The jarring sound of the alarm vibrated the complete college campus. The sound spread promptly through the entire building quite like an influx of oxygen in a deoxygenated body. And soon the exigent souls resting in their respective classes beamed out of the classroom doors. The corridors which were deserted until a little while ago soon got packed like sardines upon receiving these students. There was a melee of young adults, who were rushing to step out of the miasmic environs. They nudged, pushed and stepped over each other to breathe easy in the lawns. They of course had all the reasons to do so, after all it was there last examination of the 3 year degree course.
Soon the entire strength was scattered across the campus, leaving the Victorian college to its emptiness. Much like a skeleton in the medical laboratory bereft of any muscles or flesh. But who cared? Some were leaning against the wall, some boys and girls were chatting on the benches, a big group of boys was playing drums for the canteen table, certain studious students were cross-examining their answers, some girls were rushing to the canteen to give final make-up touch-ups before hitting the party and some were already outside the precincts looking for a local transport.
Far away from the crowd there were three girls and a boy standing under the scattered shade of yellow laburnum tree. The two girls were cooling down the third girl, whereas the boy was plunging his fist in anger on the tree trunk. Soon he moved away from the tree and marched up and down anxiously as if waiting for the results of his just concluded examination.
“Can you please lower your pitch, Sush? Jatin is close by. He can hear everything you are talking about”, said one of the other two girls.
“I can’t. He has got to know about my weekend sojourn with Abby. He is fuming anger”, shared Sush.
“Oh God! How could you let that happen?” said the well-wishing girl.
“Even I don’t know how he got privy. I am guessing the twin sisters in our class must have told him. They are friends with Abby”, explained Sush.
Soon the two well-meaning friends vanished and left stage for Jatin and Sush to clear their misunderstanding. They stood under the tree and started a fierce-full argument. He was talking at the top of his pitch whereas Sush was conscious about her decibels, lest others around the college would hear. She pleaded Jatin to lower his pitch and was repetitive in her statement, “Honey, we will talk about this. Let’s go to my place”. But Jatin did not budge and continued exhaling annoyance.
And for the college crowd, they scoffed off at yet another break-up and make-up story of Sush, wondering on how Jatin would react if he gets to know about a dozen prior boyfriends of Sush. For some of the poky nose types, they were cleverly eavesdropping and adding their two-bits of tongue wagging to the verbal spat between the couple.
Sush was short for Sushma, a name she was born with, but she hated this prehistoric name. She was the youngest of the three children born of Mrs. and Mr. Chaudhary. Mr. Chaudhary was the owner of three factories and was an industrialist of huge influence in the policy circles of the state. He had inherited a portion of his current business from his father, but the new acquisitions were a result of his own hard-work. He was a 55 years old man of discipline and grit, who was mostly consumed by his business. The other passion that consumed most of his time was partying and inviting the crème de la crème of the society; which was not always welcomed by his wife and kids.
Sushma had lost her mother to a brutal accident when she was in the 1st Year of her College. Sush and her mother were visiting their grandparents, when her mother was hit by a highway truck while she was crossing the road. Her mother had major head injuries and even before she could be taken to the hospital, she had succumbed to death. Sush was the only family person with the deceased lady. Her father was abroad and siblings were at home, which was approximately 200 kms away from the spot of the accident. Sushma understood that it was a time of reckoning and she gathered all her strength to pull her mother to a side and look for first-aid or ambulance. Sushma sensed that this was not a simple case since her mother was oozing blood from her head and she was groaning in pain. She did not look crest fallen and without wasting any further time, courageously rushed to the nearest dhabba and called the closest highway hospital for an ambulance. Stoic, she did not let even a single tear roll down her cheeks and helped the paramedic in lifting her mother. The ambulance admitted her to the emergency ward, only to be declared as “brought dead”.
Soon the news spread like a wild fire and her immediate family had reached to the hospital. She received them at the hospital reception and navigated them to the mortuary where the hospital staff had kept the body. Sushma along with her immediate family drove back their mother on her last journey home. Soon the palatial house was buzzing with relatives, friends and well-wishers walking in to share the distress and trauma of the family. Right from the start of the accident in the morning till late in mid-night Sushma had held back her tears, just like the water-dam. A dam is always water tight and under immense pressure, albeit as the nature of water is – always eager to break-loose. Similar was the case of Sushma. It had been over 36 hours now, while the rest of the house had made a wailing completion out of the event, Sushma had a terrific self-control and restrain for her young age. She controlled her tears and did not let any drop well her eyes. She just stuck to her room for days on end and did not talk or meet anyone. After the sacrosanct mourning of four days, her father walked up to Sushma’s room.
