It’s rather boring in the morning when the first thing you have to do is to wash the dishes. Kushal did it every day. He had no choice if he wished to have his breakfast. Thus, the day began with washing dishes.
It used to be lot more interesting post the dishes though – he would deliver the milk in the nearby town after breakfast during which there was a lot of beauty-spotting, fantasizing and a lot of specialized flirting that only the milk-boy can do. Calling them ‘didi’ or ‘bhabhi’ was a necessary annoyance though. The best time to deliver the milk was early in the morning, not because the customers liked it – even the newspaper is delivered early as of that fact – but because the men of the house would be busy dressing up for offices and the (beautiful) ladies would come out to receive it. And this was why he secretly loved his present job with Gurudas. Gurudas – the dairy owner for whom Kushal worked.
Kushal had come a long way to finally settle here in Allahabad. It had been some 9-10 years now. His father would get drunk – beat the kids, beat his mother – the same old common story destroying most of the rural households of India and forcing free-willed-unruly-kids like Kushal to run away from home. It was easy to escape the liquor-induced-hell for the kids while their mother tended the vomiting father under the pretense of ‘running away to get some breath from this bullshit’. So on fine night, when the scene occurred again, Kushal simply put on his best pair of clothes, took the little bundle of money he had secretly stacked up since the last drama in the house, took a last fleeting look at his mother wiping the floor with one hand and clutching an end of her saree to her face sobbing in silence, he stepped out.
The life ahead was not going to be easy – having a father had its own benefits, having a mother completed it. But not having either instead of a dying father killing the mother was a lot better. The second step was firmer, third even more and then there was no looking back. The clenching in the throat ebbed away noticeably with the whiffs of fresh air as the train speeded, leaving behind the Meja Road platform.
Mahesh was happy. It had been a good sale today. It always was during the reaping days. The farmers were happy because the crop had brought in money and the babus were happy because it was their ego to be happier when everyone else was happy. And the best partner of rural happiness was Mahesh’s lifeline – the wine.
There had been a clash between three of the biggest players today – Awdhesh, Kamal and Suraj. They were the lads of the self-proclaimed richest families in the town and when they decided to prove their metal by making more men drunk – Mahesh’s heart danced like the peacock in the monsoons. It had rained today, in cash.
And cash in a happy father’s hand has always meant gifts for the family. His daughter jumped with her new cell phone. She had been craving for one of the likes they saw on the TV. She had her previous Nokia was too old-fashioned for a college girl and that with a smartphone, she would be able to video call her elder sister who was now in Delhi, married happily. It was the latter reason which really fell on his ears and after much thought, he decided he too wanted to be able to see his dear daughter once in a while and got the phone off Ram bhai’s shelf.
Khushi had jumped away to her room after planting an affectionate crocodile-tear analogous kiss on his cheek, he reclined on the armchair. Mahesh himself wouldn’t drink. He was too wise to burn his own house with the very fuel he sold. He felt sorry about it sometimes. There was Kushal, son of some farmer who would get drunk and wreck violence at his home, who had threatened Mahesh more than once to not sell his stuff to his father and probably, many others who suffered similarly but hadn’t come to complain on their fathers. He heard that a few days back Kushal had run away from home. Not surprising, he noted indifferently. Yes he felt a bit of sympathy for the boy but then, none of his other businesses brought in more profit than this. There was a season for buying clothes, there was a season for buying grains but there was no season for glum and happiness – it happened all the time in here.
The 2 mile Shastri Bridge spanning across the holy river Ganga at Allahabad is solemnly studded with lights which glow only when a minister of importance happens to be passing over it. It was in this darkness that Khushi found a refuge from her recently shattered bright world.
The events of the past days kept flashing in her mind. The party that came to ‘see the bride’ at her father’s place, to her father’s great and her none delight, the desperacy in Varun’s voice as he asked her to not marry someone else while he tried to persuade his parents to accept her, her leaving Meja and coming to Allahabad and finally – Varun had disappeared. Network was tragic on the outers of the Allahabad railway station. So, it was with a huge, stupid grin that she had texted him informing of her arrival here…she had added a small kiss at the end – which unlike the ones she gave to her father were actually meant.
