Contd from “The Ideal?”…
He re-read the letter again in the dimness of the street light streaming in through the window. There was no mention of what really was going on at their place. He liked it that way. Folding the letter inside the envelope, he put it back in the diary where it belonged. He treaded lightly towards the cupboard and kept the diary on top of it. Looking at the woman sleeping on his bed, face towards him, the light unable to flit across her face, he smiled at her lovingly. He rubbed the gashes on the knuckles of his left hand. The gashes were so old, he now referred to them as birth marks. They were signs of his father’s love.
The naive woman thought he didn’t know she wrote to her mother. He loved her for how she covered for him. She really did love him. Was that how his mother was too? Nah, she was better. She never fought back, never talked back. She was always the loving mother, dutiful wife. She didn’t even show her tears to his father ever. His wife had a lot to learn. But she would – with time. He was sure. Maybe it was time for a lesson soon.
He loved his wife a lot. The marks on her body showed that bright and loud. That was the only love he knew. That was the only love he’d ever known.
Picture Courtesy : Pinterest.
They could not afford the granduer of the Durga Puja pandals which were stretched across the length and breadth of the city. Their idol had none of the splendor associated with the city’s most festive days. They were five women praying to the strongest woman deity they’d ever known, celebrating her stories, wondering if she still existed somewhere among one of them.
Not many of them prayed anymore. Over the years, the numbers at the Puja had dwindled. She didn’t blame them. After all, how long can you fight against your own destiny and hope that things will change, tides will turn and the unthinkable will happen? But she hadn’t been able to forsake praying. That is the one thing that she had wholeheartedly learnt from her mother – to pray.
They weren’t a part of the privileged – if she could put it lightly. Goddesses and prayers couldn’t be an element of their daily living. Far from it, in fact. They lived in areas, the others called red light areas. She never understood where the name came from. She always wondered if the red light signified danger – and if yes, then were they a danger to society or was the society a danger to them?
She seemed to have lost herself in the sounds of the conch shell and the bells. The fragrance of the incense sticks devoured her into a trance. Someone banged on the door. Snapping out of her trance, she opened the door. “How much longer will you all be at it? It’s almost sun down. You need to get to work,” the lady at the door, said strictly. The lady was not a bad person, but she wasn’t necessarily good either. She was, unfortunately, just right.
“We’ll be downstairs soon,” she said ruefully.
Closing the small 10 by 10 feet spare room which housed a small idol of the Goddess of the season, the five ladies trooped to their respective rooms downstairs. Taking off her red and white bangles, she kept them carefully in a velvet clothed box. Her mangalsutra* lay beside it. She’d never worn it after her wedding day. Tears welling up in her eyes, she kept the box tucked far inside her wardrobe. She removed her red bindi and stuck it on the top of the box. They were to be used again after a long time. Slowly she took off her red and white sari, an attire which held no significance in the life she was living, an attire that was to be kept hidden away from her ‘customers’, an attire that shouldn’t remind them in any manner of the life that was awaiting them outside the red light area.
Picture Courtesy : Prashant from Just Spoken Thoughts. Thank you for coming up with the beautiful sketch in almost no time! Hoping that this post will allure you into further creative collaborations! ;)
*The black and golden beaded necklace that signifies marital connection and is a part of the married Hindu woman’s attire.
5 years, 2 months and 19 days ago – 7:30 PM.
Pankaj was trying to close shop as fast as possible. The skies were overcast. He’d decided to leave this town too. He wasn’t sure how safe it was for Tara now. The residents were getting suspicious. Tara was his daughter. He’d lost her mother to a witch hunt three years ago. He was afraid of Tara’s fate too. She was nine but her thoughts hadn’t progressed accordingly. Just like her mother’s. The ‘doctors’ said she was mad. He didn’t believe them. But he didn’t tell anyone about his daughter either.
He made the last sale of the day and hurriedly cycled down to his place. He couldn’t figure out why he was a nervous wreck. He felt something ominous would happen. He shut the door behind him.
Tara’s voice was drifting from the floor above. She often spoke to her toys. “Tara, I am home,” he called out.
She didn’t answer. He walked into the bedroom, onto her toys strewn all over the place.
