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Ashok

Updated: Apr 6

By P Sasikanth


He wiped his tears off with his sleeves, he calmed down and looked faraway somewhere, trying to figure out the point where the river and the sky met. He failed, it was dark and he didn’t probe it further as it was meant only as a tool for distraction. However hard he tried to distract himself, things kept coming back and brought along the pain and the tears. He was sitting on the barrage machinery that’s used to operate the gates. He was alone there, sitting on the iron bar that looked directly into the deep dark river below. He wiped his tears again. He rubbed his swollen eyes, sucked the phlegm and spat it out. With resolve not to cry again he jumped to the other side of the iron bar. He descended the narrow staircase and came onto the road. The road was bustling with traffic, he crossed the road cautiously, and walked past the Durga temple to the Ghats. He paused for a while to look for fish in the filthy narrow canal. But all he saw were lumps of dirty green moss floating around. He crossed the canal and dragged his feet into the dry river bed. Kicking the sand and the half-sunk garbage, he drifted aimlessly on the river bed. Suddenly, he remembered something and tears welled up again blinding his vision. He broke down and cried bitterly like a child. He collapsed in the middle of the river, where the city could neither hear him nor see him. He was already dead drunk so as to help himself with the pain. Recollecting the same facts and asking the same questions again and again, he cried to his heart’s content.

‘What was the seed for all this misery?’ he questioned. ‘Meena, yes…, Meena Kumari, that whore fucking cunt, is the reason for all this’, his mind declared deliberately. He shook with blind rage, took handfuls of sand and tried to crush them in his fists. Exhausted he let the sand slip off his fists and lied down on the sand again. He took out a roll of ganja and lighted it up. As the smoke hit his nerves he calmed down. His eyes became steady and he let himself to be a distant observer in his own mind. He laughed at his own emotions, though he felt them, he lost the urge to act them out. Thoughts and memories popped up like fireflies in a night sky. As the hit got hard on his nerves, he became hazy and felt being separated from his own thoughts. He didn’t resist, he just relaxed and let the flood drown him. Meena Kumari popped up again. He felt his skin jump, but he neither suppressed the thought nor the emotion he just giggled at it.

CHAPTER – 1 – GIMM

‘…. Exactly, what did he like in her? Her tight physique? Or the cunning look under which she masked her lust?’ he wondered. He hurriedly crossed the road to take the auto that was ready to leave. He jumped into the share auto, sat on the bench and wiped the sweat off his hands and face. He had strong arms and a chiseled face then, it was in his degree final year. In college he carried a good opinion on him. He minded his work, never meddled with others gossips and he was creative. And he was an athlete. On that day too, he was on his way to the hostel after his workout. As the auto moved, cold breeze flowed in as a relief. He leaned back and tried to stretch his legs in that tiny space, he suddenly felt being watched and looked instinctively into the dark corner of the seat. She instantly looked away. She had a handbag on her lap and sat casually with folded arms. Though braided, some of the loose strings of her hair waved back and forth in the wind. He couldn’t make out much of her as it was dark and also, she sat in a corner. His eyes rested on her soft, delicate wrists. She wore a tiny strapped watch on one hand and had bangles on the other. His eyes slowly crawled up, and as they did, her hands became much fair and much smooth. He gulped with desire when he felt the elegance with which her half-sleeved blouse held her arms. Like the hood of a cobra, the desire to devour her rose and reached his throat. His throat throbbed as he tried to resist it. He looked away in a reflex, for a few moments feeling embarrassed. And as the embarrassment subsided, he felt his racing heart and the slight shiver in his limbs. He looked back again and instantly she looked away, he smiled at her which he knew that she noticed. He looked back at her a couple more times enjoying the pleasure of it but never once he caught her eyes. He got down at his stop, desperately hoping her to look back, but she didn’t. And soon after that day he forgot her.

