Asst. Prof. of .English Ramappa Engineering College Warangal
Come, Before Evening Falls is a novel which weaves the story set in the year 1909 in Rohtak Division of the erstwhile Punjab province. Though the story has past historical reference, it has the stark and brutal choices that confront young people as they try and find a way between the impulse of love and the dictates of duty to their families, remain largely unchanged.
Raakha, the protagonist is a problem child. He perceives the awkwardness and shame in his mother’s marriage. His mother was the second wife to his father. Raakha considers his father ruthless as he exploited his mother for his own pleasure. As a young girl, his mother was sent to assist her sister’s delivery who in turn gets pregnant twice and later discarded to her fate. Her older sister hated her and blamed her for seducing her husband and also for his transgressions. Raakha, along with his mother and younger brother had slowly been edged out. They live like servants in their own house. If it wasn’t for his mamaji , Raakha would not have got education.
Jugni was Chaudary Hukum singh’s niece .They were Jats. It is a society governed by strict marriage rules and the diktats of the Khap panchayat. The village is Kaala Saand named after a dead bull. She is the first person to see the new teacher Raakha. Jugni feels a thrill run through her body when she sees Raakha. She wonders at the unknown reason that causes her heart shrink at the thought of Raakha. Jugni and Raakha have their first acquaintance at the family well. Since then he visits her house regularly to meet her uncles Chaudary Hukum singh and Tau. Once, he stops her by holding her wrist saying that they make better friends rather than enemies. It becomes difficult for her to come out of the first crush. Since then she eagerly waits for their next encounter. Jugni was no fool for she knew exactly what happened between men and women. What she wanted to know was what happened underneath that happening. She not only mulled between the chemistry between the men and women but also how life could cut a person in a zig zaq- the loyalties on one side and the personal interests on the other. Jugni’s loyalties lay with her Dadi, Tau and Chaachi who nurtured her utmost care. The novel gives explicit statements regarding womanhood and marriage. Chaachi says, “Womanhood was a bottomless well” (Bajaj 2010 29). In another context also she says, “Nothing remained your own after you get married. Not your body, not your sleep – not even your tears” (ibid).
Bajaj endows Jugni with two persons. The insider and the outsider. In her mind she pretty well knew that she was clear- headed and sensible. She was alerted by the impulses incapacitated at the sight of Raakha. She wondered what if the insider in her entirely took over Jugni and makes her do stupid things and brings dishonor and shame. She imagines her body hanging from the peepal tree in the chaupal at the centre of the village, Tau crying into the turban, and her brothers
tip toeing through the village hanging their heads – in permanent shame. She dares not to take any chance.
Raakha develops love for Jugni. Every morning when he woke up, her face flashed up across his sleepy brain. Her eyes, the tilt of her chin, the arch of her foot, the gold of her skin, the toss of her plaits and the curve of her waist. All these caused a happy smile to flash across his face. Jugni, on the other hand is a self-controlled girl. Though the word love kept inserting itself into her head, she kept sending it away. She told herself that nothing can happen unless one permits it to happen. The words disgrace, dishonor, and death whispered themselves in her head. She does not prefer to choose the words. She is also aware that love begat bastard children. And girls who fell in love either became corpses hanging from the trees or doomed to fates worse than death. Considering the consequences of love, Jugni pleads Dadi to get her married as soon as possible. However, Raakha cannot keep his mind off from Jugni. He tries to impress wherever he meets her. Jugni is just an ordinary village girl – unlettered, outspoken with piquant looks, not beautiful by any standard, still the moment he lay on his bed, he felt that she was no girl but a woman. His woman especially created to wrap herself around him, her body fusing with his. At twenty four, Raakha was a man, a grown man who had known many women but none like Jugni. He had always felt drawn to the company of women. The warm softness of their bodies was a reprieve from the harsh coldness of the outside world. The light of longing in their eyes succeeded in momentarily vanquishing the shadow of rejection that followed him everywhere. The thrill of a new conquest always helped him lose sight of himself of the battle that could never be won. Making love to a woman left no space for pain, it was pleasure but with Jugni he imagines that it will be different. He thinks that he will not lose himself but will find himself in her. He remembers his first and latest experiences. His step brother Malakhan’s wife who had seduced him when he was eight – to the very last – a migrant cattle- herder from the Thar desert. He carried the separate odour of each in his nostrils. The differing touch of each upon his palms. Not one had he forgotten. Even the prostitutes, he thought back of fondly. Married women, prostitutes, widows, were his priority in the order of safety. To him, married women were the safest because they never cried or tried to blackmail. By chance if they became pregnant, no one searched for the father of the child.
Jugni finds herself helpless because it becomes difficult for her to come out of Raakha’s love. She annoys herself for asking Dadi to get her married off quickly. Once, Raakha dreams Jugni running away from him. He pleads her saying that he is not a predator. He imagines tiger pouncing upon her and ripping open her blouse. He wakes up from the violent dream. The last image is unforgettable to him. Jugni’s bear breasts, in the centre of her naked girl – woman’s breasts written unmistakably in the school master’s neat handwriting were two letters – Raa kha. The image was vivid in his head – her naked breasts clearer, more real to him, than those of any woman he had ever slept with.
