అనువాదలహరి

Ajeya … Kuppili Padma, Telugu, Indian

“All the Rajani fans

Don’t miss the chance

Lungi dance, Lungi dance, Lungi dance…”

I was about to enter the Land Mark Bookshop when the song reverberated in high pitch. I reached for the railing and peeped down. Many people like me were looking down from all floors.

On the ground floor, more than hundred boys and girls of my age were putting their steps rhythmically to the speed of the song. That was a flash mob dance. All the visitors on the ground floor had already flocked around them in a circle.

Not only the people who were window shopping, but also others who were actually shopping were settling around the railings in their respective floors; people who could not find room were taking recourse to the escalator to get down.  Only people in the Coffee shops and Restaurants who were mid-way through their eatables or drinks did not stir out from their places. There were several numbers played … one after another. As the audience responded enthusiastically with whistles, claps and raps, with the high energy songs and their dance, atmosphere in all the floors was getting charged up. Some of them were recording the dance on their cellphones. There were several media cameras focused as well.

That was the biggest shopping mall in the city; and that was the busiest hour too. As I was debating in my mind what this ‘flash mob dance’ could be for, the youth might perhaps thought that they had garnered enough attention of all the people about them, they stopped dancing. Soon, they enacted a Rape Scene with four boys among the youth chasing a girl and the rest closing their eyes. Then they all sang the refrain of an awakening song in unison. After that they stood in circles.

Moving hither and thither among them a boy and a girl addressed the gathering: “Dear citizens, we all knew that the youth of this country condemned the Nirbhaya incident unequivocally. We fought for justice. Similarly we fought for justice to Abhaya from our city.  Still, there is no letup in atrocities on women in this country and in our city.  All of us are aware of the atrocity perpetrated on Ajeya. Tomorrow the Court is going to deliver the sentence. Let us pray that justice will be done to Ajeya. Let us wish that such incidents shall not repeat in our city.  Let us respect women… respect womanhood…”  As they spelt each line emotionally one after another, one of the members from the silent squad, roared, “Ajeya, we are with you,” and gave out the slogan, “We want… justice.”  On the next occasion when one of them announced, “we want…” the public caught up with the slogan and lent their voice, “justice.” The whole area reverberated with slogans and claps.

Clapping with the crowd and sloganizing “Justice for Ajeya,” with them all the while, my voice suddenly tapered off in my gullet and hands failed to meet in a clap as I looked at my hands…

 “Ajeya! Ajeya! Ajeya!

“Who is this Ajeya? I heard this name before!”

Oh! It was me! It was my pseudonym!  However much I tried to remember, I was unable to. That name did not sink into my subconscious, even though months had passed.  What’s this? Why was I clapping and raising slogans?

As I was descending by the escalator pulling the mask over my face more closely with the scarf, I felt, “Hasn’t my life tumbled down as speedily? In fact…” My chain of thoughts broke off as it got mixed up with the announcement from below: “There is a candle light rally in the evening to express our solidarity with Ajeya’s cause. Let us hope that tomorrow’s Court verdict would be an eye opener for all “manimals” who perpetrate atrocities on women…”

Like a white young pup that hies off for the nearest hole scared of visitors at an exhibition, I scurried off from the mall on to the road.

I was walking along the footpath in that jam-packed traffic. I participated in the flash mob-dance when the “Nirbhaya” incident happened last time. I also participated in the midnight rally on Tank Bund with my friends; raised slogans and lit candles in solidarity. Along with my friends I actively participated in every programme in support of Nirbhaya no matter who organized it. I was once part of every gathering that fought for the safety of women and sought justice for the rape victims. What an irony of fate! I who fought that the likes of Nirbhaya-incident should never recur had to mutely witness today … as a nameless victim and an anonymous spectator … a dance seeking justice for my own cause!

Before I could walk down few yards, I was sieged with a bout of cough triggered by pollution and I stepped into the nearest coffee shop to recoup.

I looked around after I felt easy. There was quite a hubbub in the shop teeming with young men and women of my age sitting in two’s or groups with beaming faces and lost in animated conversations. They were updating their FB accounts instantly with the selfies. Of course, I long deactivated my FB account.

For once a crazy thought passed through my mind how it would be if I had opened another account with this masked-face as profile pic and a pseudonym.

What pseudonym would I choose?

