Saturday, March 05, 2005

The final part...

The most logical conclusion seemed Kajri. The fire must have started when she was in Kaya’s room, probably putting away the bags. Kaya thought about Kajri – her slightly scared expression when Kaya had first seen her, the intimidated look throughout the car journey, she had no regrets about leaving her family, her so-called home, she was full of hope for her musical future, eager to learn and train under Charulata Bhandari. Kaya recollected the brief time they had spent together, and realized that Kajri – waiting to blossom into a beautiful flower, had been nipped at the bud. She had been strangled in her cocoon just as she was ready to come out of it. Kaya felt her anger rising at the greed of the man called Kailash Pradhan. The lawyer, the liar, the cheat, the murderer. Hot tears began to flow down her cheeks, and as she put a hand in her pocket to draw out her handkerchief it brushed against a soft paper. The moment Kaya drew it out of her pocket, she realized it was her aunt’s letter addressed to Charulata Bhandari, praising the talent of the young girl called Kajri, who was coming to meet her carrying this letter. A tear fell from her eye; and Kaya moved the paper to prevent the drop falling on the writing. She must’ve folded the paper and thrust it in her jeans’ pocket while entering the hotel. And there it had remained till now, a reminder of Kajri. She put the letter back into her pocket and moved on. She arrived again at the banks of the Ganga, and looked out at the devotees having an early morning dip in the river- seeking absolution of their sins. Kaya wondered whether all sins were pardonable. If Kailash Pradhan took a dip in the Holy water, would his sins be absolved? She sat on the riverbank, her emotions raging from anger to grief. Kaya tried to figure her next step. She couldn’t hide on the streets for long, she couldn’t linger in this city for long. She had to get out. And leave the bunch of crooks to enjoy her family’s wealth.

As she sat gazing into the river, every now and then her thoughts would drift to Kajri, and her aunt’s letter would leap into her mind. Kaya felt that she was in such a filmi situation. On her radio show, she would sometimes elaborate a situation and asked her listeners to call in and tell what they would do if stuck in it. She had once asked them what they would do if they were stranded in a foreign country without any cash. A husky voiced girl had called her, in fact Kaya had felt that the caller was probably a boy, and the nature of his answer forced him to pretend otherwise. The caller had given a filmi solution to her filmi problem. But it was a fairly simple one. Sell your jewellery. Kaya considered it, and counted her jewllery pieces. A small diamond ring and matching diamond earrings, a thin gold chain about her neck and a lone silver anklet on her left foot was the jewellery that she wore. All of it together was probably worth seventeen thousand, but she had no clue how much she would get if she tried to sell it. And after taking the money, where would she go? She would get out of this city, but she couldn’t go back to Mumbai or her job. Kailash Pradhan had probably told them of her death, and if she were to go back, he would definitely come to know. And the second time, she may not be so lucky. Her despair turned into anger as she realized that she had no options. And deep in her heart, rose a desire for revenge, to leave them as helpless as they left her. Kaya could not spend the rest of her life watching her back. But, as she calmed down, her old rational self took over. Revenge was best left to movies and novels. Kaya had to get on with her life. Her life? What was left inher life? What could she go on with? And with that, she once again thought of Kajri, the girl who had been eager to get on with her life. And then, a thought entered her mind. She wouldn’t get on with her life, she would get on with Kajri’s life. Kajri had taken the death meant for Kaya, and Kaya would take the life meant for Kajri. It was an unfair barter. But, destiny had chosen it for Kaya. She would forever be grateful to Kajri for the gift of her life. But now, she had to get to Benaras.

Kaya decided to use her caller’s trick. She walked into a medium sized jewellery shop and urged to meet the owner, who turned out to be a portly middle-aged man.
“Yes madam, what would you like to see?”, his tone was doubtful, as if he knew the real purpose of Kaya’s visit. Maybe it was due to her disheveled state and distressed voice.
“Sir, I need your help”, Kaya began.
“Hmmm, a victim of the fire tragedy? “
“Yes..”, Kaya was surprised.
“Sell or mortgage?”
“Madam, do you think you are the only one who wants to use her jewellery? I have had at least seven people in the last one hour who want money.”
“Oh, I want to sell it.”
“Are you sure? We keep the mortgaged items safe for one and a half years.”
“I am from out of town. I want to sell”
“Ok then. What have you got?”
Kaya pointed to her ears handed her ring to him. “They are a set”
“These are branded?”
“Yes” She told him the brand.
“Certificate?” He enquired, “Do you have the certificate?”
“No, it is at home.”
“Tsk tsk. Too bad. The re-sale value of this brand is high, but not without the certificate. Anything else?”
She showed him the chain. He took all the pieces from her and examined them. They completed the transaction, and Kaya walked out with ten thousand rupees in her pocket. She had to haggle a bit, and she was pleased with the negotiations.

