PART ONE: It would have been madness to say goodbye. So Paro did not. It had been difficult. To silently help as Jija decorated the room next to her bedroom, for the baby from the orphanage. To nod and agree as Jija made plans for them to go to some Fair in the village, knowing that by then she would be gone. To quietly tolerate Jija's sparkling eyes, her wide smiles, her affectionate caresses. To smile without tears as she listened to Jija's sly demand for a little brother or sister from Paro for Jija's new baby within the year.
Paro had to sit in the courtyard with Jija as she oiled her hair, as she tried
to bring a smile to Paro's face by whispering how much she was loved, how much she
was needed. To choke down her favorite aam-daal that Jija made especially for
her, scolding Paro for growing too thin from taking care of Devar-sa and
not herself. Paro had wanted to say goodbye. But she had not said the words
bubbling in her throat. She had not turned, to throw herself into Jija's arms,
sobbing into her sister's breast, begging her for forgiveness.
She would never see Jija's little daughter, the one Samrat-sa and Jija were going to adopt in a few weeks. Paro had already made small little clothes, knitted the hats and woolen jumpers the baby would not need for months. Jija had teased her for working on baby clothes that she would not need until winter came, but Paro had known she would not be here during that winter. So she had stayed awake nights, sewing, knitting, embroidering. Leaving a part of herself behind, since she herself could not stay.
As Jija quietly took over the reins of the Haveli, as she directed workers about their business, as she decided on the pujas, as she planned the menus and handled the servants, Jija turned to Paro again and again. Paro could not say no to Jija, could not tell her that in just a few days, she would be the only one in charge, that Paro, the sister she so trusted, the one she so loved, was going to leave her behind. Jija did not know. She kept asking Paro for her advice, giving her responsibilities, demanding her younger sister Paro help her deal with everything that her mother-in-law had never allowed anyone else to come near. Jija wanted Paro to be her equal.
Jija often said, teasingly, that she shared three relationships with Paro, more than anyone else could claim to have--not even Devar-sa had as many claims on Paro as she did. Wasn't she Paro's sister in law twice over, and her sister too, for good measure? Jija was serenely confident that these three ties would bind them together for life. Paro's heart had constricted as she had nodded, the denial dying on her lips in the face of that certainty. Jija laughed so much more now that there was no one to bitterly mock her happiness. She sang the songs and hymns she had grown up with as she and Paro hung up the washing, sunned the pickles or came back, laden with new and exciting things to cook from the markets. She was blossoming like a rose, a woman with happiness in her life, a loving husband, a new child.
Paro could not tell Jija about the bus ticket to Delhi tucked into her folded clothing, nestling like a scorpion in her cupboard, waiting to sting Jija with her disappearance. A week ago, Paro had been at the point of tears when Jija had whispered her mischievous suggestion to her, as they sat folding clothing in Jija's room. Jija had looked comically around, like someone about to commit a crime as she had pressed the crisp rupees into Paro's hands. The money was for something silky and sensual for Paro to seduce her husband with--perhaps like the nightgowns they had recently seen in that ladies' magazine?? Jija had said this, giggling like a school girl as she saw Paro's blushes.
Devar-sa had never seen Paro in anything like that? Well, he was a man, and given Samrat's reactions to a silk nightgown, Maithli wanted Paro to have one, too. The bus-ticket had been bought with the money Jija had forced into her hand, money that was supposed to help Paro get that little brother or sister for Jija's baby. No. It would be madness to hurt Jija, to tear apart her belief in her three unbreakable ties to Paro. So she did not.
It would have been madness to say goodbye. Danveer Kakusa had already suffered so much. Paro felt a fierce affection for him roar within her as she heaped extra food onto his untouched dinner plate. She would rest a hand on his shoulder, moving him away from his bad memories, smiling into his eyes as she encouraged him to eat his meal. His children would watch him, still too distant to be able to help their father-- but she would be right there, watchful, ready to tend to the man broken by his wife and son's betrayal of his blood.
