Yakshini by Neil D’Silva | Read for Free

These are the first three chapters of the novel Yakshini by Neil D’Silva. All copyrights reserved with author. 

 

 

 

PART ONE

 

 

~ The Sapling ~

 

Year 1995

 

 


YAKSHINI CHAPTER ONE

Little Bud in Full Bloom

 

IN THE MIDDLE of the courtyard, a solitary sal tree stood proud and magnificent, once again abloom with its bright red and yellow flowers. The glory of the season had caused the flowers to attain their full bloom, and their thick central petals, now fully grown, resembled the hoods of many tiny cobras raised to threaten anyone who might dare to witness their majesty without permission.

Nature thrived under the tree, which was now carpeted with its own discarded foliage. Large ripe yellowing leaves kept falling off the tree, adding to this carpet. They would soon turn brown and return to the dust whence they had sprung from. Black ants and beetles ran over these leaves harmlessly, busy with whatever held their tiny interests. Tiny heads of mushrooms plumped out from under them, vying for their own little space, and sorely losing in that quest. And amidst this nature-ordained chaos, a plump frog poked his head through the leaves. He took his stance, and as if aroused by the uncharacteristic early morning darkness that had begun to gather, croaked a wild mating call.

Just then, a little girl’s feet adorned with a pair of silver anklets came prancing into the garden, and the frog leaped away. Old leaves rustled and cracked under her feet, and the mushrooms were squished. Yet, nature bore no complaints, for this girl was one of them. A friend. In her presence, nature rejoiced.

Meenakshi, for that was the thirteen-year-old girl’s name, came up as close to the sal tree as she could and hugged its sturdy trunk. “Companion,” she said in a voice that sounded like Mother Earth’s own breath, “how are you this morning?”

The sal did not respond. Instead, its leaves shook with the breeze and the hoods of the flowers turned down to look at her. Meenakshi raised her dainty chin and peered at the far-reaching canopy of leaves that seemed to go as high as the mountains. She squinted and laughed.

Then, her brow creased. There was something under her bare right foot. She could feel its coldness, and yet, she did not take her foot away. Instead, she frowned and stooped. Slowly moving her foot, she shuffled through the foliage, and exclaimed, “Aha!”

It was a gold coin.

“Thank you, Companion.” She hugged the tree again. “You always make me smile.”

The hoods of the flowers nodded.

The next moment, this chaste romance was broken by a hoarse call that came from inside the house that adjoined this garden.

“Meenu, ae Meenu, where have you run away so early in the morning?”

“COMING, AAI!” Meenakshi screamed so loudly that her tonsils hurt, and then ran into the house, hiding the coin in the folds of her skirt.

 

***

 

For the world, Renuka was in her kitchen, throwing her spices into sizzling groundnut oil. But years in the kitchen had turned such things into a learned reflex; and that helped because, in truth, her attentions were focused on her daughter who had just walked into the house.

She didn’t say anything immediately as Meenakshi entered, but she noticed with distaste the mud-marks her little feet left on the floor as she scampered into the house, clutching her skirt as if it would fly away.

“Meenu, wait.”

Meenakshi stopped.

“Where had you gone so early in the morning?”

“Just out in the garden, Aai.”

Renuka kept her ladle aside with a pronounced clang and turned off the stove. Wiping her brow with the corner of her saree, she came up to her girl.

“Meenu…”

She started and stopped. Her eyes fell on the front of her daughter’s shirt, where the buttons were threatening to split.

“Meenu,” she started again, “how has this shirt become so tight for you already? We got it just last month.”

Meenakshi looked down at her bust. “I don’t know, Aai… What’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing. You have another shirt, a looser one?”

“This is my newest one, Aai.”

“Then wear one of Suparna’s. It will fit you.”

“Okay, Aai,” said Meenakshi and began to run away.

Renuka grabbed her by the hand. “Wait! Running, running, running. Like the wind. Look, Meenu… today you have to behave.”

“Behave? Why?”

“Don’t you know? I told you last night.”

“Ho, that boy from Bombay is coming to see Manda tai.”

“Yes,” Renuka said, this time with a lingering smile. “A proposal for your oldest sister. Can you see how fortunate that is?”

Meenakshi looked at her mother without comprehension.

“You won’t understand.” But still, Renuka did not want to miss the opportunity to tell it to someone, and so she did. “You are seven sisters. If your oldest sister gets a nice groom soon, the line for all of you is clear. He is such a nice boy too. Educated. Family business.”

Meenakshi blinked.

“And now don’t you go about your usual shenanigans in front of them. He’s a decent chap, from the city and all. Not a rustic buffoon like us.”

“I will behave, Aai.”

“And please, wear decent clothes. God knows how you are growing so fast!” She looked at her daughter’s bust with an uncomfortable feeling. “You are already larger than three of your older sisters. You are eating the same food as them, aren’t you?”

“You give us all the same food, Aai.”

“Go run away now! Chatterbox!”

Meenakshi turned and ran. Renuka’s eyes followed her scampering form with a smile.

 

***

 

Dressed in Suparna’s finery (Suparna was three years older than her), Meenakshi ran off again into the garden. There was an hour left for the lunchtime guests to arrive anyway, and her mother did not stop her. Maybe, like always, she was glad to have her out of her hair. She told her as much. “Go, Meenu, go out and play. If you are in the house, you’ll just be in the way of everything. Won’t even let your Manda tai dress up properly.”

So, hitching up her silken skirt, Meenakshi played chhippi-langdi all by herself. She hopped on one leg over the squares drawn with chalk on the ground, picking up and throwing the little tile piece into the squares with dexterity and precision. Ten minutes into the game, she stood in the Home position, looking at the block numbered 8, the farthest. She stood, took a deep breath, closed one eye, and spent a whole minute aiming the chhippi as accurately as she could. Then, before letting go, she mumbled a prayer up to the skies to whoever was listening. And then she let go.

“Arrechya!” she exclaimed when the chhippi just missed the 8 box and fell on the top line.

She made a pout, a sulking pout, and looked at that chippi mocking her at her defeat. No, this won’t do! She was winning; this was the last square!

A flicker of mischief arose in her eyes then, and she stood up. She cocked her head this way and that, for she had to first make sure that no one was seeing her. None of her sisters were out; they were all getting dressed inside. Even Manjula, their cow, was not to be seen. She was probably sitting on the cool comfort of the straw in her shed and ruminating on her quota of the day’s fodder.

