Ilaa’s Battle

Presently Ratnakar found them. He was furious that Ram had not fetched his mother. Illa started persuading him to put off the wedding. Ratnakar brushed aside her pleas. Illa broke down and refused to come home.

“Foolish woman. I will have to drag you home and beat you to teach you a lesson”, he shouted.
“I will jump off into the river this minute! Don’t come near me!” She shouted back, stading at the edge of the embankment.

There was an impasse. Here they were joined by some women, who had somehow heard the terribly interesting news.
Ratnakar appealed to them to drill some sense into Illa. Asha lived in the neighboring house. She came up and asked kindly, “Illaben, you must give up your obstinacy. You know it is a custom from olden times. You cannot keep grown up daughter at home. It brings ill omen.”

“Why should that be so”, Illa demanded. “Who said that it was always so”, she addressed the assembled folk, for some more had joined the proceedings. “In Mahabharath and Ramayan, all the women married when they were grown. Kunti, Draupadi and Sita chose their husbands in a swayamwar. Draupadi joined her brothers when they were taught Artha shastra by learned brahmins at home. Sita used to perform sandhyavandan.”

“How do you know all this?”a woman demanded
“I have listed to kirtans and spiritual discourses since I was a child. Searching in Lanka, Hanuman finds a pure river by an ashoka tree grove. He says Ma Sita will surely come here to do Sandhya prayer. “

Slowly, some women were converted to her side. She is right, they said. We have helplessly accepted our fate without protest, they murmured.

It was noon already. Ratnakar and his father grew desperate. They whispered to each other, and then Ratnakar declared that he was ready to postpone the marriage for few years.

It took some time to grasp this; she kept staring at the ground. Ratnakar repeated his promise. At that, she rose and started walking back silently. The crowd dispersed, and the harvesting resumed.

The traders came in their carts laden with goods like costly clothes, gold, spices and grains. The fields and house courtyards waited for them with their cotton bales. The traders and farmers knew each other for ages; they began the usual drama of inspection and haggling.

Illa had planned to buy grains and other items for their home. But to her dismay Ratnakar also bought two Paithani sarees, fine dhoti, turban and coat with gold zari work and jewelry. When she protested, he told her dismissively that it would be useful for the marriage later or they could wear them for Diwali. Illa was full of foreboding that night, but could not confront him that night. After the cotton had been sold, a festive atmosphere had descended on the village. The traders had camped for the night and the men-folk came to smoke hookah and to drink. Ratnakar had returned home drunk, singing a ribald folk song, and she had to help him to bed.

The next morning, Illa tried to get him to return the clothes and jewelry. Ratnakar announced in a will-brook-no-nonsense voice, “Listen, what you demanded is not possible to be done. They are coming next week, and these are for them. You had better prepare the house”.

“But you promised”, Ilaa said in anguish.
“You blackmailed me. Anyway, I will request them if wedding can be postponed by a year, I cannot ask for more”.
He declared that she was not to go out anywhere without him or his mother. He told his mother to keep an eye on her and left home.
Illa cried as she thought of what would happen to her daughter. She cried for the boy who used to take her to every nearby fair, buy trinkets and snacks for her at all the stalls until she begged him to stop. He was now a taciturn man, snapping orders at her, and spending his idle time laying dice or smoking with other men. She sat and prayed in front of the idols of Gods in the puja corner, until her mother-in-law told her to start cooking.

Ratnakar came home and complained of feeling feverish. She made him a potion of turmeric and other spices. By morning he had high fever, and could not leave house for work.
Ilaa had an inspiration. She told him in a serious tone that he was being punished by Lord Vithoba for breaking his solemn promise.
“You are making it up, he accused her.
“Think what you like. But I saw the idol of Vithoba next to your sleeping form in my dream. It is a sign for sure.”
He became doubtful but was not convinced.
The next day the fever seemed to have become worse, and he had body pain.
“I had my dream again. A voice told me that you should repent or you will not recover”. She had put on a hopeless tone.