I am Urvashi... Urvashi …… at this point I am supposed to tell you my last name. But it’s the one thing I hate about my life, my last name. I was born in a remote village in Bihar. My father is a local Zamindar with acres of fertile lands and wealth that could feed the entire village uninterrupted for the next 5 years. But, it was not enough for him. He wanted more, always wanted more. The British left many decades ago and left their legacy, for us to suffer for eternity. The zamindari system is one such legacy.
In a family where girls are treated like a commodity, a thing with no rights to feel or think for themselves, I am third among 5 children. As you may have guessed by now, we are 4 sisters and one brother. If not for my brother, God knows how many more pregnancies my mother would have had to endure.
I was always treated specially for being different from my siblings. I was always marked for the best possible trashing by my father and the choosiest abuses by my mother, for being the rebel of the family. A rebel I was, because I wanted an education. Books…. they were like my windows so the world at large, a world I wasn’t allowed to think about. I went to school, despite my father refusing to pay the fees. I would threaten the teachers with dire consequences, if they did not allow me into class. You can imagine the terror my father commanded, if I, a mere 7-year-old, could bully my way into school. I somehow bulldozed my way to graduate education…a full-time college course was completely ruled out. So, I stole money from my father, sold away my jewels and completed graduation in correspondence. Of course, I got trashed and starved for going against family traditions. But it was well worth it. As with all my sisters, my parents felt it was time for me to be sent away, to fulfill the purpose of my life. To serve another man, like my father and search for an Ishwar in him.
I ran away from my home, going to my maternal uncle’s house in Delhi and begged for him to save me from sure shot doom. The childless man took pity on me and helped me get admission into a university in US for a Masters in History. What he did not tell me then and what I found out much later in my life was that my mother had paid him money to pay for my education. “What we would spend on your slavery, I spent on your freedom,” she would tell me much later.
Do you know how it feels, when dreams that have burned in your eyes since you can remember, take wings? Do you know how it feels, when the impossible is happening to you? If your answer is no, you have never experienced life. That day, sitting in the Air India flight to New York, I could barely control my tears, my heart was pounding like I would die the next moment and I felt as if it was I that was flying, spreading my wings, high up in the sky of my ambitions. For the first time in my life, I believed in miracles and God.
I will never be able to describe my feelings, when I landed in New York and stepped out into the land where dreams and opportunities are waiting for you to touch down. I closed my eyes, breathing the air of freedom for the first time in my life. My life was here, this was home and I could feel the rush pulsating through my nerves. I felt like Xena, like I had conquered the world. That’s when I saw him for the first time. He was the most handsome man I had ever seen in my life. His name was Tim – Timothy Jenkins, gloriously blonde, tall, athletic. He was the Student coordinator and was here to help me get to the university. Usually someone from your home country comes to pick you up, but he explained he was substituting for the guy who was supposed to come, as he had fallen sick. I did not mind at all. As he put me up in his 2nd hand, BMW, I was on an all-time high in my life.
Over the next few weeks, the enormity of what I had got myself into hit me and hit me hard. I was in a foreign land, with no body to turn to for help. And to multiply my problems, my English was poor, my accent, very few could understand and the culture alien to me. Over the next few weeks, I became quiet, more withdrawn, keeping to myself, rarely talking to anyone in my class, a loner.
One day, as I sat back in class, all by myself, trying to comprehend how my dream had turned sour so soon, Tim walked up to me. He told me he had been watching me over the last few days and thought I needed to make friends. He asked me to go out with him and some other friends. I agreed hesitantly, having heard horror stories of how boys could spike your drink and do bad things to you. He assured there were other girls coming along too. I am glad I took up his offer. It was destiny, I am convinced now. There was no looking back after that. Tim and I went out quite regularly. Soon, we both knew and so did the entire campus, that this was more than just friendship.
Coming from diverse cultures, the initial days were quite awkward, as we both did not understand each other. But once that phase got over, we began to respect each other and the choices we made. Well into the third semester, Tim and I were inseparable. He offered for me to move into his place. I was very sure, this was the guy I wanted to marry, and I had no intentions of going back home. So, I moved in with Tim. He taught me to love, he taught me not to judge things I didn’t understand and above all else, he taught me to like myself. Through his eyes, my assessment of myself improved, as did my self-esteem.
But one incident, changed my life forever. In hindsight, if that event had not happened, I would not be who I am today. But at that moment in my life, I was shattered, completely and utterly shattered. It was all over the news in US and the rest of the world. We were in Orlando that night on Christmas Evening, a few good friends, partying the night away. Tim had proposed marriage to me and I was on cloud 9 and then it was all over. An unknown man opened fire randomly and Tim was fatally wounded, never to recover again. He ensured that I hid behind the bar and got shot as he tried to hide.
I don’t have much recollection about how the next few days past. But I picked myself up slowly, trying to write my papers as I wept and trying to eat my food as I sobbed. I had to do it for Tim. He would have wanted me to finish my Masters and make something of my life. His soul would not rest in peace if I did not take care of myself. So, I ate, drank and did all the things a human being did. But on the inside, I was dead too. I was merely going through the motions of life.
I couldn’t bear to live in that city or in that house anymore, haunted by memories of all the good times I spent with Tim. I decided to runaway once again, this time back to my country. Going back home was not an option and neither was I prepared for the rigors of corporate life. So, I searched for the most non-descript jobs. I applied for a government teacher’s jobs in UP and Rajasthan and got selected for UP. I was posted in a place called Padrauna in North Eastern UP. And I decided to move there bag and baggage, with a new identity, a new goal and with zero expectations from life.
But then, this thing called life is a strange baggage of surprises and shocks. It beats you down to dumps and then, gives you a hand to raise you to unimaginable peaks. I am Urvashi Vikram Singh. This is my story and the story of my love.
AROHAN – THE ASCENT – It takes a woman to mold stone into man.
“Vicky…Vicky!” Sonu came running towards the young man in his mid-twenties, lying down casually, without a worry, on his bike, in front of the tea stall. ‘Akbar’s Tea and Snacks’ was painted in bright pink, fancy fonts, all over the push cart. It was their regular spot. Gulping down tea by the kullads and binging on snack by the platefuls. Vicky flexed his lean muscles as his legs stretched out two feet beyond the length of the motor cycle. “What the hell is wrong with you dickhead? Can’t you see… it’s my nap time,” he admonished Sonu. Their two other friends sat on the stools laid out one on each side of the pushcart. Minku and Jai... watched on, sure that Sonu would get a trashing soon.
“Sure... why not… sleep my Kumbkaran incarnate... sleep,” said Sonu, now mocking the guy called Vicky, who lay carelessly on the bike, like a chameleon sunbathing in the Gobi Dessert. “And while you are sleeping... also remember that the school which you promised you will get for Thakur Saab… is gone... kaput… forget about it,” warned Sonu, sarcasm oozing from his voice. Vicky stretched once again, getting up slowly, and looking at his reflection in the round mirror of his bike. He was very happy with what he saw. It was a handsome face, sculpted marvelously, a firm jaw, chiseled cheek bone and a sharp nose like that of an eagle. If he had been in Mumbai... he would have definitely have been a model. His eyes went from his reflection to Sonu standing apprehensively a couple of feet away.
Vicky caught Sonu by his collar. “What did you say….come again?” he demanded, with a casual look on his face, yanking Sonu’s small frame back and forth. Sonu looked up terrified. “Are!” he screamed. “What did I do? Don’t shoot the messenger... I am just informing you... the latest breaking news. They have appointed a new teacher… and it seems SHE will be here by afternoon,” said Sonu, trying to free himself from Vicky’s vice like grip. Vicky barely noticed Sonu’s struggle, looking at Akbar and becoming for another tea. Akbar looked at him exasperated. If he ever made profits in his life… it would only be after Vicky and his evil quartet of friends are thrown out of the village. Akbar drew in a deep breath. They had become a menace over time. With the firm backing of Narottam Singh, one of the village heads, part of the Panchayat – (a five member representative team, that took decisions for the village and resolved small disputes between the villagers) these four goons literally terrorized the village with their muscle power.
The only police station in the village… was literally nonexistent. The duty inspector, usually didn’t even come to the station, staying home in the neighboring village. The two constables who were posted to assist the inspector, came to the station by turns, and they too, for most of the time... were busy in carrying out chores for the sarpanch and his family. With no one to check their rowdyism, Vicky the leader of the pack had been emboldened. They went to any shop and picked what they liked without paying money. They troubled the girls on streets with vulgar comments and stares and at Thakur’s command, broke the bones of any farmer, who did not pay his loan installment on time.
The villagers preferred to stay away from the four goons, but Akbar had the dubious honor of supplying them tea, as and when they pleased. “Hey Allah! Please get us rid of this menace soon. Please punish these thugs for their actions,” he would pray every day. What Akbar did not know was that, his prayers were going to be answered that day, but not in the way he had imagined.
Vicky pushed Sonu away, taking the tea Batuk, the kid assisting Akbar brought him. He ruffled the kid’s hair, eying him, with a half-smile and winced at him. Batuk gave him a broad smile. For Batuk, Vicky was his hero, the man he wanted to be when he grew up. Everyone was scarred of Vicky, no one messed with him and he was so cool, riding the bike with that smart jacket, and the goggles on… like Salman Khan in Dabangg.
Vicky sipped the piping hot tea. “So it’s a SHE this time huh? The men refused to come this time… so they are sending a woman… into the lion’s den… must be some aunty… What do you say Jai… what would this new teacher be like….?” He asked with a smirk on his face, looking at Jai. Jai was the more sensible of the lot. “How does it matter?” he asked, taking a deep swig into his cigarette. “She won’t last long in this village,” he said matter of factly. As he was about to say something, when Vicky’s phone rang. The phone display read “Thakur Saab”. Vicky picked up the call. “Namaste Thakur Saab,” he said, his tone suddenly becoming serious and respectful... “Acha! I’ll be there,” he said and disconnected.