Darting like the wind, Meenakshi came back to the pattern, and slowing down when she reached the incriminating position, she deftly stooped to pick the chhippi.

But she stilled. Her hand stopped mid-air, even as it hovered just inches above the chip.

A noisy rustling of leaves had stopped her, and she knew instinctively who it was.

She turned to look, and saw the stern tree, the hoods of its hundred blazing flowers looking down sternly upon her.

“Sorry, sorry,” Meenakshi said and backed out, touching her earlobes with her fingers. Then she ran up to the sal tree and hugged it. “Sorry, Companion. I slipped. Will never, never do it again. Will never cheat again. You aren’t angry with me, are you?”

 

***

 

She had stood there hugging the tree for a whole minute with her eyes shut when she heard another familiar call.

“Ae Meenu, why are you stuck to that tree?”

Meenakshi opened her eyes. There at the gate was Tappu, the neighbors’ boy. He was her exact age, and they went to the same class. Right now, though, he was in his Sunday finest, which was a pair of khaki shorts that came up to his knees and a loose shirt that was probably one of his father’s discarded ones. Three of him could have fit into it.

Meenakshi came up skipping to him. “Ae Tappya, you go away. We are busy today.”

“Busy doing what? Making love to the tree?” Tappu laughed a boyish taunting laugh.

“That’s none of your business,” Meenakshi said, swinging her hips and pointing a stern forefinger at him.

Tappu jumped over the little iron gate and came into the courtyard. “Finished with Kulkarni Sir’s homework?”

“Loooong back!” That was in a singsong voice, pronounced with narrowed eyes and a pulling back of the hand to indicate the passage of time.

“Hey, new clothes?” he asked, suddenly perking up.

On her face was a pout, but now that slowly transformed into a blush. “What’s it to you?”

“Nothing…” Tappu said. “You look… look… different.”

Meenakshi said nothing.

“Come, let’s go to the well,” he suggested.

“No re,” Meenakshi waved him away. “I told you, na? We are having guests today.”

“Who?”

“Aai said not to tell anyone.”

Tappu slapped his head. “Ah, of course, I know. The whole village knows. Someone’s coming to see your sister, no?”

Meenakshi fretted again. “What’s it to you? You go now. They will come and they don’t want to see your torn chaddi.”

Arre, wait, no!” Tappu protested. “What else is there to do outside? Let them come; I’ll dart away like a squirrel as soon as they turn into the gate.”

But that plan did not materialize. At that very moment, there was a jostling at the gate, and the children turned to look. It was Govind, the oldest boy in the neighborhood, and by extension, a bully.

“Aye Tappya, what are you doing here?” he yelled. “You broke our cricket team of eleven, you rascal!”

A frightful look immediately arose in Tappu’s eyes, and he scampered away.

Govind ran after him, chasing him down the street. “Come here, you scoundrel! There are still ten of us in the team. We’ll all whoop your ass when I catch you.”

Meenakshi laughed with her hand on her mouth as if not to laugh too much, even as Tappu ran a-flying to the gate with profuse apologies.

Govind stretched his hand as Tappu reached him, caught him by the ears, and gave him a thwack on the back of his head, while showering upon him the choicest of abuses. And then he heard Meenakshi laughing and stopped.

His hold on Tappu loosened and the boy ran away.

But Govind’s gaze was locked on Meenakshi now, and it made something happen to her. She felt something tingling through her body, and she felt every fiber of her sister’s clothes that she was wearing, which even though loose, contoured over the curves that she had developed of late (which her Aai always said were ‘too early’).

Govind moved closer to the gate and brought his lips together in a whistle.

“Looking beautiful, Meenu!” he said in a markedly different voice. And then he winked.

Meenakshi, stunned at the sudden praise, fled away into her house and stood blushing by the door, her breath stuck somewhere in her throat.

 


YAKSHINI CHAPTER TWO

The Unfortunate Suitor

 

“HARIKUMAR JAYWANTRAO DESHMUKH.”

The young man sitting decorously next to his mother pronounced his name.

From behind the wall created by her sisters, Meenakshi tried to peer into the room. Through the slits left by their bodies, she snatched glimpses of him. A man quite different for these parts, surely. Dressed in a crisp, checkered shirt and well-fitting, well-creased trousers, not like the ones stitched by that tailor Mangesh Kaka in his shop under the banyan tree near the Rukminidevi Temple. Smelling good too. She had heard men from the city wore things called perfumes. You had to just spray them on your bodies and you smelled like jaswanti or mogra or whatever you chose. His hair was sleek too, parted neatly at one side of his head, not one strand out of place, and oh-my-God, he had no mustache. What a rare thing in these regions, where men considered mustaches a matter of pride!

Then she heard her father’s voice.

“Good, very good,” said Shantaram Patil. “You are so clearly a city boy. A clear and authoritative voice, just like a man should have! I have been to Bombay once too, about twenty years ago. Isn’t it, Renu?”

Renuka tittered appropriately.

The boy’s mother chipped in. “Do visit Bombay again. And this time, stay at our place.”

That was followed by an awkward silence. It took a few moments for the boy’s mother to realize the impropriety of her invitation. One just didn’t invite folk from the daughter-in-law’s place to stay over.

But then to Mrs. Deshmukh’s credit, she quickly rectified herself. “Patil bhau, we are all forward-thinking people here. Most of these customs and traditions mean nothing to us.”

Shantaram laughed uneasily as though it meant nothing to him either. Later that night though, Meenakshi would hear her father and mother discuss that inappropriate comment till long into the night.

“But tell me, will you be okay with a girl from Vatgaon?” Shantaram asked. “Everything in your city will be new to her.”

“We are okay if you are okay,” said Harikumar’s mother. “As you know, Hari has no father; God rest his soul. I just want him to get settled now with a decent girl who will look after the house while he focuses on his business and they both lead happy lives. I have asthma, and it gets really terrible sometimes. Everything will be in the hands of this young couple, to be honest. When Holkarbai referred Manda to us, Hari liked her instantly, and we trust Holkarbai like a family member.”

Meenakshi searched for Holkarbai, the marriage agent who had brought this proposition. There she was, sitting on the plumpest sofa, smiling like a well-fed kitten.

Mrs. Deshmukh leaned forward. “We don’t expect anything from you. Hari does very well for himself, and—by God’s infinite grace—his father has left us well off. And I must tell you, Hari liked your girl the best of the lot.”

“All that is fine,” Shantaram said with a polite wave of his hand. “Educated and fine business and all that, but does he know our traditions?”

