The Dark Hues
Rainbow from white light, shimmering colours so bright
No one remembers the dark ones, the different hues of the night
When the seven vibrant ones appear, of praise, there is no lack
The darker ones though many more, are somehow all called black
Celebrated lives are four – daughter, mother, sister and wife
If different, one is a goddess, or a tainted soulless low-life
No one wants to gaze in the dark to decipher its many hues
Unsung I thus remain in shadows, unworthy of a single muse
Hi, I am a member of the human species, Gender – Female.
I have many lives, many of which are gone, unsung, forgotten and probably never given a second thought about. I am non-existent in life and probably inconsequential in my death
I am not a woman whom one would address using one of the four respectful titles – wife, mother, sister or a daughter. Nor am I a revered monk, famous politician or a celebrated Diva. I definitely am not a goddess or a super woman.
You might refer to me as a little girl lost, burden to parents, daughter of a street walker, a jilted lover, a slave of my own actions, a victim, a wench’s wife, a temple dancer, a child bride or an anonymous non-entity.
My life started as others’ would have – with the words “it is a girl”! Depending upon the life, the next reaction however varied between exuberance, sadness and in some cases, total disdain or anger.
My Childhood, teenage and sometimes my adulthood was equally muddled – they were a huge medley of frantic hiding, getting trashed, rushing off to school, begging, performing various duties at home, helping mother out in her work and bearing humiliations for tiny pleasures as slowly and yet surely the real hues of my life manifested themselves in their lacklustre splendour and clarity.
After many eventful events, my life eventually came to convergence as one, a few years ago, in this dark dingy place. There is no air or exit. I haunt the lifeless abode as I haunted the earth all along, in a lifeless inconsequential existence that went unaccounted for.
This book is a journal, chronicle and a book of records on my life in its various dark hues with their equally darker annotations.
A burden to parents
At fault I am not for your poverty
So why, why such crippling cruelty
I am just a child unfortunate
Do not blame me for my fate
You made me a victim of your hate
Your sadism left me in this state
To cry foul, I too have a right
Ye human so lofty with might!
That was what I was – a burden!! “Kill her” – my father told the midwife as soon as I was born. His mother was kinder – “Let her live”, she said, “what is one extra mouth to feed, plus she might be the lucky one to bring forth a brother”. “She’d better be”, the father replied, “else you will personally finish her off or I will murder both her and you”.
The first few years were not too bad; playing in the sun, eating the meagre meals that my mother could provide us, with the wage she earned as a domestic help (or ‘servant’ as she was referred to, back then), in the houses of the more affluent, wearing hand-me-downs from the daughters of the more fortunate lot, avoiding father’s blows and grandmothers’ taunts and sleeping curled up in the corner of the hut.
One day when I was six years old, my mother happily announced – “we are going to have another baby”. I did not understand what she meant, but I assumed that it was something good.
It was good in some ways – my mother started taking me with her to the houses where she worked. She would make me help her in sweeping under the beds and dusting behind refrigerators, where she could no longer reach as she was getting fatter. She would then share the tea and biscuits or bread that they would give her, with me. Some days, I would even get some left-over food or snack to eat. One day, I got to eat some half-eaten and discarded burger and butter-scotch ice-cream. It felt like heaven.
On a rainy day, when I reached my mother’s place of work all drenched, I was allowed a hot bath and a glass of hot milk. I had never had a hot bath before; the water warmed my skin, the shampoo made my hair really soft; the milk was sweet and warm - “I will do anything for this”, I thought, not realizing that life would take my words literally and end up (in more than one way) the way it did.
The other pleasant thing about those days was that when it got too hot outside, I was allowed to sit under a fan and on some really hot days near an air-cooler, enjoying the cool breeze, looking at the pictures in the books of the girls in the houses and thinking about my friends who had to go to local school in the sweltering heat.
When my mother became too fat to work, she began sending me to those houses with my grandmother, who made me do all the cleaning; she also would make me rinse and dry clothes while she did the washing and arrange the dishes that she washed. If I missed a spot, dropped a cloth or kept a dish at a wrong spot, she would reward me with a rap on my head. The raps however were worth it; I got to eat all the biscuits and most of the bread they gave, as grandmother’s teeth were loose and her appetite was low.
When I was seven, the long awaited baby came. Only, she was a girl, who was dead ere she came into the world and took my mother away with her. I did not see it happen, but learnt about it a couple of days later, from the lady next door. All I remember of that day was, my father running towards me and hitting me with a huge log, my grandmother’s frantic struggles to pull the log away from him and the second blow that landed at the base of my skull and made everything around me go dark.
When I came to, I was lying in the hut next door and my head was bandaged and sore. There was a severe ringing in my ears and the world around me seemed like a misty blur. I asked for my mother; the lady who lived next door and had been a friend of my mother when she was alive, gave me a hug instead and handed over a bowl of hot gruel and bid me to drink it. It hurt to swallow and ere the hot liquid touched the walls of my stomach, I began retching and throwing up. The lady held me while vomited. I heard the loud voice of her husband yelling at her for taking up ‘trouble’. I tried to get up, but had another blackout. This pain, blur, vomiting and black-outs continued for many days, during which I learnt about the events of the painful day.
Enraged by the sight of the still-born child and the dead wife, my father took a huge log from the log pile and attacked me with it. When my grandmother intervened, he hit her so hard with the log that she died on the spot. When she fell, my father dropped the log on the ground and ran out, never to come back. The neighbours arranged a funeral for my mother and grandmother.
They thought I also was dead and were about to take me to the cemetery, when the lady realized that I was still breathing, carried me to her hut and tended to my wounds to the best of her abilities. “your mother gave me money when I needed it the most” she said “I am more fortunate, I have two sons; so my husband would not dare kill me – although looking at the fate of your grandmother, I feel I also should not be too sure of my safety once my sons grow up”.
I wept a lot those days. I wept for my mother, grandmother and father. I also wept out of severe pain and some times out of sheer exhaustion after a vomiting spree.
Slowly the black-outs and vomiting subsided. I was able to walk about on my own without falling down every ten steps. The vision however stayed blurry as it did all through that life.
One day after I had recovered, the lady brought a man and lady to the hut and introduced them as my uncle and aunt. “Please go with them”, she said. They helped me into a nice new dress and braided my hair. They walked me over to a white car and told me that we will be going to where ever we were to go, in it. I had never sat in a car before; the seat was soft and covered with clean white linen; the car’s interior smelled of roses. I was too excited and taken by the splendour of the moment to understand the words of pity expressed by the lady next door or her tears as she hugged me good bye.
The car brought me to this house after it made a stop at a place which one can refer to as hell, for a want of a more derogatory term. I spent four years in that place, servicing my uncle’s master and his friends.
The services involved getting whipped, having my orifices invaded without mercy, drinking all kinds of foul things that included urine, dancing nude and getting burnt with cigarette butts, amongst other similar tasks. Needless to say, after a couple of years, my blackouts returned. With each passing day, the duration of those blackouts increased. These blackouts turned out to be a blessing in their own strange way; one day, while rendering my services in a smoke-filled party, I lost consciousness after receiving a blow to my head. When I came to, I found that I was lying on the road, next to a gutter. They assumed that I was dead and threw my out; somehow my body survived. I was rescued by a kind lady who ran an organization that helped rehabilitate unfortunate woman like me. She gave me a pair of glasses to improve my vision and medicines to heal my body. A quiet woman, she asked no questions; nor did she ever judge me or my actions. After a couple of years at her centre where I learnt embroidery and tailoring, she helped me get a job at the boutique and provided necessary support when I moved to my room in this house.
Headaches and nightmares have become my constant companions; I hardly ever leave my room; a girl from the boutique visits me every day with order details and raw material and takes the finished orders with her; she is one of the only three human beings I can bring myself to meet; my soul moved on to the netherworlds a couple of weeks after the first car ride to hell; my broken heart will never learn to trust another human being; I am not sure how long I have to live; all I can say is, reeling under the never subsiding after-effects of those abusive four years, my body continues to survive and haunt this world!
A Child Bride
A pain, glitter and riches can’t hide
I bring shame to your life of pride
By the rules set, I still abide
Invisible I am, your child bride
This life started when I was ten years old. My father lost his arm and leg in a factory accident. Mother began working in a rich man’s house. The rich man had two sons and a daughter. The elder son was retarded and had an intelligence level of a three year old. When the younger son got engaged to a girl he loved, a strange decision was taken by the parents to get the elder one also married. It is really unfortunate if the body grows and the mind stops growing. In my case, the misfortune turned out to be mine.
The girl chosen was my elder sister, who was seventeen; unfortunately for all of us, she eloped with the boy next door, a couple of hours before we were to leave for the wedding, taking my other sister, who was thirteen, with her. My mother was distraught; she cursed her luck, my elder sister, her luck, the boy next door, her luck and the family of the boy next door before desperation drove her to take desperate measures. She and the lady next door, who agreed to help her in the scheme to prevent her from calling the cops, draped a saree around me after making me wear a padded blouse and put on a lot of make-up. I did not refuse their command as the glitter of the jewels that the mother of the groom gave overshot any other thought or word from my head and mouth respectively. I was made to wear a long veil made of satin georgette and was taken to the house of the groom. My mother told me on the way to the house (which after that day became place of residence) to tell any one who asked, that I was fifteen and was the second daughter of my mother and father. The grooms mother did not protest too much – she probably realized that it would be extremely difficult to find a bride for her over-excited son at such a short notice
The wedding was fun except that my groom insisted on holding me, pinching me, spanking me and feeling me all through the ceremony. I got to eat good food, was treated like a princess and was given expensive jewels. So overwhelmed was I with the whole lot of good things, that I failed to notice that other than the priest, my mother, her friend, my father, mother and brother and sister in-law, there were no witnesses to our wedding.
When the ceremony ended, my mother took me to a corner, hugged me and told me that she was her best child. She also told me that now that I was a married woman, I was expected to behave like one. She told me that I had to agree to everything that my new mother – mother in law said and cater to every need of my husband and never say no. She told me that I should take his love and anger with a smile and support him till my last breath. When she uttered the last two words, her voice broke, and tears started streaming down her cheeks; before she could say anything, however, my mother-in-law came over, gave her a huge bundle of notes, told her that it was time for her to leave and led me up the stairs to our living quarters.
The living quarters were in fact a five-star jail, which my in-laws painstakingly got the third floor of their house remodelled into, when the decision to get their son married was taken. The decision I heard, came after some unfortunate incidents involving maids, money spent on escorts and an episode of gross misbehaviour with the brother’s fiancée that almost ruined his marriage.