“Beta….Can I come in? Did you have your food?” spoke Mr. Chaudhary in a feeble voice. These words were just enough for the dam to open up and explode. All the controls and barricades opened up inexorably. The undercurrent in the placid dam became evident and Sushma could not hold back her tears on seeing her forlorn Dad. For the first time in the last ten days she looked up at her father and ululated, making her talon marks on her own face. Her father tried to pacify her and gave her a comforting shoulder. It took her six months to come out of her state of despondency.
Sush dropped her girl-friends at their routine destination and en-route expectedly; there was no chirping or chit-chatting between the girls in the car. Sush, who would usually throw a tantrum, had the driver delayed the opening of the gate was unlikely calm and compose on the delay. She quietly parked her car, not taking any valet parking help and walked up to her room and dozed off. In between the intercom kept buzzing, requesting “Sush Didi” to have her lunch. Soon Sush woke up startled after a bad dream. Dream which she would often see whenever she had a low morale – of Sushma boarding the train, whereas her mother struggles to board and never catches up the same train, eventually leading to separation.
Glumly Sush power punched her downcast self, right on the face and jumped up from her bed and said aloud – that’s enough for today. Can’t take it anymore; let me check with Anindita about Friday hangout...phew!
And soon Sush was back to a self which she had created in the last three years of her college - The wild cat. She had chopped her long tresses to a short funky cut and highlighted them in red and brunette. There were almost half a dozen pierces on her young body. The first one was what her mother had very adorningly got done on her nose, dreaming of seeing her daughter in a wedding nathni. What followed later were only fashion statements and also to exhibit a rebellious self. There was one across her right eyebrow, where a simple ring stood still. On her left ear lobe there were three punctures, embellished with silverware. The last one which she had recently added was one on her navel. This one was added only for flaunting her short choli and lehenga on her sister’s wedding. That lehenga was her only ethnic dress, which had long been handed down to the driver’s daughter. Sush’s wardrobe was burgeoning with denims, tees, shorts and sports gear. That’s all she liked to wear.
Since the day of their last fight, Sush never contacted Jatin and so didn’t he. She was happy in her own circle of friends hopping parties, night-outs and weekend plans. It had been only two months since she had broken-up with Jatin, that she had started dating another guy. He was a friend’s friend, whom she had bumped into at some birthday party. Sush and Angad made a popular couple and were present at most parties and events. Angad was senior to her and had just launched an e-commerce website in partnership. He was a vibrant and a good looking guy, who often navigated Sush about the good and bad in life. Sush liked his company but not his unsolicited sermons. Whenever they met, Angad would leave her with a small note on the purpose of life and the likes. He often talked to her about how she should be walking and talking around like normal girls and not be a foot looser. Initially Sush liked the attention, but slowly it was getting on her nerves. She was a free-bird and never liked any advices or lectures by anyone; even her own family for that matter.
Last year’s new year eve was not very far, when Sush’s elder sister was sort of lecturing her on how to behave, when her fiancé’ and his family would be over for dinner.
“Sush, please don’t sit like a vagabond on the arm of the sofa. Amit appreciates sophisticated girls and not tom-boys like you”, exhorted the elder sister.
“Of course, why wouldn’t he? That’s why Dad agreed to give the hand of his only dim-witted daughter to him. Ah! I don’t need a man who will want me to sit like a porcelain figurine and get oodles of cosmetic crass on my face. And BTW, back off, don’t try to be my mother and teach me things,” piqued Sush and stormed out of the lobby.
Sush had never bonded with her elder sister, may be because the age gap was too much or maybe because she was too close to her mother. She earnestly wanted her sister to get married and leave her for good. However, this sharp reaction was not taken well by her elder sister. She felt the jolt in the relation and got anxious about the unbidden chasm that got evident.
Angad and Sush were seeing each other for over six months, which was the longest for Sush so far. Her final year exam results were out and she had enrolled for a Masters program at the university. Sush liked being with Angad over the weekends. Although her father had sensed about the relation and the amount of time, they had been spending with each other, but for selfish reasons, he did not want to rebuff her. Mr. Chaudhary was a loner; since after losing his wife and getting his elder daughter married off at a young age, Sush was his only companion in the big house. Mr. Chaudhary’s son was managing his business in Europe and had not come back home in the last three years.