And now she was ready to leave the city. She would get to Delhi by bus, and then catch a train to Benaras. She walked to the bus stand and enquired about a bus to Delhi. It seemed to her that there was one every half an hour. So all she had to do was buy a ticket, and get going. Kaya purchased a ticket, and while she waited for the bus, she spotted a dhaba right opposite to the bus stand. The place was quite crowded. People were constantly moving in and out of it. And as she came close to it, a variety of smells hit her nose at the same time. Poories, Pakodas, jalebis, boiling almond milk, all from the huge kadhais placed outside the dhaba. And suddenly Kaya’s stomach gave a lurch. And she realized she hadn’t eaten anything since the previous day’s lunch. She entered the eatery and found herself a table at the far corner. She ordered a king’s fill and gorged on the food when it arrived. She took longer than she had intended to, and after paying her bill, rushed out of the dhaba into the busy street. She had to cross the road to get to the other side, and hurried on for the fear of missing her bus. She was about halfway across, when a speeding black car turned the corner, a few hundred meters from where Kaya stood, and rushed in her direction.

Kaya tried to leap out of its path, but there was traffic on the other side now. She frantically looked at the incoming car, and her froze at the spot. Her eyes met the eyes of the front seat passenger. The shock in them equal to the fear in her own. Kaya’s heart beat very fast, and stomach tingled with apprehension. But, her feet seemed to be rooted to the spot. She tried, but she couldn’t move her legs. Time seemed to have slowed down, and those few seconds; everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. Going back would mean colliding into the traffic on the other side of the road. Moving forward would be rushing into the path of the speeding car, or walking into the hands of the very people from whom she was trying to run away. This and a thousand other thoughts passed through her brain before she could comprehend what was happening. She was so wrapped up in her own thoughts that she hadn’t realized that the car was swerving. The driver seemed to have lost control of the car. It was now heading straight towards Kaya. Just as it came within a few feet, she turned sideways. At about the same time, the driver turned the car as well. The car had spiraled totally out of his control, and the wild turn had caused it to completely block the other lane. For a fleeting moment everything seemed all right, but it was not so. A large loaded truck was coming down the road, its speed a little more than what should’ve been. The driver braked hard, and the sound of the air brakes could be heard all around, but the truck did not slow down enough. Still at a good speed, the truck driver made a frantic attempt to avoid an impact, and turned towards other side. The truck hit the side of the car, and dragged it diagonally across the road for a few meters. Suddenly, a bus turned the same corner that the car had a few seconds ago, and the car was sandwiched between the two large speeding vehicles. The sickening crunch of metal against metal filled the air.

Kaya was horrified, she had stood transfixed from the moment the car had turned, she was still in the middle of the road. She could have been hit. A few people gathered around her and ushered her to the side. As if in a trance, reached the side of the dhaba and sat on a chair outside it. The people asked her if she was fine, for she looked pale and shaken. The owner of the dhaba came out and asked one his boys to bring hot ginger tea for her her. As she sat there sipping the tea, and watching the commotion on the street, she noticed a few buses emerge from the bus stand. One of them was Kaya’s. The next few hours passed in a daze, and Kaya had a bleak memory of ambulance and the police approaching. The bus had no passengers, and both the bus and the truck driver were injured, but the passengers of the car were all dead. Five battered bodies were laid down by the side of the road, and covered with white sheets. Dark red spots began to appear on the sheets as the people tried to identify the victims. All they could determine that there were four males and one female. But only Kaya knew who they were. Kailash Pradhan, his driver, Nalini, Paras and Vaibhav. All the people in Haridwar who had seen her, who recognized her. And now they were all dead. She didn’t have to fear being discovered anymore. She was free. She was Kaya no more. She was now Kajri. With this thought in her mind, she thanked the dhaba owner and crossed the road. She went to the bus stand, and was on her way to Delhi on the next bus. She felt free, like a bird flying out of her cage, into a new shy, to scale new heights. No one would ever know who she is, and she would do what her mother had always wanted her to do. Devote her life to music.

The ten thousand rupees that she had gotten were enough for her to reach Delhi. She bought a couple of clothes, a few basic necessities, a travel bag and a ticket to Benaras. With her past behind her, she reached the house of Charulata Bhandari. Charulata Bhandari read her old friend’s letter, and looked at the cotton salwar kameez clad girl from head-to-toe. She led the girl to a large room where her students were practicing. The gentle sounds of the sitar and the melodious voices practicing ragas filled the room. The atmosphere was calm and happy, and she immediately felt at peace there.
“I would like to hear you before I can begin with your training.” Said Chaurlata Bhandari.
She looked at her and nodded. She sat down on the floor, and closed her eyes. For a moment her mind was all blank, and then a thousand memories rushed through. She was back at the village, in a tiny room, a lady sat facing her, a veena in hand, teaching her raag Bhairavi, asking her to sing along. She did, she sang with all her heart and when she opened her eyes, Charulata Bhandari stood smiling at her. She had moved from reality to memory and back. Her years of training in Veena came back to her in a flash, and her talent had shown. Charulata Bhandari sat down beside her and said
“You have a very good voice, and it will be a pleasure teaching you. Welcome to my school”
She smiled and said thanks. They both got up and Charulata Bhandari hailed one of the girls and instructed her to take the new girl to a room. She picked up her back and turned. Just as she was about to go, Charulata Bhandari called her back, looked deep into her eyes and said,
“Did anyone ever tell you?”
“You have your mother’s eyes”
And, that is the end of this “short story” I began way back in November. It could have been faster, and I hope the next one is, for an idea is brewing in my mind…….. actually on paper. Yep, this one I’m actually writing down. But more on that later, now I have a l’ll problem. I’ve finished this story, and still haven’t thought of a name. So, would anyone pls suggest one?