About the author– Yashpal was a revolutionary writer and has written a lot on political and social matters. He received the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1976 for his novel Meri Teri Uski Baat and has also received the Padma Bhushan.
Our villages are small in size. There are villages where only ten to twelve houses can be found. If one village is based at the top of a hill then the other village is found at its base. Banku Sah’s shop took care of all the basic needs to the villagers. The verandah of his shop served as the village’s meeting place. There was a Peepul tree right outside the verandah where children used to play.
Sun had finally come out after a heavy downpour. I needed carom seeds* to make a medicine and so I stepped out to go to Banku Sah’s shop. Once I reached the shop I saw five to seven men sitting in the verandah and smoking hukkah while a few children were playing outside. Phoolo, Banku Sah’s daughter was one of the children.
What would you expect from a five year old child to dress like? The kurta that she wore simply hung on her body. Phoolo was engaged to be married to Santu who lived a few miles away from Phoolo’s village. Santu was a seven year old boy and had two buffaloes, a cow and two bulls at his place. When they used to go for grazing then Santu would go along with a stick and play with them as well. By evening he would bring them back home.
As soon as the rains stopped, Santu was taking his herd to graze when he passed Banku Sah’s shop and saw children playing under the tree. He started playing with them.
Noticing Santu playing with them, the six year old Hariya yelled- “ Aha! Phoolo’s groom is here !” and the rest of the children started teasing him.
Children learn quickly and do not need the elders to make them understand certain things. Although Phoolo was only five years old, she knew that she should feel shy in front of her to be husband. She had seen her mother and other women of the village observe purdah in front of men. She had learned an important thing that it was necessary to observe purdah. With the children teasing her, Phoolo was overcome with shyness but what could she do? She was only wearing a kurta and she hid her face in the kurta.
The elders on looking at Phoolo hide her face in her kurta started laughing. Ramsingh uncle gently made Phoolo come out of her “purdah” while the boys who understood the whole thing laughed out loud.
I had come to only take carom seeds from Banku Sah but looking at Phoolo, was overcome with pain. In a progressive world, such practices and customs still exist and how we try to hold on to them by attempting to preserve it in so many ways.
*Carom seeds- Ajwain