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Cauthi Ka Jodaa

Cauthi Ka Jodaa

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Published by Jolene Fernandes
A short story by Ismat Chughtai
A short story by Ismat Chughtai

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Published by: Jolene Fernandes on Apr 28, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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07/10/2013

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Cauthi Ka Jodaa
Ismat Chughtai
Translated from Urdu
On the wooden platform (
chauka
) in the
sihdari
, again today a fresh,clean linen floor-cloth had been spread. Through the chinks in the old,broken roof-tiles, irregular slivers of sunlight spread through the whole
dalan
. The neighborhood women sat silent and almost trembling, as if some great event was about to happen. The mothers held their babiesto their breasts. From time to time some difficult, fretful baby wouldannounce a shortage of nourishment with a sudden cry."Now, now, sweetheart." The thin, puny mother would lay the babyacross her knees and shake him as if she were winnowing the hullsfrom rice in the sun. And then, with a mumble of resignation, he wouldfall silent. Today, how many hope-filled eyes were staring at Kubra's Mother'sthoughtful face! Two narrow breadths of twill had been joined together,but as yet no one had found the courage to mark out the pattern onthe coarse white cloth. In matters of cutting and trimming, Kubra'sMother held a very high rank. No telling how many trousseaus her dryhands had decorated, how many "sixth-day presents" she hadprepared, and how many shrouds she had measured out. Wherever inthe neighborhood the cloth turned out to be too small, and even after ahundred tries the pattern wouldn't "sit" properly, the case would bebrought to Kubra's Mother. Kubra's Mother would straighten the edges,rub away the starch, sometimes shape a triangle, sometimes make asquare-- and tracing in her mind the path of the scissors, measuringout the lines with her eyes, she would suddenly smile."The sleeves and the front and back will come out of this; for the collar,take a cutting from my box." And the problem was solved. Having cutout the fabric pieces, she would make a make a neat bundle of cuttings and hand them over. But today the fragment of white clothwas extremely small. And everybody believed that, 'today themeasuring skills of Kubra's Mother will be defeated'; thus they all,holding their breath, were watching her face. On the confident face of Kubra's Mother there was no sign of worry: with her glances she wasmeasuring the fragment. The reflection of the red twill was blazing onher dark, swarthy face like a sunrise. Those sad, sad, deep wrinkle-lines were suddenly lit up like dark clouds, the way in thick jungle firebursts out, and she smiled and picked up the scissors.From the group of neighborhood women a long sigh of relief emerged.Even the babies in their laps were put down onto the floor. The youngunmarried girls with glances like birds of prey instantly threaded their
 
