Moon - Thief
Moon - Thief
The guard waved the green flag. The Desert Express blew its shrill whistle and the strolling passengers on the platform of Falna station ran towards their respective coaches, throwing away their half smoked beedies.
Bhairo was running like a maniac. He had a duffel bag on his shoulder and a metal trunk in his right hand. A young woman in her late 20s was running after them. He reached the platform and barged in the first compartment he could and threw the duffel bag and the trunk inside. He stood at the door of the train, which was catching speed now and shouted at the woman, who was running desperately. "Run faster...!" The woman stumbled and fell. She watched the last compartment pass away before her with its cliketty-clack. Each stroke striking her chest with a physical blow. The mute anguish welled in her dark, almond eyes...
Bhawari stood in the burning heat of Rajasthan desert and kept looking at the diminishing metal monster which carried away the only person she had ever loved in her life. A police inspector and a constable came running and stopped near her. The merciless sun was heating the sand crystals and turning them into silica in the fierce desert. A bigger furnace was burning in the bosom of the diminutive dark woman. The agony exploded within her and she let out a high-pitched unearthly scream like an animal in pain...
Bhairo belonged to the infamous Bedini tribe. This tribe was notorious for the flesh trade, in which each female member was involved. The male counterparts kept the home or arranged for customers for their wives. With the change of time, even this tribe went through reformation and prostitution was curbed to an extent. People were educated and the standard was improved. Bhairo didn't act as a pimp anymore. He was upgraded now. He went to Badmer and Pakistan for higher education. Now he was a pickpocket par-excellence and a thief. No more flesh trade for our hero. He was good with his hands. At five feet ten of height and his very fair complexion, he looked more like a decent businessman than a thief. His face was pockmarked and he hid it by maintaining a four days stubble. He and his friends committed a daring bank robbery in Baswada. A bank guard was killed in the heat of the moment. Bhairo and his friends escaped from there and decided to hide in some remote village till the heat was off.
Bhairo retired to the Shekhawati district and hid himself in a small village called Fagwara near Falna town. It was a small town with a narrow gauge railway station. He established himself as a rich businessman and splashed his ill-gotten wealth around. Soon people started looking at him as a wealthy and respectable man. Power and prestige are like aphrodisiac. They are highly addictive. Once someone gets used to these, they forget the reality and live in a dreamland. Bhairo forgot his own low station and became self-styled Rana Bhairo Singh. Each afternoon, when the dusty streets of Fagwara were deserted because of the fire raining from the heavens, he could be seen entertaining the who's who of the village and town in his air cooled drawing room. It was there that he saw Bhawari.
In Rajasthan, they use clay cups called 'Kulhars' for serving drinks to guests, which is supplied by the village potter. Bhairo was sitting in his drawing room, when his servant ushered in Bhawari, carrying a wicker basket full of kulhars.
O reader, like you even I always believed those love-at-first-sight stories as clichés. But like spirits, even such paranormal things do exist! When Bhairo saw Bhawari, the elusive emotion hit him like an Express Train. The pert woman kept her eyes down demurely, but she could feel the upheaval in the soul of the latter. She also could feel a reciprocation in her own bosom and was uneasy by its novelty. She suspected that anything so euphoric must be a sin! Especially for her. She left hastily, without waiting to get paid for her wares.
Bhairo stood transfixed for an eternity, then called his manservant and asked him casually about her whereabouts. Armed with this information, he hitched his Jeep and went to visit her, on the pretense of paying her for the kulhars.
The thatched hut of the potter was in a deplorable state. An old man was sitting outside on a bamboo cot, smoking a coconut hookah. Wild summer wind whistled in those sifting sand dunes. Palm and coconut fronds whispered their secrets in her ears and she giggled. He immediately stood up respectfully, when he saw the Jeep entering his courtyard. "Khaini Khamma, Rana Sha!" He said apprehensively. Bhairo dispelled his apprehensions, saying that he had just came in to pay for the kulhars. The old potter was overwhelmed by the humbleness and generosity of the great man. He bade him to sit on the rickety cot. Normally, Bhairo would have spurned him for this effrontry, but today his heart was dyed pink. He sat there and tried to peer in the darkness of the hut. "Where's your son, kaka?" He began fishing.
The old man's eyes clouded. "Sometimes gods love to play with us mortals, Rana Sha! He summoned my young son and left an old man to care for his wife. My son died last year in the plague epidemic."
The old man took another sad puff at his hookah. Bhairo found his eyes moistened and was astonished. He was not a sensitive and emotional man by a long chalk and was surprised at this turn of emotions in his granite heart, but love changes the man and causes diamonds to crack. The widow appeared in a long veil, bringing jiggery and a jug of water. Both kept their eyes downcast, but were achingly aware of each other's physical presence. The negative has a powerful affinity to attract the positive. The positive is always at a loss. The negative has nothing to lose. Bhairo was negative.
Stories and novellas always give us a wrong notion of love and romance and like children watching cinema, we believe in them. The romance of Bhairo and Bhawari was nothing like those Mills & Boons series. It was like one of those devilish whirlwinds in the desert, which can change the appearance of the stolid earth by its torque.