There was a smile on Shantaram’s face, something of a mischievous smile. Standing in that faraway corner of the room, Meenakshi recognized it as the kind of indulgent smile he often had when he would test his daughters.

“Yes, sir,” said Harikumar. “I do puja and keep upwaas and everything.” His voice was sophisticated, no slurring or slanging of words, the kind one would expect on a city-bred well-educated man.

“Last solar eclipse, he even fasted the whole day,” his mother waxed eloquent. “He keeps shravan fasts too. Tell me another boy who does that in today’s times.”

Renuka raised her brows at Shantaram. It was that look of caution that said, “Don’t finger him too much. He’s a good boy.” She cast another sideways glance at Manda. She sat there, occupying as little space as possible, a smile hidden within her lips. It was surely a preordained match. Renuka threw a silent prayer up to the skies.

“Okay!” Shantaram said loudly. “We really like your family too. It is true what they say, matches are made in heaven. It will be our first experience, you see, first daughter and all.”

“Of course, of course,” Harikumar’s mother laughed.

Then Shantaram shuffled in his chair and assumed the pose of someone with authority. He asked, “Son, do you know how to make a patravali?”

Harikumar balked. He looked at his mother, who looked equally lost.

Meenakshi smiled though. Here was the test!

Renuka came to the rescue of the flustered boy. “Patravali, you don’t know? The plate we make out of leaves, for eating meals on special occasions?”

“Oh, that!” the boy’s mother said. “It scared me when bhau said that so suddenly. Of course, Harikumar can make it. He’s good at craft.”

“I’m just wondering if he could make one now,” Shantaram said. “You see, in our village, there is this small custom. The prospective groom makes a patravali when he proposes. I made one too, in my time.”

“It’s an old stupid custom, and it’s okay if you don’t want to—” Renuka began, but she was cut off when Shantaram glared at her.

“He says he can make one,” Shantaram laughed without mirth. “So, let him. It will be pure fun only, all right?”

Harikumar wiped away a sudden train of sweat that emerged from his temple. “Of course!”

A plate of large green sal leaves was brought to him. Ten pairs of eyes, nine of them female, looked at him as he folded his sleeves and prepared for the task. Meenakshi took a step forward too. This was the fun part.

Next came a tray with a reel of thread and needle. No instructions were needed now; the materials on the tray were self-explanatory. The needle wasn’t threaded; threading the needle was part of the test.

Harikumar smiled at everyone, and as his mother tapped him lightly on his back, he picked up the needle. Squinting, he tried to pass the thread into the needle and missed. The girls tittered. He tried again. More titters. But after he missed about twelve times, the titters died away and gave vent to frustration.

“There is some wind coming in from somewhere,” his mother reasoned.

One of the sisters ran up to the windows and closed them.

Saavkaash, Hari,” his mother said. “You will do it now.”

He wet the thread with his lips, squinted, and tried again.

And then it happened. The needle pricked his finger, but he did it.

Shantaram heaved a sigh of relief as if he had been holding his breath. Then he said, “Now, the leaves. You have to fold them and stitch them. Do you know how?”

As the room fell silent once again, Harikumar tried various combinations and arrangements, folding the leaves and holding them in place. Renuka shuffled in her seat (she looked more uncomfortable than Harikumar was), and Shantaram signaled her to stop fidgeting. Meenakshi saw that gesture; it was a gesture of confidence. Her father knew the boy would do it.

Harikumar started. He put the base—the largest sal leaf—and deftly folded six other leaves and made a circle around it. Then he went on to stitch them in their positions. Slowly, sighs of relief passed through the room.

When he was done on one side, now much more confident, he turned the whole thing over, and started to make the other layer of leaves.

“I will need more leaves,” he said.

“Sure, sure,” Shantaram said, and then ordered, “Meenu, go run and get more leaves from the tree outside.”

Meenakshi, startled at the sudden mention of her name, gathered her bearings and scampered away.

 

***

 

The afternoon sun had come up. Meenakshi looked with disdain at the fallen leaves of the sal tree, which had already turned brown. She could not take those for the patravali; they would crumble to bits the moment a needle was driven through them.

She looked up at the tree. Fresh green leaves, now lustrous in the reflected sunlight, mocked at her. She tried to reach them, but couldn’t. Hitching up her skirt, she tried to jump, but apart from the tinkling of her anklets, nothing happened.

“O Companion, don’t be so miserly,” she said grudgingly. “What’s with a few leaves?”

But the tree had chosen this occasion to play mischief with her.

With childish petulance, Meenakshi picked up a stone. “If you don’t give me the leaves,” she said obstinately, “I’ll hit your boughs till they break and fall down.”

The tree, spread like a mammoth over her, looked down at her benevolently, but nothing happened.

Meenakshi shut one eye, took aim, and hit a bough.

The tree still did not move.

“You are petty and selfish, Companion,” she said and sat down right beneath the tree. “I will sit right here till you give me your leaves. What do you think? I cannot just go inside and say I did not get the leaves. There are new people inside. Maybe he will be my brother-in-law too. I won’t be insulted. I will sit right here.”

At that, one leaf broke off and fell into her lap.

“What will one leaf do, you miser of a tree?”

Then another leaf fell, and before it could touch the ground, a third came down, and then a fourth and a fifth, and soon there was a shower of them falling all over the little girl. She wiped her tears, laughed, and picked them up till she could hold no more.

“Did you make the whole tree bare?” Shantaram asked as she walked in with the leaves.

Without answering him, Meenakshi walked in, the leaves held up in the hammock of her skirt. She came in just like that, and dropped the leaves on the table.

That was when Harikumar really noticed her.

His gaze first fell on her bare legs, and then he saw her face. It was a brief glance, but the gaze lingered for a split-second over that region on her body that her mother had told her to keep well-hidden.

Meenakshi withdrew, now aghast as if she had committed a crime.

The young suitor silently worked with the leaves that Meenakshi had brought in, but this time, he began sniffing at the leaves too, as if taking in the scent of the person who had held them not so long ago.

When he put the last stitch into the patravali, and held it up for display, there were sighs and gasps. This was not a masterpiece by any standards, and yet it looked fit to serve a nobleman on. It was a rare moment when Shantaram praised someone openly; this time he did.

“Son, you are precisely what I am looking for. My Manda will be truly happy with you. You have your head in the sky, but you are the true son of the soil.”

Harikumar’s mother giggled like a schoolgirl. “I told you so!”

“So, because I am the father of the daughter,” Shantaram said, “I ask you, Mrs. Deshmukh. How do you want to do the wedding?”

