‘Go and give some to that lump inside too. As it is, he doesnothing but eat.’
Asha took the rasgullas reluctantly and walked quickly away.
‘Am I the only one in this world untouched by this festivity?’ thought Asha as she headed towards her quarters across the little courtyard of her home. She realized with some pleasure that she was not limping any more and that the ever present body pain was a little less too. ‘Should I not be thankful for that?’
Everyone was in festive mode. It was Vijay Dashmi, the day Ma had vanquished the Asura. Across thevillage, in the Bangla para, women were gleefully smearing each other with sindoor and giggling about almost nothing.
A huge effigy of Ravan was being given finishing touches bythe village craftsmen and gangs of enthusiastic youngsters. In the Marwari and Gujju paras, fafda and jalebis were being consumed by the kilos to replenish the energies spent onnine nights of riotous garba, swaying and whirling to the mesmerizing dhols and garba songs which had everyone entranced and itching to join in. Even in the police para, the Puja festivities were rising to a crescendo for the immersion of Kali Ma. Everyone was celebrating her visit as they sang out for a return next year.
Asha’s steps slowed as her memories flashed back. Married at 16 from a poor home to the only police wala in a farmer family, Asha’s asha was rudely shattered on the day after her frugal wedding. Ashok had showed up drunk at night, hurling abuses and shoes at her before crashing into bed.
Her jethanis were stoic. ‘You’ll get used to it after sometime. He feels entitled to drink because he is a police wala and gets his drinks free.’ Asha discovered that Ashok was barely literate. It was his brutal hands that got him the police job. The family was happy that the good-for-nothing son who refused to work on the land,was, at least, doing something. The police job gave him some clout.
He had also learnt police torture tactics. With her hands tied behind her and a gag in her mouth, no sound emerged from their quarter when he thrashed her thoroughly, two quilts ensuring that no marks were left to justify the agonizing pain she always complained off. Asha often wondered whether the family was really so obtuse that no one had deciphered her constant aches and pains overfive years.
Asha eased herself down on the top step as she mused “Should I not be thankful to Ma for the strength she gave me the day she arrived lastweek?’
She had been all set to take her life by jumping off the cliff after Ashok’s last bout of thrashing. By some miracle, he had pulled her back just in time. And by Ma’s grace, she had stopped herself from falling at his feet. Instead, she grabbed his ankles and tipped him over the edge of the cliff.
Ashok’s face showed shock chasing terror as he flailed hisarms. Instead of grabbing her, he mouthed WHY? He grabbed at a little branch, which snapped with his rapiddescent. That little break saved Ashok’slife. He did not die. The crowd had helped her to pull him up.
But the fall had done its damage and turned the tables for Asha: Ashok was paralyzed from his waist down and he could not speak. He lay on a cot, totally dependent on what little time she could spare for him now that she had begun to work to make upfor the loss of his income.
‘If I wanted to, I could thrash you like you used to thrash me. But what is the use of thrashing a lump of flesh that cannot even feel the pain. Don’t worry, I’ll not thrashyou. The Navjyoti people have told methat they will get us a special cot with a hole for you. I will place it in the side verandah so the room does not fill with your smells and the metrani will come twice a day to empty the pail and give you a wash. Ma has willed it, hasn’t she? Today I will celebrate Ma…’ she emptied herlittle box of sindoor into her little thali and ran off to join the revelers.