This year Christmas was around again and everything was in a festive mood. Angad had invited Sush to his place for a grand party in the lawn of his house.
“Hey! Honey… I shall see you in the evening…Come dressed like a lady…” said Anagd in excitement.
Sush did not like the comment by Angad but feigned a noisy laughter in the speaker.
“Hmmm…Oh yes my dear! My heels should just be the right inches, so that I don’t look like walking with stick” replied Sush bluntly.
Knowing Angad’s party ways, Sush was expecting more than half of his office staff and all his school, college friends at the party. She knew he liked to host grand parties. Sush purchased a new dress and got ready. For the first time, she removed all the funky, high-street accessories she wore and kept her attire truly simple. The inked eagle on the nape of her neck and the recently colored tattoo of her mother’s face on side of her wrist were the only irremovable accessories she had. Rest everything was perfect.
Sush plunged to get her phone to take a selfie. No doubt, she looked ravishing but soon there was a change of mind.
“Nah…This is not me. I can’t wear these dainty clothes. I am feeling like clipped. I want to get back to my skin. Sorry, Angad. I can’t do this”, said Sush as soon as she saw herself in the mirror.
Sush bade good-bye to her father and took the driver to the Angad’s place. It was a fifteen minutes’ drive from her house. The driver dropped “Sush Didi” at the porch of the house and parked the car. Sush disembarked, walked and was ushered inside the house to a large modern drawing room. Sush sensed a strange calmness in the place. At first she did not see any parked cars of the visiting guests. She did not hear any noise or chirping. There was no hustle-bustle. In fact, it was quieter than her own house. Sush took a deep breath and plopped-down on an olive green chesterfield sofa. She was admiring the aesthetics of the room, when she heard foot-steps. It was not the sound of a pair but pairs of footsteps. She got up in guard and with watchful eyes; however soon she loosened up to see Anagd with his parents and his extended family. They all were marching towards her just like Tipu Sultan marching towards the British Army. Sush froze. She looked at Angad with flared nose and widened eyes. Flamboyant Angad winked back at her and signaled her to sit down and relax. Soon they all were seated and the fireworks started. Sush could not take this sudden bonhomie with strangers for more than an hour and cooked up an excuse to rush back home for some emergency. It was Angad’s bad luck that he offered to drop her back home.
“What was that Angad? Some sort of a display event?” fumed Sush
“No chocopie, it was a surprise for you. I had told Mom-Dad about us and they wanted to meet you. So, I thought what better than Christmas”, said Anagd excitedly.
“Surprise? My foot! Didn’t you bother to tell me before telling your parents?” exploded Sush. “Also listen, I am not in for marriage now. I need some more time. May be a year or two”, she added.
“There you go lady…Are you the only one to decide on how we take this relationship? You leather-clad woman! I should have guessed it from the start. It’s my way or high way with you girl…” shouted Angad.
“Yes, we have equal partnership in this relation. And ethically you should have asked me before talking to your parents. Anyways give me some more time…” said Sush.
Anagd dropped her outside and did not bother to take the car in. They did not part in their ceremonial way. Angad had the parting words “Hey lady! You may not be like the regular looking girls, but you have a golden heart and I love you! I have a family pressure to get married soon and I can’t really guarantee my wait... But I know it will not be long…”
Back home Sush could not sleep a wink. She kept turning and tossing, until she got restless and moved with her pillow and duvet to her father’s room. She quietly entered and squeezed on the couch. A power nap of fifteen minutes gave her the same bad dream and woke her from her slumber. Sush sobbed in silence and waited for the sun rise to arrive.
Morning at the breakfast table Mr. Chaudhary was waiting for Sush. They usually did not have breakfast together but the father was not oblivion to what had passed through the night and wished to speak to his daughter.
“Good Morning!” exclaimed the father pleasingly.
Sush had just gotten up and answered back, ‘Morning Papa”
There were some pleasantries exchanged between the daughter and father. Daughter was inexplicably looking at her father’s ways, whereas father was scanning the looks and mood of his daughter through the rims of his oval frameless glasses.
“Didi had called yesterday night and was checking on your welfare”. Said the father
“Ah! Ok…Thanks!!” was the shortest Sush had ever said for her sister.
This did not appear normal for Mr. Chaudhary. The utterance of “Didi” was enough a WMD. Without mincing words the father spoke to his daughter.
