Maya's Decision


It is 3:30 AM on Maya’s half broken watch. She's just woken up from a troubled sleep full of dreams that she was losing something. There's absolutely nothing to do. The single streetlight outside her small mud house flickers on and off every other minute. She checks on the kids and they're fast asleep beside their snoring father. Like her, they've gotten used to it.

It is that time of the night when you can’t decide whether it’s too late or too early to do anything. Outside its all quiet except for the crickets and an occasional cab that's taking those half-dead city people someplace, where they apparently find peace, she has no idea about.

She has to be at the lawyer's holiday home, a long way away at 7:00, to do their housework. So, having decided not to sleep till she has to leave, she forces herself to get up and walk outside.Her body aches from the night before. Ram was a good, hard-working and caring person when he was sober. Not so much when Old Admiral is cruising through his body.

She has come to terms with it. She knows he’s put a roof on her head, takes good care of the children and has been with her through the worst few weeks of her life. Much more than she could say about her own father. If not on her, who else would he take out his frustration on? That is what she told that kind woman from some panchayat appointed committee who’d come around to ask her questions about her “standard of life”. There wasn’t any. She just took it as it came. One day at a time. She knew that was the way it had to be.

She reached the end of the road. She could hear the low sobs of a woman. Her sister lived in the house she was passing by. Her husband had struck it big. He had luckily coerced a wealthy businessman with his cunning tales into giving him the position of a clerk for the local hotel. On a bad month, his income was five times that of Ram and her together. Initially she was very jealous of Sona and her new saris but she came to know later that Old Monk packed a bigger punch and gave a better kick than Old Admiral. Now, she just wishes her sister has the strength to deal with the problems that having a lot of money brings.

She turns a corner and the sobs are no longer audible. She’d been along this road a thousand times before and it always somehow brought peace to her soul. The only place in the “colony” that was completely lit by the moonlight, this was Sitlapur’s commercial street with Alam’s medical (and liquor) stand, Charan's Hotel, Sita’s flowers, Ram’s paan shop and Dharam’s grocery shop. Set in one of the most picturesque locations along the road to Kedarnath and Badrinath, Sitlapur was a small peaceful town, thriving mostly on the tourists that came by in the winters and summers.

A little longer and she reaches Bistra. This was the road that led to the temple a little distance away. It got its name from the Hindi word Bister meaning mattress. The Deodar trees shed so much that even walking there barefoot is pleasure beyond words. She wants to go there today. She needs all the courage she can muster for what she’s about to do. The road climbed uphill most of the way and she cant help but think why the gods would put her through so much pain when she just wanted come and pray. She curses herself immediately for being so impertinent.It takes a good one hour for her hurt feet to carry her to the temple and back. She was never allowed entrance, being of a lower caste, but she knew in her heart that there was a god and he believed in her. It didn’t matter what those idiots thought.

It is 5:00 already and Ram is just about to wake. She silently slips beside him, holds him and pretends to be fast asleep. He doesn’t understand her late night / early morning walks and she can’t explain it to him today. She has other things on her mind. It is 5:15 and Ram gently wakes her up. He is back to his normal self after last night and she knows that he’s already feeling guilty about it. She smiles and kisses him full on the lips. Surprised by her sudden show of affection, he laughs. To him, it means she’s forgiven him for what he’s done. Smiling, he kisses her back. It is for moments like this, moments when she knows that she is the only thing on his mind, for which she had waited day in and day out. And now she only wants to try and remember what it had felt like before when she kissed him.

Ram is up and he’s whistling his favorite tune from an old Hindi movie. She’s ready in a flash and so are her children. She carries the smaller one, Leela, and sets off to the Lawyer’s house (which doubled as a school) with Samyukta, the elder ones hand firmly in hers.

Usually, sharp at 7:00 she’s at his house and is putting on the uniform that he insists his servants wear. She sets of as usual to finish the daily work that’s assigned to her and some that's not.

