She walked out of the car and paced towards the children that played under the tree, partially protecting themselves from the scorching sun. They were unaware of her presence until she called them, “Hello ! Come here. Happy Children’s Day ! See what I have brought for you.”
The children gleefully cried seeing a box full of chocolates presented to them by her. As she handed over the box, a white- uniformed person, probably her personal assistant, photographed her and they left, leaving the children once again to their playful siesta.
I kept looking at the speeding car for sometime until it disappeared behind the smoke. Often I had witnessed a row of kind and noble gestures displayed by some good samaritans in the locality towards my children. I had been working as a full-time labourer in the construction of a new township along with my husband and two sisters. My work demanded more of my presence on the construction site which would leave my children unattended for a long time.
Finding no other means to protect them, I requested the contractor to allow the children to be present in vicinity which he readily agreed but on a condition. The children would never hamper my work until evening . I agreed, for nothing good comes to a poor person without conditions and I was one such kind.
The children played with the chocolate-box, chasing one another teasingly and forming their own rules to dominate the ownership of the box. I smilingly observed them and resumed my work. How easy it was for anybody to amuse my children with small packages of generosity! They had no big demands and perhaps no demands at all. They were self-satiated and happily accepted what destiny provided them. Rest everything was a popped cherry on a cake. From time to time, I would exchange glances with them and their laughter would escalate the potions of energy into my otherwise weak anatomy.
That night as I sat counting my day’s wages beside my sleeping children, a loud knock at the wooden door raised an alarm to my senses. Yes, today was one of those ghastly days when my husband would remember his deceased first wife and would vent out his anguish at me. I was right. He pushed me hard as I opened the door. He was heavily drunk.Finding me totally unguarded, he opened his belt and lashed out his manhood at a weakling. By now the children had woken up with his abuses. They took shelter under a torn sack lying in a corner and silently sobbed as their mother courageously faced the devil.
Such barbarious acts occurred during the weekends when the contractor wanted us all to relax after five days of heavy construction tasks. Who would explain to him that his gift of two-day rest to the labourers was actually a painful penance! I never worried about my health getting seriously affected by the ill treatment but my true concern lied in my children whom I had always shielded against their father’s brutality. The days passed on…
Life was not the same sixteen years ago when Raghav had married Laksmi. He ran two shops simultaneously: a grocery shop that had been his family shop since years and a stationery shop that had been his dream, often reminding him that though he was an illiterate, he could facilitate his customers with all state-of-the-art stationery be it the latest spiderman pencil box or newly improved notebooks…he had them all.
As he concentrated on his two tiny businesses, at home Lakshmi worked from dawn to dusk making different types of pickles and ran a business of her own from home. Life was literally a bed of roses for the couple and after three years of their marital bliss, a son was born to them whom they named Mrinal.
Everything favoured the couple until Raghav tasted the first drop of that disdainful liquid which has time and again ruined many a homes and destroyed the harmony of simple living beings. On the occasion of the naming ceremony of his son, his friends lured him to country liquor and thus began the reverse journey of their marital bliss to marital discord.
Raghav flushed his money on liquor and women, resulting in Mrinal’s removal from the village primary school. Lakshmi’s advises fell on deaf years of Raghav which instigated her to leave her husband’s house and live with her aged father. Raghav would visit her on certain occasions and find solace in either forcing her to co-habit or lashing out his anger at her. Lakshmi was hyper-sensitive to such atrocities that overpowered her self-esteem and she fell sick. One fine day, after a prolonged illness of thirteen months, she succumbed to death, leaving behind her only property in the form of Mrinal.
By now Raghav had almost lost everything that he and Lakshmi had earned and saved with their respective businesses. A confirmed recluse now, he took the job of a construction worker and worked on daily wages. It was here that he once again pretended to fall in love with Ragini, that’s me. His charming looks and manliness to safeguard the interests of the co-workers never exhibited the shady side of his life. Totally ignorant of his past, I succumbed to his viciousness and we got married.
It was my first night and as I sat awaiting my moon, Raghav appeared, heavily drunk. He zig-zagged his way to the bed and called Mrinal. Until then, I was not aware that he was previously married and had a son. As Mrinal appeared ,Raghav introduced him to me and before I could reciprocate, kicked Mrinal so hard on his belly that the poor fellow fell on the ground and writhed in pain, holding his body.
I trembled in fear and felt it right to help the boy. However Raghav sensed my intention and before I could get up to help him, he gripped my wrist tightly and forced me towards him. The next few seconds found me in the unruly arms of Raghav, my love, lavishly and wildly planting kisses all over my face. My desperate attempts to disentangle myself from his clutches proved futile and I saw Mrinal crawling his way out to his room in utmost agony.
That night as I lay on the bed, bearing the sexual brunts of this disdainful man, I made a promise to myself. I will prove to be a good mother to Mrinal and win his confidence to set things right at the household.
Soon Mrinal started considering my genuine love for him and even started calling me ‘mother’. Every night my terrible sexual expeditions with the man, I once loved, made me all the more determined to build a strong bond with my son during the day when Raghav would be away to his daylong work. By the end of that year, Mrinal accepted my motherhood and I too conceived.
The new year brought happiness to the otherwise weather-worn faces in the family as I delivered a baby-girl, whom we named Sakshi. Mrinal was overwhelmed with the birth of his sibling and eagerly awaited her to grow-up to be his playmate. Days passed on and so did my ambitions, looking at my two lovely children. I wanted them to study in good schools but each time I counted the money in my savings, it fell short of the much required amount to pay as the school fees. Thus I took major construction tasks and worked hard to fulfill my dream.
It was during one such day that the car had stopped and a woman had walked out to gift the chocolate box to the children. She lived two streets away and had no children. I decided to meet her some day and request her to help me establish a good life for my children.
As luck favoured, one evening I saw her walking in an open area with her pet dog. Seeing me approaching, she flashed a smile while her dog readied himself to take me to task. He started barking and the lady took her inside to chain him. She re- appeared and asked my motive to be there. I narrated her everything in a single breath, fearing that I might never get her to listen to my plan again. She listened patiently and asked me to meet her after a week.
I counted the days impatiently and met her on the particular day, without wasting the precious moments. She had somehow forgotten our previous meeting and I reminded her all. After pondering for a few minutes, while I gaped at the interiors of her beautiful house, she said, “Okay! That’s fine. I will get your children admitted in a good school without heavy fees but I need a favour from you in exchange.”
I was so delighted at that moment that even if she had asked me to behead myself or fall in a well, I would have readily done that. Nothing mattered to me than a good life for my children. I could go through any hell if a need demanded to see my children prosper in life.
Amidst my self-confirmations, she said, “See Ragini! I will help your children and for that they have to take care of my household chores every evening after the school. If anybody enquires, you just say that Ma’m is helping them with their studies. If you are ready to accept my condition, I promise you that very soon you would find your children happily placed in life.
A tear or two brimmed in my eyes. It was proved once again that nothing came without a cost in this world. However I controlled my tears and smilingly accepted her offer. As I walked towards home,I decided to take a longer path which consisted of two parallel roads. I walked on one and noticed that mostly the expensive vehicles sped on the other road.
I thought , “Some day my children too would travel on that larger than life path…”