In reality Jugni is sure that she will not go when Raakha calls her. However, he doesn’t call her. Jugni is torn between herself and the insider. Her heart wants to feel the warmth of his eyes. She
fails to understand the reason behind her disappointment. It may be because he doesn’t call her as her nerves were all on edge from the waiting, and partly because the Nayin always left some new tit bit of a tale corroborating her theory of Raakha’s interest in Kamala, the potter’s middle daughter. But mostly, she wept from the sheer confusion of not knowing how to stop the shouting slanging voices that had begun to live inside her head; not knowing which was her real self; not knowing which voice to be nurtured and which throttled into silence. Jugni meets Raakha in the field and asks the reason for his not calling her. In this meeting both of them try to know each other’s psyches regarding their commitment of love. Jugni’s meetings with Raakha in the clearing field fall into a pattern but still she cannot speak of it as love to Raakha. The thought of speaking about love is to end it because it made Jugni increasingly anxious at what was happening to them setting a constant war within her. Nothing in her short life had prepared her to face the tumult of what was happening. Meeting him was utterly reckless, dangerous beyond contemplation, putting her life at risk. Yet each time she reached the clearing field and found him waiting for her seemed like a home coming to her soul. She knew no place in the whole world that felt safer than his arms.
The thought of Jugni getting married to somebody else brings him a thought to, “Runaway. She will not say no. Far away, to a place beyond gotra rules, the diktats of the Khap “(Bajaj 2010 143). He also gives another thought, “But in what currency would he measure the grief of the girl he loved more than anything else on earth when he separated her from everyone and everything she had ever known and loved since birth?”(ibid) Jugni and Raakha enjoyed themselves a lot of liberty, Sharing of his romantic tales over which Jugni getting possessive gives a picture of their congenial relationship. He often pulled her leg about her name. He said, she was born fitted with a light inside, like the firefly she was named after, shining her torch inquisitively into the dark corners of other people’s souls. Ferreter of secrets, he called her. He cares her a lot for her feelings. Though he gets a chance to make love to her in the clearing field he never forces her. He thinks, “If he were to push her down into the warm mud and begin to make love to her, as he wished to at that moment, he knew it would end badly for them both. Her body would stiffen “(Bajaj 2010 149)”.There is a lot of compatibility and also a lot of uncertainty in their relationship. She always instinctively knew the right thing to do; when to question and probe and when to retreat and console. What would he do when she was gone? This village, this job – nothing would be the same without her. How could it be, that she was meant so much to him, was not meant for him at all?
Raakha has a lot of uncertainty regarding Jugni’s love because she prefers the love of her Tau,Chaachi and Dadi and never does anything to hurt them even if it killed her – still Jugni risks her life in bringing a kurta for him to wear to Hissar but he shakes and abuses her for being very selfish in coming to see him only when she pleased. She considers him angry, irrational and cruel. She thinks, “Perhaps, he was incapable of love. Distrust and anger were his nature. She was lucky to have got out of lt like this. A broken heart can be hidden. In time it would heal. At
last she had not sullied her face and blackened her family’s name. Atleast her Tau’s reputation was safe” (Bajaj 2010 185).
For days on , he had rung the temple bell and waited in their clearing field but she had not come. He waited for her, “Come, Jugni, come. Come before evening falls” (Bajaj 2010, 194). But she never turns up. Talking about family honour Tau tells Jugni,” A family,s honour was everything. A family was like a tree, its honour was not to be violated like this. Honour was the main trunk, if you struck at it, everything else – the branches, the leaves, the flowers, the fruit – they just fell, collapsing in a dead heap around it, “(Bajaj 2010, 199)”.
Raakha goes crazy without Jugni’s love. He asks, “Jugni. Just tell me whether or not you will come with me …….Jugni, you are my woman. How do you expect me to live with the thought that I let you marry another man without making any effort to stop? I will die for you. Jugni, before I let that happen “(Bajaj 2010 206)”.She thinks that there is no greatness in dying for love. She wanted to say that those who die untimely, violent deaths do not bring ashes. They become guilty scars on the flesh of the living. They become wounds that never heal no matter how much time passes. Raakha repeatedly pleads her to run away with him. She feels that it is not just to build one’s own happiness on other people’s grief. She doesn’t wish to be branded as a truant daughter, runaway bride, a blot on her family’s history, a corpse hanging from some tree.
Twenty five days before Jugni’s wedding, Tau dies. At the final prayer, Chaachi’s eldest brother takes Raakha’s chaddar and wraps it around his sister (chaachi). A deathly disbelieving hush descends on the gathering. Jugni runs outside, with full of impulse to throw up violently. He and Chachi, the thought of them together is hideous. This was the man who had held her in his arms and called her his rose-petal girl. And now he was married to a twice- widowed woman.
Jugni thinks, “She was to be a second wife to him! A chattel with no status, a woman the whole world would look down upon as a kept woman, a marriage breaker? A southan, a rival to her own Chaachi? (Bajaj 2010 225)” Raakha justifies himself by saying that this is the only way for them to be together. Towards the end of the novel Raakha and Chaachi are murdered dy Daadi for the sake of family’s honour. While dying , Chaachi comes out with truth that she poisoned Tau. It was Raakha who plans to kill Tau by supplying poisoned tobacco through Chaachi. Jugni finds,” The man she had loved had killed her uncle and seduced his wife because he saw it as the only way he could make Jugni his own” (Bajaj 2010, 235)”.
Manjul Bajaj makes difference in the portrayal of the theme of love. She deals the theme in a pragmatic way. The closing lines of the novel discriminate the men and women’s attitude towards love.” A woman’s way is different. Violence is man’s way, a woman’s resilience. She asserts that women know how to live on. To choose life over death, love over anger, peace over war, making over destroying, each time and every time, no matter what the circumstances are. The novel ends up with an optimistic note of Jugni’s perception of womanhood. She once thought that womanhood was a bottomless well. But now, with a new perception she thinks it
wrong. Instead, it is a way to explore the darkest recesses of one’s own experiences and find the sweet, life – sustaining water within.
Bajaj, Manjul. Come Before Evening Falls Gurgaon : Hachette India, 2009