She would bring Kakusa his tea, softly unfolding his newspaper for him as he sat in the courtyard, lost to his thoughts. She would send her Bapu-sa to his brother in the evenings, as she hovered nearby, until she heard the rich bellows of laughter between the brothers, and could finally leave them alone, satisfied that Kakusa would not be lonely and unhappy for one more evening. She could not say goodbye, because she knew he did not blame her, or the Major, for his wife's sins. She knew he liked her, perhaps even loved her. He certainly accepted her as his very much loved nephew's wife.
And, having accepted Paro as the wife of the nephew his own wife had tried to murder, she knew that Kakusa felt guilt, corrosive and haunting, for having been too weak to stop his wife. He had been too blind to realize how far she would go out of hatred and greed. But Paro still felt pity for what she had done to him. Paro still felt guilty as she watched the slight figure of her Kakusa slowly walk into his empty bedroom, as he turned to speak out of habit to the empty chair to his right at the dinner table.
She knew he did not blame anyone, but he did blame himself. Sometimes, as he slipped into abstracted worry, his forehead corrugated with lines of tension as he imagined what his own wife and son had almost done, Paro would soothe him as she herself had been soothed by Mamisa as a little girl. Standing silently behind him, her soft fingers pressing and kneading the pain away from his weary forehead, Paro would try to communicate something of her regret, her compassion. And at those moments, Kakusa would hold her hand softly in his own, draw her down before him and kiss her gently on the forehead. His hand, resting on her head, would in turn soothe her throbbing forehead, wordlessly absolving her of blame, silently granting her absolution for his pain.
And in that moment, Paro would feel the almost painful longing to warn him about what she must do. To tell him to be ready to forgive her for a greater betrayal, a larger loss. Not just about her small theft, though she had committed one. She had taken a picture from Kakusa's collection of family photos. Like a thief, she had selected a large one from the gold embossed leather album he kept next to his bed. A picture of him, his family, a snapshot of all of them dancing together during her Sangeet. She had put her stolen treasure into her jhola, so she could carry a piece of him with her, wherever she went.
But it would have been madness to say goodbye to man who had already lost so much. So she did not.
It would have been madness to say goodbye. Sunehri could barely keep her own secrets, much less Paro's. All day, all night, Sunehri chattered and laughed as before, only occasionally dimmed into quiet contemplation when she remembered her mother's deeds, or her brother's actions. But these were occasional reasons to be quiet, not permanent reasons to hate and feel anger towards her Bhabi and Bhaiya. Sunehri's nature was so open, so loving and happy, she took even the loss of her mother in her stride.
Innately good, innately honorable, she had accepted far more easily than anyone else that sins must be punished. If her mother had tried to poison Rudra Bhaiya, if her Sumer Bhaiya had brought the stuff to commit this crime--well, then, it was a horrible thing to do, and they must be punished for it. Things were black and white in Sunehri's world. She mourned their loss, but she truly believed they deserved their punishment for their crime. Sunnily sure that after the case was settled, after the missing family members had returned from their punishment, they would be changed, they would be repentant for their crime.
This was how Sunehri's mind worked, so she, unlike everyone else, was able to simply go on as before. She neither hated Paro, nor did she feel the need to act differently because she and Maithli Bhabi had exposed her mother to the authorities. What if her mother's actions had actually worked, and Rudra Bhaiya had died? What then? Her mother would be a killer, right? And Rudra Bhaiya dead? No, what Bholenath had wanted was what had happened. So Paro, as she tried to ask Sunehri's pardon for her role in her mother's unmasking, found herself loved instead, by a cheerful, normal sister in law. Paro was glad, gladder than she had believed possible, to have Sunehri in her life for the past few weeks.
Her uncomplicated affection had not changed. Her cheerful nature, her hidden picture of her long lost prince remained the same. Her obsession with Officer Aman of the BSD, her peeking at the man from behind pillars she fondly believed could hide her from that army man's eyes. Her sighs, her longings for love. Her teasing, her laughter. The music from her room still blared into the quiet Haveli, murabbas and sweets still disappeared from the kitchen. The sudden hugs from her young sister-in-law still came, as she returned from her college. She still braved his growls, and ran into Paro's room to chat with Rudra Bhaiya, recovering on his bed. Her love stayed the same, and Sunehri stayed the same.
