Khata: by Rabindranath Tagore || Short Story

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      Khata - The Exercise Book : depicts the deprivation of the girl child. Child marriage not only prevents Uma from receiving education but tortures her for her attempts at self-expression. In spite of the recent drive for the education of the girl child, Uma's can still be found in Indian households.


Khata - The Exercise Book : depicts the deprivation of the girl child. Child marriage not only prevents Uma from receiving education but tortures her for her attempts at self-expression. In spite of the recent drive for the education of the girl child, Uma's can still be found in Indian households.
Child Marriage

Short Story :-

Ever since she has learnt to write, Uma has become a pest. On the walls of every room in the house, she has written in big, unformed letters: "jal parey pata narey" (raindrops fall and the leaves move).

Her sister-in-law was reading a mystery story, and had kept it under her pillow. Uma hunted it out and scrawled all over it with pencil: "kalo jaw, lal phul" (black water, red flower). She had almost obliterated the fine print of the horoscope book the family constantly referred to, in large letters. Right in the middle of her father's housekeeping accounts, she had written: "lekhapara karey jei garighora charey shei" (It is the one who studies who gets to ride in cars).

Uma's elder brother Gobindolal, though not a great intellectual, often wrote popular pieces for magazines. He had put in a lot of effort in one and got it printed, but Uma scribbled all over it with big black letters: "Gopal baro bhalo chheley" (Gopal is a very good boy). Gobindolal was furious. He beat his little sister up and took away whatever meager writing material she had (such as, a pencil stub, a blunt and ink-stained pen). The humiliated girl could not fully Comprehend why she was being so severely punished. She sat in a corner and cried.

After a while, her elder brother felt a little sorry - and made up with Uma by giving her writing materials back to her, along with a whole new exercise book, lined and bound.

Uma was then seven years old. Ever since then the exercise book became her constant companion. It reposed in her arms all through the day and in the night, under her pillow.

Uma went to the girls' school in the village, escorted by the maid. The exercise book accompanied her, causing surprise and envy among her classmates. In the first year she took down short rhymes in it. She used to sit on the bedroom floor, clutch her copy, and loudly sing out what she had noted down. In the second year, she began to jot down lines of her own. For example, just below a fable she had copied down, she had written: I love Jashi a lot.

No, no, this is not a love story. Jashi is not some village lad but the maid who has been working for the household for ages. But some days later, completely opposite sentiments regarding Jashi were found recorded.

Again, there was the line: I will never speak to Hari (not Haricharan but Haridasi). But a few pages later, there were lines saying that Hari was her best friend in the world.

At the age of nine, Uma was married off to a young man who was a friend of Gobindolal, and like him, also wrote for the newspapers. He was conservative in his outlook, and the entire neighbourhood praised him for his loyalty to traditions.

While sending her off, the mother asked her to obey her mother-in-law and do household work rather than remain engrossed in her reading and writing.

"Don't scribble on the walls there", his elder brother warned her. "It is not that kind of a household. And never ever scrawl over any piece that Peareymohan writes."

Uma felt quite scared. Jashi accompanied her to the in-laws place. With affectionate consideration, she took Uma's exercise book along. It was a part of her parental place, a history of her short stay under care of her parents - a history written in crooked, unformed letters, a sweet taste of independence in her untimely entry into the prison of household duties.

Once Jashi went back, Uma took out her exercise book from the tin trunk she had. Her tears falling, she wrote: Jashi has gone home. I will go home to my mother." Soon after there was another entry: "If my elder brother once takes me home, I will never again spoil his writings."

Uma's father sometimes tried to get Uma to visit her home. But her elder brother Gobindolal and her husband Peareymohan checked any such effort. Gobindolal felt that Uma was at the age where she should learn to respect her husband and settle herself in his home. Visits to her own home might distract her. He even wrote a profound article on the subject, and the readers had greatly appreciated it.

On getting to hear of it, Uma had written in her exercise book: "Elder brother, please take me home. I will never again make you cross with me."

One day, Uma was writing some such simple thing in her exercise book. She had closed the door from inside and that roused the curiosity of her sister-in-law Tilaka-manjari. What does my sister-in-law do from time to time, closing the door?" she wondered. She peeped through a hole in the door and was most surprised to see Uma writing. Saraswati, the goddess of Learning, had never before come secretly to the inner quarters of their household. Kanaka-manjari, who was younger to Tilaka-manjari, also came and took a look.

The youngest - Ananga-manjari - stood on her toes and, with great difficulty, looked into the mysterious scene. In course of her writing, Uma suddenly heard peals of familiar laughter from outside. She understood what had happened, and quickly shut her exercise book up in her box In embarrassment and apprehension, she lay down on the bed, hiding her face.

When Peareymohan heard of this, he was most worried. He feared that in future Uma would be reading novels and neglecting domestic chores. He also had the theory that reading and writing reduced a woman's feminine powers, destroyed married life, and even led to widowhood. When he came home in the evening, he scolded Uma a lot and sarcastically commented: "I see I have to order a suit! My wife will be going to office with a pen stuck behind her ear!"

Uma could not understand exactly what he meant. She had not read Pearyemohan's article and had not yet developed the taste for such profundity. But she felt most shy and almost shrank within herself.

For a long time after that, she did not write anything in her exercise book. But one day, in the season after the monsoons when the Durga Puja takes place, she heard a beggar - woman on the road sing a song. It was a song about Durga coming to visit her parental place. As Uma is another name of Durga, the beggar was singing:

"Purobasi baley, Umar ma..
People were crying to Uma's mother: Your daughter has arrived.
Uma's mother, the queen, was rushing out to greet her daughter
Uma was stretching out her arms and crying
Why didn't you go and fetch me home?"

The song brought Uma's own homesickness to the fore. He eyes filled with tears. Secretly calling the beggar-woman in, and closing the door, she began to take the song down in her exercise-book. She could not sing but ever since she had learnt to write, it was her habit to take down a song as soon as she heard it and so make up for her inability to sing.

But as Uma was writing the song down, her sisters-in- law, Tilaka-manjari, Kanaka-manjari and Ananga-manjari, peeped in through the hole in the door. Suddenly they began to laugh and clap: "Sister-in-law, we have seen everything that you are doing"

At once opening the door, Uma began to plead with them: "Don't tell anyone, please! I'll never do it again. I'll never write again. Please don't tell anyone!" Then she noticed that Tilaka-manjari was eying her exercise book. She rushed and picked it up and pressed it to her chest. The sisters-in-law tried hard to wrest it away from her, but could not. Then they called their elder brother in. Uma's husband Peareymohan came in and sat down on the bed in a serious manner. In a thundering voice, he said: "Give me the exercise book."

When Uma did not obey him, he repeated his command in a lower tone: "Give it."

Pressing the exercise book to her chest, the girl looked most entreatingly at her husband's face. Peareymohan got up to grab it away from her. Then Uma threw the exercise book away on the ground and, hiding her face in her hands, lay down on the floor.

Peareymohan began to read out aloud from the exercise book. His sisters were in splits as he read and Uma tried to clutch the mother earth in a deeper embrace.

Uma never got her exercise book back.

Peareymohan too had such an exercise book like this but there was no one to confiscate it!

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