Few days later he went to the All India Radio (AIR) station to submit his set of poems. He wanted to be a writer, he wrote a couple of poems and stories. When he showed them to his teachers, one of them suggested him to approach the AIR. Though he believed his writings were different, he never believed that they were worth airing. On the first day, he approached the AIR with many fears and doubts. But when he recited them, they were impressed and assured him that they would be aired. They even told him that he would be paid as a part of the contract. They enrolled him under the program Yuvavaani and drafted a contract in his name. During the first few recordings he felt awkward with the eerie silence of the recording room, but soon he got used to it. His poems started getting good response. He was thrilled and continued it as a hobby. That day he went to submit his next set of poems and also to renew his contract. He went to the chief to ask his opinion on them. The chief suggested a few changes. He promised to make them and walked into the steno room to get his contract renewed. As he walked in, he felt excited to see her. The designation plank read Meena Kumari. She was the youngest person in the office, she was unmarried and she was thirty. She normally ignored formalities and always seemed approachable and friendly. Her attire reflected the persona of a working woman from the late 90’s. With long hair neatly single braided, and a simple, neatly pressed cotton saree, and minimal jewelry. Her ear hangings are the only ones that seemed modern in her. Though he liked her beauty, he never expressed it, taking that it would be indecent and way too much than his work.

She greeted him with her eyes and flashed a smile. She inquired about his next recording, asked about his academics while she renewed his contract. When the renewal finished their talk ended. That night sitting at the table, he pondered over the changes suggested by the chief. His phone rang, it was from a new number. He eagerly picked it up as it was rare to see a new number. He was further excited when he heard a female voice and was dead shocked when he heard the voice call his name, sensually. The girl on the phone right away started teasing him, she complained of ignoring her. When he explained that he didn’t know her, she sounded sad and challenged him to call her by name, which he failed and then the teasing resumed. He didn’t believe at first because he never had a girlfriend and the girls with whom he talked never called him. He was surprised and taken aback at the way she teased him. With wild excitement, he tried all the names he knew, but none were correct. Seeing no way out he demanded her name, she denied, then he pleaded her and finally he threatened to cut the call. She simply said that’s fine. He got furious and had cut the call, only to call back again a few moments later. The urge was so strong, it provoked him, her giggles, her husky voice, they drove him crazy. At that moment he would’ve willing become her puppy if she wanted him to. The bargain continued for a long time and then suddenly she asked,

‘Why did you look at me like that in the auto that day?’

‘Which day… what auto… wait… WHATTT!!!’ he screamed.

‘How did you get my number??’ adrenaline kicked in.

‘You gave me, see you forgot even this, how could you do this to me Ashok.’ She teased coyly. Butterflies fluttered in his guts.

Now he was in it, complete hands down. Feeling the adrenaline kick every moment, he went on; he wanted her, not her name nor her husky voice, he wanted Herr, and that was it. After a forty-five-minute pleading it came out,

‘It’s me Ashok, Meena…Meena Kumari’. ‘Fuck!’, the adrenaline that kicked him to the clouds, suddenly abandoned him. ‘Madam… how could you…why...’ his voice dropped. His mind whirled, it took him many minutes to accept the truth. She started narrating her feelings for him and the way she felt when he came to her on the first day to draft the contract. It was still unbelievable and he expressed his surprise and disbelief many times. She retorted ‘I know that you would respond this way, that’s why I didn’t reveal my name’, he tried to keep quiet and listen to her. She explained him how ambiguous she felt to call him even when she had his number for many days. ‘But that day in the auto, when I saw that you liked me, I felt confident enough to call you’, she said. ‘But I didn’t know that it was you…’, he mumbled to himself. And finally, the call ended with her confessing her love. He didn’t say anything, he just told her that he would talk the next day. Whole night he thought about her, whenever her image flashed, he felt uncomfortable. He didn’t feel even a tinge of love for her and in addition her age and his moral respect for her made it impossible to merge him and her together in a relationship. He wanted to tell her straightaway that it was not ok for him, but for one damn thing. The way he responded to her sensuality, and the instinctual lust he felt both on that day in the auto and today on the phone. He wanted it again and again and didn’t want to let that go away. By morning he was still undecisive, though he knew that he had no love for her, he wanted to take the ride.



