by Chandra Ghosh Jain
This room at the back of the sprawling bungalow was just perfect for her. Nobody to bother her or keep her under surveillance as they always did earlier. It had a huge window from where she could see the mango trees bearing tiny fruits. There was a Jamun tree and a tall spreading eucalyptus with broad branches. She often wished she would climb it and make a tiny room for herself on its broad branches. Where no one could find her. Maybe her parents will miss her for a while but then they will give a sigh of relief at her disappearance.
The room was separated from the main house by a huge chowk in between. It was probably built as a guest room it had a huge bathroom with a bathtub in it. There was a large walk-in cupboard where she could hide quite easily.
There was a tall narrow cupboard next to it and she often wondered what it was for till….
This young man could come and go without anyone complaining to her ‘Daddy’. He was so good looking, tall athletic and walked with a swagger she just adored. She loved how he talked of his gun collection. Often leaving his guns behind for her to admire. So this was the place he would stow his guns.
It was some time after she had spent staring at him that he spoke to her.
“Ah, so you are Ladli?” He had exclaimed.
She had nodded feeling warmth and kinship that she had not felt after Adhil betrayed her. She had heard her sisters sniggering and telling her that he was a married man. Then why had he always stroked her head and made her feel so special? Kissed her in a special way when no one was watching. She would yearn to be in his arms and he would hurriedly push her away as soon as he heard footsteps. He would get some tasty samosa or aloo-tikki from the stalls outside the court every evening.
“Ladli, come out, see what I have got for you today.”
She was thrilled with the new gun fitted with a silencer. It gleamed in the moonlight; speaking of untold adventures. Her mind drifted back when she used to climb trees, take her swing right to the top and have that old Ganga bai screaming at her to stop. Things had been fun it was a huge family of three sisters and four brothers. She was the youngest and doted by all. Her limpid brown eyes set in an oval face that dimpled when she laughed made her the darling of all. It was soon apparent that she wouldn’t grow much tall. Almost a child even when she was seventeen. Then Adhil arrived to stay with
them. He was such a tall young man fair, spouting Urdu couplets. He was the grandson of one of Daddy’s old friends. Adhil was full of the old world Nawabi courtesy.
She couldn’t understand why her Ammi and Daddy were so angry with her. Why did Daddy hit her?
He used to call her Laadli, and when everyone was scared of him, only she could cajole him to eat. Everyone was rather scared of Daddy, he was called ‘saheb’ and all her brothers and sisters fell silent when he was around. Ammi never raised her voice in his presence.
Daddy liked Adhil and used to take him to office and introduce him to the other judges.
What was wrong? All she was doing was sitting in his lap and kissing him? She knew he had come to make a career in law and Daddy being a judge helped. All her brothers had such flourishing legal practices. Well known ‘Vakil Sahebs’ in Delhi.
It was much more fun than being with her brothers, and now that they were married it was worse. Seeing them making a fool of themselves in front of their wives. They hardly had time for her except laugh and say she was a midget. Daddy had told Adhil to leave and then shut her up in this room. Food had been pushed under her door for days that she left untouched.
Thinking of her sisters made her flesh creep. She had watched them quarrelling with Ammi over clothes and jewels. Accusing Daddy of favouritism. They were never satisfied, always complaining.
She felt the change in him. He kept smiling and singing some old Hindi song softly. He was more playful with her. Chasing her around the room. Pulling her hair. Dragging her out of the cupboard. Why was her heart heavy then with some unspeakable pain? She had never laughed and giggled like this for a long, long time. Then it came out at last, he laughed showing his crooked teeth, “hanh shaadi hogi. I am getting married.”
Why did it hurt so much, the pain so much more intense, she had picked up one of his guns and pointed it at him and then there was a blinding light and everything turned red…
“fir se wohi thi sahib.
Laadli. She doesn’t leave anyone. We had told you sahib not to let bhaiyaa
use this room.”
The old rumours of the daughter of an erstwhile judge who was shut up in this room because of her unconventional liking of a Muslim boy. The old staff had forewarned Sahib but the son a young man just back from US wouldn’t listen. He loved the room, it’s privacy and as he said nobody would disturb him in that corner of the house. ***