The Creed of Blood
“The next time I see you with her, you’re no longer my daughter”.
Janaki Devi’s voice was loud enough to reach eighty-five decibels, enough to damage little Meenal’s ears permanently. But sometimes the mind is so occupied with the eternal music of love that no other noise can disturb its state of joy. And when this recipe of love is sprinkled with the spice of innocence, it becomes the most incredible thing existing on earth. Seven years old Meenal was busy garnishing this recipe and all her mother’s volcanic threats were ignored-- not deliberately, but divinely.
But sometimes the mind is so occupied with the eternal music of love that no other noise can disturb its state of joy. And when this recipe of love is sprinkled with the spice of innocence, it becomes the most incredible thing existing on earth. Seven years old Meenal was busy garnishing this recipe and all her mother’s volcanic threats were ignored-- not deliberately, but divinely.
Janaki Devi was a stubborn woman. She was the only daughter of Pandit Ramacharya, the Principal of Sanskriti International (although many wondered what was ‘International’ about it) and a part-time priest. However, nobody ever found him in the school regularly except on the annual function.
Pandit Ramacharya was a pious Brahmin scholar, as most people would say, who had been a teetotaler and never supported violence on animals in his lifetime. People would touch his feet and take his suggestions as a sacred mantra. He was one of the wisest men of the town who, people believed, knew almost everything about Vastushastra, Astrology, Vedic Education, Mythology and way to Salvation. On the other hand, Ramacharya’s own salvation existed in a small one room house in the outskirts of the town where Sundari, his mistress, would wait every evening to worship him. “This relationship is divine”, he would tell Sundari taking shelter under her long black hair and dusky bosom. None else knew about this affair.
Another thing that gave him the feeling of salvation was treating his wife like a slave. She, like all other people of the town, believed Ramacharya to be a saint and waited for him every night at the door to purify her hands by washing his feet. Ramacharya had lost all his interest in this woman after she gave birth to Janaki. He would hate the smell of her sweat-drenched body, her hands that cleaned the shit of her child all day and the torn pallu of her sari. Therefore, the advocate of non-violence used to beat her every night out of frustration. She was 8 years younger to Ramacharya but looked older. Ramacharya met Sundari in the Shiva temple when she came to him seeking his blessing. He came to know that she was an innocent childless widow, much younger to him, and sold some handmade snacks to earn her bread and butter. Ramacharya found it a good opportunity to fulfill his ‘natural rights’. His evening visits at Sundari’s abode brought an end to his wife’s misery. She, being ignorant of his treachery, would keep thanking the Goddess she worshiped for bringing her happiness back.
No matter how Janus-faced Ramacharya’s personality was, he was a doting father. Janaki was the apple of his eye. There was nothing that she asked for and he did not bring. “You will spoil her”, his wife would say. But he would be deaf. He did not want to compromise with her daughter’s desires. This made Janaki stubborn. She wouldn’t stop crying until she got something she asked for. She could make only a few seasonal friends most of whom were the students in his father’s school and wanted some benefit from her friendship. The excessive amount of love could help her finish her first year of graduation anyhow from the local college. Two more years went in learning to cook an everyday meal and to make mehandi designs and then she got married to Raghuveer Tripathi, a simple, hardworking banker.
Soon, the pampered princess of Ramacharya’s mansion became the quick-witted queen of Raghuveer’s house. She would skillfully handle each and every household issue. Raghuveer was a humble man, and he would listen to his wife’s arguments on any issue calmly. The couple was, soon, blessed with a baby girl and named her Meenal. Raghuveer had always been an idealist, and he decided not to go for another child. He wanted Meenal to become a doctor, but Meenal was a maverick. Books, classroom, tests, mathematical operations, scientific terms, and homework never fascinated her. The only subject she liked was English. There were beautiful stories and poems in her English textbook: about the rainbow, butterflies, fountains, chirping birds, mountains, and valleys. She would always take a window seat in her classroom during rainy days while listening to these poems and tickle with raindrops gathered on her right cheek. There was a small pond beside her school. During the recess, every day, she would silently move up to the pond and sit there watching the birds balancing themselves on the wheat field. Her vivid imagination would immediately turn the clouds into dragon, fairies and some mythological characters as she heard their description from her mother. No doubt, children are literally and figuratively closer to nature- closer to the heart of it all, and that is why they are closer to God, as He often speaks and reveals himself through nature.
