Parud SS: The Heirloom

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Posted: 2014-03-14T22:23:41Z

Prologue

He was gone. Yes, just like that, Major Rudra Pratap Ranawat, equal parts tormentor and protector had disappeared. The promised, nay threatened wedding was less than 72 hours away and even while Paro willed for her Bholenath to somehow manufacture a miracle to change the heart of this very hard to understand and ferocious man, she could scarce believe that it had happened so easily. Not that even for a moment had her faith been unwavering. After all, that is pretty much the only thing that kept her alive and sane through the ordeal of the last three weeks.

Paro had been sitting with Maithili and Sunehri when the groom decided to pack his bags and head out on some kind of a secret mission. Sunehri and Maithili were indulging in some good natured ribbbing, blissfully unaware of the truth of this arrangement that she was getting into. 

"Is Rudra Bhai-sa a closet romantic," the ever precocious Sunheri nudged and asked her even as Maithili playfully slapped her young sister-in-law on her cheek.

"Now now Sunehri, stop troubling Parvati. I don't know if Rudra Bhai-sa is a romantic, but he really cares about Parvati. He will probably kill people for her," Maithili said with a smile.

Kill people for me, somehow the words made her queasy.

"I am feeling tired Jeeja, is it okay if I sleep," she said, feeling embarrassed.

Paro needed to shut down these two kind women right away. She could handle all the anger and hate that... he threw her way, but in the face of kindness she was unable to remain stoic and strong. Her fast developing kinship with these two women was making it increasingly tough for her to lie to them. Worried that the truth might spill out of her mouth, she faked a yawn and taking the hint, the girls allowed her to sleep. Maithili told her to sleep until late the next morning as she would look radiant on her wedding day. Plus, she added that since Rudra Bhai-sa was not around too, she was spared of her carry chai for the fiance duties for a day.

Paro had nodded and locked the door after they left. She checked if the latch was secure, not once but twice. After all, he had warned her. Of course she didn't believe him. There was no enemy lurking in the corner. Certainly not her own people as he seemed to suggest. And she absolutely did not believe that Varun.. her husband was a terrorist, one who put a gun to her head. That hurt her the most. Not only had he killed an innocent man, he was now justifying his act by tarnishing the memory of the dead. That was unforgivable. 

But somewhere in the deep recess of her mind, his words seemed to have made an impact and satisfied that the doors were shut properly she took to her bed. Ready for another round of nightmares that came without fail.

But that night, there were no nightmares. Because sleep eluded her. She looked up at the ceiling and realised that something was bothering her. Something seemed to be signalling her. Like a flash of light. Something was off. She tossed and turned, but none of it helped. When she sat up on her bed, tiny beads of perspiration dotting her forehead, she realised that her cupboard door was ajar and some object, possibly a mirror or  jewellery was catching a stray streetlight and leading to her disturbed sleep. So much for being fanciful. Rudra had really gotten inside her head. She got up from the bed, through the darkness stumbled towards the cupboard and picked to put away the offensive piece of sleep-ruiner when she realised it was the bangle from Rudra's mother, the one with the pretty butterfly and exquisite craftsmanship. She considered it. Somehow it felt like intruding into a private moment, a blessing, a conversation between a mother and her daughter. She should not be the one holding this precious family heirloom. It was all Rudra's fault, she thought sullenly. His manufactured lies, his threats, his need to play God with their lives had got her to this place. And just when she was about to put it away, in an absolute moment of clarity, it struck her that this beautiful bangle belonged to Rani Thakurayin, her friend, philosopher and mother-figure.

She was his mother? He was her son?

Chapter 1 - scroll down

Edited by asmanichatri - 2014-03-16T07:51:33Z
74 Likes this
Posted: 2014-03-14T22:24:15Z

Chapter 1: Dreamcatcher

"Look who is back in time to get married?" Mohini Kaki-sa announced in that annoyingly fake-chirpy tone she took on each time she saw her nephew.

Rudra sighed and decided that he was going to ignore her. After twenty hours of playing the cat and mouse game with Tejawat's gang of smugglers, the BSD was none the closer to making a breakthrough on this case. Meanwhile, his impending court-martial was also two days away. As was his wedding. The truth is, Major Rudra Pratap Ranawat, soldier, patriot and master of his destiny was now entirely at the mercy of a beautiful, nymph of a girl. Thinking of her brought a scowl to his face. And also a strange feeling of anticipation. He also mentally chastised himself for thinking of her as a beautiful girl. Just a witness, he muttered under his breath, just a goddamn witness.

"Where is Paro? Is she fine?" he asked Maithili, almost as a reflex. If he didn't see her for a few minutes he asked after her. If he spotted her, sadly floating around the house he would grab her and check on her well-being. It was concern for his country and his job. Plus, she was somehow so hard to read. She had stopped crying now. She did not get very angry. There was such an emptiness about her that he felt that she could do anything. He would not put self-harm or deliberately putting herself in the face of danger past her. So he turned to Mythili, the only person that he felt any kind of affection for in this madhouse. Perhaps affection was stretching it. More like lack of loathing. But there was an intelligence and goodness about her that was hard to ignore. Not to mention that Mythili and Paro had developed a strong kinship. Perhaps he will get some insight on how to break her from Mythili. God knew that time was running out for him now. Once this thing blew over and when it would be established that Paro was in fact on the side of anti-nationals, it might cause hurt to Maithili and Sunehri, who genuinely loved the girl. But that was an unfortunate fallout that they would all need to live with.

"Paro is in her room. She has been feeling under the weather. So I was just carrying her some breakfast." Maithili said, holding a tray with roti, subzi and a glass of milk.

Perhaps the panic in his heart became evident in his eyes because Maithili was quick to assure him that Paro was fine and he needn't worry. But Rudra wrested the tray from Maithili's hands and said that he would make sure Paro had her breakfast. Maithili nodded. She probably thought of it is a moment between lovers and had a half-teasing, but full of approval smile.

"Rudra banna is already such a joru ka gulaam, Bhai-sa. Hope he is luckier than you in keeping his wife with him," Mohini Kaki-sa offered her patented jibe to Senior Ranawat.

Rudra noticed that Ranawat did not seem to get upset by this. Either the man was developing a strong immunity to Mohini Kaki-sa's rants or he genuinely no longer harboured any hate towards his wife. His mother.

"Of course. Paro is a mighty special girl. How can anyone not want to be her gulaam," Dilsher offered.

Rudra decided that he could not stand here and listen to his father fangirl over that girl..his witness. For a man who was cynical and disdainful towards most of humanity Ranawat had become a very firm ally to Paro. Perhaps he was going cuckoo in his advancing age. Or perhaps Ranawat could see something that he was unable to. He banished that thought immediately. No, he did not need moments of doubt now. Not at all.

He reached Paro and Sunehri's room. Thankfully she was alone. Because he was going to give this woman a earful and did not need a witness. The door was ajar and he walked in, like he had every right to.

"Listen Paro, stop this drama right away. A bout of fever is not going to help you get out of this wedding. Now if you sign that.." he stopped midway in his angry rant when he saw her face. Dry lips, ashen and pale. The girl was very unwell. He took two quick strides and was by her side in a heartbeat. He placed the tray of food carefully by her bedside and slid his one arm under her back and cradled her close to him. With his free hand, he touched her forehead, cheeks, neck. She was burning.

"You stupid, stupid girl. Why did you have to get so sick?" he asked sulkily even as her ready tears, as if on her beck and call filled up her eyes. But the girl was one heck of a stubborn and determined soul as she did not let one of it drop. She had been like this for a few days now. The tears had not dried up, she was just drinking them all up.

"I.. don't touch me. Go away," she attempted to push him away, her arms flailing. He attempted to grab her wrists, partly to save himself from her blows and partly to control her. This had become the pattern of their interaction. She would do something to make him livid. Then she would recoil and try and make herself smaller. This somehow made him a little concerned and he would try to reach her, physically which brought a mix of fear and disgust in her. She would proceed to attack him and he try and tame her. Until she broke and he won. Neither could he be gentle with her or she let him be. The battle lines were drawn very firmly. One that Major Rudra Pratap Ranawat intended to win.

"Mythili said that you were perfectly fine until last night. So what did you do between then and this morning to get into this.." he gestured towards her face and dishevelled self, "that has made you so ill."

"Am I not allowed to fall ill without your permission now," she asked, in her quiet, yet firm voice that he was now all too familiar with and had a grudging respect for.

"Let me make this amply clear once again. You are not allowed to do anything without my permission. Get that into the thick head of yours and both of us will be saved some time and effort," he said as he walked up to the table with a jug of water, poured out some into his handkerchief, neatly folded it and placed it on her forehead. 


The fever had probably weakened her or perhaps his words had the desired impact as she submitted herself to him. She lay on the bed, curled up while he tried to take off the sting of her fever by wiping her forehead, face and arms with the wet cloth. He was gentle with her now. He realised that he was intruding into her private physical space and tried to be as nonchalant and matter-of-fact as possible. He didn't meet her eyes instead just looked behind her bed where there was photograph of a smiling Sunehri, Samrat and Sumer. He could sense that her eyes were on him and somehow that unnerved him. He got up from the bed abruptly.

"I will send some medicines through Maithili and you had better take them. I need to go to the BSD Headquarters in a while and when I am back in the evening I want to see you completely fine. And even if you are not fine, this wedding will happen. I will drag you through drug-induced stupor if necessary," he said as he started walking out of the room.

"Last night I dreamt of him," she said in a feeble voice.

She always said something utterly rage-inducing when he would have just thought that he had the last word. He stopped, not turning back to look at her. He knew that she would continue speaking.

"Last night I dreamt of Varun. We had been married for two months. I was happy. But I can't remember the details. Do you remember Varun? My husband. The one whom you.. killed," she said and as he turned back to look at her, he noticed that this time a tear did drop down from her eyes.