He could see his daughter hiding behind the bedpost. Walking towards her, he kept asking, “Where is Tara today?” She giggled. He happened to glance outside the window to see a group of people walking towards his house.
Picking her up gently, tickling her so she didn’t protest, he explained to her slowly, “Daddy and you will play a little game now. I’ll hide you and you will keep quiet for five minutes. Okay?”
The bell rang.
“Did Tara understand?” he asked hurriedly.
“Yes, Daddy,” she answered softly.
The bell rang again.
Hoping she had actually understood, he put her down behind the bed again.
Now they were banging on the door.
He hurried down.
There were some kids hiding behind the men. Questions rained down on him. “What have you done to the house? The children say they hear voices from the house. The house throws stones at us, they say. Our children are afraid to come to this part of the town.”
“No, there’s no one in here except me. I am sure your kids must be mistaken!” He sounded confident but didn’t look the least.
Just then, he faintly heard Tara’s voice. He hoped the others hadn’t! To douse it out, he began, “Now if you’re done, excuse me, I have to make my dinner.”
But they had. “Wait. What’s that?” He prayed, she would remember he’d asked her to be quiet! But as fate would have it, she spoke again. This time louder. It spooked out the men. The children ran away to a distance.
“That’s nothing. Just the skies perhaps.” He tried shutting the door, but they were quicker. They barged in. Two men pinned him to the door.
“There’s nothing to fear. Please leave me alone,” he pleaded. He looked at the children standing a few feet away. They looked frightened – of the house or the brutality, he wouldn’t know.
The men split up to search the house. Some took out knives, some had hand-held pistols. Hearing all the commotion downstairs, Tara peeked out of the room. The little child thought they were playing hide and seek with her! She ran to another room laughing!
The laughter spooked them. The men rushed upstairs, each scared but none admitting. The peals of thunder and flashes of lightning were not helping!
“If only Tara would sit quietly in one place,” Pankaj thought. But as soon as she saw a pair of feet coming up the stairs, she braced herself to scare her father. Giggling, blissfully unaware of the danger looming on her and her father, she jumped out of her hiding place, peals of her joyous laughter pulsating through the house! She wanted to scare the man whose feet she’d seen, but death scared her instead.
Screams were followed by thunders outside and cocked guns inside! One of those bullets hit the child and it was the last time laughter was heard in that house.
Until… 5 years, 2 months and 19 days later when…
“What is it that is stopping you?” she asked. “Come on in! I am sure the place isn’t haunted.”
He stepped in. His torch was slipping from his hands due to sweat. In the eerie silence of the house, the buzzing quiet of the night outside seemed favorable. All those stories he’s heard in his life of 19 years came back to haunt him.
“Will you even move?” his girlfriend whispered.
“How did she even manage to get the keys?” he wondered. He took his first step forward and his shoes clicked louder than ever. Coherent thoughts were giving way to fear again.
“Couldn’t you wear sports shoes or rubber slippers?” she whispered angrily.
“Well, you never told me you’re going house hunting today,” he retorted, scared of his own foot step.
“Take your shoes off,” she said, “or you’ll scare the ghosts away!”
“I am not going to do that,” he said.
“Fine. Then try and be less noisy,” she said with gritted teeth.
“If you could be less nosy,” he mumbled under his breath.
She held him by the wrist and walked around. The furniture was strewn all across the floor. Cobwebs shone into the torch light, dancing around him. The musty smell of the place was getting on to him. He spotted a cracked mirror hanging on the wall ahead. He averted his eyes lest he saw something he wasn’t meant to.
She kept talking to him but not one word got through to his conscious. His mind had its own set of defenses in place. His body was tense and alert. She stepped on to broken glass. His scared jump had a feline touch. She laughed at his reaction. Her laugh echoed in the house. It was scary. It wasn’t the laugh he had fallen in love with.
Soon he’d know why. She had stopped laughing but the house hadn’t.
Fear crept in her eyes too.
Picture Courtesy : Pinterest.
The last piece of cake was smeared on his face!
“Twenty years of marriage! What’s the secret?” asked a colleague in jest!
“You agree more than you disagree. And you learn to shut up!” Sameer replied at once.
“At least there’s someone who can shut Sameer up,” they joked!
