“Stench of Kerosene” is a short story by Amrita Pritam. The story is set in India, and it tells the tale of a woman who is forced to confront the aftermath of a brutal attack.
The story begins with the protagonist, Jyoti, returning home from work. As she enters her house, she smells the stench of kerosene. She knows that something is wrong, and she soon discovers that her husband has been attacked. He has been beaten and his eyes have been gouged out.
The tale is about a lovely young lady who ended her life in an extremely sad way – she married Manak and their love was genuine. However, the problem in this relationship was that she had not yet given birth to a kid – which was exceedingly annoying for Manak’s mother, and so she extended Guleri’s deadline by one year. If she doesn’t become pregnant within this time, Manak will have to marry another woman.
Guleri was desperate, and she tried everything – but nothing worked. Eventually she committed suicide by setting herself on fire, and her last words were “Manak, I’ll wait for you in heaven”. Manak was devastated when he heard about this, and he also took his own life.
This story highlights the problem of childlessness in a marriage, and how it can lead to tragic consequences. It also shows the power of love, even in death.
The Indian culture had a strong influence on her and caused her to believe in the gift of a son to the family. It is firmly entrenched in her thinking that a married woman should provide a son to the family. In India, the mother is supposed to be an ambassador for Indian customs and traditions.
The protagonist, Jugni, in Stench of Kerosene by Amrita Pritam, married off at an early age faces the same problem. Her husband beats her mercilessly whenever she fails to produce a son and she is finally pushed to take the drastic step of burning her infant daughter, believing that it would appease her husband and bring them good luck.
Jugni is uneducated and does not know how to read or write. She is also very superstitious. When she gives birth to a baby girl, she believes that it is a bad omen. Her husband blames her for not giving him a son and starts beating her. Jugni tries very hard to please her husband but nothing seems to work.
Guleri’s parents resided in Chamba. Not too far from her husband’s village, which was located on high ground, there was a road that curved and steeply went downhill. From this location one could see the town of Chamba off in the distance. Whenever Guleri started to feel homesick she would take her husband Manak and go to this spot. While looking at all the houses twinkling in sunlight, she would begin to feel proud again before heading back home.
Guleri’s husband Manak was a very simpleton. He had no education and could not even read or write his own name. Guleri on the other hand was quite educated. She had completed her high school and had also done a course in domestic science. After their marriage, she tried to teach her husband at least to read and write his name but he was so dull that it was impossible to make him understand anything.
One day, when Guleri was again standing at the top of the hill, she saw a smoke rising from her village in Chamba. She went down quickly and asked her husband to take her there. On reaching the village they found that Guleri’s house was on fire.
Every year, after the harvest had been gathered in, Guleri was permitted to spend a few days with her parents. To bring her back to Chamba, they dispatched a man to Lakarmandi. At about the same time as Guleri and her two married friends came home from out of town, two more female friends who were also married to boys outside of Chamba returned home. The girls looked forward to this annual get-together when they spent many hours every day chatting about their journeys, pleasures, and sorrows.
Guleri’s husband, Nakul, was a good-natured man. He did not object to her going to her parents’ house every year, and he even sent a little money with her when she went. Guleri got on well with him, and they had two healthy children.
One year, however, when Guleri was due to go to Chamba, Nakul fell ill and could not work. There was no money for Guleri to take with her. When she asked him for some money, he said he would give it to her when he got better.
Guleri was disappointed, but she did not want to argue with him. She knew he was sincere in his promise, and she did not want to make him angry.
A few days later, Nakul’s illness took a turn for the worse. Guleri was very worried about him, but she did not want to leave him alone. She decided to stay with him and nurse him back to health.
A few days passed, and Nakul showed no signs of improvement. Guleri was beginning to get desperate. She knew her parents would be worried about her, but she could not leave Nakul alone.
One night, Nakul woke up in a delirium. He called out for Guleri and asked her to bring him some water. Guleri got up and went to the well. She filled a jug with water and took it back to Nakul.
Nakul drank a little of the water and then said, “Guleri, I am sorry I could not give you any money before you left. I promise you that when I get better, I will give you all the money you need.”
They walked the streets together. After that, it was time for the harvest celebration. For events, they would get new dresses made. They would have their dupattas dyed, starched, and sprinkled with mica. Glass bangles and silver earrings would be purchased.
Guleri always kept track of the days until harvest, as she had done for years. She pictured herself in Chamba throughout the fall winds that cleared the sky of monsoon clouds.
She would be with her parents again, and with her brothers and sisters. She would see the trees in the orchard laden with ripe fruit, she would taste the fresh juice of the new crop of wheat.
But this year Guleri’s thoughts were not of harvest. As she watched the girls making their preparations, she thought only of how her life had changed since that fateful day last spring when her husband had brought home a kerosene stove.
It was not that Guleri did not like Stove. He was a good husband, and he worked hard to provide for his family. But ever since he had bought that kerosene stove, Stove had become obsessed with it. He would cook all their meals on it, even though Guleri much preferred the taste of food cooked over an open fire.
And then there was the smell. The Stench of Kerosene hung in the air day and night, permeating everything in their small home. Guleri could no longer enjoy the smell of the fresh bread baking in the oven, or the fragrance of the jasmine flowers in her hair. All she could smell was kerosene.
The final straw came when Stove announced that he was going to buy a kerosene lamp. “What do we need a lamp for?” Guleri asked. “There’s plenty of daylight, and we have a perfectly good fire to light our way at night.”