Paro was grateful for her, and could not imagine breaking this girl's world even a little bit more than she already had. She was clinging to her remaining family, and Paro was one of the people she saw as family.
Paro instead made a truly dazzling gift for Sunehri, cutting up her favorite ghagra for the exquisite gold border, using up her newest ordhni, the one with the pearls and diamante work that Sunehri had so adored. She had used silk from her own wedding finery, tassels from her own heavy work ghagras. Paro had made a wedding jora for Sunehri, a gold tissue and diamond sprinkled confection sure to make her into any man's dream. She had hidden her gift, wrapped in tissue paper, under her bed, knowing that it would be found later, when she was gone.
Paro wanted, more than anything, to see Sunehri's face when she put on this ghagra, the best thing she had ever created, made out of the most precious clothing she owned--a ghagra fit for a princess. But then, Sunehri would have looked at her with surprise, and she would have asked her why Paro made her a wedding gift, a gift for a bidaai when she was still there, waiting for her prince. It would have been madness to say goodbye. So she did not.
It would have been madness to say goodbye. Officer Amandeep Singh was a constant presence in the Haveli. Paro had turned to him more and more over the past few weeks, and like a stoic rock in the face of crisis, he had proved himself to truly be the brother she called him. but he had been Rudra's brother, not Paro's. She did not resent this. She appreciated his love for her husband, his dedication to his friend. Aman Bhaiya was always there, he had taken leave from his office duties so he spend his time with Rudra, at the Haveli. Paro never had to ask for his help, because Aman Bhaiya was right there, cheering up his commanding officer, telling him the news from their current missions, reminiscing about old postings, past adventures and missing comrades.
If Rudra was recovering, it was as much for the emotional support and the distractions that Aman Bhaiya was quietly providing as it was for Paro's nursing and the doctor's medications. Aman Bhaiya would help Rudra with the things she was not allowed to do. Changing his clothes, helping him to the bathroom, supporting him through the kind of male bonding and conversations that Rudra thrived on.
Paro knew that the Major, always so in control of himself, needed this distraction from the irritation and anger he felt towards his slowly healing body. Rudra hated being helpless, hated showing his weakness in front of his family. But between army officers who had shared a tent in countless battle zones, who'd been injured, who had come under fire from the same enemy, and saved each other's lives, there was no shame in physical weakness, no reason to hide pain because of male ego. And that bond was so strong that even though Aman called her Bhabi, it was a relationship that Paro knew was a corollary of the fact he saw Rudra as Bhai. He was Rudra's, after all. Like her.
Paro sometimes found herself itching with the need to just...talk... to Aman Bhaiya. To steal a little of that man's love, to filch a few minutes of that man's understanding for herself. To unburden herself to someone who would not judge her, would not call her stupid, or question her motives. Who would understand, even if he did not approve. She longed for a friend like him, but she knew he was the one friend she could not have. It was not because he did not care for her.
Paro knew Aman Bhaiya did care. His kind eyes rested on her as she gave Rudra his medications, as she silently bore his grumblings and his anger. He watched over her as she patiently fed the Major, offering the morsels of food again and again, until, defeated before her determination, Rudra allowed her to feed him at every mealtime. She knew Aman Bhaiya liked her, even admired her. But she also knew that he thought she was Rudra's, in every way. His wife. His to keep. She did not blame him for his thoughts, it was only the truth, after all.
No matter what the strident feminine wisdom of the day said, about belonging to herself first, about being independent, about being her own person-- Paro was Rudra's. But though he would never judge her harshly for it, she didn't think Aman Bhaiya would agree with her interpretation of what being Rudra's Paro meant.
And because he would be instantly suspicious, being an army officer, a BSD man, he would question her if he had any inkling, she kept quiet as she poured him his whiskey, as she fried him the pakoras he had become addicted to. She wanted to tell him about her plans---the trip to Delhi, a city she had only ever heard about. Jaipur had frightened her, bewildered her with its noise,crowds. The foreignness of it all had alienated her, the overwhelming newness pressing into her from all sides until she had fled into her husband's arms.
