Friday, June 26, 2020

Honor Kills

"I killed him."

She was crying. He was crying. He hugged his mother, hiding his face deep in her embrace. She was in a shock herself to offer any further comfort to him.

Thoughts of last 24 hours’ events were like a storm in his head. It was a dark storm. No lightening. No thunder. Only clouds and dusty winds. The gentle touch of his mother, her fragrance in his breaths kept him from breaking apart in the storm. He wished he could be a little child in her arms, and she could hide him with her dupatta, shield him with her love, protect him with her care. But the loss was hers’ too. She was breaking apart as well. Maybe his presence in her embrace was a glue for her as well. Yet, the tears in her eyes and the pain in her cries was tearing at the seams of her soul. Her husband lay in front of her eyes.

Only yesterday afternoon Kulbir and his father were sitting here for lunch together.
“Papa ji, I am going to Noor Mahal for the annual mela.”
“Which kalakar is coming?”
“Shinda Sardool.”
“He is good. Take our Safari. But come back on time.” 
Santokh Singh took out a bunch of one hundred rupee notes from the side pocket of his kurta and pushed into Kulbir’s hands.

Santokh Singh, sarpanch of Deenpur village, had carried forward the family legacy. Yard by yard he had increased family’s land holdings, brick by brick built a grand kothi, hundred by hundred established a strong money lending business, and a kind act by a kind act built a strong reputation in the area. He and his family were now well to do, and well respected and having held his grandson in his hands last year well content with God’s kindness. He paid forward the kindness by going out of his way to help anyone and everyone in need.

His elder son Kulbir didn’t look after work with the kind of sincerity he had hoped for. But he was still young Santokh Singh thought. A few inches above six feet, muscular build, curled moustaches, neatly trimmed beard, smartly tied turban, blue-green eyes, fair skin, chiseled features, he was his eye’s cynosure. He ignored his son’s odd misadventure. But Kulbir’s drinking and more importantly the company he kept worried him.

Kulbir took the Safari and along with his group of friends headed to Noor Mahal. It was an hour’s drive from the village. Every summer Punjab witnesses hundreds of melas. Each village, each town, each city has a dargah of some peer, some saint, some guru. Each with their own respective legends. Each with their own powers to offer boons. And over time people have started celebrating a day every year at these dargahs. An annual Mela.

Now a days the highlight of each mela is the kalakar. Plans are made all year around, and collections arranged by volunteers to get the best possible kalakar jodi. Noor Mahal mela always attracts large crowds and Shinda Sardool is a famous kalakar.

Kulbir and his friends stopped at a theka on the way. He bought drinks and tandoori chicken for everyone. “Yaar Kulbir, are we going to Delhi next month?” Gora asked. “Haven’t spoken with Papa ji yet. But he won’t say no. We will get the money.” Kulbir was generous with his money and many in this group of friends took advantage of that. They had few rounds of drinks before they got on way again. By the time they reached the mela it was late afternoon. Opening acts – folk singers, religious singers, bhands and their comic acts were over. Shinda Sardool was at his second or third song.

“The female associate of Shinda has changed. At Mand Mela last year his wife accompanied him. Such beauty. Such body.” Harnek observed as they made their way through the crowd.

“With the way drunks crowd around singers at every mela Shinda did right to keep his wife away.” Debu laughed at the memory of his own acts a few weeks ago at the Shirki Shaw mela.

The group of friends went straight for front rows. They were regulars at all the melas in the area and the other regulars greeted them. Soon the race of throwing currency notes over the singing lady started. Kulbir always reached home with empty pockets after every mela. Drinking and dancing continued till the program ended.

A local friend invited them over to his house. They spent a few hours there and by the time they started back it was dark. Harnek was driving Safari now.

On the outskirts of Sultanpur Lodhi, a small sleepy town, about 8 kms from Deenpur, a migrant colony had come up on one side of the road. Raa community moved from town to town doing odd bits of work. The men folks worked as ironsmiths and tinsmiths. Women tended to their goats and chicken and did odd manual jobs.

“These Raa women are crafted like heroines,” Harnek said.
“Such smooth skin, such neat figures, and always teasing. They are made for drinking. Our women pale in front of them.” Debu agreed.
“Just yesterday I spoke with one. She was asking five hundred. Five hundred sali raa rand!” Debu added.
“Are you sure? No matter what we say, I have heard Raa women don’t prostitute. She must have been someone else.” Gora stayed sober the longest in this group. He drank slowly but he drank the longest.
“I know these rands. Don’t tell me otherwise. They all are. Just look at how deep their kurtis are and they never wear chunnis.” Debu protested violently.
A girl stepped onto the road from the fields opposite to the colony.
“I will prove it to you. You just stop the car now.” Debu shouted.
He was out of the car in an instant and holding the girls arm shouted. “How much?” The girl panicked. “Maayi” her shout for help came out a whisper. Madness drove Debu. Others egged him on. “Kyun not agreeing to your offer?” Harnek teased. “He doesn’t know how to make an offer” Kulbir added. This infuriated Debu. He dragged the girl along, opened the rear door of Safari and pulled her inside. “Chalo.

Kulbir woke up at the pump room in his fields. His father was there. He looked around. And bit by bit last night’s events came back.
“Clean up at the pump. We need to get home. Your mother is worried.”
“Where are the others and the…” he couldn’t bring himself to say ‘girl’.
“Your uncle took the car. Others as well. Girl is back at the colony. There will be panchayat and police hearing this afternoon.”

There was no corner in his house that could offer him solace. He lay in his room. Door locked from inside. For years this feeling had haunted him that one day he will lead himself to an early and ugly death. He always pictured it be a painful death – killed in a fight with a knife slicing his face before finding his neck, an accidental fire from his pistol in his groins, crashing his car into a tree outside their home while no one was around, his Enfield slipping on a wet road and a truck running over his body. That he will not lead himself to death but to an absolute ruin was beyond his imagination. He lay in his bed and pictured the ruins around. His mother and wife were not able to look at his face. Once home, his father had not been able to say a word, not even a word of reproach in the hours since. And his children – they looked scared. They knew something had happened. And that something had taken their words away. Not a sound came from the ruins around him.

The hour of panchayat arrived. There was a knock on his door. Opening the door seemed the most difficult act of his life. He dragged himself, one heavy step followed by an even heavier one to the door. As the door swung open, he looked into his father’s eyes. And he saw the shame in those proud eyes. That last look will haunt him for the rest of his life. His father raised his hand and opened his mouth to say something. The words didn’t come. The hand went to his heart, clutched the shirt and skin around it, the mouth closed, face turned into a picture of agony and he collapsed to ground.

All hell broke loose. 

The house that was silent since morning broke into a horror of shrieks. His uncle came running from next door. He picked his brother and felt for his pulse.
“Bring the car,” he shouted at his son who was running towards him.

Santokh Singh was dead before they could get him into the car.

(a short story, written July 2019)


Anonymous said...

Liked it, keep it up

Anonymous said...

Relevant story regarding the prevailing circumstances of our society.
Nicely written


Many years back when I last stopped at this rare Dhaba on Sultanpur Lodhi-Kapurthala road, it was operating as one joint. Now a partition in...