When Uma came back to bed after changing, Kanak was fast asleep. Her sheet had drifted off her and now lay bunched up at her waist. She had turned on her right arm to face his side of the bed and her hair was strewn across her left cheek. Her lips were slightly parted and her forehead was creased. Uma lay down on his side looking at her for a few seconds. Without realizing he raised his free hand and tried to iron away the creases on her forehead. she relaxed at his touch and continued to sleep peacefully. Sleeping like this she looked extremely defenseless and young. “How old is she?” he thought to himself, for the very first time taking account of her age. ” Looks about eighteen but can’t be a day over twenty.” his reasoning answered. Uma gasped inwardly at that thought. ” So young? What life experiences has she had so far?” Immediately he imagined her laughing carefree with an unclear figure that his mind planted in place of a brother. He smiled a little at that. The next moment he recalled her bound in ropes , struggling to be free, protesting against the wedding, and crying bitterly afterwards. His smile vanished and his breath quickened. Next he thought of her terrified face when he came to be alone in their room for the very first time. She had obviously assumed that he had come to claim her body by force and had cringed like a cornered animal. Feeling uneasy at that image, Uma recalled their conversation in his dispensary, “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.”
Those words had been playing in his head in a loop throughout the day. It was like that annoying tune that one gets tired of, but that would not let go of one’s thought. Feeling restless, he got up and walked out of the door that lead to the verandah behind his room. He picked up his meditation mat on the way and went over to the massive idol of Lord Shiva that formed the temple of his daily worship. Uma spread out the mat before his Lord and sat down cross-legged in a meditative stance. He gazed at the idol for a few minutes and slowly closed his eyes to immerse himself in deep self-contemplation. Events of the entire day, what he had found out in Pushkar, Kanak’s going through all her tests, her sullen face when she did something against her wish, her glee at succeeding at something, her limp form in the bathroom the previous night, her revelation of her purpose for being here, all went past him like in a movie reel, until his thoughts came back full circle to their conversation that morning. ” 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.” Uma’s eyes opened slowly at the recollection of those words. Inevitably they were followed by the words from the loop, “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.”
Gradually Uma opened his eyes. He felt exhausted from his contemplation but at peace. He gazed at the idol in front of him for a few more minutes, praying silently. Then he got up, folded his mat, and went back to his room. His heart was heavy, but his mind had the clarity he had needed for some time now. As quietly as possible he slid back into his side of the bed. Kanak had turned to sleep on her back now. He gently touched her forehead letting his fingers slide over her right cheek. He slowly brought his fingers to his lips and kissed them softly, closed his eyes, and within minutes fell into a deep sleep.
When Kanak woke up the next morning, she was surprised to see Uma still sleeping. She checked the clock. It was 4 a.m. about half an hour or so later than when he usually got up. She looked at his sleeping form uncertainly. “Should I wake him up? We have to travel. I don’t want us to get delayed.” she thought . She was about to shake him up when an unknown emotion stopped her short. He looked peaceful but there were creases on his forehead. ” A bad dream?” she wondered. ” No, must be yelling at me even in his sleep. I must have broken some rule or committed some mistake.” Feeling compelled, she moved her left hand tentatively to his forehead and tried to smooth it out by running her index finger over it. He immediately relaxed at her touch and let out what seemed like a breath of relief. Surprised, she pulled her hand back and thought of all he had told her the previous night. She felt her heart swell as she recollected what he had said about not being able to digest a property acquired wrongly from an old woman. Kanak felt a drop of tear trickle out of the corner of her right eye. She dabbed at her eye, gently pulled up the sheet that had drifted off Uma, back on him, and got out of bed to get ready. The noise from her activities would wake him up anyway, she thought. As she walked over to the bathroom, Uma slowly opened his eyes, a half smile playing on his lips and in his eyes. Even before he got up completely, he joined his palms and thanked God.
Three hours later, they were done with breakfast and ready for their journey. “When will both of you be back?” Maasisa asked.
“As soon as the purpose I am going for is served.” Uma said quietly.
