Urban Myths

    by Urmila Bendre

    Kahi aikivat aslelya gosti.,
    Goshtin madhun goshti nightat.
    Some stories. One leads to another.

    When I think of the time fear clearly and substantially, deeply became part of my womanhood, was when we were told this story, told to us by an old – middle aged – gentleman. It happened when we were discussing girls being able to walk at night or go out in the evenings.

    “The woman you know now as someone’s maasi—let’s call her M—was a beautiful girl of our times, studying in college. She was well known in the city because she came from an affluent family and drove a buggy through the streets.

    She was in the habit of going around by herself. When once some hooligan made a remark on her while she drove her buggy, she took out her whip and flogged the fellow. The story spread, with her reputation of being fiery tempered and spirited young woman. The whole city buzzed about it for many days.

    Once she went for a walk in the evening to the well-known tekhdi, hilltop that was frequented by many of the city citizens for their regular walks.

    That day it was late evening and while she was returning home, two goons accosted her and…”

    The story remained incomplete. But it was well understood by the audience of young girls that she had been raped.

    That is what happens to girls who go out late in the evenings.

    …………………………………………………………………………………………………

    As a girl she was fond of music – of singing. The city was well known for its classical music traditions. There were many good music teachers. When her parents heard about her desire to learn singing, found her a teacher, a relative, who was well-known in the Hindustani classical music tradition.

    The sessions began. It was a group of 3-4 girls learning music together. Except her all the other girls wore skirts – it was not a modern thing – it was what they wore at school and hence wore otherwise too. She wore trousers and a top. She slowly realised that it was not done. It was suggested to her that she should wear skirts.

    There was a gaggle of cousins at home, who laughed at the suggestion, and pointed out that it was better and easier to play a tanpura in trousers—you could sit any which way you wanted, without showing anything unbecoming as in a skirt—and sing.

    Then there was a monthly fee to be paid – a very nominal amount. As a young girl, she did not get any pocket money. She was dependent and asked her elderly relative, the head of the household, for the money.

    She was shy. And asking for money every time was a great task. A few months passed smoothly. Once when she asked for money, the excuse given was that there was no change, and she should ask for it after a few days. When fees got delayed, she felt the frustration and disapproval of her teacher. His household was dependent on the earnings through the music classes. She cringed. When this happened for a couple of months, continuously, she stopped the classes. She could not share this with anyone.

    As she grew older, she realised that her relative had been a ‘good man’, a conservative man, who disapproved of public performances—of music or dance or any other art form—by young girls, particularly from his family.

    One Guru Purnima, when the teacher held the singing sessions of all his students at a semi-public space, her cousins teased her. Had she been regular with her classes, she would have been performing too.

    ………………………………………………………………………………………………

    Her grandmother used to tell a story of her young days. She had got married when she was about 14-15. She came from a poor family. And the suggested groom was a bijwar, a man who was entering into marriage a second time. He was rich and in the service of the-then raja of a major province.

    She did not know the details. The lagna was fixed. At the time of the marriage, when the padada between the groom and the bride was removed, so that they could garland each other, the grandmother got her first glimpse of the groom. And fainted. She said when her husband later asked if the marriage had been fixed against her wishes, she kept quiet.

    The granddaughter remembered the photo of her grandfather in their drawing room. He was a handsome man, with a grey moustache and a head of hair. To see that, as a first glimpse of your partner…he had died young after a few years of marriage, and a girl child had been born. Grandmother had seen her life change from a lavish, rajeshahi household to being back in her mother’s house, with her young daughter and no money to speak of. All that was there, had been looted—by grandfather’s relatives, accountants and the servants.

    …………………………………………………………………………………………………

    Later, her friend, whose maasi’s story she had heard, told us, “my Maasi was a very strong, self-willed woman. She is highly educated and lives now with her family abroad. And I always thought of her as being so fiery, known for her spirit and behaviour as a young woman in the city.

    But do you know, she opposed her daughter going to another place or university for her studies. Would not allow it. I was so surprised. Why, she herself had been so independent and self-willed as a young girl. I had really looked up to her.”

    I looked at my friend and kept quiet.

    Urmila is a Gender Consultant. She holds a Masters’ degree in Law. Her work brings her closer to the issues women face. She recently started exploring her creative world through writing, among other things. Both short story and poem is her expression of the inner world. She is a tri-lingual poet, writing in Hindi, English and Marathi. She now publishes under the name Urmila. Her recent published work include:
    Narrow Road; Short Story: “The company we keep” by Urmila Bendre; Page 49;https://neha-paranjpe.medium.com/; Aulos: An Anthology of English Poetry; 2 Poems by Urmila Bendre (Page 158-159); https://www.amazon.com/Aulos-Anthology-Mr-Sabuj-Sarkar/dp/B08C4524ZK
    The Indie Blu(e) Publications https/indieblu.net; The Kali Project ; 3 Poems by Urmila (Page 548-552); https://indieblu.net/2021/01/20/the-kali-project-is-published/
    The EKL Review Vol 3; Prose (Short Story) “The Veneer” by Urmila Bendre https://eklreview.com/the-veneer/

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