Ajeya.

What would Ajeya be doing?

She would be fighting for justice to the victims of a gang rape.

What status updates could she give after all?

Why? So many. She could update with TV debates, bytes of celebrities, candle-light rallies, flash mob-dances, and so on.

I was lost in thoughts about the atrocities perpetrated on women at some place or other every day, when the chain broke off with the high tides of laughter bursting about me. Similar moments of uninhibited laughter crept into my thoughts. What a time it was! A feast of giggling and boisterous merry making! A time oblivious to the past and just living in the present! But now, that single incident had transformed my life into … a lone desolate tree caught in the storm of perpetual memories. A time when life should be bubbling with hopes for future … had been reduced to an enduring desert of haunting memories. Everything had changed since! What punishment is meet for them who deprived me of my lively evenings?

I could not even speak to the bearer but only mimed my order from the menu with finger.

Gee God! What if somebody had identified me without my mask!

“Ay, come on…!”

I was about to utter my name in a bid to exhort myself, but refrained. What if somebody had overheard me!

The cell in the vibrant mode rattled. It was a call from home; most probably from mother. If I answer, she would ask some silly questions like where the matching jacket on her red sari was or where her comb was and put it down without caring for the answer. Perhaps there was something to do with my behavior for her hesitation to ask me directly where I was.

I still remember the day that prompted her to speak to me this way!

***

Some days after the attack on me, I was going out one evening when I heard her say “get back…” and the rest of the words died in her gullet.

When I looked back why the words had died down, I saw dad who was watching TV gesturing with his hands and eyes not to. There was guilt in her eyes as if she had uttered something despicable.

Until then, whenever I stepped out one of them used to ask me where I was going or why I get out at that hour. But, what happened to their liberty to ask their child to come home early? What happened to their cautioning out of concern, anxiety and parental responsibility? Censor! Censor!! Censor!!! Will I ever get a “U” certificate to the movie of my life?

“Nothing! She was just worried out of concern, that’s all,” said father.

“Daddy! Can’t you all behave as usual? Why are you treating me so special?  I am your…”

I couldn’t speak any further and broke down holding him.

“Oh, come on baby! What is this? Even under such great calamity you never shed a tear. What is this frailty all of a sudden,” mother tried to console.

“Sorry! We will be our usual selves, Believe me please!” said daddy with a film of tear in his eyes.

But however much they tried, they could not behave normally.

Some days later, I started off from home around 7.30 in the evening. Dad as usual was watching TV. Walking out at that hour, strolling up to the Neem park in the colony, chomp a chaat or taste an ice-cream and getting something packed for people at home,  buying flowers for worship … was the usual routine. But since that event, the moment I stepped out of house, I am afraid, people were getting restless.

“Where are you going out at this hour? Alone? Better you don’t. Else, why don’t you take Bujji as escort after she returns from the music class,” asked mom.

“Just here… only up to the park,” I complained. I pity her innocence in suggesting me to go out under the protection of a younger sibling.

“Tell me what you want. I can get you,” proffered daddy.

“No. No. No. Better you don’t move about in this colony. However secret we kept the name, and the photo from being displayed, our frequenting to the hospital and the currency of news on TV channels had helped not only the people of our apartment but all people around come to know who it was. The word continues to spread. Had this not been our own house, I would never have stayed here.” Mother forgot that it was not a soliloquy.

“What if everybody knows? Who is at fault? Won’t accidents happen to people, mom? Will they confine themselves to home? Had anything different happened to me? After all it was an accident. Tell me, why should we move out from here?   Do all of you feel so ashamed?” I failed to hide bitterness in my tone.

“No, no. Nothing like that. I just thought that you might feel embarrassed if we continued here. That’s all.” She tried to pacify me by inventing some excuse in a hurry.

I scurried off. I was seized with inexplicable anger, hurt, disgust and irritation. I did not return home for long as I felt deeply hurt and ashamed. Did not lift the phone.

From then on, mother stopped speaking to me directly about my movements. As if she had something important to ask she would give me a call if I did not return home soon.  Just not that, apprehensive of somebody overhearing them, they even stopped calling me by my original name at home.

****

The phone was still vibrating.  If I did not answer even now, I was sure she would be greatly upset. I picked it up and said, “yes, mom.”

“Did you see the nail-cutter?” she asked.