Bhairo was a changed man now. Circumstances and influences change psyche. Love has the power of conversion, which beats that new-fangled nuclear powers. The poor potter had his hut redeveloped. He had a motor installed in his potter wheel. A government official visited his wretched premises and a hand-pump was installed in his courtyard. Of course, Rana Bhairo Singh visited his premises daily. Rana Sha met his widowed daughter in law and assured her that he'll get a stipend issued to her. A male isn't allowed to touch a widow. But, money is a panacea and cures all such deep-built stupid notions. Everything was hunky-dory.
Bhawari was a very practical woman, who was married at 11 and widowed at 19. Life was like those fleeting thoughts for a brief second, when she was married. After she was widowed, it resembled those never ending deserts, extending to the infinity! She was a good looking woman, rendered lusterless by the grinding wheels of life. Her dry and lifeless tresses were filled with the tears of the desert. Sand was not only in her eyes and heart, it was also in her soul. That dry and gritty feeling! Her sexual life non-existent and no love on horizon, she was an epitome of what those eastern samurai called honbun. Life was a duty.
That immovable rock was suddenly attacked by a monstrous force, which it could never understand. One can always fight against an adversary, who attacks ferociously. How can one fight against someone, who uses love and submission as weapon? Her soul screamed and warned her that this guy is not good, but her hungry psyche loved his attention and care. Overall, she loved his care for her. She knew that he loves her, but never tried once to look at her or shame her by talking. Bhawari was not like those arrogant and impervious Aravali peaks. She was a human and she crumbled under that intense heat of love. She started loving his four days stubble. She loved everything he did. She was snatched away by those wild summer winds of Aravali, which once dragged with them another soul, Mirabai and deposited her with Kanha! Bhawari didn't know who's Mira. This brown earth just knew that crazy moon, who was getting closer to her and was causing high tides in her oceans. Bright, scintillating and effervescent... it was a thief. His own glamour was stolen from sun. She was in love.
They were married. No one knew of their marriage. It was an unspoken understanding. Everything was fine till a summon reached in the Falna Police Station from the Badmer control room and resulted in a deputation of an SHO, two sub inspectors and 14 constables to visit the village of our lovers. The contingent swooped at Bhairo's residence in their inimitable style, like an airborne eagle swooping down at a rabbit. In this case, the rabbit was missing.
Bhairo was with Bhawari behind the sand dunes. She was convinced finally. An year's meditation paid. They decided to leave. Bhairo asked her to go to Falna station and left her to collect his worldly wealth. What's money to a thief, Saint and a philosopher? Just dirt.
He saw the police convoy before his Haveli and hid in the shadows. He was spotted by someone. He ran with the contingent behind him. He was running desperately when he saw Bhawari trundling a duffel bag and a trunk. He picked up her burden without breaking his stride and sprinted towards the station. Bhawari started to run desperately after him.
Thambidorai Saravanan was embarrassed. He was a tough guy. In his forties, he was fit as a bull. The arrogant law protector didn't know how to handle this woman. Saro removed his peak cap, scratched his bald head and thought, 'Wish it would rain!'
He asked tried questioning Bhawari. She didn't even deign to move her head and just let out a gut wrenching wail. The inspector shrugged in frustration. No one likes a woman crying.
Bhawari refused to believe that her Bhairo was a bank robber, a murderer and on the run from police. She refused to believe that all his love was a pretense and a physical lust for a female body. Like a hunt, it was a sport for the hunter, but it cost the game its life. Police recorded her statement and let her go. Bhawari came back to her village. By now, everyone knew that she had run away with a thief and she, along with her father in law were boycotted by the village Panchayat. The old man was sitting on the cot, smoking his hookah and coughing. He called out to her to give him something to eat. Bhawari went in silently, walking like a zombie and shut the door. She stood for a long time, with her back to the door. It's better to remain loveless, than to love and lose it. Especially, to be cheated of love. Her tears had dried. She had lost her already meager smile and happiness to a glib talking conman. It was growing dark. The Moon-Thief was rising in the sky, stealthily, behind clouds, like a pickpocket stalking his victim.
The police spread their dragnet but failed to capture the elusive thief. Like a new moon, he had vanished into the dark pit of the universe, not to be spotted by anyone. Life was a dragging dream for Bhawari. The ire and repugnance of the village faded with time. A course of action results in many reactions, which the perpetrator is blissfully unaware of. Bhairo, wherever he was, was unaware of his effect on Bhawari. Each evening she stood at her doorstep and stared at the never ending desert with her vacant eyes. The wild wind played with the sand and caused miniature hurricanes, which were a reflection of the raging and unabated storm in her own chest. Sometimes, she thought she saw her Bhairo in those swirling sand columns - with his lopsided smile and his four days stubble - before the capricious wind carried him away and merged him with the infinite desert, from where he came from.
The selfish moon always smiled beyond the sand dunes. The earth lay patient, like a widowed mother, in wait of someone, who may never come...