They pulled out the bikes and revved up the engines. As Vicky and his gang rode through the mud ridden village road, scarred villagers made way for them. Who knows whose turn it was suffer in the hands of these monsters? Vicky walked into the huge courtyard, with a Tulsi tree right in the middle, in a yellow painted 4 feet tall pot, with red and white dots on it. Beyond the tulsi plant was the huge Teak Door entrance to the Haveli Narottam Singh called his home. It was his ancestral house and headquarters of his various businesses. At the moment, Singh was sitting on a cot, placed outside under the shades of the parapet, a soft cushion under his elbow as he sucked into the Pipe. His handy man stood behind him, quote and observant, a sling bag dangling to his shoulder, a few phone and a diary held in the bag.
Vicky, Sonu, Minku and Jai walked in and went up to Thakur Ji and touched his feet. Singh raised his hand, as though blessing his boys. “Urvashi Jenkins….” said Singh, his eyes closed. “Hahahaha,” Minku laughed. “What kind of name is that…? Urvashi…” he said saying the name in a sing song tone. “Jenkins?” Sonu laughed too at the funny name….”I have no doubt it must be someone fat, with oiled hair, a big round bindi…. Soiled old cotton saree… they don’t show in movies? Social worker types!” he remarked.
Jai watched his friends make fun of the name in silence, smiling at his friends. Vicky though stood quietly, waiting for further orders. Singh looked up at Vicky. “This case is complicated,” he said, looking Vicky in the eye. “I have been asked to make sure, she is safe here. So, it’s your responsibility to make sure she is OK?” he said raising his eyebrows. “BUT… I want that school… so…. You know what to do!” he said looking away. Vicky smiled arrogantly. “So while protecting her… I must make sure the school doesn’t run!” he summarized.
“Ramji… give them the money,” Singh told his accountant, who had kept cash ready in A4 size envelopes. The boys each got an envelope and went out to their bikes. They would party hard tonight. They had still not exhausted the money they got last time and they already have a new envelope. Vicky pulled his collar up, putting on his blue shaded goggles and got on to his country made Harley. It was a cheap reproduction, but it made him feel like Arnold Swaznager in terminator and he rode on with a smirk on his face.
Two Hours Later – Padrauna Bus Stand
A couple of green and light green painted buses stood waiting on the dusty bus stand. The locals brought the tickets and sat down, all scrambling to get seats. In Padrauna, buses going to cities like Kolkata, and towns like Azamgarh, Lucknow have more passengers than busses coming into Padrauna... The boys waited in the juice stall, looking at the passengers coming and going. And then the Bus coming from Lucknow came in and stopped.
The conductor opened the door and stepped out. He looked up at the door with a broad smile on his face. A few seconds later, they saw the foot, on the last step to alight the bus, then slender fingers appeared on the grip. Vicky, Sonu, Minku and Jai came to the edge of the shelter, not going out into the sweltering May heat. The bus was some two meters from where they were standing…not more.
As they watched curious know what this Urvashi looked like, a tall, slender figure stepped out of the bus. She wore an off white, straight cut cotton kurta and a muted gold leggings, her muted gold dupatta, was draped around her chest and covered her head. The conductor was obviously gaping at her, his teeth showing as he smiled lustfully at her. He offered to help her with her luggage, but she refused politely and walked towards the shade.
The cigarette dropped off Vicky’s fingers, as he stood watching her, adjust her dupatta to cover her head fully. She pulled her handbag that threatened to slip off her slender shoulder back into place and hauled up her bag, which must contain her cloths. As she walked towards the bus stop, looking around and taking in the unfamiliar sights and sounds, the surroundings froze around Vicky. Her muted gold dupatta and leggings shimmered under the sunlight, like the rays of the sun, jumped out of him. Her off white kurta, was stitched to perfection, she was lean but well endowed. Vicky moved forward to get a good glimpse of her face, but the dupatta covered her face, making it impossible to see it.
She came into the shade of the bus stand now, just a few feet away from Vicky. If he walked four steps, they would be face to face. As he watched bewitched, she put her bag down and pulled off the dupatta from her face. THUD THUD THUD THUD THUD THUD. His heartbeat drowned out all noises from the surroundings. His eyes were not his anymore, studying every feature of the face in front of him. Her eyes brows were fully drawn up bows, dark, almost reaching the side of her temples. Her nose was sharp, pointed, pointing down to look at her full luscious lips, begging to be kissed, moist. And then his eyes moved to look at her eyes, wide, shaped like a gazelle’s eyes. She would not be older than 24, 25, but her eyes….they held a calm like he had never seen before. As if she had lived a lifetime before her years, grown up before her time. If the goddess of beauty took a human form, she would probably look like this – beautiful and wise.
Urvashi, adjusted her dupatta around her neck and looked around. It didn’t seem like there was anyone there to pick her up. She saw the young man standing in front of her. She walked up to him. “How do I get to Kedarnath Ji’s house?” she asked him. Vicky watched the girl approach him, his heart rate now doubling. He heard her ask where Pandit ji stayed. Kedarnath was the principle of the government primary school in Padrauna, and was called Pandit ji by all in the village. His eyes went from her eyes to her lips.
“I am here for you,” the words escaped him. Urvashi watched the man staring at her, her brows now knotted. She shook her head, annoyed at the man and tried to walk past him. Vicky’s friends who stood behind, circled Urvashi, not letting her pass.
Urvashi looked at the three men surrounding her on three sides. She did not want to be in this situation. Panic began to build up inside her. What would she do if they tried to touch her or worse…..? She looked around to see if anyone would come to her rescue. The two buses that stood at the bus stop, were slowly leaving and the crowds had disappeared either into the bus or back towards the exit. There were one or two shops at the bus stand, but the shopkeepers looked away, as if she did not exist. Urvashi bit her lower lip as the men closed in on her.
She stepped back from them as they closed in on her, her heart pounding in fear. Vicky still stood, frozen, when Urvashi collided into him from behind. They both turned around to look at each other simultaneously. Vicky saw the panic and fear in Urvashi’s eyes as she collided with him, her balance tipping, as her foot caught in between his feet. She fell over into him, as he broke her fall with his body, his hands coming around her waist to hold her steady, her head tilted back into his right shoulder, her mild floral scent taking over his surroundings.
Urvashi felt awkward as the man who said he had come for her, broke her fall, taking her bodyweight on him. She immediately pulled away, standing straight and trying to walk away. Vicky looked at the way his friends were eying her and his eyes turned wild. He came in front of Urvashi, looking at his friends with a warning in his eyes. “Lay one finger on her and I’ll break your bones to pulp,” he warned, pulling his jacket collar up. Jai looked at Vicky, his gaze questioning. “Vicky!” he called out, trying to remind his friend why they had come. Vicky shook his head and Jai understood.
“Sonu, Minku…let’s go...” he said, pulling his friends away. “Are… but...” Minku tried to say something, when Vicky hauled him up by his collar. “Do as I say… scoot...” he warned. The boys went away, turning back over and over again to look at Vicky with fury.
Urvashi stood behind the man who had just rescued her as he packed off the goons who were troubling her. He turned around then, looking at her, like he could not believe his eyes. “Thank you very much,” said Urvashi. “Are you from Padrauna?” she asked him. Vicky did not answer her question, but kept staring at her. Urvashi was confused now… why was he looking at her like that? “Your name?” asked Vicky still watching her closely. “Urvashi Jenkins,” she told him and Vicky’s heart nearly stopped. He put his hand out, “Vikram Singh…. People call me Vicky,” he held out his hand. Urvashi looked at him as he offered his hand. She smiled a soft smile and took his hand. “Vikram is better…" she told him, as he held her hand in a firm grip. The bells at nearby temple sounded as Vikram gripped Urvashi’s hand. Her hand had found its rightful place. It was a beginning sealed by fate… and little did they know that from that moment on their fates were about to intertwine.
To Be Continued….
As she tried to free her hand from his, he did not let go, watching her with a strange lethargy, as though he could not teach his eyes to look away. “Vikram?” she called out, her already arched brows, raising slightly. Vicky let go of her hand then, bending down to pick her bag, which she had put down next to her. “I’ll escort you to pandit’s house,” he said, trying to pick her bag up.
Urvashi clasped the handle of her bag, her hand coming over his hand. Vicky jerked his head, looking at her, his eyes narrowed in a strange expression. “I’ll carry my bags, thank you,” she told him flatly. “It’s ok, I won’t run away with your bag,” he told her, not relenting. “NO,” her refusal was resolute. “I am used to carrying my own baggage,” she said, her gaze firm, her tone determined. Vicky slowly withdrew his hand and watched as she picked up her bag and walked out next to him. His gaze went time and again to her face, caressing her face, with his eyes, his heart memorizing every detail of this marvel of The Creator.
As they exited the bus stand, Vicky took a chance. “I’ll drop you if you like… on my bike... I know where he lives…” he said, pointing towards his bike. Urvashi heard his words and looked at him, her brows knotting in seriousness, her eyes penetrating his very soul as if she could see deep, deep within his being. She studied him for what to Vicky felt like the beginning of forever. And then, he saw her fold her arms across her chest. Every moment was a frame magnified by his feelings, every movement was a swansong, that was forming a memory he would take to his grave.
“Not required,” he heard her say, all the while, feeling his breath in his ears, his heartbeat in his mind and his mind plummeting into hopeless love….
