by Rashmi Jindal
‘Who is Salmaan, aunty?’ enquired resting her big eyes on me.
‘You don’t know about Salman Khan, the superstar, you dumbo? Haven’t heard the song hud hud dabang dabang dabang hud hud dabang dabang dabang dabang…..’
Kabeer started dancing on the tune making faces to Meera while Meera was not at all interested in his dance drama. Sensing her irritation, I swiftly replied,
‘Yes, Meera. Salman is a hero who acts in movies, have you ever seen a picture Meera?’
‘Picture…. yes of my father and mother’s marriage, that father has thrown in the junkyard, once I saw it surreptitiously, mother looks so beautiful in that sari.’
‘So… how are your studies going on?’ I tried to change the topic.
‘It’s ok aunty, I won’t cry, I have grown up, so you can talk to me about mother. I won’t cry, neither I would be sad. So don’t worry, go on.’ Meera assured me.
‘Your mother was exquisite Meera, she…….. Leave it, so how’s your father now?’ I couldn’t talk about her mother; I was not strong like her.
‘Ya… fine, I gave him nimbu paani, so no hangover now, and he’s getting ready so I must leave now; have to prepare breakfast.’
Strange, an eleven-year-old girl, studying in sixth standard didn’t know about Salman Khan, but she knew life better than I did. She used to do all the household work and then go to school; she looked after her drunkard father like a mother and behaved like a 40-year-old. She didn’t question much and accepted things as they were. I could not understand from where she got that strength and maturity at such a tender age. She was so confident and self-reliant that sometimes I envied her. In a nutshell, she was a stoic.
Kabeer, my son didn’t like her in the least.
‘Mom, what a dumbo this Meera is, she doesn’t know about Salman Khan, strange!’ Kabeer made a face.
‘Kabeer, she isn’t a couch potato like you, all the day long she remains busy in household work and then studies, no time for this idiot-box, understood?’
‘Mom, actually the reality is not what you think, it is the other way round. I have heard, they don’t have television at their home, Sidharth was telling me and this is true. And his mother also tells him to remain away from them.’
‘I don’t know, now stop these ridiculous enquiries of yours and do your homework.’ I chided Kabeer.
That was a lie, I knew they didn’t have television at home. Not that Raghu, Meera’s father couldn’t afford television financially but could not afford one emotionally as he did not want to lose his daughter too like his beloved wife, Shona. Shona- the very name gives me goose-bumps. She was exactly like her name, beautiful; charming; fair and lovely, to use all the synonyms of sweetness for her would not be an exaggeration. She was purity epitomized; clean both from inside and outside. When Raghu brought her into the mohalla, there were talks of her beauty and sweetness everywhere. People would say;
‘Have you seen Raghu’s wife? They say her skin is made of marble.’
‘That girl, her lips…. you know it’s not lipstick but the real colour.’
‘Have you heard her singing, she sings like a koyal?’
‘The other day I went to her, and she did not let me leave without having lunch, such a pure soul.’
‘She can’t see anybody in pain, full of empathy she is. Where do we get such pure souls like this these days?’
Everybody liked Shona, in fact loved her. If the young talked about her beauty, the old praised her soul and what to say about kids, they saw a fairy in her. Raghu went bananas over her, everything she did or said was God’s order for him leaving one thing, Shona’s love for the idiot box. 24x7 television would remain on in her home which sometimes got on Raghu’s nerves. But Shona had clarified that she could leave anything but not her love for the idiot box. Then within two months she got pregnant with Meera, her face glowed even more. Even in that fat belly she looked so ravishing that even a perfect figure would lose its charm in front of her. Raghu always remained at her disposal, wouldn’t even let her peep outside her room. Raghu and Shona seemed the happiest couple on this earth and the arrival of Meera in their life made their happiness tenfold. Though Shona would have been happier with a son, Raghu was the happiest with a daughter whom he called his princess. For three years everything went great and things were going to be even greater as Shona was expecting
‘This time it will be a boy, I’m sure,’ said Shona.
‘Accha ji, how are you so confident? By the way what does Raghu say? He must have already started pampering you.’
‘He doesn’t know.’ Shona blushed.
‘What, he doesn’t know?’
‘No, I haven’t told him yet… but I’m going to tell him tonight.’
‘Oh ho I see, when Devdas will make dinner today, then our Paro will tell him.’ I teased her.
Shona and I were like sisters. She trusted me most and shared everything with me. It was a custom with Raghu to cook for Shona on special occasions; it was his expression of love to Shona. And that day it was their marriage anniversary and Raghu would cook dinner, and in the meanwhile Shona would sing lull-a-be to put Meera to sleep. And after that they would have dinner and while having dinner Shona would let the cat out of the bag.-It was Shona’s plan. But the plan was never executed; and never did the cat come out of the bag. Shona didn’t sing that night, neither did Raghu cook food. While I was waiting to hear Shona sing, I heard Raghu shouting;
‘But what was he doing in our home you kulta, you pimp, how can you even think of doing this to me, don’t I please you enough? Now I get where all the savings have gone. You have spent all on your yaar, you pimp. This television is responsible for everything, it has filled all this dirt into your mind, I will smash it first and then I will smash your…….. Don’t you dare to give any false explanations, keep your mouth shut.’ Raghu was yelling in anger at the highest pitch.
Next day Shona was found dead. It was an accident as a snake had beaten Shona and the poison had spread in all her body. It was a surprise that Raghu did nothing but he could not as he said he wasn’t at home that night. Since that day Raghu started drinking day and night; something was killing him-Shona’s death or something else only God knows. I feel somewhere inside I understood his real pain.
I had a special soft corner for Meera and sometimes I used to go to her to give poha which she liked very much. That day when I went to give poha to her, I could not believe my eyes, Raghu was making breakfast as he used to do for Shona sometimes. For the first time, I saw a child in Meera’s eyes, an innocent immature child waiting eagerly for the breakfast-for father’s love.
Later on I came to know the reason behind that miracle. In the morning a man came to their home and gave Raghu one lakh rupees saying;
‘Sir, your wife is a Goddess. That night she helped me with this money and saved my wife. If she had not helped me that night, I would have lost my Ram kali forever…… but she is absolutely all right, just because of your wife, she is a goddess, you are very lucky sir ji, you have got a deity for your wife. Can I meet her once? I want to touch her feet and yes sir ji I have started selling milk again, everything is all right now, I promise you I’ll give you the purest milk till my last breath without charging even a single paisa.’ The milkman went on speaking at the same time peeping into the house hoping to get a glimpse of her Goddess who had really become one and could not be seen.
That day Raghu cried a lot hugging Meera and told her he didn’t come home that night and when he came back, it was too late, Shona was no more, he cried;
‘I know people think that I killed her, but how could I, but in a way I am her murderer, why did I go in anger leaving her alone, I am the culprit Meera, I am your culprit, I knew she couldn’t do a wrong thing I got angry when that bloody Irfaan told me that he saw that milkman with Shona in……. How did I suspect her, Meera, take me to the police, I don’t want to live anymore?’
Hugging him tightly Meera pacified him, ‘Father, this was destiny she was to die that day, so don’t blame yourself, just clean your conscience of that guilt and more of the guilt that your wife was an adulterous, now you know she was pure, so don’t pain her soul by torturing yourself.’
I understood how Meera was so calm and adaptable. I hoped now everything would be all right in Meera’s life at least. ***