Continued from Dawn: The Charioteer (VI)
Chetan was overwhelmed by the sheer force of her. He was bowled over, and who can blame him? I was almost there myself, truth be told. Her eyes smoldered and her cheeks were aflame. Her dimples took on an identity of their own, turning into pits of passion. Her body seemed to tremble with the violence of the joy of her memory. How could he not have felt the singing heat? The movement of his eyelids as he raised his head to fix her with his gaze was almost languid. It seemed as if his very thoughts were drugged. They seemed to slur as they went through his head, slowing his movements to a lazy dance.
“Oh yes..!” His voice was dreamy. “I know how that feels. It seems so long ago though.” A thin shard of pain seared through his face for an instance then disappeared, leaving its mark behind. “Do go on with your story. What happened then? Was there a showdown?”
“No, he was too shocked to react. Over the weeks since that day, I saw him sinking deeper and deeper in a brooding silence. There developed a palpable feeling of hostility between us and an uncharacteristically autocratic imperiousness in his manner. Naturally, I resented his behavior intensely. What annoys me now is the memory of the things I gave up without even waiting for him to ask me. I now feel as if I cut my fingers off one by one, thinking it would make him happy. Yet, just because I refused to cut my arm off, he has forgotten the cut off fingers as if they had never mattered.
A thousand times I have wondered in the past weeks whether this was the price I had to pay for his love. I have asked myself why love had to be paid for. Is the onus of keeping such a love alive entirely on my ability to wipe myself out of existence? More than anything else, I asked myself if I was ready to be so wiped out. Was I wrong in supposing that love was a gift you gave another voluntarily, and not something you extracted from them, like draining their life-blood..?”
Her voice was wet with sadness. Her throat rasped with the effort of keeping a tempest at bay. Her head was lowered; her hair falling over her face, concealing it partially. Her shoulders seemed bowed as if she was trying to curl up into a ball. Her fingers were twined with each other, her clenched white knuckles betraying the intensity of her agitation. When her lower lip began to tremble, she bit it between her teeth until a tiny sliver of scarlet appeared on her mouth.
They sat silent, the two of them. Their heads lowered, both of them wandered in the by-lanes of their private hells. There was no other sign of their distress, no cleansing tears. As the silence between them stretched on, I felt as if Damini’s question had melted their individual pains to form a single wet pool at their feet. An unspoken, radiant NO seemed to rise between them, shimmering, a symbol of assertive, defiant freedom. Slowly, its belligerent glitter diffused to turn into pure radiance. The silent NO took on the shape of an invisible ball, holding them together in its protective cocoon.
“Go on”, said Chetan quietly. The low sound vibrated with a tangible feeling of intimacy. She nodded, head still lowered. I saw her blinking rapidly a few times and then take a deep breath. As she exhaled, she lifted her face up and looked into his eyes, a brave little smile lurking tentatively in her dimples. He smiled at her encouragingly and silently held out his hands, laying them on the table between them, palms upward. Incredulity flitted by in her eyes for a brief instant and settled into an inner smile that shone from her eyes. She shyly put her right hand on his; their palms touching. He sandwiched her hand in both of his in a firm grip. I don’t think anyone told her that her ears, nose and chin too turned a beet red when she blushed, not merely her cheeks.
“Continue”, he said, having made a few smug observations too, like me.
“Last week I got a letter from a prestigious management institute confirming my admission to their Post Graduate diploma in Rural Management. After my bachelor’s degree, I wanted to do something meaningful with my life. For almost two years, I hunted for something I really wanted to do. Rural empowerment and sustainability has always been something that fascinated me. When I found out about this course, I gathered all details I could. I even spoke to some ex-students and faculty members. I was told there is a lot of potential for ground-breaking work and changes in this field. I decided that I wanted to devote my life to being a catalyst for rural empowerment.
“My first tussle with my father happened the first time I told him what I was planning to do with my life. His objections went beyond the usual you are a girl and this is not a suitable field for a girl thing. In addition to that, his annoyance stemmed from his perceived horror of his rich little girl having to hobnob with uneducated, boorish villagers! Can you imagine anything more bigoted..? I had never suspected my father of such shallow snobbishness! Especially when you remember that he came from the villages himself..! I wondered at his vehemence. I am sure he never realized the kind of judgment he was pronouncing on himself.
“When the admission confirmation came, he went berserk with rage. The first thing he did was to apply financial pressure. He refused to fund the course. I reminded him that I was twenty-three and by the provisions of my mother’s will, not dependent on him financially. When that failed, he tried the I’ll be lonely without you track. I reminded him of his effort to convince me to get married to the son of another granite owner crony of his. Had I agreed, I told him, he would have been compelled to learn how to get by without me. I advised him to imagine that I was married already.
“The long and short of it is that I remained firm. He argued, he forbid, he beseeched. When nothing worked, he lost it totally. He locked me in my room and threatened to have me shot if I so much as peeked out of my window. He had one of the house security guards stand directly under my window and the other posted outside my locked door. I escaped with the help of the gardener who is very fond of me.”
She grinned at him innocently, her eyes alight with impishness.
To be continued….