“Nail cutter? Why do you need it now?” I asked

“Nails have grown rather wildly. I want to trim them.”

“Mom! Did you forget that it is Tuesday today? Besides, we are well into the night. You can trim your nails tomorrow. I am at Starbucks. I will be home soon, OK?” I said.

There was hushed silence at the other end.  I got used to this abrupt silence for the last six months.

***

I could have cut short my conversation by just telling her where the nail cutter was.  But to make them understand that they should talk to me as usual, and that I could understand the real reason behind making such calls, and to put across to them that they were not their usual selves… I extended the conversation.

At a corner table, two adolescents of opposite sex were sitting face to face but leant close to each other. They were oblivious to the world and the clamor around. They freely traded laughter and sweet nothings like the capering cataracts of pristine moony nights.

Chaitanya and I resonated even more vigorously once like a cataract in a monsoon.

Oh! We poured out our hearts. You should better ask what we did not talk about.

Once Chaitanya shared his youthful enterprises before he left for his place for vacation. Somehow, they were playing in my mind often these days.

“Every year, a bull-fight would be held in our village. It’s only I among all people in our province who had the courage and strength to confront the beast by its horns,” boasted Chaitanya.

“My god! Bulls! Aren’t you afraid?” I asked.

“Me? And afraid? Ha! They should be afraid of me.”

“Oh! We endorse you are the hero next to Salman and Shah Rukh,” I laughed him away, and asked, “Having come from such a rustic background, tell me, how come you became so sophisticated?”

“I studied up to Intermediate in my village. My mother joined me in a corporate college in Bangalore because she was not interested in joining me in the government college there. That college, this City now and the present job have taught me quite a lot,” he said with a smile.

“Can you attend the bull-fight now?”

“Where are the bulls here? As for the village, there are still bullfights going on but I stopped going there.”

“Why?”

After a brief silence he said, “I have come a long way from that village, those people and that sport. When I look back the fight with those bulls now looks to me barbaric and inhuman. Tell me is it necessary at all?”

“Lost confidence?” I tried to tease him.

“What do you think of me? Even now, if I enter the arena, I can stop not one but four bulls in their track. You can’t imagine the power of these hand.” I loved the tinge of arrogance in his voice and kissed his hands taking them into mine.

But then … what happened that day when he was beside me?

We went out on some work. The route was unfamiliar. At the cross roads we asked the people we came across for the way. They seemed as innocent as rabbits and did not look like were tiger cubs hunting for rabbit. No, they were not even cubs, they were sharks. Perhaps tigers won’t hunt for the rabbits. I wasn’t sure.

For that matter, will the violent and the non-violent faces look alike? Who knows?

Chaitanya who boasted, baring his chest, that he was peerless in his province in stopping the aggressive bulls by the horns in their track was hit on his head and was tied to a pillar. I was just screaming hoarse and strangely words died in my gullet. That hot afternoon seemed suddenly overcast and was dark all of a sudden. I could not open my eyes. First one… then the second… then third…then the fourth… and after that there were countless assaults on my modesty.  The rough ground beneath pricked my back like thousand bodkins. An excruciating pain of thousand forks pierced and pulled out of my delicate body. A soggy, sickening mess around and a foul nauseating smell of thousands of people having thrown up simultaneously… Like a sanctum was sacrileged, like a clueless blight had infested the green field suddenly… my mind went blank and rickety.

My six-pack hero Chaitanya … à la Salman Khan or Amir Khan … who could hold the wild beast by its horns came a cropper before those villains. I had expectations of my friend being a dashing hero. Hero he was, but might not be a daring hero. But then, before such a pack of beasts feigning innocence, perhaps, he could not be a match even if he were.

Forget about Chaitanya, what did people speak about me?

“My God!  Who would dare to interfere with her affairs?  She walks around with razor’s edge looks. Not to speak of men, even a wild animal would shudder to draw near her.”

But, what happened to those looks? A razor’s edge looks?

If mommy was happy that I was let off alive, daddy was happy that the name was not disclosed. But the news spread like an epidemic in dad’s office, my own office, our apartment and to all relatives.   I was hardly into the second month of my job. The phones of my people continued ringing restlessly for some days. People wanted to express their anguish, empathy and apprehensions.  There were also people who did not dare to call us directly lest we should take offence.