Coming to the living quarters – The stairs opened up to a small room that had a door – the door opened up to a ‘hall’ with windows of un-breakable glass; which were further fortified with metallic grill doors that were bolted and locked up from outside. Through artistic carpeting and careful arrangement of plants and air-conditioners, the hall was designed to give a feel of a lawn in a garden. There was a bedroom adjoining the hall. It was artfully furnished with a low king-sized bed that had hidden straps a person could be tied down with, if needed. There was a massive LCD TV mounted on one of its wall – it gave a real wide-screen experience. There was a DVD player connected to the TV. Soft toys, and expensive clothes from across the globe adorned the padded plastic shelves. The bedroom had an attached bath, which was specially modelled with ‘child-safe’ fittings and padded to prevent a fall or ensure minimal wounds in case of one.
Once I was there, the rules – very simple ones were explained to me. I was full-time-care-taker-cum-wife of my husband. Since I was still young, my mother-in-law would stay with us during the first fifteen days, to train me in my duties and to ensure that I performed them correctly. Stay she did, and made sure I learnt to help my 30 year old child-husband in his toilet, give him a bath, feed him, load and unload a DVD as needed, play cricket with him, read him stories (yes, I had attended school before my father’s accident and could read comics, fairy tales and even the adult picture books); she even helped me render my wifely services - gagging me and tying me down the first couple of days, to ensure I did not scare my husband with my struggles or screaming.
As my husband used to have bouts of extreme violence at least once a day, it was imperative that he be kept locked up at all times; as his wife, I shared his jail. My mother-in-law carried the key to the jail, which would be opened only when my husband needed her, or when I failed to oblige his needs to his liking, when she would bring a stick and make him punish me. There were 20 cameras placed at various locations. She also had a few child monitors installed to listen to our conversations and kept a strict vigil.
All I can say is that she was a doting mother and a kind but strict mother-in-law who understood my pain, but did what she had to do, as there was no other way. I knew it because of the way she would scare her son that she would send me away if he hit me on certain parts of my body, because she gave me the books and because she let me go and take my exams and because of the baby.
Before my marriage, I was a spirited ten year old and a student of class 5 in an English medium school; the marriage ensured that life slowly took all my spiritedness away from me and taught me the following valuable lessons - My husband, a retarded son of rich people was free to do what he felt like, in that room and with me. I, his wife, picked up from a poor family, was free to live with him, eat good food, wear good clothes, apply balm or ointment on my wounds as applicable and be his dutiful wife.
As it is not considered correct for a woman to describe her married life, I shall stick to essentials. When my mother told me that I had to cater to every need of my husband, she was not joking. My daily routine during the initial three years went like this, getting up, finishing my routine, waiting for my husband to wake up, and feeding him milk and sandwiches, an act that was invariably coupled with the rendition of wifely services or a punch for a gulp deal, depending upon his mood. Every morning I would pray that it was the former as it hurt less.
After the morning meal, it was toilet time, followed by a bath. Ensuring that he and the bathroom were clean was not an easy task. But slowly I learnt the required tricks for the job. “If you allow me to clean you there, I will kiss you there” and if that trick did not work it was “if you allow me to clean you there, I will allow you to pinch/punch me” if neither worked, I would let him actually pinch or punch me, while I cleaned him. On bad days, I earned nearly a pinch or punch per crevice and he was a huge man.
Meal-time followed the ablutions– his mother and he always had their lunch together; his father would join in a couple of times during the week and would always be present during weekends; on real rare occasions, his brother would also take part in the ritual. I was always excluded from this family time; instead, I would be allowed to have my lunch in the safe solitude of the room next to the stairs.
Entertainment time always followed lunch time. The entertainment would vary, sometimes it was a game of ‘hide and seek’ – my husband would hide and my mother-in-law and I would pretend to look for him. It always ended with him jumping up or giving one of us (mostly me) a slap on the back, with a loud yell. Sometimes when he felt overfed, or when his father was around, instead of a game, they would all choose to watch a cartoon movie on TV. My husband’s favourite character was pop-eye and I was always the bad guy whom pop-eye trashed up. Post entertainment time was study time. I had to teach him his letters and make him read small words, under the supervision of my mother-in-law. That was the only time of the day when she would insist that he treated me with respect and listen to what I said. Needless to say, the study time always ended with him getting a kiss from his mother and a wifely reward from me, except on those days when he was not in a mood for studies and hence felt that I was to be punished for making him study. As time passed, I noticed that the days of punishment always coincided with the days when his brother came up and would say special prayers for my husband’s mood on the days he did.
This special reward and punishment time was followed by a nap time. The routine after the thankfully long nap-time involved a couple of adult movies accompanied by appropriate services from me and dinner, which thankfully used to be laced with enough sedatives to make my husband sleep peacefully for the next eight hours.
Initially, during my husband’s afternoon siesta time, I would gaze out of one of the windows and see kids of my age return home from school and feel nostalgic. As time passed, the memories of the days before my marriage faded like long lost dreams. They were replaced by plans and strategies for successful completion of my tasks and prayers for lesser pain.
One day, two years later, my mother came to visit me. My mother-in-law allowed me to meet her in private, while she went in to ‘sit with my husband’. The moment my mother-in-law closed the hall door, my mother hugged me and broke-down. I was too numb to react and just stood there like a stone. When she finished crying, she asked me how I was – I mechanically replied that I was fine. She then asked me if my in-laws and husband treated me well – I did not know what to say and hung my head. My mother decided to take it as a nod. She then told me that my eldest sister who eloped on my wedding day got jilted by the boy she eloped with and was now willing to take my place if I wanted her to. I do not remember my exact feelings at that moment; all I remember is that I pried myself out of her hands and ran back through the hall door, straight into my mother-in-law, who I assume was standing there listening to us. I really do not know what would have happened if I had gone back with my mother and I do not want to think about it; all I know is that after she left my mother-in-law asked me about my performance in school, got me enrolled in open school the next day and got books for me to study. Her treatment towards me improved and she stopped allowing her son to hurt me in her presence; she went to the extent of threatening him that she was watching him and if I complained, she would send me away and he would be ‘all alone’.
Needless to say, I liked the new improved life better and actually started considering myself a fortunate wife in a respectable family. I was grateful to my mother-in-law for keeping my husband sedated during my exams and actually allowing me to leave the jail, go, write the exam and come back. When I passed, she was the one who came and broke the news to me. “You have cleared class eight”, she said and actually gave me a hug. I wept in joy. She also explained that if I behaved myself, once I turn 14, she would let me take class 10 exams.
Something else happened before I turned 14; it changed my life; it all began one afternoon with severe bout of vomiting followed by a black-out. My mother-in-law thankfully, was around when I blacked out; she gave me some orange juice and took me downstairs. Once I was there, she asked me some questions about my latest period; when I told her that I never had one, she took me to a nearby diagnostic centre for an ultra-sound. The results confirmed her fears – nature had taken over; I was going to become a mother of twin babies in less than eight months.
My mother-in-law and father-in-law had a long discussion; it was decided that they would allow me to keep my babies. “It will be a caesarean, it has to be”, I heard her say “We do not want another child to suffer like our son”. She then took me upstairs to my husband and left me behind after warning him that if he so much as gave me a punch, she would take me away for good. Thankfully my husband paid heed to this warning. He had grown quite dependent on me and was scared of me running away. The remaining seven months were blissful; I was allowed to go down in the afternoons when my husband was asleep; and was given multiple meals during the day. I was even allowed to have my lunch with my husband and in-laws. I felt accepted and blessed. When I was into my ninth month, my in-laws took me to a private nursing home. The doctor gave me an injection that made me sleep; when I came to, my mother-in-law showed me my babies – a boy and a girl. “They look perfectly healthy”, the doctor said. On my mother-in-law’s special request, I was brought back home two days after the surgery. I was allowed to sleep in a room downstairs for twenty days after which I was sent back upstairs to my life, which to my horror changed back to the way it was nine months earlier. My husband stayed grouchy; his bouts of violence increased; so did his need for wifely services.
My babies thankfully were kept downstairs as it was unsafe for them to be with their father. I was allowed to come down to feed them only when he slept – “He has been without you for so long. You need to be there with him to compensate for the time lost. That is why I have kept my grandchildren safe with me away from your crazy world” my mother-in-law said, when I complained one day about the renewed violence.
It was the urge to be with my babies that led to further degradation in the quality of my wretched life. My mother-in-law had kept some sedatives for ‘emergencies’. One evening in a hurry to come down, I mixed an extra strong dose of the sedatives in my husband’s evening meal, not realizing that my mother-in-law had also done the same. My husband slept soundly, never to wake up. The whole house was in turmoil; to prevent the guests from seeing me, I was asked to stay upstairs with my babies; so, stay I did, too numb to think or speak.
A few hours later, my brother-in-law came up and gave me food. While I was eating, he told me that he and his had seen the recording of me adding ‘the stuff that killed him’ in my husband’s dinner. He also told me that they had erased that bit and will not tell anyone else about it; “I do not blame you”, he added, and asked me if I wanted to eat more; when I declined, he quietly took the plate and left, without locking the door.
A few minutes later, his wife came in with a couple of white saris. She asked me if I had any white blouses; when I said no, she gave me two white T shirts and told me to use them for the time being. She then took the babies and left saying – “I will take care of them, now. You please take care of yourself”. I handed the babies over mutely, and watched her walk away with them.
The moment she left the room, however, I burst into tears. I shed tears for the handsome boy, who spent thirty four years of his life in a prison inside his own house, for my little babies who would never see their father, for a little girl whose life got cruelly ruined four years earlier, for a sacrifice gone waste and strangely, for the ornaments that I could no longer wear!
How long I cried, I do not remember; I probably cried myself to sleep, for, when I got up, it was dark. I quietly got up, removed all my ornaments, took a bath, wore a white sari, went and sat in a corner of the small room next to the stairs, not sure if it was allowed for me to be a part of the family’s mourning or not. My fourteen year-old heart however did not understand the rules; all it knew was that the existence it got used to, with all its pains and tiny blessings, was over - I was now a useless widow. It wept and so did I; I wailed aloud, banged the hands that added the poison, against the walls and the head that gave them the idea, on the ground. Hearing my wails, my father-in-law came up the stairs, told me to do whatever I did quietly, as there were guests in the house and left. Fear made me keep my mouth shut, but the tears refused to stop; every spurt of tears brought in new feelings of self-loathing. My heart called me a murderer more than a million times that night.
Early next morning, my mother-in-law came up. In the whole house, she probably was the only one who understood my pain. She hugged me hard and said – “I wanted to tell you that I had added the sleeping draught and you should not. I am sorry I forgot”. I screamed out like a maniac – “it was me,” I wailed, banging my arms against the wall. I was responsible for the loss of her eldest son; I was the killer – my hands were the ones that administered the fatal dose. She held me for a few minutes and wept with me. Then she told me something which increased my respect for her, manifold. “My daughter’s daughter is twelve years old. She does not think of anything beyond her next new dress, new books, new toys or her next test. This accident brought my son his release from a painful existence; it freed a child from staying locked up in a man’s body. He lived a good life and thanks to you, died a father of two lovely children. We can never compensate you for the four best years of your life you sacrificed for us; I however will make sure you get a life.”
