The era of kingdoms and wars, 17th century was the period of huge palaces and forts, lavish lawns. It was the time when India was not slaved by the British Empire but it was destined to happen. Our society was divided with hearts and boundaries. Royalties ruledâ€¦Business class earnedâ€¦Farmers yielded.
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 richest in their area. Her husband Tanaji Rao was a man of great principles, kind hearted and soft spoken. Being born in the family of poor farmer he had started working in fields at a very young age. With his firmness and efforts he had brought his family to a proper wooden house from the shackled hut.
Ilaa and Tanaji were happily married, unaware that their happiness was not going to stretch a long way. They remained childless even after eight years of marriage, many pujas yagnas were performed, prayed day and night to various deities but everything turned futile. Tanaji Rao accepted the fate but Ilaa was adamant and broken.
The worst happened when a fatal disease clawed on Tanaji and he surrendered himself to death, those were the days when Ayurveda and medicines were being found but some diseases were still incurable. Since then Ilaa was burdened with the responsibility of their fields. But she had not given up yet, she single handed did all the household work and went to fields.
It was harvest season and cotton had to be picked from the plants. The wholesalers and traders from Paithan would be arriving in just a week, 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 wasnâ€™t working. Instead, she was sitting by the banks of the great river Godavari.
â€˜I am sick of this!â€™ she grunted loudly. Her face looked tired, sweat beads made her dusky face shine in the sun. She used the pallu of her sari to wash away her face and kept staring at the river, her eyes had twinkle of hope. She was a firm believer in God and was sure that her sincere prayers will be answered. But the villagers had turned cold and stern towards her accusing her for bringing this misfortune to her family...
She loved children and enjoyed their company but no one in the village let her come near their child as if she will snatch their children away. She was shooed away from village festivals also. People called her an unlucky soul who would lead to misfortune wherever she went. While going to her field she met a kid and started talking to him, his chubby face and sweet voice mesmerized her but the string was broken when the childâ€™s mother arrived there and took him away muttering something under her breath.
This episode of today kept repeating in her mind while she was lazing around by the river bank. But now she was worried about the work she had to complete without any help
â€˜I have always worshipped you with pure heart My Lord then why should I suffer this punishmentâ€™ she asked aloud looking at the bright clear sky which never answered and stared blankly at her.
The week sped away in work. Soon the traders started arriving carrying goods to buy the bales of cotton in their bullock carts. Every year it was the same, bales of cotton would be exchanged with goods and gold that traders brought. But the cunning traders would fool the farmers that the quality of cotton was not good enough and would buy more cotton giving lesser number of goods in exchange. Tanaji being a simple man never argued with the traders but Ilaa had always warned him that they had always been fooled, now this year she had to handle everything alone but she was smart and strong enough. Just because of the villagers who never supported her she was in a miserable condition. No helpers no workers in her field she did everything on her own yet had yielded the crops with the same quality and quantity as her husband did.
She wanted to prove others and convince herself that women are not born to sit at home serve food on the plate and sex in the bed, they can do all the courses what men do. She remembered the stories her mother used to tell about how women had fought in battles, how the time was when every woman was respected and treated equal to men. They had the powers to punish to forgive, rights to speak to learn and lead the life as they want to.
Next day the wholesalers arrived to the village, but Ilaa didnâ€™t take her yield to sell them. Those traders were some regular clients to the village and news of Tanajiâ€™s death came to their ears. A trader named Sukhiram was a regular dealer for Tanajiâ€™s cotton yield, when he came to know about the tragic news he was sure he would outwit Ilaa very easily. He planned to buy Ilaaâ€™s cotton with exchanging a very small quantity of goodsâ€¦speak a few sympathetic words and woo her. Sukhiram was a cheap pervert and fantasized about Ilaa and now it was his chance but his wish remained unfulfilled, of course he had no idea about Ilaaâ€™s plan.
Ilaa had decided that she wonâ€™t sell her cotton for such small prices like every year and would take the yield to Paithan herself. She had made preparations to leave a night before, from packing the yield to stacking it in bullock cart she did all work by herself. Firm determination gave her the strength and guts to do so. Just before dawn she left the village riding the bullock cart heavy with crops and her pride. She reached Paithan late in the morning without wasting any more time she decided to head straight to the main market area.
It was a new place for her, no one knew her there, and no one would insult her there. But she had to do her work and get back to her village soon. There were many sellers and buyers, she did her deals very well and yes she was right her crops could be sold at very good price. She was contented with her profit, her convincing skills and marketing tactics were appreciable, and the selling ended very well it was time to return back.