They talked frequently, often late into nights. Walking through the secluded lanes and roaming in the lonely parks, he would listen to her talk for hours. He often wondered, whether it was really the Meena Kumari from the AIR. The way she talked, and those flirty jokes she cracked, no way related her to the Meena Kumari he knew. Whenever he expressed this, she just laughed it off. And yes, there were moments of discomfort in their conversations, those were whenever she told ‘I love u’ his guts convulsed and a sense of betrayal clouded him. He would become dead silent after that and she, considering that as his dislike for her, would hurriedly switch over to other topics. On his part, he tried his level best to accept her with his heart but his heart remained dead like a stone, instead his male organs responded outrageously. So, one day he explained this to her and left it to her whether to go on with the relationship or not. ‘Thank God! Ashok, at least you have something for me’ was her response. This relieved him tremendously and their chats went on without hindrance.

One day they planned to meet. She told him to meet her at the Beasant road at 5:30 in the evening. He felt excited at meeting her for the first time, he wanted to surprise her. The next day he waited with nervous excitement in the bus stop near the AIR. As the watch showed five, she slowly walked out and saw him. He jumped from the bench in a reflex and waved her. She didn’t acknowledge it. She took her time to cross the road and slowly walked towards the bus stop. She came to him and wished him in a meticulously formal way, as if she saw him then and there, and asked a few formal questions and then ended the talk. His heart sank rapidly, wild questions burst out, he doubted whether it was the Meena Kumari from the AIR that he was talking to all these days on the phone or with someone else. He looked around they were the only people in the bus stop yet they sat apart like strangers. They boarded the bus separately and got down at the Beasant road. As soon as they got down, she was completely a different person, she became the Meena Kumari on phone. He felt aghast. Looking at his expression, she told him, ‘In and near office, it should be formal Ashok, there I’m Meena the steno and you are Ashok the student, that’s it’. He nodded in agreement, in fact he understood it, meeting at the place of her work would definitely be embarrassing. But the gravity of those words was much farther and beyond his grasp. That evening they managed to melt away that little ice that separated them in their phone calls. They became much close. From then their night phone calls became coyer and cozier. They started meeting and going out frequently. The steam slowly grew hotter between them. Like a bull hitting the wall, their sexual tension threatened to break out whenever possible. He loved watching her braid swing and her butt sway as she walked in front. Sometimes when it was sufficiently dark and sufficiently secluded on the streets, he managed to wrap his arm around her waist and slid it down her back, to feel the rhythm of her butt. Whenever he did that, she looked sharply in his eyes and then quickly at his hands, but never said anything. She just fell silent, dead silent. And those were the moments when he saw the glimmer of lust that rocked restlessly beneath the thick mask of her persona. Her hot moist breath and her galloping heart aroused him deeply.

One evening they ended up having sex in her room. It felt as a flood that finally broke out of the dam gates. But it seemed too quick. The steam in their hearts was still hot, but the steam between their bodies evaporated. He felt disappointed, he wanted more of that pleasure. Meena assured him and reignited the fire. Then they made it again, they made it till they were out of their breaths and fell apart exhausted. That night in his hostel room, he re-lived those moments again. From then it escalated to a whole new level. They explored their fantasies, deep, dark, weird, funny, pleasant, provocative, everything. They did everything in sex. In the beginning, he went to her room only at nights and on weekends. But soon he stopped going to college. He saw no reason in going on with a monotonously regular life, when he had an option to hit the higher nodes of pleasure with her. Sex with her never felt exhausting, she responded with equal passion and desire. The low moans and the low grunts she let out after an orgasm, fueled him to go much farther. The warmth of her breathe and the taste of her sweat pushed his thirst much further. The doors of her room became the golden gates of heaven and her room the heaven itself for him.