True to her words, a week later, she took me to the nearby open school and enrolled me in class 10 and in spoken English classes. She let me stay in the tiny room next to the stairs on the third-floor, while I finished my class 10 and class 12 and my diploma in nursing. She even helped me get my first job – one that was apt for my wretched existence – at the morgue in the government hospital. The only pain she put me through was a separation from my children. “It is for their own good”, she would say, “let them not grow up knowing that their father was imbecile and their mother was a child who accidentally killed their father”. When I got my first salary, she told me that I had to move out of the house. As long as I stayed with them, I would never be able to forget that I was a widow, who was partially responsible for her widowhood; she also would never be able to get over the pain of losing her son. “We all have to move on”, she said. She gave me my parents’ address and phone number and said – “I know you will never go back to them, but I had to give this to you”
I touched her feet one last time, called a female colleague of mine, got a confirmation from her that I could move into her apartment if I agreed to foot half the rent and walked out of my home, for the last time.
I have been staying in this room in the house since then. I go to work every morning and come back home every evening. I take the same route to work and back. I do not look up or speak to anyone during the day. After my colleague got married and moved out, this room became mine. Four years of marriage and another four years of lonely existence as a widow have left me devoid of any urge to have conversations; my nightmares and memories are my companions and thus they shall be….
Daughter of a street walker
Pure I am but deemed impure
Object I am of immoral allure
Condemned for being born
To be left alone and forlorn
Born I am to a tainted mother
A whimpering sinful bother
My life has no glow or gloss
A scarlet letter is my cross
My mother earned her living by providing entertainment and physical satisfaction to her customers. People use many derogatory terms to address or refer to her. There were times in my life when I hated her for it; I loathed her the day my class teacher made me sit in the corner as none of my classmates wanted to sit next to me.
I spent most of my childhood in one missionary hostel or the other where the nuns taught us about prudence and sin; they explained why only woman had to suffer – “because the first woman ate the forbidden fruit and brought suffering to all women”
I never went home for holidays; my mother would instead come once a week to school, bringing in snacks and treats for me and my friends. She would meet me in a quiet corner of mother superior’s cabin, handover the goodies and leave quietly. Once by mistake, the day she landed up turned out to be school’s ‘open house’ day, one of the girls’ fathers or uncles recognized her and informed the others; no one felt the need to ask him how he knew about my mother’s profession, instead they thought it fit to lodge a complaint to the school management for allowing a child from a background of such disrepute as mine to attend classes with their daughters.
Most of the members of the management supported the plea of the good parents; the senior most amongst them however thought otherwise; the mother superior of the congregation that ran the school supported his decision. They would not condemn an innocent child for something she is not responsible for. If the lord himself could accept Mary of Magdalene, who were they to point a finger at me. The decision was taken – I was to continue in the school;
The decision however resulted in a great upheaval – my classmates refused to sit with me in the class. The teachers started making snide derogatory remarks about my mother and me; one teacher went to the extent of asking me if I was studying to ensure a better clientele when I went and took the reins of our profession over from my mother. If days were bad, nights were worse – as my classmates refused to let me sleep in the dorm, I was given a bed in the convent. Some of the nuns openly called me a seed of sin.
The next time my mother visited, I cursed her for her existence, said hurtful things to her and asked her to take me away. After a couple of hours of trying to reason with me, she took the approval of mother superior and took me with her to her house for the weekend. The house was a dirty house of sin. My mother was a worker under a ‘madam’ who controlled her team strictly. She ensured quality of their services, managed customer relations and sometimes doubled up as their marketing manager. Her first reaction when she saw me was to ask my mother if she brought me over to help her at work. When my mother replied on the negative, she told her to make sure I went back the next day; else she would be forced to make me work.
My mother took me to the room of one of the younger girls, told the girl to chat with me while she went and got food for the two of us. The girl who was a couple of years elder to me explained to me that I was fortunate that my mother despite all the pain she faced sent me to school. She described the hurtful things customer did to her. “My parents sold me to madam when I was of your age. I know the amount of pain your mother goes through to keep you away from this hell; please go back to your school, complete your education and pick up a job” – she said. When I refused to listen, she took my mother’s permission and let me watch her serving a customer from behind a curtain. The sight scared me enough to meekly go back to school, the next day.
I am not saying that the conditions at school improved overnight; my response to them however did. I stopped listening to the taunts of my classmates and willingly sat in the corner seat. I did my best to improve my image in the eyes of the nuns who naturally assumed that the child of such a mother as mine would be inclined towards ‘sinful things’ – I studied extra hours and helped the nuns clean the chapel every day.
After nearly six months, the nuns started accepting me as what they termed “a poor innocent child”. Thanks to all the extra studies, I began topping my class. After initial disgruntlement and some remarks that indicated that I probably cheated in my tests, my teachers began appreciating my performance. Needless to say, I did really well in class X boards. They day after my boards Mother Superior called me over to her cabin. My mother was sitting there, with tears in her eyes. Mother superior made me sit on a chair and have some cookies and coffee; while I sipped my coffee, my mother explained her life to me she told me how when she was eight years old her father fell ill and how one of her elder relatives brought her to the city to ‘work’ and dumped her with the ‘madam’; she described the pain she went through as a child and her promise not to put me through it, when I was small. The madam, who was extremely strict when it came to the service levels of her girls, was really a kind woman at heart; she helped my mother put me through school. She then cut to the point – Now that I had finished my class 10, I had two options ahead of me; pick up a job and support my mother or join the convent as a ‘candidate’ and let the congregation take care of my further studies.
The second option seemed the best one at that time, and I readily embraced it.
Mother superior asked me to step out of her room and spoke to my mother, while I waited outside. I did not exactly hear the conversation, but was able to understand that my mother was given an offer to move to a convent of this congregation present in a remote tribal area, take up her vows and become a nun which she accepted gratefully.
Today, nearly twenty years later, looking back at the events of the day, all I can say is that my mother’s decision was the best one for her; unfortunately my decision did not turn out to be so, for me. Let me tell you why
After two years of higher secondary school, thanks to my excellent marks, I was sent by the convent to the medical school. In my third year, one of my fellow students saw the woman in me through my thick black robes and fell in love that woman. When I turned down his advances, he began pestering me with tears, letters written in blood and threats of suicide. One day he followed me all the way to the convent, much to the horror of the nuns. Mother superior heard about the incident and called me aside. She then asked me to describe my feelings for the boy truthfully. I told her that I was really confused – I had never lived in a real world or experienced real love; all this dedicated attention was really touching; my vows on the other hand, were something I really valued more than my life. They gave me an identity beyond that of an ordinary woman. I was one chosen to become god’s bride.
Mother superior understood my predicament; she advised that I should describe my background to the young man and tell him that if he could wait for me and not pester me with his attention till we both finished our respective doctorate in medicine, I would give my vows up and join him as his wife. In youthful idealism, the boy assured us of his willingness to wait for me till the last breath, when the question was posed to him, post narration of my story.
Thanks to those assurances, over the next couple of years, the boy and I grew closer to one another. In our final year together, we even began making plans for a long future as man and wife and reached the verge of crossing the delicate line of intimacy, restrained only thanks to my vows of celibacy.
Post his graduation, the young man’s got an admission at a prestigious medical institute in London and went there with financial support from his parents after promising me in the presence of Mother Superior that he will take me to the altar as soon as he got back. Mother superior gave our relationship her blessings and advised that I took up a mission in a remote tribal area while I awaited his return.
Following her advice, I moved to the remote location with a few nuns from our congregation.
The tribal area had strange customs; the sick went to a quack doctor who they claimed had divine powers. He disliked missionaries in general and me in particular. “You bring evil and ill luck from cities”, he would tell us – “there is no place for the likes of you, here”. Another menace that was rampant in those areas was cross border and tribal terrorism. The terrorists kidnapped and killed anyone who dared opposed them; they would poison their victims and leave them in the centre of the village to die slow painful deaths in public; anyone who dared saving them, met with a similar fate. It was unfortunate, but a fact, which I found out about, in a real unfortunate fashion.
Couple of days after I arrived, I was walking down from the village well towards our camp, when loud wailing and screaming made me stop in my tracks and run towards the source of the noise. On arriving at the centre of the village, I saw a man with his arms and legs tied up, wailing loudly. Despite instructions from my colleagues to the contrary, I ran up to the man and untied him. Refusing my attempts to help, the man ran towards a nearby hut, took a huge knife and plunged it into his own body.
I was flabbergasted by the whole episode; my fellow missionary calmed me down and explained about the terrorists. He warned me to pack my bags and leave the place immediately. “They will come for you tonight – I am sure they will,” he said; “There was another man from our camp who tried to save one of the victims a couple of months ago, they took him away that night; we have not seen them since then”
Unfortunately for me, the terrorists did not wait till nightfall for the abduction exercise; they simply came over, tied me up and carried me off, in broad daylight; no one in the village dared open their mouth let alone oppose the terrorists.
They quietly carried me to the middle of the forest, tied me up to a pole in the centre of some kind of a camp and walked off. Terrified, I sat there, without making a sound, silently praying to god to help me get out of the place virtuous. A couple of scary hours later, a uniformed man walked out of the tent, dragging a emancipated specimen of human species with him. He advanced towards me, threw the man down near me and said – “Tell her”. The man spoke thus, in a real broken voice – “Like you, I also tried to help someone condemned to die by commander here. Now I am a prisoner here for life”. He stopped for breath, only to be kicked hard in his ribs by the commander. He let out a groan and continued - “Commander here has agreed to let you go if you agree to take a knife and slit my throat”. My reaction was a look of disgust and a scream of refusal. The commander then made the same offer to the emancipated missionary; either due to the apparent extreme torture he had faced or the thought that since I anyway had planned to die in the camp, he might as well send me off the easy way out, the missionary agreed to kill me. The man in uniform loosened his bonds and handed the knife over to him. He came over to me, untied me and said – “run while you can; if he catches you and kills you, he lives; if you manage to evade him long enough till he falls, you live”. I simply sat there – not willing to take part in something that caused the death of another human being; looked at the man defiantly and said calmly that any day is a good day for dying; and if it is god’s will that I died, then so be it.
The feeble missionary slowly crawled towards me, knife in hand, and hesitated for a few minutes, praying before raising his knife high, all set to strike me. I closed my eyes and waited for the end; the end did not come; instead the sound of gunfire made me open my eyes with a start. The missionary was lying dead at my feet; the uniformed man had shot him. I got up screaming and started hitting out at the man; he retaliated with a kick that left me doubled up on the ground in pain. As soon as he walked away, three of his scouts duly came, one dragged the carcass of the poor missionary away, while the others tied my arms and legs and dragged me into a tiny tent where they left me and moved off.
