Chagan sheepishly peeped out of his quilt. Raman’s rhythmic snore and the rare calm on Surjan’s face reassured him that all was clear. Nervously shaking, he pulled out the arousal trigger from under the covers. The caricature of a voluptuous woman!
Imagining his fingers stroking her cuddly folds, Chagan let his adolescent mind go wild. Deprived and denied his hungry eyes often drooled at the slightest carnal trigger.
“O’ my sizzling mirchi! How could I sleep without a bite of my juicy gulab jamun?” mumbled Chagan as he fondled himself. Some autoerotic effort and all his blood went racing between his legs. Satisfied and spent, Chagan tugged the picture safely under the mattress. It was priceless! After all, he had been paying a dear tax to Surjan for the same. Chagan barely rolled up to sleep when Surjan, the second eldest brother shook him hard.
“No! Not now!” refuted Chagan.
“Come On, you selfish brat! You cannot sleep without fulfilling me,” commanded Surjan. Visibly bigger and stronger, Surjan knew how to fight for his share. Being the middle one he had hardly ever enjoyed any privileges.
Chagan, the youngest of the three brothers, was just sixteen. He still sported the tenderness of a young boy. His soft face, hairless body and gentle voice, all made him perfect for role play. Surjan often bullied Chagan and used him for satiating his surging lubricous desires. Though Chagan hated being used, yet he acceded. After all, it was all about bartering. Surjan in return shouldered many of Chagan’s duties at home and also rewarded him with lewd pictures of women which he sneaked from his friend, zamindar’s son.
A loud cough alarmed the boys.
“Bapu is coming,” alerted Chagan as both ducked inside the quilt.
“Aaah! Curse these wretched times! You three good for nothing fools!” cried Chunni Lal as he limped crippled by an arthritic knee.
“Since Basanti, your mother died, I have had no happiness. I have lost all hope of having a complete family. No obedient bahus! No grandchildren! Am I going to die with just you three around?”
“Wish I reared a girl child instead! At least somebody would have cared for me,” complained Chunni Lal.
Chunni Lal, an ironsmith, lived in a small village at the westernmost corner of Rajasthan. Like all men in his village, he took great pride in impregnating his wife every second year. His wife had borne him three living sons and six stillborn daughters.
Alas! That old curse! Some black magic, made all the female fetuses die in her womb. Now that’s another story that that black magic was a common one and coincidently every household in the village suffered the same curse.
It was a village with no daughters!
Daughters! A Taboo! No one would have one!
In fact the few old and young married women left in the village had also died of some unknown disease. Of course, if only any of them had reached the hospital then the cause would have been known.
Ovarian or uterus cancer!
But wasn’t it a taboo for women to go to the hospital? Ten years back Chunni Lal too, lost his wife.
The last known woman in the area died!
The news was confirmed now. It got featured in the district newspaper too.
Now the village had only men and their male progeny. No small feat for a village! Fifty years of planned and systematic killing of all females fetuses had finally rendered the village and its vicinity womanless.
Brown pots floating in the village river with female infants and fetuses. A regular sight a few years back! A Female child brought ill luck. No one ever risked having one.
However now the learned demographers in the village often pondered over the effects of their blind prejudice against the girl child.
No females meant!
No brides for the countless boys!
No mothers for the umpteen sons!
No wives for the abounding men!
Preposterous! Did they plan that?
With the first light of dawn, Chunni Lal and the boys were up. Sleeping late was not an option.
Work was divided between all of them. Raman, the eldest of the brothers’ was in charge of the shop. Surjan and Chagan took care of the house. Cleaning, washing and tending to the cattle were their jobs. Chunni Lal cooked for the whole family. They all hated their jobs, but with no female hand available, they had no rescue.
“How I wish I had a bahu!” lamented Chunni Lal, as he put the kettle on the stove. “She would have smilingly made endless cups of tea for me.”
“How I wish I had a bride!” moaned Raman as he combed the first strand of grey hair on his balding head.
“How I wish I had a girlfriend!” wailed Surjan as he washed and milked the cow.
“How I wish I had a mother!” grieved Chagan as he ate the tasteless food cooked by his father.
All of them yearned for female company. Sadly their elders had gifted them a present and a future without the other gender. They were all lonely and dejected.
“Baba, let’s go to the neighboring village today itself. The pandit spoke of having seen a young girl there” pleaded Raman.
Chunni Lal, looked interested but acted pricey. “That pandit! He is a fraud!” he refuted looking with remorse at his weary leg. Raman immediately got down on his knees and started massaging his father’s leg.
“Baba you are getting old. Don’t you want a nice bahu to take care of you? We must not delay. What if someone else goes and offers more dowry?” begged Raman eagerly.
Chunni Lal, looked at his son lovingly. Already thirty, Raman had never seen or met a woman. The only woman he had ever known was his mother. A virtuous and upright boy, Raman had never explored his manhood. Chunni Lal often worried about his virginal and pristine nature. He was such a contrast to his two brothers, the crooked idiots!
