Om-Ketu - continued
by Gargi Saxena
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His words just made the tears come faster. Shiv awkwardly mumbled goodbye and walked away. It began to rain harder than ever. Unable to will her feet to move, Ketu sat there tears streaming down her face and Omi’s life flashed in front of her eyes.
Omi and Ketu had been friends ever since she could remember. Their families were next door neighbors in BTM Layout. Ketu’s father would drop them both to school every morning and Omi’s mother would pick them up. In a couple of years it became clear that Omi preferred Ketu’s company to his elder brother Shiv. “Cheeku!” he would call her. The little Omi was of the opinion that Ketu resembled the zapota fruit owing to her flat nose. Ketu hated the name; and the fruit, till date.
As they grew from children to teenagers, Ketu was infatuated. Omi was fond of her and pampered her more than anyone else. Omi was out going, he easily made friends. Ketu on the other hand, was shy. She preferred to spend her time studying or reading books instead. She was the class topper, but she was also the geek. Omi, in contrast was hugely popular at school. The only reason Ketu was not bullied was that everyone knew how protective Omi was of her.
When Ketu was sixteen, Omi told her he loved her. They had been sitting on the floor of Ketu’s room eating mangoes one summer afternoon. “Say Ketu,” Omi had said, ruffling his hair till it could not look shabbier. Ketu looked up from her book, she was worried she would not finish her chemistry syllabus that year. “What?” she snapped. “Maybe you should be my girlfriend.” He grinned.
“M-Maybe you should see a shrink…,” she stammered, blushing furiously. She had dreamt of this day for ages. And here he was, saying what she had longed for him to say – so unceremoniously. For all she knew he could be asking her for a score update in a cricket match. She pretended to look into her book, but Omi had slid over to her – he did not ask if she was reading. He took the book out of her hands; she kept her eyes low. “You’re beautiful…” he breathed. “I’ve wanted to do this for so long.” Putting one tender hand on her cheek he pulled her face closer and lightly brushed her lips with his. Then he waited, looking at her up close. And just when Ketu was sure she’d blush to death, he kissed her.
It had been four years since then. Ketu chose to study engineering and spent a year preparing for the entrance exams. Omi wasn’t interested in science. He began a course in Liberal Arts from the Bangalore University. Ketu knew nothing of his friends in college. All she knew was, that Omi was deeply involved in the student activist groups.
He was also once involved in a great brawl amongst two political groups in college. Shiv had to meet the Dean to save Omi from rustication. Since then, Omi seemed reluctant to go to his college campus unless it was something important. Ketu did not think much of it, she assumed he felt embarrassed and would get over it. In retrospect, it made her very guilty. Why had she not guessed it last week during the bus ride? Omi had insisted on accompanying her to college that morning. All went well until a group of boys got on their bus at Udupi Garden. Omi had been very uncomfortable in their presence. He got down at the next stop without a word, leaving a puzzled Ketu alone.
That one year when Ketu was preparing for her engineering entrance exams, she had depended on Omi more than ever. Appearing in entrance exams was dreary beyond belief. Omi was her breath of fresh air, they spent a lot of time meeting in secret in Ketu’s room. Finally after toiling hard all year, Ketu made it to a college of her choice. Omi was so proud. After pleading for months thereafter and especially after Ketu’s convincing result in her first semester; their parents finally allowed them to go out alone for the first time ever. It was their first actual date.
“Where’d you want to go?” he asked Ketu. “Let’s go to Mantri Square.” She replied. It was the biggest mall in India – it had just been inaugurated and people were flocking to see the marvel. Omi was unwilling, he made several excuses to not go to Rajajinagar. Ketu thought it was because of the distance. But that couldn’t be it, Omi loved to drive. Finally, he agreed and off they went.
And then, all that Ketu remembered was one bloody
haze of events. They had reached close to the mall and Omi was hoping to park in some adjoining lane to save on parking fee. As they slowly drove looking for a space, two bikes screeched to a halt next to Omi’s car window. Smashing the window they threw the car door open and pulled Omi out.
“Stay in the car!” yelled Omi as Ketu made to get out and help.
The four boys seemed familiar to Ketu, they surrounded Omi sneering at him.
“It’s been a while Omkar...” said a boy to Omi’s left. Almost a grown man, he seemed to be leading the pack.
“Why don’t we... t-talk... I mean, we can sort this without a fight...” Omi said.
“Of course. You sign the statement, we leave. Nobody gets hurt,” replied the leader.
Omi was sweating, Ketu had never seen him so scared. Omi shook his head. A slight nod from the leader and mayhem ensued. Three boys began to pound Omi with hockey sticks. Ketu watched, petrified. They stopped for just a second, the leader thrust a pen into Omi’s hand and asked again. Bleeding from his nose, Omi obstinately shook his head once more. This time, the leader fished out what looked like a dagger, and placed it at Omi’s throat. Just then, Omi glimpsed a policeman at the end of the street.
He screamed, “Help!” The policeman turned in their
direction and the boys panicked.
“Help me!” Omi screamed again. Before anyone had time to react, a madness came over the leader and he shoved the dagger into Omi’s throat. The boys mounted their bikes and fled. Omi collapsed, Ketu screamed in horror as blood gushed from the slash in his neck. “Omi!” she screamed. It took a minute for people to realize what happened. Another twenty minutes for the ambulance to arrive. Ketu kept repeating stupidly to Omi about how much she loved him and that everything was going to be okay. She held him close and tried to stem the blood flow with her scarf in vain. In the ambulance, Omi had looked into her eyes and touched her cheek with his blood soaked fingers. She held his gaze as long as she could.
Shiv got to the hospital an hour later, a few minutes after him came Ketu’s parents. She hardly knew what happened after that. All she could decipher was that the next morning her mother dressed her in white and took her to the house next door. There, a body lay wrapped in sheets. His shock of shabby hair flopping over his forehead. She searched his face for the spark she loved so much. But, Omi looked blank – like someone had turned off the light.
A crack of thunder rudely interrupted her thoughts. A bitter realization caught Ketu unawares, Omi had not been reluctant to go to college – he had been scared. He was being stalked, those boys had boarded the bus to catch hold of Omi that day and now maybe they were looking for her. Ketu got up and rushed to Omi’s house to look for Shiv. Sure enough, he was there. His mother was resting in the bedroom. He gestured her to come in and with a finger on his lips bade her to be quiet. “She’s just fallen asleep.” He whispered. “I had to give her a pill. She could not rest otherwise.”
Ketu poured her heart out to Shiv. A little while later, Shiv took her home. Ketu went straight to her room. Shiv, her parents and Dadi sat in the living room talking and discussing things for almost an hour after that. “Ketu and Omi were not children. But she is still far too young to handle this alone.” She had heard Shiv tell them.
It was decided that Ketu would not leave. Shiv filed a police case and Ketu identified the murderers. Her parents were scared for her. It took a year, but together with Shiv, Ketu brought Omi’s murderers to justice.
Years passed, but Ketu would often lie awake at night, thinking of Omi. Had she not gone to Shiv that evening, her life would be in tatters. Her parents had wanted her out of the house until Shiv spoke to them. She stirred her coffee as she looked out of the window overlooking her little tea estate. A few years after the incident, Shiv had brought her to Ooty. Ketu had finished her degree there and now lived in Ooty with Dadi. She sighed watching, as Omi’s son ruffled his hair till it could not be shabbier and ran about with his little football. He was only six, but he was delightfully similar to Omi. And more than that, he was Ketu’s reason to smile. ***