If you’ve just joined the fun, perhaps you may like to read the previous two chapters first, otherwise feel free to scroll away 🙂
Click here for Chapter 1: A Lovely Noose
Click here for Chapter 2: A Lovely Surprise
Chapter 3: A Lovely Story
Sonu relaxed. He reached out and took a pakora. “So why did you agree to come today?”
“I had no choice.” Lovely shrugged. “When the offer came from your grandfather, everyone was ecstatic,” she paused, “even envious. It was as if I had won the Nobel Prize or something. And of course there was no question of refusing. That’s just the groom’s prerogative.”
Sonu was perplexed. Now that Titu was ‘safe’ from the clutches of yet another unsuitable not to mention unscrupulous manipulative witch, he focused on the girl and the mixed signals he was getting.
“You don’t want to marry Titu?” Sonu asked.
She shook her head.
“But you want us to play along for a while?” He wanted to be sure.
“For how long?” Sonu’s bored into hers before they dropped.
“Until 15th October.”
The boys looked at each other puzzled. “Okay, look,” Sonu said, “this isn’t fair. You know everything about us while we know next to nothing about you. If you want us to play along, you better come clean and spill the beans. Otherwise…”
“Otherwise what?” Lovely challenged.
“Otherwise I will insist that you two get married next week.”
“Hey!” An alarmed Titu sat up straight. “Why make me the scapegoat?”
“Shush!” Sonu hushed him, “this isn’t about you. It is about her.” He turned to her. “Are you going to tell us or,” he looked suggestively towards the restaurant where the parents were laughing loudly and talking excitedly.
Lovely took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. “Fair enough.” She nodded. “Here’s the thing. I want to join the civil services. My exams are in October and I don’t want repeated exhibitions for the purposes of finding a suitable groom and neither am I prepared to hear a million taunts for rejecting the best groom ever and far far beyond my station in society.”
“Oh.” They looked blankly at her. “You actually want to study?” Sonu’s voice dropped to a disbelieving whisper.
“Yes!” Her eyes sparkled bringing an attractive glow to her otherwise unremarkable face. “I love academics. I want to work, study, and be independent and answerable to only myself. At least in personal matters.”
“What if you don’t clear the exams?” Sonu drummed his fingers on the table. “They are very tough aren’t they?”
“Yes they are tough, especially so because I am working as a Probationary Officer at a bank. I hardly get any time to study. But I will get into civil services.” She wore a determined look. “If not this year then next year, or the next. No matter how many years it takes.” There was a fanatical gleam in her eye.
“Hey!” An alarmed Titu sat up. “Does that mean…?”
Lovely gave him a pitying look. “Relax. You only need to play along for the next two months or so. I’ll manage after that.”
“Why don’t you talk this out with your parents?” Sonu was curious.
“Don’t you know?”
“My parents died in a road accident when I was 14 years old. I was put in the hostel. When I completed schooling I came to Delhi and have been living with my grandparents.” She said in an emotionless monotone. “Now that grandfather has had a stroke and Dadi isn’t keeping well either, they want to marry me off and fulfill that last obligation.”
“That does make sense.” Titu came to life. “You should get married. How will you cope alone when your Dada Dadi…?”
“Why?” objected Sonu, “She has her Uncle and Aunt doesn’t she? She can stay with them.”
“Why do I have to stay with somebody?” Lovely cut in.
They stared at her. “But…”
“Do you stay with anybody?” She asked Sonu.
“Yeah.” Nodded Lovely. “But you are a MAN right? You can do ANYTHING!” She was seething. “While I have to stay under somebody’s protection.”
“It is for your own safety.” Titu said.
“Yeah right.” Lovely fumed.
“Is that why you are dressed so…so,” he searched for a word which wouldn’t sound offensive, “conservatively? To scare the groom away?”
“Dress?” She looked down upon herself. “What’s wrong with my dress?” She smacked herself on the head. “Oh sorry I forgot! You are broadminded people,” she jeered, “You don’t mind if a barely covered bride-to-be shakes a leg uninhibitedly in front of a crowd which includes her grandfather-in-laws and uncle-in-laws ogling her unabashedly do you?”
“To which era do you belong?” It was Sonu’s turn to sneer. “Eighteenth century? He clicked his fingers. “Snap out of it. This is the twenty-first century and nobody cares about such things. It’s prudish people like you with old-fashioned sensibilities that drag women down.” He shook his head and snorted. “And you want to be an IAS officer. To do what? Put women back into the purdah?”
