Bholi was a simple, innocent girl. Her real name was Sulekha.
She was the fourth daughter of Numberdar Ramlal from a remote village of India. (He had 3 sons and 4 daughters including Bholi)
When she was ten months, she had fallen off her cot/bed. She fell on head and damaged some part of her brain.
Since then, she had problems with her brain, memory and overall behaviour. It was the main reason for her nickname, Bholi.
When she was 2 years, Bholi had an attack of small-pox. Except her eyes, the entire body was disfigured by deep, black pockmarks.
With this, she lost her speech. Later she regained speech at the age of 5. This time she could not speak – she stammered.
Other children made fun of her by mimicking her stammering.
Bholi stopped talking to her friends and she remained mostly silent.
Ramlal was a prosperous/rich farmer so there was plenty for the children to eat and drink. All the children, except Bholi, were healthy.
Ramlal sent his sons to city-schools and colleges.
Radha was the eldest daughter. Ramlal got her married first.
Mangla’s marriage was done when Bholi was 7.
When a primary school was opened in the village, the tehsildar asked Ramlal to send his daughters to school.
Ramlal was willing to send his daughters to school but his wife disagreed. During those days, sending daughters to schools was considered unaccepted and such girls had a hard time to get married.
Ramlal could not refuse the tehsildar so his wife agreed to send Bholi to school. She thought it a good idea as there was little chance for her getting married.
Ramlal – A revenue official
Radha, eldest daughter – Married
Mangla, second daughter – Married when Bholi was 7
Champa, third daughter – Marriage will be settled
Bholi, fourth daughter – Marriage uncertain
How did Sulekha come to be known as Bholi?
Sulekha was the fourth daughter of Numberdar Ramlal. When she was ten months old, she had fallen off the cot on her head and perhaps it had damaged some part of her brain. The fall and the consequent damage to her brain made her a backward child and she came to be known as Bholi, the simpleton.
Fate had been too cruel with Bholi. Explain.
At birth, Bholi was very fair and pretty. After her accidental fall from the cot and the consequent damage to her brain, when she was two years old, she had an attack of small-pox. Only the eyes were saved, but the entire body was permanently disfigured by deep black pock-marks. Little Sulekha could not speak till she was five, and when at last she learnt to speak, she stammered.
Why did Bholi talk very little? Give two reasons.
Bholi, after her repeated misfortunes, developed stammering after an attack of small-pox. When she stammered while speaking, other children in the household make fun of her by laughing at her and by imitating/copying her stammering. Thus, to avoid being laughed at by others, Bholi talked little.
What kind of farmer Ramlal was? What was his worry about Bholi?
Ramlal was a rich farmer. His household was a prosperous one with plenty of food to eat. There was not want for food for the children. All the children were really healthy and strong except Bholi. Being an impartial father for all his children, Ramlal’s worry was about Bholi – about her health and appearance.
Why did the Tehsildar ask Ramlal to send his daughters to school? Give two reasons.
When a primary school for girls was opened in Bholi’s village, the Tehsildar asked Ramlal to send his daughters to the school because Ramlal was a revenue official. In the Tehsildar’s opinion, Ramlal, being a government employee, should set an example to the villagers by sending his own children to the school to motivate the rest of the villagers.
Why did Ramlal’s wife disagree when he consulted her for sending Bholi to school?
During those days, ordinary people could not think of sending their daughters to schools. Sending a daughter to school was considered unbecoming to a gentle and respected family. Besides, it was hard to find a boy for an educated girl to be married to. (What a crazy idea!)
What made Ramlal’s wife finally agree to send Bholi to school?
Although Ramlal’s wife was indifferent to sending her daughters to school, she found it a sound idea sending the deformed and stammering Bholi to school. In her opinion, Bholi would not get a groom due to her deformity so the question of marriage was out of the context.
Why did Bholi feel frightened at the idea of being taken to school? Give two reasons. Bholi was frightened when her father asked her to accompany him to school. She did not know what a school was like. She felt like being sold of because she remembered how a few days ago their old cow, Lakshmi, had been turned out of the house and sold. She shouted in terror and pulled her hand away from her father’s grip. In addition to this, Bholi was the first girl from her village to attend the school where sending a girl to school was considered ruinous.
