Fiction: Gamkharu - The Golden Bangles

Nilutpal Gohain

Sitting in front of the mirror, Rani checked her make-up for one last time before she walked down the steps to the fire altar. She was nervous, which was normal for a bride but something was pestering her since the day her mother announced the dates of the wedding. Bikram was a great partner to be with and she was more than sure of her decision to marry him. Yet, her absent minded self, yearned for something, something which she had visualized in her wrists as a bride all her life – the beautiful golden pair of Gamkharus.   

             Downstairs, Rani’s mother Sushmita was waiting for her daughter to come down so that the rituals could be started as soon as the bridegroom arrived. There is a unique custom of an Assamese marriage where the mother of the bride is not allowed to attend the wedding; yet she agreed to her daughter’s request to do the kanyadaan. She was a traditional woman and she knew that the attire of her daughter as a bride was not complete without a set of Gamkharus. Mrs. Sushmita Sarma, the famous Padmashree awarded bihu dance exponent of Guwahati knew that she could get as many pairs of Gamkharus as her daughter wished, with the rarest and the most stunning designs but not that special pair which she had promised to bestow her daughter on her wedding day. She had fulfilled every wish of her daughter in every possible way but today she felt helpless. Eventually, she had to respect her daughter’s decision to not adorn any gamkharu in her marriage.   

            Her phone beeped notifying her of a whatsapp message, “Are you okay?

            She replied, “Yes!!” but deep down, she was not okay… her mind raced, fast enough to take her back into her past.


Eighteen years ago…
 “Maa! Can I try those? They are beautiful” a ten year old Rani requested her mother pointing towards the pair of Gamkharus.
Made of pure gold with exquisite repousse metalwork and studded with colourful stones, they lay inside a crafted wooden box. Rani jumped in excitement when her mother nodded. However, they slid down far below her wrists when she tried them.
            “They won’t fit you now baby! Once you grow up and become a bride, I will give them to you forever. Then you can wear it whenever you want”, Sushmita responded realizing her daughter’s love for them.
            Rani carefully replaced them inside the box and went out of the room.
 Sushmita was grooming for her performance before the judges of the contest of ‘Bihu Kuwori’- the contest which decided the best bihu dancer of the year. The winner got a huge cash prize along with a five year contract with a leading dance academy as instructor. She was preparing for it for the last five years in spite of the fact that her life had distorted beyond her expectation in those five years.
Right from her youngest years, Sushmita aspired to be a danseuse. She was fascinated by the fluid moves of the performers to the tunes and beats of the bihu folk songs. She was often found in front of the mirror practicing the latest dance move she acquired from the T.V or a movie. Her Aai acknowledged her interest and she wholeheartedly supported her despite opposition from relatives who kept on pestering that a fatherless child often drifted from the course. She grew up adorning the stage and eventually formed a troop which would be seen performing in almost every bihu function or competition of the region.
Sushmita met Gautam in one such competition where he was the Dhuliya for another participant. He was tall and good looking which impressed Sushmita. Their first acquaintance was quite formal but as they met frequently in competitions and shows, a casual friendship surfaced between them. They didn’t realize when the friendship turned into love and they decided to don the conjugal bond as soon as Gautam secured the job of clerk in a government office.
Aai gave her those beautiful pair of Gamkharus on her wedding. She was a witness to her daughter’s dedication in acquiring perfection in the dance form. She ushered her savings of a lifetime to employ the most adept goldsmith of Guwahati to craft the elegant gamkharus so that her daughter’s costume in every performance appeared flawless.
Initially Gautam was supportive of Sushmita’s dancing’ 4. He would escort her to competitions and shows she participated in. She was proficient in her moves and looked dazzling in her performances which would make him elated. He felt like a celebrity, walking next to her when they returned home. But he stopped performing with the dhol as he was not passionate about it. Though he reasoned that it would look odd for a government office bearer to sing and dance in front of a crowd, he knew he didn’t want to cling to it all his life. After a while, Sushmita also stopped insisting him.
But she, herself, was on cloud nine as everything seemed to be in place unlike others who had to embrace the role of a homemaker after marriage. She had a loving husband who was a pillar of strength in her pursuit of success and a home all to herself without a nagging mother in law or a demanding father in law. Both of them died a few years back of ailments. She carried on with household chores at her own pace and practiced whenever she wanted to do so. Evenings were even better with romantic walks or occasional movies- in short a perfect life which she always dreamt of.
However, things took a turn for the worse when Sushmita found out that she was pregnant. She wanted a child but it was too early in her career. A break of nine months or even more in her practice might become the unwanted end of her dancing.
But when she gave Gautam the news of her pregnancy, he was ecstatic. He embraced her and, caressing her hair, said, “Now it’s time for you as well to give up dance. Concentrate on the family now.”
She was stunned to hear something like that from him. She was expecting that he would advise her to abort the child for her calling but he wanted her to bring an end to her happiness. She loved him and his contentment was her prime necessity but his words reverberated on her ears for the whole nine months of her pregnancy as she had an intuition that something terrible was in store for her in future.
She gave birth to a healthy baby girl and holding her in his hand Gautam said, “We will call her Rani as she will always be our Queen”.
For the initial years, Sushmita gave her entire time in Rani’s upbringing, tending to her every need and imparting vital morals. Rani was a carefree child but she always had a shield of protection around her in the form of her mother. At the age of five, Rani was enrolled in the nearby primary school yielding ample time for Sushmita to go back to her ardor.
Gautam was convinced that she had given up her craze for dance. He felt gratified that his daughter would have her mother by her side till she grew up to be a lady.  But soon his conviction was contravened when he saw Sushmita practicing with her troop one day in his own backyard.
Infuriated, he shouted, “What is this Sushmita? Didn’t I tell you to stay away from these losers? Women of privileged households do not indulge in such crap. You have a gamkharu made of pure gold which itself symbolizes that your status have risen above these people. It doesn’t look good when you associate with such good for nothing idiots. Please ask them to leave before I kick each one out of here…”
She was mortified at his behavior. The troop has been her companion since her foray into the world of dance and they have been loyal to her even in her hard times. Insulting them was like insulting her and her art. She was utterly distressed but trying to maintain her composure, she politely asked her troop to leave. As soon as they left, she went down on her knees and pleaded, “Please Gautam! Let me participate in the Bihu Kuwori this year. I have practiced enormously and I have very good chances of winning it. It has been my dream since I gained senses and I have worked my whole life for this day. Once I participate, that will be the end of my dancing, after which I will never touch my gamkahrus ever again.”
With vanishing hope, she searched for traces of sympathy in his eyes but all she could see was rage.
He shouted, “Don’t you know Rani will be affected when she will see her mother seductively swaying among those hopeless idiots? I won’t let you ruin my daughter’s character with all these street walker activities. I have let you enjoy your nonsense till you had conceived Rani; it was a lot of time. Now, if you still want to participate, leave my house today itself and don’t dare to ever come back.”
            It felt like a thousand slaps on her face when she heard those words. But she stood calm, trying to hide the tornado of emotions that was about to burst out. In a sad but firm tone, she replied, “That gamkharu, which you are boasting about, is my mother’s gift and if someone standing here is of privileged background, then it’s me. Dance is everything for me- my love, my God and my life. I will not survive without dance. Separating me from dance is like asking for my soul. I am sorry Gautam, I can’t give you my soul.”
            “It has to be either me or dance, decide for yourself” was Gautam’s reply to her misery.