A couple of hours later, a uniformed woman came in with a stick, whipped me with it twenty times and went off. She was followed a couple of hours later by another woman in uniform who pounded me with fists before feeding me dry bread and water. A couple of hours later, the ‘commander ‘ returned asked me if I wanted to use the bathroom and when I refused, kicked me hard in my abdomen till I urinated. He laughed loudly and said – “I do not ask – I order and you have to obey” before walking off, leaving me in pain, humiliated to the core and stinking like an animal.
I was left alone for the rest of the day; late in the evening, a woman came, poured cold water over me, fed me dry bread and water and left without saying a word. That night, two men came, dragged me to the commander’s tent, left me there and went off. The commander asked me if he could use my body, kicked me hard many times when I refused and ordered two woman to take me back to my tent and hit me on the soles of my feet with sticks till I learnt who the boss was. A couple of hours of beating later, I was again dragged back to his tent – this time when I refused, he took a big log and broke my knees with it before shouting out to the two woman to take me back to the other tent.
I spent the rest of the night in severe pain and fear of being called back for another round of persuasion. Thankfully by the grace of god, none came.
The next morning, two women came, untied my legs and told me to go with them to a nearby river; I tried getting up, but my broken knees gave way; I however told them that I would follow them if they led the way and dragged myself all the way behind them to the river. The expression in the eyes of the ‘commander’ as I passed by his tent fortified my resolve to stay strong.
At the river, the women thankfully allowed me to stay in the water long enough to let the water numb certain amount of pain from the previous day’s beatings, but the sooner we came back to the camp, obeying their commander’s commands, they made me lie face down and gave me hundred lashes each with leather belts. After beating me up, they took me over to the commander’s tent, tied me up and walked away. Helpless, hurt but with my spirit intact, I bit my lips, closed my eyes and ignored the presence and the gloating words of the commander who again tried to convince me to let him have his way with me and spare myself of further pain and troubles. When his words failed to work, he called a couple of his men and told them to tie me up to the pole in the centre of the camp and let me ‘die in the hot sun’. It was a hot day, and by late evening, I was badly dehydrated and delirious. The ‘commander’ and his army had gone during the day on a looting spree to some nearby village; they came back late in the evening with eight new captives – five men and three women. They tied all the men to the same pole I was tied on to; they then started lashing the three captive women up with belts and kicking them with their boots; they would stop after every ten blows and tell them that they would be spared of the torture if they agreed to make ‘commander and his men happy’. Ten minutes into severe lashing, one of the woman agreed; two terrorists untied her and gave her food, while the others continued lashing and kicking the other two female captives; Five minutes into the continued torture one of the other two captives incurred the wrath of her captors when she wailed aloud that she would rather die than give herself up to animals. The commander ordered his team to stop; there was complete silence except for the sound of weeping of the two tortured female captives. He then took a vial of some vile smelling liquid, told his people to pry the woman’s mouth open and emptied the contents of the vial in it. He then asked the third woman captive if she also wanted to get poisoned; the third woman fell at his feet, weeping. The commander had his way with her and told the others to ‘enjoy’, before going to his tent to probably sleep. The men used the two women captives in turns all night and the next morning in open; all I can say is that the pain and humiliation the two endured was far less than the suffering of the third, who kept screaming in agony while the poison acted on and damaged every cell in her digestive system before she finally succumbed nearly fifteen hours later to internal bleeding.
Late in the afternoon, their sadistic desires sated, the men went off to their tents; the two women terrorists took the two female captives to the river; when they came back only one was there with them. I learnt later that the other one chose death by drowning to a life of humiliation.
The three went into the tent of the commander who came out a few minutes later and announced aloud that he was quite proud to introduce the newest female member of their team. He then turned to the captive men and asked them if any of them were willing to join his higher cause; or preferred death; two captives agreed. One stayed quiet while the other two expressed their desire to die. He made them drink poison and told his men to take them back to their respective villages and leave them there to die.
The men left with those two unfortunate men, leaving me and the quiet captive tied to the pole.
That night the entire gang had a drunken orgy with me and my fellow captive as witnesses. Somewhere in the middle of the night, we both were given the option of killing each other, and beaten up with sticks on a quiet refusal. Early next morning, a fight broke-out amongst the gang. After-all they say, good are good to all, but those with negative intentions cannot stay friends for ever; soon the fight intensified; people started firing at and stabbing each other – a couple of hours later when the confusion ended, only the commander and the three woman remained standing. He took the three women into his tent, abusing the other men and kicking their dead and wounded bodies on the way. A few seconds later, there was another gun-shot and loud screaming; the three women ran out; two of them, including the newest member had guns in their hand, there were three more shots, all three of the women fell. Couple of minutes later one of them, the newest member got up, fell, sat up, felt the bullet wound on her side, crawled over to us, untied my hands and said – “you are a doctor, I heard. Please save me – I am dying”. I examined her wound – there was no way I could save her, unless I could get her to a hospital in less than an hour. She saw my expression, and quietly told me to take the male captive and run away before one of the men recovered or their accomplices came over. I quietly untied the man and told him to run. Then I held the hand of the unfortunate woman and told her that I was in no shape to run, but I could take her with me and try crawling down to the village – if she survived till then, once in the village, I could try to operate her to save her life. “Have faith in god, I told her. He is merciful; he will save you”. She burst into tears – “They killed my husband; my two year old daughter is all alone in the house; we were expecting our second baby – if I die, he dies too – please save us sister”. I closed my eyes in agony; but as she mentioned, there was no time to waste; so I began crawling with her across the forest, towards the village.
It was a torture, moving through the thorny underbrush. The only thing that kept me going was an urge to help the woman. She was weakening rapidly; every few minutes she would stop, clutch her wound and moan for a few minutes before some sound from the forest would alert her to start crawling; after a couple of hours of crawling, she stopped and asked me if we could rest for a while. I told her to lie on top of me while I did the crawling for both of us; she looked at me with eyes full of gratitude and weakly did so. I kept crawling till I reached the village; half way there, I realized that I could no longer hear her breathing; I however continued on, with a futile hope that I might be able to save her. When I reached the village, I checked her vitals, she was beyond human help.
The highlights of the events that followed are as follows; I was flown down to the hospital in the state capital; I stayed hospitalized for nearly six months while my body healed; the young man for who had pledged eternal love for me, came visiting one day and told me that he did not believe that I stayed virtuous during my captivity and hence did not want to marry me; some of my old classmates who came visiting a month after he left, told me that he had got married to a rich girl whose father owned a large private hospital. I was offered a gallantry award by the authorities of the tribal area; I politely refused as I knew in my heart that the lady who died was the real gallant one; mother superior and my mother visited me three times during my stay; on my last day at the hospital they brought a girl with them – the daughter of the woman I could not save.
Today, the girl studies in the school attached to the convent where mother superior lives; I work as a doctor and inhabit this room in this house; like all those in it, my heart also is broken; my soul thankfully has been preserved and taken by the kind lord; the body limps through its duties, as it waits for the day when the little girl is old enough to take a call about her life and to enable it to crawl back into the safe and pure confines of the convent.
The Marred Mystic
In those hallowed halls of sheer magic so pure
I communed with the divine in majestic allure
Dance and love, the essence of my soul and life
Sinless, holy and divine, god’s lawful wife
Tainted I stand now, in this puritan realm
Dogmatic lawmakers statured at its helm
Tarnished and labelled a common whore
A marred a soul no god can ever reestore
I am highly trained in classical music, classical dance and in the art of pleasing god and men; I am a temple dancer’s daughter who had been made a ‘god-wife’ and had dedicated some valuable years of my life to the holy duty, myself. Do I believe in god? I do not know if I do; all I know that minus the ‘god’ factor, my existence has no meaning.
I do not know who my father was – I grew up believing it was god. It could have been the chief priest too – why do I say so? I looked a lot like him.
Since the time I learnt to stand I was taught by my mother and grandmother to walk in rhythm. “One foot behind the other – no straying; left hand on the hip; right arm should sway at every step and so should your body; like a creeper in the wind” – were probably the first ever instructions I received.
We lived in a large temple situated at the junction of twenty villages. It was a sprawling landscape with massive halls supported by sculpted pillars. The temple was and probably still is one the best example of temple architecture of ancient times. Birds, animals, flowers, human figurines were sculpted into stone so artistically that one could use them to narrate stories; monolithic elephants, chariots, horses adorned every nook and corner. Chains of stone nearly hundred meters long with interlocking rings and no attachments acted as a few of its many similarly intricate and elaborate ornaments.
For us, it was our home - the place where we lived, ate, slept, learnt our art, practiced our art, served god, served children and servants of god and died in service. There were many girls who shared my home with me. Some were children of other dancers or ‘god-wives’; some were initiates, whose parents pledged them to god when they were born or chosen by the temple as ‘god-wives’. Most of the initiates were left in the temple when they were old enough to eat and drink on their own; some came in when they were around eight; the others came in for the first time on their wedding day.
Our lives were simple - We would get up at the break of dawn, bathe in the cold waters of the temple tank, wear our silk saris (yes, I never wore a frock or a skirt – we were expected to wear a sari – only the style of draping it differentiated the wedded ones from those yet to be wedded), sing and dance after the priests finished reciting their early morning prayers and performing the morning rituals, consume the food that had been offered to god during the morning rituals, go to school (oh yes, we went to school – even the wedded ones – in fact we probably were those few who were allowed to get our SSLC) , come back to the temple, have our afternoon meal, take a short nap, take a bath in the temple tank, change, attend our dance and music classes respectively, play in the wide corridors of the temple and go for dinner and night time worship. After worship, the unwedded girls would be allowed to play indoor games till it was time to sleep, while the mothers and the wedded girls went to the holy area for their holy duties. My mother and the mothers of other girls would come back after a couple of hours, while the girls who did not have any children would sleep in the holy area.
I loved my dance lessons more than the music lessons. I had a good voice, but the music teacher was not my grandmother, but the dance teacher was, and as her grand-daughter, I always got to be the monitor of the class. The classes would take place in one of the huge stone halls of the temple; the ground of the hall where we practiced had got really levelled and evened out by the foot-falls of the dancers through centuries – my mother once told me that it was in that very hall where my great-great grandmother composed a special item number when a famous king came visiting.
My grandmother would sit on an ancient intricately carved wide wooden bench at the eastern end of the hallowed hall of learning, with a rounded stick in her hand. She would tap the stick on a solid block of wood (with a deep indention in the centre owing to long and many years of tapping) and chant out the beat. She would sometimes stop mid-way through a chant to shout out instructions to students - “tap your feet hard; move your eyes; move your neck; move your hips, thrust the hips and chest out while you walk and stand; stand with your feet together; bend your knees; that’s right – form a diamond with your legs,” and so on. We would practice for two hours on weekdays and for nearly four to five years on Sundays.
