

Asha tried to smile and answered, ‘God forbid! How can I call you “tum”? The informality is for persons of the same age, not for those that are older!’

Had Munshiji delivered the shocking news of a loss of one lakh rupees, Lalaji wouldn’t have been as mortified as he was by Asha’s simple, innocent words. His enthusiasm and fervor instantly cooled, froze like ice. The colorful flower-patterned slanted cap on his head, the ochre-colored silk shawl thrown around his shoulders, the stylish fine muslin kurta with gold buttons, all the pompousness seemed laughable, the euphoria wiped clean all at once, as if by magic.

He asked despondently, ‘So, do you want to come out or not?’

‘I don’t feel like it.’

‘Then I also shouldn’t go?’

‘When am I stopping you?’

‘Again you said “aap”!’

With great effort Asha corrected herself and blushed crimson.

‘Haan, you should say “tum”! So, you won’t come with me? What if I insist that you have to accompany me?’

‘Then I’ll accompany you. To obey your command is my duty!’

Lalaji couldn’t force her, but words like ‘duty’ and ‘command’ made his ears burn. He went away wilted, embarrassed. At that point Asha felt pity for him. She asked, ‘By when will you be back?’

‘I’m not going!’

‘Ok, I’ll also come with you!’

Like a petulant child kicks away the toy he had been whining for when he finally gets his hands on it, Lalaji said with a downcast expression, ‘If you don’t feel like it, don’t! I’m not forcing you.’

‘If I don’t, you’ll take it to heart!’

Asha went with him for the outing but without any joy or excitement. She went in the same ordinary sari she was wearing, no fancy sari, or jewelry, or makeup… like she was a widow.

These were the kinds of things that irked Lalaji. He had married to be able to savor life, to revive a flickering lamp and brighten its light by adding oil to it. If the lamp did not become more radiant, what was the use of adding oil? Why was her temperament so dry, so impervious to nice things, like a barren tree that shows no sign of greening, however much you water it. There are boxes full of gem-encrusted jewelry for her, items from Dehli, Calcutta, from as far away as France. Varieties of expensive saris are kept, not one, thousands… but only to serve as fodder for caterpillars. Girls from poor families have this problem – their sights are always pinched. Unable to eat well, unable to wear good things or even give anything. Even if a treasure were to fall into their hands, they would have to think hard how to spend it.

The boat ride on the river happened, but it wasn’t any fun.


Even after months of effort, when Lalaji failed to elevate her mood, he concluded that Asha was perhaps born on a somber day in Muharram, and had a naturally melancholic personality. But still, he continued to make efforts. After investing a grand amount in this marriage transaction, how could he suppress his businessman’s instinct to press for maximum advantage? New and newer ways were found to ensnare her heart. Like, when the gramophone is spoilt and doesn’t sing or its sound is not clear, it is sent for repair and made to work again. Simply putting it away – that is stupidity!

Meanwhile, the old maharaj had fallen sick and left. His place was taken by his sixteen- or seventeen-year-old son, somewhat strange and gawky, totally rustic and raw. He knew nothing at all. His chapattis came in all kinds of shapes, more shapes than in Euclidian geometry, thin on the edges and thick in the middle. His dal was sometimes free-flowing like tea, other times thick like curd, sometimes hardly salted, and other times, having so much salt it was like a heavily-salted lemon pickle.

Asha would be in the kitchen from morning itself to teach the imbecile how to cook. 

‘How inept you are, Jugal. Did you dig holes till now or just loaf around, that you cannot even make proper phulkas?’ She said, exasperated.

Jugal filled his eyes with tears and lamented, ‘Bahuji! I’m hardly any age… I’ve just turned seventeen!’

Asha burst out laughing. ‘Learning to make proper rotis… do you think it takes ten or twenty years?’

‘Teach me for a month bahuji. Then you see what phulkas I’ll make, you’ll be immensely pleased. The day I learn to make good chapattis I’ll ask you for a gift. As for the meat curry – I’ve learnt to make it now, haven’t I?’

Asha gave an encouraging smile. ‘No, not the meat curry! There was too much salt in it only yesterday, it was difficult to have it!’

‘When I was cooking the curry, you weren’t here!’

‘Oh! Will your meat curry come out well only if I’m here?’

‘My mind works properly if you’re here!’

‘And if I’m not here, then?’

‘Then my mind goes and sits at the door of your room…’

‘Will you go back when your father returns to work?’

