Sabita came down hopping and said to Shanti, “Sister! Oh, sister! Brother-in-law is asking if you would join us at the cinema.”
“Go, tell him I am not coming,” said Shanti in a low tone with a tinge of harshness.
Sabita kept standing there for a while with a guiltless face. She felt, her sister was quite listless. She paid no interest in the world of glamour. After all, she was not elder than her by many years. Maybe, the gap between their ages was just five years. She silently mocked sister Shanti foolhardily and left.
Shanti stopped Sabita who had reached fairly far, and asked, “Whose proposal is it: yours or brother-in-law’s?” When she asked this, Shanti had a forged smile on her face.
This made Sabita quite surprised. She squatted on the floor, took her sister’s lock in her own hands, and said in a tone that befitted her own agile nature: “I was in the garden basking in the sun. Brother-in-law came up to me and asked if I would join him at the cinema. I told him I would first ask you, and rushed hither.”
Brightness on Shanti’s face got peeled off in the same way as dewdrops fall from the grass blades at the slightest slap of a gush of wind. This time, she didn’t utter any sentence with annoyance. The only thing she said was, “It’s fine; we shall go.”
“That’s fine, sister!”
Sabita’s gladness burst like a bubble. Her face was clearly reflecting her heart. Yet, a question still hung on the interior of Shanti’s heart. Unable to resolve, she always deferred it, only to find the question coming nearer again and bothering her.
A few ago, Sabita had moved to her sister Shanti’s home and had been staying there. The two were very close to one another since their childhood days. Shanti still loved her sister’s childishness and agile character, for which she wanted to kiss her with love, and Sabita still enjoyed playing blind man’s buff and hide-and-sick. She still walked about and behaved in the same way. The only change was that the hue of youth was mounting on her, without letting her become aware of it.
Shanti, on the other hand, had long stopped cherishing such games. Though her childhood memories often tickled her to try them over again, shyness and hesitation barred her from doing so. On top of that, her nature was different from that of her sister. All the time she stayed brooding about why she could not satisfy her husband. Whenever Sabita praised her husband and said he was an incredibly good man, her heart used to feel a type of wound. A strange but latent sort of jealousy rose for her sister, but she had never let her know of it out of her own whims. Instead, it was being woven into a web—like that of a spider—inside the dark caverns of her heart.
One day, Shanti was sitting on the veranda doing her hair. A small mirror lay in front of her. When she saw her face reflected in the mirror, she got a feeling that she was aging. Strands of hair fell off her head when she combed it. She could see dandruff falling on her face, scalp by scalp. She quickly rubbed some power on her face. Instantly, the face appeared white like the snow.
In the meantime, Sabita came in. She had lined her eyes with mascara. She was clad in a cotton salwar and a spotted, silken ghanghar. Her body looked robust and healthy, and a sort of rosiness glittered on her cheeks.
“Look, sister! Your hair has started graying,” said Sabita, plucking off a strand of such hair from Shanti’s head and keeping it in her hand.
Shanti inspected Sabita’s hair, hands, feet, and all her parts, but found nothing to place in Sabita’s hands. She turned mute. Grinding the gray strand in her hand, she just uttered, “Oh!”
“Look, brother-in-law comes there,” said Sabita, overjoyed. When Gopinath had come near enough, she said fondly, “Look, sister’s hairs have turned all gray. Why don’t you bring some gel that blackens her hair?”
Shanti did not like her sister’s sympathy at all. She was irritated from the core of her heart. She paid a glance at her husband’s face. His eyes were centered on Sabita’s face, keenly observing it. He said, “I shall buy it at the exhibition tomorrow.”
The atmosphere at the exhibition was quite suffocating that day. There were crowds and commotions everywhere, something too disturbing for anyone to wink an eye. A Ferris wheel was making its rounds in one place. Sabita wanted to give it a try. Gopinath bought her a ticket. Shanti refused to try. In her bid to persuade her sister, Sabita said, “Sister, let’s go up. What’s wrong with trying it, only for today? What a heart you have, taking interest in nothing!”
“You may go if you want to. You have a brother-in-law for your friend. I am feeling nauseated. I will wait for you here.”
“Leave her. Why should we force her if she is nauseating?” said Gopinath, filling up the gap.
Shanti shed two drops of tears on the ground without letting anyone see. She wiped her eyes and stood, leaning against a bamboo pole. Soon, the wheel was rotating up in the air. With it, Gopinath and Sabita also started rotating. Shanti could not stand the sight; she was really feeling giddy now. She turned and moved elsewhere, her face grimy with sourness.
Shanti came to a spot where a thick crowd had gathered. She lost her way in the crowd, while Gopinath and Sabita were left on a different side. She made her eyes wider and looked all around. Her lips went dry and she got restless. She sat on a bench kept outside a shop and started scrutinizing the faces of the passers-by. The cruel feet of time moved on, trampling upon Shanti. Her imagination started drawing several speculations. In it, many such images came up and set Shanti’s mind ablaze with the fire of jealousy, envy, and revenge. Her eyes no longer had tears; they had the heat of indignation, instead.