People from many walks of life… political leaders, people in power, prominent citizens, several NGOs and women’s forums visited the hospital that day. Our family could overhear some of them directly instructing the reporters present there to cover their visit prominently all media.

That was a great farce. However, some of them, particularly students, some of the women’s forums, NGOs, and Human Rights Commission pressed for justice to Ajeya; they had made, and been making several protests since.

The police officer who was in charge of the case was very serious. He talked so sensitively.  He gave the confidence that he would round them up.  And he worked seriously to arrest them too.  He was so supportive that my family members felt confident and reassured.

Of course, there were routine and insipid discussions and debates on TV about the way girls dress up, their going out alone at night etc., as usual whenever such unfortunate events happen. When I heard some of them speak foolishly that such events happen because of the way girls dress up, I felt like standing nude before them. Will nudity makes criminals of people? Can’t their psyche of accusing the victims as criminals change?

Why did those fools come upon me? What was there in their minds that prompted them to behave the way they did?

The lawyer from the Human Rights Commission who visited me that day, Mr. GV, used to meet me frequently. Because I was comfortable with his friendly attitude I shared many things with him.

That unfortunate event had left scars on my lips and indents of bites and scratches on every inch of my body. There were marks of surgeries and antibiotics used under the excuse of containing spread of infections; marks of healed up injuries and scores of  unhealed injuries, still raw, on my back. Compounding them, there was this recurring pain of hysterectomy depriving me of my motherhood forever. My mind was teeming with burning memories.

***

What would be the verdict like? Will they get commensurate sentence? People clamor for capital punishment to them.  Yes, that’s the most befitting; they should get nothing less.

Didn’t my parents who never entertained the slightest idea of violence to their darling daughter were petrified and agonized for this crime? Hadn’t my sister been frightened out of her wits?

For the kind of sufferance they put my family to, no amount of punishment would be enough.

*

Some five or six months into the event, Chaitanya and I were once walking along idling in some pep talk. Appreciating my laughter, when I was giggling at his jokes, he tried to embrace me close and kiss.  He was taken aback when I pushed him violently shivering all over. After I regained my composure it was my turn to be surprised. I never knew until then that my body would react so wildly at the touch of a man. The very idea unsettled me.

What punishment would be fitting for infusing such fright into my psyche?

I thought of seeing them once. I wanted to know how they would look like. I was curious if they would entertain the same lousy thoughts about me at the hour of judgment, when they see me standing before them surrounded by police.

Would they get the same wicked desires? Look at me as before? Would they laugh as wild? Use the same profane language? Encourage each other with their dirty laughter like when they perpetrated the crime… two of them holding me by hands and legs and the other attacking my body?

When I expressed my desire to see them, the police officer said, “When do you want to see them? I can make all arrangements but, they should be willing to see you first.”

Can I see even a trace of fear in them who attacked me? Will they recall the desperate struggle I made that day?

I wanted to meet them but they did not give consent.

One day in the course of my conversation with GV I said, “My poor mother was after astrologers and vaastu experts seeking why things happened this way when there was no bad aspect from any planet in my horoscope. Everybody who read the horoscope only predicted a bright future.”

“It is just meaningless to run after people in the name of astrology or vaastu.  They have identified that in all 8 people attacked you that day. 5 of them were minors and other three, below 20 years of age. Though every one of them had some criminal history or other, there was not a single complaint in the police station. They attacked on you as usual in their wont way. Earlier they were doing their crimes either individually or in groups of two or three. This was the first time they all came together. One of them, they allege, eloped with a neighbor’s daughter but returned alone after some time. No one knew what happened to her. Her people were afraid to lodge a complaint. Another one is alleged to have sold a girl in the red-light area. When her people raised a hue and cry somebody mediated saying they would gain nothing complaining to the police and settled the issue,” paused GV.

“The boys look nothing short of poisonous snakes. When they spoiled the lives of innocent young girls they escaped scot free just because there were no complaints against them. They might have no idea what would be the consequence of their atrocity on a life they were altogether unfamiliar. Perhaps, they did not even care to think. But life will not allow such safe passage every time,” I thought and said, “I want to see their surroundings.”

After a lot of discussion we forbade Chaitanya to accompany us and taking every precaution from being identified, I visited their surroundings incognito with GV.