‘Please bahuji. Put me to some other task, or teach me to drive the car... No… no… please move away, I’ll lift the vessel from the fire. You’re wearing such a nice sari; if it gets stained, it won’t be nice.’

‘You move away. You’re clumsy… if the vessel drops on your leg, you’ll be laid up for months.’

Jugal became downcast, and looked even more sorry.

Asha smiled and spoke lightheartedly, ‘Why has your face fallen, highness?’

‘My heart breaks when you scold me, bahuji. Sethji can rebuke me as much as he likes, I don’t feel anything. But if you so much as even look at me with disapproval, my heart sinks.’ 

In a conciliatory tone, Asha explained, ‘I didn’t scold you. I only said what would happen if you should drop the vessel on your foot?’

‘And what if it slips from your hand?’

Sethji came to the entrance of the kitchen, and called, ‘Asha, please come here. See what beautiful flowerpots I’ve brought for you. They’ll be kept outside your room. What are you fussing around here, in this smoke and dust? Tell this fellow to call the maharaj, else I’ll make some alternative arrangement; there’s no dearth of cooks. After all, till when should we wait? This boor has not learnt any skill. Do you hear me, Jugal? Write to your father today itself!’

The tava was laid on the fire, Asha was rolling out the chapattis and Jugal was waiting by her side to put the rotis on the tava. How could she go to inspect the flower pots right now? She answered, ‘I’ll just come. I’m rolling out the chapattis. Jugal will make crooked rotis if I leave.’

'If he makes crooked chapattis, he’ll be thrown out,’ Lalaji replied irritably.

Asha ignored his remark. ‘In a few days, he’ll learn. What’s the need to throw him out?’

‘You come and tell me where the pots should be placed.’

‘I told you, I’ll finish rolling out the chapattis and then be with you.’

‘No, I’m telling you, stop making the rotis!’

‘You are being unnecessarily difficult!’

Lalaji was struck dumb. Asha had never before answered him in such a cold tone, and it wasn’t just her dry manner, but also her undertone of criticism. He went away feeling small. Now he was feeling angry, so angry that he wanted to break the pots and throw them out of the house, and he wanted to dump into the fire, all the seedlings he’d just bought.

Jugal spoke up in a shrinking voice, ‘Please go, bahuji. The master is getting angry!’

‘Shut up! Just make the rotis quickly, otherwise you’ll be sent away. And take money from me today to get some clothes made for yourself – walking around in this state, like a beggar! And why is your hair so long… can’t you find a barber?’

‘If I get clothes made, how will I justify the expense to my father?’

‘Arre, you stupid fellow! I’m not saying I’ll give you money against your salary. Just take the money from me.’

‘If you’re getting them made, I’ll take expensive clothes – kurta of fine khadi and a khadi dhoti, a fine chaadar and a nice pair of slippers.’

Asha gave a sweet smile. ‘And if you have to pay for these yourself…?’

‘Then I won’t bother with getting any clothes at all!’

‘You’re very clever!’

‘A man may eat simple and plain food in his own house, but at a banquet, he goes for rich delicious fare.’

‘I don’t care! Get a simple kurta stitched and a cap. 

Take two annas for a shave and haircut too,’ Asha instructed. 

‘Leave it, I don’t want anything. When I’ll wear the good clothes, I’ll think of you. But if they are ordinary, I’ll just feel resentful.’

‘You’re very selfish. You want clothes for free, and then, they should be of the best quality too!’

After a pause Jugal said, ‘When I go from here, please give me a picture of yours!’

‘What will you do with my picture?’

‘I’ll keep it in my tiny room, and look at it. You should get the picture taken in the sari you were wearing yesterday, and wearing the same pearl necklace too. I don’t like plain unadorned faces. You must be having a lot of jewelry – why don’t you wear some of it?’

‘So, you like jewels?’

‘A lot!’

Lalaji appeared again at the kitchen door, and said in a reproachful tone, ‘Your rotis are still not done? Jugal, if tomorrow onward you don’t make proper rotis, be sure I’ll kick you out!’

Asha was quick to wash her hands, and follow Lalaji with a smile to the flowerpots awaiting her. A new glow sat on her visage today. In her words too, there was a charming sweetness. Lalaji’s ill-temper evaporated – today her words were emanating from her heart, not simply leaping off her tongue. ‘I won’t reject any of these pots, get all of them put outside my room. Such lovely plants! Wah! Tell me also what their names are, in Hindi.’

