April 2006---Somewhere in Mahabaleshwar
Every means of physical, mental, and emotional torture when used is done so to destroy the spirits, the resolve, the willpower of another person. Of all these, the mental torture is the most spirit breaking. Physical trauma is a cakewalk against the horrific terrors the mind can imagine. All the pain afflicted on your body is tuned out by the mind when the heart bleeds at the thought of the one you love the most in this world getting hurt.
It’s hard to imagine they have the same blood as hers running in their veins. She is nothing like them. His heart bleeds to finally know the extent of trauma she endured throughout her young life while living under the cruel despotism of the father-son duo. Yet, she always smiled for him. She is the bravest person in this world.
They will pay. He promises himself. They will pay for the sorry life they gave her.
They come one by one...sometimes together... at all hours of the day, and they make you believe all sorts of things. They threaten you by gloating about the power they have on her. They tell you how she was punished since her childhood whenever she went against the rules...punishments about which you never knew because she never told you. They make you believe the lies....what is not true, what you know cannot be true. They say she is getting married. Lies...all lies. “Don’t listen to them.” Your heart cries out. “She is fine. She is smiling. She is waiting for you. Just as you asked her to.” But then they tell you that they found her. They show you blood...her blood...a lock of her hair caked in her blood...soft hair that still carries her lemon and floral scent. They tell those lies so many times that you finally cave in and accept that there might be some truth in their malevolent verbal attacks. And you suffer for those lies like they were the truth. They try to break you. They tell you that she was not given any medical help because you tried to heal her with your promises of flight to freedom...and you believe them. You believe them, yet you hang on, if only for that promise...that one promise....
May 2003—Jayswal Estate
“The day you turn eighteen.”
Fifteen-year-old Pari sighed and snuggled closer to him, closing her eyes, falling asleep almost immediately. Samar tightened his arm around her. His Pari never demanded more than that. A Promise. That’s all. A single word spoken by him was enough to always make her happy. Happy that he would be her knight...that he would rescue her...that he would take her out of this cage. She trusted him completely. Her trust was his gift. Yet, Samar was restless whenever he made that promise. In his heart he knew and understood a fundamental truth of life: A promise is like the cloud in hot summer, which cools somewhat but does not have the power to completely erase the lingering heat. But showers in the middle of a hot wave have the miracle of fulfilment in each falling drop of rain. He needed to bring those showers of freedom in Pari’s life. Three more years and then no one could stop him.
Samar dropped a kiss on her head and settled back on the pillow with his arm around her. Pari sighed in her sleep and threw her leg across his ankles, snaring him in her thin, soft grip. He smiled as his thoughts went back two summers. He hadn’t seen his little Pari for eleven months. He was dying to be with her. He could only manage a week off as he had a number of college entrance exams to appear for after his 12th board exams got over. Karan and Kushal had their coaching classes, something that Samar’s nani couldn’t afford for him. So, they had stayed back in Chandigarh...which meant there was no place for Samar to stay in Mahabaleshwar.
However, that didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was that he had a promise to keep. He never tried to analyse or ponder over the unusual connection he shared with Pari. Only she mattered. Everything else was inconsequential. Over the past year, they had spoken daily on phone. At the end of every call, Pari would remind him of his promise.
He knew there was pain behind the daily reminders. Pain of a lonely life when she should be out there laughing, making friends, going out for parties, having fun, and living life to the fullest. He also knew that his Pari was courage personified. In that thin, petite frame she packed a bountiful of heroism that was just a hint of the kindred spirit she was. Yes, life sucked sometimes, but she was not a whiner. Not once had he heard her complain. She hung in there without skirting around. She faced the present with a smile because she now had a future to hope for, a future to weave dreams about, a future to wait for. A future that he had promised her. He knew that even after three years of a deep friendship, she still hid a lot from him. He still didn’t have a clear picture regarding her father and brother, or for that matter, her mother. He still didn’t know to what extent they hurt her. Because they hurt her...of that he was as sure as he was of the sun rising the next day. He had noticed bruising, faded marks of injuries, abrasions, and welts. She always evaded his questions...saying, “Samar, we have such less time together. I want to talk of only good things with you.”
He had told nani that he was going to Ambala for a week to a friend’s place. He had then taken out all his savings earned from a part-time job in a car mechanic’s garage and taken off to meet Pari...taking lifts from truck drivers. When he reached Mahabaleshwar, he had walked into a small garage, which was near the Jayswal Estate, and requested for work and a place to keep his bag. He planned to eat and use the washroom at the nearby bus depot. However, he got lucky when the garage owner offered him the living quarters, a small shack, at the back of the garage. It belonged to his chief mechanic who had gone to his home village for a family wedding.