"Do you remember Vikram Singh? Oh wait, you don't know him. He was a soldier who died when your people, the baraatis of your wedding shot at him because he was doing his duty of defending the country," he walked towards her, squeezed her cherubic face with his fingers forcing her to look at him, "you know what, you killed Vikram Singh. And I don't have to see him in my dream. I see him every day. Every moment. So really, I don't care about the happy dreams of togetherness that you had with a terrorist."

He continued to squeeze her face, even as her eyes filled with tears, rage, disgust, empathy, all of it at once. And then she passed out. He immediately let go of his hold on her face and grabbed her in his arms, gently placing her head on the pillow. He realised that her fever was back again with a vengeance. He sprinkled some water on her face and she seemed to wake up from her stupor, but her eyes remained closed and she began murmuring incoherently.

Namak alag se.

Atan patan chuski piski.

Bindi, aisa na kar.

He watched with fascination as she rambled on words after words. All longing for the world that she had left behind. And her dreams. From which he had pulled her away. He felt a little guilty about bringing the Vikram Singh bit when she was clearly in trouble both physically and emotionally. But somehow the mention of Varun and her blind devotion towards him was enough to drive him into rage. He felt both disappointed and hurt by her. She was in the wrong. Or at the very best, siding with the wrong people because of her blind devotion. He needed to make her see that. For her sake, for his sake and for the sake of his soldiers. But first he needed to get her back on her feet. There could be no battle if your opponent was just barely alive. And Paro had to regain strength, so that he could break her down. The irony of it made him grimace as he headed out of the room. And possibly even in her delirious fever induced haze, Paro had to have the last word in.

Thakuryain Maa-sa, aap hi is Jalaad se maare ko bacha sakte ho.