Renuka sent another prayer to her unseen, unknown god.

“Any which way you suggest, Patil bhau,” the boy’s mother said. “We are open to all options. What do you say, Hari?”

Harikumar cleared his throat. “Aai… I wish to say something.”

“Well, sure! It’s turning out to be your day, after all.”

The young man’s gaze scanned past everyone in the room. They looked at him too, with their bright eager eyes, as if waiting for him to just say the word and then they would jubilate.

Harikumar’s gaze rested on Manda. “You are a really nice girl, Manda,” he began, his words steeped in diplomacy, “and someday you will make your husband very happy.”

Shantaram shuffled in his seat. The smile on his face was wiped off with those words and replaced with a frown that made his daughters take two steps back, the ones who were standing closer to him.

“What do you mean, young man?” he asked.

“Sir… I don’t know how to say this except with total honesty.”

“I don’t like preambles, young man.”

“Not preamble, sir… but…”

Kaay aahe tujhya manaat, Hari?” his mother chipped in. “Speak out your mind.”

“Aai… I like Manda, but… but I like her more.”

And just like that, Harikumar raised the forefinger of his right hand to point directly at Meenakshi, who was now standing at the heart of the crowd.

The little girl, when she realized what had just happened, shrunk into nothingness.

“WHAT!?” Shantaram shot up. “Are you out of your mind? She is just thirteen.”

“Sir,” Harikumar stood up too, but with politeness. “Please listen to me. I am not making an obscene request. I am only twenty-two myself. I am prepared to wait for your youngest daughter till she comes of age.”

“What is this madness?” Renuka stepped forward, and looked directly at Harikumar’s mother. “What is your son saying?”

“Madam, I have fallen in love with your daughter,” Harikumar said hesitantly and yet with a strange boldness underlining his words. “I have never seen her before today. But she just walked in now and something stirred in me, like it has never done before. And that something now tells me if she doesn’t become my wife, my life itself is a waste.”

“HOLKARBAI!” Shantaram called out to the marriage agent who was hitherto sitting silently, though the recent turn of events had made her aghast as well. “Kindly tell this fool to get out of my house immediately.”

Radhabai Holkar stood up at that command, and grabbed the man by his hand. “Have you gone insane? What are you blabbering? She is but a child…”

“You don’t understand—” Harikumar protested.

Shantaram flung the towel that was on his shoulder to the floor and stormed into his room. “Renuka, get everyone out of my house, right now,” he yelled and disappeared.

 

***

 

Meenakshi shut herself in the girls’ room after the suitor and his mother were unceremoniously ushered out of the house that afternoon and did not open it until evening. Ardent cries of her sisters to open the door went unheard. Shantaram locked himself in his room in a wild temper too, and when he came out hours later, no one spoke above a whisper. Renuka sat sobbing in a corner too, cursing whoever it was that she cursed on such occasions.

But if anyone would have seen Meenakshi at that point, they would have felt that creeping feeling of fear everyone experiences at some point or the other. There’s a reason why fear is described as creepy; it’s because when you are really, absolutely terrified, there’s this slow but undeniable sense that something’s creeping under your skin. Looking at Meenakshi at that point would have done just that.

For, the girl did not move an inch from afternoon to evening. She kept on standing fixedly at one spot in that locked room, right in front of the mirror where the girls used to dress up, and kept on staring at herself. She didn’t know what was going on with her; such a benumbing feeling of senselessness had never overcome her before. Perhaps it was because of the way the man had looked at her. Or because she saw the silent complaints in her sister’s eyes. Or because she saw the admonishment from her parents coming upon her.

In a fit of rage and utter helplessness, she messed up her hair and whatever little makeup was on her face. Her eyes bled kajal; her lips bled lipstick. And thus she stood like a rock, refusing to even let tears flow out of her unblinking eyes.

She had hated it. The man’s trembling finger, pointing at her, singling her out, and his face. She did not know what that face was, but it looked no different from Tappu’s face when he saw sweetmeats at Kopre Dada’s sweet shop. That sick drooling face with those miserably misty desirous eyes. He looked no more than a dog who has a morsel of prized meat in front of him. Yes, that was the look. That was the look with which that man had looked at her.

Or… or the look of that ruffian Govind whenever he cut across her path. And that was often.

Why? What was it in her that men looked at her in that manner? No one looked at her sisters like that!

She stared and stared and stared at her reflection in the mirror, trying to locate that one thing that was different in her. Aai said she was too full for her age; maybe that was it. Perhaps. Who knows what the male mind thinks? It might be true though; no girl in her class was as well-endowed as she was. Meenakshi had just stepped into teenage, but she understood things like breasts, and she knew that they had something in them that attracted men. But was that just it? How could men be so shallow?

She hated herself. Why was she growing into this woman that scared her? Why couldn’t be like her sisters, all docile and demure girls who are expected to create good families and take care of them, and nothing more? Wasn’t that what was hammered into her since her childhood? Then what was happening to her?

‘It’s because you are special.’

Meenakshi almost fell. It was a voice. Words. Almost human. Not some vague mental monolog; these words were the real thing. Spoken right into her ear, slow and yet firm, like someone had poured those words into her with great adamancy.

“Who is it?” she turned to look. But apart from the howling wind, there was nothing.

 

***

 

Around dinnertime, her mother knocked on the door.

“Come out, eat something,” she said curtly.

Quite in a stupor, Meenakshi opened the door.

“What have you done to yourself?” Renuka exclaimed, thrusting her wrist into her mouth in horror.

And then she broke down. She threw herself into her mother’s arms like the little girl she was. She hugged her as tightly as she could; she let go.

Buss, buss,” Renuka said. “It’s not your fault.”

“But why, Aai? What is happening to me?”

“You are growing, that’s all.”

“But why like this? None of my sisters—”

“Every girl is different, Meenu.” Renuka sat her down on the bed. “You will not understand it now, but you are maturing fast. Very fast. A man who does not know you will not be able to understand you are just a child. Don’t ask me how this is happening, but it is.”

“I don’t want this…”

“Why, child?” Renuka said in a soft voice, much different than what it was a few hours ago. “Think of this as a gift. Everything that we cannot control is a gift from above, isn’t it? But sometimes, we don’t know how to use it the right way. This is a gift too. Slowly, you will see it is, and you will learn to use it properly. We mustn’t cry for the gifts we have.”

“It is not a gift. It is a curse. I don’t want it.”

“No, Meenu!” Renuka admonished. “Don’t say like this. You are my most beautiful girl. You will see that soon and be happy.”