Samar’s fingers absently rubbed Pari’s arm that lay on his chest as he remembered how Pari had rushed to his arms the moment he had stepped onto the balcony at night...sobbing and laughing at the same time. He had planned to stay a couple of hours and then go back. He knew it was risky to walk around the Mehra Estate in the day time because of the security there. No one was supposed to know he was in Mahabaleshwar. If that meant he could have only few hours of the five nights he was there, then so be it. He would take whatever he got.
He could never lie to Pari. So when she asked him where he was staying, he had to tell her.
She had immediately taken her angry posture, fists on her hips, shoulders slouching and eyes narrowing, which only made her look so adorable that it took all of his self-control to not take her over his shoulders and dance circles around the room till she squealed with laughter. The moment that picture had formed in his mind, he promised himself he’d do it before he left. But at that moment, he had to deal with her delightful anger.
He hid his amusement as she huffed, “You...you...you....”
He quirked his brows and whispered with a half smile, “Yes, Pari...me. Me...what?”
In her anger she banged her fists against her hips and spoke a little loudly, “You Samarjit...”
Before she could say anything further, she heard Leela dai’s voice and at the same time the door knob turned. She looked at Samar in horror as he whispered a quick “Smile Pari and stay calm” before diving under the bed.
The very next moment Leela dai entered with a frown on her face, “Praneeta, I heard your voice. Who is Samarjit?”
Pari gulped and stammered, “Sa..samar..jit? Who..who is that Leela dai?”
“I don’t know. You tell me. I heard you quite clearly. As if you were talking with somebody. And why are you awake at this hour?”
Pari looked wildly at Leela dai and then at her bed, her eyes falling on the book she was reading earlier. She moved swiftly and picked it up. Straightening with a smile, she rambled breathlessly, “Oh, I see! I was reading aloud. You know I do that, Leela dai...don’t you? It was what you heard. It’s a P.G. Wodehouse book, and I said “somewhere Jeeves” and not Samarjit. See this page. Here it is.” She extended the book, knowing fully well that Leela dai couldn’t read English.
“Alright. Alright. It’s much past your bedtime. Switch off the lights and go to bed.”
“OK, Leela dai. I will. Goodnight!!”
Leela dai harrumphed and swept out of the room, closing the door behind her. Pari ran and bolted it immediately, leaning her forehead against it in relief.
She turned as Samar’s whisper floated to her, “Wow! You are a smart girl Pari. You think on your feet. I like that. This’ll help you, even when I am not there.”
“That will never happen.” She whispered back as she walked toward him. She reached up to kiss his cheek and then hugged him, “It will never happen because you will always be there with me.”
That night they had sat on the bed cross-legged, facing each other, knee to knee, holding hands, being at peace. They whispered and talked and laughed. Pari told him all that she had learnt through the year. She told him all that she had read about art, about how a painting is finished and how it is preserved. For someone so young, her knowledge about art was phenomenal. She showed him her sketchbook. He could see how she had improved. Though the only knowledge he had of art was what Pari told him, yet he had no doubt about her talent. She was a natural. When he came to the last page, his heart swelled, missed a beat, stopped, and then accelerated thunderously. His spirits soared. His eyes swam with an emotion so profound that it left him reeling. She had sketched him....his smiling face through a hole in the stone wall. It was a perfect portrait.
He heard her whisper, “Do you like it?” He looked up at her blankly. She was biting the end of her lower lip. She always did that when she was nervous. His finger reached out to release her lip and then stroke it lightly, a reflexive action.
“Samar? Say something.” Her voice was almost fearful now.
His vision blurred as he cupped her face and caressed her cheeks, “Pari! My sweet little Pari! I am not saying anything because I don’t know what to say.
She relaxed and smiled teasingly, “Well, you can say you like it.”
“Not like it, Pari. I love it. Almost as much as I love whatever you do and say. Pari, I...”
He couldn’t finish as a flying tornado hit him and twirled her arms around his neck before kissing his cheek with a loud smack, “Oh, thank you, thank you...thank you.”
He caught her in his arms and laughed gaily. He loved this free, unrestrained side of Pari. She pushed him back on the bed till he was lying on his back. She then lay down beside him and asked him where he was staying.
He told her. That’s when Pari put her foot down and refused to let him go to sleep in a shack. She could be real stubborn if she wanted to be.