And suddenly Major Rudra Pratap Ranawat knew how to break his beautiful witness. He had found that elusive chink in her armour after all.


~~~~

Chapter 2: scroll down

Edited by asmanichatri - 2014-03-16T07:51:48Z
85 Likes this
Posted: 2014-03-14T22:25:00Z

Chapter 2: Some Women Are Built From Fire

"Parvati Bai-sa, if it isn't too much too ask, can you stop charring the parathas so much. I know that camel.. I mean your to-be-husband and that three-footed man.. I mean your to be father-in-law like them burnt. But my family likes them soft, with a lot of desi ghee.. you know with a woman's touch. After all, I didn't abandon my family," Mohini Kaki-sa told a rather flustered and distracted Paro.

Paro flipped the paratha to see that it was only a little overdone, still very edible. But there was no pleasing Mohini Kaki-sa or shut her slew of constant insults, altogether too inhuman and offensive. But nobody really stood up to her. Except for her Jallad, who was ever ready to dish back to her in equal measure as she gave . Clearly the apple did not fall too far from the tree. Wait. Since when did he go from being Jallad to her Jallad? Why this sudden need for possession? Maybe because deep down she had given up. This time tomorrow she will be married to him.  A widow would remarry the killer of her husband. She was afraid that it was now going to be impossible to  not break into tears. And that nobody needed to witness that. Certainly not Mohini Kaki-sa. She needed some time on her own. Just then she heard the faint barking of street dogs somewhere outside.

"Kaki-sa, I will give these rotis to the dogs. They are not so bad," she hurriedly placed the rotis on a kitchen towel and stepped out.

"Ya why not, if I can feed that camel, why not other animals too," Kaki-sa retorted.

Outside the house, she found two street dogs who were engaged in combat over a plastic bag. She kneeled down and placed the rotis, waiting for them to appear. When they didn't, she made gentle beckoning noises and that got their attention. With four rotis, there was more to go around for both and they seemed to have called a truce as they sat side by side and broke bread. She watched them, her tears now falling down unabated. She had reached such a state of numbness lately, she did not even realise that her dupatta was almost soaked with her tears. She wiped them away and noticed her hand, the henna had turned into a rich shade of maroon. The groom's name that was traditionally written in the hands of the bride was usually hidden behind the elaborate pattern that it sometimes took a while to spot it. But one glance and she had seen it. And now, she could not unsee it any more. It was as if the R mocked her. It was telling her, you lost and I won. 

And so she screamed. Or what the gentle Parvati considered screaming.  But screamed she did. her weeks of anguish and torment finally being let off steam. The dogs in front of her only perked up for a second, looked at her as if to say, I am bored and went back to the rotis.

"So, Parvati Bai-sa has a voice too," a female voice cut through her thoughts. Startled she stood up to see a woman emerge from the darkness behind her. As the girl came in closer to her, she recognised her as the lady who danced at her and Varun's wedding with whom she had a rather unsettling conversation about the types of men. 

"You are the.." she left the sentence hanging. Wouldn't he be livid if he found out that she had been speaking to strangers. But hadn't she resolved to disobey him.

"Yes, Parvati. I danced at your wedding, I am glad that I am not so forgettable to some people at least," the girl sat down next to the dogs and rubbed their squishy bodies.

Emboldened Paro sat down too and looked at her closely. Why was she here, she wondered. Was she from Birpur? Chandangarh? Were people actually looking for her as he had said? Was this girl here to harm her? She was a very attractive girl, with a pair of kind eyes, albeit sad. No, she was in no danger from this girl.

"What is your name?" she finally asked her, "Are you here to meet the family."

"I am Laila," the girl said, getting up abruptly, "I am here to meet Rudra.. your soon to be husband. Does it bother you?"

While the details had eluded her, she suddenly recalled their conversation about the third type of man. The jaanwar, the animal. Rudra. She remembered how she reassured a frightened Paro to not worry, as she was marrying an actual human. Oh what a cruel twist of fate all this was.

"He is at work, should be back anytime now. Do you want to wait inside," she pointed doubtfully towards the haveli. She was unsure if she had any kind of right to decide what happened in the house and who could be invited it. No, she wasn't unsure, she was pretty sure that she had zero rights here.

Laila seemed amused and broke into a laugh, a bitter one.

"You are so naive, Parvati. You think girls like me  get invited to homes like yours? Unless it is a wedding or something that requires some entertainment. We lurk behind dark alleys and meet you respectable folks," Laila said matter-of-factly.

For an unfathomable reason, or perhaps because she had guessed that she was taking away from Laila something that was dear to her, albeit unwillingly, she picked her palms in her hands and offered a silent apology. 

"I am sorry, Laila. This is not my house. Rudra's aunt is... sometimes difficult, so maybe you are right that she may not be thrilled to see you," she offered.

"Hmm. Being difficult must be a family trait then. Are you sure you want to marry into this family," Laila asked in a sardonic tone, taking out a tiny bottle from her colourful bag, from which she took a swig.

"He killed my husband, you know," she said the words out loud finally to someone. 

She had told him, she had told a couple of the BSD officers, but this was the first time she was able to say that to someone else. And it felt cathartic as she broke down into sobs, her whole being shaking.

"I have nothing to offer you sadly. You want to try this, it helps," Laila offered her the bottle. Paro shook her head in negative and Laila shrugged.

"I am the worst person to give you advice on this subject actually. Because my problem is that he does not want to be with me and yours is that he wants to be with you. He is an animal," she said getting up now and placing the bottle in her bag. She felt into her big bag and finally pulled out a gun. Paro immediately recoiled, moving back. Had she really been naive in trusting this woman.

"Now you are scared, aren't you, Parvati," Laila said, smiling at her even as she caressed the gun with her fingers.

"No... Yes. I have lost everyone dear to me because of guns. I am scared of the memories, not of dying. I don't know," she said and realised that it was the truth.

"I stole this gun from Rudra some years ago. He was new in BSD and one night, after we.. while he was sleeping, I took the gun. Rudra got into a lot of trouble with his officers because of that. I had done it deliberately because I was mad at him. As he seemed to be losing interest in me." Laila said and moved closer to Paro as she did.

Paro stayed rooted at her spot. Not moving. Not recoiling. Trusting Laila. Trusting her instincts in the inherent goodness she saw in all.

"So why didn't you ever return the gun," she asked Laila.

"Have you ever held a gun. It gives you such a sense of power. Like you can fix everything about the world. I haven't shot anyone. Yet. But I have pointed it a number of times at people and it has been... very effective," Laila said, an almost wholesome laugh for the first time escaping out of her.

"But.. just for a moment. Once the person drops down there are repercussions. And regret. And what gives us the right to play God," she said, even as her nightmare of  being caught in a circle of fire came to her mind.

"You are a good person, Parvati. Maybe if Rudra was not in love with you, we would have been friends even," Laila said.

"So what are you going to do with the gun now," Paro asked, finding that talking about the use of guns to be a more palatable subject than the alleged feelings of love that Rudra harboured towards her. Jallad in love? With her? At another time, she may have found it funny even.

"The last few days I have been thinking, who is the best person to die. Whose death will solve this issue once and for all. Should I kill myself and just end my misery? Na, I deserve better. Should I kill you and possibly open a window of hope for myself? Na, you are already winning and if I kill you, then you would have won for sure," Laila said, looking a trifle unhinged at the moment.

"So you want to kill Rudra," the words almost could not escape from her throat.

"Feeling sorry for the enemy, are we? But hasn't he wronged us both? And since there is no good way to fix this, it would be be for the best. Don't you think he deserves to die, Parvati?" Laila said, now holding up the gun up, pointing in the direction of darkness.

"No, he does not," Paro said simply. Did Paro hold Rudra responsible for her current misery? Yes. Did she want him to die? No. Be harmed in any manner? No.

"You know what, keep this gun," Laila pulled Paro's hand and placed the cold metal on her palm, "when you are wearing your bridal outfit tomorrow, beautifying yourself for the man who killed your husband, then maybe the gun will comfort you. You can put it through your head or his. I leave it upto you. Or else, return it to him. Tell him it is a wedding present from his.. not his Laila. No more."

"I am sorry, Laila," Paro called out to the retreating back as Laila walked into the darkness from which she had emerged.

"I am too," a voice came back and just like that, she was gone.

-x-x-x-

Rudra picked up the file and reread the contents. He sighed, putting it down on the table as he stripped off his uniform and got into his night clothes. It had been a long day at work today. Full of hectic planning for tomorrow. His seniors at BSD did not support the entrapment of Tejawat at the Mahashivratri Mela. They felt that religious sensibilities needed to be accounted for. Not to mention the crowds might make any intervention dangerous and it was easy for things to get out of hand and for the BSD to get further demonised. Unless of course there was enough circumstantial evidence against Tejawat at the spot that will help them nail him.

Frustrated, he punched on the table on which he had kept the file. That girl needed to sign the file, that was his only option. They may still not be able to nail Tejawat with her confession, but at least it gave them a window. More importantly it would at least reinstate the glory of his soldiers and help him retain his job. Because God knew, that is all he had to live for. He could not even imagine what it would be like to not have this uniform, his badges - they were not just a source of pride, they were his elixir, his entire being, of his altogether too unhappy life. He needed to break her. Break her tonight. He picked up the file and headed to her room.

He found her sitting on the floor in her room staring at something that she was holding. Her hair neatly tied in a plait, she was dressed entirely in black. She looked.. particularly sad and exquisitely beautiful tonight. Was the colour of her outfit a reflection of how she felt, he wondered. Good. He was feeling particularly dark as well, maybe she would understand him better this way. As he walked closer to her he realised that she was holding her mangalsutra. He stiffened. Each time he saw her hold on to that useless piece of jewellery like her life depended on it, it bothered him. It bothered him because it told him that she valued the memory of a worthless man more than anything else. It bothered him because she was essentially accusing him of being a murderer. And it bothered him that inspite of the fact that he didn't care, rather he didn't want to care, he actually did. He wanted to get into her good books. This realisation made him very uncomfortable. Why did he care about the opinion of someone else? He had never cared what others thought about him.  Then why now? That too a girl he himself believed to be in the wrong.

He hovered over her for a couple of seconds, but she didn't look up and jump as she usually did. He sat down next to her, placing the file on his side and took her hands in his. He  took the mangalsutra from her and she did not fight him for once. He placed that on top of the file and held both her hands in his palms and checked her mehendi. Then very slowly and deliberately he caressed her soft hands with his thumbs. He knew that it would be enough for her to get flustered and pull them away. But today, she did not. Instead she raised her head and her large eyes looked straight into his. So she was playing cool, is it? Well, then she better be prepared for more.

"So you seem to have mended just fine. No fever. All set to be my radiant bride," he said as he pulled her closer to him.

"Maithili Jeeja gave me a kadha and I am feeling much better," she said, her voice just a little breathless.

He smiled. Good. So she was not as stoic as she was pretending to be.

"I think you will make a beautiful bride, you will probably look  even prettier than you did the day you got married to Varun. Do you think I am a better looking groom than Varun? You remember his face, don't you? Or were you just handed over to him, like cattle and did not get to see him, know him" he asked her as he pushed an errant strand of hair behind her ear. He noticed that she pulled her hand away and closed her eyes for a few seconds before opening them again.

"Laila paid a visit today. You remember her, don't you," she said.