“Lo, sister happened to be sitting here happily. We were tired of looking for you everywhere…”
Shanti looked up at them with a start. She saw the faces of Gopinath and Sabita quite rosy and utterly joyful. Sabita inserted one of her hands into her bag and said, “Look! Brother-in-law bought some black dye for your hair. I bought some wool for knitting a sweater, a pack of cream, and some powder for myself. I’ll show you when we get home. Alight?”
“That’s fine. We cannot see everything here,” said Shanti, giving a quick glance at Gopinath.
“Let’s move now; we have spent a long time here,” Gopinath said.
On the way, Sabita showed the yarn of wool and said, “Sister, I will knit a sweater for brother-in-law from it. Can I?”
“There’s no point in asking me. Ask the one who will own it.” There was annoyance in Shanti’s reply.
Sabita was so keenly absorbed in knitting the sweater that she could hardly surmise how soon her holidays waned. The sweater was now nearing its completion. With it, gestures of satisfaction and success had started flickering on Sabita’s countenance. She tested the sweater without, pasting it on her chest. She liked the flower embroidered on it. Like always, she ran with the sweater in hand to measure it against her brother-in-law’s size. On the stairs, she encountered Shanti.
“Sister, look here! Brother-in-law’s sweater is almost ready. I am going to measure it against his size once. I feel the sides are a little too narrow. How is it? Won’t it suit him? It will, won’t it?” Sabita said it as if she had no time for saying anything else. A forced smile ran through Shanti’s lips. Swallowing hard, she said, “The flowers you embroidered do not look nice. They make it more like a woman’s sweater. Why don’t you give this to me? I will knit brother-in-law a new one.”
“Oh, no! How easily do you say that? I knitted it with so much of trouble for brother-in-law,” Sabita said nonchalantly with a faint smile, wrinkling her eyebrows.
Sabita ran toward her brother-in-law’s room. Shanti stood there, gawking. Seeing her sister run towards her husband’s room every day on the pretext of measuring the sweater, Shanti grew more and more suspicious of Sabita, which made many of her nights sleepless.
That night too, Shanti could not take even a wink of sleep. She woke up three to four times in the night, drank water, and checked the time. Her latest waking was at 2 o’clock. In the dead stillness of the dark night, she left her bed and pressed close to Sabita. Sabita’s peaceful breaths started smoldering her. For strange reasons, Shanti was convinced that it was Sabita who had robbed her of her sleep. Suddenly, Shanti’s nails moved toward Sabita’s neck. The atmosphere turned quite strange for a while, though it did not last that long.
Shanti’s eyes fell on the sweater that lay near Sabita’s pillow. She pulled it out, slowly. She noticed that the front and back flaps of the sweater awaited to be joined now, and she could estimate that by evening next day, it would be fully ready for Sabita had a keen engagement in it, like some sort of a mental vow, a sort of strong commitment. The commitment had not led to any sort of laxness or dryness in her body. Instead, it supplied freshness and energy.
Shanti continued to think that another day, when the sweater would mount on the body of Gopinath, she would lose all her claim upon her husband. The sweater would entice him so deeply that he would never again love to part with it. It too was true that as long as the sweater stayed on Gopinath’s body, Shanti’s soul would never be in peace. Shanti had the feeling that in front of her, the screen to a horrific game was being pulled, and the sound of a bell heralding the same was now befalling her ears, making her entire body shiver.
Following this, Shanti’s desires started getting constantly repressed. She clutched the sweater with her hands. They say it’s always good to prevent disease instead of catching it and going for treatment. If so, why shouldn’t she burn down the sweater before it reached Gopinath’s body? The sweater was in her clutches at the moment.
We cannot say that when Shanti considered such ideas, she didn’t feel even a pint of sympathy for Sabita. For this reason, her jealousy took a different form instantly, and she started unknotting the sweater. Soon, the process gained such speed that it seemed to be the handiwork of the fast-moving machine. The unraveled wool started piling on one side.
In the mid of this work, Shanti’s hand happened to bump gently against Sabita’s back once. Sabita woke up. She stared vacantly at her sister’s face for a while and asked in a voice trembling with fear, “Sister, what’s wrong? Why are you unmaking the sweater?”
Shanti stopped the process of unwinding the sweater instantly. In a firm voice, she said, “Such a sweater doesn’t suit brother-in-law. I will knit him a different one.”
Sabita’s face turned crimson with amazement. She said outright, “This one is not for the brother-in-law. This is yours. I finished his last night and handed it over to him. Go and see for yourself how nicely it fits! He went to bed in the same sweater.”
[Translation of Pandey’s “Bhinajuko Sweater” by Mahesh Paudyal]
Poshan Pandey (1933-1991) was born and brought up in Kathmandu and earned fame as a poet and story writer. His works deal with the psycho-sexual complexities of people, and reveal the subtle aspects of one’s personality. His works of fiction include story collections like Aankhi Jhyal, Maanas, and Hiunma Pareka Dobharoo.