So, he caved in and slept next to her....every night of the five nights of that year and every night of the next year’s weeklong visit and every night so far of this visit. He loved her soft, warm body next to him...loved how she attached herself to him in her sleep...loved to feel the sense of peace flow through him when her steady breathing moved in harmony with the beat of his heart.
April 2006---Somewhere in Mahabaleshwar
A searing pain through the skull jolts me awake. I don’t know how long I passed out. Hours…a day…two days. I have no idea. Every bone of my body hurts. Each nerve writhes in agony. Every cut in my skin burns as if salt had been stuffed into it. I can barely see through my swollen eyes. I don’t know if I can walk if I have to. But I have to…no question there. Just don’t know when. For her. She is out there. God knows what these monsters, the dictators of her fate, have done to her. They say they found her out. I am not going to listen to their bloody lies anymore. They don’t know what she means to me. They don’t know me. For once, destiny had favoured me when I found her through that hole, making me a winner. However, at the moment, I seem to have lost out on the luck when I needed it the most.
Lady luck sided with us for six long years. For six years she let us be together without anyone else getting any whiff of our togetherness. Then just like that everything changed. One minute I am looking at a happy future of bright sunshine, cooling showers, and colourful rainbows….and the very next moment a dark cloud has covered the sun, and now the future is looking down, sneering at me, saying, “Alright Samar, you had your fun. But this is where you part with your heart. This is how it is going to be hereon. The hole will remain, but your smiling angel won’t be there at the other end to fill it with her beauty. So, what are you going to do about it?”
Do about it? Hell, is that even a question? As soon as possible I am going to get out of here and find her and rewrite our future…and this time…this time no one else will have their say.
14 April 2006—Jayswal Estate
Sunlight streamed in through the curtains and fell on the bed. Pari squinted and then smiled as she came awake. Morning at last. The day was finally here. Her eighteenth birthday. She flung the duvet aside and jumped off the bed. Hands over the head she broke into an impromptu jig and immediately winced, rubbing her upper arms, which were sour and ached badly from where her brother had held her and pushed, following it up with a slap, while her father sat and worked through his files, not even bothering to lift his head and give her a glance. All this because, after a giving it a lot of thought, yesterday she had gone to her father’s study and had dared to request him to allow her to register for 12th board exams. He had packed off Miss Sinha six months back saying a girl does not need more tutoring than this. He shouted at Miss Sinha when she suggested that Praneeta take the board exams under the special home tutoring provisions.
“You have some nerve. Have you forgotten that girls are supposed to be neither seen nor heard? You have to do what is asked of you. How dare you ask for anything? Hasn’t babuji given you enough? He has fed you, clothed, you, and even employed a teacher for you. Now you want more? You are such an ungrateful girl.” Her brother had fumed.
“Just like her mother.” Her father had finally spoken. He stared at her with the same maniacal, cruel look in his eyes as his son, “Girl, I will only say this once, so listen good. The only time you get to step out of those gates is when you have been married...which will be soon. Now, go to your room and stay there. Your meals will be sent there. Don’t come down till you are summoned.”
Mention of marriage had unsettled her somewhat but it had not worried her. She had complete faith in Samar. He was going to get her out of here before she was given off in marriage. There was no question of her marrying anyone else. She belonged heart and soul to her Samar. She had belonged to him since the day he had smiled at her and had called her his “Little Pari.” He was her first friend, her first crush, and her first love...her only love. He was her teacher, her mentor, her guide. If God has blessed her with a long future, then Samar was going to be that future. He was and always will be her universe.
Pari slipped her feet into the tattered slippers and walked to the window, pushing the curtains so that sunlight swept inside and brightened the room. She then walked over to the small bookshelf and took out her sketchbook. She opened the book to the last portrait she had sketched of Samar. She ran her fingers through it reverentially and bent down to drop a soft kiss. She had caught the brooding eyes and pensive expression in the sketch as he had looked at her before he dropped down the balcony. That was the last she had seen him….three years ago.
She remembered that day vividly. It had turned out be the most momentous day of her life. They had sneaked out through the wall in the afternoon and had spent glorious two hours at their favorite spot on the mountain top. They had strolled along the ridgeline, chatting, their fingers laced together. He made her laugh. He always made her laugh. She had learnt to laugh silently during their phone conversations, but there on the mountain, her abandoned laughter echoed around the valley. Samar had stared at her. Then he had walked up to her slowly. There was a look in his eyes that had caused her body to tingle with an unknown awareness. She had gone still, in anticipation of something significant that was going to happen to her, to them.