“Beta, I was thinking. It’s time you settle down and get married. If you have anyone in your mind and heart tell me now. Else I can look for somebody”, said the father, rather nervously.
Sush did not bat her eyelids and looked at her father for a long time and replied “I think you are right. Please look for somebody”
What followed was a deluge of congratulatory calls from her sister, maternal and paternal aunties and other family relations. Her sister got her tickets booked to India, along with her 1 year old daughter. Sush’s wedding was on a grand scale. Her sister’s wedding was a hush-hush affair but at Sush’s wedding opulence was at its best. It was no less than a Bollywood wedding. Star studded glitterati and eminent people from the society were present at the most prized wedding venue.
Sush’s girl-friends from college were present all-along with her. They helped her get ready. Sush looked beautiful, just like her mother. Her short wedge cut had grown a little longer till her shoulders and the chiffon’ dupatta stood steady with pins on her head. She wore no make-up, except for a small bindi and a light lipstick. That’s what her mother used to put too. Her face was bereft of all the silver studs, rings and funky junk she liked to wear. On her left wrist was the tattoo and a watch and in her right hand, she wore her mother’s bangles. She had got her wedding lehenga made from an old peach and lemon saree of her mom. It had come out stunning. Thanks to the craftsmanship of her designer friend.
The baraat had arrived and the bridegroom was seated on a princely throne. The wedding was to be solemnized and the panditji seated at the mandap signaled for the bride to be called. Sush’s sister and her two friends walked up to her room to call her down. On their way the three girls giggled and winked through the crowd of well-dressed people and an aroma of the richest odors’.
Threesome stood outside the green room of the bride for more than twenty minutes because Sush had not opened the door. Her sister went closer to the door and spoke in a low pitch, “Sush…open the door. Damn it… Everyone is waiting downstairs “
Afterwards they kept banging the door, but there was no response. There was no sound and not even a whimper. They tried to peek-a-boo through the keyhole and the gap between the door and the floor, but there was no sign or whisper. Sush’s sister called the shots, “Were the hell are you…Girl? You are a trouble maker for life!!!.....”
She looked at the other girls and said, “I think I will break in from the side window. And watch out! Don’t let anyone sense anything…Right?”
“Riiiighhttt Diii… we are here”, whispered the girls in a wavy sound.
Sush’s sister cleverly slid the window and caprioled to get surprised. Inside the room, Sush had stacked her wedding dress and the jewelry on the side console. Her heels were neatly kept aside. Right in the heart of the bed she had left a letter addressed to her sister.
I love you! Please forgive me, but I don’t think I am ready for this wedding. I am feeling like caged. I can’t breathe with this thought.
I know I had agreed with Dad on getting married, but this looks suicidal to me. You must be wondering that your younger sister is crazy and selfish, but believe me I wanted to stop this at the right time, but couldn’t. Today when I wore those clothes and jewelry of Mom, it felt like million pins piercing through me. It felt like getting weighted down.
I am not sure of what I want from life, but what is clear to me is that I have a certain job which is not yet finished. I want to help myself get unburdened from an emotional baggage.
I have left everything on the side table next to the sofa. I am leaving and honestly speaking, I don’t know where.
Zillion sorry from a trouble making sister.
It was late evening already and Sush had been wandering on the roads for a long time. She was back to her being in her signature funky silverware and denims. The tee she wore spoke the state of her mind – It a long way back home…
The past four hours on the road, was a time of self-reflection for her. She recalled all her deeds and the trouble she had given to her parents, especially to her father after Mom’s demise. She sat on a public bench in a municipality park pondering over how she could relieve herself from these unseen burdens. Soon evening turned into twilight and followed by night, she gradually stretched her legs on the bench. This was a good reason for passerby’s to tease a lonely girl lying down on a public bench. However as long as no body touched or passed any lewd remarks, she did not care. Sushma was aware that her absconding had only added to her list of misdeeds but justified by thinking - I know, I would have been only unfair to this man, who would have been my husband. I could do harm to myself but not to a man, who does not know me so well. Girl! Do something about your mental state. Be happy. Get off loaded…
Saying these words, she dozed off. It was 9:00 p.m. by the clock when a nun from the nearby church dabbed her gently and woke her.
