Book extract Literary Review

Draupadi

II

Catch Dopdi Mejhen. She will lead us to the others.

Dopdi was proceeding slowly, with some rice knotted into her belt. Mushai Tudu’s wife had cooked her some. She does so occasionally. When the rice is cold, Dopdi knots it into her waistcloth and walks slowly. As she walked, she picked out and killed the lice in her hair. If she had some kerosene, she’d rub it into her scalp and get rid of her lice. Then she could wash her hair with baking soda. But the bastards put traps at every bend of the falls. If they smell kerosene in the water, they will follow the scent.

Dopdi!

She doesn’t respond. She never responds when she hears her own name. She has seen in the Panchayat office just today the notice for the reward in her name. Mushai Tudu’s wife had said, What are you looking at? Who is Dopdi Mejhen! Money if you give her up!

How much?

Two—hundred!

Oh God!

Mushai’s wife said outside the office: A lot of preparation this time. A–ll new policemen.

Hm.

Don’t come again.

Why?

Mushai’s wife looked down. Tudu says that sahib has come again. If they catch you, the village, our huts…

They’ll burn again.

Yes. And about Dukhiram.

The sahib knows?

Shomai and Budhna betrayed us.

Where are they?

Ran away by train.

Dopdi thought of something. Then said, Go home. I don’t know what will happen, if they catch me, don’t know me.

Can’t you run away?

No. Tell me, how many times can I run away? What will they do if they catch me? They will kounter me. Let them.

Mushai’s wife said, We have nowhere else to go.

Dopdi said softly, I won’t tell anyone’s name.

Dopdi knows, has learned by hearing so often and so long, how one can come to terms with torture. If mind and body give way under torture, Dopdi will bite off her tongue. That boy did it. They kountered him. When they kounter you, your hands are tied behind you. All your bones are crushed, your sex is a terrible wound. Killed by police in an encounter…unknown male…age 22… As she walked thinking these thoughts, Dopdi heard someone calling, Dopdi! She didn’t respond. She doesn’t respond if called by her own name. Here her name is Upi Mejhen. But who calls? Spines of suspicion are always furled in her mind. Hearing ‘Dopdi’ they stiffen like a hedgehog’s. Walking, she unrolls the film of known faces in her mind. Who? Not Shomra, Shomra is on the run. Shomai and Budhna are also on the run, for other reasons. Not Golok, he is in Bakuli. Is it someone from Bakuli? After Bakuli, her and Dulna’s names were Upi Mejhen, Matang Majhi. Here no one but Mushai and his wife know their real names. Among the young gentlemen, not all of the previous batches knew.

This excerpt is reprinted with permission of Aleph Book Company.

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Printable version | Nov 19, 2020 1:08:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/draupadi/article6667670.ece

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