He had taken the last step and stopped…so close that she felt the whiff of his cologne enter her body and spread a shiver through her. She held her breath as he looked at her once, as if asking her permission. Whatever he saw in her eyes must have convinced him because the very next moment he lowered his head and pressed his lips on hers…gently brushing over hers…up and down…left to right. Warm. A little moist. Her eyes widened as the fact echoed through her senses that he was kissing her…awakening in her feelings that she had only read about in the books.
Her first kiss.
Her toes curled in her shoes, and a heat crept from her neck to her temples. He wasn’t even touching her, yet her whole body was thrumming with awareness and singing a song never heard before. Suddenly she realized that he too was looking into her eyes. Mortified, she shut her eyes tight. Wrong move. Samar lifted his face, causing a grave sense of loss rushing in. She made a protesting whimpering sound. Lifting herself on her toes she pressed her lips back on his and tried to move them up and down, and felt him smile. She peeked through one eye and saw his eyes stare back with…with…she couldn’t label his expressions. Yet, she knew there had to be more. This couldn’t be just it. Even Jane Eyre had more. She wanted more.
She felt Samar hold her arms and push her back a fraction before resting his forehead against hers. He rubbed his nose against hers and whispered, “Not yet, my little Pari. You are still too young for the real one.”
She frowned a little but was too overwhelmed to speak or ask what he meant.
He slid his cheek against hers and whispered, “I had to do it Pari. I had to take your taste with me and leave my imprint on you.”
She finally found her voice, “What do you mean?”
“Come with me.”
He took her hand and sat her down on the stub of a tree trunk. Then he knelt in front of her. Raising a hand he caressed her cheek with the back of his fingers. They sat gazing at each other for awhile, before Samar spoke, “Pari, I may not be able to come next year or the year after.”
Shock made her throat go dry and a chill engulfed her. Was he leaving her for good? She croaked haltingly, “Wh…why?”
He gripped her hands, “I shall be going abroad for further studies. Karan/Kushal’s grandfather is sponsoring my education. It’s a gift to my nanima for forty years of service to their family. It was what she requested when he asked what she would like to have. This is my chance. I have to do this, Pari. For us. For our future.”
He nodded, “Our future.”
So, they had parted for three years, though their phone conversations continued. Till about eight months back…when Pari’s phone just stopped working. She hadn’t spoken to him for eight months, yet her faith and a deeper instinct told her that he was nearby, that he would keep his promise…….
April 2006---Somewhere in Mahabaleshwar
The door opens. It’s the father this time. He pulls a chair and sits down. I keep a poker face and stare at him. I don’t let a single emotion cross my face. He starts talking. The more he talks, the more rancorous and vicious his words become. “Her mother too tried to escape me. She planned to go to her lover in Bikaner. Ungrateful woman. Her place was within the walls of the house. But that woman didn’t know her place. I married her so that Dharam’s needs are taken care of. But she started demanding freedom after she gave birth to that girl. She wanted her daughter to see the world. Bullshit! She wanted to meet other men. She thought she could leave me. No one leaves me. She couldn’t even cross those gates. Do you want to know what I did with her? She was a whore and she deserved the fate I gave her. Her daughter has turned out to be a whore like her mother. She warmed the bed of a swine like you. She was pure as long as she was within these walls. But now she has dug her own grave.” Something must have shown on my face, because he laughed evilly and declared, “No, I won’t kill her. But I’ll give her a fate worse than death. Tomorrow she will marry a man much older than me. She will bear him the son he so needs and then who knows what he’ll do with her. Disgusting girl. She deserves to be used like a whore. Did I tell you that her would-be husband is the kingpin of flesh trade in India? I give him the little whore and in return he pays me enough to rebuild my business. Fair trade. Don’t you think? And till that happens, you will enjoy my hospitality.”
I don’t say anything. But I memorize each and every line of that vile face. He knows I am connected to the Mehra family. What he doesn’t know is how much I have told them. He can’t take the risk of killing me. He would have to let me go. However, he would have covered his tracks. With no proof against them, I won’t be able to go to the law. But leaving me alive and setting me free will be his biggest mistake. Given a fraction of a chance, I’ll first cut off that tongue of his, which dared to spew such filth against my Pari, before I kill him. And that’s a promise.
*[Whew! That was a tough one. :)]
**Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my lovely readers. I can never thank God enough for giving me You.
To be continued……………….