needles, the newly married brides put on their thimbles. Kubra'sMother's scissors had begun to move.In the farthest corner of the outer hall, on a light cot, Hamidah, feetdangling, chin on her palm, was thinking some faraway thoughts.Having finished the afternoon meal, in this way Bi Amma goes and sitson the wooden platform in the outer hall; and opening the box, shealways spreads a net of many-colored fabrics. Seated beside themortar, scrubbing the dishes, Kubra looks at the red fabrics in such away that a red wave surges up in her dirty-yellowish complexion. Whenwith her soft, light hands Kubra's Mother opens out the net of silversequins and spreads it on her knees, her withered face suddenly glowswith an extraordinary longing-filled light. The reflection of the sequinson her deep, box-like wrinkles begins to glow like tiny torches. Withevery stitch the gold-work quivers, and the torches flicker There's no remembering when her [fine muslin] "dewdrops" dupattahwas made, and was hung there ready-- and was sunk into the depthsof the large, coffin-like wooden box. The nets of sequins faded. Therays of the gold-and-silver work became dim. The very long thread-work pieces became sad, but Kubra's wedding procession didn't come.When one outfit would become old, then it would be called a "later-visitoutfit" and given away for free, and then with a new outfit there wouldbe an opening-out of new hopes. After much searching, a new piece of satin would be selected. On the wooden platform in the outer hall afresh, clean linen floor-cloth would be spread. The neighborhoodwomen, paan-daans in hand and babies under their arms, with theiranklets jingling, would arrive."The piece for the underwear can be gotten, but there isn't enoughfabric for the
bachi
." "Come on now-- just think about it, sister! Will wehave to have
chuls
of that wretched twill?" And then again all theirfaces became anxious. Kubra's Mother, silently, like an alchemist,measured the length and width with the tape of hereyes, and thewomen began to whisper among themselves about underwear, andburst out laughing. In the meantime, somebody began to sing a
man-chali
, somebody a
suhag
or a
banna
, somebody especially bold beganto recite insults to an imaginary set of in-laws. Shameless dirty jokesand pleasantries began. On such occasions the young unmarried girlswere ordered to sit under the tiled roof, far from the
sihdari
, with theirheads covered. And when some new burst of laughter came from the
sihdari
, then these poor things sighed helplessly: Oh God, when wouldthese bursts of laughter be vouchsafed to themselves?Far from this hustle and bustle, Kubra, shame-stricken, with her headbowed, stayed seated in the 'mosquito room'. In the meantime, thecutting-out had reached an exceedingly delicate stage. Some gussetwould be cut backwards, and at that the women's wits too were 'cut'[so that they became superstitiously fearful]. Kubra shivered, and
 
peeped in from the shelter of the doorway. This very thing was thedifficulty. No damned outfit could be sewed in peace! If some gussetwould be cut backwards, then you can be sure that in thearrangements the Barber-woman had made, some impediment willappear. Or else some mistress of the bridegroom's will turn up, or hismother will impose the obstacle of a demand for solid gold jewelry. If the
got 
would be cut crookedly, then take it that either negotiationswill break down over the dowry, or there will be a quarrel over abedstead with legs covered in silver-work. The omens for the fourth-day outfit are very subtle. All Bi Amma's experience and dexterityproved to be of no avail. No telling how it would happen, at the exactmoment, that something the size of a mustard seed would suddenlytake on importance. From the day of her "Bismillah" ceremony, theadroit mother had begun to put together the dowry. If even a littlescrap of fabric was left, then she sewed a cover for an oil-jar or abottle, adorned it with gold-thread lace, and put it aside. What can yousay about a girl? --she grows like a cucumber! When the weddingprocession comes, then this efficiency will prove handy. And whenAbba passed away, efficiency too ran out of breath.Hamidah suddenly remembered her father. How thin and scrawnyAbba was-- as tall as a Muharram pole. If he once bent over, then itwas difficult for him to stand upright. Very early in the morning hewould rise, break off a toothbrush-twig, take Hamidah on his knee, andthink about who knows what. Then as he was lost in thought, somesliver of the toothbruth-twig would lodge in his throat, and he wouldcough and cough. Hamidah would grow cross and get down from hislap. She didn't at all like to be shaken by the bursts of coughing. At herchildish anger he would laugh, and the cough would roughly catch inhis chest. As if a pigeon with its throat cut would keep on fluttering. Then Bi Amma would come and help him. She would thump himvigorously on the back. "God forbid-- what kind of laughter is this!"Raising eyes reddened from the pressure of the coughing fit, Abbawould smile helplessly. The coughing would stop, but for a long time hewould sit panting."Why don't you take some kind of medicine? How many times have Itold you?""The doctor in the general hospital says to have injections. And everyday a quart of milk and an ounce of butter.""Oh, may dust fall on those doctors' faces! What the hell-- for onething, a cough, and on top of it, fat-- won't it create phlegm? Go andsee some hakim.""I'll do that." Abba made his huqqah bubble, and again began to cough."May that wretched huqqah burn in the fire! It's what has given youthis cough! Have you even bothered to look up and notice your growndaughter? And Abba looked at Kubra's youth with a glance that

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