Kanak looked at him with a little disbelief. ” Looks like he wants to tell them after he comes back.” she thought to herself. ” Maybe that is the best idea.”
She went and hugged each family member including Palomi completely unaware of the stiffness in the other woman. When she came to Shiv, Kanak felt her heart skip a beat. He looked up at her with his beautiful large eyes, his usual innocence purifying the very atmosphere around him. Kanak breathed in deeply. She had always felt a sense of freedom and freshness when around Shiv, even in her gloomiest times. She bent down to give him a tight hug and kissed his forehead. She wanted to say “I will miss you and I will always love you,” but she knew that that would sound too much like a farewell, so she just smiled. Then turning around resolutely, she started to walk away.
Once Kanak reached where Uma was, she halted, waiting for him to walk forward so that she could follow behind. Uma saw her somber face and started to walk. As soon as she started to follow him, Uma stepped back to match his steps with her, so that they walked out of the door together. She looked at him a little surprised, halting again to let him walk ahead. Uma halted with her.
“What happened? Changed your mind? Don’t want to go anymore?” he said with a perfectly straight face.Alarmed, she shook her head and hastily started to walk again, with Uma right by her side.
As Kanak sat in the car by Uma’s side she reminisced the almost unbelievable course her life had taken in the past month. She reflected deeply upon all her actions, everything she had done to get Bhabho’s happiness back. A feeling of unease agitated her mind at that recollection. As she thought of Bhabho, tears automatically trickled out of her eyes, and she dabbed at them with the back of her hand. Thinking about all she had been through and how she had behaved consumed her so thoroughly that she had no sense of the car having stopped and Uma having gotten out of the car.
Kanak came out of her reverie. Uma was shaking her gently by her shoulder. “What happened?” she said startled into attention. “Why have we stopped?” Then realizing she was alone with him in the car she looked at him with anxiety. ” Where is the driver and Gabbaji?”
“Looks like you had dozed off. I am going to be driving here onwards. Gabbasa and the driver will meet us directly at the registration office. Come sit in the front seat.” he said getting down.
“Because I need to talk to you about private matters before we reach Pushkar. Don’t worry, I have driven on this route several times. I know it like the back of my hand. Now, don’t waste anymore time. I want to reach there before it starts to get too hot. Get down and come to the front seat.”
Realizing that any further protest was futile and unnecessary, Kanak got down from the car. Uma held the door of the front passenger seat open for her and waited for her to get in securely before he closed the door. Then he walked over to the driver’s side and got in.
They drove in silence for a few minutes. The way her heart was drumming, Kanak felt like he could hear her heartbeat. “What does he want to talk about!?” she thought anxiously.
“Why did you say you have to win Bhabho’s love? She is your grandmother after all. Why did you have to do this as a condition for her love? you have a brother, wait, two brothers, as far as I found out. Why was this job given to you? Why does your getting her love depend on it?”
Kanak felt deeply pained by that question. ” It’s personal. I’d rather not discuss it.” she said curtly.
” I still haven’t given you the shop. And I did pay the money for it, whether it reached your family or not. The shop is legally mine Kanak, so I’m really being nice here. Answer my questions. Why?”
Kanak looked daggers at him for reminding her of that harsh truth. Then she shrugged her shoulders in defeat. ” They don’t know I came to get the shop. No “job” was given to me. They think I ran away from home because I fell in love.”
Uma looked at her face and felt agonized by her pained expression.
” My grandmother…has never shown her love to me. I thought this would make her see how much I loved her and so she would love me back.”
Uma looked at her stunned. “How could she not love this imp! What kind of a grandmother is she,” he wondered.
When Kanak did not supply anymore information he felt a little annoyed. ” Explain further. Why does she have that attitude? Is it because you are a girl…and she prefers her grandsons?”
“No!” Kanak shouted, startling him. ” She is not like that. You have this man woman thing going on in your mind all the time! She is not like that. She supported her daughter-in-law to become a police officer. She is very nice!”
Uma was amazed at her protective outburst. “Ok. Then why?”