What made Bholi think that school would be a better place for her than home?
On the day she was sent to school, Bholi had clean clothes to put on. She was even bathed and oil was rubbed into her dry and matted hair. Seeing this elaborate process, she began to believe that she was being taken to a place better than her home!
New clothes had never been made for Bholi. The old dresses of her sisters were passed on to her. What light does this statement reflect about her parents behaviour?
Bholi’s parents were of the opinion that Bholi didn’t need to look charming with her permanent marks of smallpox on her face and stammering in addition to her deformity. They could not understand the child’s inner cravings for new dresses and new things. They discriminated Bholi from her sisters and brothers.
Pick out relevant facts from the unit which suggest that the society was against girls education.
During Bholi’s time, society was indifferent to education for girls. It was a time when woman was supposed to be a domestic animal, giving birth to her husband’s children and do all the works for the family when men had his freedom. If a woman was educated, it was believed, she would shirk from her responsibilities and the social structure would break.
How did Bholi feel like on the first day in the school? OR What drew Bholi to the atmosphere of her school?
When Ramlal handed Bholi over to the headmistress, Bholi felt left alone. She looked about her with fear-laden eyes. She saw girls squatting on mats and reading from books or writing on slates. The headmistress asked Bholi to sit down in a corner in one of the classrooms. She was altogether scared of everything because she had never been to a school before. She did not understand what was going on in the classroom. There were pictures of horses, goats, parrots and cows on the classroom wall. On the other hand, she felt good to be in the company of several girls and her good teacher who was very patient and loving.
What impression did her teacher lay on Bholi?
And suddenly Bholi noticed that the teacher was standing by her side, smiling at her. “What’s your name, little one?” “Bh-Bho-Bho.” She could stammer no further than that. Then she began to cry and tears flowed from her eyes in a helpless flood. She kept her head down as she sat in her corner, not daring to look up at the girls who, she knew, were still laughing at her When the school bell rang, all the girls scurried out of the classroom, but Bholi dared not leave her corner. Her head still lowered, she kept on sobbing. “Bholi.” The teacher’s voice was so soft and soothing! In all her life she had never been called like that. It touched her heart.
“Get up,” said the teacher. It was not a command, but just a friendly suggestion. Bholi got up. “Now tell me your name.” Sweat broke out over her whole body. Would her stammering tongue again disgrace her?’ For the sake of this kind woman, however, she decided to make an effort. She had such a soothing voice; she would not laugh at her. “Bh-Bh-Bho-Bho,” she began to stammer. “Well done, well done,” the teacher encouraged her. “Come on, now — the full name?” “Bh-Bh-Bho-Bholi.” At last she was able to say it and felt relieved as if it was a great achievement.
“Well done.” The teacher patted her affectionately and said, “Put the fear out of your heart and you will be able to speak like everyone else.” Bholi looked up as if to ask, “Really?” “Yes, yes, it will be very easy. You just come to school every day. Will you come?” Bholi nodded. “No, say it aloud.” “Ye-Ye-Yes.” And Bholi herself was astonished that she had been able to say it. “Didn’t I tell you? Now take this book.” The book was full of nice pictures and the pictures were in colour — dog, cat, goat, horse, parrot, tiger and a cow just like Lakshmi. And with every picture was a word in big black letters. “In one month you will be able to read this book. Then I will give you a bigger book, then a still bigger one. In time you will be more learned than anyone else in the village. Then no one will ever be able to laugh at you. People will listen to you with respect and you will be able to speak without the slightest stammer. Understand? Now go home, and come back early tomorrow morning.” Bholi felt as if suddenly all the bells in the village temple were ringing and the trees in front of the school-house had blossomed into big red flowers. Her heart was throbbing with a new hope and a new life. Thus the years passed.
Going to school was turning point in Bholi’s life. Elaborate the statement with examples from the story.
The village became a small town. The little primary school became a high school. There were now a cinema under a tin shed and a cotton ginning mill. The mail train began to stop at their railway station.
One night, after dinner, Ramlal said to his wife, “Then, shall I accept Bishamber’s proposal?”
“Yes, certainly,” his wife said. “Bholi will be lucky to get such a well-to-do bridegroom. A big shop, a house of his own and I hear several thousand in the bank. Moreover, he is not asking for any dowry.”
