The Anklet, a short story that could be true by Sathya Saran

‘Hundred rupees, bus, not more.’ Glint in the eye, is it avarice she sees. Or the shine of the metal he holds in his hand.


One single ornament. Caressed by dust, marked by wear.

Each dent has a story. The one she can see, as he holds the paijan up against the light, looking at it this way and that, was when her son dropped it. Crying for it, pulling at it against her ankle, till she felt her delicate bones would crack. She had handed it to him then, and he had promptly taken it to his mouth. Sharp edges cutting tender gums with teeth just venturing into the light out of the pink darkness they had waited for long months in. Cries, and a clatter of metal on the floor. 

Her mind had been torn, the child crying, a drop of blood visible in the open mouth; the clatter of her ornament, making her instinctively bend to pick it up. And then the dent. Which could never be mended.

‘Tell me, do you want to sell? I am a busy man.’

Sell ... does she want to sell? She does and she does not. She must.


The bottom of the plastic jar is visible through the few grains left. Her husband is yet to return from the town he set off for four months ago. The money has not come for three. She wonders what could have happened. And alone here, in practically the wilderness with no blessing of electricity to connect to the outside world, there was no way to find out.

The old man hacks pitifully, and the medicine has to stop the cough before it travels from his throat to the child who plays on his bed all day, while she does her chores. If only she would be able to find work. But who would give a ‘memsahib’ work in the village? She could catch the rattling bus that bumps through once a day and go to the nearest town, but the old man cannot be left alone. She would not dare to take that chance.


‘Hundred?’ she asks, ‘it is worth much more.’ The man measures her with his eyes, measuring will, need, body and defiance all at one glance.

‘It's old, bent, dented, ugly.’ He spits sideways near his feet. ‘No one else will buy it. And it is not even pure silver.’

He had crafted it of metal. An alloy he had boiled and tended till it was hard enough to bear the vicissitudes of a woman walking, bending, sitting squatting, living life in every step she took, and yet soft enough to bend and turn into the shape he gave it. A musical shape she had called it. A note of music. A love note, he had joked, a curvaceous love note, and held her eyes till she had melted.

Yes the silver was only in the decoration. In the little beads that patterned the surface, in the oblongs and diamonds and the little designs created by them. She would hold it to the light and watch them glinting like diamonds. In the night they lit the path of our love, she thought. Who else wore paijans crafted by hand by a lover?

‘A hundred and ten. Take it or leave it.’ He crashed the ornament down on the glass top of the table that stood between them.


A hundred and ten. It would buy medicine for the old man, rice for a week, and some dal. The  vegetable garden she tended in the back yard would make up the rest of the meals for a week, maybe more. Maybe by then, he would return. Why did he not write, or send a message somehow. They were not illiterates!

Teach them, he had said, when they set down their bags in the little house they had taken as their own in the village. Let us teach them, let us give back something to the country. Ideals ... How wide-eyed his zeal had made her, she had agreed with alacrity. Though the child did make her worry a bit. What if he fell ill? Well, the bus would chug them to the health centre ten miles away.


‘We will cross that bridge when it comes,’ he had laughed, tousling her hair, ‘quit worrying. We have a mission.’ 

Mothers worry, and she worried now that the little boy, his eyes like his father's, his nose a little button of brown, and his smile a perfect foil for the electricity that they did not have, would fall ill from lack of nourishment.

The villagers had been kind, but they were poor and she could not accept their gifts of food and grain beyond a point.

One ornament, one single piece. She would sell it away, nay she would pawn it. And redeem it. It would come back. Of that she was sure.

‘Hundred and fifty.’ Her voice had all the authority of the school teacher she was. ‘There is so much silver in it. My husband made it himself, I know how much silver the decorations on top have in them.’

Another measuring look. Then, ‘... a hundred and twenty. Or...’ a long long pause, as he picked up the paijan in his fat hands bedecked with rings of coral and yellow stone ‘... I can melt it and weigh the silver and pay you accordingly, if you claim it is worth much more.’

Her heart contracted, she held her breath. Love could not be melted away, reduced to cash.  ‘No,’ she cried, her eyes almost touching him with their entreaty. ‘I will take hundred and twenty.’

The tears came at night. After the meal, after the child had asked for his father and finally fallen asleep on her lap.

Her husband came back a week later.

It did not matter what had befallen him, the abduction, the release, the escape. He was back. The hunger, the pain everything was forgotten. But the bare ankle was a reproach he could not bear. Holding the notes in an urgent clasp, she repaired in quick steps to the shop.


‘You did not come, and I sold it.’ Final, unashamed. And another few hundreds thrust into her palm as a substitute for the irreplaceable loss.


In another place, a year later, the ankle embellished by the paijan caught the eye of a jeweller. ‘Nice,’ he said, ‘very beautiful and rare. I know it is from Orissa but it is a rare piece.’

‘I bought it on a trip, it was in a window and it fitted me fine,’ she said.


‘Someone must have sold it for the price of silver on it,’ the jeweller said. ‘Poor woman.’


And suddenly there was sadness.



Sathya Saran is a writer, who is also a journalist. She spent twenty-six years with Femina during twelve of which she edited the magazine. She has also launched and edited a weekly magazine for women, called ME, for DNA. The short story and poetry have been strong features in both magazines while she edited them.

Her publications include a collection of short stories, The Dark Side, Manjul Publishers, 2007, the biography Ten Years with Guru Dutt, Penguin India, 2008, and the collection, From Me to You, Westland, 2009. She is currently working on a biography of the composer S D Burman for Harper Collins, India.

Sathya also dabbles in theatre, loves travelling (luxury style or backpacking as the occasion dictates). The Anklet emerged from a journey to Orissa.