Only they didn’t know it was a joke.
Like every night, that night too he went back from office to find his dinner laid at the table. Hers was however missing. He checked his text messages. An unread message from her said she’d return late after dinner.
Post dinner, he returned to his room – his part of the house.
Normally, he’d have slept after reading a book for an hour or so but he’d expected today to be different. He’d wanted it to be different. Probably he should have made it different. By his bedside was their picture. From one of the early vacations in their marriage, when they were still young and so much in love! Time and tide waits for no man and didn’t wait for them either. They both took each other and time for granted. Constant fights and tiffs led to so much disagreement that they found it easier to live in separate rooms. Yet, surprisingly either didn’t want to leave because they still enjoyed each other’s company. It was a strange situation. And had been for more than a couple of years now.
For some reason unknown to him altogether, he walked over to his wife’s room today. Her room was so much neater than his. He could smell her in there. Nandini’s bedside had a picture of theirs too. A more recent one. In front of it, lay a slightly wilted rose. Surprised, he went and picked it up. A note lay beneath, “Wait up for me today, will you? Happy anniversary!”
She came home an hour later. He was barely managing to keep his eyes open, but the minute she walked into the hall, sleep left him for the night. And for good! Her tired eyes smiled on seeing her husband waiting.
“How did you know?” he asked, as she came and sat beside him.
“I was hopeful,” she said, barely meeting his gaze.
She nestled herself in his arms and every single fight that they’d had over the years seemed to melt away in that moment.
Probably, this was their second chance.
Night smiled as it fell upon the two souls. It pushed them to a closeness that not even dawn could penetrate!
Picture Courtesy : Pinterest
The old man had been unwell for more than a couple of days now. The fever wasn’t breaking. He wasn’t worried about himself though. He was worried about his garden. He’d newly planted Canna Lilies in them. They were Madam’s favourite. He would have instructed his helper how to care for them well but the helper was on leave. Either ways, he wasn’t too keen on his helper’s work.
This evening, he’d tried walking out to the garden but he barely managed to reach the door of his own room. The doctor had been called. He prescribed some medicines and assured it wasn’t anything to worry about. The old man chided the cook, “I told you so.”
It hadn’t rained for a week now. It was unusually hot. If it didn’t rain soon, his garden would start wilting. In a long time, he wished his helper was here. Or at least the rains were. Either wish seemed far from being realized.
His son was around the same age as his helper. Every time he saw his helper, it reminded him of his son; a reminder that wasn’t happy or heart-stopping, a reminder that was melancholic and heartbreaking. His son was a charm with plants, but didn’t see the charm in them. “I want to do something bigger,” he used to say.
But the old man didn’t know anything bigger. Sure enough, there were bigger businesses he knew about, like the one Sir and Madam were doing. But at the end of the day, even they would come and admire his work. “What was bigger then?”, he thought. Even after his son had started working in another city, he stayed back with Sir and Madam. They loved his work and he used to love working for them. They’d given him a place to stay in their servants quarters.
After the doctor left, he tried sitting up to look at what he could of his gardens. It was dim now post dusk and his feeble eyes didn’t help either. He spent his evening alternately watching the blades of the fan rotate and dozing.
Night fell early and in spite of having slept almost all day, he slept like a log through the night too. He awoke well after the Sun had risen. He was rolling in sweat and blankets. The fever had broken. He turned towards the window and there were drops of water clinging onto the grills of the window.
Hopeful, he went up to the window. It wasn’t an easy walk but far less painful than yesterday. Indeed, they were water droplets. As he stood in the pool of water below his window, his eyes saw moist and glistening grass outside his window. The flowers were gleaming and waving at him in the morning breeze. He was ecstatic. The God loved His work too!
She squinted her eyes to block the Sun out. She counted the coins she had and kept them in a hidden pocket, of her money bag, she had sewn in. Today was the last day she had to do this. Not anymore.
She picked up her bags of vegetables. She saw the vendor stare at her mammary glands. Shuddering at the thought of what he may be thinking, she walked away. Today was the last day she would walk away silently. Not anymore.