“How narrow and intricate these paths were! Why not governments seriously work to improve the standard of living of people in every way? Why not they pay attention to the influence of such abominable conditions on the increasing rate of crime?  I think we should raise these questions with some responsible people,” I said to GV.

“That exactly is the problem.  Governments can identify the problems but seldom put a step forward to mitigate the circumstances. Not only that, the violence on women of a particular area by the youth of that area doesn’t make any news. Law and order takes no notice. Similarly, the atrocities of male members on women or working maids in gated communities or independent houses will not come out. Though violence on women is all pervading, it will catch the attention of the public and recognized as crime when youth of lower classes commit atrocities on upper class women. They create uproar, shake people from their slumber and become news.  We should seriously think why it is always so,” said GV.

Whose carelessness or lackadaisical attitude was responsible this I don’t know, but they made my life miserable.  One day the police and lawyer called me over phone and said, “We have filed the case perfectly. We are sure justice will be done to you.”

What is justice! What happens? What punishment will be given to minors?!

None of them behaved like human beings with me. They will get off with token punishment in on the plea of being minors.  But what did the youngest of the lot do? He was the first to attack me. Sitting on my legs, and squeezing my breast wildly saying “this is not zero size…” did he not use obscene words and goad others into the crime? Can you call him a minor? How heinously the rest of them behaved! What sentence would they get after all? Can anyone call those boys who were exposed to every kind of depravity and behaved so heinously as minors?

“If today I am deprived of my uterus, isn’t that boy responsible for that? Chaitanya lost his senses watching the wild way he misbehaved with me. And today they will all get away with serious punishment on the ground of being minors. It is something different when a child from miserable background lies, steals or attacks in defense or commits a murder. But what they did to me was totally different. GV! I have nothing to say when people talk of their rights.”

He was listening.

“I am not sure the kind of sentence they should get. I think of capital punishment for a while.  Then I want to spit on their faces.  Later I wish they should get life. Then I think they should be castrated lest no other girl should suffer from them. I also feel like handing them over to people who seek justice for me. What if I hand over them to my parents? Thus I understand the kind of sentence varies with the vagaries of my mood. If only someone could scan my mind. Perhaps they would be able to realize what exactly the sentence I seek for them. But with all that, how can justice be done to me in their punishment…

What sentence is proper for them who stood me as a monument of apology before people? After they complete their sentence, will they speak apologetically for the rest of their lives?  Who knows?  Tell me, GV, what sentence would do justice to my dreams shattered?” I burst out.

Taking my hands into his he said, “Cool down, please! I can understand your agony. Every change of law, every amendment to the Section 375 of IPC was an outcome of the poor victims like Bhanwari Devi or Mathura. The recommendations made by the Varma Commission after the Nirbhaya case are very pertinent and far reaching. You should try to understand the circumstances around us, more importantly, the circumstances that enter into the society to pollute the minds of innocent children.  It could be the way you look at the law or the sentence. I can send you some books readily available with me that can help you deal your pain and your circumstances with understanding. I can send you other books over time,” said GV.

With the books of K Bala Gopal, he added a note saying, “Read these books. They will be of great help in understanding issues relating to violence in society.”

How long can I stay put at home?  So I proposed that I would get back to office.  Mother did not accede.  Later, she conceded rather reluctantly but suggested that I should join a new job than resume duties. Even in a new job, I should explain why I resigned my earlier job.

Here, people are at least familiar to me. Somehow I convinced mom and joined duty.  They kept very comfortable but I found in that extra comfort something very suffocating. Maybe they were more concerned that either people or media would say something against them. Can’t I remain an employee as before?  Should I look for another job?

Added to that I became very irritable and was getting angry frequently. I was never like that before. Sometimes, I did not feel like going to office. I was apprehensive that people might raise the subject.  I explained to the doctor about my mood swings. If the attack on me was no mean thing is one thing, the other is hormonal deficiency.  I felt like slapping them.

I could not decide what sentence should be fit for the people who put me to such mental conflict.

Ever since I came to know that the court was going to deliver the sentence tomorrow, I was greatly agitated… disturbed… and filled with indifference.  The court would deliver the sentence only tomorrow. Perhaps there are never commensurate sentences for some crimes.

What does a sentence ultimately mean?

When the teacher punished at school for talking loud in the class or for not doing the project work did anybody refrain from not repeating the mistake? Who knows? Did I ever care for a possible punishment? Perhaps there needs to be circumstances that give no room for violence. Then, there will be no discussions and dilemmas if a person should be awarded life or capital punishment.