She knows, today, it’s a bit early but she goes in anyway. The view of the broken fence and the wreckage on the other side of the compound rushes back memories of the day before yesterday. She shrugs involuntarily and the feeling of coming dread passes like a cold drought on a mid-summer day, chilling her spine. Yet, she welcomes it, because it is this dread of the day's routine and otherwise, that must help her carry through what had to be done. She cleans the Sahib’s room, then the Choté Sahib’s. The Sahib’s room had a lot of furniture and antique collections, but his pride was his gun cabinet which he got cleaned every day lest there be any dust. The Choté Sahib’s room had a lot of his game conquests and book shelves. It also had the biggest mirror in the house. Every woman has her moment of vanity and Maya stopped to look in the mirror and set her hair before she left.

Twenty one years old and the mother of two, Maya would have qualified as your average everyday maid-servant if an average existed in that. Her face, in other circumstances, had Revlon added colour to her life, might have even looked pretty. Her slender structure would have been the envy of those rich tourist girls. Two things, if you cared to notice, would give her true nature away. Her hands, parched and cracked from household chemicals looked like the village farms during the draught last year but showed that she was always working hard at whatever she did. Her smile though, gave away the innocent child that still lurked somewhere beneath the folds in the intricate fabric of her psyche. That was what Master had told her that fateful day and she had smiled. Little had she known that a few hours later, her smile would perhaps be wiped off her face, maybe forever… she comes out and the sight of the ruined outhouse greets her again. This time she isn't able to stop the flood of memories.

{Past} It was raining that day. Maya was just done with her chores and had laid all the things back in their places when she heard the pitter-patter of the first raindrops hit the asbestos roof of the servants' outhouse. Drawn by the intoxicatingly combined smell of a thousand wet roses and lavenders in full blossom in the garden below, she looked out the window. The cold breeze brought in the smell of the sigh of relief of the thirsty land and she couldn't stay indoors any longer. Smiling, she ran out to greet the rain and hold all its greetings to her bosom.

The lunch hour had just finished for the children and they were busy in their classes. The rain seemed to have liked Maya’s greeting and it started pouring. The wind picked up and she knew that it wasn’t going to be long before the rain passed. The trees bent in the wind’s direction looked like they were raising their arms in surrender. Shutters banged and the wooden outhouse creaked as the mighty force of the mountain winds was unleashed on them. If only she had noticed the one shutter that didn’t.

Alas! Like everything good starts and ends with something bad, so did Maya’s rain dance. It started with that shutter and ended with the collapse of the outhouse. With a loud bang, the age old outhouse gave way. The fence broke as the outhouse crashed on it. Paralyzed by the shock, Maya stood in place as one of the roof’s sheets swished through the air right in front of her and grazed her leg while cutting through her feeble excuse of a saree.

The rain began ebbing. It took a few uncertain moments before the warm wrap of a towel over her shoulders brought her to her senses. She started walking towards the house. It was only after walking almost half the way that she realized someone was holding her and guiding her. Independent woman that she was, she shook away the support. As soon as she did that, she almost fell out of sheer pain. The helping hand was right there though and caught her before she fell. She looked down and noticed that her off-white saree was drenched with blood from the knee down. It reminded her of the first time she got her period and the irony of it all didn’t escape her. She stifled her urge to laugh.

(super-past)

You see, the day she had got her first period, she was wearing a white frock, her best. But it had rained just before and she was out dancing as usual. Her mother had beaten her to pulp that day while her father made plans to sell her off to the next man with a hard-on. She begged him and pleaded him not to but all he said was “A man has to do what a man has to do”. When he brought home someone, she didn’t even wait to see him, she ran. She ran till the pain in her side refused to be ignored and collapsed in front of a Paan Shop. That was how she had met Ram. He had taken her in, been kind to her and after hearing her story, had offered to be the one who’d “buy” her from her father. She refused flatly saying she didn’t want anything to do with that person, but Ram was older. He knew that problems with her father and society in general would arise later if she was to stay with him. So he did what he felt was the right thing to do. He paid 75 rupees to her father, who blew it on the most expensive alcohol he had ever had. He was found the next day in a ditch by the road holding the bottle and they said he had died a happy man.



