“Once I give these papers to her, she will see me as worthy. She will love me and finally I will get what I have wanted since my childhood.” Kanak thought as euphoria rose in her. She rushed with the shop papers in her hand. At a distance, she saw Bhabho standing with her back towards her with Ved and Vansh on her either side. To Kanak’s delight, her brother’s were facing her though and were smiling their usual indulgent smile. “Bhaiya! I got the shop documents. They are in my name now. Bhabho the shop is yours, forever! Your Suraj and Sandhya’s memory is yours again.” Kanak shouted as she ran to hug her family. Hearing her words Bhabho started to turn around. Kanak saw the side of her face which seemed to be smiling. Just as Kanak was about to see Bhabho’s face in its entirety, a great big shadow loomed over and made everything dark. “A storm? Rain-clouds? All of a sudden?” Kanak thought restlessly as her family members grew faint.
She squinted her eyes but the storm started to brew with more intensity, and the papers in her hand started to flutter. She looked around to figure out the source of this abrupt change in the atmosphere ,and to her horror, she found a tall, dark, and ruthless figure walking towards her. The humongous shadow belonged to him and it was his movement that was causing that mini tornado that threatened to blow her family away, and smash her to smithereens. “Please, please …” was all Kanak could say. However, the figure walked up to her, snatched the shop document from her hand tearing it in the process. He threw the shreds of paper away and produced a thick rope out of thin air. Kanak stared at the rope with terror and started to run but with one swift swipe of his hand, he grabbed her from behind and held her tightly against himself. She tried to shout to call her brothers but she realized that suddenly her voice was gone.
Her family moved further and further away and disappeared. The man tied up her hands and her feet together so that she was immobile. ” You would have been of some use had you been a good maid-servant. But I have found out that you are completely worthless…” With that he let go of her and walked away leaving Kanak in the middle of nowhere, all alone, bound, and helpless. She shouted to call back her brothers but they wouldn’t come back. She shouted again…
“Kanak, Kanak!” With a jerk and a loud gasp, Kanak woke up and stared directly into the face of UmaShankar looking at her with worry. “Are you ok now? Whatever it was was just a dream.” he said studying her expressions carefully wincing at the horror in her eyes. Her forehead was covered in sweat. He tried to touch her hand to check her pulse and found it to be cold and clammy. “Get up Kanak. You need to eat. You pulled a rough stunt last night and slept on an empty stomach. This is the result of such irresponsible behavior. Go freshen up so that you can have your breakfast.”
His harsh words brought Kanak back to her reality, although she still saw flashes of her dream making her shudder. She swung her legs down to get up from the bed. Uma held her hand and helped her up. Then he gently pushed her back to guide her towards the restroom. As she walked, Kanak’s eyes fell on the small clock on his study-table. “Eight thirty!? Oh my God! I missed breakfast. Why didn’t you wake me up.” Kanak wailed mournfully.
Uma swallowed back the lump that suddenly seemed to have sprang in his throat. “I have told Maasisa that you were unwell last night and slept late because of it. All those timing rules don’t apply to an ill person. Go wash up. I will send your breakfast. Eat here, sit for a while, and when you feel strong enough, come to my dispensary. I need to talk to you. ” he said briskly. He looked at her for a few more seconds, then turned around and left the room.
“Maybe, taking a shower will make me feel better.” Kanak thought as she walked towards her cupboard to gather her things, and then proceeded to the bathroom. When she came back outside twenty minutes later, she found Maasisa sitting at the edge of her bed.
“Come, eat your breakfast. You must be very hungry.” She gestured to a tray on the side-table next to the bed. ” I have given you light food that can be digested easily.”
Kanak nodded gratefully trying to see signs of anger and harshness in Maasisa’s face, but she found none. She was her usual composed, mildly stern, but kind self. ” Doesn’t she know as yet that I have been abandoned by her nephew?” Kanak thought nervously. However the sight of food sent all her blood rushing to her stomach making it gripe and ache. She walked towards the table, picked up the tray, sat down on a cushioned chair, and started to eat. The meal contained some overcooked rice and Dal and some boiled and lightly sauteed potatoes. It was simple but delicious and extremely satisfying. Kanak ate quietly, trying her best not to wolf down the food hungrily. Maasisa looked at the girl and a light film of moisture glazed her eyes. “I’ll get you more if you want.” She said clearing her throat.
Almost done with the meal, Kanak was surprised that she was full. She had felt hungry enough to eat at least three servings. ” Thanks Maasisa, but I am full.” she said picking up a glass of water from the table and drank it in a single breath. Then she got up with her tray to take it downstairs.
“No, you can give it to me. You should sit for a while before you exert yourself. Too much too soon might make you sick again.” Maasisa said firmly. Kanak looked at her eyes and there it was again, her unique quality to infuse her speech with firmness and eyes with affection.
“Ok Maasisa, I sit here for some time but I will bring my tray downstairs. Please don’t carry my leftover dishes.” Kanak said not letting go of the things in her hands.
