It was a hot and humid afternoon.
Indra knew the expected outcome of their relationship was near, as Prerna looked tense and forlorn as never before. She had avoided meeting him and messages sent through her cute little brother Pintoo to her remained unanswered.
They were sitting silently in his room; the door was left wide open to make them visible to any passerby in the inner gallery. It was advised by a fiercely independent Prerna, Indra found it to be very convenient and seemingly acceptable in the building. Some knotted souls were curiously uncomfortable gleefully whispering malicious gossip around. But adventurous Prerna was not perturbed at all and these meetings were held to discuss pressing matters. Being a bright young government officer with individuality, she could afford to be dismissive of such silly concerns.
His suggestion to meet in a nondescript, usually deserted restaurant was mercilessly vetoed by her.
She did confide in him the growing interest shown by a batch mate from same caste. His parents would be too happy to add one more power centre in their household. Prerna was not content being a state government officer and had set her goals higher. A marriage would be a big hindrance in her scheme of things. But she had been quite elusive and unresponsive for a long time, a big change from her unusually independent and straightforward persona.
He wondered if she would meet before his departure to pursue his dream.
“Didi is not talking to Papa and Mummy…. sleeping all day and I can tell you some thing more if you give me two chocolates.” Pintoo had deftly negotiated a few days ago.
“She was weeping whole night and didn’t’ tell me any new story. I really wanted hear that story of Pari she promised, but got a slap…she never hit me before… can you see it here…this red mark?” Pintoo disclosed with a sad face and cutely pointed to his pink cheek.
“Can you tell her not to hit me again or I will not sleep with her ...and won’t give your messages too…I will throw them away.”
“Sure, I will tell her and she will not hit you again.” Indra had pulled him near and made a promise.
“But Didi will not talk to you…how can you promise me that?” Pintoo was unusually sharp and argumentative for his age.
“Aap jhoothe ho…katti.”
Lost in thoughts, Indra let Pintoo, run away, and sensed his tender hurt.
His heart sank further in despair. So the greedy parents have prevailed over a bright girl, pushing her in an unwanted alliance to get one more officer in the household. He presumed.
Suddenly she materialized and sat brooding before him. Pintoo was reminded of the pending homework and skillfully dispatched to earn a big chocolate in lieu of it.
She looked too depressed to be probed, almost fragile. Indra waited for her to speak and give him the bad news. He would not remind her of those promises made and would accept her decision. He would never forget her ever and felt the growing pain. Perhaps they were not made for each other and this would have happened sooner or later.
She set her dream to get in to Indian civil services and his, a fragile and uncertain acting career in Mumbai.
“Do you know Indra, why I have three cute sisters?’
Surprised at the question, Indra couldn’t answer. He stared blankly at her swollen eyes and rarely sad face.
‘Because, they didn’t have a machine, so I am sitting here with you.’
‘Oh! You ignorant fool.’ She said in a mock surprise.
That was good she was recovering, getting normal and arrogant as before. Indra decided to react as nothing abnormal had happened.
‘Yes... I don’t have to cram irrelevant shit to pass those bloody exams.’
‘I know you love to hear that… want to see others defeated? You people are trained to make common people like me…. feel and think defeated.’
‘It’s a non-sense.’ She said.
‘I just don’t want to know that. Is that clear, madam? But please tell me why do you look so sad? Where were you all these days? What happened…some office problems perhaps?’
Prerna become silent again and didn’t reply. He waited and braced him self may be now she would disclose her decision to obey her parents and dump him forever.
Their raised voices immediately attracted attention of an alert Shanno, reclining on sofa, languidly chewing a pan. She rose and lifted the gaudy curtain to make herself visible in her usual finery. Sound of her anklets alerted Indra and Prerna to lower their voices. She looked at them with a mischievous smile and proceeded to hang a towel on the balcony railing, taking her time, smoothing the wrinkles of the puffy cloth, turning it over many times. Her numerous bangles making clinking noises, ears tuned and hungry for any exciting sound bytes.
