The Leap10 mins 113 10 mins 113
Had it not for the chirping crickets and the rustle of the leaves, Bhoomi would have felt as if trapped inside a coffin – 6 feet below the earth – no sound but the dull thud of the heart beating against the rib cage.
The only company Bhoomi had was that of an ancient tree she sat leaning her back against. If her smashed watch was correct, it would have been one past fifteen after midnight. She gazed at the moon – a grey orb lost in the dull overcast. The chirping and the rustle dissolved as Bhoomi’s mind drifted away into a puddle of nothingness.
The darkness was suffocating.
Bang! The door flew open. A man appeared; red-eyed, baring his dagger-like teeth and brandishing a fist. The man was saying something but his voice came in muffled shouts. Bhoomi couldn’t make anything of his words; something was wrong with her hearing. Instinctively, she touched her left ear and gave it a tug. A pain erupted like a shock wave and traveled right up to her temple hitting every nerve on its way. Bang! The door shut. As she gathered herself, with her eyes closed and wincing in pain, she remembered – the man had hit her a while ago.
Bhoomi’s head was down – her cheeks propped on the cold fingers of her mother. There was no one else in the hospital room but the two of them. Closing her eyes, she squeezed her mother’s hand, hoping with all her might to wake her up. She thought she felt a twitch in one of the fingers and sat bolt upright. She looked at her mother’s face for a moment and felt a sharp tightening around her heart.
She put her head back down and resumed squeezing the frail, wrinkled hand for as long as she can remember.
A hand caressed Bhoomi’s sun-burnt, tiny cheeks. She blinked and looked up at him and smiled. It was Nanu uncle – an old friend of her father’s. He always got candies whenever he visited. He also used to watch over Bhoomi when her parents had to be away for work. Nanu uncle played the same game with her whenever he came over. He would show a bunch of chocolates to Bhoomi and hide them in his trousers. Then he would ask her to find these chocolates. Whatever she found, it was hers. The game was easy; Bhoomi found every piece of chocolate.
“You dare raise your voice against me?!” he growled. And before Bhoomi knew, he slapped her hard with the back of his hand. She felt her head vibrating as a warm, thick liquid trickled down the corner of her mouth. It had been 3 years of their marriage. “What happened? What did I do wrong?” she wondered still recovering from the blow.
Bhoomi’s mother was sobbing lying next to her. “If only your father were here with us now…” she said in a cracked voice. “And my illness is making things worst”, she said sobbing all the while. “Maa, don’t…” Bhoomi replied, putting her head on her mother’s chest.
“How can you stop me from seeing my mother?” Bhoomi addressed the crowd - her husband and his parents. “You are aware of her illness and at what stage it is. And still, you lack humanity…” Bhoomi’s face jerked to her left as she felt a fist coming down on her. Half her face throbbed with pain and she stood fixed in her spot shivering. Her eyes welled up with tears and she tried hard not to let them escape her shut eyelids.
Opening her eyes after what felt like ages, Bhoomi saw a golden ring held inches away from her eyes. Feeling her heart would burst out of joy, she cast her eyes on Abhay, her boyfriend. And without any warning, she heard the question to which her answer had always been a yes – “Bhoomi, will you marry me?”
“Mumma, I don’t feel good staying with Nanu uncle anymore,” Bhoomi mumbled to her mother.
“He is so nice to you; gets you all those chocolates every time he is here, doesn’t he?” Bhoomi’s mother answered in a don’t-be-silly tone. “Hmm… But, he plays the same game every time,” Bhoomi uttered with furrowed eyebrows “And he always makes me...” Her mother cut in, not paying attention to what she was mumbling, and said, “Let’s finish your homework.”
“What are you waiting for? Do it!” a cold, rasping voice emerged like a serpent trying to wriggle its way out of an enclosure.
Something bright, red and hot was dancing over a black mass at a distance not far from Bhoomi. Her tear-filled, burning and swollen eyes blurred the scene playing before her. Her throat felt dry as a dusty, old carpet. As dollops of tears vacated her eyes, she could see. Bright red flames were wrapping around her mother’s body as she lay on the burning pyre.
“Do it. Don’t be afraid. It’s easy!” – The cold voice was getting louder.
“Your mother is your business!” Abhay boomed. Bhoomi recoiled at these words. Shaken, she stammered, “She is your family too, Abhay. Why… why are you behaving in such a way?” “Yeah, a family that fed off me for 3 god damn years like leeches - sucking me dry,” Abhay muttered through his clenched jaw.
“It’s easy. Close your eyes and do it!” the voice sounded amplified; impatient and more convincing than before.
“I, I don’t want to play this game anymore,” Bhoomi stammered looking down at her intertwined fingers. “But, you are so good at finding the hidden chocolates, aren’t you?” Nanu uncle said in a soothing tone. “No!” Bhoomi cried, throwing away the candy she was holding. She felt her chin lift. Her watery eyes met those of Nanu uncle’s. “We are playing this game my child and you are going to win,” he replied. His tone, Bhoomi thought was like that of a low, growl of a dog.
“You like it. You find pleasure in it. That is why you are not doing it,” the voice echoed in a taunting tone.
Bhoomi stepped into her room and went up to the window next to her bed. She sat down and gazed at the sun getting low giving the sky a tinge of orange and red. Bhoomi blinked and saw the funeral fire licking her mother’s limp body. She blinked again and saw her mother waving her goodbye as she left for school. She blinked again and saw her mother smiling with sunken eyes and lying on a hospital bed. She tried not to blink anymore and her eyes started burning and welling up with tears. “Maa…” She uttered and stopped midway. She thought she saw a tiny shimmer inches away from her face.
