Ek Chadar Maili Si – by Rajendar Singh Bedi

ek chadar maili si

The resolution – This year I resolved to read books in Hindi and Punjabi along with my usual reading. Sticking to it, in February, I read Ek Chadar Maili Si, by Rajender Singh Bedi. The edition that I read is the Hindi translation of the novella originally written in Urdu. Rajender Singh Bedi the Sahitya Akademi Award for this book.

Reading regional languages after decades – I thought it would be nice to share my experience so far about reading regional languages. There are words that I don’t know the meaning of and in case of translations from some other language, there is always something lost. Sometimes, there is a doubt whether I am able to appreciate all that the book has to offer. But then it is a slow process and I am ever hopeful.

The book – Set in Punjab, the story revolves around a family with the centre being the daughter-in-law Rano. This is Rano’s journey as a woman, a mother, a wife and a widow. Through her journey she is sometimes aided, often confronted and coerced by the collective goodwill of the village acquaintances and the panchayat (the village council). And how she comes out, in the end, using her own wit and determination.

Early in the story, Rano, a strong-willed and feisty lady, loses her husband Tiloka, who has been murdered. Taking into consideration that Rano has two children and no other income, the village council and her seemingly sympathetic friend reach the decision that Rano should get married to Tiloka’s much younger brother Mangal. The argument is that Rano is in need and Mangal needs direction and responsibility. Hence, resorting to the old custom of remarrying the widow of one brother to another, the decision is made. The ensuing ceremony is called “Chaadar”. Both Rano and Mangal are appalled by this awkward arrangement, Rano, having raised Mangal almost as her son. They protest individually and in their own ways. But the Panchayat has decided, and the ceremony will take place. Mangal is dragged to the ceremony beaten out of his wits.

What follows is what the two make of their perplexing situation, how Rano’s daughter reacts to the whole thing, the daughter’s own marriage prospects. The continued entitled interference of the villagers into the family affairs, as is often the case in villages and close-knout towns. How Rano, ever resourceful and with strong survival instincts charters her path.

The characters are well thought out and believable. The close-knit life of a village, the strong women, the complexities of life in a family and between a husband and wife are all beautifully portrayed. It is a sad book albeit it gives hope as well. The author leaves the reader with almost a shock in the end, which I will not divulge here.

My only grouse was that since this was a translation that I read, I feel some of the substance may have got lost. There were some parts which were confusing, for instance, the family described is a Sikh family, but when the children’s school is mentioned it is called Madarsa. Other than that it was a great read, a moving insight into the anguish and hopes of life and circumstances.

There is a much-acclaimed movie on the book, by the same name, starring Rishi Kapoor and Hema Malini, for anyone who is interested.

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