In a gloomy corner beneath the city’s busiest flyover, blooms a black lotus, which goes by the name of “Shanti”, meaning peace. Relinquished by humanity, she found solace in the darkness mustered by this corner and made it her home.
It was such a vicious darkness that light shivered in fear, at the idea of entrance. The darkness found her unintimidating and she found the darkness soothing. This child of darkness though, was not so dark. Hidden in linens of dirt and mud, one could catch glimpses of her fair skin. People looked at her feeble, emaciated body and turned their heads in to their blissful world of ignorance. Her eyes enunciated the misery and pain, she had walked through. The glimmer of hope in her eyes would make you feel sick to your core, blow away every shred of ignorance in you and force you to prostrate before this wretched wretchedness. But, no one cared or one may say, dared to look in her eyes.
So, this sequestered corner of obscurity has been her dwelling since she could remember. She was found here in the form of a three month old baby, draped in a blue chadar, twelve years ago. Here, the time consumed her and her chadar’s life bit by bit. The air, the moisture, the city and the entire universe, according to her, was trying to destroy her chadar, bond by bond; knot by knot; thread by thread. But, the same thing was being done to her by the air, the moisture, the city and the entire universe; of this she was completely incognizant of.
Bond by bond; knot by knot; thread by thread.
She would have withered away sooner if it were not for her chadar. Her chadar had kept her breathing. The chadar had shielded her from the cauterizing arrows of the sun and was her aegis against the icy cold hands of the winter. Of all the streams of love that flowed through her, though they were few, the most serene and the most pristine of them flowed for her blue chadar. She loved her like a child loves its mother. But, she didn’t know that. How a child loves its mother, was a subject totally alien to her. She embraced her tightly during the lonely nights, for her body cried out, craving for warmth and affection. The chadar soaked not only her sporadic tears and blood but also her pain and misery. She slumbered in her bosoms vacuously when suffused with hunger. The chadar caressed her tenderly through fever and illness. Her chadar sang her a lullaby and she listened though her skin. She cherished her chadar and her chadar cherished her back.
On the outskirts of this kingdom of darkness, lived a tenacious and caring woman. Shanti called her ‘Misri-Didi’ for she always had misri (tobacco) in her mouth. Her body was petite but looked tough and resilient with an apropos countenance. Misri-didi collected empty plastic bottles from garbage and sold it somewhere of which, Shanti had no idea. Shanti helped Misri-didi collect some bottles, for which Misri-didi gave some of the food prepared for her family to Shanti.
Misri-didi’s husband was a notorious drunkard. Everyone called him ‘Bevadya’ (meaning drunkard) for all ruckus he created. Shanti mistook that for his name and started calling him ‘Bevadya’. Bevadya too, somehow liquefied with such unseen innocence let her call him by that name.
The days went by, searching bare-feet through the garbage for bottles. Countless times, pieces of glass had mercilessly pierced her feet allowing the red, scarce blood out. Countless times, the persistent wound had caught infection subjugating her with pain for weeks. Misri-didi applied the only feasible ointment she knew, misri on her wound which inexplicably and miraculously cured it; sometimes. Countless times, she had caught hold of pathogens, the pain magnified by the cold would take her to the boundaries where death lived. But she would somehow fight back to safety. Still fading away;
Bond by bond; knot by knot; thread by thread.
Days may be vanquishing, but the nights were treacherous. When the city slept in its secured fortresses surrounded by the oceans of apathy, the wolves came out of their caves to purloin whatever that can be purloined, pillage whatever that can be pillaged, to ravish whatever that can be ravished, to kill whatever that needs to be killed. The city goes silent save the howling of the wolves and the cries of those purloined, pillaged, ravished, and killed. While the voice of the forlorn masquerading in their fragile tents, shivering in fear with a minuscule hope for the early death of the night, goes unheard.
Misri-didi had admonished Shanti of these wolves. “They come and take little children away”, she said. “They cut off their fingers, hands, or ears, scorch their eyes and then force them to beg on the streets”, she warned. Horrified and terrorized, Shanti had curled up inside her blue chadar in the dark corner behind the huge heaps of filthy plastic bags filled with filthy plastic bottles.
Then one night, they came for her. Sniggering at the absconding sun, they came for her. Howling at the rising moon, they came for her. They knew she was hiding behind the bags. They looked at the curled up silhouette of hers in the blue chadar rapaciously. Underneath the thin veils of the worn-out chadar she shuddered. She closed her eyes and saw herself without hands, legs and scorched up eyes. A thought scurried through her mind that, what would be the last thing in her whole universe, she would like to touch before her hands were cut and see before her eyes were scorched? The answer flickered back in a second and it was in her arms the whole time. She hugged the chadar tightly. The curled up silhouette became more curled up.