He stiffened and immediately put some distance between them. Why was she here? Like he didn't have enough things to worry about. He could not take her into confidence, even though they had known each other for years, they really didn't. They probably knew every contour of each other's bodies and he felt no shame in that, but there was not much else. And nobody could be trusted, not his family, not Laila and certainly not this girl.

"What did she want," he finally asked.

"To kill someone. She wanted to kill someone," Paro said, in a particularly calm tone.

He immediately looked at her then. Could Laila harm Paro? Or him? He doubted that. There were no promises  in their relationship. So there was not likely to be any drama.

"Don't be cryptic. Tell me clearly whatever it is that you want to say."

"She came here wondering whom she should kill; you, me or herself. She couldn't decide, so she went away," saying this she got up, "I want to sleep now, so you leave."

He stood up too, grabbed her wrists and pulled her close to him.

"The mehendi has turned out really dark. Well done. I suppose this means that my mother loves you very much. Clearly you are luckier than me and my dad are."

For the first time that evening, something flickered in her eyes as she considered her hands.

"Yes, she does love me.. I mean, just leave now," she said, putting her palms on his chest and pushing him away.

"What is that supposed to mean? And why are you in a hurry to get rid of me. In less than twelve hours we will be married. From tomorrow you will be sharing my room, my bed," he reminded her.

"We will see," her voice and eyes both full of steel.

"So you have some great escape being planned for tomorrow? You think I will not get married to you because deep down I am a nice person? Is that your plan," he laughed harshly and picked up the file, "listen Paro, just sign the goddamn papers. Because I promise you, there is no other way that you will be able to get out of this. And while unlike you, I have not been married before, but I can say with almost certainty that being married to me will not be pleasant."

The mention of her being married before had the desired impact and she sat on the bed, her face buried in her palms and began crying.

"Why don't you understand, I know nothing about the arms smuggling that you mention. The only thing I know is that you shot my husband, who was innocent and unarmed. If the paper says that, I will sign it," she said, in possibly the loudest voice that he had ever heard from her.

He looked at her. Perhaps he ought to make one last attempt to reason with her, to appeal to her good side, to appeal to her sense of self-preservation. He got down on his knees and removed Paro's hands that were covering her face and placed them on her lap and made sure she was now looking at him.

"Listen, Paro, I am not sure you realise how grave a trouble you are getting yourself into.  Shielding someone who is indulging in anti-national activities will get you the severest of punishment, likely to be a lifetime in a jail. Don't ruin your life because of someone else's wrongdoings. Sign this and we will put you in our witness protection program. We will take care of you. Find you employment, help you build your lost life. I promise you," and he picked up her hands and gently squeezed it. She seemed to be considering every word he had spoken and her eyes searched his, as if to gauge what to believe and what not to.

"No. I can't. I can't lie just because I want the easy way out. Even I can't let down my people," and she pulled away her hand from his.

Okay, calm reasoning did not work with her. Battle. Fight. Coercion. Aggression. And eventual capitulation. Talking about national honour also was not going to lead to any breakthrough, because to her people BSD were the enemy. Ergo he too was the enemy. And she might have sympathy for the devil, but she was not going to make a deal with him.

"Fine. Don't sign. If you have decided to dedicate the rest of your life to the hell that it is going to be as my wife, who am I to say anything. By the way, since your Maami-sa won't attend the wedding, who is going to bless you? Maybe we should invite your Thakurayin Ma-sa. Oh, but she can't come..." he trailed off and watched her face closely. The storm in her eyes suggested that his words had exactly the impact that he had imagined.

"What about Thakurayin Ma-sa, she is like my.. mother. What have you done to her," she asked.

"As of now.. nothing. But tomorrow morning, Amandeep Singh will go and arrest her. Don't worry, after our wedding, you can go and visit her. You must see for yourself the misery that your actions will cause to everyone," he said, satisfied that his plan seemed to be working.

"I don't believe you. Besides, Raja Thakur won't allow you to," she said, her voice clearly betraying her, in that she believed that the Raja Thakur would not be able to do very much.

"Your precious Raja Thakur will disown her. Just like he and your village disowned you, make no mistake. Sign this paper and I will not harm your Thakurayin Ma-sa. I am interested in Tejawat not his wife,"

"Leave her out of it. She is like.. your mother."

Rudra could scarce believe what he had just heard. This girl was ridiculous. She was appealing to the son in him, inspite of knowing the truth of his life. Was she really as naive and innocent as she seemed? Was she really the person who saw the goodness in all? Did he truly believe she was capable of shielding the wrong-doer? Well, even if he didn't believe that, he had no choice now.

"Well, if she is anything like my mother, then perfect. She will have no trouble betraying her husband then."

He threw the file on the bed and pocketed the mangalsutra, even as her eyes lodged a protest.

"Listen, Parvati, you sign that and you are free. Free from this wedding, from this house and from me. I will even make sure that BSD assigns another officer to this case, so that you don't even have to see my face again. My soldiers who perished unfairly and I will be grateful to you. But if you don't, there is going to be a lifetime of pain for you and every person who means anything to you. Starting with your Thakurayin Ma-sa tomorrow. And I will make sure that you don't die. That you live through every moment of misery. Keep this mangalsutra for now, but if by tomorrow morning you don't sign the papers, this same mangalsutra, of your dead husband is what I will make you wear tomorrow," he placed the mangalsuutra on her hands and walked away.

He was done. He was done with her.

-x-x-x-

Paro looked at the clock. It was ten past twelve. A new day had dawned. Her wedding day. She played back her conversation with Rudra inside her head over and over again. She had never had to make a decision in her life which had repercussions on the lives of so many people around her. In fact, she seldom made any decisions for herself or on behalf of others. Her Maami-sa had decided when she would drop out of school. Her Thakurayin Maa-sa decided that she needed to develop other skills and taught her to do beautiful embroidery. Her Raja Thakur decided whom she should marry. And her village had decided when she should marry. Her simple life and the many simple milestones in them. Back home, she sometimes decided what to cook, what colour of thread to embroider with, or something utterly mundane. 

But now life had thrown a curveball her way. Her decision would impact the lives of her people, her village, her mother-figure, her father-figure and him. He, who was equal parts her protector and tormentor. He, with whom she felt an unexplained pull towards. One that she was not willing to think about because it was wrong. It was wrong to the memory of another young man, her husband, who had made a promise to her. 

He, whose loss in childhood had been her gain. 

Paro opened the trunk that had all her clothes and worldly possessions and picked up the butterfly patterned bangle from his mother, to her daughter-in-law. She imagined that the Thakurayin, no matter what her reasons for abandoning her son were, would want nothing but the best of her son. Would want that the girl he married, shower him with all the love and affection of the world. Would want her to daughter-in-law to remain true to him. But could she let down her entire lifetime of relationships for this new, strange man. That too one who had killed her husband. She placed her mangalsutra in a handkerchief, tied it into a knot and placed it at the bottom of the trunk. She then picked up the file, the bangle and her red wedding outfit, the one that she wore during her wedding and walked outside the haweli. Under the starlit night, she made a bonfire of both the file and the bridal outfit and watched the fire simper and shimmer. Normally terrified of the fire, she watched the pyre without flinching. She then walked into the house again. For one last time.

She knocked on his door with a sense of urgency.

"Rudra, it is me."

She could hear the panic in his footsteps as he opened the door.

"Paro, is everything okay. Are you okay?"

He pulled her towards him, as he always did. She now recognised it as an instinct to protect her. And Paro unwrapped the gun in a kitchen towel and pointed it at him. She saw the disbelief in his eyes. Her hands were surprisingly steady through this and he didn't say anything. Just watching her. She finally took her eyes away from him and slowly moved her hand down and shot him on his leg. 

"Rudra, I am sorry,"

She threw the gun down at his feet and ran out of the haveli.

-x-x-x-

Amandeep Singh walked into the darkened cell and placed a jug of water and a glass. He could not believe that just a few hours ago, after a call from Inspector Danveer, he had to arrest Parvati for having made a life-threatening assault on Major Rudra Paratp Ranawat. Thankfully, the Major who had just had a surgery to get the bullet that was lodged on his  lower leg removed was recovering and should be back on his feet in a week or so. He had been surprised that Parvati did something as drastic as this. But the one positive of this was that this incident established Parvati's culpability and the court-martial against Major Ranwat was dropped.

Parvati had voluntarily turned herself in at the BSD headquarters. She did not resist the handcuffs or the arrest. She was dressed in navy-blue, like a widow, stripped herself off any jewellery. She looked rather calm for someone who had taken such a drastic step.

"Parvati, you have the right to remain silent. The BSD will assign a lawyer to you and they will guide you on what to say and what to do."

He wasn't sure if Parvati had heard him, registered what he had said. She sat there, expressionless. He wanted to say something more. To ask her questions. To chastise her. But instead he walked out of the cell, leaving Parvati behind the closed door, with only darkness for company.

-x-x-x-

Chapter 3: scroll down

Edited by asmanichatri - 2014-04-12T12:19:17Z
75 Likes this
Posted: 2014-03-14T22:25:15Z

Chapter 3: Officers, Gentlemen

Rudra

"Major, I didn't expect such carelessness from you," Major General VK Singh, his commanding officer said as soon as Rudra saluted him. Not one to take kindly to being chastised, for once Rudra allowed his Commanding Officer to rant. Because for one, he deserved it and two because the events of the last couple of weeks had made a dent on his overall sense of assuredness. He no longer felt as sure about himself and his assessment of situations and people. He, Major Rudra Pratap Ranawat had made a grave error in judgement in his inability to understand the desperation of a young woman who was his witness. He had pushed her to end of her tether, causing her to snap and inflict damage on him. And herself. The signs had always been there. Her attempts at self-harm. Her absolute unwavering faith in her Raja Thakur. Her fierce rejection of any attempts of his to reason. Her agreement to even spend the rest of her life tied in a farcical marriage with a man she felt nothing but loathing for. 

Truth be told, his behaviour had been more than something that could be described as simply as careless. A pair of hazel eyes, a slip of a girl had taken over his being for a while and led him into a merry dance, a temporary lapse of judgement. Possibly even insanity. Between playing her pretend fiance and her captor, the lines had got blurred.  When did captor end and when protector began, he could not tell. When did pretence fade away and these faint murmurs spring in his heart, he did not know.

After having spent time with her, he had begun to get a sense of her. He had almost made peace with her extreme stubbornness, one that would not allow her to betray the man whom she considered her father figure, one who could do no wrong. While he found it frustrating as hell, he had also developed a begrudging respect for her because of this sense of loyalty. But never had he once imagined that she would betray him. Harm him. Take the coward's way out. It shouldn't surprise him. She was after all a beautiful woman. How could he forget that soul-crushing lesson from his childhood? Those who forget the mistakes of their past were condemned to repeat them, weren't they?

"I am sorry, sir. This will not happen again. I am back on my feet now and ready to get back on the Tejawat case again," he assured his Commanding Officer, willing his entire being to focus on the real issue at hand and not be distracted by.. that girl again.