(Past)

Maya was being led to the house. As she regained her stance, she turned to see who was helping her. It was Choté Sahib. He was the youngest son of the lawyer and he had stayed with him, unlike the elder one who, according to local legend was a film hero in the South. Aged about 26, Choté Sahib was the one who was always nice to all the servants. He would give them whatever they needed, provided free education for their children, and helped them during periods of crises. The workers were all fond of him and the children adored him, for he was the perfect teacher. Padma, the cook, had apparently once heard from his own mouth, that the Sahib too loved him more than his elder brother. Also, being the chain smoker that he was, Choté Sahib was good friends with Ram.

Once inside, Choté Sahib led Maya to the nearest restroom, told her he would fetch the doctor and asked her to clean the wound thoroughly. Maya did as she was told. The asbestos had cut through her skin just above her knee. The wound was about 4 inches long and sufficiently deep for her to know it would take a while to heal. The pain was just a dull throb, but as soon as she poured some water over it, searing pain shot through her leg and she screamed. She heard the rush of footsteps as Choté Sahib came running into the room. She looked up at him with tears in her eyes. He took one look at her and turned away. Her saree was hiked up to her thighs and she knew he felt uncomfortable being there. He made a move to leave. Waves of pain crashed through her leg and she started sobbing. She told him she couldn’t take the pain anymore and asked him to get someone to help her.

Choté Sahib left and came back with a chambermaid. She helped her dress the wound with whatever was available while he waited outside. The chambermaid told her that Alam (the pharmacist, the doctor and the local guru) had been called for and he would be there before nightfall as he was out to another town. The pain had subsided but she still wasn’t able to move without difficulty. Somehow, they managed to get her to the nearest carpet and she sat down. She didn’t see Choté Sahib for the rest of the evening, though he heard voices, that sounded like his and the Sahib’s, arguing in raised tones.As nightfall had begun, he walked in with Alam. Alam was an old man, whose grandchild was Maya’s neighbor and good friend. He saw her wound and told her that he needed to stitch it up as soon as possible. He asked everybody to leave and ten minutes later, he told her that the wound was sealed and the scar would begin to form in a little while. He instructed her not to move it at all and if possible, to find a place to stay in the Sahib’s house. He also told her that the father and son weren’t talking to each other as they had a fight over the outhouse incident. The father said that it was fate while the son blamed his father for being tight on the purse when it came to reinforcements and maintenance.

Somehow, the old medicine man made her feel like it was her fault that they were fighting an if no one had gotten hurt, nothing of this sort would have happened. Maya knew this wasn’t true but the guilt that Alam left her with didn’t leave her till later that night.

Choté Sahib came into the room as soon as Alam left and inquired as to her state. She told him what the doctor had told her while apologizing profusely for the inconvenience she was causing. He brushed it away as if it didn’t matter to him at all. He told her that there was ample place in the house and the fact was that she was hurt because of his father’s stinginess, so it would literally add insult to injury if they let her go anywhere now without taking proper care of her.

So she stayed. Word had been sent to her husband and she was told that he was worried but had asked her get well soon and come home. Heartened by the news, she retired to the small guest bedroom that they had asked her to take. For the first time in her life, she was sleeping on a mattress. The thought brought a little joy to her heart, even through all the pain. She wished Ram was here to share the bed with her. The pain quickly put a stop to her mild fantasies.

Dinner was served to her and she tried not to eat too quickly and make a fool out of herself. After dinner, Choté Sahib came to her room and asked her how she was feeling. She told him that there was still pain. He told her that he had had a little experience in the neighboring city’s hospital. He didn’t trust Alam and asked her if he could check if Alam had stitched the wound properly. She thanked him for his concern and after a little hesitation, showed him.