“But what if something bad happens to me?”

“Nothing will. I am there with you. I will take care of you.”

“And… Manda tai’s wedding?”

“We’ll wait for another opportunity. That man was stupid, anyway.”

There was a faint trace of a smile on both their lips.

 

***

 

Renuka’s words put Meenakshi’s mind at ease. For the rest of the day, she was almost her usual self, moving about the house on her quick toes, even giggling a few times. Things changed again after dinner though, when Shantaram went back to his room and Renuka took his plate inside.

Meenakshi sat on the kitchen floor with her sisters, having her dinner. The sisters chatted away in hushed tones, and occasionally tried to cheer Manda up. Meenakshi wanted to say something too, but this was one of those occasions where anything you could say would turn out to be the wrong thing. Then there was the fact that she had always been considered a kind of pariah by her sisters. Or maybe they were simply in some kind of awe of her. If these had been just nebulous notions so far, today they hung in the atmosphere so thickly that they could be cut with a cast-iron knife.

“Manda tai, Aai said that man was stupid,” she said eventually, and that brought her sisters’ chatter to a grinding halt.

All the girls turned to look at her, all except Manda, who continued to hide her face and now broke into a fresh set of tears.

“You don’t talk too much,” said Suparna, the fourth sister, “this is all because of you.”

“Because of me? How?” Meenakshi quipped.

“There you go about strutting like an apsara! Which man will not slip? Hasn’t Aai told you how to behave like a woman? Look at Kumud. She’s also a child, but see how decent,” Suparna spat out.

“I am not decent?”

“Go away, Meenu. It is all because of you that Manda tai lost such a good match.”

The other sisters said nothing, but they did not have to. Suparna was always the more acerbic-tongued of all. Whenever any of the sisters had to pick a fight with anyone, they always sent Suparna ahead, and she sallied forth with the end of her dupatta tucked into her waist, as if for a battle. Meenakshi had always admired how her Suparna tai never flinched from confrontation, but today she was the subject of the confrontation.

Pushing her plate aside, Meenakshi stood up and stormed out of the kitchen.

Screw her sisters! All they could do was bitch, bitch, bitch. And now that she wasn’t there sitting with them, they’d bitch all the more.

In blind anger, she proceeded to her room to lock herself up again, but she stopped when she heard the soft voices of her parents coming from their bedroom.

Curiosity overcoming everything else, she came up and stood by the slightly open door and pressed her ear as closely to the slit as she could.

“She is still young; she doesn’t know,” her father said. “You have to teach her.”

Aaho, I try,” Renuka said. “I try the whole day. What do you think? Just this morning, she was wearing this shirt and I had to tell her to change it. She just doesn’t understand. I am telling you, there’s something wrong with her.”

“Wrong? What’s wrong?”

“I am a woman. I know. She is… growing up very fast. Do you know she has already had her woman’s thing? She started at just ten, imagine. Why else do you think I don’t take her to the temple on some Saturdays? But it is so precise that it astounds me. It always starts on a Saturday morning and dries up that same night. She flows just for a few hours every fourth Saturday. That’s not natural!”

“Well, you know your womanly things better. Should we take her to a doctor?”

“Doctors don’t know anything. I talked about her with my old Aatya. She said girls grow differently. But…”

“But what?”

“She is growing very fast. Just look at her with a man’s eye for once, not like a father’s. You will see how fully grown she already is. She needs larger bras than even Manda.”

“She might just be large?”

“No. She is in full bloom. She is a fully-grown woman in a child’s body.”

“What does that even mean?”

“Make Manda and Meenu stand side by side,” Renuka said, “and then call a stranger to tell who is older. You are their father. You won’t see all this.”

Shantaram pondered. “But she’s only a child. Our child. We have to do what is best for her.”

“Of course. That’s what I am worried about. And it’s not just about her growing so rapidly. See, I have noticed, something happens to the men when she is around. I don’t know why. Those neighbor boys… I have stopped her from playing with him. That day I caught them standing behind the wall of our compound, looking at her. They… had their hands inside… oh God, I cannot say this.”

Shantaram glared.

“They are just ten or eleven too! How do they know anything? I wanted to shout at them, but what could I say?” Renuka asked.

“You have to—”

“You don’t understand. Nothing has happened with our other daughters, has it? We give them the same food that we give Meenu. Same bhaat-bhaaji. Nothing different. I am telling you… we need to be extra cautious. If anything happens tomorrow, we won’t be able to face society.”

Meenakshi reeled. Her parents—no, not her parents, her mother—were thinking she was a freak. Was she? Was she the way she was being described? A full-grown woman in a child’s body?

What did that even mean?

She ran into her room. There was no sleep that night.

 


YAKSHINI CHAPTER THREE

The Waterless Well

 

MOROSE AS SHE never had been, Meenakshi missed wishing her Companion the next morning.

When she remembered, it was almost midmorning. Her sisters had already bathed and were dressing up for their schools and colleges. Her mother came in once to wake her up for school, but she firmly turned to the other side and pretended to sleep.

Missing school was nothing new for Meenakshi.

She heard the last of her sisters wishing her mother goodbye and slamming the door behind her, and then she finally opened her eyes and sat up with the realization that one cannot keep themselves tethered to the bed forever. She came out of the house with a lota of water and went to the corner of the compound designated for the family’s morning ablutions. There she brushed her teeth and washed her face, and only when she was clean did she visit her huge leafy friend.

“Companion, everyone is bad, very bad,” she fretted, not caring if her voice carried into the house. “You are my only true friend. You will never hurt me, will you?”

Meenakshi blinked back her tears and peered at the tree as if it would give her some sign. There was no sign though, except perhaps that the flower hoods seemed to be exceptionally bowed down that day.

“See, I told you,” Meenakshi said. ‘You are sad too because I am sad, isn’t it?”

She walked along, her naked feet crunching the leaves. When she circumambulated the tree once, she felt it.

“Oh, goody!” she said, and picked up the gold coin of the day. “You never fail to cheer me up.”

 

***

 

That afternoon after lunch, Renuka sent Meenakshi to a store that was only about five hundred meters from the house with a shopping list that had three items on it—some liquid soap, a half-kilogram packet of tea, and sugar. The barest necessities.

Meenakshi reached the shop, ignored the smiles of Debu, the boy who sat at the counter, and stuffed the necessary things in her bag. When she brought her purchases to the counter for the billing, she felt his hand grazing hers. Twice.