“My Child! What makes you spend the night here? Come with me to the church. Be there for the night and we can talk tomorrow” said the nun in her sober sound. Sushma was semi awake and followed the nun to the church. She slept the night in the hostel and woke up the next day. Sushma was astonished at the turn of events and had a mixed feeling of regret and relief about her day yesterday. She checked the time and asked the directions to the church cathedral.
“It is first right and then left after you step out from the reception of the hostel”, said a feeble voice of an old woman, who was housekeeping the hostel.
“Thank you Aunty”, said Sushma.
The housekeeping lady kept staring at Sushma until she was out of the hostel precincts. May be she was imagining herself in those denim shorts and cropped tee. The innumerable bangles and the accessories that Sushma wore had anyways got everyone talking about it.
Sushma reached the church. There were very few people at that time. It was 10 o’clock in the morning. She took a deep look at the picture of Jesus Christ and walked up the aisle. Upon reaching closer to the altar, she signed and bent her head down in salutation to the Almighty. She sat there for a long time, until the Father of the church had to intervene.
“Yes, My Child, how can I help you?” extended the compassionate voice of the Father.
As soon as he bent down to see her, he saw her sobbing. “What happened my child? There is no fear in God’s house. Tell me”
Father pointed to the confession box and opened the door for her side of the chamber. He sat in the chamber next to Sushma’s.
Sushma could not stop crying and howled like a baby.
“All shall be fine child. Just tell me what is in your heart”
After a long pause, Sushma said -
“Father, I owe a very heavy burden on my shoulders. I have been carrying it in my heart for the last four years but now can’t keep it anymore. Many years ago, I and my mother were being driven to my grand-parents house. It was a three hours drive. I am the youngest of all my siblings and I was the most pampered and loved. My mother could go to any extent to make me happy. Even jumping off the cliff for me was a cake walk for her. My elder sister and brother never liked this extra love, which my mother showered on me. Even my father would often question her why she loved me so much. My mother always reasoned that she loved all her kids the same, but I know that she loved me more than her other two children.
That day, it was raining and the driver was driving cautiously. After some time, we stopped for a tea-break. The driver parked the car and stepped out to get refreshed. We also stepped out and sat on the plastic chairs for our cup of tea. As we were waiting, Mom spotted a road side vendor for smoked corn. I was very fond of it, while my mother was hyper-allergic to corn. She could not even hold the cob in her hands because she used to develop rashes on her body from the touch of the corn leaves and fibre. Soon she got up to go somewhere and when I asked her where she was going, she replied that she was going to the washroom.
I said ok and waited for her return. It was well past the wait time and she was nowhere to be seen. Even the driver came asking for her. I had no answer. Just as I was about to call on her mobile, we saw a mob of people coming to us. They were pointing to a certain direction across the road. How I wish what I saw later was not meant for my eyes. My mother was lying down on the highway edgewise. Her signature bun and opened up and her lemon mulmul suit was soaked in her own blood. She was still like a boulder. No one touched her or came closer to her. Her sandals, which she had purchased along with me, were flipped over to the paddy farms on the sideways. She was lying on her stomach and her left hand had dropped the mobile phone, which was lying in pieces. There was no life left in her brutally damaged body, but still her tender left hand fingers gripped the corn cob in their palms as if waving out at me to say – put butter and eat the corn fast before your brother or sister spot you. The next thing I saw was the corn vendor, who stood innocent in a corner, appalled at the sudden turn of events. I knew why my mother had crossed the highway. I knew what had happed.
Father, I loved my mother not that evil corn cob. I have this guilt, that I was responsible for my mother’s death. Every breath of mine tells me that I killed my mother. I am feeling miserable Father. Since her demise I have changed a lot. I have been in and out of so many relationships, only to live in a fantasy world, away from this burden. I tried to cultivate a fake relationship with people outside, so that I was not reminded of my mother or my family. I have ruined my life. Father help me, please.
Saying so Sushma exploded the small door of the confession cabin and knelt down, near the altar. Her buried tears of so many years were incessantly rolling down from her eyes. It was a typhoon of some sorts and blasted next to the Holy Self.
Father rose from his seat and tried to console Sushma, “Dear Daughter. You did not do anything. It was meant to be like that. You are not responsible for any ones death or misery. You are only doing what God has sent you to do. What matters at the end of the day is how many good deeds you do. There is God above us to take account of everything.”
Sushma never left that church. She soon joined the sisterhood in the convent and helped humanity. Her father and sister visited her at the church. He had some reservations to her decision but he did not object and found solace with the way Sushma led her life.