He watched as Urvashi walked towards some cycle rickshaws waiting nearby. She put her bag in one of the rickshaws and climbed in, without bothering to look back at him. He realized she was going away. The thought pushed him to her and he ran and stood in front of the rickshaw. “You don’t want to ride with me… it’s ok… let me escort you…” he asked, his legs spread out, his hands crossed at his chest, as she had done. Urvashi watched him and then smiled softly, “sure,” she said, as he gave the address to the Rickshaw puller.
In about 20 minutes, they reached a house, with a white and blue painted compound wall. The house itself would be some 12 feet from the main entrance, a clay tiled roof and seemed to be a squarish structure. A typical, Tulsi pot stood bang in the middle of the front yard. Vicky parked his bike some distance away from the house and the rickshaw stopped right in front of the gate. Urvashi got out of the rickshaw, paid the rickshaw puller the money and hauled down her baggage. Vicky stood some distance away, his eyes unwavering from Urvashi. “Vikram!” Urvashi called out to him. Vikram stood, looking around a couple of seconds, not realizing she was summoning him. Not used to being addressed as Vikram, he realized she was calling out to him. He jogged over to her sheepishly.
“I like to be called Vicky…” he told her, coming up close. Urvashi shook her head. “I somehow don’t feel like calling you that…maybe not today... but someday... you will be better known as Vikram…” she told him. She had no idea why she said those words. But there was a strong feeling inside of her, a voice in her head. She didn’t wait for him to react. “Come in and say your pranams to Pandit ji,” she asked him.
Vicky stepped back. “No, I don’t think he’ll like it,” he told her frankly. “Why is that?” she asked, her eyes curious and 3 vertical lines developing in between her eyebrows. “I am…” he searched for the words. “Who’s there?” the voice came from inside the house. “Never mind, come in,” shouted the male voice. Urvashi turned around, picking her bag in her hands and walked in, turning to beckon Vicky to come in. Vicky narrowed his eyes, scratched his head and walked behind Urvashi.
There was a cotton curtain, that blocked the view to the inside of the house. Urvashi parted the curtain aside and entered, the cool, brightly lit room. The outside heat seemed to have no effect on this room, with no air conditioning. And the cool room felt very inviting after the heat outside. A sigh escaped Urvashi involuntarily. “Namaste Pandit ji, I am Urvashi Jenkins,” she said, opening her purse and pulling out an envelope. Kedarnath was a man in his early 60, but due to his disciplined life, he did not look older than 50, except the greying hair. His face was long and a few lines which his age could have caused, were beginning to appear on his face. His eyes, were sharp and they had a magnetic power, almost like he could read the person standing in front of him, like a book.
He sat upright in his rocking chair, a volume of the Valmiki Ramayan opened on the plank in front of him. He raised his head to look at Urvashi, as she introduced herself to him. He smiled a charismatic smile and rose from his chair. He was a tall, lean man, at about nearly 6 feet in height. “Welcome MS Jenkins,” he said in impeccable English. Urvashi smiled a warm smile. “Sir, please call me Urvashi,” she said humbly. Kedarnath ji inspected Urvashi’s face for a couple of seconds and then smiled a broad smile. Then he looked at Vicky and addressed him, “and why are you here? You have some gall, coming into my house, along with the new teacher!” he asked Vicky, in a tone that could have sliced off somebody’s head, with the sword of sarcasm in seconds
Vicky smiled a wicked, contorted smile. “I am escorting Urvashi…” he said emphasizing the ‘escorting.’ Kedarnath ji did not miss the insinuation in Vicky’s voice. “So, Narottam knows about her!” he deduced. “Did he tell you to terrorize her even before she set foot in the village?” he asked, his voice now demanding. Urvashi turned from Kedarnath ji to the man standing next to her. Vicky’s eyes turned from anger to menace. He looked at Kedernath with a vicious look. “You third rate teacher….” He stopped short realizing what he had done. He turned and looked at Urvashi, who was watching him, with a look of complete shock on her face.
The reality of what had happened in the bus stand fully dawned on Urvashi. She looked from Vicky to Pandit ji. “There were three other boys at the bus stand and they…” she stopped. Kedarnath ji looked at Vicky, his eyes furious. “I don’t know when this village will get rid of this evil quartet. They have made our lives living hell. With that evil Narottam Singh backing them, the police sleeping, no one to question them, these 4 goons have become the headache of Padrauna. Now, don’t stand in my house for one more moment. GET OUT,” screamed Pandit Ji.
Vicky looked at Pandit ji with hate filled eyes. “ehhehehehhe khi khiii. All you can do is shout in impotent rage… you put one finger on me and I’ll break your bones,” he threatened the aging teacher and turned to look at Urvashi. “Look miss, it’s true. Those boys at the bus stand are my friends. We did come to trouble you… stay in this village for as long as you want… but don’t try to run that school business here… it’s just not happening,” he said, looking Urvashi straight in the eye.
Urvashi watched Vikram turn from a kind, helpful man to an animal at the slightest provocation. At the bus stand, when he had saved her from his friends, his concern for her seemed so genuine. She watched as he walked out, with a swagger towards the door. “Vikram!” she called out to him, as he was about to step out. “Tell the man who employs you, that the school will run… stop me if you can,” she challenged, her hands crossed at her chest, her face resolute and not a hint of panic in her voice.
Vicky watched, a look of amusement in his eyes, as Urvashi challenged him. He picked out his pack of cigarettes and pulled out a cigarette, lighting it up and puffing away smoke he drew into his lungs. “Be very careful Miss. The times are bad... you never know when a girl will get abducted or sold… or …” he left the words hanging and walked out of the house.
Kedarnath looked from shameless Vicky to Urvashi. She was a young, beautiful girl and had already had a run in with the worst kind of menace in Padrauna. This was a bad idea. “Would you like some water?” he asked, looking at the girl standing in front of him. “Yes please, tell me where the jug of water is and I’ll take it myself,” she told him, looking him in the eye. “No, no…I’ll get it. You must be tired and hungry and …” he looked worriedly at Urvashi. “No Pandit ji,” said Urvashi, a soft smile on her face. “I am not… and please… don’t treat me like a guest. I’ll help myself,” she said, going inside. The House was built almost like compartments of a train. The hall and behind it lay the living room and beyond it was the bedroom and finally the kitchen. The Kitchen overlooked a back yard, which had a multitude of trees and plants, Urvashi had not seen in many years. It brought memories of her childhood back. The days spent in the courtyard, helping her mother, dry cloths, put papad, out of drying, starching cotton clothes…
Urvashi pulled herself back to the present. The past was dead and held very few fond memories. This was not the time to think of the past. She saw two earthen pots, kept on circular formations of sand. A smile escaped her face. She poured out a glass full of water from the ladle and drank thirstily. She did not realize how thirsty she had been until she drank the sweet water. She took out a glass of water to Pandit ji and gave it to him. Pandit ji smiled at her friendly nature. “Sit down please Urvashi,” he told her. “There are many complications to what I am trying to achieve for Padrauna. And I asked for someone like you, because, you have the relevant exposure, needed to do something like this,” he stated. Urvashi listened to him rapt attention.
“Before I retired from Public Services, my last posting was in the Education Department in Lucknow and I still have contacts there. So, it was easy for me get someone I wanted. But now I think I made a mistake. Before you take up this role, I must warn you, that the boy who came in with you, is the biggest obstacle to my goal of bringing world class education to Padrauna. He works for Narottam Singh, one of the 5 village heads. Narottam Singh has been eyeing the school land for quite a few years and I have somehow managed to keep it safe from his hands. But now, with the new Sarpanch, Durgesh Singh (who got elected after his father, the earlier sarpanch, died) is in collusion with Narottam Singh. Together, they want to set up a sugar cane factory there.
This rowdy you just saw, and his three other friends work for Narottam Singh and they run errands for him,” he said, pausing to check if Urvashi followed what he was trying to say. “What do you mean by errands?” she asked. “The kind you would want to stay away from. Suffice it to say, on Narottam’s order’s they will do anything…” he said. Urvashi drew in a deep breath, sitting in deep thought. “I know,” said Pandit ji. “This must seem like a very bad idea. I will speak to Lucknow and have you transferred to a safer place in a week to 10 days. Until then, you can go on paid leave,” he told her.
Urvashi shook her head, her lips breaking out in a smile. “No, Pandit Ji… all my life... I have run away… from one situation to the other. Now, I want to stay… and I want to see if I can fight,” she said, looking at Pandit ji, a look of determination on her face. “I don’t want the transfer. I want to stay here. And don’t worry… those goons won’t bother me. I have contact’s all the way to Delhi. This Narottam Singh and his stooges won’t be able to do a thing. But there is one thing I want to do. Tomorrow, we will go and meet Narottam Singh and see what he wants,” she said, with calm eyes.
“See Urvashi... you are like my daughter… if I had ever had one. So, as someone concerned for you, I would suggest you don’t meddle in these affairs. Please.” Pandit Ji tried to persuade. Urvashi drew in a deep breath. There was no other way to convince this concerned, elderly gentleman. “Pandit ji, these goons like Narottam Singh won’t be able to do anything me,” she said, her eyes becoming sad and almost resentful. “Because I am the daughter of……” she said, taking her father’s name. Pandit Kedarnath Ji sat with his jaws wide open, completely stunned at Urvashi’s words. “WHAT!” he asked, not able to believe his ears.
To Be Continued….
#Arohan-TheAscent #Chapter3 #ChaitraAnumula #TheMeeting “please don’t ask me anything. I won’t be able to answer any of your questions. Please can you show me where my house is. I am very tired and would like to rest now,” said Urvashi, looking at Pandit ji. Pandit ji studied the pleasant looking girl in front of her. She was young, but her face held a poise calm which came after being through a lot of ups and downs in life. Kedernath was sure there was a story here, but she was not ready to talk about it. So, he let it pass.