The gang of five was about to visit her, to watch some exciting film together and indulge in floating malicious gossips. She was excited by the prospects of her tidbits being the juiciest. She was a generous host and the ladies were addicted to her tasty pakoras and tea. Further her deaf mother in-law was greatly envied by all the visiting ladies. It gave them freedom to enjoy video films, loud music and unhindered-uninhibited exchange of notes about their own vicious mother in law and their wicked ways. She loved being envied for her bulging purse, no kids to look after and a fawning husband.
The bewildered gang members were astonished at the tales of her premarital raunchy escapades with a variety of lusty rustic lovers. They sighed with envy and excitement as she shamelessly unfolded each episode with great explicit details. Some were repeated often on demand, and Shanno loved to tell a juicy tale.
Prerna silently went on looking at him.
“Okay. I am going...If you don’t want to listen.’ She hissed, her eyes betraying deep feeling of hurt.
‘I am sorry… if you feel that way.
She turned her eyes away.
“It’s okay…what it is?’ Indra knew there was no escape and he would have to bear the brunt of her discontent and listen.
'It’s is that sonographic machine……… the doctors now use to detect…’
‘Don’t you know?’
No! I said I don’t know. Didn’t I?’
‘They detect the sex of the child by this horrible machine.’
Indra was silent. Didn’t know what to say and how it is connected by to her woes.
She remained silent, her face clouded further.
‘You look sad.’
‘Yes I am sad. But should you bother?’ Prerna didn’t look at him.
‘I am sorry….I did try to….’
“Don’t be, please. It’s okay..’
Indra avoided her moist eyes, waiting for her to unburden herself, still foxed by a machine and its role in her plight.
‘I shudder to imagine, if they had that machine in those times my all sisters might have all been aborted… killed. Why only my sisters! I too might have been… sucked out of the womb…bundled and disposed off... thrown away to be eaten by hungry dogs.’
‘Please Prerna, why are you thinking like this?’
She didn’t reply.
‘Let’s change the subject…please.’
'So you don’t want to listen. I am going.’ Prerna got up.
‘No. It’s not that. Please stay…. I mean…. please tell me... and ...unburden your self.’
‘I feel bad Indra. Being a girl, really bad.’
‘Don’t say that. And of all the girls you are saying this? I am surprised.’
‘Surprised? Are you, why do you think I am monster with no emotions?’
Both were silent. It was getting unbearable.
‘Those girls may have been fortunate they perhaps didn’t hearand if they did might have not felt as bad as I do. They don’t take these things the way I do.’
‘Please calm down.’
‘I heard all this... my self.’
‘What? Heard whom?
Prerna remained silence for long, tears slowly broke free of and hurried unrestrained downwards on a torturous journey. Indra held her hand and made her sit near him.
Shanno watched them from her vantage position, craning her long neck to see the unfolding action.
"I heard the killers...how they aborted three times...after my birth and before Pintoo was born...they killed three girls to get a boy.."
‘Don’t tell me. You mean... your parents?’
‘Yes.’ Her shaking voice betrayed her practiced self-control and dignified poise. She put her head on his shoulder and sobbed silently.
‘Oh my god....please hold your self, Prerna. You are too strong a girl to take such things to heart. May be they didn’t mean…what you have been thinking…. may be you misunderstood.’
‘No. I did not…’
A sense of heavy gloomy helplessness filled the .hot afternoon air. She regained a semblance of control and wiped her tears, moved little away from him, aware of the gossip queen Shanno watching them, spinning a juicy tale.
‘They were discussing the huge finances needed to marry off... all of us...and how unfortunate they are to have four girls…they.... never ever wanted...they wished that ghastly machine had arrived earlier..."
Indra listened, unable to say any thing further.
"How my father went on finding more ways to make money for impending marriages involving huge expenses, you know? They were loudly wondering what sin they might have committed to deserve four daughters...it surely must have been a great sin.’
‘When was this?’ Indra asked cautiously.
Shanno tried hard to catch the whispers, but the low voices assured her further of a rumored affair; a promising attractive young woman officer falling for a handsome scoundrel. She sighed with envy, trying hard to decipher the focus of the seemingly intensely private lovers’ argument.