Music classes would follow Dance classes; extra classes were given to those with melodious voices and a good sense of music. I hated those extra classes – they ate into our play time; moreover the music teacher was extremely strict and hated those who relied too much on natural talent and insisted on ‘no mistake’. Not that she ever resorted to physical violence – she did not need to; a “looks like you did not practice properly yesterday. Stay back after every one leaves and practice with me for another hour” was enough of a punishment.
The daughters and young wives of the priests also sometimes attended the music classes with us. We however never made any lasting friendships with any of them as the daughters would get married off before they turned ten and the wives were not regular with their classes and would walk in quietly and leave as soon as the first half of the classes got over; moreover the classes of those married woman ended when their motherhood took over.
I remember the wedding ceremony of one of the priests’ daughters who, being a good singer, attended the extra music class with me and shared my misery of having to sit and sing while the others played. Her wedding was different from our ‘weddings’. It was drab and noisy; many people came to the temple, the priests chanted and the poor girl had to leave for her in-laws house soon after the ceremony. I felt really sad for her.
One day, a couple of weeks after this girl got wedded and went away I overheard a conversation between my grandmother and another lady of her generation. I gathered from the conversation that my wedding was to take place that year, a couple of weeks before my winter vacation. I ran to my mother who was decorating the goddess with flowers and asked her if my wedding would be like that of the girl who went away or like all the others I had grown up with. She replied that for those privileged to be ‘god-wives’ the father and the husband were both god and there were no ‘in-laws’.
I was happy that I did not need to go away and my wedding would not be different from those of my peers who grew up with me in the temple. A nagging apprehension which had nothing to do with the fact that I could not continue my night time games or cuddle up and sleep next to my mother once I became a god-wife, took hold of me and kept me a little sad, till I got the news that couple of girls whom I played with, also would get wedded along with me.
The wedding day dawned bright and clear; we girls were given a ceremonial bath and adorned like the goddesses or yore. Once we three were dressed to the satisfaction of the ladies and the priests, we were taken to the sanctum sanctorum where the priests chanted Holy Scriptures, while we exchanged garlands with the deity, wore the sacred vermilion on our respective heads and the special chains that signified that we were god’s wives. We were then made to recite our pledge to god while the priest branded our shoulders with god’s emblems. The branding hurt; but we bore the pain with pride. Post the branding, there was a twenty four course feast which went on till late in the evening. After the feast, we three were ceremonially escorted into the holy area by the senior ladies and priests.
The holy area at last! We were excited as well as apprehensive. I for one did not want to be a cause of embarrassment to anyone. I however need not have worried. The moment I entered the holy area, its magic took over. We all became a gods and goddesses, ‘yogis’ and ‘yoginis’ taking part in the heavenly ritual; our bodies automatically moved to the tune and chants along with the others who were but spokes in the great magical wheel of the universe. Over the next few hours, in complete state of trance, we all traversed multiple realms of alternate reality where only love and devotion existed and bodies became mere instruments of expression, creation, beauty, love and power. I must have fainted in the midst of it all; as, when I opened my eyes, I was lying on the side of the holy tank with my grandmother sprinkling water on me. My body felt torn and bruised and the real world looked ugly after the magical world; in a state of pain and confusion, I burst into tears. My grandmother held me softly while I wept; she anointed me with a mixture of butter, honey and some herbs that eased the pain and bade me to have a hot water bath. The bath brought some of the memories of the previous day and many questions that went with them; my grandmother forbade me from discussing the events and said that we should let that magic be and not think about it and lower its sanctity. After the bath, she ordered me to get dressed, go to school and behave as if nothing happened or changed in my life. “The happenings in the holy area are restricted to the holy timings and to special people. Normal people would never be able to understand it; we as the holders of the secret should never vilify it by comparing it to any human act, thinking about it during normal hours or divulging the details (however little we remember) to normal people”; though totally sore and confused; As per her advice, I have always and shall always true to my tradition never try to recollect or reminisce over or discuss about the holy duties or the happenings in the holy area.
Thus my double life, the day time schedule of which stayed as it did before my wedding, began. The difference in the attire was the only outward sign that something changed in my life. The reverence to the attire in the eyes of those in the village added to the already blossoming sense of pride that I cherished, as a proponent of an age-old tradition.
The next change in my life occurred when I was seventeen.
The change was heralded by the arrival of an elderly lady in white to our temple. She was the principal of a reputed institute of music and dance in a city which was about a hundred miles away from where we lived; widowed at a young age, she was allowed to complete her education and learn music from the temple teachers by her broad-minded, educated and politically influential father; she was secretly taught dance by my great-grandmother, who saw the passion for the art in her. She was about the same age as my grandmother and there was a very strong bond of friendship between the former and the latter. She made a very strange request to my grandmother – that I be allowed to pursue a two year diploma course at the music and dance college. My grandmother to my chagrin agreed to accede to her request provided the chief priest gave his permission. The permission was something that came easily – a little too easily I thought for my comfort. Being a biological father, he probably felt that I should learn about the other side of life too. So a month later, I let myself get packed off to the college after extracting a promise from the lady in white that I would be allowed to come to the temple once month for the special full moon day ceremonies.
Life at the college was quite different from the one I was used to; people were too complicated and had strange ideas about right and wrong. Things and man-made rules were given more importance than purity and human happiness. Each one came with preset rules about right and wrong and was more than ready to point a finger at those who did not share the same rules. At the temple, we never had a concept of ownership – we shared clothes, friends, beds living quarters, books and everything that could be shared. At the college, I learnt another facet of human nature – people loved to possess, hoard and own things and people whether or not they needed them.
When I expressed my distress and cultural shock, my grandmother gave me the best lesson of my life – “every truth, every attitude and every life is unique and perfect in its own way and has its own place in the world; acceptance of the fact with a faith in every truth including ones own is the ingredient that makes the world a heaven”. This lesson helped me smile and stay quiet when girls around me spoke about their relationships with their special men; it also made me maintain a golden silence when questions about my life arose.
Midway through my first year, I started noticing that one of the boys who attended the theory class with me had developed a strange kind of interest in me; he would look for opportunities to chat with me, sit next to me and walk back to the hostel area with me, amongst other small acts that suggested that he probably was besotted with me.
The special attention brought in some strange feelings in me; I started thinking of this person as my special friend and almost reached a stage where I imagined a life where he and I shared a home and family in a perfect world where we all together convened with god. Thankfully I got slapped square on my face by reality before things really got out of hand.
When I was in my second year at the college, we received a horrible piece of news about a new law passed by the Government; this law equated our holy duty to the profession where carnal pleasures were provided for a price. The day the news reached us, our principal, the lady in white called me aside and advised that I do not tell anyone about my life and not retaliate if and when people discussed this topic. “I understand the purity and intent of the folks out there at the temple, having lived there myself; but the people out here will not be able to comprehend your reality; it would only attract unwanted attention to your folk and it is not good at such adverse times as this”, she said.
Her advice came none too soon; a couple of days after I got her advice, while we were walking back towards the hostel, my special friend began a conversation in this topic; he made strong statements deriding the god-wives, peppered those degrading statements with some offensive gestures. This unexpected behaviour shocked me so much that I wordlessly ran back to the hostel, locked myself up in my room and cried myself sore. The realization that I never could share the world of people like him and vice versa, hurt me more than any rejection could. I began avoiding him after classes and in them. He tried his best to learn the reason behind my changed behaviour, but my lips stayed sealed.
Unfortunately, my silence could neither conceal the truth forever, nor prevent the catastrophic events that took place a few months later.
After my final exams got over, our principal the lady in white asked me to stay on for a couple of weeks to choreograph and lead a ballet that we had to perform in a large event. I thought of it as a last forage into the world before going back into my shell; couple of days before the event, I got a shocking phone call from one of the girls at the temple.
It seems though not obvious at first, the new law brought subtle changes in the attitude of the people in the village – initially it was just a snide remark or a jibe; soon the treatment became nearly unbearable. The whole feeling if ire precipitated that morning when a group of puritans from nearby villages coupled with some groups in the government cracked down on what they referred to as centres of unholy eroticism – our holy temple.
They stormed our holy abode with arms beat up all the priests, arrested the matriarchs including my grandmother on charges of forcing young girls into immoral activities, forcibly took the younger woman like my mother along with their young children into their ‘protective custody’, demolished the temple and left. The only girls not taken by them were those who at the time of attack were in school.
One of them, the girl in class X thankfully developed enough sense to call me up.
Frantic, I ran to the lady in white. She immediately agreed to go with me to the village. The carnage that met our eyes when I reached there broke my heart; the temple was razed to the ground; the chief priest was beaten so badly that his entire body was paralyzed; some of the younger priests had real serious injuries on their bodies and needed immediate medical attention; the younger girls were in distress and were huddled together cowering in a fear of another possible attack.
Not aware of the extent of hatred, the lady in white took me to the police station to seek their assistance; the reaction that we got when we reached there shook us apart – they told her that it would not be good for a lady of her repute to associate herself with a lowlife lot like ours. Shocked, she took me to the puritan group to reason with them – our distress and shock got compounded when we reached there. We learnt that the ladies they had taken in instead of being respected were being tortured to ‘exorcise the demon’ that was making them perform acts of immoral orgy and some of the elderly ones, including my grandmother were really in a bad shape. Though shaken by this experience, the lady kept her head. Taking the younger girls who were left behind at the temple, she left for the city. Out there, she used her political clout to influence the local politicians to tell the puritans to stop the torture.
The tortures finally did stop; but their ending came a bit too late for some elderly ladies like my grandmother who succumbed to the injuries they were inflicted.
The cessation of atrocities and the ‘kind and merciful’ exoneration also had a price, the young ladies like my mother, along with their children had to bow down to the religious philosophy of the puritans, leave behind their ‘sinful’ ways and become monks or nuns, behind the closed walls of the religious centre of the puritans.
The lady in white helped me out in those traumatic days; she helped in the hospitalization of the injured priests, arranged the funeral of my grandmother and managed to get my mother to meet me one last time before she got locked up behind the walls of the puritan religious centre.
I hold my mother’s words of parting close to my heart till date. Here is what she said – “The world along with everything in it is illusion; what we believe is our truth. We can build the sacred halls around ourselves and surround ourselves with the music and magic and convene with god as we like even in the confines of what to others might appear as a dark lonely room, if our faith and the magic within us is strong enough. A true ‘yogini’ is one who can reach the heights of nirvana even when she is stuck in the trunk of a coconut tree”. She also told me to keep the art alive in the world and hold the tradition in my heart till the day I die, before giving me one last hug and leaving for the abode of her incarceration.
My heart fumed at the dogmatic approach of the puritans that deemed a harmless pursuit of ones religious beliefs sinful whilst terming tortures in the name of purification holy; I wanted to initiate a protest against government’s act; I wanted to scream out that the faith I grew up in, was as pure and as holy as any other; I wanted to tell the world that goodness lay in kindness and simple happiness and not in pursuit of dogmatic principles that judged, persecuted and hurt simple people. The lady in white dissuaded me and advised that I instead should concentrate on giving a life to the girls I rescued, and work towards the propagation of the ancient art form of my ancestors.