“Yeah, a family that fed off me for 3 god damn years like leeches - sucking me dry,” Abhay muttered through his clenched jaw. “Your father chose a convenient time to die – after our marriage. I have had enough,” he ejaculated, “And leave your mother and her goddamn sickness to me.” Bhoomi stood stunned taking in all the venom her husband was spewing out on her. She felt something was throbbing in her temple, throbbing hard to burst its way out of her head.
“Leeches?!” Bhoomi yelled back, finding her voice and still shaking but now with anger. “You dare raise your voice against me?!” Abhay growled.
“Won’t you expect me to stand by your side when your mother is burning on a pyre?” Bhoomi said in a mechanical voice, head tilted and staring at the wall. As she turned her gaze towards Abhay, she caught a glimpse of a fist flying at her. Instinctively, she raised her left hand to block the blow and there was a loud crack. Abhay’s fist made contact with her watch’s dial making her own hand hit her face with a dull thud. There was a ringing sound in Bhoomi’s ears and the left side of her face felt numb. She could make out the faint sound of footsteps marching away from her and the sound of a door closing. Feeling lightheaded, she moved her hands trying to feel the wall behind her and found a corner. With her back on it, she slid down and sat cowering. The darkness was suffocating.
A raven cawed somewhere and the sound ruptured the dead silence in the valley. Bhoomi opened her eyes - eyes that were closed all this while reliving ghastly memories that made up her life.
“Yeah, that’s right. You’re ready. Be brave. Go on!” the voice had an almost satisfying sneer in its tone.
Bhoomi stood up and stepped forward. The dawn was breaking and the valley was revealing itself. As she made her way towards the rock that marked the cliff’s end, she felt a strong wind blowing against her. With the wind came a faint but a soft and familiar voice – “No Bhoomi!”
She knew whose voice this was. It was her dead mother’s.
“Do you know why I named you Bhoomi?” the voice whispered.
“Do it. Be free! Be free!” cackled the cold voice in the midst of the howling wind.
Bhoomi’s heart began to race. She felt as if her heart was thumping towards her spine to stop her from moving ahead. But, she was inching forward anyway.
“I named you Bhoomi after mother earth,” the voice continued in a patient tone.
“One leap is all you need to take. One leap!” the voice hissed with a tremble of excitement; the serpent was almost out of its enclosure now.
"Mother earth because..." her mother’s voice continued. It was fighting the other one that was trying to burrow deep into Bhoomi’s mind and crying, “Don’t listen to her. Listen to me. Listen to me. I’ll liberate you!”
“…because she never gives up on herself despite suffering the horrors we bring down upon her every day. She has ways of setting the record straight. You are stronger than you think, Bhoomi,” the voice finished with a definite tone.
"Take the god damn leap, bitch!" the voice screamed as if trying to pierce its way out of Bhoomi’s ear like a serpent wriggling beneath her temple.
Bhoomi stopped as half of her feet felt the grassy edge of the cliff. The wind was now making her sway backward and forward. Her heartbeats were arrhythmic. She didn’t know if she was breathing or suffocating. She closed her eyes with one foot hanging in mid-air.
“One tiny leap… One. Tiny. Leap.” hissed the voice in a slow, lulling tone.
Bhoomi took the leap.
The wail that followed and reverberated across the valley could have woken up the dead.
A strong gush of wind flowed against Bhoomi’s face threatening to rip her skin off.
With her eyes closed, Bhoomi braced for the sound - the last sound she would ever hear - the squelching sound of a mass of flesh, bone and liquid crashing against a rock. But, the sound never came. She wondered if she was still alive or if she was dead even before she knew it. She resigned to the latter notion and opened her eyes.
She saw a chasm; it was so black that it could have swallowed the Sun whole. Then she noticed a figure falling down. The figure stared at her with bulging eyes, wearing an expression of shock. Bhoomi took a few moments to realize that SHE was the falling figure. The abused and scarred part of her was falling down into the bottomless chasm. Bhoomi kept staring at the figure; it kept falling until it turned into a gray speck before it went out of sight. The chasm began to dissolve with the sunlight flooding the entire valley with its golden warmth.
Bhoomi walked back to the ancient tree under which she had been sitting since the night before. She sat down taking a deep breath filling every pore of her lungs. She felt as if she had dropped off a large pile of dead weight into that bottomless chasm. She closed her eyes again. “She has her ways of setting the record straight…” hummed in her mind.
The darkness was gone, the suffocation was lifted.
A survey conducted by the National Family Health Survey in 2018 revealed the following:
- The most common perpetrators of domestic violence were husbands. 31 percent of married women experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence by their spouses. The most common type of spousal violence was physical violence (27%), followed by emotional violence (13%).
- Only 14 percent of women who experienced domestic violence sought help. Data also showed women in India between the ages of 40 to 49 to be most supportive of domestic violence, with 54.8% in agreement.
For perpetrators, physical and emotional abuse is a bottomless, insatiable pit – its hunger grows with every victim it feeds on. We have lost countless Bhoomis to such abuse. The Leap is for them. The author hopes it will encourage them to find the courage to stand up to this pit and those who feed it, to take the leap, not into the pit, but over it, and leave it behind, forever.