The following is an extract from Chapter 1: Jyotiben Thakkar of the novel The Shaking Minarets
Jyotiben was busy doing her usual prayers in the front room. Usual because not only were the prayers usual but also was the simultaneous practice of listening her son and daughter-in-law berate her in the other room.
It was hard to get what the two were talking. But she never had to trouble her ears much for things that were meant precisely for her.
” She won’t even die so soon”, she heard her son tell her daughter-in-law in the other room.
Perhaps Bharat was still very angry about yesterday evening’s fight with her. Or perhaps he was angry for the fights between them since last many years now. After all, Bharat would fight with her the moment he remembered her presence in some corner of the house.
But never before had Jyotiben seen Bharat as much at the brink as he was yesterday. Accordingly, things had never quite reached the brink as they did yesterday.
“But Bhavna is now married. She’s not a part of our family. What did your family ever give you after you got married”, Bharat yells.
“Because my family had nothing to give. We were Vanjaras. But I will give my daughter her share. Because I can and because Bhavna has an equal right over her father’s property”, Jyotiben fights back.
There is a lull for a while as everyone searches for words. Jyotiben continues with her eternal prayers as Bharat gives her a piercing stare.
Just as Bharat seems to be about to say something, Jyotiben speaks out what she couldn’t have told God.
” If I had known that you’ll turn out to be so wicked, I would’ve asked God not to give me any more children after Bhavna.”
“Shut up”, shouts an insulted Bharat. “Look at you. Have you ever done anything for me? Still sitting on father’s property like a snake.”
“But this is the snake that had fed you milk. Not the lizard that is standing beside you”, Jyotiben refers her daughter-in-law Jigna.
“I said shut up. And don’t force me to get nasty with you. You know that I can do anything”, Bharat threatens.
Jyotiben was sitting in her chair in the front room as TV blared popular matinee soap operas from the bedroom. As in most middle class Gujarati families, the front room wasn’t exactly full with furniture. In fact, apart from the chair in which Jyotiben spent almost her entire life and a small table in front, all that the room had was a netted sofa, an open cupboard, a couple of folded chairs, a sewing machine and a cabinet to keep chappals and shoes.
But that hardly spoke of the Thakkar family’s worth. The house itself must be worth about Rupees thirty lakhs!
“I don’t want to talk any more about the house. I won’t give it. Why are you shouting at me if you’ve lost money in gambling”, Jyotiben gives it back to Bharat with matching vigour.
“Shut up you illiterate. What do you know about stock markets? I’m telling you, don’t force me to get nasty with you. Sign these papers now.”
Bharat forcibly holds Jyotiben by her shoulders and tries to make her sign the papers. Jyotiben, always a very strong woman, fights with all her will and manages to free herself amidst the struggle.
Immediately Jigna jumps in, as she senses that her husband is not reaching anywhere in his pursuit.
“You’re more than 70, what do you need the house for”, she asks.
” Yes, I’m more than 70. I don’t have many years left. So can’t you wait even till I die? And who are you to tell me about my house. Even Dollar has lived in this house longer than you! You are the one who has turned my son against me”, retorts Jyotiben.
Bharat really was at the brink today. He was not only sick of the daily fights between Jyotiben and Jigna but also of his life in general. Now that he was in line for losing his job because of market retrenchment, thoughts of the huge money lost at stock market was tearing him apart.
But nothing could’ve been more agonising for him than losing even the physical battle with his mother. Even Jigna, whom he loved at times, had never fought back when he beat her. So how could he take it back from a woman who has since ages never been more than the caretaker of their pet Dollar. He slaps Jyotiben hard and almost strangles her.
“If you don’t sign the papers NOW, I’ll kill you”.
This had never happened before. It had even Jigna stumped. Soon Bharat realizes what he had done and releases his grip over Jyotiben’s neck. But instead of being worried about the old lady, both were worried about how Jyotiben would react to it. After all, it was not long ago that Jyotiben had called the entire apartment in the house when Bharat had tried the same thing.
But this had never happened before. Jyotiben was crying. And much to the horror of the couple, her cries kept getting louder. A panic stricken Bharat threw a glance towards an equally scared Jigna. Bharat knew that the apartments was full of great admirers of his father. And everyone from the young to the old treated Jyotiben like a mother.