“Kanak, you put too much stress on these minor things. You need help right now so I’ll do it. That’s all there is to it. But I appreciate the respect you have given me.” With that she took the utensils from her hand and gave her one last look before she left the room.
Kanak sat on the bed thinking about all that had taken place since last night. With food in her stomach, and her outburst of emotions the previous night, she felt calm. Heavy and uncertain about her future, but calm. Her secret was out, the cards were all out and open on the table, and there was open battle ahead. No more scheming and trickery. That gave her a strange sense of relief. Plain and simple fight, she could handle. About fifteen minutes later, she felt like she was up to venturing downstairs to face her nightmare. She closed her eyes and envisioned her parents, took a deep breath, and walked towards the door.
Uma stood at a table in his dispensary going through a file and matching some medicine bottles with it. He worked mechanically while his brain kept repeating Kanak’s speech from the previous night and his own contemplation that followed. Amidst this engrossed state he suddenly felt like a fragrance had floated by him and he imagined that he could hear a soft sound of anklets from far away. All of a sudden he felt a flutter in his gut. The very next moment, he heard a knock at his door. He took a deep breath, kept his eyes firmly on his work, and asked the person at the door to come in.
Kanak entered the room with some apprehension. In spite of all she had been through, she tried to keep her back straight, shoulders squared, and chin up.
“You asked me to come and meet you. I am here.” she said in a composed voice.
Uma looked up at her. Her defiant confidence did not surprise him. He expected that from her. ” Close the door behind you. Our conversation needs to be absolutely private.”
Kanak went and closed the door and walked up to his desk.
“How are you now? Feeling better? Did you eat?” He asked casually.
“Yes, I ate well, and I am feeling stronger and better. ” she replied in a flat voice.
“What about the wrist? Must be hurting.” He asked as he closed his file and came around the desk to stand right in front of her.
Kanak found it hard to hold his gaze and lowered her eyelids. “A little. Actually there is a throbbing ache in the wrist area and the surrounding area. It’s ok. My bandage got wet when I took a bath . I did not open it because I did not know if I could.”
Holding her by her hand, Uma led her to a cushioned, bamboo couch nearby and made her sit there, seating himself next to her. He lifted her injured hand and slowly unwrapped the wet strip of cloth from her wrist. The cut looked swollen, red, and moist. His eyes clouded looking at it. “Stay here. I’ll dress it properly.”
Kanak looked at him curiously as he walked to a cabinet and came back with a box that looked like a first aid box. He sat down again and set the box in his lap. Then he opened it and using standard first aid equipment proceeded to clean her wound, apply antibiotic ointment on it, and then bandage it with clean gauze.
“How do you have this? This is not Ayurvedic stuff?” she said doubtfully.
Uma shook his head in exasperation. “You and your assumptions. I am not as inflexible as you think I am. I know there are emergencies where first aid and emergency response is needed. I have taken training for that specially because I knew that I was going to work in a relatively rural area. I use this and other basic emergency responses when necessary. My practice and treatments are completely Ayurvedic. But you will of course jump to conclusions based on your half-knowledge!” He patted her now bandage covered wrist gently and kept the first aid box aside.
Kanak looked down at her hands. ” I will leave today. Haven’t you told Maasisa as yet? She seems to have no clue. What did you tell her?”
Uma leaned back and turned little to look directly at her. “That you were sick last night so not to apply usual rules on you today.” He paused for a couple of seconds then resumed, “By the way, your wish came true. I committed a sin for your sake. I liked to her that you hurt your wrist while taking off your bangles last night.”
Kanak flashed him an angry look. ” You think that was your first sin ever? Seriously?”
“Yes. I think so.” Uma said with calculated defiance.
“And binding me like an animal and forcing marriage on me was not a sin?”
Uma’s face became strained. ” It was to fulfill a divine purpose. I was in …”
“Oh yes, the signs from Bholenaath.” Kanak scoffed.
“Kanak, don’t start again. I have warned you before…”
” Who are you to warn me about anything? People here have made you think you are always right so you have started to believe it too. You think you are the ultimate devotee of Bholenaath and HE approves of your violation of a woman’s freedom? You need to know, there are many who are bigger and better devotees than you. They may not follow all the rituals like you do but they understand the essence of religion, which is love and kindness, rather than getting lost in the outer things and torturing people because of it. And these signs you talk about, you know what, now that I think of it, you are absolutely right, God did show signs to both you and me to bring me in your life. I did not see them at all and you understood the reasons all wrong.” Kanak felt out of breath from her impassioned speech. She stopped to regain her composure.
Uma stared at her with a new glint in his eyes. She had managed to ruffle up his calm and he felt very agitated. This was the first time she had acknowledged the existence of those signs. What was that she had said about understanding them wrong? “What do you mean I understood them wrong? You think you know religion more than me? Someone who does not even follow a single rule of religion?” he said unable to control his anger.