One day she told him not to meet her for a week as her parents visited her. He spent the week like a lizard on a hot pan. When finally, he met her, after a week she told him that she was getting married. His heart exploded. Though marrying her was not one of his plans., the thing that he cannot have sex with her anymore troubled him a lot. But slowly, the possibility of continuing their relationship secretly without her husband’s knowledge calmed him temporarily. Things rolled out rapidly. Just in a span of three months, she resigned her job, got married and left the city. A family took her room as the new tenants. Before he could grasp the whole picture, it happened. He tried to call her, message her and tried to get address. She didn’t respond to any of his calls or messages. One night she messaged him, ‘It’s over Ashok. You are the sweetest dream of my life, and it’s finished now. Now it’s time for us to become each other’s memories. Take care. I love u.’ That’s it, just like a business deal that ends with a final handshake, she ended it. She changed her number after that. As the complete picture sunk in, his nerves raged with madness. More than her departure, the loss of the source of his pleasure drove him much mad and crazy. He roamed in the night streets like a mad dog, in search of prostitutes and hookers. With the little money he had he afforded a few, but all of it was a professional sham. The moans, the moves and the orgasms everything was business like. And as soon as the hour struck, they stopped their moans, adjusted their sarees and left. This left him much frustrated and desperate. His nerves throbbed for pleasure. He started drinking and smoking ganja. Though they never quenched his thirst, they helped him to forget it. In a very short time, he turned an alcoholic. And smoking ganja escalated to inhaling white lead. And then he began spending days and nights taking drugs with the peddlers near the river.

One day he was caught smoking ganja in college. His parents were called by the management. His father came and he was shocked to see him in such a state. More than getting caught with ganja, his father was more worried at the piteous condition of his son. He didn’t say anything, but the way he looked with a mix of fatherly concern, worry and anger pinched his heart. He hugged his father and cried bitterly. The college management suspended him, but allowed him to write his final year exams. He went to his home town. There, with a strong determination to come out of this episode and addictions, he stopped taking them. As a result of this sudden abandonment, within a few days withdrawal symptoms showed up. Insomnia, convulsions and severe bouts of depression and anxiety threatened to turn him mad. He relapsed into his habits again. But this time he stayed away from drugs, however hard the yearning was, he consoled himself with alcohol and ganja. Instead he concentrated on maintaining regular food and sleep patterns. Over time he got stable and found little peace. Once in a while, he tried to sit and write something. A poem, a story or just anything he felt, but the previous connection he had between his heart and his hand was lost. The way emotions flowed through his hand in the form words was lost. He felt bitter at first but slowly accepted the truth, and he gave up writing.

Few months passed and his final year exams came. And as he expected, he failed. This failure combined with the fear of a looming future made him desperate to study for his supplementary exams. He wrote the exams and finally passed out. The day he saw the results; he felt a glimmer of hope shine again for another new beginning. He decided to do Post-Graduation.

CHAPTER-2- GIMM (2)

He felt a knot in his stomach, and was sweating profusely, his head started reeling. The knot tightened; with a sudden jolt he raised tilting his head sideways but it was too late and he vomited. Only a little of it fell on the sand, but rest all fell on him. He tried to wipe it off with his hands, but it only made his hands sticky. So, he left it and lied back again. His throat burned and the stink of his vomit made his headache much worse. He felt another knot tightening. This time he made no attempt to get up and he vomited again. The thick vomit flowed down by his cheeks and flogged at the back of his neck and sunk in the sand through his shirt. He felt a strange warmth in it. The stink got much worse and his head throbbed terribly. He rolled over in the sand and got up. He wiped his mouth with the edge of his sleeve, he made no attempt to shed off the sand that stuck to him. He walked a little distance away and laid down on the grass. He took another roll of ganja from his shirt pocket and tried lighting it up. The roll was already damp and refused to burn. So, he took out the powdered leaves, put that in his mouth and started chewing it. Slowly, as the gist oozed out mixing with the saliva and got assimilated into his blood, the throbbing subsided and his mind distanced itself slowly. Thoughts started pumping in and memories began bursting out. They ran like hundreds of metro trains crisscrossing each other but none ending in a collision. He laughed at them. Out of nowhere Sirisha emerged, the whole traffic of his head halted. He tried shutting out Sirisha and resume the metro trains but the trains seemed too rigid to move. He laughed suddenly realizing the stupidity of his intention to control his thoughts. Everything turned fluid again, the trains started moving in, but this time the trains were more of Sirisha. And in no time, he became a passenger in one of them.

