Is there justice outside courtrooms for a rape victim? The law might take its own course, but what does a woman do when the society shuts its door on her? Onaatah, a young victim of sexual assault, is shattered from inside. Shunned and shamed by the society, including the man she loved, she sees a very long and hopeless road ahead of her. When almost on the brink of giving up, she makes a journey, in search of hope, to discover her purpose in life. Along the way, she explores diversity of relationships and realises love has a vast and varied meaning. Does she find what she is looking for? Does she remain a victim or emerge as a survivor? Here’s a must read, a book extract from Onaatah – of the Earth, based on a National Award Winning Film, by Paulami DuttaGupta, published by Readomania, exclusively in Different Truths.
Onaatah and her Meisun had cleaned the poultry that morning and also plucked vegetables from the kitchen garden. They had a huge produce of chillies and Onaatah decided to make some pickle and share some bottles with a few households in the village. She cleaned the chillies, shred them, added the requisite spices and oil and placed them neatly in plates for fermentation. Satisfied with the outcome, she covered them with wire mesh food covers and wiped her hands.
Onaatah decided to take a long walk. Brushing her hair she removed the apron and hung it from one of the hooks that her uncle had fixed on the back of the door. Her aunt was napping in the next room and Onaatah quietly closed the main door and sneaked out.
Onaatah made a mental note of helping her uncle repair the gate. It looked like it would break into pieces any day. She did have her savings lying in the bank and they would be of little use once she joined a new job. Her parents still insisted on paying for her commute and showered her with clothes and shoes. She would just have to fill in the forms and send across for a new job. The thought of pursuing her career had come in without much thought.
She wondered if she would walk towards the river or check if her uncle was back to the village and chatting at the tea stall when she saw Dondor, walking almost aimlessly. She took a closer look and realised that he had a bunch of flowers in his hand. They were her favourite wild flowers.
‘Bah Dondor, where to?’ Onaatah called out.
‘I was just spending some time with Dariti. She was a little clueless about a few things so,’ Onaatah walked up and stood beside him.
‘You are a natural healer, you know?’ Dondor smiled. Onaatah sighed. That is what she wanted to do, and now was sure she would get back to her calling.
‘Where to Bah?’ Onaatah asked.
‘You know I have this habit of loitering around the village. That is what I was doing now,’ Dondor laughed.
‘Oh. I thought you were taking these flowers for someone,’ Onaatah said.
‘Flowers? No…I was walking and someone just gave it to me. I was thinking of throwing them away.’ Dondor said and raised his hand to throw the wild flowers away.
‘No don’t…’ Onaatah caught his hand.
‘What will I do with these? You want them, then take it,’ Onaatah gently took the flowers from him.
‘Thank you, Bah. They are lovely.’ They stood there side by side and then Onaatah said, ‘Do you want me to take you around?’
Dondor laughed aloud. This girl must be kidding. ‘Let’s do something…I’ll take you around… you close your eyes and hold my hand…but you will have to keep your eyes closed…if you open your eyes that will be cheating, okay?’
Onaatah was a little hesitant. Dondor never needed anyone, he never even carried a stick, but would he be able to lead her safely? But then in life we all have a permanent blindfold on and yet we pretend to be safe.
‘Wow…that is…that is great…but you can’t leave my hand, okay? Promise?’
Onaatah held his hand and closed his hand. ‘My eyes are closed.’
Dondor had begun to walk and Onaatah took a tentative step. After a while Dondor laughed, ‘Scared, are you? Don’t worry. You are with the safest pair of eyes in the village. Now tell me, where have we come?’ Onaatah was clueless. ‘You have no idea, right? Did you smell that dry fish?’
‘Emm… ’ Onaatah sniffed. Yes something was cooking.
‘That’s Duh’s house. His grandma is cooking. This is the smell of fish. . . I will have a great dinner…she never forgets sending her dishes to me. Most of the days that is where my meals come from.’
Onaatah nodded. She had begun to adore Duh’s grandmother already and respect for the woman just increased a little more. They continued to walk. Onaatah heard a dog barking and wondered if they had crossed the only house that had an Alsatian. She was certain it was that house. Their roof was falling off, but their dog had won the Best Dog award in a pets’ competition in Guwahati. She smiled. The people in this village had different priorities.