"Hmm. I am getting feedback from headquarters that they are not comfortable with the way things have gone so far. So, I warn you again Major Ranawat, we need to close in on Tejawat, but not harm him. No convenient encounters. We don't want another court martial to hang on your head. Obviously the Tejawat case is part of a bigger cross-border problem and we need to be very sensitive. Also, now Parvati has legal representation. We felt it was for the best. She is a woman and already there are the Womens Rights Groups that are picking on this matter. Major Sumit Rathore, one of our non-artillery officers, who is from the legal and rights department has been working with her since you have been recovering. He will be speaking with you soon and I hope that we can persuade this girl to become a state witness. But remember, no coercion at all, okay? In fact, you will not meet or speak with Parvati. I think it will be the best for all. Captain Aman and Major Sumit will do all the talking with her." Maj Gen Singh concluded, his face thoughtful, as if he wanted to say something more, but decided against it in the last moment.

"Yes, sir," and he saluted at his officer, nodded at Aman and headed towards his own cabin. He grimaced as a sharp pain shot from his feet. His doctor had told him that it would be best if he took an additional week of bed-rest before resuming work. But he was Major Rudra Pratap Ranawat. He was a soldier. He was not going to allow some white coat to dictate to him about how to go on living his life.

Hmmm. So he was to never meet Paro.. Parvati again? Somehow that caused more pain than the bullet that she had put through his leg.

-x-x-x-

Sumit

"So you shot him, yes? What was going on in your mind when you shot him? What were you thinking? How was shooting him going to help you? Where did you get the gun from? How did you feel after you shot him? Parvati, tell me everything. Please."

No response. Today was the eight day that Major Sumit Rathore tried to get his, what was she.. BSD's witness... his client..  to open up. And failed. She was stubborn. Absolutely unrelenting. She did not seem to have remorse. She did not seem to have fear. Cold. Unfeeling. Her eyes, blank, without a trace of any emotion. Not when he asked her about Raja Paramveer Tejawat. Not when he asked her about her dead husband, in whose memory she was dressed in the sombre attire of a widow. Nothing fazed her. Well, not exactly nothing. If he mentioned Major Rudra Pratap Ranawat, her eyes showed some flicker of emotion. He wasn't sure what it was, he was unable to put a finger to it. But he knew that it was not hate. Something in his gut told him that it was very much the opposite of it.

He needed to speak with the Major immediately.

"Parvati, I will be back in an hour. Please say something, anything. You do understand that we are trying to help you, right?"

Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

-x-x-x-

Rudra

He was listening in to a conversation that the BSD's military tracking had picked up via its radio waves. He squinted his eyes and moved his ears closer to the device, there was a lot of static, the device probably needed a change of batteries. 

Aur boliye

Bas wahi purana

He recognised that there were two voices. It was a conversation between a man, evidently on the other side of the LOC and one of their own people stationed at the border. It seemed like a harmless conversation, where they were discussing weather and a cricket tournament. He frowned. He was a patriot and there was no evidence to suggest that the BSD constable chattering away about run-rate and batting order was any lesser. But it was a bit of a Catch-22 situation. As a superior of the constable, he knew that being friendly with the enemy' was treading in dangerous territory. But nobody understood better than him, the abject and utter loneliness of a soldier stationed in a lonely border village. A mesh of wire, was sometimes not enough to keep people apart. No, it never was. After all, people were so similar, no matter what map-makers believed. People routinely strayed from one side to the other, oftentimes harmlessly. Sometimes they came with an excuse to sell their wares. Sometimes to visit a place of worship. And sometime even a wedding party would arrive with one of their sons in tow, seeking a bride. No. This was a dangerous train of thought. He had to stop thinking about Parvati.

Miyaa, saare match tau fixed hi hai

The voice from the other end offered cynically and the constable offered a hearty laugh and the conversation tapered off.

Static

Hmm. He would need to check with Aman about which constable this was and they would need to keep a watch on him. Just in case. He was frustrated. He was hoping to get some hint on the Tejawat episode and all he had gotten after an hour was odds on which cricket team he could bet on should he choose to.

His feet was hurting again. Perhaps he ought to head home and start afresh tomorrow. Just as he was putting his files inside and cleaning his desk when there was a knock on the door. It was close to 10 PM, who could it be at this hour, he wondered. Maybe Aman had some leads.

"Come in."

A flustered constable entered his room. It was Rana Singh, old BSD hand, a war-wounded soldier, who usually managed their canteen and supplies. He was a kindly sort of man and even Rudra had been less than gruff with him. His limp reminded him of his own father. And the fact that he had sustained this injury in combat with the enemy made him forever worthy of his respect.

"Constable Singh, is everything all right? What is the matter?"

"Major Saheb, I don't want to bother you, but it is that girl.. the one who shot.. it is that Parvati... I think she.."

"What about her? If there is anything about her speak with Captain Aman or that Major Sumit who has come from Delhi...  I am not... in charge of her."

"But sir.."

"I am leaving. Do you want me to call Aman? Or will you call him yourself."

He picked the keys of his motorbike and started walking out. He did not want to do it this way, but Maj Gen Singh's words rung in his ears clearly. He had to stay away from her. Yes, it was for both of their sakes.

"But sir, I think Parvati Baisa is.. dead."

-x-x-x-

Sumit

He was a soldier, but Major Sumit Rathore did not like hospitals. Of course, there must not be anyone on this planet who could actually like a hospital. Not even the people who worked here, by choice. No, there was always a stench of death that loomed large in hospitals. And you could be a brave soldier. You could be fierce. You could be trained to wield every type of gun. You could shoot down an enemy during combat with minimum or no trepidation. And yet, there is nothing like the fear of facing death, not of yourself, but people you cared deeply for. It  could bring everyone down on their knees, even the bravest, most hardened. He had been witness to just that sometime back, when Major Rudra Pratap Ranawat, highly decorated army man, clinical and fierce in his role as a soldier, kneeling down by the bedside of a nymph of a girl, beseeching, nay threatening her to wake up. And the girl. Stubborn as heck, would not listen to him determined to stay in a deep slumber. Perhaps this was the first real rest that she was getting in weeks. A few weeks where her life had completely turned around.

Major Rathore was an intuitive man. And he knew from his very first meeting with Parvati that she was not a criminal. Not because she was a beautiful woman, who seemed too exotic and other-worldly to be involved in a crime. No, he wasn't that shallow. Though he had to admit, he felt a pang of something the very first time he met her. Attraction? Desire to shield? There was something. But he was a professional and had been able to separate his personal feelings from the job at hand. No, he wasn't convinced about Parvati's innocence because she looked fragile, like someone incapable of something dark and heinous. It wasn't that, because he had come to recognise that she had the emotional tenacity and strength that men and women far bigger than her in physical terms could never possess. No, it wasn't about her gender or how she looked. 

His belief in her innocence was triggered by a stray conversation that he had unintentionally eavesdropped on, that took place between constable Danveer Ranawat and her. He had been a little late that day for his session with her, and while there were strict orders that nobody could come and meet this prisoner, he realised that this rule was often flouted. Maybe because she was a young and such an uncommonly beautiful woman, it was hard for even the most passionate of soldiers to not be just a little curious about her. During lunchtime at the mess, in hushed whispers she was the favourite topic of conversation among all the officers and soldiers. They didn't call her Parvati, she was referred to as the gunwalli. Yes, that is what all her years of life had been reduced to - the girl with the gun, a name given to her by men who wielded guns on a regular basis. The conversations were usually around the subject of, can someone who looked like that be a terrorist? An attempted murderer? A girl brought up in a protected, patriarchal society, taking as drastic a step as that, what triggered that?

So curiosity got the better of everyone and people visited her all the time. No amount of orders were able to put an end to it. Some of them came just to see her. Was she really that beautiful? Did she have a swan-like neck? Did she have hazel eyes? Did the hazel eyes betray any feelings of sadness? Did she look like she would confess against Tejawat? Some would come to actually speak with her. Word had got around that she was not willing to crack, so everyone wanted to take a shot at that. Maybe some young officer will get lucky and the girl would open up to them. Surely that would guarantee a promotion. But no matter what their initial reason to come and meet her had been, an occasional soldier would come in and fall in love with her. Maybe it was a transient, just in that moment kind of love, but it happened. In some ways, he found the whole thing amusing as he saw these fanboys hovering around  her cell. It was especially amusing since the lady in question remained unerringly stoic through all of this scrutiny and attention. Truth be told, he did not actively discourage the overtures of the soldiers only because he was looking for some window, to be able to break her.

"Parvati Baisa, are you alright?"

"Theekh hoon, Kakusa. Are all of you okay? How is...Rud... Majorsa? Is his feet fine? And his... job? I haven't seen him since.."

"Yes, Parvati Baisa. He is back home today. But you know how stubborn he is. He only wants to come back to work. Singh Saab has forced him to come back next week. But he is alright."

"That is good. So his job stays then..."

"Yes. In fact, there was no court-martial against him because of what you..."

"Hmm. He will be able to walk without any support, right? I was worried that maybe like his bapusa.."

"Hmm. He is fine. Parvati Baisa, I know that you made a mistake in that moment when you shot him... I know you are sorry.. but now it is time you helped the BSD. They will help you bring your life back in order, please tell them what you know."

"It was not a mistake. But I am sorry. Please leave now."

Major Rathore had stood outside, while a rather forlorn looking Constable Danveer walked out. He had been amazed by two things. One, his witness actually had a voice and had enough clarity to express her thoughts. Two, she did not think for a moment that she had fatally shot Major Ranawat. She specifically asked only about his feet. It is as if, she had deliberately shot him on his feet and created this situation. He had to investigate it.

When he did speak to Capt Aman and few others in the village, it wasn't tough to put it all together. She had shot Major Rudra to get him off the court-martial, without betraying her Raja Thakur, whose innocence she honestly believed in. But the most important thing that he realised was that in her head, or rather heart, Major Ranawat and her Raja Thakur now had equal importance. There had to be something more than mere humanity that made her feel a kinship with Major Ranawat, enough for her to put her own life and future at risk. No, this girl knew nothing and she was not going to be a witness for the BSD. The only thing she had witnessed was a lot of pain and angst, all undeserved and he had to help set it right. With help from Major Ranawat, of course.

He only wished that that he had spoken to Major Ranawat earlier in the day, but he had left it for the next morning and now unfortunately Parvati might be dying after she had, what prima-facie looked like a suicide attempt. The attending doctor had pointed at her wrist that had a cut that was no bigger than an inch, almost encompassing all of her tiny wrist.  Sometime after his session with her earlier in the day, she had slashed her wrist and now the girl-with-the-gun was probably going to be the dead-girl-with-the-gun.

-x-x-x-

Rudra

When Rudra finally got home it was seven in the morning. He was exhausted after an all-night vigil at the hospital. What a stupid, stupid girl, he thought. What was she thinking? Correction, she was obviously incapable of any coherent thought. If she was, she wouldn't have tried to kill him and then herself. All this for what? That worthless Tejawat and her equally worthless dead husband. In fact, she probably deserved to die. The doctor had said that the next twenty-four hours were critical. If she made through it, she would be fine. Stupid girl. He had no sympathy for her. Not for an anti-national. Not for someone who had brought this all upon herself. Yes, she deserved to die.