That night Sushmita left with her daughter by her side and few of her belongings. It hurt her even more when there was not a single attempt from her husband to stop her. He, however, put on a fragile attempt to stop Rani, knowing very well that he won’t be able to take care of her and she clung on to her mother and never left her side. Sushmita went straight to her Aai who held her to her bosom the whole night.
It was an ego clash that brought the house in tatters- a dejected ego, a rejected ego and a small frail child scouring between them. For Gautam, it was the denunciation of his authority in the house, spearing the male ego which he had nurtured all his life. He loved Sushmita and staying away from her was tough but it was his right to dictate his wife’s life and he couldn’t take it easily that she defied him. He would accept her if she ever came back but he won’t give any effort to bring her back.
For Sushmita, it was an insult to her art and her love for it. If he would have allowed her to participate in the competition, as an acknowledgement to her hard work, she would have happily sacrificed her career for her family, but he denied. The love and support which she previously got from him was gone. She had nothing left for her in that house. She too still loved him but she loved her self-respect more and he had tried to take it away from her, which shattered her. Dance has never been an obstacle in her nuptial life, yet he posed as if it had taken a toll in all their lives- even calling her a prostitute for it. She could only go back to him if he apologized for what he had done.
Moreover, she let her marriage suffer for her passion and to prove herself, she had to attain the zenith of her art form, or else she would be a failure in her own eyes. She started practicing from the very next day.