They seized one corner of the chadar and pulled it to unveil the terrified and curled up Shanti. She grabbed on to the other corner of the chadar, shivering all over. Unable to bear the tension and the pain, the chadar tore at its weakest. She at once let it go and a sharp yelp ejaculated out of her. They grabbed the chadar and threw it in the corner. She froze. Shudders went down her spine, as if her body was torn along with the chadar. Tears started flowing inexorably and she no more cared where the wolves were taking her and what they were planning to do with her. She stared at the chadar in shock and cried out like a mother that cries holding her child’s cadaver.
They snatched her by the arm and towed her with them. She didn’t rebel. She didn’t fight back. She couldn’t persuade her volition. Her volition wouldn’t have agreed even if she had tried. Everything had gone white for her. She was in the world where only she and her chadar existed in the infinite whiteness. Her bubble was ruptured by the shrill shout of Bevadya. He sprung out his tent with a beer bottle in his hand. When he was in the striking distance, he flung the bottle towards the wolves. It flew by Shanti and hit one of them right in the head. The bottle smashed and shattered into blood laden pieces. One of the pieces went on to pierce Shanti’s thigh making a cut. Blood gushed out. The wolves disoriented by this unforeseen calamitous event, galloped away squealing and cursing. Unfrozen, she hurried towards the chadar. Another piece stabbed her foot, but couldn’t intimidate and stop her. Sniveling and bawling, she held her chadar in her arms. Misri-didi came running towards her and embraced Shanti, pushing Shanti’s head in her breasts. But, she was beyond control.
Her incessant loud wailing stopped when Misri-didi sewed the torn chadar with rotten thread using the rotten needle, both of them, she had found in the trash. Misri-didi positioned Shanti’s head on her lap and began patting the head. It was a ritual to summon the goddess of sleep. “Don’t you cry Shanti” she began plaintively. Her voice broke. She sighed and then finding some strength and firmness, she said “don’t you cry Shanti. It is all God’s doing.” Looking at the stars with a philosophical look, she continued “on the judgment day, I tell you, when we all die. He will be judged for everything he is doing to us. He will be judged for all the suffering in the world.” While her patting continued along with some caressing, she went on “it’s truth, believe me. He will be judged for all the pain and grief we have suffered, everyone has suffered. He will be punished for every terrifying, forlorn night we have not slept. Then he will be castigated to hell by those above him.” Shanti never knew when the judgment day was or who was going to judge whom or why would it matter if he (whoever) was castigated to hell after all this suffering, grief and pain. She curled herself in the sewed up, salvaged blue chadar and tried her chance at sleep dolefully.
Bond by bond; knot by knot; thread by thread.
Few nights passed. Normal arduous life had returned after a vicious sojourn. Her lesions on the body and her mind had subsided behind a frail veil, biding their time to resurface when she is at her weakest. Adulation from Misri-didi and others for his heroic rescue of Shanti had made Bevadya cheerful and proud. Misri-didi was happy too. Their squabbles too had subsided along with shanti’s legions behind the frail veil.
Shanti used to look at the moon every night with inquisition and hopeful suspicion. She thought of the moon as a giant cookie. Shanti had never tasted a cookie but glimpsed it through the polished glass of the cookie shop. She believed that some mischievous child of god bites some of it every night before rushing off to play, only too be pulled back, by his mother to consummate his half-eaten cookie. Then when the cookie gets over, she lays another fresh cookie for him. She secretly hoped for the cookie jar to be empty soon.
It was a pleasant morning. The sun shone in the sky timorously. The ebullient wind blew strewing the air with serenity. Bevadya had not returned for nights, shattering his previous records of not returning. Shanti was getting ready for an onerous day ahead of her when Misri-didi came up to her. She said “Shante, come we will go someplace else today. Wear your favorite dress.” The favorite dress of Shanti was the one she found while rummaging through a garbage bin behind the plaza. It had vomit stains over it otherwise it was perfect. Shanti had washed it thoroughly and wore it on special occasions which seldom came. Today seemed to be one of them.
She always shined with ebullience, whenever she was presented with a chance to wear her favorite dress. It was pink and had red ribbons on both the arms. It was magical to see the black lotus glimmer with vivacity and exhilaration. She would then curl her blue chadar around her dress. She thought somehow the chadar could see how beautiful she felt and how happy she was. The dress still had the stain marks but the light that glinted out of Shanti blinded everyone and turned them invisible.