“That’s right, but he is not so young, you know — almost the same age as I am – and he also limps. Moreover, the children from his first wife are quite grown up.”
“So what does it matter?” his wife replied. “Forty-five or fifty —it is no great age for a man. We are lucky that he is from another village and does not know about her pock-marks and her lack of sense. If we don’t accept this proposal, she may remain unmarried all her life.”
“Yes, but I wonder what Bholi will say.” “What will that witless one say? She is like a dumb cow.”
“May be you are right,” muttered Ramlal.
In the other corner of the courtyard, Bholi lay awake on her cot, listening to her parents’ whispered conversation.
Bishamber Nath was a well-to-do grocer. He came with a big party of friends and relations with him for the wedding. A brass-band playing a popular tune from an Indian film headed the procession, with the bridegroom riding a decorated horse. Ramlal was overjoyed to see such pomp and splendour. He had never dreamt that his fourth daughter would have such a grand wedding. Bholi’s elder sisters who had come for the occasion were envious of her luck.
When the auspicious moment came the priest said, “Bring the bride.”
Bholi, clad in a red silken bridal dress, was led to the bride’s place near the sacred fire.
“Garland the bride,” one of his friends prompted Bishamber Nath. The bridegroom lifted the garland of yellow marigolds. A woman slipped back the silken veil from the bride’s face. Bishamber took a quick glance. The garland remained poised in his hands. The bride slowly pulled down the veil over her face.
“Have you seen her?” said Bishamber to the friend next to him “She has pockmarks on her face.”
“So what? You are not young either.”
“May be. But if I am to marry her, her father must give me five thousand rupees.” Ramlal went and placed his turban — his honour — at Bishamber’s feet. “Do not humiliate me so. Take two thousand rupees.”
“No. Five thousand, or we go back. Keep your daughter.”
“Be a little considerate, please. If you go back, I can never show my face in the village.”
‘Then out with five thousand.” Tears streaming down his face, Ramlal went in, opened the safe and counted out the notes. He placed the bundle at the bridegroom’s feet.
On Bishamber’s greedy face appeared a triumphant smile. He had gambled and won. “Give me the garland,” he announced.
Once again the veil was slipped back from the bride’s face, but this time her eyes were not downcast. She was looking up, looking straight at her prospective husband, and in her eyes there was neither anger nor hate, only cold contempt.
Bishamber raised the garland to place it round the bride’s neck; but before he could do so, Bholi’s hand struck out like a streak of lightning and the garland was flung into the fire. She got up and threw away the veil.
“Pitaji!” said Bholi in a clear loud voice; and her father, mother, sisters, brothers, relations and neighbours were startled to hear her speak without even the slightest stammer.
“Pitaji!” Take back your money. I am not going to marry this man.”
Ramlal was thunderstruck. The guests began to whisper, “So shameless! So ugly and so shameless!”
“Bholi, are you crazy?” shouted Ramlal. “You want to disgrace your family? Have some regard for our izzat!”
“For the sake of your izzat,” said Bholi, “I was willing to marry this lame old man.
But I will not have such a mean, greedy and contemptible coward as my husband. I won’t, I won’t, I won’t.”
“What a shameless girl! We all thought she was a harmless dumb cow.”
Bholi turned violently on the old woman, “Yes, Aunty, you are right. You all thought I was a dumb-driven cow. That’s why you wanted to hand me over to this heartless creature. But now the dumb cow, the stammering fool, is speaking. Do you want to hear more?”
Bishamber Nath, the grocer, started to go back with his party. The confused bandsmen thought this was the end of the ceremony and struck up a closing song.
Ramlal stood rooted to the ground, his head bowed low with the weight of grief and shame.
The flames of the sacred fire slowly died down. Everyone was gone. Ramlal turned to Bholi and said, “But what about you, no one will ever marry you now. What shall we do with you?”
And Sulekha said in a voice that was calm and steady, “Don’t you worry, Pitaji! In your old age I will serve you and Mother and I will teach in the same school where I learnt so much. Isn’t that right, Ma’am?”
The teacher had all along stood in a corner, watching the drama. “Yes, Bholi, of course,” she replied. And in her smiling eyes was the light of a deep satisfaction that an artist feels when he contemplates the completion of his masterpiece.