Close to the city of Paithan, in a small village called Sauviragram, which lay along the banks of the great river Godavari, lived a woman named Ilaa. Being cotton farmers, her family was well to do, but not among the richest in their area. It was the harvest season, and cotton had to be picked from the plants. The wholesalers and traders from Paithan would be arriving in just a few weeks, carrying gold and goods for barter. They would exchange what they carried for the cotton that the farmers grew. The bales of cotton had to be ready in time! Work was at its peak!
But Ilaa was not to be found in the fields. She wasn’t working. Instead, she was sitting by the banks of the great river Godavari.
‘I am sick of this!’ she grunted loudly.
She has not been in herself since last few days. Kalyan her father has not been in good health since a couple of months & being the only daughter she has to take care of the family needs.
The bales of cotton were to be plucked from fields, cleaned & segregated into different categories to exchange them with customers who would travel from Paithan in exchange of gold, which will be used to weave handmade Paithani saris. These saris will then be sold in market at good price & will help her family to survive the entire year.
She has been strong till now, making sure that her father adverse health does not affect the crops, but now it is time when she needs to be ready to handle the bigger work i.e. barter of cotton.
17th century was a free society. Families usually preferred male child over female child. However, females were as free as their male counterparts. Education was equally open for boys and girls. She had a leverage to study the Veda and fine arts.
She had spent her childhood in these fields playing around the cotton crops & seeding them, but all this was done while playing. This was never a task designated by her father on her.
But today it was not a choice for her.. She had to do things which she enjoyed doing through her childhood as a responsibility.
She had never dealt any customers directly although she had assisted her father during the barter process & has seen him negotiating the best price for his cottons.
At times, she would intervene & support her father, but that was always taken as child interference in a business meeting
“Are you coming or not?” her mother Kanti, screamed from behind
“We have to reach field early to make sure that the work is finished today before sunset”
“It might rain tomorrow & we need to make sure that we have picked everything for our needs”… Her mother continued to shout
After ignorance of few shouts, Ilaa could not resist herself looking back at her with tearful eyes.
“I don’t want to do this”… she wanted to say, but could not because she saw her mother standing right in front of her. She knew that Kanti was too old to work in fields & yet she was ready to be with Ilaa in the fields.
She stood up, removed the dust from her clothes, grabbed her slippers & walked unwillingly towards the field
The field was nearby & she saw workers ready waiting for her to arrive before they start their day job.
As soon as she arrived on fields, she felt like a queen had arrived. There was smile on everyone’s face. Kalyan although being a farmer was also a local priest of the temple. He had earned their respect through selfless devotion to temple’s day to day activities.
He made sure Ilaa gained adequate knowledge of Vedas & rituals so that she can perform rituals in his absence.
The respect of Kalyan was automatically transferred to Ilaa. The workers, worked in his field not only for money, but also for the respect they had for him.
“we were waiting for you…” – raghav, one of workers shouted in excitement. As if they were waiting for the queen of cotton dynasty to arrive.
“let’s start the work” – Ilaa said with a reaction of a royal queen.. it was already mid noon & sun was on the brightest point of sky. The summers were tough especially for field workers. The temperature could go upto 50’s during bright sunny day.
But the workers did not stop, they continued their job of plucking the cotton & putting them in baskets.
Ilaa did not interact with anyone & continued roaming around the field to make sure that right cotton was being picked.
Now & then she would talk to workers explaining them how to select the right cotton.
All this came from years of her working with her father in the fields.
The day went well & by the end of the day the work was finished.
She thanked the workers & left with a promise to give them their share once the goods were sold.
Then came the day, when all the villagers loaded their vehicles with their cotton bales & got ready to go to Paithan.
“I got a good deal today” – Ilaa told her mother on her return in happiness.
“We have managed to get enough gold & make good saris & sell them later on” – she said after having a glass full of cold water from the clay pot kept in the corner of the home.
In the evening she called all the workers & equally shared their duly earned wage & thanked them for their efforts.
Standing in front of her hut, draped in blue cotton sari with slipper in her foot, she looked awesomely gracious.
“Your daughter is lucky for you…” – said raghav with a smiling face. I got a good share this time.
Kalyan smiled with a satisfaction on his face. He never thought her little daughter would suddenly grow so big that villagers would praise her for 1st independent job
After completing day’s daily scores, she settled down to have rest, when her mother came & sat behind her to oil her hair.
This was the only time, when they both got time to spend together.
It is then when she broke the news to her about a marriage proposal received from a prospective groom from far away village.
“He is from a well to do family” – Kanti said.
You will live happy with him – she continued.
During 17th century, marriage was an important association for both men & women & women had a right to choose their husbands.
The only which was not allowed to women was divorce.
Ilaa was her in early 20’s & marriage was a dream come true especially when the proposal came from a groom side.
Being a housewife is what she always wanted. She had dreamt of a life in which her husband would come after day hard work & she would cook food for him & spend time with her family.
She would milk cows, feed animals, & grew herbs & vegetables. She would take care of her family needs.
