The April heat of the Vaishakh month is usually stifling. Ganesh-pant, covered in a cooling unguent of fine sandalwood paste, sat musingly on a large swing seat in his front room, hoping for some cool breeze. Just as he was beginning to feel a trifle calm, Vithhal-bhatji, the family astrologer came by with a message from Raghoba-pant.

Ganesh-pant: “Come in. Come in. Has our plan succeeded?”

Vithal-bhatji: “It must succeed when I mediate, after do I finally get the dhotis you promised?”

Ganesh-pant: “Don’t you worry! You will have the best dhotis in the world. Once the occasion goes according to plan, I will present you with the best chintz dhotis that were ever made in Nagpur and sold at Khushal-shet’s shop.”

Vithhal-bhatji: “Well, Raghoba-pant can hardly wait to settle the date.”

Ganesh-pant: “Forget the formalities and decide quickly on the first available date. All the preparations are complete from my side, and if you don’t believe me, go upstairs, and see for yourself. Vinayak is sitting in the attic, making a list of expenses. Also, ask him what happened about exchanging your wife’s sarees at Ghan-shet’s shop.”

Vithhal-bhatji, once upstairs: “How are things, dear bridegroom? How is your bride’s jewellery coming along? Is her necklace grand enough? I know she wanted that ornate one. Be careful not to anger your new bride! I must compliment you both for making such a handsome couple. She suits you perfectly.”

Vinayak sat quietly, blushing as Vithhal-bhatji left, bidding Ganesh-pant a hasty farewell. The wedding date was fixed for the first day of Jyeshtha, and from that time onwards, Yamuna began visiting her in-laws regularly. Gifts of mangoes, jackfruit, and sweetmeats began arriving, and her mother-in-law grew very fond of her.

She would dress Yamuna in finery and jewels, and comb her hair in various styles, decorating her braid with flowers and ornaments. She would flaunt Yamuna to her friends and relatives, and everyone would pamper Yamuna, offering her candy, fruits, and gifts of pretty brocade blouses. Vinayak, the prospective bridegroom, was jubilant too, regaling his friends with Yamuna’s talents.

His friends would praise Yamuna, saying, “Vinayak, your wife’s handwriting is as beautiful as printed letters! What intelligence! Not only is her arithmetic perfect, but her embroidery is divine too.” Vinayak would internally glow hearing all this. Yamuna was not just beautiful and talented, but also educated. However, it was precisely her education that her mother-in-law disliked the most about Yamuna.

Yamuna’s father, Raghoba-pant, had been poor, and had therefore sent her to a missionary school, where she had received money, food, and clothes in exchange for attending school. This education had polished Yamuna’s natural intelligence and honed her capacity for independent thought. In terms of confidence, her educated intelligence made her superior to other girls around her. Sadly, however, apart from her husband, no one really appreciated Yamuna. It was Yamuna’s mother, before passing away, who had requested Ganesh-pant to accept Yamuna as a daughter-in-law for his beloved son Vinu. Ganesh-pant, in his gentlemanly way, had kept his promise, and proceeded with the marriage.

Yamuna and Vinayak got married in great pomp. Though her father was poor, he had amassed enough money to give an impression of a financial status deemed suitable for his friend Ganesh-pant. After the first days of festivities, however, everyone forgot how much money had been wasted, and life went on as usual. In the first days after marriage, Yamuna would sometimes stay with her father. She was not allowed to read and write when staying with her in-laws, and her time there would pass in dressing up, visiting relatives, and participating in ritual celebrations. She would make wicks for the household temple’s oil lamps, help in cooking and cleaning, and generally, while away her time feeling bored.

There was no opportunity to read or learn anything new, as her mother-in-law and sister-in-law refused to leave her alone, or let her read. Moreover, the topics they discussed were puerile and petty. Staying constantly in their company gradually whittled away at Yamuna’s own intelligence, and stemmed her natural curiosity – a desire imbibed at school. Now, her mind was filled with anxieties, superstitions, and foolish falsehoods.

One afternoon, as she sat cleaning rice grains, her mother-in-law, and sister-in-law – Ganga, joined her, and they began a conversation.

Mother-in-law: “Ganga, why did you not finish the poli from yesterday? You girls don’t eat properly at home, and then act greedy at other people’s homes. Yamuna, did you give the servant boy the remaining rice? And oh, why did you tell him about the remaining poli? I had told you to give him only the rice.”

Yamuna, in a low voice: “Yes, but he asked me directly for poli. How could I have lied?”

Mother-in-law: “Oh God, what a goldmine of truth we have here! A girl must never think for herself. Instead, she must always do as she is told.”

Ganga: “Yes, mother, I, too, have noticed this! The other day, when a visitor came, she went and told him that father was sleeping, even though he had explicitly instructed us to tell visitors that he was out.”

Yamuna: “So what? At least I didn’t lie.”

Ganga: “This is what happens when girls are sent to school by their ignorant parents!”

Mother-in-law: “Stop it, you girls! But yes, Yamuna’s education cannot continue. She will have to accept the discipline of this house. Didn’t you see what happened next door to Ramji-pant’s sister? She mended her ways alright and now demurely circles the family tulsi a hundred and eight times every day. Her sister-in-law sold all her books to a wastepaper vendor. Yamuna will do so too.”

Yamuna’s heart quailed. Who knew her learning would come to an end so soon? These women would never let her read ever again!

Yamuna’s Journey

Excerpted with permission from Yamuna’s Journey, Baba Padmanji, translated from the Marathi by Deepra Dandekar, Speaking Tiger Books.