On the morning of Independence Day. the roads were deserted and Shiv could drive the tractor down from Alwar to Jaipur in just two and half hours. He had planned to surprise his sister Vandana by making this sudden trip. It had been a year and half of her wedding to the family of rice merchants in Jaipur. During this period, Shiv had come only once to meet her during rakhi last year. His younger brother Raj had probably fallen asleep at the rear end of the tractor. After losing both his parents within a period of six months, Shiv had single-handedly taken up the responsibility of his younger siblings. His father, a poor farmer who toiled in other’s fields hadn’t left behind a single penny.
Shiv started working odd jobs eighteen hours a day to finally buy a piece of land for farming. He had been saving up for Vandana’s marriage simultaneously. Raj had started helping him on the fields. After Vandana got married, the brothers started pulling up money to purchase a tractor. The microfinance firm had lent them a tractor loan three months back.
His heart had always been set on meeting his sister but it was she who kept encouraging him to focus on his work instead. She had always been very proud of her Dadbhaisa (elder brother). He was relieved that she had been married to a decent family that cared about her happiness. That’s what she always told him.
Shiv looked at the boxes of sweets that Raj had bought for Vandana and her in-laws. They had reached the destination. He parked the tractor on the opposite road of the lane where lay Vandana’s marital home. Waking Raj up, he washed his face with the water from the nearby municipality water tap. There were three to four people who were probably on their way to celebrate the day through flag hoisting.
Two old men, dressed in white, walked out of the lane with a medium-sized national flag. They were discussing the ideological differences between Mahatma Gandhi and Subhash Chandra Bose. Shiv had studied till class five, so the names were familiar to him.
Suddenly the serenity of the environment was shattered by the shrill voice that had its source inside the lane. The lady was abusing someone in colloquial language about the person’s inability to be of any use in the family. This was followed by the pleading voice of another woman who was begging the other lady to let her inside the house.
One of the old men said, “The drama has started early morning again. Why does this old woman torture the poor daughter-in-law every day when she should actually be putting some sense into the brain of that alcoholic son of hers? They beat this girl so badly and throw her out of the house most of the days without food? On some days, I really feel like calling her family and ask them as to why don’t they take her back? Even stray dogs are treated better than this hapless soul.”
The other man said, “My wife came to know that this girl comes from a very poor family and is an orphan. Probably she doesn’t want to be a burden for her brothers or it could be possible that the brothers have deserted her. Her in-laws have been torturing her since the first week of marriage.”
Shiv’s heart sank while the men went on about their own business. The voice of the sobbing girl had been too familiar to ignore. He was so scared that he didn’t even want to get inside the lane lest his fears came true. But the impulsive and emotional Raj hadn’t waited. He had rushed inside. Shiv saw Raj come out of the lane. He was shaking, ” Dadbhaisa, they were hitting Jiji (elder sister). Those two old men who went away just now had been telling about how they hit her, make her sleep on the streets and don’t even give her food though she does all the household work. Why didn’t she tell us? Why is she tolerating this? Let us take her back right away.” Raj had been shattered.
Seeing that his wails were getting louder, Shiv made Raj sit on the tractor bonnet. He was finding this sudden turn of incidents very hard to believe. He slumped on the tractor seat. Everything that Vandana had told them about her happy life had been a big lie. He saw three street urchins holding a bunch of national flags, They were hoping to make a sale to buy some food.
Shiv pondered, ” Does independence mean anything to people like me who are still chained by financial incapacity? What good is independence day to women like my sister Vandana who are still shackled through gender discrimination and abuse? And what significance does the national flag mean to these street children whose fate is sealed by poverty, hunger, and labor? Has our country really gained freedom?” Tears rolled down his eyes as he realized the common factor of helplessness that connected all of them. His motherland would probably take another seventy-two years to become free from such evils.
Author’s note – Arv runs an amazing blog Jaipur thru my lens. While reading through his blog posts, I had chanced upon this picture. This photograph had such multidimensional interpretation that I had casually told him about my desire to weave a story around it. Without giving it a second thought, he asked me to go ahead and use this picture as a photo-prompt. I am grateful for the faith that you have shown in my story writing ability. I sincerely hope that I have been able to do justice to your thought-provoking snap.