The day I went back with her, I had to face another painful experience; my erstwhile special friend who had found out about the chain of events and my background despite the discretion of the lady in white, confronted me on my arrival back at the college; he told me that he was thankful that truth prevailed before he got irreversibly caught in the clutches of a characterless person like me. He also told me that people like me were to be publically lynched; I made him see the girls the lady in white and I had rescued, and begged him to keep the matter a secret; he agreed to do so, if shared my bed with him once. I still laugh sadly at the irony of it all.
The rest of my life has been what one would have expected under those circumstances - I joined college of music and dance and took over the guardianship of the young, unfortunate, homeless girls. When the
Lady in White left the world; I, a lonely lady in red took her place and became the principal of the college.
I did my best to keep the art alive for many years till I was told to step aside to make place for a smart young lady with plenty of political clout and the man who knew my secret, for a father.
Today, I live all alone in this room. The girls whom I thus rescued many years ago also have long moved on; some are married; some have become successful professionals – the memories of the glorious days of magical holiness are long gone from their minds like long forgotten dreams.
In the solitary confines of this room, I try to bring alive the ancient magic of love and Holy Communion of those hallowed halls of that long forgotten temple, through my memories and faith. I know that once I leave the world, I shall take the final traces of wonderful ancient tradition with me.
I sometimes punish myself for not launching the protest against the government to get the law that changed our lives repealed, the thoughts about possible repercussions had I protested and failed mollify me.
There are moments of introspection when ask myself if the holy communion we enjoyed was in actuality an act sinful orgy as those puritans labelled it; I also keep asking god if he really exists and if yes, what his thoughts on the whole thing are. Someday, before the world ends, I know I shall get my answer.
In those pristine halls, beyond the confines of time and space
Commune I did, in holy abandon embellished with love and grace
Adored, celebrated and deified, in a world so sinless and pure
Living in infinite ecstasy and enchantingly majestic allure
Proud of my sanctified legacy, as god’s own beloved wife
I dwelt in pious spiritual trance, the realms of a mystic life
Cocooned from the mundane rules of the puritan world so earthy
And the dogmatic laws that are slaves of the strong and wealthy
Tainted and marred I stand today, unclothed and bare in your midst
Tarred, feathered, tarnished and crushed, under misogyny’s iron fist
Labelled a hedonistic lost soul, by the extant masters of the earth
Of those who hail me a sinner, in the world there is no dearth
My communion is degraded to a street walker’s abject disrepute
My mysticism’s shards linger, wretched, lonely and destitute
A Little Girl Lost
I do not remember my mother; the only parts of my father’s body I remember are the fingers which I desperately tried to hold in the crowd, the day I got lost. I vaguely remember the flat I probably lived in and the crowded ally way where I probably played before I got lost. The rest is a blur. Oh, yes, one memory still stays vivid in my mind – the train that I boarded by mistake after following someone who I probably thought was my father and the station I got down at after realizing I was in a wrong train.
The train was crowded with people – some young, some old; some who were travelling alone and the others with their families. None of them spared a second glance towards a young child who was running frantically across the compartment crying out to her father. Not a single person stopped me when I got down at that god-forsaken station.
It was late in the evening, the sun had set; not realizing the logistics of trains, I dashed across the platform to find the ‘other correct train’ only to discover to my chagrin that the train had disappeared; to add to the misery, ere I could collect my wits, the train I just alighted picked up speed left the station, which unfortunately was not one of the regular stops for any of the major trains including the one that deserted me.
Exhausted from a futile attempt to follow the train, I collapsed on a bench at the end of the platform and wept myself to sleep only to wake up to a kick to my shins. The person who kicked me became my guardian till he realized I was to be owned. He was a beggar who pretended to be blind, played a harmonium and sang songs to the passengers of passing trains for living. He ate, slept and lived on platforms. Under his guardianship, I became one too.
Our routine was quite simple – get up early in the morning, use the toilets in the railway station; smear black kohl around the eyes, take the harmonica, board the first train that came along, sing songs, beg, get down once there was enough money to buy food, use the money from begging to buy food, eat, wash, practice music and sleep. The man would dye his hair and paint his face to give himself an appearance of a frail blind old man; I used to pretend to be his blind grand daughter; he used to walk with his arm on my shoulder, I used to walk around waving a stick in front of me. He taught me both songs from movies and devotional songs. “The song should be chosen based upon the audience. Older and sober folks prefer listening to devotional songs and they pay you better if you sing well; the younger lot do not care – sing a ‘film song’ and sing it badly – they will pay up faster – to make you move away from them” he would say. Singing badly was not something that came naturally for me; I had to try really hard to sing off-key and needed some hard raps from the business end of the walking stick wielded by my guardian for getting the wrong-key right!
Initially I kept hoping that my father or mother would come one day and take me away; I would wait expectantly after the arrival of every train and weep silent tears every time the last passenger left the platform. I however kept these feelings to myself owing to the trashing I received from my guardian the day after I was taken into his fold, on expressing the hope of being reclaimed by my father.
Slowly the hope dwindled and became a distant dream; I started accepting the life as the real one and began rejoicing in the guardian’s acts of kindness; kind he was, in his own way - the last loaf of bread or the last biscuit was always kept aside for me; my crude mattress (made using rags and old blankets) was softer than his and when it rained and space was scarce, he would sit and doze after ensuring that I got the only available dry spot.
Thus passed nearly three years of my life, which ended on that fateful night! It had rained heavily and the ground had become very slippery. We finished singing and collecting the alms and moved towards the door, just as the train gave the indication of moving. My guardian helped me alight the train and was following me, when he slipped, fell through the gap between the train on to the tracks; on a reflex, I held his outstretched hand and started trying to pull him out, screaming for help. The help came too late for, the moving train first cut-off the hand that I held, throwing me backwards, before it slowly but surely crushed him to death; I watched helplessly as his eyes bulged in horror and pain and listened to the deep moan he uttered as the last remnants of oxygen left his lungs when they got crushed; I watched and listened on, in shock and horror, as the moan ended in a deep silence of a gory death.
I kept lying where I had fallen in shock, holding my late guardian’s severed hand, till a couple of railway officials came to my aid. One of them took the hand off me, while the other gently took me away from the scene. I was taken to the office of the station master where they listened to my story and allowed me a bath before moving me to the nearest ‘Home for the destitute’ run by a local NGO headed by a renowned ascetic.
Did my life improve? It would be untrue if I said no, for in some ways it did get better; I got to go to school, wear clean clothes, sleep in a bed, interact with girls of my age and eat reasonably clean and healthy food. The cost of these amenities is what made the whole experience painful.
The ‘ascetic’ who headed the NGO that ran the ‘Home’ had a weakness; he needed to ‘bless’ one girl every night. He would call all the girls in the room one after the other in the evening and choose the one that needed blessing that night. The girl would have to go to the matron, take a glass of milk and a cup of honey and go to the special room where she would be expected to anoint the ‘ascetic’. After being anointed by the girl, the ascetic would drink half of the milk and make the girl drink the rest before having his way with her. He loved inflicting pain and made sure that pain was part of the girl’s nightly blessing.
The girls who lived there since infancy knew very little about the outside world and hence accepted these blessings as they came; but girls like me who came to the ‘Home’ after having spent some years of their lives in the outside world found it humiliating; during the first few ‘blessing’ sessions, I tried to resist and ended up getting more hurt and humiliated; moreover the matron who probably took stock of how well we got ‘blessed’ used to trash the ‘bad girls’.
Initially, I was not sure if I was the only one singled out or others also got blessed the way I did and hence could not discuss about it with others; a painful incident involving one of the slightly older girls made me realize that I was not alone in my agony, but had to stay quiet about it. This unfortunate girl one day declared in front of all that she was going to become the mother of the ‘ascetic’s child’. As a punishment for her sinful words, she was made to disrobe in public, tied to a pole, beaten and punched so badly that she died that night of internal bleeding. Since then, the matron began monitoring our monthly cycles and would ‘heal’ those with ‘issues’ by administering ‘special medicines’.
The school we attended also was also run by the NGO and hence was within the same campus as the ‘home’; we were forbidden from speaking to teachers; our fellow students, who came in buses or cars to the school, wore expensive clothes and paid heavy donations and fees, looked down upon us and maintained a distance from us; so we were prisoners who had to endure a punishment called life.
Owing to the scrawny, unhealthy figure I had developed during my life as a platform beggar, I was looked down upon by those at the ‘home’ as well. This actually ended being a blessing in disguise because, as the less favourite child, I was not chosen more than once in a couple of months for blessings and hence could pursue my studies in peace and could maintain my sanity far better than the better looking unfortunate girls, whose shivers of fear and silent tears of protest on they way to the special room of blessing, still haunt my dreams; I remember how month after month they would cry out in pain holding their tiny mid-sections as the special medicines took effect. Even today, decades later, their painful voices penetrate the veil of time and assail my senses.
Unlike some of the others who stayed too broken to complete their education, I, despite or probably owing to a late start and a strange worldly knowledge, managed to stay fairly ahead of most of the girls in my class in terms of my studies. The teachers owing to their natural prejudice against girls from the ‘home’ started targeting my answer sheets with extra strict markings enabling me to work harder to stay ahead. My class twelve board results came as a surprise to all – I was the school topper and stood third in my district.
Overnight, I became the blue eyed child of the NGO and the teachers who realized how they could use my name to improve their reputation and bring in donations from patrons. I was recommended for a scholarship and given free admission under economically backward category at the district medical college. The ascetic (who by then had grown older and frailer) and our matron personally accompanied me, on my trip to the medical college hostel, took me to principal’s cabin and introduced me as their god given star child. My heart screamed out at the irony, but prudence imbibed over years made me hold my tongue with a promise to my heart that once I completed my medical course, I would rescue some if not all the girls from the home.
I studied really hard and finished the course. The only boy who showed interest in me did a volte-face the minute I told him my story. After completing my studies, I joined the same institute and the attached medical centre as a practicing faculty.
My life, since then has been a race against time to keep promises and a long and painful journey where I learnt to learn and accept my limitations as a single individual and understand that some scars are too deep for even time to heal, some souls are too badly marred to be saved and some spirits are so badly broken that they prefer death to a challenging change, however good it is.
A Lawyer amongst the Lawless
Though the cold and heavy flood, intimidates and daunts
Though Pain rips my being and courage hangs by a tread
It is my hard endeavor and not a sprightly jaunt
Against the tide and the dark, I truly shall trudge ahead
Though the sun may show his fury and burn the very path
Though the thorns may cut and mar me to death till I bled
Destiny in my heart, I shall harken, despite their immense wrath
Along the eternal pathless route, I truly shall trudge ahead
Born to a divorced daughter of a rich man, I grew up, a pampered kid in a huge house filled with domestic help. I remember my beautiful, headstrong mother, dressing me and herself up during festivals, waiting, mostly in vain, for my father, her former husband, to turn up. On the rare occasions that he did, she would parade me in front of him and stand quietly revelling his appreciative gaze. I also remember the tears she used to quietly shed after he left.
