We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.
- J.K. Rowling
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Two little hands…
A feeble voice…
Yes, they are taking my daughter away from me! I’ll have to pay for my deeds!
SEVEN YEARS AGO
A 17-year-old village girl…with shabby dress, uncombed hair and big, dreamy eyes & a playful smile…My mother loved me a lot, but she couldn’t bear the pain of my father’s tortures. My father, a mid-aged man, used to come home late and drunk and enjoyed beating my mother. One fine day, he kicked her out from the house, and she never came back!
I cried a lot. I cried for the whole day...and eventually, the pain got subsided. The void was always there, but I was comfortable with the void. My father was frustrated, as he thought he lost the game of power. He started beating me instead. Initially, I used to cry a lot, especially when my father uttered curses for my mother while beating me. Later, it became a habit. I couldn’t feel the pain anymore. I closed my eyes and dreamt of my mother patting me. Yes, I was the happy 17 years old with big eyes and a grinning smile.
Rohan was my friend & partner in crime. He was not exactly my neighbor but was from the same village. He used to go to the school and wanted to become a pilot someday. One day, he showed me an airplane, a big monster, with several windows. Rohan told me that there are several passengers who avail airplanes to commute from one city to another. It was quite a sport for us to watch how those monsters would vanish in the clouds in seconds.
Days were happy. Nights, dark. My father was a poor penniless farmer who sold his farm for Daru, the native liquor. He now started selling me for money. Every night, he would invite some random man of his age and asked me to keep him happy for the entire night. It was quite painful, even worse than his abuses and beating. Those men would insist me to drink Daru and touched everywhere. They enjoyed the fact that I was quite young, and I had better skin than their wives. They used to praise me vulgarly and my father praised them so that to shell out more than what they usually pay for girls like me.
One day, I told my father that I feel dizziness and vomiting. He was pale. He could sense what I was unable to sense at that tender age. He asked many questions about my friend Rohan and said I must not meet him. He cursed Rohan and said he did all these. I was feeling sick, and I wanted to ask Rohan that if watching airplanes has any side-effect on our health. I threw up and felt like there’s something inside me that’s doing all these. My father took me to a lady who gave me something to eat. After eating all those, I felt an intense pain inside my stomach. I wanted to sleep, I felt too weak. Moreover, there was something missing – ‘something’ that I was not able to explain.
One fine night, my father sold me. He never loved me or my mother, but whatever he did was not what all the fathers of my village usually do. There are fathers who allow their children to enjoy their childhood. They send their kids to school and gift them good clothes and books. There are fathers who cannot afford good clothes but give their children whatever they can with the utmost love and care. My father was different. He never thought about anyone else than himself. He wanted to enjoy a free life but expected good food and wanted to enjoy his freedom without taking his responsibilities. I was not the only child of my mother. A few years back, my mother gave birth to an angel. Yes, she was an angel, with blue eyes and paper-white complexion. I never saw such a beautiful baby in my life. She was a complete mismatch for the poor family like ours. One day, when my mother was not around, I killed the baby using a pillow. Yes, I did it because I was quite jealous of her. My mother thought it was my father, as he was angry because it was a female child, again!
I was inside the house when my father was bargaining for me. I was smart enough to understand that my own father was planning to sell me. My mind told me what to do. I took my money box and jumped out from the window. I was on my toes, running. I had no idea where to go, but all I know was to run!
I had to run away, far from my village, far from the green meadows, far from my father. He was not a human, he was a selfish demon, a deadly creature who would do anything for money and Daru. While my mother was a sweet dream that would refresh me every day even in her absence, he was the worst nightmare of my life who would give me many sleepless nights.
When I stopped running, I discovered that I was miles away from my village. That dark night transformed into a bright, sunny morning. I could see a pond nearby. I washed my face and hands from there. Sleepy and tired, I sat under a big Banyan tree. I don’t know how many hours I slept, but to my surprise, I woke up only to find myself in a beautiful place. I looked around but was unable to find anyone nearby. I thought of getting up, but my weakness didn’t allow me to stand properly.
