Monday, April 29, 2013
Arhi TS: Untouched. Part I
Note: This story is placed in the early 1980s, around the time when Indira Gandhi was ruling.
Her eyes were glistening with unshed tears, a painful lump in her throat. And yet no one paid any heed, actually noting really seemed out of place about it. And so Payal entertained the guests, while Madumati and Garima bustled around making sure everything was perfect on this big day. And she just sat there trying to hold back tears and still secretly waiting for someone to really... actually ask her the reason.
Her hair was tied in an intricate pattern, heavy gold and kundan ornaments adorned her. An elaborate tika that covered half her forehead; heavy earrings that might seem pretty to others but were to her just inconvenient; and a grand family heirloom necklace that seemed intent on breaking her delicate neck. Everything about her screamed ROYAL and that's exactly what the Gupta's had intended. The Gupta family of Lucknow traced their lineage from the Gupta Dynasty of the classical era. It was a distant relation, they admitted, but one existed nonetheless. And who could challenge their claim, for no one of the ancient ages was alive to bear witness and the widely prevalent practices of polygamy and courtesans and concubines just complicated the whole thing. And anyway, no one really bothered, neither the outsiders nor the family members, for it was convenient this way. Belief is what matters, neither lies nor truths.
And so underneath the lies and truths, beliefs and customs, the entire faade of Royalty and an elaborate bridal ensemble, laid buried a Khushi Kumari Gupta, all but sixteen. She felt suffocated; she wanted to shout, to scream, to hide, to run away but the society had given its verdict that Khushi Kumari Gupta was going to be sacrificed today on the altar of societal propriety, and this judge never reconsidered his judgments, for he was supreme to all courts. After all what was she, just another girl amongst millions of such girls and women who were expected to follow the rules. Oh they were very simple actually, like live for others, die for others; bear the burden of what they called honor and yet be labeled as the weaker sex; just mechanically follow the orders of your male counterparts; never question; never expect; just submit and of course never ever live.
Khushi was different, unlike many other of her friends she chose to live. She was beautiful, not in a conventional way though, her beauty was more than just symmetrical arrangement of attractive features, a glow seemed to surround her at all times, an aura of free-spiritedness. She loved chasing butterflies in the garden, she would catch them... only to set them free. She relished food but rarely cooked and even when she did, her expertise was limited to chai and jalebis, she never even bothered to learn much, "Amma hai na." she'd say and then flit away joining a group of hooligans who had terrorized the entire neighborhood and of course, she was their leader. Hide and seek was her favorite sport, for she was the best at it, she was so brilliant at hiding that her record of never ever being a seeker remained unblemished. And then one day... she was found.
Out of nowhere, she found herself in front of some unfamiliar people, all whose gazes were fixed on her and suddenly the dupatta that she considered a nuisance seemed as her sole protector, for her entire family that was seated in the same room did noting to stop all the staring and were in fact having that hopeful look in their eyes that said they wished she passed the trial. The short, stout lady who hadn't diverted her gaze from her form for a long while, asked her to bring to her the plate of rasmalai, that was in fact within her arms reach and as moved to get the plate to the lady, she could feel her gaze scan her form all the more thoroughly. And, yet that wasn't the worst part. She could also feel his eyes on her, his gaze full of something she couldn't completely understand and yet it scared her. But more than that she felt disgusted... disgusted with herself as his gaze halted for the longest while on her breasts and butts and suddenly the dupatta wasn't enough. And before she knew it, she was engaged to the man she had just seen... yes only seen, because meeting would imply talking a little to the very least.
Her eyes were wild with fear but there was some hope in them as well as she looked at the faces of her loved ones, begging them to understand her, to save her or to the very least explain what was happening. And then she was shocked out of her trance as his hand grabbed hers, putting a rather humongous ring on her delicate finger and then giving her hand a-not-so-gentlemanly-squeeze. Khushi had looked at the stranger in front of her, unmasked fear dancing in those innocent eyes but the next moment she had looked away... looked away in disgust and fear as he had licked his lips, giving her a sly smile and his dark eyes sending some message... something that she didn't quite understand and yet it terrified her, probably her female instincts had sensed danger. His knuckle had brushed against her thigh as he got up and she felt sick in her stomach, pushing back the bile that rose in her throat she had taken blessings from the elders, trying hard to stretch her lips in what she hoped was a convincing impression of a smile... one that didn't reach her eyes... but then, would be brides of sixteen were supposed to smile that way, weren't they? The stout woman stood complaining to Garima that they were not very satisfied with the girl for she didn't have full grown breasts and that was a priority for their family required an heir at the earliest. Khushi was standing alone in a corner, behind the door and yet she had pulled the dupatta a little more, listening to the conversation and yet absorbing nothing.
The following few weeks had crossed in a whirl-wind with Khushi trying to make sense of things that made no sense. She had tried asking her Amma, Babuji, Bhai and everyone else that why were they getting her married off so soon, didn't they love her any more and they had all said that it was because they loved her so much that they wanted the best for her... a best that everyone but Khushi wanted for herself. 'Wasn't it supposed to be her life?' her mind had screamed at her but she had turned a deaf ear to that voice for good women weren't supposed to think... much less express it.