“What happened? Where are you dreaming?” – Kanti asked shaking her shoulder
“No where… I’m here listening to you…” – She replied
Her silence was understood as an acceptance by her mother & within a month she was married to Surveshwar, a money lender from a far away village.
On the marriage day Surveshwar managed to get some time to speak to her & he said…
“I’ll keep you happy, I’ll keep you protected… I’ll give you the world you ever dreamt of” – he said to Ilaa in her ears.
Surveshwar was a well built guy with a good business of money lending & belonged to a well to do family.
His house was made of bricks & had a chimney. Chimney’s in houses were quite in fashion in 17th centuries & well to do families had these glass windows to natural lighting inside the house, unlike Ilaa parents house which was made of wood & had no windows, but just a small opening at the top of kitchen to let the smoke out of the house, which hardly solved the purpose of being the exhaust.
Ilaa had 3 servants to her disposal who would cater to all daily needs of her & complete the entire household work for her.
She did not have anything to do. Everything was made available to her on her wish.
It was more like a fairy tale for her. Isn’t it that what she dreamed for her entire life…?
“I’m the luckiest girl in this world” – she told her mother once when she visited her.
What would a girl parents need more than this… that their daughter is happy in her married life…
Surveshwar would leave for his shop early in the morning & would come late at night, have dinner, talk about daily routine stuff & go to bed.
It was not that he was not a good husband… but he was too busy with his work & could devote time to her…
Days & months & years passed & the inevitable happened…
“We need to talk” – Ilaa said one day while handing him over his Tiffin.
“What” – Surveshwar replied in hurry wearing his sandals.
“Can I come to your shop along with you…? I get bored sitting idle in the home” – she said in one gasp of breath.
“I have experience of handling accounts, I used to manage temple accounts where my father was priest” – Ilaa tried to sell her skills like an enthusiastic candidate trying to convince the interviewer to take her on the job.
Surveshwar freezed for a moment & looked her with shocking eyes. The eyes had a reaction of both surprise as well as anger.
Ilaa could not understand the reaction & stepped back in fear of a heated reaction from his face.
“Are you out of your mind?” – Surveshwar screamed
“Money lending business is not a women’s job. You are born to handle house activities. If you think you are getting bored, do the housework yourself & I’ll ask the servants to leave” – he said in a affirmative tone & left without any further discussion.
Ilaa went into silence mode… a deep remorse…. She never expected this response from him with whom she had spent these many years with dedication & selfless devotion.
Tears flowed from her eyes & continued till late afternoon & then stopped, but they blocked her heart completely. It was a mental shock instead of a physical one which was torturing her as if it was game of fun.
Life suddenly felt as a trap in which the queen of cotton dynasty was trapped & there was nowhere to go…
If she lived, she lost her dignity & if she left she lost her respect in society…
She was born to fly & live her life but her wings were cut as society constructed a cage for her to live & die without any expectations
She was crushed & the thoughts of being ruled by a man boiled her from inside.
Later in the evening when Surveshwar arrived, he was tired & exhausted & had completely forgotten the morning conversation.
Or maybe he choose to forget the conversation & excuse her for crossing her lines of boundary set by society.
He placed his Tiffin on the cot kept beneath the tree & laid to rest for some time, before Ilaa would arrive with a glass full of butter milk.
This has been a daily routine for him on his arrival. He was so tired that he didn’t notice that Ilaa did not come with glass of milk this time, Infact she didn’t come at all.
“Ilaa … Ilaa where on earth are you…? You know that I need milk when I come back home… Are you so much upset by my anger today morning…? This is not expected from you…. Ilaa…” – Surveshwar shouted lying on the cot.
No response… a pin drop silence from house… servants had also gone back home after day work… the lights were on in the house… but no movement was seen….
Suddenly a fear of unknown gripped Surveshwar & he ran towards the main entrance of the house… shouting her name…
“Ilaa where are you…” – this time there was anxiety in his voice.
On the door was a letter stuck to the key chain, addressed to him
He opened the letter & read it in hurry. When the letter ended… he broke down in tears & dropped to the ground…
The letter said….
Over the years, I have been with you without any demands & questions. I laughed when you laughed, I cried when you worried, I woke when you slept, but I have been alone all these years. I have been all alone in this world; wandering over things which only I have felt & never spoken to you…I have been broken inside… I have laughed but my soul cried inside.
I had dreams about you…. I dreamt of an ordinary life… but an extraordinary love life with you…I tried to behave normal with all your ignorance & I don’t blame you for it… it was my choice…. I choose to stay…. But today I chose to leave…
Almost a decade after I ask a reason why I stayed… & today I have an answer….
You offered me life … which & when I needed it…
You offered me protection…. Which I believed it…I was in love with you… I was living you…
You broke your promise when you said… I’ll give you world you ever dreamt of…. Because today I realized I have a world of my own…
A world where I can live my dreams & not think of boundaries of society which are made by males…
I’ll build my world of my own… I’ll fly by my own… I’ll live by my own…