An hour later, after having taken a shower, he felt a little better. But his feet was hurting and he was hungry. There was a pile of work waiting for him at office and he should probably focus on that. He had a meeting with Major Sumit Rathore this morning. There was the Tejawat case as well, that needed his complete focus. So when he saw Maithili walk in, he scowled at her. He was not feeling conversational this morning. Not that he ever felt conversational. But today his mood was completely dark.

"Devarji-sa, I got you some chai. I know that you came back home only just now."

He looked at his cousin's wife and gratefully accepted the cup of tea from her. Thankfully she was not looking for any conversation after all.

"Devarji-sa, how is Paro now?"

Oh well. Of course, that is why she had come. Kakusa had probably told her. He was unsure how had the shooting impacted Maithili's assessment of and affection for Paro.. Parvati. He knew that they had developed a kinship and thought of each other as sisters.

"She is.. I don't know. If she pulls through the next twenty-four hours, she will be okay. Else she can even die."

"Oh. I hope she gets better. She never meant any harm. She is suffering too much."

He could scarce process what Maithili had said when his father walked in. He scowled at him as well, as he watched his father make his way to the middle of the room, gingerly tapping on the floor with his crutch and finally sitting down on the bed. He did love his father, but sometimes he was convinced that he did and said things only to drive him mad. And since for the last fifteen years the two men only had each other, fortunately or otherwise, he had begun to read his father's moods a little too well. He knew something was afoot. It was the way in which his father would sometimes leave that long-suffering sigh and tap the crutch on the floor, in an almost distracted and restless way. Yes, he could sense an impending storm. Ranawat needed to stop being so predictable, he thought wryly. But more importantly, he had better leave before his father sent him into a fit of rage and tricked him into saying some hurtful things that he would later regret. This pattern needed to be broken. At least for today. He would leave rightaway.

"You came in the morning only. Where were you?"

"Work."

"What kind of work?"

"Listen Ranawat, I am this close to losing it, so don't annoy me for a while at least. Please."

"Rudra-dev, you are always raging. What is new? Did this work called Parvati keep you up till this morning?"

"Hmm. Kakusa told you? Yes, I was with her."

"Why?"

"What do you mean why?"

"Why were you concerned about a girl who harmed you and whom you clearly hate."

"She is a witness of BSD. It was.. is my job."

"Is that all?"

"Yes."

"Babloo was telling me that she might not make it. Is that true?"

He had told exactly that to Maithili some minutes ago. But hearing it being mouthed by someone else somehow made it real. It was like for the first time since the doctor had pronounced his assessment of Paro... Parvati's delicate condition that he honestly considered the idea that she might die. She might stop living. That she will cease to exist. Like some mirage in the desert land, someone he knew for a little while and who just stopped being one day. And he felt something akin to pain. He was used to a lot of pain, but this was a different kind of pain. Small, yet gnawing. No, big and forgettable. He was confounded by that girl again. He needed to get to work. He needed to focus on his work. He didn't care if she died. It didn't matter.

"Ranawat, I have a lot of work. I must go now. I will try and come back early tonight."

"You were going to marry Parvati."

"Hmm. Where is this leading to? Anyway, I was not. It was only to get her to talk about Tejawat. You knew that. I told you."

"But what if she didn't break till the end? What then?"

"What then?"

"Would you have still married her?"

"Yes. Maybe. I don't know. I am leaving now, Ranawat."

"You must get married."

He stopped. What was up with Ranawat he wondered. It was all Paro.. Parvati's fault. She had made the man forget his lesson from the past. A lesson that had served the father-son duo well. Until recently that is. Of women.. beautiful women... women like Paro.. Parvati, to never give them any kind of hold over you. But she had neutralised his very cynical and bitter father. Chipped away his rough edges, turned him into her champion. What is that he said? Like gentle rain in the burning desert sand. No, he did not care for his father's poetic assessment of Parvati. He was putting this all down to senility that was clearly hitting him in his advancing age. Marry Parvati, it seems. Marry the girl who had made his professional and personal life hell. Never.

"I am not going to marry Parvati. I am not even sure if she is going to be alive. Stupid girl tried to kill herself. She tried to kill me too. Or have you forgotten that?"

"I said that you should marry. I did not say that you have to marry Parvati. In fact, marry anyone else but her. The two of you are not for each other. The thought of being with you makes her want to kill you or herself. That cannot be a good basis for a lifetime of togetherness. Marry that girl from Jaipur."

"Which girl?"

"How many women did you make promises to, Rudra Dev?"

"I did not make promises to anyone. You know that I don't go around promising happy endings to women I meet."

"Then it is time to fix it.. I forget her name... ah, yes.. Laila. Marry Laila."

"Ranawat, if you don't know what to do with your life, go ahead and open a marriage bureau. Just let me be. I am not marrying Laila."

"Would you rather marry Parvati?"

"No."

"What is wrong with Laila? You must have found her tolerable to not want to kill her for all these years. She obviously likes you enough to have hung around you for eight years. If a woman does that, it must mean something. She won't leave you like your mother left me. Marry her. Unless you would still rather marry that girl Parvati. She is so much like your mother... isn't she?"

And that was finally enough for Rudra to storm out. He would make damn sure that he stayed at work until late.

-x-x-x-

Aman

Aman paced up and down the hospital corridor. He was doing a countdown. Another six more hours. Parvati, please pull through this. You have to. You must. He had decided not to go to the HQ and play nurse to his adopted sister. He knew that Major Ranawat was not happy when he had called him earlier in the day to inform him. But thankfully, Maj Gen Singh was on his side and Rudra and barked a terse, okay!' and hung up.

Contrary to what his boss thought of him, Aman was not a sentimental sap, losing his marbles over one of their witnesses. He felt a genuine affection for Parvati. Yes, she did share a name with his beloved sister, who had been his best friend and confidante. And whom he missed terribly. But his kinship was beyond that nomenclature.  Parvati to him was more than a name. From the moment that the BSD had captured her and brought her to their prison cell, he had been fascinated by her. What had drawn him to her was the enormous strength she possessed, in that quite and assured way of hers. That had the ability to bring down the most difficult of adversaries down to their feet. Like his boss for example, he thought wryly. And even though his boss was not convinced, or at any rate didn't admit to it, he never felt that Parvati knew anything about the nefarious activities of Tejawat.

But given the enormous leap of faith that his mind had taken, he had been disappointed with Parvati after the shooting episode. In that moment she transformed from a misinformed, stubborn girl to someone who probably had evil intentions. But after the knee-jerk reaction, as he thought about it, the more things began to fall into place. Parvati shooting Major Ranawat was not a desperate call for her own freedom, but it was her way of fixing' the mess. She had knowingly sacrificed herself to keep intact her belief in Tejawat, her father-figure and Major Ranawat, her.. she probably had no idea either.

Rudra and Parvati, two names symbiotically connected, but Aman realised that there was a pull that the two had towards each other. It would be too simple to term it as love, but something more other-worldly. They challenged each other. She dared him to believe and he dared her to question. In another time, in another place, in another universe they would be together. But not in this one. Certainly not if Parvati didn't pull through in the next five hours.

Which brought him to the current situation. He knew that Parvati was capable of many things, but he did not believe that she would have attempted to take her life. Yes, she was broken. She had pretty much nothing to look forward to in her life. But he would like to believe that the gentle girl, pleased by butterflies and simple things, would not want to end her life. She had many opportunities to kill herself, but she didn't. No, this was certainly not a suicide attempt. This was an attempted murder. And this could only mean one thing, Tejawat was within sniffing distance. He hovered outside the ICU, peeped in through the glass. Yes, she was safe. For now. 

Once all was well with Parvati, he would speak with his boss. C'mon Parvati, another four hours, don't give up now.

-x-x-x-

Sumit

He had heard about Major Rudra Pratap Ranawat's rage. In fact, it was pretty much part of BSD folklore that the Major did have a bit of an anger management problem. This constant rage both made him a formidable soldier and on occasion got him in more than a spot of bother. Like it happened recently with the Parvati's baraat episode. This had been the first time in the last fifteen years that this tradition of marrying girls off to grooms on the other side while carrying out arms trade, that the BSD had made a breakthrough. They had managed to collect some of the weapons and cash. But sadly, no witnesses. Except for one that is - Parvati

"Stop being ridiculous, Major Rathore. Your job is to make Paro.. Parvati talk about Tejawat. Not to play matchmaker between her and one of BSD's officers. You may leave now."

"Major Rudra, you misunderstand me. I am not playing matchmaker. In fact, just the opposite. I thought you should know the facts... I mean not facts, but things I have observed. And I have observed that she feels an emotional attachment with you. One can't blame her. She is a simple, village girl. You a worldly, has seen the world soldier. There is bound to be some hero worship. I am not blaming either of you.. just the situation of the two of you. In fact, Cap Aman and Mj Gen VK Singh have noticed this too. Maj Gen Singh wanted you to not interact with her because of this very reason."

Sumit wasn't sure why he felt this compelling need to share this piece of insight of Parvati with Major Ranawat. But he had done that because he felt that somebody needed to address the elephant in the room. He also felt particularly emboldened by the fact that it was three against one now. Both Captain Aman and Maj Gen V K Singh also had a similar take on Parvati and Major Ranawat. Maybe it was as transient as the affection that some of the younger soldiers felt for Parvati. Maybe it was a case of Stockholm Syndrome, which could be cured with time. Or just maybe, it was really about two people finding love. God knew that it happened rarely enough, so why not give it a chance at least. He had at least done his bit.

He looked at Major Ranawat who now looked thoughtfully at a glass paper-weight on his desk that he kept spinning. He was not an easy man to read. Was he upset? Was he secretly rejoicing? Okay, that was unlikely. Had he through his big-mouth put his on own job on the line. After all, Major Ranawat did outrank him on seniority. He was beginning to feel sorry for himself over his fanciful thoughts when there conversation was interrupted by Captain Aman.

"Sir.. Parvati is.. Oh I am sorry Major Rathore, I didn't know you were here. Shall I come back later?"

Before he could say anything, Major Ranawat got up from his chair and all but jumped over Captain Aman.

"What about Parvati? Is she fine?"

Ah Major Ranawat, that was quick. Too quick, he thought wryly.

"Sir, she is fine. She even had a meal now. I came here to say that it was not a suicide attempt. I knew Parvati wouldn't do that. I suspected that it was Tejawat's doing. So, I spoke with her now and she said some BSD constable came to meet her and she passed out. That is all she remembers. I think we need to shift her to some safe place. She can't be at the hospital."

"Or, we keep her in a place that Tejawat can reach easily. We need to lure him. Parvati will be the bait and surely he will come. We will be prepared this time."

Major Rathore was disturbed on hearing this, as was evidently Aman who for once gave his boss a disapproving look.

"But Sir, we can't put Parvati at risk like this."

"Aman, the mission is the most important. And we will take precautions. Anyway, you go back to the hospital and make arrangements to shift Parvati to our guest-house. Tejawat's people will have easy access to it. I will make sure that the place is well guarded."

"But sir.."

"Aman, these are orders.. do as I say."

A forlorn Aman finally left. Not following protocol was a non-negotiable for a soldier after all. He also decided to leave. Clearly Major Ranawat was now entirely focussed on his mission. But he had to express his disappointment at least once before he left. After all somebody needed to fight for Parvati.

"Major Ranawat, isn't this a little too harsh?"

"What is?"

"Using Parvati as a bait."

"There is always collateral damage in war."

"Are you punishing her for.. because of our conversation earlier."

"No, Major Rathore. I am not. This is not personal. Besides.. I think.. I may.. I am marrying someone else."

"Oh. Congratulations, Major Ranawat. Good luck to you on the mission."

And with that he left. 