Once, Meenal was enjoying rain with her hand getting wet out of the window, and she found another hand parallel to hers out in the rain- a hand that had similar innocence, delight, and exuberance. This is how she met Sania, her best friend, her partner in each crime. Sania Iftekhar Sheikh was the most beautiful child in her class. She had greenish eyes, brown hair, and milky white complexion. She had won ‘the most beautiful baby’ contest a number of times. Sania’s father Iftekhar Sheikh was a corporator from “Kaumi Ekta Committee” and had a great reputation among all the Muslims of the city. He would read five times’ namaz every day and follow all the customs a typical Muslim is meant to follow. He was known as a generous person, and almost all the community people would gather at his house on Eid for the feast. He had organized “Ijtemai Shadi”- Muslim mass marriage event three times in the city. This made his stature even bigger. Sania was his second child, after a son Sahil, and Iftekhar wanted both of his children to grow up with the cultural rites and rules of his community so that they can be true heirs to his empire.
While Sahil had this genetic communism in his temperament, Sania was alien to such thoughts. She would enjoy all the festivals with her Hindu friends. During Diwali vacation, she was often seen with Malti, their maid who lived in a small cottage nearby, drawing beautiful Rangoli at her door. The glitter of diyas and sparkling crackers would brighten her heart with joy. Iftekhar Sheikh had warned Sania’s mother a number of times, “ Can’t she make friends in our own community? Send her to play with Salim’s daughter. She will learn something from her. Ya Allah! Save my daughter. And you, Sahil’s Ammi, have to listen to me, or be ready for the consequence.” But as an umbrella cannot stop the rain from falling, Sahil’s Ammi couldn’t stop Sania from making her own philosophy of life. Birds of a feather flock together, and Sania took a bigger flight with Meenal.
Meenal and Sania had a world of their own- a utopia where everything was perfect. There was no room for envy, fraud, or any materialistic competition. Neither the school was far nor Meena's home from Sania’s. So, everyday Meenal would wait outside Sania’s gate and both would go to school by walking through trails, narrow roads, and railway tracks. Walking on the railway track holding hands was their favorite activity and while doing so, they looked a like a small human train of only two coaches. Throughout their quotidian journey, there was a huge chitter chatter about the changing hues of the morning sky, the secret language of chirping birds, the Dian of Bhola Kaka’s abandoned bungalow, and their own amazing theories on everyday chores. They would often get late in school and miss the morning prayer. The teachers had already warned their parents about this a number of times in parent-teacher meetings. Following the pond near their school, there was a series of stupendous bungalows with beautiful gardens. Most of the bungalows belonged to non-residential Indians who were settled in Canada or US with their kids. This place was Meenal and Sania’s wonderland. They were frequently seen having their tiffins near the pond watching villagers washing their cattle or fishermen looking for some good catch.
Friendship is a bond that transcends all barriers, and when it is born out of innocence, it becomes divine. This divine friendship does not care of any religious norm or any social belief. All it knows is a language so pious, so sacred that it cannot be understood by the people busy in existential concern. The language of Meenal and Sania’s friendship was unfathomable to their parents. The Navratri festival was celebrated at Meenal’s house with great devotion. Every year Janaki Devi used to call nine little girls for Kanyabhojan- a feast organized on the eighth or ninth day of Navratri for nine girls representing nine forms of Goddess Durga. For many people in her neighborhood, it was a herculean task as they would start searching for nine girls from the very first day of Navratri, but for Janaki Devi, it was a cakewalk as she had Meenal. She would tell Meenal to call nine of her classmates on the day of feast and Meenal, like a dexterous taskmaster would accomplish this skillfully. That Navratri became very special for Meenal as she asked Sania to come home. Janaki Devi was pleased to welcome this beautiful fairylike girl and caressing her hair asked, “ What’s your name?”