Kanak suddenly felt her anger replaced by a deep sadness. ” She is angry with me because I caused her son and daughter-in-law’s death. I took away her greatest happiness, her reason to live, from her. That is why?”
Involuntarily, Uma pressed hard on the brakes making the car screech to a stop. “What? You caused your parents’ death? How is that possible?”
” My mom , as you know now, was a great police officer.” Kanak said haltingly. She did not feel forced anymore. She wanted to talk about this now. She wanted to share this with him in the hope that he would see her real reason for her lies and maybe not hate her as much. The fact that she did not want him to hate her went completely unnoticed by her. She continued her story,
” When I was about one, there was a terror attack in our area, and the terrorists took some hostages. My mother responded to her call of duty and fought hard. My father who was her biggest strength supported her actively in that fight They had promised my Bhabho that would come back to her safe and sound. And they had almost fulfilled that promise having rescued all the hostages successfully. The terrorists had no leverage left and were about to give up.”
Kanak paused shutting her eyes tightly, a stream of tears flowing out of her eyes. She swallowed back a hiccup unaware at the pain on Uma’s face as he looked at her state. She wiped her tears and resumed, ” at the last moment, in all that confusion, left alone accidentally, I wandered into the area where the terrorists were. They grabbed me, took me hostage, and got an upper hand. Again.”
An understanding dawned on Uma. He faintly recalled reading about the incident in newspapers. He had been about eleven or so, at the time. “They went back to save you and…”
Kanak nodded sobbing softly. ” My father was my Bhabho’s life, and my mother her pride. I took away both from her.”
” But you were a baby! How was it your fault. How could she hold you responsible for it?” he said incredulously.
” Don’t say a word against her!” Kanak hissed through her tears. ” She is justified. She had to go through incredible pain. The reason she survived was because she turned some of that pain into anger against me. She got someone to blame. That at least kept her alive. Whether I was at fault or not, I was the cause of her children’s death. A woman is allowed to be angry with the person who caused her children’s death. I thought, if I returned the shop to her, in a way I would be returning her most precious thing to her and her anger might become less. I was praying that she might then show me some love.”
Here, Kanak broke down completely, all of her guilty conscience taking complete posession of her. ” I came back to you just for the shop. You did wrong with me by kidnapping me like that but you also gave me chances… I came back to you after I had left, lied, and pretended to somehow get that shop from you. You are horrible for what you think of women and how you have treated me, but I am not good either. I have been deceitful. I am sorry!” she sobbed uncontrollably.
Unable to hold back any longer, Uma put his right hand on her head patting her softly. He saw a half child, half woman, who had pined for her grandmother’s love all her life and probably had felt not good enough. He recalled all that she had gone through at his house and realized how such adverse environment might have piled on to all the sense of deficiency she had been carrying with her all her life! Feeling tormented, he tentatively pulled her against himself. When she did not protest, he hugged her completely, trying to soothe her. She cried bitterly for the next few minutes, then gradually sobered up.
Once done, she pulled away from his chest. Awkwardness had turned her face a deep shade of pink.Uma looked at her for a few seconds as she wiped her face with the loose ends of her dupatta. “We better get on with the journey,” he said in as composed a voice as he could muster.
Thankful that he had said nothing about her crying into his chest, Kanak nodded and looked forward.
Uma started the car again and drove quietly ignoring the tumult inside him and the wetness on his kurta where her wet face had rested. Without looking at her, he picked up a water bottle from his side, and handed it to her.
“Thank you.” he heard her say in the softest voice he had ever heard from her up till now.
Sorry for that long update. I did not want to break it abruptly and so waited till I could pause naturally. This story is mostly about them understanding each other so a lot of their perspectives and point of view will be there with some key actions taking place. Yet, sorry if it feels kind of slow and dragging. I do like to get into the mind of the characters and sometimes get carried away describing their thoughts. Anyway, whatever I am capable of is here for you. Hope it will give you some enjoyment. Take care everyone and thank you for reading ? Really appreciate it.
P.S. Sorry about the typos. Couldn’t proofread.