“Of course. Let me get you something to eat and then I’ll show you to your place. It’s just a couple of houses from here. It’s not too big, but it’s in the village center and you’ll be safe there,” he explained. Urvashi smiled an understanding smile. “Thank you,” she said, for the gentleman’s kindness.
Urvashi had trouble going to sleep in the house she had been given. It was again a thatched roof house, with a living room, followed by a bed room. This house for some reason had an attached toilet. Panditji explained that, they had to get the toilet built for an old woman who lived in the house. When the woman dies, the son, left the village and moved to Delhi for good. The keys were with Pandit ji for the upkeep of the house. Now that he had found a tenant, he would send the rent to the owner, every month. Urvashi was thankful for Pandit ji’s thoughtfulness. In the past few years, she had forgotten, how simple things that we take for granted in a city, become luxuries in a village. For e.g.: having an attached toilette. Imagine if you had to walk out of the house, to an unlit part of the courtyard and probably be greeted by snakes and scorpions on the way.
Urvashi arranged her cloths into an array of shelves built into the wall. They did not have any doors. So, she put two nails into the wall and hung a curtain to obstruct the cloths from showing. She freshened up and as she was tidying up the kitchen, she heard a loud knock on her door. Urvashi walked up to her door and opened it.
“Good Morning!” said Vicky, looking at Urvashi from top to toe. She wore a lotus pink cotton saree with a thin border, her hair tied up in a bun, with bangs falling just over her forehead. Urvashi looked at Vicky, almost as if enquiring with her eyes, why he was there. Her face though showed no reactions. “I thought that your reaction will be different,” said Vicky, leaning onto the wall on his right side. “What are you doing here, get out…something like that?” asked Urvashi. Vicky smiled…. he almost thought she was asking him to leave.
“My boss calls you…. Get into the vehicle,” he told her, his looks becoming stern now.
Urvashi observed Vicky, her eyes now, steady on him, as he fiddled with the toran of the house and fidgeted at her gaze. “My appointment with your boss is half an hour later. I’ll be there before time… and I’ll come by myself….” she said, trying to shut the door.
This reaction Vicky had expected. He put one foot between the door and the frame. Urvashi looked up at Vicky severely for his insolence. “I knew this would be your reaction. Don’t worry, I didn’t get my bike today. Today I am driving my boss’s car. He sent it specially for you,” said Vicky.
“Take it back Vikram… I will be there before time,” she said, her voice sterner this time.
“What the hell…” Vicky couldn’t complete his sentence as Panditji walked in just then. “Urvashi, I though you said you’ll come in 10 minutes?” he asked, looking from Urvashi to Vicky. “Is he troubling you again…” “No, not at all Pandit Ji… come let’s go….” Said Urvashi, picking up her bag, set on a small table in the hall and stepping out of the house. Her saree made her look older than her 25 odd years.
As Shivani walked out with Pandit Ji, Vicky caught up with the two of them. “A very grand welcome awaits you both,” he heckled them walking close to them. “Go on, go on,” he told them. Urvashi did not seem affected by his words, but Pandit Ji looked worriedly from Urvashi towards Vicky. Whatever that Narottam would have planned, he thought to himself.
Narottam Singh’s House
What Pandit Ji did not expect was to be received personally by Narottam and his family standing with garlands in their hands, at the entrance of their house. He was shocked to say the least. Pandit ji had expected that they would not even be given chairs to sit down, once they reached the house. But to his shock, as they approached Narottam’s house, they could see him, standing at the doors, his wife standing next to him, her face almost completely covered with her pallu, the garlands held in their hands. As soon as Urvashi and he entered, Narottam came forward.
“Welcome…welcome to out humble abode…” he said, folding his hands respectfully and speaking to Pandit ji. He then called out for his wife to come and garland Urvashi. “Come come, don’t just stand there,” he hurried her. Pandit Ji looked at Urvashi, who seemed completely unaffected by what was happening. She smiled a reassuring smile at Pandit ji. They were taken inside the huge mansion and were offered seats in the comfortable, over the top Sofa sets placed in a squarish hall. They had a huge 29” TV set hung to the wall.
Narottam signaled for his wife to bring in snacks and tea. “We have all the latest electronics that come into the market in Delhi. I have lots of relatives in Delhi,” Narottam was bragging. “Mostly they are into business, but some work for political parties too,” he said, watching Urvashi closely. A maid walked in and handed over tea in tray to everyone sitting. Urvashi took her cup of tea and thanked the maid. The maid looked at her with a strange look on her face.
It didn’t escape Pandit ji that Narotam was talking of political connections in front of Urvashi, just to impress upon the fact that he too had political connections. Did he know about Urvashi then? Urvashi on the other hand, was waiting for all the formalities to finish so she could discuss the topic they had come to discuss. Finally, Narottam’s bragging session ended with, “how can I help you kind of expression,”
That is when Vicky and his band of boys entered the hall. Urvashi simply looked from Vicky as he was walking in towards Narottam. “As you already know,” she said pointing to Vicky, “we have come here to discuss about the school premises. I believe you want that land to start a sugar cane plant or rather a plant where molasses in produced,” stated Urvashi, launching into the crux of the mater. Pandit ji looked worriedly at Urvashi, as spoke without mincing her words.
“Although your intention of creating employment in the village is good, your idea for creation of employment is bad. The molasses plant will only help people brew spurious liquor and cause men and boys in the village and neighboring villages to be addicted to liquor, not to mention the loss of lies if spurious liquor is produced. For this reason, we will not vacate the school premises. A school is far more important for the villager than a sugar cane factory,” said Urvashi.
Narottam watched as the young lady in front of him, laid all his plans bare in front of everyone. His temper was rising with each word the girl spoke, but the was also helpless. There was no way he could harm the girl openly.
“Excellent speech,” said Narottam, clapping his hands. “this is the way of the world. If a person tries to do something for the benefit of others, he will be suspected and made a villain,” he said, looking at Urvashi, his eyes arrogant and shrewd. “If the village elders decide that the land needs to go to a Sugarcane factory, then there is nothing you can do about this Miss,” he said, raising an eyebrow.
“You are wrong Narottam,” interrupted Pandit ji, “The school is built on government land. It is government property. And the village elders cannot decide about government property. Only the collector can,” he stated. Narottam knew that if the case goes to the collector ate, that he will have to complete shelve his plans. Because going to the collectarête means, inviting them for inspection and one look at the sugar cane plant and they would exactly what kind of sugar cane they process. Narottam smiled an uncomfortable smile.
“How about a bargain?” asked Narottam, raising his eyebrows hopefully. Urvashi and Pandit ji exchanged glances. Pandit ji shook his head. “Can you give us a couple of minutes to discuss this?” asked Urvashi. Narottam waved his hand in a yes, as he watched Urvashi and Pandit ji with a cautious look on his face. They went to one corner and spoke for a couple of minutes and came back to sit down.
Urvashi looked at Pandit ji. He nodded his head. “We will think about a bargain,” said Urvashi, looking at Narottam, who sat at the edge of his chair at Urvashi’s words. “Intelligent girl,” he remarked. “But, we have a condition,” said Urvashi, her eyes now sharp. “What condition,” Narottam’s voice turned stern. “We need a list of all the formers who are indebted to you,” she said, studying Narottam closely.
Narottam’s eye narrowed as he tried to understand what was going on in the mind of these two educationists. “Why?” he asked her. “No questions…” said Urvashi. “I need some time to think about it,” said Narottam. Urvashi and Pandit ji exchanged glances. “OK,” said Pandit ji. “When you are ready, let us know,” he said getting up Urvashi rose with Pandit ji. “OK then, “said Narottam, seeing them off from the door.
As Narottam walked back into the house, Vicky, Sonu, Minku and Jai walked in from the terrace. They stood all around Narottam, as he sat deep in thought. Vicky scratched his chin in irritation. “One girl… just one girl… if you had commanded, she would have run away by now. But why don’t you allow us to do our job?” he asked agitatedly. Narottam looked up at Vicky, his eyes spewing anger and fear. “Shut up,” he ordered Vicky. “Don’t talk about things you don’t understand. I lay one finger on her and my entire future will be destroyed. You don’t know who she is,” he said, looking worried. “Then, write off plans for the liquor plant,” sniggered Jai. “No, never,” said Narottam, looking up at Vicky again. “Think Vicky… think… we must harass the girl, but out name should not come out….do something anything to force this girl to leave. And then the school land is ours,” he said, looking at Vicky expectantly.
Vicky paced the hallway for some time. “What do you know about this girl…. her family…why does she live alone….in this remote village…what kind of a girl lives all alone in a village she knows no one in? What is the character of this girl like?” questioned Vicky, throwing all these questions, as he thought out loud.
That’s when the thought struck him. “What if the villagers don’t want a teacher, who teaches by the day and entertains boys by the night. Let’s defame her character and the villagers themselves will drive her away. No mud on her hands too,” he said, his eyes glittering with idea of having fun at the expense of the girl who refused to ride with him. Narottam Singh’s face lit up at Vicky’s idea. “That’s it. Perfect. But how?” he asked, looking at Vicky. Jai, Minu and Sonu too stood wondering how?
Vicky though was smiling unto himself, as his mind formed a plan to trap this mystery girl, who seemed to give the most powerful man in the village sleepless night. He would know in the coming days; exactly how strong this girl could be… what would she do…. Run or fight……
To Be Continued….
Urvashi sat in the small living room reading a book. She had just come back home after having dinner at Pandit Ji’s house. Few neighbors had come to Pandit Ji’s house to enquire how the meeting with Narottam had gone. They all advised Pandit Ji to be careful as Narottam was not someone who would keep quiet and accept his defeat. He was sure to play his cards sooner or later. They were also very worried about Urvashi’s security, especially since Vicky and his friends, had already tried to create trouble for her.