With such a mess in my life, how did I afford to marry Siri?’ he wondered. ‘Ok, I’m stupid, but what happened to her? how the hell did she marry a decaying mess like me?’ he broke into a sad hysteric laughter.

‘Where did this disaster begin…? Haahh! The fest, yes, the fest. Why does downfall begin with a grand ceremony?’, he laughed heartily at his own line.

Though the night was pleasant, the party was dead boring. At one side the seniors tried to engage the juniors with culturals. On the other side the remaining juniors and seniors, who were expected to be audience were fighting over the food coupons. The lecturers were trying to fill their carriers for their homes with the help of few big-mouthed seniors at the food tent. Some of the seniors were genuinely shouting to negotiate and bring order in the program. Few juniors tried their best to sit tight on their seats at the stage. More than the skits on the stage, the down stage drama interested them much. It was their freshers party, organized by seniors and supervised by lecturers. The lecturers ended up at the food tent and the seniors ended up fighting for the food coupons.

He saw them lazily and turned again to watch the dust clouds that raged with the cold-dry wind. He went there drunk and was neither interested in the food nor the program. It was just two months after he joined PG in P.B. Siddhartha College. He tried hard to become his previous self, but it seemed too difficult. Though he had no interest, he forced himself to be a part in the college activities. Attending the freshers party was one of those attempts. The dust clouds, under the bright lights, camouflaged the dark buildings in the back ground. He turned to see the confusion at the stage. With a revulsion he got up and walked towards the silent building. He went along the hallway and started walking towards the corridor. Soon, the noises from the stage and the crowd turned dim and silence took over. His footsteps became loud thuds as he walked along the corridor. He turned right and took a stair. It was dark but it made no difference. He quickly ascended it and at the first floor he turned right again to take the next stair. Immediately a couple who were kissing till then tore apart at the sudden intrusion. They quickly adjusted their clothes and started talking in muffled tones. He noticed them but without much reaction he continued ascending the steps. When he reached the terrace a gush of wind slashed him. He felt cold suddenly. A smile crawled over his face. Rubbing his palms together he walked to a corner and laid down with his hands under his head and stretched his legs. The lactic acid in his legs made them ache, and made him remember that evening’s workout. An instant sadness crept in. He recollected how he struggled to keep up with his breath after every short run. The drastic contrast that dawned over made him sad and disappointed. He wiped the corners of his eyes and took out a small coke bottle already mixed with whiskey. He emptied the bottle and concentrated on the twinkling stars and the drifting clouds above. In no time under the spell of the cold breeze he slipped into a deep slumber.

