Village of Women – Short Story by Leya Mathew

Extraordinary people like Jesus, Buddha and Gandhi can expel the evils accumulated over generations of oppression and injustice with the message of Love and Non-violence. This is however a story of commoners.

Somewhere along the line of control in Northern Kashmir, there once existed a village called Dard-nag (spring of sorrows). The hot springs there were famous for miraculous powers but even the healed complained that drinking of the waters gave them the unpleasant feeling of laughing when the heart was sad. During the years of militancy, Darg-nag became a preferred route to cross the border. Over a few years, militants, ex-militants and Army men killed all the men in the village. Now, Dard-nag exists as a mythical village inhabited only by women, lost somewhere among the dense forests of the upper mountains.

Far south, beyond the stubborn rocks of the Deccan, in the land of the Tamils there was a similar village. The tillers of the land heard of a magical city by the sea called Bombay where money could be made by hard work. Dreaming of buying land or setting up variety shops or tea stalls at the nearest town, the men migrated en-masse to the city of dreams. They found their way to other Tamils living in the slums of Dharavi and did what work was to be found. One by one, they went to the by-lanes of the red-district and came back infected with that dreaded disease (which as if to highlight its magnitude is always written in Capitals) AIDS. As their health bore down and they coughed up sputum scrawling with TB virus, they went back to their village to be nursed to death. The women buried their dead one by one and took over their duties. They tilled the common land and the thorny bushes closed in on the dusty road and forgot their existence.

Years hence, as the children of the village grew up, the boys shriveled of polio or malnutrition and died away while the girls grew as thick as weeds. Only the older women were left with any memory of man.

It was at such a time that a young man in search of Truth decided to explore the arid bushes and dense forests to find out whether such a village was real.

It was in the golden light of the setting sun that the man set foot in the village center. The few girls wetting the dusty entrances stared at this strange creature that still looked so familiar. Suddenly a strange scream emerged from the bowels of the earth “it is a man”. The scream of the old woman brought out the village in full force and they took up the cry after her. “Kill him” “Cut him to pieces” “Castrate him” “Throw his innards out”. They rained down on him like a hailstorm.

The hands hardened by years of toil tore away the crisp white kurta into shreds. Blunt broken nails traced rivers of red. Throwing their scarves aside and hitching up their woolen phirans, the old and the young hit him repeatedly. The winter-sun set early ashamed at its witness and mist slowly settled on the gnarled remains left in the open.

When the sun rose again curious at the fate of the young man, the women were already busy with their chores. An old woman ready to end her years heard a garbled mumbling and went out to investigate. She saw the bleeding frozen young man and hobbled away to call for help. The women rushed out with hot water and clean scraps of cloth and gently carried him to the nearest house as if they had no memory of the previous evening.

They cleaned his wounds with a motherly outpouring of love and covered him with the softest cotton cloth. They moistened his lips with warm water and worried over him like their own child. The fever raged and the man sweated and muttered gibberish and the women anxiously kept watch. He slowly got better and 13 days later he was able to eat some rice gruel. The events of that fateful evening stayed secret with the sun for no one else seemed to remember anything.

The strength came back to his limbs and the women fussed over him like with a favourite grandchild. They brought him creamy milk and fresh lightly flavoured yogurt and roasted their best chickens for him.

Then one day, in the soft early moonlight of the mountains, the man spread out a prayer mat and called out the faithful to pray. The women heard the lilting voice raised in supplication and worship and got out of their patchwork quilts. Slowly their forgotten prayers came back to them. Heads covered, limbs bowed, they murmured the soothing verses in unison. After the prayers they bowed and kissed his hand reverentially. They took him to the springs to bless the water for them.

A new hut was constructed for the holy man and his fame spread far and wide. The thorny bushes shook the dust of their gnarled stumps and made way for the village road. People poured in from the towns and cities and new trades found root and flourished. Men who came to pray fell in love with the village girls, married them and produced children. Soon the mythical village was just another regular rural stop famed for its Guru.

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