That very day they reached the girl’s house with a marriage proposal. Girl’s father demanded a huge dowry. Chunni Lal was ready to pay any price. After all, he had finally found a bride for his son!
Raman feverishly held on to his excitement. At last, the goddess was in front of him. The translucent veil covering her face, flirtingly revealed her lipstick covered lips. Raman caught a glimpse of her fair hands and feet. Trembling with excitement, Raman was bewildered by the strange sensations he felt in his body. Was she doing some magic? Why was he suddenly feeling soaked?
Chunni Lal, offered the dowry in advance and implored for a quick wedding. A grand wedding ceremony was the talk of the whole village. He invited a big gathering to boast of his good fortune.
Stroking his moustache, Chunni Lal, swelled with pride as the whole village talked about him. “Your son is indeed very lucky. Even though we are ready to pay huge dowry yet we cannot find brides for our sons” gabbled the villagers.
Raman paced up and down the room. It was his first night with Bhoomi, his bride! The thought of being alone with a woman in a room freaked him. What were her expectations? Was he supposed to take a lead or let her take charge? Raman was flustered by anxiety.
Surjan smirked at his brother. “Such a jerk!” he mocked. “Baba should have spent all that dowry money on my marriage instead,” he whined.
The overpowering smell of jasmine invaded the room. Bhoomi sat on one corner of the bed. Raman felt relieved that he did not need any prior knowledge. Bhoomi somehow took charge and lead him through it all. Soon the couple retired after releasing their bottled lust.
The next morning Chunni Lal waited excitedly outside their door. Raman’s beaming face reassured him that all was well.
Chunni Lal waited for Bhoomi to come out and take charge of the kitchen. Hot tea, yummy lunch and mouthwatering sweets! He hoped Bhoomi would delight them with gastronomical treats.
Surjan too yearned for a glimpse of Bhoomi. The sound of her anklets, her rustling dupatta, he hoped to whiff the smell of her still wet hair.
Chagan also anxiously waited for her. Being the youngest, he hoped to be really close to her. He had even dreamt of sharing his secrets with her.
But Bhoomi stayed indoors the whole day. “Baba she is too tired after the ceremony. I think we must give her some rest,” defended Raman making some lame excuses.
Bhoomi happily spent all her days inside the room. Raman took good care of all her needs. She avoided all eye contact with others in the house. It was life as usual for her. Since early childhood, her baba had kept her under covers to protect her from the prying eyes of men.
When confronted Raman always defended her. “Baba she is very shy and feels insecure in the company of men. I think we must give her time.” He also kept a hawk guard on his wife. He had to save her from the prying eyes of men. Men outside, as well as inside the house.
Though Chunni Lal and the youngest brother were disappointed by Bhoomi’s tantrums, yet they gradually complied. Surjan too was frustrated as he had barely even caught a glimpse of her.
The initial excitement around the wedding soon wavered off. Everyone realized that nobody’s life changed after the wedding. Bhoomi was always confined to her room. Veiled and aloof from all others. She did not even participate in the household chores.
Though Chunni Lal was disillusioned but he eagerly awaited for the birth of his grandchild. He knew that after the child all would be normal. However on that front too, he was getting impatient. Months passed, and no news came. Even the villagers had started inquiring. “Chunni Lal , we thought you would throw another grand party to celebrate the birth of your grandchild. Why, is there anything amiss with the couple?” ridiculed a friend.
Suspicion and doubt were fast settling down in Chunni Lal’s mind too. He soon confronted Raman and insisted to see a doctor. “But baba, Bhoomi is so shy. She would never talk to a doctor” refuted Raman.
Chunni Lal knew he had to take charge now. After all, he was getting old and he had not paid all that dowry just for his son’s sexual fulfillment. The very next day a doctor was standing in front of Bhoomi’s room. Raman argued with his father but finally acceded and let the doctor inside.
Bhoomi shivered at the sight of the doctor. Pulling her veil down, she protested and refused to cooperate. She curled herself tight and refused to let the doctor examine her. “My dear there is nothing to worry! The doctor will only examine and leave” said Raman reassuringly. Cornered by two men, Bhoomi had little choice.
The doctor was shocked! Dumbfounded he gaped at Raman. “Since when have you been married?” he enquired breaking into an uncontrollable laugh.
Raman and Chunni Lal stared anxiously at the doctor. “What is wrong? What is so funny?” questioned Chunni Lal all perplexed.
The doctor tried but failed to stop his hysterical laugh. “Oh, my sides are hurting! This is so damn funny!” chuckled the doctor.
“Funny? What is funny about my wife?” protested Raman angrily.
“Your wife!” cackled the doctor, breaking into another bout of laughter. “My dear Raman, your wife! … She, no ‘IT’ does not belong to the coveted female gender! It belongs to the discreet third gender instead! My friend, you have been duped!”
“Third Gender? Baba… What is that?” Raman had barely finished his question when he saw Chunni Lal crash to the ground holding his head.
gulab jamun: An Indian sweetdish
bahu: Daughter in Law
pandit: a learned man performing religious ceremonies
dupatta: cloth covering the bosom
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