‘Okay now take it slow. We are near the longest flight of steps. Take small steps and…no…no you don’t need to stiffen. They aren’t even slippery now. Duh tells me there’s moss only on the edges,’ Dondor told her.
‘One-two-three-four,’ Onaatah had begun to count and Dondor laughed.
‘Relax…why are you so jittery? Count in your mind…it is okay,’ Dondor gently told her and they had
‘Had I been alone and walking with my eyes closed I would have fallen,’ Onaatah muttered. Dondor laughed.
‘What is that smell, Bah? Something is burning?’ Onaatah asked. She knew Dondor would have an answer to her query. Only she did not know how he managed to know these little details.
‘Nothing…it is Kong Lucy’s house…she still uses firewood to cook…she says she hates all other fuel….You know when I was little I used to come here to Kong Lucy’s house every morning. She would keep some tea for me…and then I would follow her to the forest to collect firewood…you should go to the forest someday. You will hear the chirping of so many birds… it feels like they wait to sing for you. She says the forest is green and beautiful. I don’t know what green looks like, but now whenever I hear that word I know it means something fresh and beautiful.’
Hand-in-hand they walked and cross another lane. They kept walking a few more steps and Dondor called out, ‘Aye Mark…your bucket is overflowing man…’
‘Bucket?’ Onaatah asked tempted to open her eyes.
‘This fellow has this habit of leaving his overflowing bucket by the stream…why you didn’t hear the sound of water?’ Onaatah clearly had no idea and they crossed a bamboo culvert.
‘Is that a bamboo culvert? Or wood?’ she asked.
‘Bamboo. When this was being made, they said we should have a cement culvert. But we never got the money so when Mark won at his archery bet, he gave us the money to make this.’
They could feel the breeze from the river and Onaatah for once guessed it right. As they walked they also heard church bells.
‘Are…are we near the church?’ Onaatah knew the church was not very near to the river. But the bells made her wonder if they had taken a shortcut.
‘Wrong…you heard the bells right…but it is the wind that played with you…it carries the sound of the bells to this place…the church is still a little away from here.’
As they walked Onaatah heard kids shouting and singing. She knew the school had got over. They passed the blacksmith and Onaatah failed to guess what it was. Dondor laughed and told her that he really could see better than her.
‘There we have come to the church. Do you want to come in and pray?’ Dondor asked her. Onaatah looked at the church and her eyes filled up. It had been almost twenty months since the attack and she hadn’t ever had the will to go to a church.
‘Yes,’ she said in a small voice and they entered the church.
About the Author
Paulami DuttaGupta is a novelist and screenwriter. She shuttles between Kolkata and Shillong. She has worked as a radio artist, copywriter, journalist and a television analyst at various stages of life, having been associated withAIR Shillong, The Times of India—Guwahati-Shillong Plus, ETV Bangla, The Shillong Times, Akash Bangla andSony Aath. Her short stories have appeared in various anthologies and literary magazines.
Paulami also writes on politics, social issues and cinema. Her articles have appeared in Swarajya, The Forthright, NElive, The Frustrated Indian and Mumbai Mom. Paulami’s first film as screenwriter, Ri-Homeland of Uncertainty, was awarded the National Award for the Best Khasi Film at the 61st National Film awards. She is currently writing the screenplay of Iewduh, a Khasi film, and working on a couple of short films. Research on a documentary is also keeping her busy these days.
A Thousand Unspoken Words, her fourth book, was published by Readomania.
Onaatah—of the earth is an adaptation of the National Award winning film by the same name. Onaatah was awarded the Best Khasi Film at the 63rd National Film awards.
She can be reached at www.paulamidutta.in and @ShillongGal.
(Contributed by Piyusha Vir, Marketing Specialist, Readomania).
Editor’s Note: Excerpted with permission from ‘Onaatah—of the Earth’, by Paulami DuttaGupta, published by Readomania. It is reproduced as received. DT has not edited it.
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