He was sleeping with his arms and legs stretched wide and with froth foaming from his mouth. Distant sharp giggles disturbed his slumber. He opened his eyes and saw two girls chatting nearby leaning over the wall. He felt suddenly embarrassed and tried to get up in a swift momentum. Still in the alcoholic delirium his body and mind refused to respond. He kept falling every time he tried to get up. Finally, he gripped the parapet beside and managed to get up with its support. He noticed the girls looking at him and he took a swift step forward to go down. But his feet stuttered and he fell down. One of the girls jerked forward while the other giggled. He gave up his trails to get up and instead rubbed the dust off his shirt and leaned back over the parapet in resignation. A girl walked over and handed him a water bottle, he was surprised and looked at her. A sense of recognition and friendliness flashed in her eyes. Without any words he took the bottle and drank. And as he drank, he felt the cold stream run down his guts calming his burning stomach. He handed over the bottle and got up holding the parapet and mumbled a ‘Thank you’. The cold stream that ran inside to calm, started breaking ruckus instead. With a terrible jolt he threw up everything, water, coke and whiskey, everything. The girl stepped aside and waited while he vomited. When he finished, she handed him the bottle again, he washed his face and drank a little. Again, he mumbled a ‘Thank you’ and forced out a smile without looking her in the eyes. His eyes fell upon the coke bottle. With a sudden leap, he bent to pick it up. But his feet stuttered and he struggled to balance himself with his hands from falling down again. The girl jerked forward to help. Without even wasting a moment he walked away downstairs hurriedly. Though he stumbled he didn’t pause anywhere. Grabbing the rods and the walls he descended the stairs swiftly. Far away near the stage he noticed that the program has ended formally. Now the students were pushing and shouting at each other in the food tent. He looked up at the building once, and there her dark silhouette stood by the parapet, under the night sky.

‘Who would take a water bottle along, to chat on the terrace? Or did she bring it for me? how did she know that I was drunk? How did she know that I was up there, in the first place? Had she been watching me? had she been following me?’

‘Ahh!!!’ he screamed under a low voice with clenched fists, unable to bear the hammering in his mind.

‘Maybe it’s just a wild coincidence, who knows. Then what was that sense of recognition in her eyes’

‘Ahh!!! To hell with it’ he screamed in a laughter realizing the hammering again.

His normal lack of concern and his ever-miserable face started to show little signs of curiosity. He tried to find that girl. He didn’t remember her face properly but he tried searching for those eyes which conveyed that sort of recognition and friendliness. He failed to find her. He was sure that the girl was not from his class. A few days later, one evening while he was jogging in the college ground, he saw a girl walk into the gates. There were many others in the ground, but strangely his attention fell on her. He didn’t stop jogging, but kept watching her. She was alone. She was slender and tall maybe to his shoulders’ height, she walked towards the gallery, took off her college bag and sat there. She made herself comfortable and looked into the ground as if searching for someone. He stopped jogging and kept looking at her. The moment she saw him, her face brightened with merriment and instantly turned red in embarrassment, for getting caught. She lowered her head and with a smile blooming on her face, she picked her bag and walked out in the exact manner she came in. He kept laughing for a while. And he felt very happy for laughing heartily after a long time. Soon days became lot more bearable for him. He found her where ever he went, sometimes she was already there, waiting and sometimes she came a little later. He neither approached her nor reproached her, but he acknowledged her presence deeply.

One mid-afternoon, he sat in the bus shelter outside the AIR, dead drunk and sweating profusely. It was one of those bouts of his depression. Whenever, this happened he relapsed. Recollecting the past event by event, he got dead drunk and roamed on the roads. Finally, he ended up either at the AIR or Meena Kumari’s room and then passed out. This hangover sometimes ended up for days.

He felt the bench creak and he lazily looked to his right. There she was. Though a little sun burnt and withered, she was there with a smile. He instantly felt happy and smiled at her.

‘You know that I come here too?’

‘Yeah, I know’ she smiled.

‘And you know that I’m drunk?’

‘Yeah. Whenever you come here you get drunk right?’

‘God!!!’. He laughed out loud.

‘You know why I come here then?’

‘No’

‘You want to know?’

‘Well, if you want to tell, I want to listen’

‘No, I don’t want to make myself sadder again’ he smirked sadly and abruptly asked,

‘You like me?’

she nodded her head slowly with a blush.

‘Why, what do you like in me?’

‘I don’t know. Maybe the scattered look in your eyes; the way they seem to be present here but are wandering somewhere else. Or maybe your demeanor that reflects the silent acceptance of some inextricable misery? I don’t know.’

Exhaling a relaxed breath, he leaned back on the pillar and slid down. The sun burnt his toes and the sweat drenched his shirt, yet he cared neither of them.