I am sorry, Parvati.

 -x-x-x-

Danveer

He made his way to the guest-house where Parvati bai-sa was. She was sitting on a chair, her eyes sad, a plateful of food in front of her. Untouched. He had been surprised when Constable Rana Singh said that Parvati wanted to meet him. 

"Parvati Bai-sa how are you feeling now? Why haven't you eaten your food? You have become so weak, you need to eat more."

She offered a smile in reply. It was as if she couldn't be bothered enough to even attempt to form words into a coherent sentence anymore. What had his organisation done to this child.

"Bai-sa what did you want to talk to me about?"

"Kaku-sa, Major Rathore said that.. Rud.. Major-sa is getting.. married. That is..gr.. great. His mother's bangle should be given to the girl. I put it inside the stainless-steel container in which rice is stored. I hope it is okay."

He assured her it will be fine and left. 

-x-x-x-

Rana Singh

It had been his fourth day of vigil at the guest-house which now housed their star witness - Parvati. When he was put on duty here, at first he had been a little anxious. Because he knew the importance of this prisoner and the risk that she was at. He did not like it at all that she was being offered as a bait to Tejawat. He felt disgusted. Even though he knew that desperate times did call for desperate measures. And a soldier could not afford to be emotional. But why this altogether too nice girl, he wondered. 

Of course, it had all been Major Rudra Pratap Ranawat's idea to begin with. Except that ever since Parvati was shifted to the guest-house Major Ranawat had all but moved here, as he guarded the place and his witness like a zealot. He sometimes didn't understand the Major. If the purpose was to lure Tejawat by lulling him into a false sense of security then why this overzealous need to protect her and almost make it impossible for anyone to reach.

The girl inside this makeshift fortress remained oblivious to the outside world. She ate sparse meals. Prayed. Read books. Embroidered pretty clothes, god knows for whom to wear. And sang. Just one song. Like it would set her free or something.

He watched that Major Ranawat walk in just then, a flask of coffee in his hand. He looked exhausted and Rana felt a surge of almost fatherly affection.

"Sir, why don't you go home and take rest today. There are thirty soldiers guarding this place and I will be here too. You need a break."

"I am fine. Is Paro okay?"

"Yes sir. She is fine. She is still awake. The light in her room is still on."

They both looked up at the second-floor, in the direction of their prisoner's room. Major Ranawat sat on a bench and kept staring at the window.

When Rana returned two hours later, he found that the Major was still sitting in the same spot, glancing at the window every now and then. As if on cue, Parvati finally turned off the lights.

-x-x-x-


Chapter 4: scroll down

Edited by asmanichatri - 2014-06-10T13:44:00Z
50 Likes this
Posted: 2014-03-14T22:25:43Z

Chapter 4: The Persistence of Memory


Mala

I have two scars. Both tucked away in places that people can't see. People often see me as a beautiful woman. In fact, a very beautiful woman. And I say this without any conceit. It is just how people see me. Not much else. They see me as the trophy wife of a handsome and powerful man. They think my skin is all honey-like; smooth and supple. They are terrified of my perfection. They pity me for having to be perfect all the time. They even loathe me. But mostly they envy me. They envy me for the good life that I have made for myself.

But that is not my whole story. My story is also about my imperfections. About my scars. The oldest one is from a burn that is tucked away on my right thigh. It is about three inches wide and four inches in length. It is shaped like some continent. Africa, I think. It is a shade of purple. Not entirely ugly and nor particularly pretty. In throes of passion, my husband will kiss it. Gently. Passionately. Like it will somehow take away the sting. Of course, it is an old one. Dried, peeled away, dried again, peeled away again. Until it is no longer possible to peel it. It doesn't hurt anymore. It is just there. A memory.  A childhood remembrance, from when I was seven-years-old and lived in a small house with brick walls, a red roof and erratic power supply. I still remember the day and the very moment that it happened with absolutely clarity.  It was just the day before Diwali and Bapu-sa had bought crackers when he got back home in the evening. Ma-sa, the ever frugal one was not happy. Money was scarce and burning it away on firecrackers was just unacceptable.

"We have two daughters to marry off," she had said with a loud sigh, her favourite reason to explain any of our miseries, either real or imagined. But Mohini Jija and I were thrilled. We were after all but children and did not think money was really in scarce supply. We took the boxes of firecrackers with tacky labels and opened them. We smelt them. They were disgusting to smell, possibly even poisonous, but to us, it was the sweetest fragrance. There were two boxes of anars, three boxes of phooljharis and one rather ominous looking packet of green balls which said, atom bomb. I immediately put it far away from me. It was obviously for Bapu-sa.  I loved the sparkle and shimmer of the fireworks, not the ones that cackled and blew off noisily. We opened the boxes of anars and realised that there was a problem. One box had six and the other five. Which meant we had eleven of them. Not a number that was divisible by two. Mohini Jija called dibs on the eleventh one.

"I am older than you. I should get it."

I had agreed. Plus, I was going to make five light up the evening sky. That was more than enough for me.

Later in the night when Bapu-sa finally conceded that it was dark enough to actually go and burst some crackers, Jija and I skipped behind him. We both wore our prettiest lehengas. There was no money to buy us new ones for the festive season, but that was okay. Ma-sa had lined our eyes with kohl and we felt beautiful.

Jija and I took turns. First she went. Then me. Then her again. Then me again. Five times each. When I came back after my fifth round I looked hopefully at the last one.

"Jija, can I please light this. Please, please, please."

"No. You promised that it was mine."

"But jija.."

Jija placed her palm on my shoulder and pushed me down with all her strength. After this she lit a sparkler and made her way towards the middle of the terrace with the eleventh anar in her hand. Bapu-sa who witnessed this scuffle, had come to us in a jiffy and had grabbed Jija by her arm and slapped her on her face. That was the first time he slapped her. Unfortunately, it was not the last.

"Mohini, let Mala light the last one. She is younger."

"No Bapu-sa, it is okay. Let Jija light it. I will watch."

But by then a livid Jija had thrown away the sparkler, wiping her tears with the back of her palm and made her way back to the house. 

You only love her, you only love her, I could hear my sister mutter. 

I felt guilty. I had after all made a pact with my sister and had broken it. Guilt felt strange. It made me feel hot. Guilt singed my skin. Guilt left behind tell-tale signs in red and blue. Guilt had a strange smell. It had the smell of a burning girl, as I watched almost with fascination the fire from the sparkler that Jija had thrown away carelessly, engulf my lehenga and travelled from my knees to my thigh.

Paro

She was back in his house. Or his aunt's house. It felt oddly like a homecoming of sorts. She had been shifted from the BSD cell to another location. It is a guest house, is what Major Rathore had told a worried her. She had been told that it was to keep her safe from Tejawat Thakur. After the incident of the man who came into her cell in the guise of a BSD constable, who had incapacitated her and slashed her wrist, her faith in Thakur Tejawat had been shaken. Now her mind had begun to ask questions, ones that she had not even considered during her weeks of captivity. Was Rudra right all along? Had her entire life been based on a lie? Was Thakur Paramveer Tejawat the man who was her father-figure, a criminal, an anti-national at that? Was the man she was married to, Varun, a terrorist?

Even as she recuperated at the hospital, she began to think back on every moment of her life. And she saw things anew. Yes, her parents had been shot dead, along with a bus full of villagers from Birpur. It was brutal. It was tragic. Whoever was responsible for it did not have an iota of humanity. The truth of her parents and the murder of her villagers could not be denied. But was it in fact the BSD that was responsible for it? Whose word did they have on this? Tejawat. Ditto for the wedding baraat that arrived year after year to marry a girl, one who was never to return. What happened to those girls? Were they happy? Was her Nandu Jija happy? If Thakur Tejawat was to be believed, then yes she was. It had always been his word against everyone else's, against every sign that things didn't always add up, against every feeling that all was not well, against Rudra. 

She had heard of people who after they woke up from near death-like experiences have this perfect moment of clarity. And she Parvati, after her near comatose state woke up wiser. Less  willing to believe all that she had been taught through her childhood, more willing to listen to what her heart told her. She concluded that Rudra had been right. Always right and he had done nothing but shield her not just against Thakur, but against her own self. 

But that was not all which bothered her about this relaisation. Over her weeks of captivity she had begun to understand the man, and get a hint of his personal demons, abandonment and trust issues. She realised that inadvertently she too had contributed to his lack of trust of women. And this somehow was not a cross that she wished to bear, and so it became important for her to correct this. She wanted to let him know that she had been wrong and he right. She wanted him to know that she loved her country too and had she known that Thakur Tejawat was doing anything that was detrimental to her country she would have at least raised her voice against it. She wanted him to know that she did not mean to harm him, physically or emotionally. She had wanted his forgiveness.

"Why do you need his forgiveness?" Major Rathore had asked her. Major Rathore was her only confidante these days. Though initially she had resisted having any semblance of conversation with him, she had thawed and opened up to him eventually. He had dark eyes that softened when they spoke to her. He never raised his voice, not even during the initial days when he thought of her as a terrorist. In fact, at that point she could see that even Aman Bhai-sa had been disappointed in her. But Major Rathore had been nothing but patient with her. Of course, Aman Bhai-sa had come around, but she had not been comfortable talking to him about Rudra. She didn't want to put him in a spot because he had a personal equation with Rudra, who was more than just his boss. He was a brother-figure to Aman. With Major Rathore, it was easier. At least he did not let in if he had any great personal equation with Rudra and that was enough for her. To her he seemed like an objective outsider of sorts, one who did not feel compelled to take sides.

"Because I didn't believe him all these weeks. And I shot him and created problems for him. He deserves an apology. Don't you agree, Major Rathore?"

"I don't disagree. But why must he forgive you? Why is it important?"

"When you know your actions have hurt someone you love, you want to make it okay for them and yourself."

"So you love him?"

That had been the end of their conversation. It was unsettling. It was too much for her to take. Did she love Rudra? Why? As one human to another? As gratitude? As a man to woman No, she couldn't think of it this way. She would go back to her house after Tejawat was captured and would not see Rudra again. He was anyway getting married soon. Their lives would go separate ways. That was their story. No other story was possible. 

While she deliberated on this train of thought and a resultant feeling of desolation took over her, welcome relief came in the form of Maithili Jija who walked into the room just then. There was a basket of flowers in her hands and Jija smiled at her, a smile that didn't exactly reach her eyes. Jija looked exhausted and Paro frowned at her newly acquired sister. She wondered if Mohini Kaki-sa had been giving her grief over the elusive grandchild again.

"Jija, can I help with something? You need to rest. Please allow me do do something."

"No, no. Devar-sa has said that nobody should bother you and you are to only stay in your room. Now go there before he comes back."

"If I am here, he won't come."

"What are you saying, Paro? I don't understand."

"It is okay. So I can't help you at all? Are you sure? I feel so useless around here, Jija."

"Okay don't look so sad. Why don't you fill ghee in the lamps before the pooja begins. In the meanwhile I will go and call the Panditji and ask if there is anything else that is needed."

Paro sat down on the floor of the hallway and began to fill the lamps with ghee. She did it mindful of not spilling anything on the floor. She grimaced as she thought about how not too long ago she had gone through a similar ceremony for her fake or whatever that was wedding with Rudra. And today, the wedding festivities were about to restart. Same rituals. Same groom. But a different bride. This time one whom he actually wanted to marry.