He touched the stitches and then moved his hand elsewhere. Before she knew it, he had torn the saree off her and was undressing himself. She shouted, begged and pleaded him to stop, but the repelling and nostalgic scent of alcohol confirmed to her that he wouldn’t listen. She knew that he was going to rape her. She also knew that she wasn’t in a position to move. Whatever strength she could muster to shout would be lost on the walls as she knew there was no one for miles and she also knew that no one would dare investigate something in the Sahib's house even if they heard anything. She could resign herself to this fate and go home unscathed bodily, or fight and hurt herself worse than what’s already happened. She decided right then to fight but the images of her two little children flashed in front of her eyes and she started crying. She couldn’t risk dying or even getting hurt for life. She knew that it would practically orphan them if all they had left was their father. So she let it happen. Even through all the abuses and bruises, she let it happen.

In the morning, she got up and forced herself to walk back home. She needed time to think and an easier walk, so even though it was the longer route, she took a path that she generally avoided. The path was on the hill and several such paths ran down it horizontally, in parallel at different heights. A little distance down the track, she sat down and thought about what had happened. She was already past the point where she would cry over what had happened. Her thoughts were all focused upon what she would tell her husband. Should she tell him anything at all? She knew that the Sahib was a powerful man and no one would go against him without a big enough reason. She also knew that most people in her situation would just let it be, but she had an advantage. Ram was a sincere man who would support her, no matter what. He would stand by her and help her fight against the Sahib. She knew this. But did she want to put such a good man through so much emotional trauma? Would he ever be the same loving person he was to her?

She decided she had to leave that to fate, but her husband deserved the truth and she would tell him. If not for anything else, at least for the reason that she’d be honest with him. No sooner had she thought this, she heard that familiar whistle of the old Hindi song on the path that was above this one on the hill. Tears sprung involuntarily to her eyes. She was about to call out to him when she heard another voice call her husband’s name.

The voice was Choté Sahib’s. She almost fainted. What if he would hurt Ram or much worse tell him a story other than what had actually happened. Would Ram believe him? She heard them greet each other like the old buddies that they were but there was something different. Her mind raced trying to figure out a way to stop what would happen next. She loved Ram too much to …. She heard Choté sahib say, “I finally did it Ram. Here’s your money”. Ram said “when I saw her from your house getting hurt outside in the rain, I knew that this was the right time. So at long last you have succeeded”.

Choté Sahib just laughed and left. Ram started whistling again while he came in her direction. Maya was holding both her hands on her mouth in an effort to stop herself from shouting in disgust. She came to her senses soon enough to hide herself behind an old Deodar tree. She watched the only person she had thought loved her go by and as soon as he was out of sight, she puked.

She stayed there a long time. She decided that this wasn’t how her life would go. She had never let anyone rule her life and she wouldn’t even today. She decided to take her time before doing anything and acted normal all the while.

(Present)

Maya is at the courtyard looking at the ruins of the outhouse. She has decided that fate wouldn’t be the decider to the hard life she’s lived so far. She goes in, finishes her chores, searches for and finds the sahib's gun. She goes to the Choté Sahib, points the gun at him.

Maya : why ???

Choté Sahib (laughs) : don't you remember?

Maya (perplexed) : what??

Choté Sahib : your father would have sold you off to me if it wasn't for yourunning away !!! (Spits) I finally had you after all these years. (laughs again)

Maya shoots.

She goes back home and points the gun at Ram.

Maya : Why?

Ram : Money…

Maya : But what about love?

Ram laughs and says: You’re never going to shoot. Just give me the gun.

Maya (sobs): Just one question. You've taken care of me all these years, I'll still forgive you. But would you do the same to our kids?

Ram shrugs : A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

Immediately she pulls the trigger.

Maya (single tear running down face): A woman has to do what she has to do.

End



Comments

Suman said…
wow pattu....u have got real talent
Anonymous said…
nice post. thanks.

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