Knowing very well that Chandni was affected with heart problems, great care was taken to break the news of her husband, Slok’s death as softly as possible by her sister Naina. Naina uttered the news in broken sentences, camouflaging the hints in a half concealed manner.
“Chandni, you know what, be calm and brave my dear little sis, Slok is not in our midst now,” told Naina, hugging her sister tightly.
Nitin, Chandni’s husband’s friend, the bearer of this tragic news was also there trying to console and provide support to Chandni. News of an accident which had happened in the wee hours of today morning near the outskirts of Pune was flashed as breaking news over the TV a couple of hours ago. Slok’s name was seen at the top of the list of those ‘killed’ in the accident. Shocked on seeing the news it was Nitin who had gone to the nearby Newspaper office to doubly confirm the news. He hurried to prevent any less considerate and less assiduous friend to be the bearer of this sad message to Chandni, for whom he had a special sisterly affection.
Chandni did not receive the news as did several other women with an immobilized inability to accept its gravity. “No, not my Slok,” so saying Chandni broke down at once, with instantaneous and wild abandonment in Naina’s arms. With the storm of grief having subsided gradually, Chandni slowly climbed the stairs leading to her room, and it was clear from her body language that she would be liked to be left alone and have no one follow her.
” Please leave me alone,” she implored; and burst our suddenly, “Why has this happened to me, Oh my God!”
She stood there in her room, staring at the wide open window and sank into a wide and comfortable roomy single sofa. Chandni appeared fully drained and held down by immense mental and physical fatigue that captivated her body that seemed to engulf her soul as well. She was motionless except when a sob escaped her throat and shook her violently. She looked like a child who cries itself uncontrollably when put the child to sleep and continues this sobbing in its dreams too.
All of a sudden Chandni arose as though awakened from a bad dream. She could feel the delicious breath of rain that was pervading the atmosphere. In the Patel Street just opposite her house she could hear a peddler announcing his wares for sale at the top of his shrill voice. The notes of a popular Hindi song of the 1960s which someone was singing reached her ears somewhat faintly.
“Oh, I can now hear my favourite Lataji’s song wading through the air” thought she. Hearing countless birds chirping in the nearby patch of shady trees, she felt a bit calm and composed. Through the large window could be seen patches of blue sky scattered here and there wafting through the passing clouds.
Chandni, the young fair lady was one who wore a calm face, the lines of which bespoke suppression and some toughness as well. The face had a different expression now as there was this dull stare that shown in her eyes, whose gaze was concentrated far away towards one of the patches in the clear blue sky. It was not a glance of reflection, but rather indicated a suspension of astute and brilliant thought.
Her intuition could sense something coming towards her and she waited for it with abated breath. What could it be? She just could not understand. She did not know; it was too indistinctive and evasive to define. But she could feel it creeping through the sky, coming towards her through the various sounds; fragrances and colours which engulfed the air. Her chest rose and fell vociferously. She started becoming conscious of the unknown that was advancing towards her to take control of her and she strived hard to resist this force with her resolve, which proved to be as vulnerable as her two white lean hands.
Finally when she abandoned herself, a small whisper word escaped her somewhat parted lips. She repeatedly pronounced the word in a soft tone: “I am free, free, free!”
The empty stare and the terrified look that had followed it disappeared from her eyes and they appeared to be bright and zestful now. She could hear her pulse beating fast and the blood racing through her body which warmed and eased her entire body. She did not once question herself as to whether or not it was this beastly joy which held her! A plain and rhapsodic perception made her dismiss this suggestion as insignificant.
Yes, she was totally aware that she would weep and break down once she sees the masculine hands of Slok folded in death; the face that had never glanced, save with loving and tender eyes, but which many a time cast a gray and dead stare at her . But beyond all this disgruntled moment, she could visualize a long procession of future years that would be solely hers.
With open arms she was all set to welcome this freedom which she felt was missing during her years wedded to Slok. Yes she would just live for herself in the years to come. It was a strange feeling of apprehension and joy and she felt butterflies in her stomach. This intention of hers, whether kind or cruel made the act look no less a crime as she looked at it in that brief moment of luminescence.
There would be no powerful imposing authority above her in that blind obstinacy with which women and men believe they have a private legal entitlement to impose upon their spouses. But, yet it could not be said that she did not love him- yes at times! It was a love and hate relationship between them. It did not matter much now! What could this feeling of love, the baffled mystery be, when compared to this custodian of self-declaration which she suddenly realized as the strongest urge of hers at the present moment!
“I am born free again! My body and soul are free!” she kept repeating in a hushed tone.
On the other side of the room’s closed door, Naina was banging the door and kneeling, with her lips pressed against the keyhole, begging Chandni to open the door and let her in. ” Chandni, my dear sister, please open the door , I beg of you little sis of mine, we want to see you. Please listen to me, we are here for you. You are our little princess. Don’t torture yourself. We are worried. What is it that you are doing Chandni Gudiya? Please, please, we want to see you. For heaven’s sake open the door and let us in.”
“Go away, Naina Didi. Don’t you worry about me. I am not going to harm myself. Be rest assured”. Her thoughts were running riot. “How will Naina ever understand me? Nobody can guess my feelings now. Here I am drinking in the elixir of life and enjoying my new found freedom through the wide open window gazing at the wonderful azure sky.”
Soon her mind started racing uncontrollably over those days that were yet to come. Rainy days, summer days and winter days and all other types of days would be hers and hers alone. She uttered a quick prayer asking God to grant her a very long life. It was just yesterday that she thought with a shiver about the long life which she might have to live with Slok.
Chandni stood up at length and opened the door hearing her sister’s entreaties which became louder and louder. Her eyes displayed a maniacal triumph, and she carried herself involuntarily like Nike, the goddess of Victory in Greek mythology. She wrapped her hands around her sister’s waist and fully leaning against Naina, both the sisters gradually descended the staircase. Nitin stood at the bottom of the staircase, totally disturbed and devastated by the recent happenings.
Suddenly everyone turned their gaze towards the door. Someone was trying to open the main front door with a latch key. “Who could it be? Perhaps Slok’s parents or some close friend.” thought they. Behold what a sight!
It was Slok who entered the house, in a crumpled T-shirt and a somewhat soiled pant. Carrying his small suitcase and an umbrella, he looked travel-stained and had obviously missed the bus by a few minutes as the auto-rickshaw in which he was travelling to catch his bus was held in heavy traffic and could not make it on time to board the bus.
He looked dazed and totally unaware of the tragedy which had stuck the bus which he was supposed to have boarded. He was far from the scene of the accident, and totally clueless about the tragic happening. He stood bewildered and amazed on hearing Naina’s ear piercing cry; and at Nitin’s shocked look, Chandni’s eyes met with that of Slok’s and suddenly she collapsed and was rushed to the nearby hospital.
On admission she was pronounced DEAD due to cardiac arrest. Why? Is it due to the crashing of her future dreams or the beginning of her bad times once again or is it something else-sudden joy that proved to be a killer! It is left to the reader’s imagination!