“Welcome to the Singhania Palace, you can stay here as many days as you want”- said Mr. Singhania, in an intense and bold voice.
“But where am I? How did I reach here?”- I asked, perplexed & confused.
“Don’t worry! I’ll answer all your questions. But since you are quite weak, you must drink the milk served to you and take the food.”- Mr. Singhania instructed the maid to serve the food on the side table of the bed and left.
There were many questions running in my mind.
I was beautiful, and my mother always mentioned this whenever I used to play till dawn. She used to warn me about the witches who take beautiful girls and eat them. Perhaps this was not about the witches, but the evil eyes of my father...
Perhaps…this is why I am here.
It was a big palace and had everything one would have wished for in his entire life. I had never seen such a beautiful palace in my entire life. I wanted to imagine myself as the princess of my palace…but…
“Do you know why you are here?” Mr. Singhania asked.
“No idea. I was running away from my village and my father who wanted to sell me.” I answered.
“Well! My child! You are safe here…” he paused “I am staying alone here…after my wife passed away 4 years” he pointed towards the wall and I was shocked. She looked exactly like my mother…or perhaps…she was my mother…!!
“She…” I gulped, I was feeling a knot in my throat…something was stuck inside…I was speechless.
“Yes, she’s my Pari…my wife…she ran away from a village and was looking for a shelter. She left her kids, her husband, and her society because she was not able to take it anymore. Her husband was quite abusive, and she left her husband for good. But she missed her children, especially, her daughter.
She was quite younger than me and was quite smart. In no time, she made herself quite accustomed with the lifestyle here. She used to take care of me and my son really well, but my he never paid respect to his step-mother.
My first wife died when my son was 7 years old. I never thought of a second marriage. But when Pari came into my life, I felt like she came here only to take care of me. Yesterday, the gatekeeper saw you lying near the gate and informed me. When I saw you for the first time, I don’t know what happened to me…you had the same features my Pari had. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I asked my caretaker, Mrs. Chatterjee, to take you inside and get you new clothes. I waited for you to open your eyes, and tell me your part of the story…”
“Let me tell you what you wanted to know! I am the daughter of your beloved Pari…she left me and my father because she was unable to take it more…but she left me behind…to die, or to live miserably” tears rolled down from my cheeks “No! I am not judging her…she’s the best dream I ever had…and her thought gave me the hope to live, to fight” I felt like the knot on my throat was melting away as I was uttering those words, “My father sold me, and while he was fixing the deal, I ran away…”
Mr. Singhania was carefully listening to everything. He didn’t say a word. He placed his hands on my head and caressed my hair. Perhaps he was able to understand my pain.
“Stay here…I wanted you in my life…you are my Pari’s daughter – my daughter” he said, emotionally.
“Well! I think I cannot stay here for long. I need to struggle, fight and live. I don’t deserve this life, and she’s your wife, not my mother…”
Throughout my life, I thought my mother loved me. Perhaps she’s not alive…perhaps she’s in such a poor state that she’s not able to come and meet me…throughout my life I lived with a false hope…but when she was leading such a wonderful life, why didn’t she visit me? Why?
Mrs. Chatterjee gave me new clothes and asked me to take showers. After I took a bath, there was my mother’s favorite stylist waiting for me upstairs to dress me up. I hated the fact that my mother lived here comfortably and left her child for suffering. I dressed up in a pink floral dress, and with minimal diamond jewelry. I looked in the mirror…I couldn’t find myself. There was a beautiful girl standing, who resembled her mother…and was beautiful!
Mrs. Chatterjee escorted her downstairs. She could hear the laughs and loud voices of people. She reached downstairs only to find that there are a number of people, which included some beautifully dressed ladies, were laughing with elegant glasses in their hand.
