BEYOND THE MIRRORS

Village fields

“Look, look !” His older cousin excitedly grabbed his hand.

Rahul Bhardwaj followed his cousin’s pointing finger.

About hundred yards away, standing before a secluded bamboo grove was a tall figure in dhoti and ganjee with his back to them.

“See, that’s Bansul Kaka, there!”

The figure did seem like Baldev Kaka, more often called Bansul Kaka by his cousin and others.

“See, that’s his latest lady !” The cousin continued.

As he looked more closely, indeed he could make out the figure of a woman that seemed to be standing in front of Baldev Kaka.

“See, see!”

Baldev Kaka seemed to be touching this woman. At least, his hands seemed to be on her. Exactly what Baldev Kaka was doing, he couldn’t be sure as the distance was too great.

The cousin was older to him by 5 – 6 years, but they were good friends. The cousin had come to live with them in the city where Rahul Bhardwaj’s father had got him enrolled in a prestigious school. But the cousin’s talent for getting into mischief was far too great as compared to that for learning and after a couple of challenging years, the cousin had to depart for the village again. But the time spent together had been some great fun for Rahul Bhardwaj.

“Bansul Kaka is polishing them off at the rate of twice daily”, the cousin snickered. Rahul Bhardwaj found this difficult to believe. Baldev Kaka was nearly 70 years old; but yes, he did look amazingly fit for his years.

Baldev Kaka and the woman were inside the bamboo grove now and nothing more could be seen of them.

“That one is his current favourite. Simariya is her name. But he keeps changing his favourites. This one, Simariya, is really good!” The cousin continued.

“How does he manage that?” Rahul Bhardwaj asked.

“Bansul Kaka is in charge of the store. All these women from the nearby villages who come to work here get their payment through Bansul Kaka. That makes it easy for Bansul Kaka. He will give them 5 kg of extra grain and polish them off in return. That’s how he does it.” The cousin replied.

“Had never imagined Baldev Kaka to be such a scoundrel ! He’s bloody raping them for their poverty ! Rahul Bhardwaj angrily retorted.

“What about Baldev Kaka’s family ? Don’t they mind it ?” Rahul Bhardwaj asked again.

“Baldev Kaka’s family doesn’t live here. But wouldn’t have mattered a fuck even if they had lived here. Such happenings are not uncommon. Most of us here grow up on these women. Once I had tried with Simariya. But you know, they are surprisingly strong ! She just held my hand in a vice like grip and I couldn’t do anything. So strong was the hold.”

Later in the day, as they were walking around in the joint family holdings; a group of women was coming down the path from the nearby village.

“They have come to work on the corn that has come from the fields and there, there, the second one from the front, – that is Simariya ! ” The cousin, walking alongside, said in a low tone.

Rahul Bhardwaj looked. And he was impressed.

Rahul Bhardwaj was in an elite university in a big city. Grandmother’s death had brought him, along with his father, to the ancestral village. Rahul Bhardwaj was finding the stay tedious, with hardly anything to do and the heat unbearable minus the air conditioner. The only saving grace was the small library, which along with a miscellaneous store was housed in a single floor building which stood to one side; – somewhat isolated from the rest of the randomly scattered low buildings housing the joint family.

It was there in this library the next day when, early in the morning, Baldev Kaka came in.

“Babua, I have to go suddenly to the town on some urgent business. If anyone comes wanting anything from the store, then tell that person that I shall be back by evening,” Baldev Kaka told him with his usual affectionate smile.

Baldev Kaka was a cheerful person and always affectionate to him.

“Yes Kaka,” Rahul nodded his head.

“Just in case if anything is urgently needed from the store, here are  the duplicate keys. But be careful before letting anyone take out any stuff from the store,” Baldev Kaka added.

Rahul Bhardwaj nodded his head again.

Rahul Bhardwaj looked at the departing back of Baldev Kaka. Then he read for some time, but started feeling sleepy as the heat mounted with the day. He slept for some time, but then couldn’t sleep any more. He got up to forage in the library, hoping to find something to his taste.

The cousin had left yesterday.

“Going to get some stuff. Will be back in a couple of days,” he had told Rahul Bhardwaj before leaving.

Rahul Bhardwaj’s father was to come back again in 3-4 days. He hoped the cousin would be back in time and wondered about the “stuff” that he was going to bring.

He was rummaging in the shelves, when he heard someone coming up the steps to the verandah of the building.

“Is Baldev Maalik here?” He heard a woman’s voice asking, and came out to see who it was.

It was Simariya.

“No, Baldev Kaka is not here. He had to go to town on some urgent business this morning. He’ll be back by evening.”

Simariya looked uncertain and made as if to go.

“Is it anything important,” he asked her.

She turned back slightly. “Baldev Maalik had said that the store required cleaning and as I didn’t have any work today, I thought I would clean it today.” Simariya answered, holding herself sideways, not looking at him.

Close up, she looked even better.

He stood looking at her.

She turned as if to leave.

“Wait, Baldev Kaka has left the store keys with me. You can clean it if you want,” he told her.

She looked hesitant.

“Maybe better to wait for Baldev Kaka to come back,” he said, pursing his lips.

He turned to go back to his room. He came out again quickly.

Simariya was walking away.

“Wait, come back.”

Simariya stopped and came back.

“There’s an old broken pitcher lying in my room. Pick it up and throw it somewhere as you go.” He told her.

She slowly nodded her head.

He entered his room and as she came inside, caught her hand.

Simariya froze, resistance and protest growing on her.

“……….I had once tried with her. She just held my hand in a vice like grip. I could hardly move my hand and had to let go of her.”

Rahul Bhardwaj quickly put his left hand also on her hand which he was already holding by his right hand.

The new currency note of rupees thousand – which was clearly visible when he had briefly taken his left hand away – now lay pressed on her hand by his left hand.

Simariya’s hand now stayed – limp and passive – in Rahul Bhardwaj’s hands.

______x_____

  1. Dhoti is often worn by Indian men, particularly village men, as a lower body garment.
  2. Ganjee is a kind of vest.
  3. Kaka refers to uncle.
  4. Babua is a term of endearment for a young boy or male.
  5. Malik refers to the employer or owner.
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