‘Frankly, I understood nothing of what you’ve said now.’

‘At least you understood that I love you right?’

‘Yeah, ya that I did a long time ago.’

Both of them laughed. He turned looked into her face for a long moment. Then his eyes fell upon her rosebud breasts. For a moment they became the only wonders in the world. They fascinated him, the little crests across her chest and the little depression in-between seemed marvelous to him. If it were a moment longer, he might have even touched them. But noticing his gaze, she immediately adjusted her scarf and looked sharp at him. His face clouded with embarrassment and he immediately apologized her. And he kept apologizing. She didn’t flare up, instead she accepted his apology as if she had forgiven him already. Then he asked,

‘We don’t belong to the same class then how did you know me? My name, course and even my habits? How?’

‘For many weeks I don’t know you. But one evening, while I was coming out of the college library, I saw you, all hunched up, in a dark corner, and reading the Canterbury Tales. Seriously, who would read Canterbury Tales in PG.’ ‘I thought you were learning English at first, but later I found something scribbled at the end of the book, it said “The dead are the luckiest ones, for they have escaped the ever-looming tyranny of their past present and future…” I felt the impact of those words, for some reason I know that you’ve written them. So, from then I started stalking you?’ she giggled.

He laughed, and as he laughed, he rubbed his red eyes and looked at her in fulfilment.

Over time a fragile bond developed between them, and he felt secure enough to share things with her. Strangely, he revealed the things backwards. His habits first, then his addictions, his cravings for sex and finally Meena Kumari. The day he revealed Meena Kumari was on a sunsetting day. Sitting at the ghat steps, with the river flowing in front, and hot humid air beating across their faces, he unburdened himself. She sat silent for a long time after he finished. And then without a word she got up and left. He didn’t go after her to stop or explain, he just watched her walk away. A strange sense of peace dawned upon him with the confession and he didn’t want that to drain away. He sat there looking at the flowing river and feeling the hot humid air. And in that strange peace he felt the strength to let go of his habits.

Days passed, they didn’t meet or talk. Though he was willing to, she didn’t. And he didn’t force his way to talk to her. But he waited patiently. One morning as the sun was rising in, he sat in the gallery, watching the ants crawling at his feet. Some carrying food and some guarding them. He raised his head noticing the approaching footsteps. It was her. She stopped at a distance and stood there with a stern face. His deliberate smile disarmed her and she swiftly rushed over and sat beside him. With worry masked with anger on her face, she said

‘See, I feel terribly sad for what has happened to you, if that’s what you want to hear, yes I feel terribly sad. Though I feel bitter to hear that the person I loved was intimate with someone else, I forgive you. But promise me that you’d never break my trust.’

He looked into the empty ground and then above into the bright sky.

‘Will you marry me?’ he asked firmly.

‘Yes, I want to marry you.’

He got up and held her hand firmly.

‘Let’s go.’

Skipping college, he took her to his home and declared that he wanted to marry her. Though his parents were shocked and surprised, angry and sad initially, but as their anxiousness and anger subsided, when they got to know about her. And they liked her. And in no time, they grew fond of her. The real trouble was when he went to her house to meet and talk to her parents. Her father didn’t have much problem with him, in a way he liked his honest nature. But her mother’s dislike was clear. She despised him and, in a way, hated him. Unable to convince her daughter and unable to deter her daughter’s conviction to marry Ashok, she was forced to give her consent for their marriage.

After PG, both of them got jobs through campus drives and within a few weeks they got married. The initial months were the happiest ones in their lives. Leading the life of a family man with a wife to take care and a household to manage, he found peace and purpose. Every morning he woke up looking into her serene face and listening to the whispers of her silent breath. Holding her close in his arms, he spent hours while she slept peacefully. A year later Chitra came into their lives expanding their little home of happiness. They managed their household eloquently, sometimes he did the house work while she took care of Chitra and sometimes the reverse happened.