Not sure whether it was intentional or not, she quickly retracted her hand, paid him, and walked out of the shop without giving him another look.

But no sooner did she come out of the shop and take a few steps homeward than she heard some muffled laughter behind her.

Then there were voices. Of men and boys. She could hear them behind her, and no, these weren’t voices she could ignore easily.

A wave of anger mixed with fear overcame her, the kind that made her armpits feel all clammy with sudden cold sweat. She recognized this feeling. Almost every male gaze evoked those feelings in her nowadays.

And there were male gazes; she knew.

She did not want to turn behind and look at those men. She knew exactly what kind of men were looking at her, and what they were doing. It might be that idiot Debu and his friends, standing at the door of his shop, ogling at her rear. And with those disgusting grins on their faces. At times, she felt like going right up to such boys and slapping them across their faces, or probably something more—digging her fingernails into their mouths and tearing their lips clean off. Then they’d be grinning forever, won’t they?

“Go now, go, go. Don’t be a sissy!”—she heard one of the boys speaking in a hushed voice behind her.

“Going, going… don’t push!”—came another voice, and this voice astonished Meenakshi.

The next moment, it was Tappu who came up walking quickly, trying to match her step for step.

She turned now. Debu was in the shop, far removed from this scene in more ways than one.

“How are you, Meenu?” Tappu asked.

It took Meenakshi a moment to register that Tappu had spoken, but then she began breathing easier. It was only Tappu after all.

“What happened to you, re Tappya? Why are you dressed in these funny clothes?” she said.

The funny clothes were a full-sleeved checked shirt that was all buttoned up, a pair of tight crotch-hugging jeans hitched up with a black leather belt with a screaming oval buckle. He wore black sunshades too, as if he meant business.

“Nothing. Where are you going?”

“Tappya, what’s wrong with you? Why are you acting all strange? What’s with these clothes?”

Tappu laughed. “Don’t I look all grown up today? You like it?”

Now Meenakshi laughed. “Is a girl coming to see you?”

“No, no, no girl. What girl? I just wanted to dress up.”

“You look nice.” Meenakshi winked. “Bilkul hero.”

A broad grin grew on his face at that and he turned back as if to look at someone. Meenakshi looked too; but she could not see anyone, only bushes.

“Is anyone there?” she asked.

“No, no, no one…”

“But I heard you talking to someone.”

“It’s no one, aai shapath! Only me.”

He moved closer. “Meenu… I wanted to tell you something…”

“Wanted to? Means you don’t want to tell anymore?”

“No, no, I have to tell. I mean… I will tell now.”

Meenakshi let out a huge belly laugh, which made her upper body shake. “You are really an ass today. Okay, tell.”

Then, almost dancing on the balls of his feet as if the soles of the sports shoes made him uncomfortable, Tappu let it out. “Meenu, will you come with me to the viheer?”

The viheer. The well. The common village well where the entire village sourced its water from. On the huge embankment that surrounded it, there was a dense growth of trees and plants of all kinds, growing on the soft cool soil. That is where people hung out, with their families in the evenings, with their friends in the mornings and afternoons, and with their lovers… almost never. At least no one saw lovers sitting there because they made sure to be well-hidden in the profuse shrubbery, but everyone knew they were there. That was the dating spot of Vatgaon, after all.

Viheer? Why?”

“Just like that. We’ll do some time-pass.”

“What time-pass?”

Arre, come, no…”

“Okay, like a picnic? Pindya, Abdul, Nisha… they are also coming?”

“No. Just you and me. Like we used to play alone so much when we were kids? Same like that. We will play and sit and talk. Just fun, nothing else.”

“I don’t know, Tappya,” Meenakshi grew thoughtful. “I am not in the mood these days.”

“What happened?”

“Let that be. Okay, let’s go…”

“Really?”

“Yes. I am telling you, no? Let’s go. It will be fun.”

He whooped in joy, and then stopped abruptly when he realized it was weird.

“But see, I also have this shopping bag with me. I’ll keep it home, tell Aai I am going with you, and then—”

“No, no, no need. If you go home, your aai will not let you come out again.”

“Then why don’t you go with someone else today? There are so many friends… I’ll come tomorrow.”

“No. I want to go only with you. Or not go anywhere at all. Ever!”

Arre, Tappya, oh okay, don’t start crying now!” There was actually a tear in his eyes. “Okay, I will come. But you be careful, okay…”

“Careful of what?”

There was no answer. The next moment, they turned and walked toward the well, Meenakshi taking the lead. She did not see Tappu turning back and waving a gentleman’s salute to Govind who was hidden in the bushes, giving him a thumbs-up sign and a wink.

 

***

 

They could not see the water in the well from the mound they were sitting on. All they could see was the foliage of the many lantana bushes that were around them, with their clustered crimson-yellow flowers shining back at them in the post-noon heat. And that gladdened Meenakshi’s heart.

Unable to resist herself, she ran up to the nearest bush and picked a cluster and smelled it. “Aren’t these flowers lovely, Tappya?” she said, holding up the cluster. “So small and yet so delightful. It looks like they are smiling, all at once.”

“You look nice,” Tappu said, completely ignoring the flowers.

He was comfortably settled on the mound already, his knees drawn up, his arms resting on them.

“How many times will you tell that?” Meenakshi laughed and came up to him. “Chal now, are we going to just sit here?”

“Let’s sit for a while,” he said. “A bit tired after all the walking. Then we will play.”

“Okay, what will we play? I know… hide-n-seek. It will be fun in these bushes,” Meenakshi looked all around as she said that, and then something grabbed her attention. “But, oh… see that!”

She threw the cluster that was in her hand, and romped back to the bushes. When she returned, she had a fallen drumstick in her hands.

“You always need to have something in your hands, don’t you?” Tappu said with a grin.

“I cannot sit idle. I am not like you, mhatara!”

But Tappu did not take offense at being called an old man. In fact, something very contrary was happening to him now. His eyes were now on the drumstick, which suddenly had a different meaning as the girl held it in her hands. He knew he mustn’t look, but he could not avoid seeing her soft, grown-girly fingers moving up and down on it. Her forefinger came to the tip of the drumstick and tapped it gently, and something happened to him in those tight jeans, something that had started happening lately and then he would have to run to the bathroom, leaving whatever it was he was doing. And usually when that happened, he would be thinking of Meenakshi.

Pulling his legs closer, he moved up to her.

“You watch movies?” he breathed hard.

“Sometimes.”

“Which? Tell me the names.”

She rattled off a few.

