previous chapter
Poshan Pande (b. 1932)
next chapter

Poshan Pande (b. 1932)

A surprise ending and a carefully constructed plot are the characteristic features of Pande's stories. Many relate minor incidents from daily life or adopt everyday items as symbols of conflict, jealousy, or anger. Although "A Sweater for Brother-in-law" (Bhinajyuko Svetar ) is generally recognized as his greatest story, it has a great deal in common with other, equally subtle tales such as "Krishna Das's Wall Clock" (Krishnadasko Bhitta-Ghadi ), "Fingers" (Aumla ), and "Radheshyam's Bicycle" (Radheshyamko Saikal ). The popularity of Pande's stories is evident from the recent publication of a fourth edition of his first collection. Pande's stories are published in three volumes: Ankhijhyal (Lattice Window, 1964), Manas (The Mind, 1968), and Hiumma Padeka Dobaharu (Marks in the Snow, 1975).

A Sweater For Brother-In-Law (Bhinajyuko Svetar)

Sabita came gamboling over to Shanti and said, "Sister! Brother-in-law says we're going to the cinema!"

"Tell him I'm not going," Shanti spoke quietly, but her tone was severe.

Sabita stood there for a moment, nonplussed. Her sister was so dull, she thought, she was indifferent to fun. How much older was she, after all? There was only five years between them. Sabita left, silently scorning her sister's foolishness, but before she had gone very far Shanti called her back.

"Did you offer to come and tell me?" she asked. "Or did he send you to me himself?" She put on a more cheerful expression.


Sabita was puzzled. She knelt down and toyed with her sister's plait. "I was sitting out in the garden enjoying the sunshine," she began, in a voice as timid as her nature, "and brother-in-law came and asked me if I'd like to go to the cinema. So I said I'd come and ask you."

The cheerfulness fell from Shanti's face, like a drop of shining dew falling from a blade of grass in a light morning breeze. But this time she had nothing cross to say. "Alright," she said, "I'll come."

"Good, sister!" Sabita's gladness burst from her like a cascading stream. Her feelings were easily read in her face. Still, a doubt lingered on deep inside Shanti. Time and again she tried to dispel it, but it went on confronting and nagging her.

Sabita had come to stay with her elder sister some months before. They had been great friends since childhood. Shanti still felt like kissing her sometimes for her childish ways and liveliness: Sabita still played hide-and-seek and blindman's buff. Her behavior and manner remained unchanged, but although she did not realize it, she was gradually maturing. Shanti no longer enjoyed such games; sometimes her nostalgia prompted her to play, but she was too hesitant, too self-conscious. Indeed, she was very different from her sister.

Shanti was plagued by worry because she had never made her husband happy. Whenever Sabita praised him, or told her how wonderful he was, she would feel strangely wounded, strangely envious. But she never said anything to Sabita about how she was becoming tangled up inside, as if some spider was weaving its web in the darkness of her mind.

One day, Shanti was sitting on the verandah combing her hair, with a small mirror before her. As she looked into it she suddenly thought she looked old. Strands of her hair fell out as she combed, and her face was flecked with dandruff. Hurriedly, she powdered her cheeks, and her face turned as white as snow. Then Sabita arrived, wearing mascara around her big eyes, in soft white cotton trousers and a pajama top of embroidered silk. Roses were blooming in her cheeks, and her body was young and healthy.

"Why sister, these hairs are gray!" Sabita picked one up and placed it in Shanti's hand.

Shanti looked at her sister's hair. She inspected her from head to toe, but she couldn't find anything to put into Sabita's hand in return. So she just sat there, fingering the gray hair. "Oh," she said.

"Brother-in-law is here!" said Sabita, overjoyed. As Gopinath approached them, she said flirtatiously, "Brother-in-law, sister's hair's going gray. Get her some oil to turn it black, won't you?"


Shanty did not like her sister's sympathy one little bit. She was furious. She saw her husband looking oddly at Sabita.

"I'll buy her some at the show tomorrow," he said.

It was suffocating at the show that day. Crowds of people were crammed together everywhere; there was hardly room to blink. They found a ferris wheel—Sabita wanted a ride, so Gopinath bought a ticket. Shanti refused, although Sabita tried to persuade her.

"Come on, sister, why not? It's a special day today, you know! Oh, what's wrong with my sister? She won't do anything!"

"You go. Brother-in-law will go with you, won't he? I'm feeling faint, I'll just sit down here for a while."

"Right, right, why force someone when they're feeling faint?" Gopinath found them a seat.