And so here she was, a month later, dressed up beautifully in an extravagant attire, all prepared to be sacrificed on an equally extravagant altar.
"The barat is here! The groom has arrived!" Preeto announced to everyone and they had all flitted out of the room to get a glimpse of the groom and the barat. Khushi had seen many brides, shy and nervous and yet excited to get a glimpse of their soon to be lords... why didn't she feel that way. She knew the answer.
The sudden loneliness brought back memories that she desperately wanted to forget... like... like a bad dream that one tries to shake off as soon as they open their eyes, only... she knew she would be living that nightmare every single moment of her life... that her eyes were never closed... that there won't be a single second of respite from that nauseating feeling that engulfed her whenever his eyes or his hands touched her... crawled on her... not a moment of respite until she finally closed her eyes.
It had been just yesterday, her entire family had gone off to the local temple where they were supposed to meet the groom's family for some ritual. Her haldi already done, she had to stay back, for a bride is not supposed to leave the threshold of her house after haldi, until her bidai. She was glad in fact for that little alone time, for ever since the marriage had been fixed someone or the other was always hovering around her trying to teach her cooking, sewing, knitting, chicken-kari work or even some wifely-tricks and other such good bahu things. So she let out a relieved sigh on finding her house to herself for once. She prepared herself a plate of hot crispy jalebis, she was not supposed to have anything salty until after the wedding and so Khushi had free license to have as much sweet as she could, and well her 'could' was limitless and she was not letting go of the opportunity.
She was lost in her thoughts, unconsciously munching on the jalebis when someone knocked the door breaking her trance. She had opened the door to find her fiance and soon to be husband. A shiver ran down her spine and her hands automatically pulled her dupatta more fully across her chest, where his eyes were fixed at the moment. He had stepped inside and her feet took her back on their own volition. When she had returned a while later with a bottle of ganga jal, for he had said that Amma had sent him to get the purifying water, she found him standing against the bolted door of the inner living room, a sly smile across his lips and pure lust in his dark inhuman eyes. She tried to run on an impulse, when she felt him restraining her as he caught her along her waist. He had pushed her on the couch, the ganga jal splayed over the floor as her head hit the wooden corners of the antique sofa, her vision blurring. And yet she had cried and thrashed violently like a lamb in a slaughter-house, earning a hard slap across her face and she had stilled, as fear like never before consumed her. But no, you don't give up so easily when your life depends on it and so Khushi fought, she fought with all her might... with anything and everything... with her teeth and claws. She could feel his restless hands crawling across her slim figure as he tried pulling off her dupatta and she clutched at it with all her might, calling her Guardian Angel her Devi Maiya for help. He had savagely pulled her hair and she had let out an almost animalistic shriek as she felt unbearable pain. He was trying to tear off her kurti when Payal had dashed inside the room tearing the animal off her. He had let out a frustrated growl and had left saying something like who would save her the coming night, while she had just hugged her Bhabhi, crying her heart out.
Khushi had cried for a long time, hiding her face in Payal's lap attempting to muffle those violent shrieks that threatened to explode through her so very often... that threatened to disrupt the delusion of harmony that the society wrapped itself in, unmasking the savagery that was its reality... naked reality of this civilized world. When she had calmed a bit, on the exteriors at least, Payal had finally divulged the reality of her marriage which was noting more than a business transaction. The implementation of the new land division law had stripped the Gupta's off most of their zamindari estate and this matrimonial alliance was but a desperate attempt to maintain the façade of 'almost royalty' that they had inherited... how did it matter if a breathing living girl was to sacrificed on the altar of this façade .. after all it was for the greater cause. That night for the first time Khushi, who had been hitherto kept ignorant about the physical aspect of life and was taught to scorn on even the word love and feel ashamed about her body, was suddenly exposed to the raw physicality of the relationship shared between a husband and his wife. The veil had finally lifted but the shackles of shame had bound her all the more strongly, reeling the life out of her, almost. She had felt the clasp of fear and disgust getting excruciatingly painful by the minute as the image of his slithery hands on her body, moving, touching, groping filled her mind. She had asked Payal to leave her alone, for it was too much to absorb in a single day. But fatigue had soon claimed her and she had fallen into a dreamless sleep, after days of sleepless nights, preparing herself for the many more nightmarish nights that were soon to follow.
She saw someone nudge her, lifting her up, making her stand, arranging the heavy bridal attire around her, something about the auspicious hour, muhrat or she didn't know... She saw women almost dragging her towards the wedding altar... she saw him give her a sickening smile as she was seated next to him... she saw all this as if from a distance... she felt noting... Her Devi Maiya had finally come to help her devotee... Khushi Kumari Gupta... soon to be Khushi Manohar Jha was granted the boon of numbness.
PS: Hope you guys liked this new story. Please do let me know what you thought of it.