She walked down to her home, no, her husband’s home. The men of the village knew what she was. The women of the village were silent watchers. There were many like her here. No one said anything aloud. But the way they stared at her, spoke to her, spoke about her, gave it all away. They were all hand in glove.
Two years ago, she’d set foot in the village. She was happy at the turn of events in her life. From dried grasslands into lush green living. She thanked her fortunes every day and showered love on her fortune changer. At the back of her mind, however she always found something amiss. She ignored it again and again. Her husband’s abject lack of affection, her in-laws’ desire for an early child, the villagers eyeing her with a look that could make fathers drive back daughters into the houses forever, the pity in the eyes of some women for her; it all kept prodding at that feeling of danger lurking around nearby.
Three months ago, she gave birth to her husband’s son. Everyone at the house was overjoyed. She wanted to die. She was a vessel for them. That is all she was. She may be sparsely educated but she was perceptive. She read people’s behavior, heard them talk, noticed things around. She didn’t want to believe her fate. Her husband had married her for a child. Like the other men in the village, he would sell her off after that. The first time her mother in law hugged her was after the test confirmed she was bearing a boy. She sobbed all night.
Once her son was born, she was rarely allowed to be with him. She was to only feed him and take care of him after the others were tired of playing with him. All she became was a nanny to her own son. She had hoped things would change after her child’s birth. They did. The people of the house showered affection. On her son.
Vinita left her office late tonight. There was work to do and her husband was not in town also. She was just going home for dinner and sleep. What she did not account for was the weather! She’d barely walked five minutes from her office that winds started blowing the dust and grime from the road into her eyes, hair, everywhere! The weather turned nasty within seconds and she knew if she didn’t find a cab immediately she would be stuck for a while in the rain. But as usual, taxis weren’t available just when she needed it the most. She walked to the nearest taxi assistance bay and stood in the shade provided hoping like everything else in this city, this wouldn’t be shoddy enough to fly away with the winds.
A young couple came and stood near her in just a while. It had started raining by then. She was struggling to make her umbrella keep the windy rains at bay. So was the guy standing beside her. His girlfriend (Vinita assumed) started laughing and told him, “You know it’s really okay if we get wet once in a while. And as it is I don’t think the umbrella is going to be any good against these winds.” Laughing in agreement, he snuggled her closer.
She smiled at her own naivety and closed the umbrella for good. She didn’t want to stare at them but they reminded her of her younger self and Shashank. Shashank used to love those long walks after the rain, the dinners at the dhaba, and those little surprises he used to spring at her every now and then, she reminisced! Her brother used to say he could see the love in their eyes. They were inseparable. Still are. Work made them too busy for each other. Not that it reduced their love in any manner, but still. It made her sad at times. She missed those times when their time together was entirely theirs. She missed those courtship and early marriage days when they were still discovering each other. She missed those times when she used to gasp at tickets for sudden weekend getaways or a Sunday brunch in bed.
But the signs of love were unmissable. The routine peck before dropping her to office, the occasional Sunday dinners at her favourite diner, sitting with her in the balcony in silence just looking at her while she stared out at the celestial bodies, the cute way in which he still held her hand when they were at social gatherings or the firm grip when in crowds.
Her phone’s vibrations startled her! ‘Shashank calling’ it flashed. So looks like hubby’s day is over, she thought smiling at the phone. Wiping her wet hand on her already wet trousers, she swiped the answer icon.
“Hi,” she answered.
“Hi, Vini! Where are you?”, he asked.
“Oh don’t ask. I still haven’t reached home.I left office late today.”
“Oh! You’re stuck in the rain?” he asked and then cursed himself! She heard both!
“Yes. Wait. How do you know?” she immediately asked.
“Baby, I am waiting at the door for you. I thought I’ll surprise you by flying in a day early! But guess who’s surprised?,” he asked mockingly. “Oh and I should tell you I don’t have the keys. My set is lying inside the house.”
Laughing aloud, barely able to contain her happiness, hand out stretched in the rain, she looked up towards the sky closing her eyes to send a silent ‘Thank You’ to the one above, while she said to her love, “Serves you right! Now wait for me, while I wade through these waters to get to you!”
“Like I had any other option! I am really hungry. Come soon!,” he said keeping the line, not before saying, “I love you.”
“I love you too.”