             Soon, the separation started to affect Gautam as his occasional drinks increased to be daily bottles and matters turned worse when, after getting drunk, he shouted insults and abuses at Sushmita in front of her Aai’s house. This became a daily affair and their relationship suffered more. But Sushmita stood head-strong, comforting her daughter and Aai with the hope that the ordeal would end soon.
She went on to participate in the contest that very year. Her performance was awesome but the judges were of the opinion that the cheerfulness, a prime ingredient in every folk dance, was missing. Though she didn’t win it, she found zeal to fight till she got the recognition she wanted from the start and she gave more effort in her practice from the very next day.
 Gautam, on the other hand, was devastated with his wife and child gone. He kept himself inebriated the whole day trying to get off from the pain. Furthermore, he started indulging in gambling when a friend introduced him to that world. Soon, he was found seated in gambling dens, betting in an intoxicated state. It was not before long that he lost all his money in betting and clearing debts. Eventually, he began selling whatever he found in the house which could fetch him a handful of money for the next round of betting. He merely survived on his salary as major part of it was also spent on alcohol and gambling.
            And Sushmita, she was fighting on the hope that someday her husband would come to fetch them and they would live together once again. She was unaware of all that was happening in her husband’s life; alcoholism was his only vice, she thought. And she was determined to get him out of his addiction once they get together.
            It was her third attempt for the Bihu Kuwori and she knew that this attempt was very different from the last two attempts; this time she had to win to survive. She had to earn her bread from now on, as the pension they received has been stopped after her mother’s death, last month. She was on her own and she had to take care of her daughter- both financially and emotionally so that she grows up to be proud of her mother one day.
Sushmita tried to focus on her performance for that evening. She had practiced well this time, learning to fake emotions during a performance. Sitting in front of the mirror, she checked her face one more time; if there were uneven shades of the concealer, there weren’t any. Next, she scanned the house. It was a small two bedroom independent house with an ill-maintained garden in the front. A rusted iron gate led to the main door through a paved yard. It has been her companion since her birth and parting with it would be agonizing but it was her only option, in case she doesn’t win the competition this time.
Seated in one of the bedrooms, she finished her make-up. She was about to slip the gamkharu through her wrist but stopped when she heard Rani giggling in a delighted way near the gate. Her heart skipped a beat when she caught Gautam’s voice speaking affectionately. She peered through the window to see an exhilarated Gautam embracing Rani and Rani was overjoyed to respond to him. A sense of contentment pervaded her as she realized that her prayers had been answered and she could see that her family was getting complete again. Visualizing her complete family, a tear rolled down her cheek.
She stood there treasuring the moment and witnessing the union from a distance but her joy soon turned into shock when she saw Gautam cautiously removing the gold chain from Rani’s neck. It was the same gold chain which they presented Rani on her first birthday. His face had a wicked sense of accomplishment when he pocketed the chain kissing Rani on her forehead. Unable to control her anger, Sushmita went straight to him and the next moment a piercing slap landed on his cheek.
He became hysterical with rage and in retaliation held Sushmita by her hair and dragged her inside the house. Screams of agony resonated from the room and Rani kept on banging the closed door asking her father to stop hurting her mother. Suddenly the door flung open and Gautam rushed out hurling abuses on both Sushmita and Rani. When Rani went in she saw her mother lying on the floor sobbing and the beautifully crafted wooden box was empty. She cried in great despair as she lost the one thing she cherished so much.
Sushmita got up, wiped her tears, held her daughter to her chest and said, “From now on it’s only you and me. No one else will ever come between us. I will never ever see that man’s face but it is up to you if you want to have any relationship with him. I will try my best to give you a good life and I will need your love and support at every step till we both achieve what we want to achieve. I will always be at your side, at every point in life but today, I want you by my side.
That evening people clapped to the name of Sushmita Sarma as the newly crowned Bihu Kuwori who received her first cheque and job while her daughter held a crafted empty wooden box in her hand standing next to her.
From that day Sushmita and Rani neither heard about Gautam nor he tried to contact them. It just remained as a bad chapter in their book of life.
Present day 
‘On my way… can’t wait to see you as a bride…will reach in an hour’ it was Bikram on the Whatsapp. Rani beamed with pleasure as she read his message. Bikram was the one of the editors of the newspaper where her column named ‘Facets of Life’ ran in the Sunday supplement. She was a budding writer who wrote her first novel recently. It was well received by readers and the book was slowly gaining ground. It was inspired from her mother’s life and how she went on to become a role model for every woman aspiring to be a performer. In the past eighteen years, she couldn’t recollect her mother regretting or grieving anything she did or happened in her life. So, she had to fabricate a few situations of grief in her novel to make the story more interesting.
Rani never really missed her father, maybe, because her mother never let that void appear so that she missed him. Initially she was agitated with him for looting her most prized possession but with time, she forgave him and never discussed about him with her mother. She seemed indifferent of his existence.
 But since the announcement of the dates of the wedding, she saw restlessness in her mother which she had never seen before. Maybe, she was bothered about her promise which she couldn’t fulfill or maybe it was just that she was poignant about her daughter leaving after marriage. Whatever could be the reason but Rani wanted to make her mother feel contented while sending off her daughter. Hence, she decided that she would not adorn any gamkharu in the attire of the bride.
Yet, Rani’s heart ached on the thought of those golden wristlets. As a child, she had always dreamt of wearing that beautiful pair on her wedding. She still remembered the sparkle that caught her eye when her mother showed her those for the first time. She felt the glistening metal radiate elegance when she touched them. It was at that moment she decided all she wanted for her marriage were the gamkharus. But, finally when the big day arrived, her wrists were filled with other various beautiful bangles but not those.
The crafted wooden empty box, which she specially instructed her mother to pack in her belongings, was still on her dressing table. She had treasured the box since childhood, but never used it for any other purpose.
“Maa might have forgotten to put it. How could she?”
Rani picked it up to settle it in somewhere in her luggage but Wait!! It was not empty. Her heart was thumping when she slowly opened the box and behold! The exquisite pair of gamkharu- that special pair, the pair her mother promised her, and the pair she wished so profoundly on her wrists today, were inside the box. Along with them, there was a neatly folded letter. With trembling hands, she picked up the letter and started reading:

Dear Rani,
            It has been a very long time since we met and I know the parting was not sweet enough to remember. But since that ill-fated day, there has not been a single day that I have not missed you. I knew that you would forgive me if I turn up to you and your mother any day but after being such a jerk, I never had the courage to face you. However, when I heard the news of your marriage, I couldn’t wait any longer.
I beg you to please forgive me and accept the entity that always belonged to you- your special pair of Gamkharu. I have kept them safe at all times only for this day. I thought I would myself slip it through your hands but I still don’t have the nerve to stand in front of you and that is why I have tried to communicate my feelings through this letter.
I have never actually been a father to you but I plead you as my daughter that please let me do your kanyadaan. Let us stick together once again as a family and I swear that from now on I will never ever let you down.
With love
Your not so good father

Rani picked up the pair of gamkharu and slipped them through her hands. Now, they were a perfect fit on her wrists. She knew what she had to do- she picked up her phone and dialed the number.


Below, Sushmita was fidgety as if she was waiting for some miracle to happen. She was almost startled at the beep of the notification of a Whatsapp message. Hastily, she unlocked her phone to read the message-

 It read, “Rani has agreed my dear… thank you so much for everything you have done so far. Thank you for coming back to me, thank you for giving me back my family. I am coming in a few minutes. I love you Sushmita… I really do”

Sushmita had tears in her eyes as she read the message. For her daughter’s happiness, she kept her ego aside and contacted him. She even pardoned him the moment she knew he had not parted with the gamkharus. The love which she concealed all these years, suddenly exploded, erasing every bad memory that helped in concealing it.
On the other hand, Gautam regretted everything once he faced the hardships of life but he was under extreme guilt to approach them. All these years, he had traced their journey of success from a distance as a well-wisher. He never expected her to return from where she stood at present but she did return, forgetting and forgiving everything.

It has been eighteen years since they have parted ways and it would take a lot of time catching up. There were many questions she had for him; she would have to face many questions for him but the one thing that gave her more power to face the world was her family which was now by her side. With a gratified smile, she changed the contact name from Gautam to Hubby.

Gamkharu- Assamese bangles either made in silver or gold with repousse metalwork
Bihu dance- a form of folk dance done in the festival of bihu
Dhuliya- One who beats the dhol(percussion instrument) for the bihu dancer
Bihu kuwori- the bihu queen
Kanyadaan- a ritual generally performed by the father of a bride
Deuta- Father
      Aai- Mother

Nilutpal Gohain is a Government servant currently serving as Assistant Registrar of Cooperative Societies for the Government of Assam. He did schooling from Kendriya Vidyalaya, Nagaon, Assam and graduation in engineering from Vels University, Chennai. He worked at sea as a marine engineer for a short stint before moving ashore and joined Canara Bank as a Probationary Officer. 
In 2015, he joined the Government of Assam after clearing the State Public Service Examination and since then he has been in his current job. He has started his literary journey recently after finishing his quest for bread and butter. A few of his poems and short stories have been published in e-journals such as Muse India, Spillwords etc. He is currently working on a coffee table book with the district administration of his place of posting to promote the tourism potential of the district.


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