In that party, I spotted a very handsome boy. He was tall, fair with attractive features. He looked like a hero of any Bollywood movie. He was well-dressed, wearing a black pant and blue shirt. I was unable to take off my eyes from him.
“He’s my son…” Mr. Singhania whispered from my back “handsome, intelligent, smart and witty…”
“Okay! Nice to learn that…” I said, shyly.
“Let me introduce you to my son…” he said, and without waiting for my reply, rushed towards the boy.
I had to follow him.
“Aryan, meet Ria.”
I could sense the curiosity in Aryan’s eyes. He wanted to ask several questions to his dad, but perhaps this was not the right time to ask. He was scanning me with his intense eyes. It was pricking me, I wanted to run away.
Mr. Singhania understood that Aryan was not at all pleased meeting me. He had this amazing quality to read the eyes of any person he knew.
“Perhaps he was able to read the pain in my mother’s eyes and wanted to offer her a little happiness.” I thought.
“You must meet Mrs. Basu…” Mr. Singhania’s loud voice was enough to bring me back to where I was now, at the party. Aryan was not around, Mr. Singhania was eager to make me meet Mrs. Basu, who was working as a director in a big firm. Mr. Singhania was keen to put me into something productive, so he thought Mrs. Basu can guide me easily.
“How old are you exactly?” she asked.
“Well, ma’am! I have no idea.” I said. Her eyes were really big, and they were popping out when I said I don’t know my exact age. She tried to understand what exactly I was saying, as no one in her community (read: high-class community) was so imprudent. She perhaps thought I was a witch or an alien.
I wanted to run away from this crowd. I felt there were fake faces, fake smiles and everyone wanted to hide his or her true self. I have never seen any party. The ladies of the village gathered in the afternoon to discuss how their mothers-in-law are giving them a tough time. This was the best pass-time hobby for the village ladies who had no parties or televisions to keep themselves entertained.
There was a big balcony attached to the lounge area. Beyond the balcony, there was a small hill and a narrow stream, making the place look more beautiful. Several rose shrubs were planted around and were perfectly trimmed. I could see the emerald green grass carpet and many other trees there. I sighed. I don’t know what would happen next. All I could do is to stay here and obey Mr. Singhania.
AFTER FEW YEARS…
Mr. Singhania is my father-in-law now. Yes, I married Aryan, because Mr. Singhania wanted me to stay with him forever. However, Aryan was not happy, or it was me who was assuming so much.
I never interacted with Aryan, even after our marriage. He was very quiet and reserved by nature. Perhaps he never shared his problems with anyone after his mother’s death, and he was not able to gulp the fact that his father would remarry. He was never that close to his father but was very fond of him.
The information was provided by Mr. Singhania himself. He hardly interacted with his son but he knew him from inside out. He wanted him to smile, laugh, cry and do everything a normal man would do. Even when I wanted him to be more intimate, he would stay like a stone-built statue.
I was admitted to the hospital for my child’s birth. It was paining, but the doctor asked me to wait for a very sharp pain. From the glass doors, I could see Aryan& Mr. Singhania panicking and walking in the corridors. I felt happy & relaxed. Now I can gift my child a very happy & caring family, where everyone would bother for him/her.
It was a girl, a blue-eyed girl. The one I killed once. I was in awe. She looked exactly looked my long-died sister. I tried to take her in my arms, and I saw (or I felt like) she was smiling!
But the feeling of motherhood was incredible. I was feeling too weak, and slept quickly, holding my baby.
Suddenly, I could see many doctors and nurses are taking my baby away.
“Leave my baby! I say…leave! Lea…” I shouted, and suddenly, opened my eyes with a jerk.
“Oh! it was a nightmare!” I murmured.
Aryan was watching me sleep for long, and as soon as I started crying, he came near and embraced me, lovingly. I felt myself melting away, I wanted nothing but this! This incredible life, and a happy family! If this is a dream, she would never open her eyes…never…