“Stay away from those boys Teacher ji,” one concerned neighbor advised Urvashi. She told all of them not to worry about her. Pandit Ji too was not worried about her. Narottam would not dare touch her. However, they did not factor in to what sly levels Narottam would stoop to.
Urvashi was reading “Breaking India”by Shri Rajeev Malhotrs – a book on how various forces were trying to keep India from reaching its full potential, and after a point slowly began to doze off. She woke up abruptly, having realized that she was sleeping on her couch. Her throat felt dry and parched. She went into the kitchen and drank half a bottle of water. She checked the time. 1:45 am. Urvashi walked into her bedroom, and just as she was about to get under the bedsheet, she heard a knock on her door. Urvashi’s brows knotted in tension. She sat still, waiting to see if she heard the knocks again. After a couple of minutes, she heard the knock, louder than the previous time.
Urvashi got out of her bed slowly and picked out a thick shawl from her wardrobe. Wrapping the shawl around her chest, she walked slowly towards the door. She opened the latch as quietly as possible and peered out after opening the door just a little. She saw Vicky standing at the door. Urvashi immediately shut the door. “Vikram what are you doing here at this time?” she asked. “I need help. There is no doctor at this time. I hurt my head,” he replied, his voice sounding muffled. Urvashi stood at the door, thinking for a couple of seconds. Vicky waited outside, holding his forehead on the left side with his left hand. One could small stream of blood running down from his forehead. “Please can you help me?” he shouted again, this time, he seemed more in pain. Urvashi drew in a deep breath and slowly opened the door.
She saw him leaning against the door frame and then saw the blood coming from his forehead. “Oh God, what happened?” she asked, her hand coming to hold his upper arm, to steady him. “Come in first,” she told him, as he waddled in unsteadily into her house. She held his arm to help him to get to a chair. Vicky sat in the chair, his hand pressed hard into his wound, his face however, showing no signs of distress, except his eyes closed.
Urvashi went back into the kitchen and returned with a glass of water. “Here, drink this,” she offered the glass to him. Vicky put his hand forward, away from the glass, his eyes still closed. Urvashi brought the glass close to his hand, her hand bracketing his hand, till he held the glass firm in his grip. Slowly her hand receded. Vicky, though, felt her fingers circle his fingers. With his eyes closed, it felt as if her fingers were slowly wrapping themselves around his heart, the warmth in her soft palm, surrounding his cold heart, until the ice slowly melted. He had never felt anything like that before, in his life. He had felt the adrenaline rush, as he plastered his fist on a hapless victim’s face, felt the rush of power as he kicked a man hard in his gut, felt a sense of superiority, when people moved out of his way, in fear. But never…never… this warm…...warm…...what was the word for it? It was just a very nice feeling, a feeling which he didn’t want to be parted from, almost like his insides were being caressed by the softest rays of the sun…like all good things, happening to you all at the same time.
Urvashi stood beside him, observing Vicky as he turned the glass of water around slowly in his right hand, his eyes shut tight, as if he was in a dream. “Vikram!” she called softly. “Huh?” Vicky startled. “Drink your water,” said Urvashi, softly, starting to go back inside the house. “Where are you going,” he asked, his eyes still closed. Urvashi turned softy, “to get first air,” she said and went away. “Don’t go,” he wanted to say. But good sense prevailed. He could not forget the purpose of his visit. But before things got ugly, maybe he could talk her out of it. He would try.
Urvashi came out in a few seconds. “How did this happen?” she asked, opening the first aid box. “This is nothing. I have got hurt worse,” said Vicky, bragging about himself. “We boys like to test each other occasionally. Jai and I were having a practice run... and the next thing I know,” he stopped abruptly, as her hand came over his left hand now, slowly taking it away from over the wound.
Urvashi examined the cut. It was rather deep, but not deep enough to need stitching it up. “Continue,” she said, pulling out a swab of cotton and dabbing some antiseptic liquid on to it. “well, we were just exercising our muscles,” continued Vicky. “un hum,” responded Urvashi, her hand coming over his forehead, to push away a bunch of hair, so she could clean the area around the cut. Vicky drew in a rough breath and Urvashi looked down at his face, her eyes narrowed. “Don’t stop, continue,” she said, slowly dabbing the antiseptics around the wound. “Then, I got carried away. I plastered one on his jaw,” said Vicky, gesturing with his hands. “Um hum,” said Urvashi, slowly dabbing the cotton on his wound. She looked down at him to see if he felt the pinch of the antiseptic. He didn’t seem to react. “And then?” she egged him on.
“Oh, you should have seen his face. His lips were smashed. He got so wild, he picked up a rod next to him and the next thing I knew, I was bleeding profusely. I was so angry with him, I refused his help and came straight to you. I knew you would not refuse to help. You do owe me one,” he declared. Urvashi smiled, as she put the bandage over his would. She moved behind him and secured the bandage with a knot. “Open your eyes,” she told him, coming to stand in front of him. Vicky opened his eyes and his head rose to look at her, standing over him, so close, that he could rest his head on her bosom, if he wanted. Urvashi examined his head, to see if the bandage was tied properly and then stepped away from him. Vicky rose slowly, to his full height, his left eye, slightly squint. His eyes took in her beautiful face as her eyes studied his wound. She was there right in front of him, but he felt so inadequate in front of her. How could he even think that she would….? What was he about to do to her and what was she doing to him? Vicky closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath.
When he opened his eyes, the cold, sly look was back in his eyes. “I don’t know what to call you?” he asked her, as her brows came closer. “You can call me teacher,” she said, with calm eyes. “Teacher?” he questioned, his hands, resting on the sides of his waist, as he looked down at her. “OK Teacher, today this student will give you an advice. Listen. Because the next time, I may not be in the mood to be nice to you,” he said, his eyes turning hard. Urvashi stepped away from Vicky, her looks guarded now. “Leave… go away…It’s best for you. If you insist on taking on Narottam, you are only going invite harm,” he warned her. “Look Vikram….” As Urvashi was about to ask him to leave, “my name is not Vikram. My name is Vicky. Always remember that. I am talking to you like this today, because you helped me. I helped you once, you helped me once. We are even now. Next time, you will meet the real Vicky and you won’t like it…,” he said, turning away to walk out.
“Vikram!” called out Urvashi. Vicky stopped in his tracks, but did not turn around to look at her. His eyes were cold, posture, reckless. “the more you try to scare me, the more determined I will become to stay. So, it’s better that you leave me alone,” she replied.
Vicky turned around slowly and looked at her, his eyes reading the challenge in her eyes, his neck craned arrogantly to his right, a nasty smile dancing on his lips. He shrugged casually then, “don’t cry later, that you were not warned,” he said, turning around with a devilish glimmer in his eyes. He had warned her, but she was adamant. She had to be taught a lesson. And it would begin right now. Vicky walked to the door briskly and stopped just as he stood, one foot outside the threshold and one foot inside. He turned around to look at Urvashi, as she observed him, with her head held high. As Urvashi stood watching, she saw Vicky rock gently at the door and the next second, his legs gave way.
“Vikram!” Urvashi gasped as she ran to catch him from falling. She caught him just in time, holding his around his waist and using her body to support his weight. He had fainted, probably with all the excitement at threatening her and sudden movement. She slowly tugged him inside her hut and brought him to the sofa and lay him down there. She brought a pillow and placed it under his feet, to help blood circulation in the upper region of his body.
Then she went to the door and latched it. But not before the night watchman, going on his rounds, saw Urvashi hugging Vicky close and both going inside the house. He also saw Urvashi close the door a few seconds later. His eyes were wide in disbelief, as if he had seen a ghost. So, this is what went on in the young teacher’s house at night. Morning, she acted all principled and at night… she had fun with Narottam’s boys…. he thought.
It was still early hours the next morning, when Vicky opened his eyes and looked around. He did not remember when he had slept so peacefully, last. His mind raced back in time to the previous evening, when standing inches away from him, Urvashi had bandaged his head. He could feel her warmth slightly, her perfume, some floral scent surrounding him in a warm embrace. It was the most comforting feeling, he had, for the longest time. Vicky came back to his senses. What was he thinking? The village must slowly be coming back to life. There would be people in the streets already, some cleaning, some going to the pond for the morning rituals, some taking their cattle and livestock, out for grazing and so on.
This was the perfect time, Vicky thought to himself. He stood up and walked towards the next room, He pulled the curtain aside partially and faced a closed door. His brows knotted in an unpleasant frown. She did not trust him and had locked the door in the night. Vicky left out as deep breath of frustration. Her locking the door, made him angry for some reason. His face took on a hard, cold glare.
Vicky quietly opened the door and deliberately stepped out, stretching his frame taut and yawing loudly, to attract as much attention as possible. And he was very successful in his attempts. The few people who were on the streets, saw Vicky come out and stretch and assumed Vicky had spent the night in the teacher’s house. The news spread like wild fire until every household in the village discussed how the single teacher, entertained Narottam’s goons by the night.
Urvashi was surprised to note that Vicky had left the house even before she woke up. Urvashi usually got up at 6:00 AM and when she came out of her bedroom, Vicky was gone. She did not think too much about and went about her morning routine as usual. She got ready and left for Pandit Ji’s house by 7:30 am.
It was while she was walking the short distance from her house to Pandit ji’s house... that Urvashi realized something was wrong. She was all too familiar with the meaning of sideways glares and the soft murmurs in a small village like Padrauna. As she walked towards Pandit Ji’s house, her head held high, her chin up, her gait a straight, gentle march, she could see from the corner of her eyes, as curious passersby walked eyeing her as if they were looking at her for the first time. She saw a couple of women, gesture towards her and speak in hushed tones. Urvashi’s eyes narrowed. Between yesterday and today morning, something had changed. But what?