“Ae Meenu, don’t we look like the hero-heroine of some Hindi movie, sitting alone like this?” His hand came over her shoulder.

She didn’t seem to mind it. He drew closer.

“You like that… that drumstick?”

He placed his hand over hers, guiding it to squeeze it gently.

“Leave me, Tappya. What is this?”

“Just showing you a game.”

He forced her hand now and put it right on his jeans and sighed, “Feel it, please.”

“TAPPYA!” Meenakshi screamed and pulled her hand away. She stood up, horror written all over her face.

But the very next moment, the boy’s excitement all died away. An unfamiliar pain began in him, of a kind that he had never experienced before. Oh hell, what was this! Even as he sat there, looking at the horrified face of the girl he had just outraged, he felt the blood running out of his groin and rushing frantically into the organ that needed it all the more. His brain. And he just knew, something bad, something very bad, was going to happen.

Regret of a misdeed may have rarely hit anyone as quickly as it smacked Tappu right across the face that afternoon.

There was something growing in her eyes now! For once he looked beyond her chest and her hips and looked at her face. It was worse than the face of his mother when she had caught him masturbating, and worse than the face of his father when he had caught him puffing on his discarded cigarette.

“Sorry, sorry, Meenu… I didn’t mean…”

But she only stared at him now, with an expression that belied all definition. She did not even look like Meenu anymore. Suddenly, a vision flashed in his mind, the vision of his Kusma Aunty who had fallen to her knees midway during their procession to Pandharpur and begun to rhythmically sway backward and forward like a crazed woman. He had been scared to death, but the men started pounding their dhols and chinking their taashas around her, encouraging her to continue her eerie dance, while someone had said aloud, “We are blessed! The Mother Goddess has entered Kusma’s body.”

He could not place why this look was similar. He hoped it was not.

What would he do if some kind of Devi entered this girl’s body now to punish him? He had heard tales of that kind of thing happening.

“You should not have done that, Tapan,” Meenakshi said. It was a grown, womanly voice now.

“I am sorry.” Tappu fell to his feet, and lay prostrate on the ground, rubbing his nose in the soil. “I will never do it again.”

Meenakshi had gone beyond all hearing. The thing that was growing in her eyes was complete now, two red disks that had replaced her black-brown irises. And she continued to stare at her offender with those bloodcurdling eyes, accusing, her big bust heaving up and down like it were lugging a heavy load up the five hundred steps of the Ambabai Peak.

 

***

 

When Meenakshi neared the house, the evening sun had already begun its descent. The shopping bag handles curled around her tiny fingers, she walked in a daze, unmindful of the two street dogs that had been following her all the while, trying to sniff at her bags.

It was only when she reached the gates that her reverie broke.

Suddenly realizing the hour and seeing the bag in her hand, she felt that sense of panic that she should have felt an hour ago. Shooing one of the dogs with all she had (and sending the other packing behind it), she broke into a run herself.

She slowed down at the gate, and jumped over it rather than opening it with the infernal creaking noise that it made. There she stood still for a moment to assess the atmosphere inside the house. Was her father sitting in the verandah, fretting and fuming? Was her mother peering at the path outside the house, panic-stricken? Were her sisters running all over asking for her? No, nothing.

Nothing seemed to be amiss, at least. None of those worrisome thoughts were playing out here. So far, so good. Her folk probably didn’t even realize she was not back home yet, and for once, she was happy no one cared for her too much. She was the seventh daughter, after all. Probably by the time her parents reached the point of giving her birth, all their love had dried out. How much love can humans have in their puny hearts anyway?

Looking at the sal tree for reassurance, she tiptoed into the house.

Her mother was preparing dinner in the kitchen. She could hear the pots and pans. The sisters were probably out at their classes, learning. And her father, as usual, was invisible.

She kept the bag down on the dining table and ran directly into her room.

It was at night that Meenakshi found out her absence hadn’t gone entirely unnoticed. The girls had just finished dinner and after washing their plates had moved into their common sleeping rooms. Meenakshi followed them at a distance when she heard a voice calling out to her with an unfamiliar undertone.

“Meenuye…”

It was her father.

Upon that, the other girls hastened to their rooms and Meenakshi felt that tingle run down her spine. She had been summoned, and that was never good. Being summoned has never serviced anyone quite well, has it?

She looked in the direction of her father’s room and there he was, wiping his hands with a towel. Her mother came out of the room with his dinner plate in her hands and rushed into the kitchen without even looking at her.

Meenakshi had no recollection of when she had entered her father’s room the last time. With calculated steps, as if she were entering an uncharted cave, she moved in.

“Yes, Baba?” she asked.

“Sit down.”

As usual, her father was dressed in all white—a white loose kurta and a white loose pyjama. It contrasted with the dark skin on his face and arms and made him look larger than he was. Almost like a specter in that mid-darkness of the room. Was he really like this now? At least, she had never seen those thin strands of gray hair in his sideburns. Then, even as she was scrutinizing him, he belched and then began.

“Meenu, you know you are my favorite daughter, don’t you?”

Meenakshi did not know that. She could not remember when her father had expressed anything to her directly.

“As a father, I am not supposed to be close to my daughters,” Shantaram continued. “That’s how our tradition goes, and that’s your mother’s duty anyway. But I try to express my love as much as I can.”

Meenakshi nodded.

“But, Meenu, you must know that a father’s love is different. A mother’s love is built on concern; a father’s love is built on hope.”

Meenakshi occupied herself in pulling at a string on her dress.

“Your mother tells me that you are growing, and I see that too. Growing up is a good thing, but your mother is concerned about it. She says you are still a child and you are growing too fast. Are you, Meenu?”

“I don’t know, Baba.”

“Look at that mango tree in our courtyard. You know how the cycle goes. The fruits first come out, little and green and extremely bitter. And in a few weeks, they become ripe and yellow and sweet. Now imagine if there was one of these fruits that did not follow the cycle. Imagine that parts of that fruit grew rapidly while the other parts still remained immature. Think of a yellow ripened fruit with its tart juices still inside. That would not be acceptable, no?”

“I… don’t understand.”

“Maybe I am not a good teacher. But your Aai tells me I should talk to you, and here I am talking to you. Meenu, I see you as someone capable of doing great things. Other fathers in this village restrict their daughters. I don’t. But to reach that sweet age of the yellow ripened fruit, you have to be patient. And careful.”

“All right.”

“This is a crucial time of your life. You have to be aware of the people around you. Especially men. Do everything that you like to do, but be aware of your surroundings.”

