There was a time when my aunt was the most powerful person in the family. She was very strong and authoritative. Even her husband, my uncle, did not have much say in the way she managed the domestic affairs. It was she who oversaw the overall management of the family and nobody ever had the guts to challenge any of her ideas or actions. She often got into disputes with neighbors and I think she had many silent enemies in the village. When she was around, I used to freeze with fear because the moment she saw me, she would always yell at me for one reason or the other. Because of this, my winter vacations were never a fun apart from getting to meet my father who was living with them. She would always assign me with various tasks, all requiring physical labor. I worked in the fields harvesting millets, gathering firewood from the surrounding bushes, fetched water from the spring which was about five minutes walk from our house and often did the dishes at home. I actually loved the jobs I was assigned although I never got acknowledged for my hard-work, but what I hated the most was the way she discriminated me and my disabled father from the rest of the family. She always kept an eye on how much we ate and what we did in her absence.
As the year 1999 came to an end, my uncle and aunt had planned a picnic for the family on January 1, 2000, to celebrate the New Year’s Day. . I and my father stayed back to take care of the herd of goats and a few cows the family had owned. After all of them left, I checked in the kitchen to see how much rice my aunt had kept for us for lunch because she would always take out our share in a plate and lock the wooden box which contained rice. That was her way of controlling our appetite during her absence. As expected, the quantity of raw rice she had kept for us in a plate seemed to be too less for two of us. I went to the room where the rice was kept and to my surprise, the box containing rice was not locked. I was so happy because I knew I had a very good chance to have additional rice from the box. I immediately told my father and he too was happy. I added a few handfuls of rice to what we were originally left with and we had a very sumptuous heavy lunch after a very long time.
But the joy of our success did not last long. When my aunt returned in the evening, she directly went to see if the rice-box was touched. I and my father never thought that she would have leveled the rice in such a way she would be able to know if the rice was touched by anybody. She instantly knew we had added rice from the box for our lunch and began cursing us like anything. She called us by all sorts of indigestible names accusing us of being gluttons like pigs. We had to keep quiet because we knew it was our mistake. I thought I was smarter than my aunt on that day but it happened the other way round.
However on another occasion, I managed to outwit her. She had once again kept our share of raw rice in a plate and locked the rice-box to prevent us from having extra quantity. But there was a sack of freshly milled rice in the kitchen and she did not doubt that we would use it because it was not winnowed. After everybody left the house, I gave one of our Sharchhop neighbors a bowel of milled rice in exchange for a few cups of rice. The neighbor was very considerate and agreed to keep it secret. Once again, we had a very good lunch on that day. When my aunt returned in the evening, she did not know what we did with the milled rice although she initially questioned us why some grains were scattered around the sack. She could not charge us directly because she knew we could never winnow the chaff on our own. She could never get the clue that despite her economic sanctions, we had a very good meal that day. This was the kind of life I grew up with.