Many years later, I learnt that she fell in love with my father during her school days, eloped and got married when she was barely eighteen. She unfortunately could not adjust in his tiny home and live on his meagre income. His refusal to move back with her to her house resulted in an untimely end to their love-match. They quietly continued to love each other till the end. It was this love that eventually saved my life.
My maternal grandfather owned two large factories. My mother managed one of them; her younger brother managed the other; her elder brother was a senior Civil Services officer; her younger sister was married and lived in a different country. My elder uncle was a quiet serious person who stayed with his wife and kids in a nearby apartment. He never spoke to my mother or acknowledged my presence. He was very fond of her and hated the way she wasted her intelligence over an unsuitable boy. My younger uncle however was a jovial person who played with me a lot and even let me sit with him at his factory, on Sundays and holidays. When I was ten, my younger uncle got married. His wife, my aunt was a sweet young lady who used to love singing songs and playing with me. Till her son was born, she and I would spend the early evenings either cuddled up on the couch, watching TV or in the kitchen trying out special dishes.. Her son was born when I was in high school. Despite being busy with my studies, I would steal moments from my books for a quick hug or a sloppy kiss of my little cousin, whom I considered my real baby brother. The closeness we shared during those days, made the events that unfolded later in life, much more unbearable.
I was a studious child who did well in school and got selected into one of the nation’s most prestigious law-schools. I was thrilled and so were my mother and paternal grandfather.
College life was heavenly. I topped the batch every time and reached my final year with great hopes for a successful future. I got selected as a trainee judge in one of the prestigious courts of the state and was all set to join, when tragedy struck. My maternal grandfather died, leaving one factory each to my mother and my uncle respectively. A month after his death, my elder uncle died. A month after my grandfather and my elder uncle’s death, my uncle went to court contesting my grandfather’s will. My mother and tried to reason with my uncle. He was adamant. I came to know through alternate sources that his factory was badly underperforming, he was deep in debts and hence wanted to sell one of the factories off. He assumed that as the only surviving male child, he would inherit the entire property. When personal persuasions went in vain, my mother hired a lawyer and answered his challenge, in the court of law.
The case ran for more than two years in the course of which I graduated from the Law School and began my training as a Trainee judge as the state court. I also met and fell in love with a young man, who, as I found out later, wanted me only for the wealth that I probably would inherit from my mother in the future
Sensing a nexus between the lawyers and my uncle, my mother fired more than two lawyers. When the third one also started showing signs of getting sold to my uncle, she asked me if I could represent her instead. My boyfriend was in agreement with her; he even offered to help me out with my case. After plenty of deliberations, mostly emotional, I resigned from my stable job and took over the case.
I have court records to back my statement that I argued brilliantly; so brilliantly I argued, that the judge who had taken a massive bribe also could not give the verdict in my uncle’s favour. He handed the factory premises over to us; but gave the control of the machinery and equipment, which strangely was not mentioned in the will, over to my uncle. In essence, my mother and I owned a large commercial property, which we could rent, use or sell-out.
The day after the court decided, I went to my boyfriend’s house. We agreed that we should hand the equipment over to my uncle, sell the premises off to a good buyer and invest that money to buy a small office where we both could practice. We agreed that we should quickly get married and move on. I went back home in glee to discuss the options with my mother, little realizing the consequences.
My mother wept on hearing my thoughts; she told me that the factory was my grandfather’s legacy which would protect at all costs; she took me along with herself to the factory and to prevent my uncle from carrying the equipment off, she locked me and herself inside the factory. Unfortunately, my uncle also countered this extreme step with an inhuman one – he locked the premises up, and handed the key over to the court officials to hand it over to my mother.
I do not want to describe the harrowing week of that my mother and I spent in the factory premises. One does not need to describe a stay in a dark place devoid of any kind of sustenance. The aspect that added to the woes was the fact that when I called my boyfriend from my cell-phone to seek his help, he behaved as if he could not hear me and later blocked my number off. Thankfully there was water; so we survived. Liberty came in the form of a long forgotten father, who thankfully had kept a track on my mother’s life despite not staying in touch. He, who used to take a route that went past our house to work noted that the house seemed unoccupied, came to look for us at the factory premises and managed to read one of the many notes that I had written seeking help and pushed out from under the doors and through the AC slits. He got the lock broken, dragged us out, half-dead from the hell and rushed us to the nearby hospital. My mother died a week later; my father was there next to her. He and his family arranged her funeral.
My boyfriend was there during the funeral as well, sheepishly describing how he somehow had gone out of station on an official visit and did not know about my predicament. After the funeral, he and my uncle took me aside and advised me as to how the factory would no longer be of any use to me and how I, a lawyer was unsuitable for running it. They told me that I should hand the factory premises over to my uncle, who with all his love would pay a handsome dowry to my boyfriend and arrange a lavish wedding. He also added that he will help me setup a new office at a very posh locality and help me out with my first few clients. Screaming in agony, I ran off from them to my father who understood the situation and took me with him to his tiny two room apartment.
A daughter’s life of mine with him was extremely wonderful but short. A couple of days after my mother’s death he fell severely ill and died twenty days later. Before dying he told that he had always loved her mother and had lived in a hope that someday they would be together again. He could not bring himself to leave his old parents and hence could never agree to live with her. With the no hope of a reunion, he no longer wished to live. He transferred all his savings over to me, bequeathed his house to me and advised that I should fight to keep my mother’s and grandfather’s legacy alive.
Since then my life has been a struggle to keep the above described legacy alive. My boyfriend and my uncle tried many times to dissuade me from going to the court; they got me attacked and even molested by hooligans; my erstwhile boyfriend even tried the “I love you and do not want to suffer, give up the love of that dead property so that we could live” card. I face humiliation in the court every day, mental scars prevent me from sleeping in the night, I fear closed spaces and sometimes spend my nights at bus terminuses and waiting rooms of railway stations. I a living wreck with a single aim in life. I am a lawyer, in this law-less world.
The one at the verge
My qualification is professional - as qualifications go;
I am a professional too as all you professionals go!!
Married on conditions, to which I could never comply;
Scared I stand at the threshold – as destiny shall ply
Seeking the verdict, hoping for kindness against odds
Laying my story at the mercy of the master of gods
The abyss I see and the wings that would help me fly
As destiny dictates and plays, so shall I meekly comply
I used to work before marriage in a city far away from home. Living on a beginner’s salary in an accommodation shared with four more girls, dreaming of a knight who would take me off to a new world called home. A place where I would be given love, treated like a queen and allowed to serve and thrive. I hoped for a world where I and the hero of my world would ride to work, an idyllic work location where I could earn a respectable wage, learn and grow.
When this handsome young man came to see me at my parents’ place; I in a hurry to meet my dreams agreed to the conditions that I should stay professional and contribute to the family income. The marriage took place amidst great pomp and splendour. The first couple of months of my marital life, flew off in a whirlwind of bliss. The trouble began in the third month – I began hearing statements like “there is no money; so please reduce the milk usage”, “you have to manage within the income that is provided if you can’t work”, thrown at me. The real issue actually began when we moved into the flat of my husband’s elder brother and his wife ‘to save money’. The fact that the sister-in-law despite being less qualified, had a stable job in the nearby school and brought home a ‘sizable’ sum of 15000 every month, did nothing to help my cause. The taunts got louder; the responsibility of managing the entire household was dumped on me; every mistake was jeered at, pointed out. Sometimes, I used be admonished in public about how I was wasting their hard earned money and was a burden. Before we moved in, my husband’s brother had a domestic help who would mop, clean and wash dishes; after I moved in, her services got terminated and I was made to take over her chores.
I started approaching various offices for jobs. Unfortunately the pay offered by those willing to hire me, was not acceptable to my husband and the ones that paid well, needed a city-bred, smart and experienced professional and not a hard working newly married woman with less than a year in the industry. The last straw fell one late evening when I got back home after an interview and a dissatisfactory offer, only to be yelled at by my husband for being a slacker and a waste of money and time. I took a decision to take this offer. It was made in one of the firms that I had gone to interview for; it required me to take on activities related to ‘corporate relations’, especially for niche customers. I was told that I would get to use my professional skills on projects that I could win for the company.
I was also told by one of the senior employees in the organization that I need to worry about agreeing, as the dealings are all legal and we never needed to cross the line.
As a part of my joining process, I was given an advance to get into gear. As a professional organization, we were expected to dress alike in formal attire; keep our hair well styled and ourselves well groomed. The work was good; I got to learn a lot professionally and technically. It was an architect’s firm with a niche international clientele; as one of the three interior designers, I got to work on planning and implementing the interior layouts of large corporate offices.
The first ‘client relationship’ assignment came my way in my fourth month. A large Japanese firm was planning to setup offices in our city and was tying up with a large real-estate provider who in turn was willing to outsource the interior design work to us, if we could help them clinch the deal. The entire deal process took place in a hill resort. It involved many presentations during the day and plenty of socializing in the evening. During the socializing, one of the decision makers in the client organization took fancy to me and asked for additional socializing in his room. When I refused, my manager took me aside, told me that I was still in my probation and a refusal could result in the loss of a job. I was told that as a professional, I did not have a choice to decide where I could draw the line and should render every bit of my job to perfection. “If we lose this deal, you will be held responsible”, he told me.
I probably could say that I did not have a choice; looking back, I know that I did have a choice but chose not to exercise it. We won the deal; I paid the price with my values. I
After I came back, I did extra to keep my husband happy; thanks to the deal, I got an early confirmation and a raise. The extra income enhanced our standard of living; we moved out of the shared flat, into one of our own.
The deal in the resort was followed by another successful one, which in turn was followed by another. My manager started recognizing my capabilities as a deal maker and doubled my pay. Did I like my job? Did I like what I did? I do not know and cannot answer; but the smile on my husband’s face when the salary hit the joint account and the pride with which he drove our jointly owned car and sat in the balcony of our jointly owned house sipping coffee certainly dulled any feelings of impropriety and the pain associated with the loss of values.
So why am I at the verge or threshold today? A month ago, we had a deal with a client from the US. Three days ago, my manager took me aside and informed that the client who socialized with me, was HIV positive. He advised me to get myself tested.
I am standing here at the clinic now, awaiting my results. Whatever the results are, pain awaits me. If positive, I am bound to lose my job; if negative, I will leave the job as I do not want to put myself and my family at risk. A jobless existence will take us back financially and I cannot let my husband suffer… so here I am - at the threshold.
She roamed the streets all alone, carrying that sack oh, so heavy!