â€˜Today for first time I am satisfied with what I got for my crops. My sweat and pain is repaid to some extinct, â€™she said to herself. She was tired with all the work and pain she had gone through till now, she was fed up with her loneliness and wanted someone whom she could talk to share her feelings. She missed Tanaji miserably, he had always been a supportive husband. She missed her parents who were no more, who died after her marriage. She decided to start her return journey after having lunch, so she decided to move away from market area to nearby fields and have lunch. She soon packed her things and was ready to leave when she heard some commotion. She went near to see why people had gathered there.
â€˜How dare you come in my way you filthy creature, donâ€™t you know you are not allowed to roam in the city.â€™ The man looked like a landlord and was spatting those words on a girl who looked in her early twenties, pale and messy. She ran away from that place and spilled the food that she was carrying, Ilaa felt really bad for her and decided to share her food as she had packed enough. She reached at the outskirts and not much away from the road she saw a hut and two-three women working near the house. Curiosity grew in her, she went to see what was happening there.
As she drew closer she saw something that gave goose bumps to her, each one of them was wearing a very light colour sari almost close to white, they wore no ornaments, there hairs were long and messy, she knew who they were, they all were widows. She now felt an instant connection towards them, she was shaken from her thought by a very sweet voice.
â€˜Do you want something sister?â€™ she asked to Ilaa. â€˜You all are widows?â€™ Ilaa asked but felt guilty the very next moment and stupid to ask such question. She was the same girl she had followed, the girl turned pale and said yes. â€˜I am sorry I didnâ€™t meant to hurt you but I saw you near the market and followed you here. I have food and would like to share it with you all. From her expression it was clear that even she understood Ilaa was also a widow. â€˜You should come inside everyone will be happy to meet you,â€™ she said holding Ilaaâ€™s hand and walking her in. Someone touching her after one year brought down chills to her spine. No one had even spoke a few decent words to her after Tanajiâ€™s death.
She walked in hesitantly but was warmly welcomed. There were only four ladies living in that house. â€˜I didnâ€™t meant to interrupt but I heard your voices while I was passing byâ€™ Ilaa said to another women who introduced herself as Shanta. â€˜It is alright, for us not very usual that we have a guest. We live here at the outskirts of the city, no one allows us to be around them. We are only allowed to go to the temple that too once in a week.â€™ Ilaa had gone through the same pain and would have to till the end of her life. The lady continued to speak, â€˜Men are allowed to remarry if their wife dies but same is not for us. A women is suppressed under the unethical and cruel rules of society. Under the name of God they play with our life as they want. We donâ€™t get food to eat, sometimes we live without having anything for days. But no one cares and why anyone would, they are happy that is enough. These selfish people care for no one.â€™ Each one had tears in her eyes. Ilaa was moved by their condition, shackled hut no proper food nothing to live for but now she knew what she has to do.
â€˜You all come with me to my village, I have my house their and my fields also. Sauviragram is famous for cotton crops grown over there and today I came to Paithan to sell my crops and must tell you I got a good price for my yields many useful goods,â€™ she said chirpily. All the four of them were taken aback to hear what Ilaa told them, yes it was hard to believe that being a widow she did all this and was successful. But they hesitated to go along with her.
â€˜Are you serious about taking us to you village?â€™ asked Meena, the same girl who had approached Ilaa.
Ilaa was very positive about her decision to take them with her, her house was away from main village and surrounded with fields so no one would have any problem. â€˜Yes I am all alone I have no family, meeting you all felt like I have got really kind sisters. Please come along I promise that you all will lead a better life there. I canâ€™t give you those precious things you have lost but surely can fill some void in your lives.â€™ They were easily convinced, all happily hugged each other.
â€˜Yes we will come, all of us will work together in the fields live together. When we are there for each other then there is no space for sorrow. Ilaa it is indeed a wonderful thing that you came in our lives, it seems that we have some hopes now that we will lead a good and respectful life. Its Almightyâ€™s blessings.â€™
It was decided that they would live for Sauviragram the next morning leaving behind all their pains for a fresh beginning.
It was so simple, we just need to understand it. People insulted widows didnâ€™t allow them in there locality. But Ilaa proved them all wrong, she did what was right according to her. She helped those poor widows and gave them a hope to start a new life. She got beautiful souls whom she could count on under every circumstances. It is rightly said â€œLife begins from where it endsâ€â€¦