I must have been about 3 years old by then. Certain events get inscribed into your psyche and don’t leave you for long. I had so often heard about Malti aunt’s bichhua(belt ladies wear around their waists over sarees in Indian villages and towns) that I was perpetually curious about the incident. Since my studies first and job later on took me away from settings where such incidents were narrated I hardly had an opportunity to inquire about it. What was this about? What had happened which caused such discussion that a 3-year-old had a strange memory and it remained a mystery for him forever? I used to think that bichhua meant some ornament worn in feet until I came across her recently. Since my cousin’s wedding is soon going to happen she is there and I visit them often. I told her about the event and its peculiar memory I had. My relatives do express surprise that I retained a memory since such an early age. She narrated a few things which consolidated the prior memory I had.
She was newlywed bride at that time. They were staying at one of my great aunt’s place that night in what was a rented house in a small town then. The evening was depressing as they were sweating and mosquitos were biting. There were many ladies around her as she fell asleep while chatting as they were tired from the shopping they had done that evening. Around midnight a curious man comes wearing a shirt and has a shawl with him. One of the ladies was pregnant and didn’t sleep well that night so she heard him come on roof and circle around all ladies but she was not sure if he wasn’t a man from family. Still a strange man lurking around ladies in night did look suspicious enough. Then he took shawl and covered himself with it and started loosening the silver belt the newlywed bride was wearing. She resisted a bit thinking that it was some lady from family doing to make her sleep comfortably and didn’t like it but by the time the woman who was awake fully realized the gravity of the situation he had snatched the belt and ran away. He left his shirt on roof. Then everyone was left startled and an uproar was there. The two young brothers of the lady were down the hall and they ran after the thief who wasn’t to be found anywhere. The bride was shedding a million tears that night and couldn’t sleep and even on the next day she didn’t eat anything at all. The ladies who were to go shopping again cancelled it and collected money to buy the belt which costed three thousand rupees which was a large sum in those days for middle class people.
They lodged a complaint with police. They searched through the length of the town. The thief was a rickshaw driver who was in the jail and recently released. He was trying to sell the belt which he had stolen but couldn’t. Police got hold of him easily and called the family members to identify the belt. The corrupt police members demanded two thousand rupees from family instead of handing them over their belt. Then a case was created as the brother of the bride resisted giving even a dime for what righteously belonged to them. The bride was called before the police for further inquiry and confirmation. Family members had told her to stay firm and not get scared because of police. They told her to answer all questions to the best of her knowledge. They asked many questions like -where did they buy the belt from. How did it look. How many petals it had on it and so on. She answered all questions very well.
But this was a formality since corrupt police had decided to withhold the costly belt. I don’t know the ground they used for making the case but it was not before 14 years that this case was resolved in favor of the family. The bride was called again after 12 years and she answered the same questions she had answered twelve years ago. She was instructed to give the same answers. What a drama! But she did and they got the belt back. If you recall she had been given another belt at the time it was stolen. Oh I didn’t tell about it: the ladies saw that she was fasting and crying and she didn’t lose the side of my dad’s aunt the day after the incident and she never slept in that house again. The ladies collected money and bought a new belt and gave it to her and consoled her. Now that case had been resolved in her favor she got her original belt back so she has two of them now. The original belt has a market price of about 15 thousand rupees now.
Since I heard about the incident from aunt I realized the gravity this incident must have had on them and why it was a subject of discussion among ladies in those days. My young mind imbibed the bits of information but couldn’t comprehend it fully and it remained as a mystery in it along with some other events. Memory or lack of its clarity is the great creator of mystery. I inquired about it when it resurfaced in my consciousness and found an intriguing story which was worth sharing.