Kanchan Devi and the necklace

by shalinijena

Kanchan Devi was the star of Shikharpur, a small town in the city of all trends, class, style and people, Cuttack, said Shanti Devi. She was the heart of the townsfolk. Everyone loved her. She always wore white clothes and though her qualification was a little less than the sixth grade and that too without any proof (as in certificate), she was eons more sensible than the rest. Who says only widows can be pure? White is the starkest of all… she used to say.

Those days the Malla family was considered to be one of the most sophisticated households and had great esteem among the people of that place. Being the eldest bahu (daughter-in-law) of the Malla clan, she was not only the most respected woman of the lot, but was also accountable and responsible for her and others actions in the society. What Shanti Devi basically wanted to say was that Kanchan Devi never disappointed her people (yes she was that popular). Someone needs money for her daughter’s marriage or cycle for travelling long distances, she was the one people extended their arms to. She gave because the more you give; the closer you are to God’s heart. No one ever has returned from her porch without chow. She fed everyone who asked for it. And by the way, there is an unprecedented irony here… She died of throat cancer. A disease where food is water and water is tasteless…

But no digressing here! I had decided upon a drumhead description but ended up with my usual detail-drama. Kanchan, Shanti and Ashalata were the proud bahus of the Malla family. STOP

So one fine day, a messenger comes for the head woman of this super-family, Sulochana Devi (Not the messenger’s name). She was the centre, pride, guru and the supreme power of the household. No one ever dares to outsmart her and if anyone cares to, here is a melodramatic fact for you. You heard of three bahus? Then probably you have guessed that she has three over-protective sons too. Three. That is what I meant by melodrama (Bollywood doesn’t lie). So the message was that Sulochana Devi’s niece, Anni is getting married. Now her niece becomes Kanchan Devi’s bhanji (No idea what you call that in English). And most of you must have experienced this undying love pouring out in your maternal side too. At least I have! But other than being a utopian drama queen, I am pretty good bhanji. I am cherubic sweet but I do not throw tantrums unlike this bhanji of Kanchan Devi who was a pathetic miser and her brother, a wanted crook.

After long hours of discussion we decided that we would send some money and gold instead of visiting their village. Though Dei (Kanchan Devi) hesitated, we somehow managed some sense into her, said Shanti Devi with a careless laugh on her lips and reminiscing the clearest among all the faded memories of her life… On the day of her (Anni the bhanji) marriage, she came out wearing her patta (silk) sari, a box of sweets and a travelling bag and all she had to ask was, ‘What do you think? This much is enough for the vivaah? I have money in the purse. You two aren’t ready!? Hurry up! And don’t make that face. She is family!’

Wearing good saris and carrying gold in her palms, they hired an auto that dropped them at the venue and as soon as they entered, without even bothering to take a sip of water (which no one offered) Kanchan Devi ordered her sister-in-laws to go and help the other members with work (no one was doing anything) and she, with a broom in her hand started cleaning the terrace where the food was going to be served. After working for almost two hours, they decided to take some rest, their patta saris almost wet with sweat. But you cannot deter away when your family needs you. Shanti Devi was definitely exasperated but then you don’t tell Kanchan Devi what is right and what not. As they sat in the room where the bride was getting dressed for the bedi (mandap), she reached for Kanchan Devi’s hand and weeped because she missed her mother and said that her family had nothing to give her (she was wearing three gold necklaces – yes the fat ones). Kanchan drew closer to shed her own tears (she loved Anni’s mother too) and that was when something unusual happened.

As she held Anni close to her hefty chest (she weighs some 90 kg or more), someone groped her and started strangling her throat. We both came running to her rescue, Shanti Devi said, her face giving away the foregone petrification of that day. And when in the ruckus they tried to figure out what happened, they realized that it was Anni who was smothering her. She was wailing in the top of her voice, “maaaiii!! (mother’s brother’s wife) Oh maai! Give me your necklace! You came to my marriage and you have to give me this. I have no family! (!!!) And you are wearing a good one.” She was smothering the poor woman not to kill but to get the necklace out of her neck. Then more people from Anni’s family came (not to their rescue but) to help Anni open the clutch of the necklace, groping, mishandling and shoving Kanchan Devi’s body in the rebellious crowd for that necklace.

Neither before nor after- I had never used such foul language in this 60 years of my life. She was no more amused by the irrepressible laughter of those listening to her. With a serious note, she ended the story of a mini nightmare by saying-

I thought we were going to die that night. Everyone! Everyone was running after us. Yes! Literally running, to get hold of the necklace… Had I not managed to get the three of us out of their by using the worst language ever used, Dei (Kanchan Devi) would have either given away the gold or we would have been dead by then…

She looked around to watch everyone’s sober expression and said with a smile – Leaving our chappals behind we ran like street dogs beaten by hounds. Our saris held almost above our knees and your Kanchan Devi was still trying her best to keep her pallu adhered to her head. Her head! For the first and the last time I just wanted to smash that head of hers!

That night they laughed their hearts out! That’s the best thing about being in a joint family. You never get bored, do you? And that is also the best thing about being with old people. They have so much to share that you never know when an anecdote becomes a lesson for a lifetime.

Among them who sat around listening to the only bahu alive among the three to narrate the account, there was one woman who has recites anecdotes like no one with sense of humor and spice that people are easily drawn to her. She is Kanchan Devi’s daughter and my mother. 🙂