Trying to eke her living, paying the ruthless life’s cruel levy
Following the routine, never to change, day by day, every day
Make and sell, that’s all she know herself, sometimes, along the way
Feed the kids, feed the husband, and bear the torture and the pain
Never thinking of what to expect and never craving a single gain
Year by year, as I watched, grey she turned and weaker more
The work by the fire and the toil in the heat, hollowing her very core
She is now dead and gone, body lying limp by the roadside
Unclaimed and unwanted by all, forlorn in the world so wide
The ones she toiled for, where are they, none of us can answer
Her lips that probably knew, lie sealed and silenced for ever
Soon the traces of that withered candy seller would be forgotten
Save by the hearts of those who her wares gleefully had eaten
I travel across the globe; I live alone; I am perceived as a strong, dominating, smart looking and independent person; my annual income tax runs in six figures. I own flats and houses in multiple geographical locations. I am feared, envied and even hated by people. I have many acquaintances, many I hang out with regularly and many more who would give their eye-tooth to hang out with me. I also have a secret life which none of my acquaintances know about.
They say prince Siddharth became Buddha after he witnessed some events of the cycle of life on a particular outing. My epiphany did not take place on a single day, but was attained through a series of events that hit the zenith on a rainy day a few years ago.
As the only girl amongst three siblings, this life of mine began with a ‘privileged childhood’. As both my parents were employed and earning well, there was no dearth of money. I grew up in a world of luxurious wardrobes, leather-bound books, expensive toys, piano and ballet lessons, debating competitions and international vacations.
Thanks to an unusually high intelligence quotient, days spent at the nearby library and educational guidance I received from my parents, I completed my education at an unusually young age from the best institute of my country.
After my graduation, I strayed and got lost. I fell in love with a good man who would not have me, went to a wrong person on the rebound and got stuck in a loveless marriage. Three years after I held my graduation certificate in my hand, I had a young daughter, a non-supportive ex-husband and no job. I crawled back to my parents’ home to lick the wounds and work on starting afresh.
Start afresh, I did. Finding a new job was not difficult as I was willing to join at a slightly lower level than my peers, as I knew that I could overtake them in no time. I joined a multinational organization of a great ‘brand value,’ jumped up the ladder faster than most of those around me and reached the ‘lower management’ level in less than a two years.
I was all set to climb to the next level, when the financial slump hit us. Most of the projects in my organization except the ones I was working on, got closed. Many senior people got laid off. Some of those with plenty of clout survived thanks to god-fathers within the organization and got moved into my area. Thanks to their clout, despite their inability to save accounts, they were given more senior roles. In one of my critical projects, I had to report to one such well-connected dead-wood.
The career aspirations of many brilliant technocrats and domain experts depended on this project. I let ends justify the means a few times and played to the weaknesses of the senior dead-wood. Lines of propriety and morality are relative; so I shall not discuss those. All I can say is, from a puritan angle, I stayed more-or-less ‘sinless’.
I manipulated the person till he agreed to let me operate independently. I ensured that the interests of the people in the team were taken care of, till better opportunities came along; the moment those opportunities knocked, I grabbed them, along with the prized members of my team and moved out of the flotsam infested organization.
I set my eyes on him on the first day at the new organization. He was soft-spoken, composed and shy, not very quick on the uptake but amazingly good at what he did. He hated me for my outspokenness, my tendency to answer before someone completed their question and the fact that he had to report to me. I liked him for his meticulousness and never-say-die attitude.
Despite having such a vast disparity in our attitudes towards one another, we managed to complete the project assigned to us and deliver positive results in less than eighty percent of the allocated time; to ensure a better synergy, I stayed extra courteous and nice to him, despite feeling like telling him off more than once each hour.
The incident that changed my thoughts, my perspective and hence the aim of my life happened in the 15th month of my employment… I got posted to a project in new geographic location, in a foreign country. In a strange twist of fate, my soft-spoken colleague, whom I would like to refer to as Mr Soft-spoken, also got posted on to the same project.
During the course of the project execution, our team, which included Mr Soft-spoken had to slog through days and nights to ensure a successful delivery. Mr Soft-spoken and I often had to spend many nights together in my apartment, all by ourselves to complete critical tasks. Having grown up, an equal amongst brothers and male cousins and having studied in an institute where the male to female gender ratio was forty to one and having worked in teams where I normally used to be the only lady out of twenty individuals, it never occurred to me me those days that he belonged to the opposite gender!
Moreover having lived through a painfully abusive marriage, I had developed an aversion to any kind of a relationship that would make me vulnerable.
Hence the incident that occurred on that fateful night, gave me a jolt and put me in the path towards my epiphany. It all started when I felt a bit out of colour one evening and decided to take an early night off. At 3 AM, I was awakened rudely by the door-bell; ere I opened the door, two ladies rudely pushed me aside and rushed into my apartment. One of them I learnt later, was Mrs Soft-spoken, whilst the other was a neighbour whom she had taken the help of, to locate her ‘errant’ husband. They rudely demanded to know where Mr Soft-spoken was and would not listen when I told them that I had slept off early and was not aware where he was. “I am sure he is hiding in your bedroom”, she wailed in her vernacular, which I thankfully was proficient in, “do you think I do not know what goes on here? I have tolerated your errant behaviour long enough; but today I am not going to take it anymore!!”
I could not make out what she was trying to say, for a couple of seconds; when I did, I was too torn between anger and amusement for a couple of seconds to respond. Composing myself to the best of my abilities, I told her very sweetly that her husband was not there with me, I had no interest what so ever in him as I never found him good enough for me and asked her politely if she needed my help finding him.
My calm response probably was not something she expected; but her response shocked me out to the core - She said, “he comes home late every night, sometimes he does not come at all; since the day of our marriage, he has treated me like a stranger. He comes home smelling of a woman, spends hours talking to someone. When I ask him, he always responds that he was working with you!! What would you do if you were in my shoes?”
Involuntarily I hugged her while her friend stood there dumbstruck. Taken aback, Mrs Soft-spoken broke down in my arms. I held her till she calmed down. She asked me in the end if she and her friend could spend the night at my place. I gladly let them do so.
At 6:00 AM, Mr Soft-spoken sheepishly appeared at my doorstep asking me if his wife came over. Apparently, he was in love with a lady who worked on another project. His parents forced him into a loveless marriage to a simple innocent girl who hardly knew English. On parents’ insistence, he brought her with himself to the project location, but spent most of his nights, when not working with me, with his love.
I told them to call their respective parents and explain the situation. I helped Mrs Soft-spoken plan her return trip back home. I even let her stay in my apartment till the day of her travel, much against the wishes of her husband. Her friendly neighbour stayed with her during the day; at night, I kept a vigil over her; she was so distraught that we were scared for her safety.
After she left, her husband Mr Soft-spoken, and I continued working on that project, but I could no longer bring myself to be ‘nice’ to a person who did not think twice about my reputation or about hurting a simple soul like his wife; the project delivery thankfully did not get affected by our acrimony.
The day after customer sign-off, I requested Mr Soft-spoken to go back home and work his life out before he planned his next assignment.
A year later, I learnt from the lady who used to be his girlfriend, that on parents’ insistence, Mr Soft-spoken reconciled with his wife and was now a father of a baby girl. I pitied the poor girl who fell in love with him in good faith and ended up being the ‘other woman’ for no fault of hers.
You probably must be wondering what happened to my daughter along the way; she grew up with my parents and went to a boarding school when she was ten. I would go home to my parents every summer and spend a month with her. The final spark of insight that pushed me further towards my secret life flashed during one of those summers.
One hot afternoon, my daughter and I were on our way to a mall for an afternoon of ‘shopping and movies’, when our attention got diverted by a throng of humans crowded around something lying on the roadside. Out of sheer curiosity, I got down from the car and went over to find out what had happened. I was met by a pitiable sight – an old lady was lying out there; there was a torn gunny sack by her side, puffed rice and rice candies were strewn all over the road and dogs were feasting on them. Out of all those people in the crowd, none dared go near her. I walked over and looked closely – she was the same lady from whom my mother used to buy puffed rice for making quick evening snacks for us. She had once told us that she was married to a cripple, had a son who was wasting his life and a daughter whose ‘hand she had to give off in marriage’. My mother had helped her financially a couple of times and used to feed her, or give her old clothes from time to time. I had not seen for more than a decade. I called my mother over; together, we hailed an ambulance and took her to the nearby hospital, where she was declared dead on arrival.
We inquired around for her son, daughter or husband and learnt that her husband remarried and left her a decade ago, she went to her village with her son, but had to come back a year ago after he threw her out, her daughter was killed by her in-laws as she could not take enough dowry with her and she lived alone in a small hut near the seashore.
With no choice left, we arranged for her funeral; I visited the nearby morgue in that process – while waiting for her body, I started chatting with the morgue supervisor – a quiet, sad looking lady, aged beyond her years. She told me that roadside deaths of lonely women was a regular occurrence and every week a minimum of one such bodies would reach her morgue.
She explained that they would, after waiting for a definite time for identification, cremate the bodies in the electric crematorium next door.
She also told me how she always took personal interest, met neighbours and acquaintances and tried to trace the next of kin of those dead women; in most of the cases, some nephew, niece, cousin or grandson would appear after the cremation and claim the ashes. For those whose ashes had no claimants, she would jot down the basic details of their life on a sheet of paper and store that paper along with their ashes and other personal effects in a box. She showed me fifty boxes stacked behind her chair and added that someday, she would make a trip to Holy Mountain -Himalayas and send these boxes floating down the river. When I asked her the reason behind this strange passion of hers, she replied that she was a long widowed child bride who was well aware that her life also someday would end like that of those unfortunate women. “That is the final journey I would endeavour; it would be a final gift to the last remnants of these unfortunate lives; it would probably be my parting service to my mortal body”, she said – “I always wanted to flow down a river freely to join a sea and tell my story to all those who came along the way”!
She asked me what my name was… I told her that I was the eternally flowing lonely River of the Holy Mountain she was destined to meet…
Thus began the new endeavour towards my destiny…
Trudging along the eternally elongated and endless gangway
In the constricting confines of the world so bleak, lonely and grey
Trying to escape a lifeless existence devoid of love or company
Seeking the egress to the final extinction of the infinite misery
Floundering I gazed around, at the carcasses sadly strewn
Of Lonely souls in their exodus mowed down and cruelly hewn
Efforts gone vain, lives forgotten, hopes eternally extinguished
Empty relics of unchronicled lives singular and yet undistinguished
Gazing into emptiness, their unseeing eyes narrated sagas so many
Of lost hopes, condemned martyrs and droning ragas of disharmony
“Remember us”, they beseeched, “tell them that our best we strove!”
“In the midst of a merciless gale of misogyny to live, give and love”
Their lament rent my soul in an echo of a long-lost harmonious tune
And a newfound purpose, beyond the hail of anguish and misfortune