She looked around, the hallway was empty now, the last of the decorators had left. She was not being glib when she told Maithili Jeeja that Rudra would not come to the room if she were around. He avoided her. Carefully and comprehensively. They never ran into each other in the hallway, in the dining room, by the fountain. Never. It couldn't be a coincidence. It was clear, he had no desire to meet her. In fact, he actively avoided her. Somehow this both hurt her as well as made her feel grateful.

So, you love him?

No, she had to stop thinking such thoughts. She was a widow. She was in mourning. Albeit for a worthless man, but still. He was marrying someone else. That too someone who loved him deeply. No, this is not what she should be thinking. 

She realised that she had run out of ghee and got up to fetch some more. But when she tried to get up by placing her greasy palms on the floor, she lost her balance. Just as she was about to fall down comically and possibly injure herself, a pair of strong arms grabbed her shoulder and swept her into his arms. She dropped the empty ghee tin on the floor and closed her eyes at the moment when it touched the floor and made a clanging noise. She stood there, pressed against him, her cheek on his chest and unmindful of the fact that her greasy palms brushed on his silk kurta leaving stains. His arm that had grabbed her shoulder almost roughly now softened its touch and he gently placed his palms on either shoulder of hers and pushed her away from him. She finally got to see his face, the first time after the shooting episode. She found that there was both a hint of irritation and concern in his eyes. A little smile escaped her lips then as she realised that this was how we was always was with her. And a part of her was very happy that this had not changed inspite of the fact that she had shot him and chosen not to believe him.

"What is so amusing? Why are you smiling?"

He dropped his hands from her shoulders and the familiar scowl was back on his face.

"Umm.. uh.. nothing. I am sorry. I am sorry that I spoilt your kurta, maybe you should change it."

He looked at the two little greasy patches on his blue kurta and shrugged. He began walking away from her and she noticed that he grimaced, obviously the leg still giving him trouble.

"Rudra."

He stopped, not turning to look at her, but she took the fact that he stopped as consent that he was willing to continue the conversation.

"Rudra. I am sorry."

"For?"  and now he turned to look at her, in that moody way which usually got her flustered and she began to play with her palms nervously.

"I am sorry for... shooting you. How is your leg now? Does it still hurt?"

"You are sorry? Hmm. Are you sorry that you missed your mark and that I didn't die?"

"Rudra... No. I am sorry. For everything. For not believing in you about Tejawat Thakur. Now I do realise that he tried to kill me. And he probably was responsible for my parents... my parents death. And the illegal arms trade."

"Hmm. It is ...fine. I am sorry too.. for everything. By the way, we have some information on Tejawat. We are closing in on him and should get him by this week. So you can... go back.. to Birpur."

"Oh. That is.. good."

"Yes. Our lives can go back to being normal. We will finally be free of each other. Anyway, I need to change out of this kurta. My to-be-bride may not care about soiled clothes."

And he walked away. That was it.


Mala

"What do you mean they have taken away Raja Thakur?"

Mala looked at Bhim Singh, their trusted Man Friday and tried to wrap her head around his rather incoherent babble.

"The BSD officer, the new one came and took away Raja Thakur. They had a... real warrant this time."

"Under what charge has he been arrested?"

"Hukum, Raja Thakur has been arrested under... for.. um.. for smuggling arms from across the border. They say that guns were bought during Parvati Bai-sa's wedding."

"Okay. You can go now."

"But Hukum what will we do now?"

"Bhim Singh,  leave me alone for a while, please. I will call you later."

Once Bhim Singh left, she settled down on the divan. So the BSD had finally caught up with her husband. Strangely enough this did not leave her feeling upset. No, far from it. What she felt was relief. And some guilt.

She loved her husband. What was not to love about a man who worshipped the very ground you walked on. He was handsome, he was a charmer, he was well-read, educated and he was wealthy.  She was not a greedy woman, but there was no denying that money did help. She knew it, having grown up with little money and a lot of debts as a child. 

After marrying Dilsher, her life improved, just a little. When Dilsher proposed marriage to her, she had been taken in by his earnestness, the love for her that shone in his eyes. Though he was not exactly what she expected from in her man, she had been flattered by his attention. He had a small business, but was ambitious. Plus, he worshipped her and she liked that. She also felt increasingly suffocated in her family. Her parents were struggling to make ends meet and Mohini Jija who was doing odd jobs to bring their next meal was increasingly turning into an autocratic and bitter woman. Now that she earned money, she felt that it was only fair that she lord over everyone in the household. And while Jija felt some affection for her parents, she absolutely loathed her younger sister. Yes, their squabbles and differences during their teenage years had taken on a more sinister turn during adulthood. And Mohini Jija reminded her every single day why she resented her existence. So when Dilsher proposed that they marry, even though she was a few months short of her eighteenth birthday, she agreed. Understandably her family had been livid. Girls were not allowed to pick a groom of their choice. Not good girls. And she Mala, was nothing but a good girl. Plus, she was the younger sister, how could she marry before Mohini Jija? What would everyone say? Her unexpected ally in this matter turned out to be Mohini Jija herself, who supported her decision to marry. She was probably grateful that she would no longer have to share the house and space with her. So she was willing to overlook the fact that her own marriage prospects had taken a beating because her younger sister was going to marry before her.

The first few months of being married to Dilsher were bliss. He indulged every fancy of hers. She had to think of something, barely voice it and it would be presented to her. She loved that. She was in love with the idea of how much he loved her. Did she love him? In some ways she did. As best as she could. He allowed her to escape from her life of poverty and she in turn fulfilled all wifely duties. She cooked him hot meals, ironed his clothes, kept his home clean and allowed him to make love to her we very night. She gave him no reason to complain. Her almost idyllic life took a turn when her parents passed away, within months of each other. This meant that Mohini Jija was now alone. The few extended family they had and the village distanced themselves further from them after the death of their parents. It was Dilsher, ever generous who had suggested that Mohini Jija move in with them. She had resisted this. She wasn't sure why? But it was as if she had a premonition that her life would never be the same again. And she had been right. She looked at her wrists, carefully moving the many bangles that adorned her hands that Tejawat had bought for her. And underneath the bangles, there it was, a long scar that almost ran the entire length of her hands, starting from her wrist moving towards her shoulder. This too had been given by Mohini Jija, except that this time it was no accident. She grimaced as she pulled down her sleeves and reset her bangles. She needed to do something about Thakur Tejawat. But what? And just then her eyes fell upon a shawl that was placed on the chair in the middle of the room. It had been Parvati's going away present to her Thakurayin Ma-sa. The girl was very gifted when it came to sewing. Perhaps she should meet her. After all, it was her word that had finally helped BSD to catch up with her husband. It was time for the mother to appeal to the daughter.

Paro

I remember that day very well. I had just celebrated my thirteenth birthday and Maami-sa had taken me off school by this time. She felt that it was the right time for me to start learning some real skills. Life skills. 

What are you going to do studying? It is not like you will use any of those bookish things when you get married. 

I did not protest. Because that is who I always was. A few years ago I had witnessed my parents being brought to the village, wrapped up in white sheets. Dead. Never to return. I loved my Maami-sa and Maama-sa. I loved Nandu Jeeja. But a parent is a parent. And it is hard for a child to find a proxy for them. Even if your adopted family is affectionate, a part of you always wishes that you had your own mother, one who would send out some tough love your way. That you have a father, who will indulge you by buying you extravagant things and find any man unstable for his princess. Was she Paro a bad person, irrational, in wanting all of that? But then, her life had turned different. Her parents died and as a daughter, she did not even have the right to send them off by lighting the pyre during the burial. Basically she was just an onlooker, like the rest of village as the fire came, engulfed the woods and took away her parents. And that was it. Her parents gone forever. She was grateful that her Maama-sa and family took her in. Gave her love. Never made her feel that she was not one of them. They tried to fill the gaping void in her life as best as they could. So when she was taken off school, she didn't protest. Her family knew best. 

Nandu Jija had been unwell and Maami-sa had to take her to the doctor, who was in a nearby village. I was going to be home alone and had to get dinner ready by the time Maami-sa returned. I liked cooking. And even though rations were sparse, I tried to experiment as much as possible. But that day, I did not feel so experimentative. I felt a little petulant, an irrational anger against Maami-sa for leaving me behind. Why could she not have taken me, I had wondered as I wiped sweat from my brow. I was not sure why, but I was already exhausted. So I put the dal on our stove and watched it bubble and simmer. I put in  some masalas, not caring if they went with the dish I was going to prepare. I was tired. I suddenly remembered that Nandu Jija hated the moong dal I was making. Perhaps if I fried some onions and tomatoes, it would pass. So I got up to fetch some onions that Maami-sa kept in a little basket in the corner of the kitchen. When i got up, it felt as if my legs had turned into jelly and there was a sudden rush of blood in my body, like it was travelling somewhere . And that is when I  felt it. The leak.

Instead of doing the sensible thing and going to the bathroom, I had just collapsed on the kitchen floor and began sobbing. That is when she came. Thakurayin Maa-sa. She and Raja Thakur were visiting a neighbour who had just delivered a baby when they decided to check on our family.  When she saw me, she understood what was going on and had immediately sent away Raja Thakur. After which she pulled me into a hug, helping me get on my feet, get changed and explain the nitty gritties of how I had taken my first step into womanhood. And that was the day, when she went from Rani Thakrayin to Thakurayin Maa-sa. 

After this she firmly took me under her wing. She taught me how to cook like the only way that a mother could. She did not just share recipes, but she gave away little secrets. Like add a spoon of curd while making bhindi subzi. Like adding a tiny bit of jaggery into my daal. Like bury a wedge of lime while cooking rice to make it white. Thakurayin Maa-sa's secrets became my secrets. Everything that I learnt after the age of thirteen, I learnt it form her. Skills, opinions, thoughts,  faith, love, loss, everything. So when this woman who was the mother of an orphaned child, the one who hugged me and said cooing and comforting words to me when I experienced the first growing up pangs of womanhood, when she asked me to turn a hostile witness against the BSD and help to save her husband, what was I to do? Could I betray my own self, my country and the man I loved for the woman who nurtured me?

And she was not just my mother. She was his too. She still had that butterfly designed bangle, buried inside the tin of rice in the kitchen. It was her responsibility to hand it over to Laila. Would Thakurayin Maa-sa and Rudra want to know about each other? Both of them? One of them? It was not her secret to tell, but it was no longer a burden that she wished to carry. Who should she choose, mother or the son? Her nurturer for years, or her protector of the last few months?

She looked at the beads that adorned her wrist, her talisman, she knew whose side she needed to pick.


-x-x-x-

Edited by asmanichatri - 2014-06-10T13:37:40Z
37 Likes this
Posted: 2014-03-14T22:28:23Z
Cant access this on my phone.can anyone help.
1 Likes this
Posted: 2014-03-14T22:48:11Z
wow wow baisa !! this is actually very good ! waiting for the next part!
1 Likes this
Posted: 2014-03-14T23:04:32Z
Originally posted by mrsp


Cant access this on my phone.can anyone help.
Hey there, I was posting when you checked. You should be able to read now.
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What_the 184 12586 2017-12-31T13:49:37Z Hir4
New vm on PaRud

--Shamoo--   6   619

--Shamoo-- 6 619 2017-12-22T08:34:36Z --Shamoo--

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Topic started by asmanichatri

Last replied by -Disenchanted-

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