*

The phone vibrated once again. I got up started slowly homewards.

I met Mr. Ramanatham, a retired bank officer who lives on the 4th floor in the lift and he sad, “I heard in the news that the verdict would be delivered tomorrow. All the best! God bless you, my child!”

***

Since morning I was able to overhear alternatively in English Hindi some news or the other. Father’s fingers were playing with the buttons on the remote. Grandfather did not stir from the TV. Whether she was attending to kitchen chores or performing puja, part of mother’s attention was on the TV. Bujji, my younger sister, was busy chatting on cell phone.

“Let there be more decoction in the filter. Someone or the other would be visiting throughout the day,” mother was instructing grandmother.

“Everyone may not like coffee. Let me keep buttermilk as stand by,” suggested grandmother.

“Everybody was busy answering phone calls.

“Not so early. Maybe by noon the verdict will be delivered.

“Change to CNN, they are giving a better coverage.

“NDTV is also doing fine.

“If justice is not delivered, Arnab will hang them out to dry.

“ABN

“TV9 Exclusive…” were audible to me.

“You should better have worn a normal sari than with a gaudy and glittering design like this,” someone was complaining about another’s attire.

“I don’t have anything like that with me…” she was replying.

“Why?  You wore it while attending puja at my elder grandmother’s place,” some other reminded.

“Media people may come. Why don’t you have a shave?”

“Who cares? They are not going to show the face any way.” Somebody commented.

 “They don’t your daughter’s face. But, as her father, they will ask for your opinion for sure,”

In the chaos where I could hear the conversations part clearly and half vaguely, Chaitanya and his parents arrived.

“We have been asking Chaitanya for long tell you this but he has been postponing saying it’s not the time.  We know that your daughter is innocent in what had happened.  But we are helpless. We have no other go but to cancel the marriage. The whole media is giving him coverage since morning as Ajeya’s friend. Of course, they said the same earlier. The queries may ultimately turn to their love and marriage. Though it is not appropriate, we are telling you.  Please tell them they are only friends. Nothing more. Don’t tell them that we have cancelled the marriage. Kindly keep this subject away from media attention. We have to face the music,” pleaded Chaitanya’s mother rather apologetically.

I called Chaitanya into my room.

How can I remind him of our sweet warm text messages, of our giggling evening-outs, our collective dreams for the future, and the sweet silent kisses at that hour? I did not feel like reminding him. I was really a fool. It did never strike me that someday Chaitanya would raise this issue. After all, love is so fickle that it changes with changing circumstances. Yet, somehow my heart had become a sea in a storm.  I just wanted to ascertain his reason.

“Why do you want to cancel Chaitu?” In spite of my best efforts to contain my emotion kicked through my voice.

“Mother is totally against it. I am not really interested in cutting off our friendship.  Mother is not willing for our marriage,” he said.

I tried to regain composure keeping silent for a while and said, “Chaitu! We often hesitate to call a spade a spade when it comes to things we dislike or can’t handle. It’s not new that people take cover under the name of mothers or parents. You say is that I am just your girlfriend now.  Isn’t it? But why should you say it now? Like the familiar scene of bride running away from home just before marriages in movies, are you afraid of media comments and your prestige? After all that had happened in my life, how can you expect either me or my people speak about our love and marriage even if they had asked about it? Even father had said the other day that you are my friend. He never said that you are my boyfriend or that our marriage has been fixed.  I think we did not understand each other properly. When we should have shared sweet nothings we are sharing the consequences of pain. I understand Chaitu,” I said.

Strangely, there was no regret in his eyes. Instead I saw a great relief. That means… I could really understand what a burden he felt I was for him. Poor fellow! For a man who boasted that he could stop a wild beast in its track, his helplessness that day might have hurt deeply. Who could help him come out of that trauma! Perhaps it was my mistake to expect that two injured people can stand support to each other.

“OK Chaitu, no bitterness,” I said.

He then left my room.

That day I wept after a long time. I could not restrain the streaming tears.

For the people who deracinated my love, what punishment would make it take roots once again?