“Twenty-first century is it?” Lovely refused to back down. “Don’t you want a good sanskari traditional bahu who will serve the family, bind the family, take care of everybody?”
“Of course!” Sonu defended, “Just like you would want a decent guy who would look after you and your family. That won’t change and should not change.”
“Oh please!” Lovely threw up her hands in disgust. “Which Utopian era do you belong? All that is required from the groom is that he be ready to ‘lend’ his name to her. In return, she has to sacrifice everything, if need be, her own life for his family.”
“What rot!” Sonu protested hotly.
“Is it?” Lovely leaned back into her chair. “Over a hundred years ago, Guru Rabindranatha Tagore wrote a story Punishment.”
“You’d be surprised at how little if anything has changed since then.”
“Okay so what’s this story about?” Titu was interested despite himself.
“The story is set in deep rural Bengal and is about two poor brothers who are farmers – Dukhiram and Chidham.” Lovely dove into the story without any further ado. “They are married to Radha and Chandra respectively. Lovely drained her cup. “Chandra is about 17 or 18 years of age, is pretty and willful. Chidham too is handsome and has a roving eye. He often stays out nights without bringing any earnings, which irks his wife. She retaliates by going out often to the riverside and praising another man. Chidham doesn’t like it and abuses her verbally and physically. The next day she disappears to her uncle’s home, few villages away. Chidham could bring her back only after a lot of effort and pleadings.”
Sonu laughed. “Yes! Nothing has changed. She still does that and the poor husband has to dance to her tunes.”
Lovely rebuked him with her eyes and continued. “He has a love-hate relationship with his wife and obsesses about her. Because of her, he is so disturbed and restless that he fantasizes about her death, which could perhaps give him some peace.”
Sonu exchanged a knowing glance with Titu and raised his hand for a high-five. “Poor husband. I do feel for him. You are right! Again nothing has changed.” They laughed.
Lovely ignored them. “Radha and Chandra too don’t get along very well and neighbors are quite inured to their loud arguments and fights.”
The boys chortled and went for another high-five.
Lovely rolled her eyes. “That was the background of the story. The actual incident is about the day, the two brothers return home after a particularly unproductive day hungry and tired. The house is deathly silent. It is evident that things have been pretty bad between the two ladies today. Ignoring them, Dukhiram asks his wife to serve him food. Radha snaps at him and taunts him if she was supposed to go out and earn money for his food as well. Blind with rage, Dukhiram raises his sickle and kills her.”
“Oh!” Sonu sat up. “A sting in the tale!”
“Radha falls down beside Chandra spattering her with blood. Chandra opens her mouth to scream but Chidham claps a hand over her mouth. He doesn’t want anyone to know what has happened. It was dark. Perhaps no one would get to know. Perhaps they could dispose of the body.” Her voice rose and fell with Chidham’s thoughts. “And perhaps that’s what would have happened if a neighbor hadn’t decided to drop in at that moment to collect his dues.”
“What happened then?” Titu too was sucked in.
“The neighbor is naturally shocked to see the bloody scene and demands an explanation. Chidham falls at his feet and confesses, “Chandra killed her. Please save her.”
“What does Chandra say to that?”
“Nothing. She is too shocked to say anything. The neighbor, inured and witness to their daily fights, also a lawyer by profession, accepts it and says, “Tell the police that Dukhiram asked for food and she refused that’s why he got angry and killed her. We can get your brother off the hook. Don’t worry.”
Sonu looked at Titu and whistled.
Lovely raised an eyebrow. “Ironical isn’t it?” she gave a bitter laugh. “The truth shall set you free.”
“That’s it? That’s the story?” Sonu asked. “I don’t see the relevance,” he complained.
“No.” Lovely shook her head. “There’s more. Do you know what Chidham response was to this suggestion?”
“What?” they asked.
“Chidham said,” Lovely paused for dramatic effect, “I can get another wife but how can I get another brother?”
There was silence.
“Lovely!” It was her aunt calling.
“Coming Chachi.” She got up. “Can you see the parallels?”
Sonu exchanged glances with Titu and slowly shook his head.
“It’s not about who is right and who is wrong,” Lovely said pointedly looking at Titu who flushed as he recalled his words to Sweety after she had garlanded him. “Isn’t that what you said in the twenty-first century? Clearly nothing has changed in the past one hundred years. What if Sweety was right and Sonu wrong?” She gave a bitter laugh. “But that is not important is it? What matters is that Sonu is your friend and you will support him in whatever he may have done – right or wrong. In all things, she is still comes a distant nobody on his list of priorities.” She walked away.
Click here for Chapter 4: An Unfinished Story