“I always am, Baba.”

“You don’t understand, child. Monsters will never show themselves as monsters. They will come hidden in various garbs. Sometimes they will look beautiful and tempting.” Then his tone suddenly changed. “Your friend, that boy, Tappu… is he back home yet?”

She felt a jolt of electricity running down her spine.

“What happened to him?” she asked, hoping her voice wouldn’t break.

“His mother had come looking for him while you girls were eating.”

“I haven’t seen him today,” Meenakshi said with a straight face.

“He is your age too,” Shantaram said. “See what I mean? He’s probably gone off somewhere, not caring for his folks at home. Look how distressed his mother is now.”

“I don’t know anything about him.”

“I am not saying you do.”

At that moment, Renuka walked in again. She had probably stood at the door, hearing every bit of the conversation.

“Where were you this afternoon then, Meenu?” she asked. “You took two hours to return from the grocery store. You walked in silently like a mouse, but I saw you.”

The pang in Meenakshi’s little heart grew more intense, and she hoped it didn’t thump so wildly so as to be noticed. Be still my beating heart, she muttered under her breath, but then her entreaties where lain to waste, for treacherous tears prickled her eyes.

“Why are you crying now? What did I say?”

Meenakshi tried to look up at her mother, but she could not. Yet, she knew her mother’s figure was looming overhead, for she could see the corner of her saree tucked into one side of her waist and her arm held firmly at the other side.

“I… I really don’t remember, Aai.”

“Didn’t you see Tappu at all?”

“No…” Then Meenakshi looked at her father. His head was bowed down as if in shame. Something broke Meenakshi’s heart at that gesture from the man she had always looked up to, and she said meekly, “Ye…es.”

“Why do you lie then? Where is he?” Renuka roared.

Now the tears came out like a bleeding wound that had broken its clot. And along with it came out spit and mucus and a lot of wheezing. “I tell you the truth, Aai… but you won’t believe me. I was returning… from the store. Tappu met me outside. You can ask Debu. Then Tappu asked me to go to the viheer with him.”

“Viheer?” Renuka’s eyebrows disappeared in her hairline. “Why?”

“He said we could play. And I went, but I didn’t really want to go, Aai, Baba. Believe me. He insisted.”

Shantaram said quietly, “What happened after that?”

“I remember sitting down with him. We were talking for a while and then… he just came close to me.” The bawls grew louder, almost to a deafening extent. The sisters came down at that, but Renuka shooed them away and shut the door.

“What happened then, Meenu? Did he touch you?”

Shantaram shot a look at his wife, but she waved him away, and waited for her daughter’s reaction.

Then, slowly but with purpose, Meenakshi nodded.

“And?”

“Then I don’t know anything. Believe me. I went blank. Totally blank. It was like I was sleeping, Aai. When I woke up, I was near our house gate and it was nearly evening.”

Renuka and Shantaram shared another look between them. It was an inscrutable expression this time, but there was disbelief written all over it.

“You don’t remember anything?” Shantaram asked.

“No.”

Shantaram stood up. He walked up to the door and began to put on his chappals.

“Where are you going now?” Renuka asked.

“To their house, where else? I have to see if—”

Renuka came closer to him and held him by the arm. “Listen to me, don’t go.”

“Why? His mother is looking all around the village. We have to tell her this.”

“Look at her.” Renuka pointed to Meenakshi. “We don’t know what really happened. People will come and question our girl.” Her voice went really low now. “And she says she blacked out. You see that? You don’t? I do. She is hiding something.”

Shantaram sat down. “But the boy—”

Renuka waved a hand of reassurance at him, as if telling him mothers know best about such things and fathers should not interfere.

She went to her weeping child and patted her on the back. “Sit here,” she said. “I’ll make some sherbet for all of us.”

Renuka was still putting the deep red kokum concentrate into water when a loud sound from the neighboring house shattered the silence. She almost dropped the glass.

She came running up to her husband. “What was that? What?”

Shantaram shoved her aside and walked out into the courtyard. He opened the gate which made a huge screech that set the dogs barking, and then disappeared into the neighbor’s compound.

“Oh my God!” Renuka exclaimed, clutching her bosom. She stood like that with bated breath, and when Meenakshi came up and kept her hand on her shoulder, she got a start.

For nearly ten minutes they stood like that, and then they saw the white ghost of the man of their house returning from the darkness he had vanished into.

Renuka ran up to him, “What happened, ho? Did they find the boy? Is he all right?”

Shantaram came back into the house, sat down, took the glass of sherbet, and sighed. All his daughters were around him now; Renuka could not shoo them away any longer.

“He has been found,” said Shantaram, and Renuka almost went ecstatic. “But—”

The silence that followed that ‘but’ could be cut with a knife.

“He is not himself. He is delirious, sort of. All dazed and stunned. I saw him, and I don’t advise you people to go see him right now. His mouth is open. I mean stuck open by some force, and his tongue is retracted all the way down to the throat. The Vaidya is trying to pull it out, or the boy might choke himself to death. His eyes aren’t closing either. Dazed, like he stared at something horrible and turned to stone. The boy is colder than the lake in winter.”

“Oh my God!” Renuka said again and looked at Meenakshi. The girl looked on with a frown, and possibly an expression of fear. “But at least he’s alive.”

“Why? What happened to Tappu, Aai?” Manda asked.

“You girls don’t talk now,” Renuka chipped in. “He has been found, that’s all. Hopefully he’ll be better tomorrow morning.”

The obedient girls filed into their rooms en masse, speaking to each other in muted whispers.

“Why are you here? You go too.”

Meenakshi turned at that and followed her sisters.

After the girls left, Renuka sat next to Shantaram, rubbing his hand, which had gone as cold as he had just described.

“Don’t worry. It will all be all right,” she said. There was no meaning in her words.

“You don’t understand,” Shantaram said. “If the boy comes to his senses tomorrow, he will tell exactly what had happened to him.”

Renuka felt her beat quicken. “I… I didn’t think of that.”

“We don’t know what happened, do we?”

“No, we don’t,” Renuka said. “Meenakshi does not seem to remember. Or she does, who knows? But what if the boy tells it tomorrow? What if this is something we cannot control?”

The man and woman had no answer to that. They sat like that up to a late hour in the lingering darkness, enveloped by the frantic sounds wafting up to them from the neighboring house.

 

 

(c) All copyrights reserved with Neil D’Silva

 

End of sample. Hope you enjoyed Meenakshi’s journey so far. Read the full story here:

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