She hurried and wore the dress quickly and hopped towards Misri-didi, who told her to bring her chadar along too. It was an odd thing but she never did mind to take her chadar with her for it made her feel secure. May be they were going to stay for a night somewhere, she thought.
They walked for some time along the footpath, while the weather changed from pleasant to stormy. But it could not infiltrate the fortress around Shanti. After all, she had her chadar with her. She was hopping and skipping all the way.
Misri-didi ceasing her strides, turned towards Shanti. “Tell me, what you want to eat? Anything!” she said. Shanti was taken aback by the question which was asked to her for the first time and looked around for answers. She tried to remember the best of the half-eaten things she had tasted. And she remembered how once, she had watched a small boy eating an ice-cream. The sun had thawed it and made it fall to the ground. The boy had started crying and looked avariciously at the ice-cream. She had gone near the fallen ice-cream and had tasted it and it was the best thing, she had ever tasted. Then, the boy’s father had come running and driven her away vehemently, while the dog came and licked away the ice-cream. She told Misri-didi that she would like an ice-cream to eat. It would be the first time she would eat something specially made for her. Happiness combined with gratitude showed on her face. The weariness from the burdens of wretchedness and toil was nowhere to be seen. The misery and pain that enunciated through her eyes were erased through such previously unseen and unfelt affection and love. She clutched her blue chadar tightly as her body got acclimatized to such new emotions.
She looked at ice-cream with acute attention, noticing the minute details as if she knew, this was the last time in her life, she would hold such a thing again. A drop empowered by the sun, began sliding down the cone. She caught it with her tongue and it was ambrosia! The sweetest thing she had ever tasted. Her taste buds must have been dancing and singing with joy as they must have woken up from slumber for the first time. Her face depicted nothing but pleasure. No one could have guessed that this was the same Shanti in whose eyes no-one dared to look. She would have liked to enjoy the moment but the sun persuaded her otherwise.
Misri-didi looked complacent as she watched shanti eat the ice-cream, but worry and anxiousness soon surfaced. She glanced at the corners, looking for something with apprehension and trepidation. Shanti was licking the last drops of ice-cream from her hands when Misri-didi grabbed her hands and started walking. She stopped unexpectedly and bending down on her knees, she looked into Shanti’s eyes. Misri-didi’s eyes were wet and sullen. They were swollen from crying. Misri-didi hugged Shanti tightly and started crying. Shanti couldn’t comprehend the situation a tiny bit. Misri-didi in her broken voice began “Shante….aye….Shante, take good care of you, won’t you? I am sorry. Don’t remember me like this. Ok? Remember me like a mother, wont you? I am sorry.” She hugged Shanti more tightly. “You look beautiful today. Always be like this. Be happy.—sob—-I am sorry. Please forgive me…….whatever happens, listen carefully whatever happens, and don’t give up. He will be punished for everything he does to you. Remember this. I am such a scoundrel, bitch.” She started bawling violently. She began slapping her face and pulling her hair. Shanti stopped her. “Dide…..don’t cry… what happened? Did I do something wrong? What happened?” Misri-didi didn’t stop. Her tears falling on Shanti’s favorite dress made circular stains that would remain on it forever and swirl Shanti into the past, whenever she would look at them. “I am sorry. Please forgive such a scoundrel.” This is all she said.
Then out of a sudden a hand grabbed Shanti and stood before them. The other hand forced something into didi’s hands and towed Shanti along with it. The grasp was immensely tight that it killed every inchoate little desire in Shanti to fight back. She didn’t rebel; the grasp was too daunting; she knew the result. She didn’t cry for help. She didn’t feel like crying. Something had died inside her. The grief and pain had numbed her mind. The faint glimmer of hope that she had in her eyes, vanished.
She kept looking at Misri-didi, who was still crying, slapping her face and cursing herself and the god. She couldn’t decrypt any sense from the situation, but from the behavior of Misri-didi, she knew that she had been betrayed. She clinched her blue chadar tightly.
She knew that now she belonged to this hand that was pulling her to new circles of hell. But, she thought “at least, I have my chadar with me.”
So she walked along the road with her ice-creamy-sticky hand being tugged by a imprecated hand that would take her to the new world of even greater pain, misery and wretchedness; still oblivious of the fact that she and her chadar were being decimated-
Bond by bond; knot by knot; thread by thread.