Somewhere deep down, Urvashi already knew by the time she reached Pandit ji’s house, what the reason could be. But she was still not ready to accept that this was happening. It was like reliving a nightmare all over again. A nighmare from her childhood. And she knew there was only one end to the nightmare. She knew very well that end was not good for her. She could never forget Mrinal… from her village. She could never forget the look on Mrinal’s face, the devastation inflicted on her self-respect and the questions raised on her character. In minutes, like vultures, they had ripped off her pride, self-respect and self-esteem into shreds. All for the crime of falling in love with someone from another caste, albeit, from a supposedly higher caste.
It was an “Innocence Lost” moment for Urvashi. One thing became clear to Urvashi that day. In a small village, like her home town, a man could do anything… the worst crime and get away. And a woman… a woman had to bow down to the dictates of the men, first her father, then brother, then husband and is she was still alive, finally, to add insult to injury her son too. As long as she followed orders and asked no questions, she would be respected. But the minute you questioned the authority of men, you became a villain in their eyes. And they would use any means to retain their supremacy... ANY MEANS.
As Urvashi stood at Pandit ji’s door, her hand trembled slightly in fear. What if she was about to suffer the same fate as Mrinal. What if? The door opened even before she had knocked. Urvashi took one look at Pandit Ji and it was confirmation enough, that her worst nightmare was coming true. Pundit ji’s brows were joined in a frown. The usually, jovial smile was missing from his face. His pleasant smile was replaced by a brooding look of worry. “Come in…” he said in a stern voice.
To Urvashi it felt like being taken to her father, when the teacher realized, she was attending classes without paying the fees. She walked in apprehensively and went straight for the small clay pitcher of water, filling a copper glass to the brim and drinking the water in one long gulp. “Something’s wrong, isn’t it?” she asked, unable to bear the tension further.
Pandit Ji looked at her with a worried look for a long time and finally, after taking in a deep breath… “Did that Vicky come to your place last night.?” he asked. Urvashi’s heart was pounding in her chest. Her legs felt like rubber. She sat down slowly, her head now clutched in her hands, fully comprehending what the problem was. “That’s what everyone is talking about?” she asked, unable to look at Pandit Ji. “Yes…. Narottam has played his game very smartly. Unfortunately, ….” Pandit ji couldn’t say the words, he knew would hurt her, like a ton of bricks falling on a person. Urvashi closed her eyes shut tight.
“Today is my first day at school Pundit Ji,” she said, despair showing in her eyes. “This can’t happen. I can’t go back,” she said, her eyes very nearly welled up. “Why did you let him in Urvashi…?” asked Pandit Ji.
Urvashi’s looked up at once towards Pandit Ji, her eyes burning with anger. “he was hurt Pandit Ji. He was bleeding profusely from his forehead. I had to give him first aid. If it was any other man, I would have done the same, if it was any other woman or child, I would have done the same. If someone comes to me tonight for help, I’ll still do the same,” said Urvashi, getting up. She drew in a deep breath and swallowed hard. “I need some time to think. I’ll see you at school,” she said, going to the door.
“That’s not necessary,” said Pandit Ji, his eyes narrowed, his face still bearing a stern look. “I am giving you one week’s leave. They might even call a Panchayat today evening. I think till this matter settles down, you should go away somewhere. I don’t know, maybe you have relatives around here/. Or maybe you could visit your father and try and sort this out through him. But for one week, keep a low profile. Let things cool down and the we can see,” said Pandit ji, his face, showing no consideration for her innocence.
Urvashi stood at the door, unable to believe her ears. “Nothing’s changed in the villages of India Pandit Ji… it’s exactly as it was. I thought you would support me…” Pandit ji did not let Urvashi finish. “that’s exactly what I am doing Urvashi. Trying to support you. You are one, they are many. You cannot fight like this. You will end up harming yourself. Go away for some time… think about it. And this time come back with a plan. If you are called to the Panchayat, things will be very ugly. They will ask you all sorts of questions, in front of the village. I don’t want you to go through that. That’s why…. Go away for some time… and come back… OK?” he said, patting her on her head, gently.
Urvashi walked out of Pandit Ji’s house, dejection and defeat, obvious on her face. She walked the small distance which should not take more than 6 minutes in 15 minutes. Slowly, she walked looking at everyone, that passed by the street, staring at her, as if she was a criminal. Each person was judge and jury unto themselves. They had decided she was guilty, without even listening to her side of the story. No one bothered to understand facts… they were least important. What was important, was to character assassinate a young woman, trying to make a difference to their lives.
Urvashi went back home and went to into her bedroom, leaving her door open. She opened her wardrobe and pulled out a small chest, carved with motifs of elephants and lotus on red wood. She opened the chest and took out a small picture album. As she opened the album, she could not help the tears that fell from her eyes. The album had pictures of some the best moments of her life with Tim. Some selfies, some candid shots… memories of a lifetime. She picked out the picture from their trip to Barbados. Those were such happy times. “You are such a strong woman Urvashi,” he had remarked, as she had raced him in swim in the waters of the pristine beaches. “I don’t think you even realize what a strong personality you have. Don’t ever let go of that strength…. “his words resonated inside of her.
Urvashi closed her eyes, as the tears fell. She missed him so much. Missed the comfort of his embrace, the confidence his presence gave her. She ran her fingers over his face, her eyes closed, trying to conjure how his touch felt like. “I won’t let them beat me Tim…. I promise…” she spoke out loud.
Durgesh Sigh was seated under the canopy of dried palm leaves, overlooking the work taking place in his wheat fields. He was the son of the ex-sarpanch of the village and current the sarpanch himself. At about 40 years of age, he was a man used to authority and considered Padrauna, his fiefdom. He was the uncrowned king and expected to be treated like a king by the people of the village. His authority was literally unopposed. “Today will be an interesting day,” said Durgesh as Narottam, sat on a cot and smoked the pipe. “Oh yes… Vicky’s trick seems to have worked. The entire village is gossiping about that new teacher. I hear, she has no come to school today. I’ll go by Pandit ji’s house today and find out, if he has kicked her out,” as Narottam was saying this, the pipe fell from his hands. He watched with his mouth gaping as Urvashi walked towards them. Durgesh looked at Narottam staring at something in the distance and followed his gaze. He saw a young woman wearing a lotus colored cotton saree with a small green border and immediately guessed from her gait and confidence, who she could be. He turned from the woman to look at Narottam, who, nodded his head, still in shock.
Durgesh sat in an upright position as Urvashi approached him. “Namaste!” she said, joining her palm, in the traditional greeting. Durgesh nodded his head, studying the face of the young woman closely. “You are...?” he asked, pausing the question. “The newly appointed teacher, about whom the entire village seems to be gossiping,” completed Urvashi, standing firmly.
Durgesh looked from Urvashi towards Narottam, who seemed to be sitting up now. He turned around to look at one of his men, standing behind him, and signaled with his palm. The next minute a chair was placed in front of hi9s chair. “Please sit,” offered, Durgesh, in a serious tone. Urvashi studied both the men for a few seconds.
“We all know what has happened. We all also know who is responsible for whatever happened,” she said, shocking both the men. “But what you guys don’t know… is my connections...” she continued. As Durgesh began to say something, Urvashi raised her palm. “Please listen to me fully and then you guys can say what you must,” she said. Narottam looked at Durgesh in disbelief, as he fell silent, with one hand movement of the woman sitting in front of them.
“You have heard of UN? United Nations?” she asked, looking at both the me in turns. “They nodded their head, now completely confused. “The UN has a program called UN Heritage Sites,” began Urvashi and explained about the United Nations, invited applications from across the world to proclaim their house or village a heritage site. She then explained that after the application, special inspectors from UN would come and check the veracity of the claims and once the claim has been proven genuine, the village would get a UN flag and about 5k dollars every year as funds for upkeep of the site. Besides this the Government of India also gives funds for maintaining the sites, chosen as Heritage Sites. Which means every year, you stand to make 3-5 lakhs of legitimate money, if you have a heritage site your village.
Both Narottam and Durgesh now leaned forward and listened keenly to the words of Urvashi. “I can help you identify such sites and apply for a UN Heritage Structure status. In this village, there are at least half a dozen places we can explore for this possibility, which means we are looking at about 30 lacs per year, of tax free money, coming to your village…” said Urvashi... watching the two men almost drool at the idea of having tax free money come into pockets.
Narottam and Durgesh looked at each other, as if they could not believe their ears. Urvashi drew in a deep breath and joined her palm. This would be her final shot. A sixer to finish off their googly. “But... unfortunately, we all know what will happen today evening. Durgesh ji will hold a Panchayat, where you will prove that I am a woman of questionable character. That I entertain Narotttam Ji’s goons at night in my house. Already the entire village is gossiping about this. You will shame me and then leave the decision about my fate to the entire village. The villagers will first abuse me and then will demand I leave immediately. And the I will be gone and so will the 30 lakhs that you could have earned. Just for a small piece of land, where you will set up a sugar mill. Initially you will incur a loss, then after a couple of years you will break even and then slowly the profits will come… of course they will. But in the mean time you would have lost almost a crore, in tax free funds. So, I just came to say, lets’ spare each other all the drama. I am leaving in the afternoon. And, Narottam ji can rest in peace,” said Urvashi, joining her hands in a namaste as she stood up and walked away, as abruptly as she came to meet them.
Durgesh and Narottam, sat on their respective seats, trying to digest, what Urvashi had just explained to them. But only one thing registered in their minds. “In the Meantime, You Would Have Lost a CRORE of TAX FREE FUNDS…...”