Her fertile brain raced to decipher hidden meaning in girl’s tense bearing and boy’s alarmed stance. Then it hit her with surety and prospects she loved. Shanno smiled broadly, now sure to score in the ladies gang by divulging the piece of the hottest scoop.
‘It does not matter, when they said it. But the fact is that they did say such horrible things so calmly.... and I was unfortunate enough to hear. I.... do.... try hard.... to forget. But those whispering, repenting and angry voices haunt me every moment…and hit my self-esteem like a sledgehammer. It's even more painful, when they tell me how wonderful they felt when Pintoo was born after four girls. They aborted three unfortunate unwanted girls. Though, I love Pintoo...but now some times I see him in a strange way. I can't explain it... I mean. You know I did hit him…. I feel so bad.’
‘I know that, Prerna.’
‘Do you think you know?’
‘Please, for god’s sake... I mean... I didn’t mean any thing... offending
‘I know that you don’t mean any thing.... you never do. You are just listening to what I am saying now, because you don’t have any opinion. And why should you bother about it...and. if really you do, I suspect it’s just an idea for you... a good plot... for a new lousy play?
“You don’t know how I am feeling. How helpless I am... when I go over.... those horrible utterances of my so called loving and caring parents….killers of three unborn babies.'
They remained silent for a long time and Indra decided to wait.
“I am sorry to have burdened you with all this….but I had to talk to some one….and I have only you...”
“I was worried….you locked your self in room and didn’t reply.”
“Now it’s out…but not fully out…hey can we meet tomorrow evening?” Prerna said, she looked little composed.
“Oh sure ….why not…I will be waiting…here only?”
“Not here dumb boy….you mentioned a restaurant…didn’t you?”
“Yes is it okay with being seen there with me …as you said…”
“Forget all that now…. I am a different Prerna …a free bird…don’t give a damn…let them gossip and spread rumors…will be fun really. Go ahead and tell any one that I am your girl friend. … I know you will feel good about it…” and she was gone, leaving Indra puzzled and yet happy.
They arrived in the restaurant and heads turned to Prerna was becoming a popular public figure in the city due her crusading zeal in solving people’s problems.
“You do know the rumors about us…don’t you?” She sat facing him in her elegant finery.
Indra looked at her happy face.
“I think Shanno has already declared me pregnant.” She laughed and Indra joined in a little warily.
“What about your proposed marriage?
“No marriage…you are out too…. as of now… ...know about your other girls…may be I will meet a suitable person some time…I don’t know…Hey actor, when is your train?”
‘Next Sunday afternoon so that you can see me off... if you want to...”
“Oh so sweet…what about your stay there…could you do some thing?”
“Nothing as yet, will manage some how…”
“Don’t worry; you will see what I have done.”
“Prerna are you ok?” A troubled Indra asked her the nagging question at last.
“Do you think I have gone mad? Don’t you… I know what I am doing…. I have freed my self from pains of being good to all at the cost of my own freedom and desires…and don’t worry, okay? I can take care of myself…”
They drove around in her car and talked as they used to when ever they got a chance. At last Indra tried to kiss her and she didn’t resist…but no further, she set the limit and restored order.
“Stop it…nothing further…not now…when I am ready for it …you will know.”
The sparse luggage was stowed and they sat down in the train. Indra felt heavy and disoriented. Prerna gave him a packet.
“The Keys of your flat in Mumbai… all the details are in there. Call me if there is a problem…now be good and make me proud one day.”
Indra sat numb looking at her.
“This is too much…. how can you be…so…how will I repay you Prerna?”
“Make me pregnant one day…. I may be married or unmarried…it won’t matter…. only I will decide whose seed to nurture…. I am a girl and it’s my privilege and my choice.”
A stunned Indra heard silently, unable to respond in any way.
Prerna stood up.
“The train is about to move now…best of luck and call me when you want too…” She bent down to kiss his temple and was gone.
The train whistled and started to move. A dazed Indra ran to the door…. she waved…he could see her tears…his own self-control broke down…and those long held tears found their journey to dissolve and slowly evaporated as the train sped away.