7 March 2014

*Short Story* The show must go on

Rukmini smilingly watched as the girls giggled and screamed. Maybe it was a bad idea to have agreed to let them have a mike; the cacophony was reaching higher octaves as more drinks were consumed. For the first time, the entire bar had been commandeered for a party: they called it a bachelorette party. What was to her generation the application of turmeric and singing of folk songs, to these girls was dressing up in pink, sipping vodka martinis and dancing to Honey Singh. Rekha, the organizer had carefully planned everything: the menu, games, the music and even the after-party taxi rides back home. The only point of disagreement was on the food - Rukmini would not allow serving non-vegetarian food on the premises, even if it was catered from outside. After watching how much the girls enjoyed the arrangements, Rukmini wondered if she shouldn't offer Rekha a consultant's position for planning future events like these at the bar; it could be a new source of revenue. Although for future events she might have to use her discretion about the use of the sound system!

Rekha was a special person in Rukmini's bar. She had started to come when she was in her early twenties, fresh out of engineering college and newly inducted in a software company. She ended up a Shantam Pappum because she was hosting a foreign client, who had wanted to visit the place after seeing the signboard during her travel from hotel to the office. It was clear that Rekha was there reluctantly; back then though Rukmini paid a lot of attention to customers and soon charmed Rekha which resulted in her bringing other clients and then slowly, her friends. Rukmini had been delighted when she announced her engagement to a software colleague and even attended her wedding.

She didn't see Rekha for a while after that. When she tried to trace her through her friends, she got shoulder shrugs and heads swaying negatively, no one seemed to know what was going on and they were mildly irritated at her for retreating away from them. When Rukmini tried to reach Rekha at the number she was given, she got a male voice who said Rekha was unwell and will return her call when she got better. She never got a call. Rukmini had tried to catch her at work; but it turned out that she had quit. It had all added up to being peculiar, but Rukmini didn't pursue it anymore. Sometimes it was best to let people be. 

Rekha reappeared at Shantam Pappum, seven years after her wedding. Rukmini gasped loudly when she saw who it was and rushed to give her a hug. Rekha had come to organize a party for her friend. But first Rukmini wanted to hear what was going on in her life. The story she heard made her shudder. 

Upon marriage, Rekha had started life with her husband. Her in-laws were deeply religious and orthodox. She had known this before she got married and had mentally prepared herself to make some adjustments. Luckily, they wouldn't be living together so she had assumed that these adjustments would be required only when they met. In small ways she noticed how her husband too was held hostage to superstition. Since he rarely asked her to submit herself to it, she didn't feel it was a huge problem. A few months later her father-in-law fell sick and his malaise couldn't be diagnosed. Since her in-laws refused to come to the city for treatment, they spent time and resources trying to get him medical help at home. On weekdays there was work, on weekends trip to the native village; she soon lost contact with all her friends. Six months later, her father-in-law passed away, still undiagnosed. All through his illness various astrologers and local doctors were consulted. One of them put the idea in her mother-in-law's head that she, Rekha, the daughter-in-law was a bad omen and had brought evil spirits with her that eventually destroyed her father-in-law.

Rekha could understand why her mother-in-law would believe this: a man she was married to for three decades lay dying without a cause, the astrologer had provided her a person to pin the blame on, however irrational it may have been. What she didn't understand was her husband's reaction. Although he initially dismissed it, his actions spoke otherwise. If something happened to him at office, she would be blamed; if the car had a flat, she would be blamed. It was all said as a joke, but the frequency began to be distressing. She tried talking to him about it and he felt she was just blowing it all out of proportion. Her husband has been close to his father and she didn't want to emotionally upset him further while he was grieving.

Soon after, Rekha discovered she was pregnant. What was a joyful event, turned into hell. When her mother-in-law was informed, she immediately solicited the astrologer's opinion. He had deduced based on the stars, that if Rekha were to give birth to this child, her husband would die. Rekha's mother-in-law was so perturbed that she immediately rushed to the city to tell her son. When Rekha had got home from work, both mother and son had worked themselves up with the news, and asked her to get an abortion. Rekha refused. She implored her husband to see reason, but he was blinded either by the love he had for his mother, or the fear that he felt at the prospect of losing his life. For a week they tormented her, despite her parents stepping in to confront the mother-son duo; but nothing worked. Finally, she moved back with her parents. Her mother-in-law and husband had then suggested an alternate plan: she could keep the baby, but get a divorce. A brilliant strategy suggested by the astrologer. Rekha had tried meeting her husband without his mother, to understand if he felt similarly - unfortunately, he did. He said he loved her, so how did it matter if they aborted this one child? Surely, they will have more?

Abortion? Rekha cried at the very mention of the word. She had never considered this as a possibility in any situation. During the heated discussions of her student days, she was labelled pro-life, an anti-feminist, for voicing her opinion that she was against abortion. It was further sickening when the reason for the abortion was to her a silly superstition peddled by a charlatan. Rekha decided to go through the pregnancy, in the hope that the birth of her child, and subsequent non-death of her husband, believing strongly that the astrologer was a fake, would help her get back with her husband. She was wrong. Within a few weeks of her moving back with her parents, her husband filed for divorce. The husband re-married soon after the divorce, to a woman with the right stars, who also happened to be his first cousin. She later learned that as a consequence of consanguinity, the woman was unable to carry a baby to term; so her ex-husband would never die, because he would never become a father!

Thanks to the support of her parents, she had rebuilt her life. Her daughter was now 5 years old and cautiously discovering the world as a child of a single parent.

Rukmini watched Rekha as she embraced life fully, laughing as she spun around with her girlfriends, swaying her hips to the music: it takes courage to come out of a situation not of your making, and she was a shining example of that courage.

1 comment:

  1. Sigh! Even the uplifting ending fails to lift my spirits - the unnecessary grief and pain that a young girl is put through for no fault of her own is mind-numbing...

    Good one yet again babe! Keep writing.

    S :)