New place, new hopes and a new life and to think it would be with Varun was the icing on the cake. The first thing she had done on reaching here was to call up Varun. He hadn’t picked up. She wasn’t much worried, though irritated somewhat. Firstly, that he wasn’t here to pick up her and secondly, at least he should have taken the call. But when the sun had sunk where the tracks met the sky and he still hadn’t picked up, instead, the network response was constantly of ‘User busy’, it dawned on Khushi that she might have made a mistake.
Standing on the Shastri bridge in the dark of the night, Khushi was thankful that none would be able to see her tears if she cried. No, she was determined not to cry for the fact that all of this had been her doing. She was the one who had run away from her parents and came here uninformed. It was not Varun’s fault if he wasn’t in a condition to accept her. There was none to blame but herself and so, none would suffer but her. It requires a strong heart to suffer – she never had one.
“This is the last leg of the journey,” she told herself and jumped off.
At this point of time, my wife, who unknown to me had rolled to my side of the bed while I wrote the above sections, gives my ear a playful bite and asks, “How much longer do you plan to stay in Meja? Come back, I’ve got something very interesting for you here in Allahabad!”
What happened after her words is a different story of entirely different genre. But now (3 hours and a long shower later), I hear the doorbell ring. Our maid responds to it – while I type this and Aditi (yep, she was the one who bit me!) dresses up behind me. She is always the one to leave the bed first only to pull me out and get me ready for office. ‘She treats me like an LKG school kid!’, I had often complained to both our respective mothers but the concerned authorities only found it giggle-able.
The maid brought in the coffee. Morning was always better with coffee and Aditi. But today there was this extra element –Kushal.
“What does he want?” I asked.
“He wants to talk to you,” Khushi replies with an evident blush.
I smiled and then wider when I realized the situation. Khushi had been living with us since the last 3 years. She had been saved from drowning after she had jumped off the Shastri bridge. She had come to Allahabad on the calling of some Varun who she had befriended at some cousin’s marriage. She ran away from home in fear of her parents marrying her to someone else and once she reached here, Varun had. With no money and strength to turn back, she had decided to end her life. Kushal, our milk boy brought her to us – our home being the nearest from where he rescued her.
We had asked her to return to her parent’s home. But she had refused. She was afraid of her father. “He will kill me,” she would say. So, we didn’t force her and let her stay with us as a maid on her and Kushal’s combined insistence. But then, she was like a daughter to us and today, Kushal had come to ask for her hand from us, and my smile reflected on Aditi’s face, even wider.
Mahesh had bought another smartphone to be able to see his daughter once in a while who lived in Delhi. He didn’t have a second daughter now – she had died for him the day her room was found empty upon breaking the door with a bullshit note on it. He didn’t want to remember its contents anymore.
The wine shop had shut down after a series of his frequent fights with the customers who were insensitive enough to ask repeatedly about his eloped daughter. Some cursed fool had decided to set up another wine shop by the support of the babus. And then people stopped coming to his shop altogether. Happiness was less in his life now that his income depended on the cloth shop and granary. But he was content with a little less of ‘Khushi’ if god willed it that way.
The phone rang. He hated unknown callers. The stupid town lads prank called him often enough. He picked up.
“Shri Mahesh Srivasatava?” the voice quivered.
“Ha..who’s this?” he grunted in anticipation of a wrong-number.
“Ji, its Kushal”, he responded. “Remember? My father was your regular customer…”
“Kushal Chauhan? Yeah, I do,” Mahesh wondered what he had to do with him. “Say, how are you?”
The world spun around him. His eyes flared up as she got down from the auto holding some man’s hand. The man came and touched Mahesh’s feet. Stood up, joined his hands and said, “Babuji, I am Kushal.” Mahesh could but utter some unintelligible blessing as Khushi’s mother ran up to her and embraced her to never let her go. His eyes flooded as she planted a real kiss on his cheek this time.