What was my fault? After the brutality on my body, everything had changed forever in my life. After all, what is it? It’s just a part of the body … an organ like any other. If an accident happens to any other organ of the body, people never treat the victim differently. I understood it is only in this kind of accident will the victim be treated weirdly.  In the rest of cases the behavior won’t be so abstruse. It was all calculated.  Everybody was like that.

I came out of the room.

“How can they behave like this? Will they react the same way if it happens after the marriage? In spite of what had happened I was reassured that Chaitanya would marry you. I was confident there you have somebody who can stand by you. What can we do now?”  Mother’s voice trailed off with pain anguish and concern all at a time.

The film of tears in the reddened eyes of father betrayed his fears.

“For the injustice they did, if we complain to Arnab Goswami he would teach them a good lesson,” shouted grandfather in anger.

“Let’s us tell this to TV9 people,” said grandmother.

“Not necessary. Our neighbor is a journalist in ABN. I will ask him to invite them for the “open Heart with RK” programme,” suggested my aunt.

I understood that the abruptness with which my marriage was cancelled unsettled all my people. Forgetting about the sentence to the perpetrators, they were now depressed that I might never get married. Like the breaking news on the TV, in our living room the cancellation of marriage was the hot news scrolling with bang.

 “He was so fond of her. How many times did she call you their daughter in law? How can they back out?” mother was repenting.

“Hypothetical question, mom! I think it was our selfishness to expect Chaitanya to marry me after knowing what all had happened. Instead of thinking like my mother, you put yourself in his parent’s shoes and then think how you would react” I said.

“I am sorry. I can’t help thinking other than a mother. Don’t worry. We search wherever he is and perform your marriage with a boy nobler and large-hearted,” she hurried to reassure me as if I was worrying that I could get never married.

“Why you should say sorry? You can’t think any differently but my mother,” I said.

Everybody got back to their business and was going through the motions to give an impression that everything was normal. People who were watching TV were back to browsing the channels with the remote.

Suddenly someone said, “Untimely floods…” and changed the channel.

I asked him to get back to the channel.

It was a terrible scene of flood.  Standing on the top branch of a tree, a middle-aged man was trying to save his life by holding on desperately to the feeblest branch. The whole government machinery was trying its best to save his life. The reporter was describing how it was getting more and more difficult to reach out for him.

When I looked at his struggle to save his life hanging on desperately, I was reminded of my own lonely struggle that day. Many people stood by my side now. But it was I who suffered the violence gnawing my teeth. From now on, I have to stand by myself.

“They cannot give capital punishment to minors. At least for others they should…” I cut the phone abruptly as my dad was responding to a phone in programme.

“Why did you cut the phone?” asked daddy in a huff.

“Don’t pray for a death sentence,” I said.

Ignoring the bewildered looks of daddy when I was about walk out,

 “Where are you going….” mother swallowed the rest of the words.

“Up to the park,” I said.

“You forgot your scarf,” mother reminded.

My younger sister brought it in a hurry and handed it to me.

All along, I was wearing the scarf around like a mask to conceal my face to the world.  I took the scarf from my sibling’s hand and kept it on my mom’s shoulder and walked out determined.

Rape, punishment, love, hatred, friendship, enmity, loneliness, infatuation, desires, and continence… this heart already experienced in a small span of life.  In my wool gathering, I inadvertently felt for the wonted sensation of scarf on my face. My mind did not record that I had left it at home.

They hurt me deeply. They snipped all my budding dreams. But I was able to protect the fire of life within me with both hands. This little fire shall kindle ablaze and shall be a beacon for the rest of my life.

***

 Telugu Original  AJEYA – 17.01.2015 PDF

Kuppili Padma Short story writer, Poet
Kuppili Padma
Short story writer, Poet

 Kuppli Padma is a  well Known  Writer, columnist and Media Professional.

She has to her credit  6 short story collections, 2 Novels, and scores of  articles in print and online magazines. She brought out an English translation of her short stories recently.

She has been the creative Head  for fiction  at Zee TV and Maa TV.  She ran  and continues to run weekly columns in many web magazines. She is a recipient of many awards and accolades.

Adolescent dilemmas, single woman issues,  work place issues , consumerism and globalization are her main plank. Her strong women characters meet the challenges with aplomb and face the consequences  with courage and confidence.

She is widely translated and many of her short stories found their way into many anthologies.  Her work has been taken up for  M.Phil and Ph.D. studies in some of the Universities.

    

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