Lalaji pretended to disapprove. ‘What will you do with all of them? Select a few – the rest, I’ll have them placed in the garden outside.’

‘Ji nahi! I will not leave even a single one. They will all stand right here.’

‘You’re being greedy now!’ Lalaji teased her.

‘Greedy or not – I’m not giving you a single plant.’

‘Give me a few please! I’ve got these with great difficulty.’ Lalaji implored softly, his eyes never leaving her face.

‘Not at all! You won’t get any!’


The next day, Asha emerged from her room, all decked up in a turquoise blue sari and jewels. Sethji saw her and was enamored. Finally, his loverly moves have found an answering spark, when until now, even upon his insisting, then begging, she’s never cared to put on her jewelry, only on some days, a casually worn pearl necklace. Today, framed in all these trinkets, look how she struts about, as if proclaiming ‘look, how beautiful I am’! A bud until now, see how she’s blossoming!

Lala sahib is in a state of pure rapture. He wants all his friends and relatives to come and feast their eyes on this golden princess. He wants them to see how full of happiness his life is. Let his antagonists kill all their doubts, let them open their eyes wide and observe how with self-confidence, generosity, and nuanced perceptiveness, he has forged this atmosphere of warm affection in his home.

With an approving eye, he remarked, ‘Come let’s go out somewhere. It’s extraordinarily pleasant outside.’

How can Asha go out right now? She must go to the rasoi, from where she’ll be free only by twelve or one o’clock. Then there’s other housework waiting for her. Where does she have the leisure? Also too, since yesterday she’s been having some discomfort in the abdomen; a pain rises every now and then. She’s never experienced such pain before last night, when it began suddenly.

Lalaji is secretly pleased about one thing – the pills are working. The rajvaid had cautioned Sethji that he should think twice before taking the pills. As a pedigreed rajvaid -- his father had been physician to the king of Benaras -- he was right in his advice too. Indeed, the rajvaid has deep knowledge of efficacious medicines for all kinds of ailments.

Lalaji wipes the color of perplexity from his face. ‘So, you’ve been having this pain since last night? Why didn’t you tell me; I would’ve got you some medication from vaidji.’

‘I thought it would get better on its own. But now it’s getting worse.’

‘Where are you feeling it – just show me. Is there any swelling?’

Sethji extended his hand towards Asha’s sari-aanchal. She lowered her head shyly. ‘I don’t like these games of yours. Go get me some medicine.’

This diploma of manhood delighted him in far greater measure than if he had perhaps secured the title of Rai Bahadur. How could he have remained at ease without getting an accolade for his bold act? It was an unrivaled opportunity to get back at people who had been expressing, in whispers, their misgivings about his marriage.

He first went to Pandit Bholanath’s house, and confessed, as he would, to a sympathizer. ‘Bhai, I’m in deep trouble. Since yesterday, there’s a pain in her abdomen. My mind refuses to work. She says she has never experienced such a pain before.’

Bholanath didn’t express too much sympathy. ‘It might be a chill… what else?’

Sethji rebutted him. ‘No Panditji, it’s nothing to do with the air. It’s some internal malaise. She’s young! I’ll take some medicine from the rajvaid.’

‘I think it will improve on its own.’‘You don’t understand – that’s your problem!’

‘Your thought is absolutely wrong. All the same, get her some medicine, and get some for yourself too!’

Soon after, Lalaji reached his friend Lala Bhagmal, and gave him the same news in more or less the same words. Bhagmal was a man of the world. With a smile he retorted, ‘I feel it is your mischief, no more!’

Sethji was thrilled to bits. ‘I’m telling you about my problem, and there you go, making jokes about it. You don’t have an iota of human empathy.’

‘I’m not joking – what’s there to joke about in this? She is innocent, fragile; you’re an experienced man of many skills. Now if I’m proven wrong, I’ll shave off my moustache.’ 

Lalaji put on a grave face. ‘I exercise a lot of restraint; I swear on your head!’

‘Oh, quit it… don’t unnecessarily swear on my head! I have children, I’m the sole earning member in my family. Go, get some medicine.’

‘I’ll get her some medication from the rajvaid.’ Lalaji asserted.

‘Rajvaid doesn’t have the medicine, you do!’