“No.” Kanak said quietly. ” I don’t understand religion and its rules, better than you. But I do believe in God as much as you do, and in my opinion, I respect God more than you because I never feel I am equal to Him. I don’t disrespect him by putting my selfish intentions on him. If I committed a crime, I would never say God made me do it. I would accept that I am a faulty human and I would take responsibility for my actions. Using God to exercise power and feel great is for delusional weaklings like you!”
Before Kanak could realize what had happened she found herself pulled tightly against his chest, his right arm crushing her in his vise like grip. Her back hurt where his hard fingers dug in it and her chest hurt from being pressed against him so tightly. She found it hard to breathe but what frightened her most were his livid eyes and quivering, clenched, jaws. It was the exact, same face from her nightmare that morning. “So what they say about morning dreams is right! They do come true!” she thought with mind numbing fear.
She stared back at him with terrified eyes but refused to lower her gaze. In a few seconds, tears started to roll down her cheeks but she refused to blink or beg to be released. ” I was ready to die last night. You think I give a damn if you strangle me to death now? In fact, good, do it, then go to jail for murder and live in eternal damnation!” Kanak managed to whisper out between gasps for breath.
Uma felt something break deep inside him and he loosened his grip, but did not let go. He looked deep inside her eyes and felt a completely new stirring inside his chest. His jaws unclenched, the hard glint in his eyes softened a little. ” You think, if I killed you, going to jail for murder would be my biggest concern?” he asked with a hint of mockery.
” I don’t have the faintest idea what your concern is. All I know is that you too walk around with incomplete knowledge thinking you know everything. You hate me but you are not that unlike me. Maybe that is one of the reasons God gave you those signs but you understood them all wrong.” As she spoke tears still flowed from her eyes, but she did not attempt to wipe them.
Still holding her Uma raised his left hand and wiped her cheeks still looking into her eyes. “You think I hate you?”
“Obviously! Look at me, I am everything you consider wrong in a woman and a wife. I don’t think you are my God and I defy you. I dare to tell you my opinion even if I know it differs from yours. I dare to talk back and stand up to you when I think you are wrong. I know God sent me here to get back Bhabho’s shop and win her love. Do you know that he sent me to you so you could see how half-baked, unfair, and prejudiced your rules are. How you hurt your own family members by these rules? How you disregard the basic message of God, humility and love and stay lost in the rituals that lose meaning when you give no importance to feelings?”
Uma felt his head spin a little and his breathing very labored. The former was from her words and how they seemed to hit his brain and the latter from holding her so close for so long and the inevitable physical effect it was having on him. The words had been said and they were embedded in his mind now. But the physical proximity could still be dealt with. He slowly let go of her and increased the distance between them. Looking away from her he tried to gain back his composure.
“Well, at least you can count on me to keep my promises. I had promised a good fight today and we had one.” he said trying to distract himself and her.
Kanak leaned back feeling exhausted. ” I’ll go and pack. Just a few clothes and some money for travel. You can check my bag before I leave to make sure I haven’t stolen anything precious. Then you can inform Maasisa that I failed and therefore have no place in your life. You will get plenty of women who will be everything you think good in a woman; who will worship you like God. Who will consider themselves to be fortunate to serve you and be ruled by you- Like Palomi.”
Uma’s head jerked up in her direction and an unexpected, faint smile curved the corners of his mouth.” First, you don’t understand what is precious to me, but I know now why. You were completely focussed on what’s precious to you.” he said softly smiling a little wider now. ” Two, Palomi? Where did she come from in our battle?”
” She is always full of admiration and adoration for you and you are always praising her saying how perfect she is. So I gave her example…” Kanak said simply. Getting more and more confused with her own speech, she became quiet and unconsciously rubbed her sides.
As if coming to a favorable conclusion, Uma gave a sigh of relief and prepared to get up. ” Stay here today and get a little better. I have to go for some work and will be back by this evening. Then we will decide what to do. Don’t dare to pull any other stunt. Remember, now I know who and where your family is.” he said looking at her menacingly when the action of her hand caught his attention. “What happened there?” He asked peering over and removed her hand to reveal bright pink and purple bruise marks on her waist. He swallowed back with some difficulty. “Sorry Kanak. I’ll give you an ointment to put on it.” he said getting up and going over to the cabinet.
He came back with a small glass container. “Here, this will make it better. Remember, do not leave until I come back. Now go and rest. I have to finish some work.”
Kanak stood up holding the medicine in her hand. She gave him a long look directly into his eyes, turned around, and left the room.
Thanks for reading Everyone. I was so done after writing this that had not patience to proofread. So, sorry for the typos and errors. No idea where to take the story now cos in my brain I could never forgive a person who kidnapped me, bound me and did all that poojneeya Uma ji did???. But I am trying to think of some resolution for these two since this is fiction. Keeping my fingers crossed and praying for some ideas?? Thanks again ?