WITH FIRE IN MINDS
WITH FIRE IN MINDS
The Mehras are as rich as a field of golden harvest. Their family business in the textile industry is unparalleled. Their looms yield the golden yarn of silk.
“Your hair is as shiny as the reels of silk that lie scattered in your house.”
Yamini Mehra is the youngest girl in their household. Her friends often call her “Aphroditi” – a variant form of Aphrodite, Greek Goddess of love and beauty. But Yamini is growing up. That too, fast enough to cause concern in the family. Anirudh Mehra, her father, spearheads their textile business right now. With an almost bald pate that shone smooth in the light, he has just crossed fifty. Krishna, his wife, is a Tamil Brahmin and they reside in their ancestral home at the outskirts of Bangalore city.
“Amma, you met Appa years before you married each other. I remember Patti telling me, years ago, how she had refused Appa as a match for you. Then how did you alter her mind…? Because she was fond of Appa until the day she died…”
Mother daughter conversations like this, usually assigned to the afternoons, are part of daily routine. Only the subjects varied from day to day. As Yamini is growing up and her compelling beauty confounds the opposite gender, she grows more and more inquisitive about how her parent’s marriage occurred.
Stiff competition rages with the other textile magnates of the country. Indian silk has a worldwide clientele and renown. Mehra Silks is a tradename which has built repute and loyal followers in recent years.
“Appa, when you built our reputation in this field, did you ever realize what hurdle you’ll be facing from the West?”
Both Aniruddh and Krishna love to drape their lovely daughter in the fine yards of Indian attire – the sari. They think that this traditional attire most becomes an Indian belle and they also harbor plans to ask Yamini whether she’ll be willing to pose for the brand. Their girl, always neck deep into her studies, is a pearl found in a mollusk. Both of them are aware of it.
But competition in the textile trade is tough and tight. Rivals are always vying to go one-up in the battle for supremacy in gaining more sales of their items.
But the immediate threat to Mehra Silks is being posed by Silky & Smooth, an up and coming brand that is mixing the thread of silk with one thread of polyester. But the catchline lies in their pricing.
“Wow! Look at that salwar-kameez set. It is just six hundred rupees and has an ethnic look! I think I will opt for this for my Diwali shopping this year.”
Anirudh Mehra’s ears are stunned as if he’s just heard a bombshell. Silky & Smooth has opened their outlet just beside Mehra Silks on Mahatma Gandhi Road in Bangalore. He overhears a teenager-accompanying-mother exclaim, eyeing the apparels and saris displayed at his rival’s store. He begins and sinks into deep contemplation. For the first time in his life.
He begins chalking out plans to outwit his opponent.
But he doesn’t know nor is aware that his daughter Yamini’s already been contacted by Silky & Smooth’s head, U. Rajesh. The latter, Yamini’s batchmate at college, has gifted her with one of his creations. The apparel is delivered to Yamini’s doorstep. Realizing who the sender is, she keeps it inside her closet wardrobe and does not let her parents know about it.
It is late into the night. Their dinner’s just been over. Yamini slowly opens the doors of her wardrobe and takes out the brown paper-wrapped package. As soon as she opens it, out comes the silky and slippery material that eventually turn out to be a kameez, to be worn on top of her trousers. The item is really as smooth as silk. But not rightly so.
Yamini at first just feels an itching around the neckline of the dress – around her shoulders. Even at that hour of the night, she makes it a point to try on her surprise gift.
“Rajesh’s hands always created magic!”
As she tries on the kameez and admires herself in the full—length mirror in her room, she instantly realizes that something is not as it should be. Yamini cannot point her fingers at what exactly is amiss. Is it the bewitching hour of the night that creates the uncanny sense of fear in her? Is it something in the dress that makes her cautious, with no apparent reason? Or is it the sense of guilt that is haunting her? After all, she’s accepted a present from an individual who is aiming to rival her Appa’s trade.
Within the span of a week’s time, Yamini notices blotches of red marks appearing all over her body. At first, she neglects them as being the outcome of the heatwave that’s struck the city. But when the signs of blood appear – oozing from the scratch marks on her body – she gets frightened and tells Krishna, her mother, about these.
“Have you used any new cosmetic product – any soap or body lotion – recently? Any, and I repeat any, thing which you used outside your daily regimen?”
The Mehras has taken Yamini to a dermatologist. Krishna almost shrieks out of fright when Yamini exposes her body in front of her mother.
Her angry cries also bring her husband, Anirudh, from his study table where he is busy reading a coffee table book on silk production in India. Yamini quickly covers up her exposed parts and wears a floral housecoat. She shares a special bond with her mother. After she grew up, her mother made her realize that it’s improper and indecent to expose body parts in front of the opposite sex.
“You must always remember my words. Even your Appa must never see you naked.”
Krishna’s words of caution ring in Yamini’s ears even now.
“No doctor. I use the minimum of beauty products. But I have a feeling that the skin rashes may have been caused by the outfit which I’ve received as a gift recently.”
“An outfit? But that seems rather far-fetched. Do you mean to say that you are allergic to certain fabrics?”
The conversation is taking place between Dr. Mukherjee and the Mehras. The latter, especially Krishna, Yamini’s mother, is so worried that dark circles have started appearing around her eyes.
After prescribing few medicines and an ointment, the doctor advises Yamini a few days’ of stress free life.
“Do yoga. Meditate. Your skin problems will disappear automatically. “
Dr. Mukherjee bids adieu to his patient, with a warm smile. It is Yamini’s birthday two days hence.
“Show me the dress.”
Krishna orders her daughter which has the command of a whip. Like an obedient girl, Yamini brings out the kameez that Rajesh has surreptitiously gifted her. Without another word and without taking anyone’s consent, Krishna dumps it near the door and decides to do away with it by giving it to their maidservant, a young girl as old as Yamini herself.
“Amma, (the girl addresses Krishna just like Yamini does) you are giving me this? Why!! Someone came to give dozens of the same kind of kameez to all the girls in our slum. They’ve been distributing them for a week now.”
“The same kind of dress? But this is quite expensive it seems. Why would anyone give such clothes to you, that too by the dozen?”
Krishna tightens her eyebrows. Something does not appear to be right.
The very next day, news arrives that the entire slum area where this girl resides, has been gutted down. It seems the fire originated from a shanty, where a woman was cooking wearing a polyester-mixed kameez. The fire spread instantly and the entire area has been turned to rubble. Many bodies found charred there, had the same kind of garment on them. Eye witnesses revealed that the logo of the manufacturer was – Silky & Smooth.