Sethji’s eyes started to shine. He was overcome by a rush of youthfulness, and with that, his face also appeared youngish, his chest broader. As he walked out, his feet trod the ground more firmly, and the cap on his head mysteriously tilted sideways. A certain boyishness was stamped all over his mien as he went his way. 

The rajvaid heard the old man’s good news. ‘I had told you to be extra careful in the use of the pills. You didn’t pay attention to my advice. First use them for a couple of months, and conduct yourself with restraint. Then you’ll see their miracle. Here’s the thing, the pills are limited in supply and everyone wants them. But making these pills is extraordinarily taxing – it takes months of preparation. There are thousands of herbs that need to be sourced from Kailash, Tibet and Nepal. And preparing it, as you know, is tough as nails. You may take one bottle as safeguard.’


In the kitchen, Jugal saw Asha sparkling from head to toe. He exclaimed, ‘That’s it, bahuji! Stay dressed and made up like this always! Today I won’t let you venture anywhere near the fire!’

Asha asked with a coy look in her eyes, ‘Why… why this strictness today? All these days, you didn’t even look in this direction.’

‘Today is different.’

‘Do tell me how!’

‘I’m afraid you might get angry.’

‘Nahi, nahi! Don’t worry, I won’t get angry!’

‘Today, you’re looking very beautiful!’

Lala Dongamal had, a million times, complimented Asha on her looks and manner, but his compliments, she felt, reeked of being somewhat fake. Praise from his lips seemed almost as incongruous as a sword in the hands of a eunuch. From Jugal’s lips, on the other hand, the words fell with a particular cadence creating an aura of excitement, a slow tension. Asha trembled from head to toe, as if in a state of intoxication.

‘Why are you staring at me like that? You will put the evil eye on me!’

‘When I go away from here, I will miss you very much!’

‘What do you do after you’re done with the cooking? I don’t see you around.’

‘The master is here, that’s why I don’t come. And now I’m being told to leave… let’s see where God takes me!’

Asha’s face went red. ‘Who is asking you to leave?’

‘Doesn’t the master say that he’ll throw me out?’

‘Keep doing your work, nobody can throw you out. What’s more, now you make good chapattis too!’

‘Still, the master is hot tempered.’

‘I’ll fix his mood in a couple of days.’

‘When he walks by your side, he looks like your father.’

‘You’re very badmaash! Be careful how you speak!’

But the veil of sham annoyance didn’t hide her heart’s secret – like a light, it was spilling out of her in spite of herself. Jugal continued with the same candidness. ‘You can shut me up. But everyone here says the same thing. If I were to be married off to a fifty-year-old woman, I swear I’d run away from home. Or I’d swallow poison, or give her poison and kill her… even if I had to hang for the crime.’

Asha could not hold on to her phony anger. With his childish openness, Jugal had picked on her heart-strings so unerringly, that even by summoning all her resolve she couldn’t hide her real feelings. ‘Destiny is something else!’ She said softly.

‘Such a destiny can go to hell!’

‘I’ll marry you off to an old woman – you’ll see!’

‘Then I’ll swallow poison – you will see!’

‘Why? The old woman will love you more than a young woman can. She will attend to your needs more attentively. She’ll also keep you on the right path.’

‘These are all a mother’s tasks. A wife’s duties are hers and hers alone.’‘

And what is a wife for?’

‘You are my mistress – otherwise I’d have told you what a wife is for.’

There came the sound of the motorcar. At some point, Asha’s head-covering had slipped from her head and fallen to her shoulders. She quickly righted it and pulled it back up, and saying thus, headed towards her room. ‘Lala will eat and leave, then you come to me.’

Premchand (1880-1936) was a pioneer of Hindi and Urdu social fiction. Regarded as one of the foremost Hindi writers of the early twentieth century, his works include 
Godaan, Karmabhoomi, Gaban, Mansarovar, Idgah. His works include more than a dozen novels, around 300 short stories, several essays and translations of a number of foreign literary works into Hindi.

Meenakshi Jauhari is a poet, writer and translator, and has been writing for more than three decades. Her short fiction, translations and poetry have been published in online and physical journals like Gulmohur Quarterly, The Little Magazine, Indian Literature (Sahitya Academy), IIC Quarterly, Volume Poetry, Out of Print, eFiction and others. Her poetry volume The Fish Who Flew was published in 2019 by Writer’s Workshop, Kolkata, India. Her translation of the nineteenth century Urdu classic, Delhi ka Aakhri Mushaira by Mirza Farhatullah Baig is forthcoming in 2024.

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