Shanti wept a little, making sure nobody saw her. She leaned against a bamboo post and dried her eyes. The wheel turned round, and Sabita and Gopinath went round with it. Shanti was unable to watch; she really did feel giddy now. She turned and walked away with a weary expression on her face.

In a part of the show that was especially full, Shanti became lost in the crowds. She didn't know which way to go to get back to Sabita and Gopinath. Her mouth was dry with anxiety as she strained her eyes to look all around. Sitting on a bench outside a shop, she peered into the faces of people passing by. The cruel feet of time tramped over her, and she began to imagine things—things that made her burn with jealousy and vengeful feelings. Now her eyes were dry and her temperature rose.

"There... here's sister sitting happily... and we were looking for her over there!"

Shanti looked up at them in irritation; they were both red in the face with excitement. Sabita put her hand into her bag.

"Look! Brother-in-law's bought you some oil for your hair, and I've got some wool for a sweater, and cream, and powder. When we get home I'll show you, alright?"

"Yes. Haven't you had enough now? We've looked at everything." Shanti looked strangely at Gopinath.

"Right, right, let's go home. We've been here for ages."

On the way home, Sabita showed Shanti her wool. "Sister, shall I knit brother-in-law a sweater?"

"I don't know! Why ask me? Ask the one you're knitting it for!" Shanti's response was tinged with anger.

Sabita became so engrossed in her knitting, she didn't even notice the days going by. As the sweater neared completion, her face shone more


and more brightly with success and satisfaction. She held it up in front of her to inspect it, delighted with its embroidered flowers.

Sweater in hand, Sabita was on her way to measure brother-in-law, like she did almost every day, when she met Shanti on the stairs.

"Look sister! His sweater's nearly finished. I'm just going to check that it fits. I think the sides might be a little too small. What do you think? Will it suit him? It will, won't it?" Sabita spoke as if she had no time for anything else.

Shanti swallowed hard and put on a smile. "Those flowers won't suit him; they'd look better on a woman. Give it to me instead, and I'll knit him another one."

"Oh, what a joke! After all this trouble for brother-in-law?" Sabita laughed, ignoring Shanti's comment, and ran into brother-in-law's room. Shanti watched her go. When she saw Sabita going into his room to measure him day after day, a doubt arose in her mind. She had spent several sleepless nights trying to suppress her suspicions.

So Shanti couldn't sleep that night either. She got up three or four times to drink water. At last, she looked at her watch; it was half past two. In the silence of the night she rose smartly and went to Sabita's bedside. Sabita's contented breathing offended her; it was as if Sabita had robbed her of sleep. Her mood changed dramatically, and her nails went toward Sabita's throat. But the mood could not last for long.

She noticed the sweater hanging from the head of the bed, and she pulled it slowly toward her. Sabita had started sewing the back and the front together. Shanti guessed that it would probably be finished by the following evening. Sabita's obsession with her task seemed to involve some kind of vow, some kind of powerful penance. Her austerities had not wearied her, however; on the contrary, they had made her more healthy and energetic. Shanti thought some more. Tomorrow night, when Gopinath put the sweater on, she would lose all her rights, all her authority, in this house. He would be so delighted with this lovely, warm sweater, he wouldn't want to take it off. She was sure, too, that she would know no peace of mind so long as it remained on his body. It seemed to Shanti that a curtain was rising on some dreadful game and that the sound of the bell that announced its commencement was making her shake all over.

Then it was as if her hopes and fears all came into a knot. She held the sweater tightly in her hands. They say prevention is better than cure, so why shouldn't she burn it before it reached him, now that it was in her control? But she was not totally unfeeling toward Sabita, and her jealousy soon took another form. Slowly, she began unpicking the threads. Then her actions increased so much in speed that it was as if some machine were rapidly unraveling the sweater, and the loose wool


piled up quickly beside her. In her hurry to complete the job, she accidentally struck Sabita on the back, and Sabita woke up. She looked at her sister in amazement, then asked in a small voice that trembled with fear, "What's the matter, sister? Why are you unpicking it?"

Shanti stopped what she was doing. "A sweater like this won't suit him," she said firmly. "I'm going to knit him a different one."

Sabita's face grew red with surprise. "It's not for brother-in-law!" she blurted out. "It's for you! I gave him his sweater last night. He put it on straightaway and went to bed in it. Go and see how nice it looks!"

(from P. Pande. 6 [1964] 1982; also included in Sajha Katha [1968] 1979 and Nepali Katha Sangraha [1973] 1988, vol. 1)


previous chapter
Poshan Pande (b. 1932)
next chapter