Sirisha had a much stabler job. She earned more money than he did and also, she worked for a bigger company. Three years later he lost his job due to a mass job displacement done by his company. From then he stayed at home taking care of Chitra and house work. Once in a while he did few odd jobs, like a cataloguer in a book store or a dealer in old books and magazines. But in none he lasted longer. This never affected their relationship they still stayed the happy trio. Siri never forced him to try for a new job, she assured him that it was ok and that she was happy for him to be at home. Then the disaster struck, Siri’s father died. After her father’s death Siri went through a rapid transition. She became too sensitive and over caring towards her mother. She brought her mother to stay with them. Initially he supported her decision in bringing his mother-in-law to their home. The trouble started when his mother-in-law began to manipulate Siri. She told lots of lies about him, ‘he started drinking again’; ‘he was smoking ganja the other day’; ‘he was eyeing other girls in the building’; and so on. He didn’t bother about her as he felt confident that Siri wouldn’t believe her. But the repeated lies mixed with the mother sentiment created fissures in their relationship. Their previous intimacy slowly evaporated, and Siri, who already had a fear that he would break her trust started becoming more suspicious of him. This frustrated him much and he quarreled with his mother-in-law frequently. Siri sided with her mother and blamed him for being disrespectful towards her mother. He never won those quarrels, though he argued, he failed before their big mouths. After many years he started drinking again. This only made the matters much worse. His mother-in-law began to portray him as a bad father to Chitra. She poisoned his daughter with her lies. And whenever Chitra questioned him innocently about those lies, he felt a stab in his heart. He came home drunk frequently. Due to these disturbances in his home, he lost the intent to go home and take part in the household. This only improved her mother-in-law’s command in the house. And to sicken the matters much, Siri’s brother came to stay with them for a while and he never left. Chitra never felt comfortable around him. She reproached his attempts to make her sit in his lap or to hold her in his arms. She was too scared to go near his brother-in-law. He noticed it a few times, the look of terrible disgust and fear on Chitra’s face whenever his brother-in-law tried to go near her. He became suspicious and tried talking to Siri about that. And whenever he brought up the topic, she would turn over protective towards her brother and would scold Chitra for reproaching and him for being suspicious of her brother. This evening he came home, and the door was ajar. Without much noise he walked into their bedroom and there he found his brother-in-law. Sitting at the edge of the bed, he was looking at Chitra who was fast asleep, with a cold devilish grin on his face and his hand slowly approaching her legs. He freaked out at his brother-in-law, he took him by his collar and started hitting him. His mother-in-law who was sleeping in the other room rushed in and blamed him for putting false allegations on her son. This time when it was the matter of his daughter’s safety, he didn’t want to back down. He responded equally, he left his brother-in-law for a while and started hitting her mother-in-law. Siri, who had just returned from work, hearing the loud wails, rushed upstairs to their home. The scene which she saw was an offense being committed by him against her mother and brother. The wicked mother and son seeing the opportunity started playing the victims and turned the tables against him. Siri didn’t hear even a word of what he had said. In a matter of moments, it became a one against three fight. However hard he tried to convince Siri, she didn’t listen, she turned a deaf ear to him. And as the argument escalated, his brother-in-law, who was waiting for the right moment, knocked him down and started kicking him. Siri fell dead silent in shock and disbelief, yet she didn’t even make a move to stop or resist his brother. She just stood there like a stone holding the terror-stricken Chitra in her arms.

The sun burnt his skin, his throat parched and his head ached terribly. The terror-stricken face of his daughter flashed before him. He opened his heavy eyes and looked across the dry river bed. It was near noon and there was no one around. Slowly the events of the previous day fell in place one by one. The image of his terror-stricken daughter flashed again. Suddenly, he felt the pangs of hunger piercing his guts. He convulsed and looked around once again. He spotted a water puddle nearby. He got up and started walking towards it mumbling, ‘No, I shouldn’t leave my daughter to those demons.’

By P Sasikanth




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