Human emotions are difficult to decipher, predict or even analyse. We’re complex beings and constantly evolving. Nothing brings this point to the fore like the tale of Bhaunri by Anukrti Upadhyay, who spun a story so wonderful in the desert lands of Rajasthan, it left me thinking for a long time even after I was done with it.
At the very heart of this novel lies the story of the twisted fate of a family and its members, most notably the newest, Bhaunri, who belonged to the nomadic clans of Gadoliya Lohars.
The story begins with Bhaunri’s mother, a strong female character, whose family had gotten a large bride-price for marrying her off to a Gujjar chieftan. But as he was unable to satisfy her sexually, Bhaunri’s mother ran away with a young blacksmith. Even when her family came after them, ranting and shouting at her, she stood her ground. She wanted to have nothing to do with a rich man who was a husband only ‘in name’.
Bhaunri was her fifth child, a girl after four boys. Brought up with her brothers, working and playing side by side, she not only learned her father’s craft, but also helped her mother around the house.
When she was a young girl, she was married off to a blacksmith. While she had no recollection of the ceremony, her mother was always anxious about the day her daughter would leave her house and make way to her husband’s.
When the day arrived and her Bhaunri’s husband’s family had come to take her, Bhaunri’s mother is quite explicit when she says that even if she may have taught her daughter to cook and clean, birth a calf, sing, dance and ply a hammer, she has also taught her to strike and escape like a nagin if need be. I find these words to be quite powerful. It not only demonstrates her pride and grit, but also displays her sheer love for her daughter, willing to take on society for her happiness and well-being. This very same characteristic is also displayed in Bhaunri, later in the story, where she not only makes a place for herself in her new surrounding, winning over the hearts of her family members and earning their respect, but taking a stand before her philandering husband.
Bhaunri met her husband only for the second time when she left for her in-laws’ house. Before that, she did not remember her marriage to Bheema, her husband. When they reach his place, she is brought to the rude realization that her husband is rude, gruff and terribly short-tempered – the way he orders his mother around and is more concerned about his dogs than his wife. But Bhaunri stands up to him also. If he called her “chhori”, she would remind him of her real name. The sexual tension between them is quite riveting, especially in the beginning when Bhaunri is made to sleep with her mother-in-law, and Bheema stays away most nights.
As time passes, Bhaunri becomes adept in taking care of the chores at home, and the absence of her father-in-law is conspicuous. She hears from others in the village of his wayward ways, his maniacal temper and his inability to get along with his own son, Bheema. There were many times when she tried to get her mother-in-law to see sense, to call out her husband on his actions, but to no avail. Coming from a home that was built by a marriage of equals, Bhaunri does not understand the relation between her in-laws, how the man held more sway over the woman. On the contrary, when Bhaunri speaks of her intense love for Bheema, of being able to walk barefoot in the desert only for him, his mother cautions her not to get too attached.
“It is better for the body to endure than for the heart to be snared. It only brings more suffering.”
Mai did not know love the way Bhaunri did, and even if she did once upon a time, it seems like it was short-lived. Her husband has been on more than one occasion inappropriate with his own daughter-in-law, has also got into stiff arguments with her. But he notices the fire and passion in Bhaunri, which is starkly missing in his own wife – a fact which he shares with her. This part of the book was heartbreaking. One cannot be compared to another. We’re individual beings, and Bheema’s father wished he had a wife like Bhaunri, often telling his son he doesn’t know what he’s losing when he goes on his nightly sojourns leaving Bhaunri behind, despondent.
When Bheema and Bhaunri get into a tiff, she doesn’t back down, even when she gets struck by him. She is relentless. She knows the love they have for each other is very strong, but she doesn’t falter when it comes to making her point. But this love for Bheema goes a step too far, when she takes fate into her own hands to make Bheema remain faithful to her. Her sense of love may not know any bounds, but it takes on a strange and obsessive temperament.
Even her father-in-law, in his own destructive nature, wrecked havoc on the one
he loved. The story delves into such toxic relationships, such fables of love fraught
‘Can too much love be a dangerous thing?’
This book has been such a refreshing experience for me. Writer’s block feels like the worst thing ever. At the best of times the blank page is daunting, while at the worst, I just keep typing and deleting. But reader’s block can sometimes feel far worse – when one feels extremely disconnected from any and every book, unable to delve into the story and form a relation with the characters. But quite often there comes along a book that breaks this cycle. And Anukrti Upadhyay’s Bhaunri did just that for me. The writing, the narrative, the intriguing characters and the landscape, everything kept me hooked and riveted. I really enjoyed the book, especially the way the characters evolved, the way they were created as wholesome beings and not just two-dimensional cutouts. Each had their strengths and weaknesses.
The landscape felt like a character in itself, the tough terrain that is as hot during summer and as cold in winter. Nature can be treacherous here, especially when the swarm of locusts attacked the fields. The entire village joined forces to help each other during this time, trying to save the crop.
The post is part of the Blogchatter Review Program.