12:45 PM Urvashi’s House
She had packed her things and was pacing the hall, when she heard cars stopping in front of her house. Urvashi’s eyes narrowed in anticipation. She picked up her suitcase and took her hand bag and stepped out of the house, paying no attention to the men who descended from the car. She quietly put the lock into the door and was about to press the key into the key hole, when Narottam came running to her from behind. “Urvashi ji… please… what are you doing mam... please give us a few minutes. We need to finish the discussion you began in the morning. Please let us sit inside and talk peacefully,” he said, watching her carefully. Urvashi turned around and noticed, Durgesh Singh, coming into the compound. “Yes,” he said in a stern voice. “We would not want you to leave unceremoniously. Please let us sit inside and talk,” he said, standing with his arms crossed at his chest. Urvashi looked from Narottam, to Durgesh and the towards the 4 men standing behind Durgesh Ji. Vicky, Jai, Sonu and Minku stood next to the waiting cars, their face stone cold.
“Vikram, can you please bring Pandit Ji here,” said Urvashi addressing Vicky. Narottam and Durgesh looked at Urvashi, their brows raised and then looked at Vicky. Vicky stood, his breath becoming harsh as Urvashi commanded him, like a teacher giving a task to a student. He stood defiantly, rooted to his place. Urvashi looked from Vicky towards Narottam. “Do as she says,” said Narottam, observing Urvashi closely.
Vicky looked away in anger and banged his hand hard on top of the car in front of him. Then he walked away slowly towards Pandit Ji’s house. Bu now a small crowd was beginning to gather around Urvashi’s house, surprised that both the Sarpanch and one of the most powerful men in the village, now came and stood at Urvashi’s house. Urvashi’s face though was guarded, as she opened the latch and respectfully waited for the men to enter the house first. As Narottam and Durgesh entered the welcoming, cool house, Urvashi went into the kitchen and came back with a tray with two glasses of water. Both the men took the glasses of water and were sipping the cool liquid, when Pandit Ji entered along with Vikram.
Durgesh addressed Pandit Ji. “Pandit Ji... I came to know about Urvashi Ji’s suspension. I request you to revoke the same and let her join duty immediately. I am aware of the unfortunate incident yesterday. But, knowing what kind of a family Urvashi comes from, we should not let these things bother us. Forget everything Urvashi Ji and please focus on your duty,” he lectured.
Pundit ji looked from Durgesh to Urvashi. “Sure, if you say there is no problem, then I am more than happy to recall the suspension. I only issued the order, because I was worried about her safety,” explained Pandit ji.
“Urvashi ji, once you have settled comfortable into your new job, we can discuss about the Heritage Structure plan in detail,” suggested Narottam.
“Sure,” said Urvashi. “But I have not accepted your request to stay back yet,” she said, observing both the men. Durgesh seemed to be getting agitated, but then as he looked at Narottam, he calmed down. “Consider yourself lucky that I and Durgesh ji came to your door step and are asking you stay back,” explained Narottam ji, his gaze now cold.
“And I am very grateful for this honor,” said Urvashi, a hint of sarcasm in her voice. “But...” she said observing the men in the room, “the entire village now questions my character and that is not acceptable to me. So, I request Durgesh ji to call for a Panchayat today evening, where I will introduce myself to the villagers. I will only stay back, when my name is cleared,” said Urvashi, her voice firm, her eyes calm and her stance resolute. As Narottam and Durgesh, exchanged glances, Urvashi’s eyes strayed to Vicky, who stood leaning against a wall behind Narottam, his eyes studying Urvashi intently. As she looked towards him, her eyes seem to challenge him… as if they were saying him to … “you are next…”
The auto rickshaw with speakers attached to its sides, pulled out from the road side, near Narottam’s house. As it passed around the mud roads in Padrauna, announcing that Panchayat will assemble under the old Banyan tree and that all villagers were to assemble there at 5:00 PM, the humdrum in the routine life of the village was completely disrupted.
Surely something drastic was going to happen. First the sighting of Vicky in the new teacher’s house, then, Narottam Ji & Durgesh ji, themselves, coming to the New teacher’s house and now, the Panchayat being convened. The villagers were gearing up for high drama at the Panchayat. May be the Teacher would be questioned for her amoral behavior, in front of the entire village.
“Oh what shame….I would die of shame if I had to go through such a situation,” one woman gossiped with her friend, as both of them pilled their pots with water.
“How she still walks with her head held high,” commented the vegetable seller, to a woman who was haggling to reduce the price. Despite all the gossip and conundrums about the happenings of the previous evening, Vicky has his gang of friends, remained unaffected. They had all grown think skins, to be even remotely affected by such loose talk.
“That Teacher trumped you with Googly huh?” said Jai, looking at Vicky, mocking him. Vicky’s face became unreadable. “I got fooled by her innocent looks. I though she fell for my trick,” he said shaking his head. “I didn’t think she had such a shrewd brain on her tiny shoulders,” he stated, controlling the tremors in his jaw, with great difficulty.
“What do you think will happen now?” asked Minku, observing his friend. “I don’t know what she wants now. What was the need to call for a Panchayat…? Anyway we’ll know in some time… what do we care,” said Vicky, going to sit on his bike.
“Is it?” asked Jai, immediately. “You really don’t care… or are you acting like you don’t care. Admit it, you got beaten by that city dweller. She’s too smart for you,” he said, spitting out the words at Vicky.
Vicky came over to Jai from his bike, and hauled him up by his collar. “Is that what you think? Then I promise… you… soon... you’ll see, how I subjugate her arrogance. I will take her to bed…. Record the whole damn thing and show you… for free… It’s a promise…” he said, his eyes cold, his breath rough.
“You are playing with fire….” Warned Jai
“I like playing with fire…. It’s what men do…” said Vicky, arrogantly
5:00 PM – Under the Old Banyan Tree
The entire adult population of Padrauna had assembled in the open ground, in front of the old Banyan Tree. There was a rectangular table, with a white table cloths spread on it, kept in the shade of the Banyan tree and four chairs were placed at this table.
As the villagers sat, murmuring and whispering loudly, they heard the unmissable sound of approaching cars. First Narottam got off his car and rushed to the car behind him, out of which stepped out, Durgesh. Both came walking with great pomp, as they folded their hands in a Namaste, as the villagers greeted them. To Urvashi, who stood some distance away, with Pandit Ji, it all looked very familiar. How many times, had she not witnessed Panchayat’s like this in her childhood? But today’s Panchayat, would wipe away the bad memories from the past. This Panchayat was not for killing a woman while she was still alive! This Panchayats was for upliftment, for rise, for an ascent… This Panchayat was the begning of the Arohan of the people of Padrauna. Urvashi looked around, as people sat on the bare floor. Nothing had changed. Her eyes searched the crowd for the face she was looking for. And then they calmed down, as her eyes came to rest on Vicky’s face. His unmistakable features, standing out amongst the crowd. If he had not been a goon, he had so much potential. She could gauge, his intelligence, his determination, his tenacity to survive. She needed him for today’s Panchayat. She looked away from Vicky, as NArottam and Durgesh came and occupied two of the chairs.
After them both had a sip of water, Narottam rose and addressed the village. “As you all know, there has been an unfortunate incident, that happened in the village, yesterday night,” began Narottam. “However, after speaking to Ms. Urvashi, I and Durgesh Ji have come to the conclusion, that whatever news has spread all over the village if false…it’s a rumor,” he said, as the entire village heard his words in pin drop silence.
“Due to whatever has happened in the last few days, we have not been able to introduce our new teacher to you all properly. And so I would like to invite Kedarnath Ji as well as Urvashi Ji, to come share the stage with us,” said Narottam, looking towards Pandit Ji and Urvashi and raising his hands as he clapped. The villagers followed his queue and clapped as Pandit Ji and Urvashi walked up to the table and sat down in the two remaining chairs. The murmurs among the villagers bean softly, “what is happening, why is she sitting along with them, so really nothing has happened?” people were heard whispering to each other.
Narottam, turned to look at Pandit Ji. “Whatever she needs to say, ask her to say quickly. We want to leave as soon as possible,” he whispered, with a fake smile plastered over his face. Durgesh Singh though, was seated with a stern look on his face. It was obvious he was not happy with the way things were turning out.
Pandit Ji stood up slowly. With folded hands, he said, “thank you so much for assembling here at such short notice. I would like to introduce the new teacher for our Village school, Ms. Urvashi,” he said, his hand towards her.
Urvashi looked up at Pandit Ji, with a soft smile on her face. “Thank you Pundit Ji,” she said, as she stood up. She stood quiet for a few seconds, taking in the faces of all the villagers. Then, she began by saying, “this is the first time, I am seeing all of you in one place. I have met a few of you, most of you I don’t know. But, I will be interacting with you all in the days and months to come. So, it is very important for us to know each other. Namaste,” she said, her hands now joined at her chest. “I am Urvashi…” she paused.
“What is your full name madam…?” Someone commented from the rear. “Yes yes, tell us your father’s name also,” someone else from amidst the crowd, screamed, taking shelter in the anonymity the crowd presented. Urvashi smiled softly. “Married woman, take their husband’s family name as their family name,” she said, her eyes sweeping over the people squatting in front of her. Vicky’s heart nearly stopped as Urvashi said these words. Jai, Minku and Sonu, looked on at Vicky, as he jumped off his bike, which was parked next to Narottam’s car and stepped closer to the table, as Urvashi spoke on “I am Urvashi Jenkins. My husband’s name is Timothy Jenkins. We studied in the same University in America,” she stated.
There was a collective sigh of OHHhh and AHHHs. “A few months after we met, my husband was shot at by an unknown man. And I became a widow,” there was pin drop silence in the ground now. Vicky looked at Urvashi and swallowed hard. She was probably 26 / 27 years old. What all had she experienced in such a short life. As his brows meshed into a thick frown, his shirt strained by the heaviness of his breath, Vicky heard each and every word Urvashi spoke, like his life depended on it.
