On the plains of our Tarai, in virtually every village settlement exist one or two women of loose morals. Although treated in a civil way in public, these women are scorned behind their backs. The men in the villages refer to them as bhauji, or sister-in-law. But when a woman like this is called bhauji, even by very young boys and old people, she is then referred to as a jagat bhauji, or sister-in-law of the world. In her absence, she is usually referred to as a chhinar—a whore.
In our village there was a jagat bhauji named Sabitari. Around thirty or thirty-two years old, she wore a shameless smile on her face, a red tika on her fair forehead, and sindur in her hair. On her body she wore a dhoti with a tight shirt; around her neck a copper amulet; and on her wrists bangles. Dressed this way, she roamed the village and helped people with various jobs. Someone was getting married or giving birth to a baby, Sabitari was present; someone needed help planting rice, Sabitari went to the fields; someone was ill, Sabitari became a nurse. If no one needed anything special, Sabitari wandered around the village and helped the women with their small, daily chores.
While Sabitari’s conduct was good in many regards, she had one very bad behavior: she flirted and joked in a vulgar way with the menfolk of the village, even though she was married. That’s why the villagers called her a chhinar. It was said that she had illicit relations not only with the older men, but also with boys who had just reached puberty.
Whenever Sabitari bhauji entered our home, my mother kept a cautious eye on me. If she tried to flirt with me, my mother said, “Look, Sabitari, you can hustle the whole world, but don’t touch my son.”
“Auntie, you’re scared for no reason,” Sabitari bhauji would say, laughing lewdly. “This son of yours is of no use to me. I need a man’s man, not a shy boy like him.”
Faced with her brazen dismissal of me, I was filled with a sense of inferiority. At the same time, I felt sharp anger and hatred toward her. Following Mother’s advice, I kept my distance from Sabitari, but she toyed with me like a cat plays with a mouse.
“Oh, Ramesh brother, when are you going to be a man? Chanda Auntie [End Page 88] is afraid of me for no reason. My Ramesh brother’s manhood has yet to rise.” She pinched my cheek with her tough hand while I glared at her. She looked back coquettishly and said, “Wow, brother-in-law. Now you’re gaining some manhood. I feel like crushing you in my arms, squeezing your whole body, but what can I do? I’m afraid of Chanda Auntie.” Laughing, she left.
“Whore bitch!” I spat, hatred boiling inside me.
Sabitari’s husband, Sukai Ahir, was a bone-thin, ill man with a limp, who did not have many friends. He had about an acre of land on which he grazed a buffalo and two cows. Before Sabitari came into his life, he had not been married for a long time. While single, he had suffered from all the difficulties that beset a man who has no wife to take care of the household, so he looked much older than his fifty years.
The villagers would always tease him. “Sukai, shouldn’t you get married? No house is a home without a wife. They say a house without a housewife is like a ghost’s dwelling.”
“What to do? Who’s going to give a daughter to a fifty-year-old like me?”
“You have to marry, Sukai. Someone dark, someone with only one eye, someone with a limp—anyone will do. All you need is someone to take care of the house. Why don’t you bring in that madwoman from Ram-purwa?”
Listening to such talk, Sukai would become irate. “You rascals! You’re making fun of me? May God...