“Sania”, Janaki Devi got a reply but she couldn’t hear it as she heard her mother-in-law’s voice calling her name and being a dedicated Bahu ran towards her. The Kanyabhojan ended well and Sania returned home with a big kumkum tikka on her forehead. She entered a home when her father was conducting a meeting with his party members in their drawing room. Iftekhar Sheikh’s face turned red as he saw Sania with that Hindu ornamental mark. “Go inside! Go to your Ammi”, he shouted at her and Sania couldn’t be understood her crime. She ran towards her Ammi and her Ammi immediately rubbed the kumkum off her forehead, took some holy water from Mecca in her hand, muttered some holy verses and sprinkled the water on her daughter. After this incident, Sania got a taweej on her left hand so that she could be saved from any evil spirit spoiling her mind.
Another such tempest stirred Janaki Devi’s heart when she found boiled eggs in her tiffin. “Where did you get them from? Don’t tell me you ate them.” There was a mysterious terror in her voice. “I like them. My friend brings for me.” There was a clear irreproachability in Meenal’s answer. Janaki Devi told Meenal not to move and promptly ran towards the small temple near her kitchen from where she brought some gangajal and sprinkled on Meenal chanting Shuddhikaran mantras. Then this became an everyday ritual for Meenal to mix some gangajal with the bathing water. Both Meenal and Sania’s parents began to keep an eye on them so that their children could not act anything against their religion. Sania was abandoned at Meenal’s house and same happened with Meenal. Although they failed to understand what was going on in their life, they made special arrangements to spend more time with each other. Sania pretended that she had been going to school alone, but was joined by Meenal from the railway track. It was strange that the place that was meant to take people from one place to another was taking two friends to an angelic journey of affinity.
It was a calm winter morning of December. The visibility was getting low due to a thick blanket of fog. It was something like 10 feet and beyond that, one could see only ghosts. Sania did not want to miss her school as she had got a new slambook. She wanted to show it to her best friend and get the first page filled with her. Meenal, as usual, was waiting for her friend near the railway track. Sania was on time. They began to walk together on the track, as usual, making a cute human train. There was something meditative about walking in the fog. The sun was breaking through the higher clouds and the orange light was getting mixed with the fog making the scene more enigmatic. The human train became slower. Meenal was the engine of this little train and meanwhile, as she moved forward, she found Sania stuck with something. In the enthusiasm of meeting her friend, Sania forgot to fasten her shoelace which got stuck with one of the screw spikes on the railtrack. Meenal bent down to help her friend getting out of this trouble. They tried to pull the lace but this made it even tighter. After much toil, both of them thought that it would be a good idea to take the shoe off. But due to the over-stretched shoelace, the shoe had become tighter too.
The foggy winter morning and the unanticipated trouble made Meenal and Sania unaware of what was coming behind them. A train was moving ahead speedily. The low visibility due to fog made it difficult for the driver to perceive what was there before the train. Suddenly, he found two little ghost-like figures, blew the horn, and applied emergency breaks, but it was too late. The big train ran over the little human train smashing its parts into different pieces. Some people from the nearby railway quarters found the identity cards and informed the parents. The silence of foggy morning was soon replaced by the huge mourning of Janaki Devi and Sania’s Ammi hugging each other. The language of pain, like the language of love, knows no religion. The people in a long beard and the people in saffron dhoti blended like waters of two different rivers. The bodies were beyond recognization. There was plenty of blood on the track- of the same color, same innocence, same affection. Nobody was capable enough to decide what was the creed of that blood.