The thought of Delhi petrified her to the point she could feel her very blood run cold with teror. She wanted to show Aman Bhaiya the small cardboard business card she had kept inside her trunk -the small card with Devyanti-ji's address on it. It was in English, she did not know what it said. From the land-line, she had called the number on the card, but no one had answered. She was terrified about what waited for her in Delhi, since she had not been able to talk to Devyanti- ji. What if she was not there at all, but on holiday, or at another house visit? What if she did not want to help? What if she turned Paro away? But she had to go. There was no choice left to her, but this one.
She wanted to ask Aman Bhaiya about where she would have to change buses. Should she take along some food? How long was the trip? How much money would she need to get to Devyanti-ji's office from the Delhi bus stop? Was it very far? Could she walk to the address written on the little white business card ? Where could she stay, be safe, if night came, and Devyanti-ji did not? But she knew he would stop her-- and because she would break down before his sympathy, his all knowing eyes, Paro knew it would be madness to say goodbye. So she did not.
She had not said the words, held them within her like a poisonous secret for weeks, not allowing anyone to even glimpse her anguish, her despair. And she had not left them anything written, to explain herself either. After writing over two dozen letters, some simply saying she loved them...some filled with memories...some thanking them all profusely, some just containing a few cold lines of farewell---at the last moment, she had not left behind even one of these.
She had thought, right until that final moment, that she would allow herself this much. This little moment of grace, this small excuse for the monstrous crime she was doing. She would explain herself, she would bask in their understanding even after she was gone. She had written the letters over several nights, sitting up on the terrace, a hurricane lamp her only light as she poured her heart out onto the parchment pages.
She had written them, halting over each word, agonizing over the spelling mistakes she might be making. She had carefully hidden herself, behind the water tank on the Haveli roof. Night after night she had written to each of them, away from the bedroom windows that might see the glimmer of light, and come and find her at her task. After thinking about what color ink to use, what paper--after licking the tip of her pen and laboriously writing for hours in her best, rounded, girlish penmanship, she had finally poured her heart out onto the papers.
But even as she carefully sealed each envelope she knew that this was cheating. She had to leave. Without explanation. A bargain between her and God could not be explained, made trite by long winded language. What was the point of a pact with God, if she made everyone a part of that pact? These letters were after all, her way of staying in their minds. Living on, in their memories. A subtle blackmail of their senses, a way of begging them to understand her. She thought that they might even think that these letters were her way of asking that they come and find her. She could never come back here.
Letters would be cheating. She would not cheat her Bholenath, he had lived up to their bargain, she would do the same. If she was to give up Rudra, she had to give them all up. This evening, taking the letters from their hiding place among her books, she had sneaked to the roof again, before the evening dinner preparations had to star. She burnt the shredded letters, all six of them, watching them curl into blackened whorls in her little bonfire. It would have been madness, to leave them behind. So she had not.
She stood on the roof, watching the sun set over the sand-dunes.
The ornate towers and minaret style haveli roof all around her glowed with
faceted brilliance. The sandstone edifice, glittered red and orange, peach and
cream, the myriad small crystals in the stony walls catching every last ray of
the goldenrod sun, reflecting into her eyes as if in farewell. She stood there
on the roof for the last time, watching her husband's ancestral home glimmer
before her dazzled eyes, like a fairy tale castle. She stood there, until the
evening sky swept over the indigo horizon, the pale round moon rising in
dominion over the grey and purple sandy hills.
She wished she could have shared this final moment of beauty with someone. That she could cry with the poignancy of it, the majesty and pain of it. But it would be madness to show up in the kitchen with swollen eyes. She was leaving tonight, and so, at this last moment, it would be madness to reveal her agony, her loss. She wished she could say goodbye to these walls, to this home. Kiss every pillar, touch every carved wooden door, run her finger across every precious inch of her home. But someone would see her do this, someone would suspect. It would be madness, then, to say such a goodbye. So she did not.
PART TWO: PAGE 10.
PART THREE: PAGE 26.
Topic started by napstermonster
Last replied by Marvel-freak