“I was born in a village like this… “She said, looking all around. “But I followed my dreams, went to US, studied in a big University, met my husband there, got married, and got widowed at such a young age. I had everything …everything was perfect. But I left everything behind and came back… here…” she paused, studying the villagers, who listened to her keenly.
“I came back… so that I can help people from a small village realize their dreams. I came back, so that people don’t have to go through the struggles I went through to fulfill my dreams. I came back to help your children, find a chance for a better future. Your children can have a better life, lots of opportunities. But for that, they need to come to the school, to get an education. I am not saying that every child in this village must study and go to the city and become rich. NO. All I am saying is, if you study, get an education, you can make your life better. You can find out when some Seth is cheating you?” she said pausing, as the villagers looked at Narottam and Durgesh, as they squirmed in the chairs.
“You can find out when, they don’t give you the correct seeds in the PDS shops. You can find out how you can increase the produce of your farm land, you can find out about how and where to get the best price for your produce. We all don’t need to become doctors and engineers. But we all need to educate ourselves, so whatever we do, we can be the best in it. And more than boys, girls need to be educated. Because, a boy educated, will help himself and his family. A girl educated, will mold the future generations of your family,” Urvashi stopped, as the villagers heard her, completely in awe.
It was at that moment that Urvashi looked at Vicky. As she turned her head slowly, Vicky could sense her eyes coming over to him. His heart nearly came into his mouth, as her eyes landed on him, observing him, as he stood, awestruck at her words, just like the rest of the village. He had forgotten all about their animosity, all about the challenge he had thrown at Jai. All he knew, was the way her eyes looked at him, they made him want to be man worthy of her, a man she would fall in love with.
“Vikram... please join me here,” she said clearly. The entire village looked around each other, wondering who this Vikram was. But as they saw Vicky walk towards her, almost like he was in a trance, the murmurs began again. “So, it was not a rumor… so it’s real them… she has no shame…” – as many comments as they were mouths. “What is she doing Pandit Ji… stop this drama,” whispered Narottam, as Durgesh looked at the whole scene with disgust in his eyes.
When Vicky came and stood near Urvashi, she turned back to the crowds. “This man came to my house yesterday night,” she said, pausing for a second. “He came as he was hurt on his fore, while working,” she said, looking at him. “Can you please show them your wound,” she said, looking at Vicky. He turned around slowly and held up his hair, to reveal the bandage, which had been tied to his forehead. “After that he fell unconscious at my door. If any of you have any health related problems, during the night or when a doctor is not available, you can always visit me. I am trained to do basic first aid. My house is open to all of you. If you need any information about anything, any advice, if you need any help... please feel free to come by. And I hope you will all send you children to school from tomorrow. If you really love your children, this is the best gift you can give them,” said Urvashi, as she turned to Vicky.
“Thank you Vikram,” she said, her eyes narrowed and studying him. She turned from Vicky to look at Durgesh Ji and Narottam Ji. “Thank you for accepting my request to call for the Panchayat,” she said loudly enough for everyone to hear. Durgesh and Narottam, folded their hands in a Namaste, as Urvashi walked away, after having thanked them.
The tongue is one of those parts in the body that does not have a bone in it. Hence it cannot stand on its own. It lolls around in the mouth, where taste takes it. And so, the villagers who until a few hours ago, were casting all kinds of aspersions of the character of Urvashi, now sang a new tune. As soon as the panchayat got over, the villagers could be heard whispering with each other…”my God, what a dynamite this new teacher is?” “My God, she even had Durgesh ji and Narottam Ji call a Panchayat” “She has made the impossible possible” “Never seen a woman like this before” …. As many compliments as there were mouths.
“You seemed to have the changed the villager’s perception about you within hours,” observed Pandit Ji as, Urvashi and Pandit Ji walked slowly towards the school. “They all seem to think, you have made the impossible, possible,” he said, looking at Urvashi, his eyes closely observing the determination that was beginning to show on her face. Who could tell, by looking at that pleasant face, that she held such nerves of steels, under the seemingly, naïve, almost timid features.
“Neither their harsh comments affected me, nor do their compliments mean anything to me,” said Urvashi, turning to look at Pandit Ji. “This is not what I called the Panchayat for. I did not want the parents to use my bad reputation as an excuse for not sending their children especially their girls to school. Besides, I have seen what they do to women in these Panchayats…. I would rather die than go through something like that…” Urvashi now seemed distant. Pandit Ji drew in a deep breath. “How?” he asked, unable to contain the wonder that seemed to come from within. “How did you manage to break free?” he articulated his thoughts.
“It’s a long story…maybe I’ll tell you at leisure,” she said smiling genially. “What now?” asked Pandit Ji. Urvashi smiled a big wide smile… “Let’s get straight to the action. Holi is around the corner. What if we organize a huge Holi Tyauhar……? In the school premises and distribute a few books and color pencils to all the children Pandit Ji? “Asked Urvashi, her eyes glowing with excitement.
“Hmm we can do that... it’s a good idea. I’ll write to Lucknow for funds… until the funds sanction comes, don’t talk about to anyone. There are many who would like us to fail and very few who will genuine want us to succeed,” warned Pandit Ji. Urvashi nodded in agreement.
As Narottam sat, taking a swig from his Hukkah, Vicky was pacing up and down, his face red with embarrassment. He had never lost in his life…NEVER. And today because of Narottam, he had to face embarrassment in front of the entire village. Urvashi had made him a puppet in her war with Durgesh and Narottam and Vicky did not like it...AT ALL.
“If it had not been for you and Durgesh Ji going and making that secret deal with that woman in the morning, by now my plan would have been an enormous success,” said Vicky, his irritation at being so embarrassed, visible in his tone. “What was the need to make a deal with that woman?” he asked, his tone now taking a more authoritarian tone, without his knowledge.
Narottam, who until that moment, was leaning down on his cot, with his eyes closed opened his eyes at Vicky’s words. Jai, Sonu and Minku now stood in rapt attention, as Vicky crossed a line with their patron. Narottam looked at Vicky, his eyes now narrowed. He pointed his index finger at Vicky and moved it back and forth, indicating for Vicky to come to him. Vicky stomped over to where Narottam’s cot. “Sit,” said Narottam, his tone now, aggressive. Vicky stood over Narottam, his eyes narrowing slowly. “I said sit,” screamed Narottam, loudly now.
The next minute Vicky sat down wordlessly. “You would have been floating in the gutter, if I had not rescued you from the police, that night, all those years ago,” he said, gripping Vicky’s chin in his fingers and forcing his face up to look at him. “You, are like my pet dog…. Always remember that…. ALWAYS. You know what they do to dogs that turn around and bite their owners?” said Narottam now glaring into Vicky’s face. “They put them to sleep,” he said, looking straight into Vicky’s face. “The next time you talk to me… remember, I am your master and you are my pet. As long as you remember this, you’ll be fine. The day you behave like we are equal…. you will have problems… understand?” he said, pushing Vicky away from him.
“Today evening, be present in the house. There is a very important guest coming in. Make sure the guest room is cleaned perfectly and keep some fruits and coconut water in a small copper jug with a copper glass. I don’t want any complaints from my guest. I’ll skin you alive if there are any complaints,” said Narottam, barking out the instruction as Vicky stood, with his head held down, his jaw throbbing wildly and the pulse at his temp trembling.
Padruana Zilla Parishad School
Padrauna Zilla Parishad School, was an old structure, which seemed to barely stay erect. In recent days, it had been painted a light shade of yellow, as a cosmetic improvement, to hide all the moss that had accumulated on the walls. It was also where the kid’s f Padrauna had the most fun, due to the teaching methodologies adopted by Pandit Ji. Pandit Ji’s core strength lay in making anything and everything he taught, so relatable, that the children did not feel the stain of learning at all. He would make the lessons so interesting and practical so that the children forgot that they were learning something new.
“I don’t want the children to simply mug up some information just to pass exams,” Pandit Ji explained to Urvashi as he showed around the 12 class rooms in PZP School. Now they only had classes 1-6, with each class having 2 sections each. It was Pandit Ji’s dream to make PZP a high school and later, have Junior College and graduate College facilities too. “I want children to learn the process of learning.
Because education doesn’t stop at school or college or even University. Education is lifelong process and it should not be limited to a certificate or a degree against your name. True education must make a human being humble, ready to face any situation, more civil towards fellow human being, give us the ability to discriminate between right and wrong. And education earned only for a title against one’s name is a waste of education,” said Pandit Ji, articulating his strong views.
Process of this humble man, who seemed Urvashi was amazed at the thought process of this humble man, who seemed to be living like a Yogi, for the upliftment of the lives of the children of Padrauna. He had no personal ambition or aims left. All he wanted was to be able to give quality education to the children in the village he was born in. Her respect for Pandit went up by a notch.
Akbar’s Tea Stall
As the four friends sat silently, sipping their teas, Akbar bhai couldn’t help noticing the unusual silence that had descended around the goons of Padruana. He couldn’t help feeling the sense of satisfaction through. Finally, there was someone to teach these ruffians a lesson, he thought to himself. On the outside though, he pretended not to notice the gloomy faces, lazing about his tea stall.
“You are about to lose for the first time in your life,” rubbed in Jai, adding insult to injury. Vicky smashed the glass of tea to the floor and grabbed Jai by his collar.
“I am not a very patient man and I have already been tested to my limits today. I don’t want to smash your nose… so don’t force me,” he said, breathing into Jai’s face. “Sure…. All your manhood, you demonstrate standing here and saying all these wonderful dialogs to me… and that teacher made a fool out of you in front of the entire village and walked away. Do something Vicky… do something and quickly… because if you don’t do something soon, the villagers will stop fearing us…? Already they look at us like fools….” warned Jai, hitting the nail bang on its head.
Urvashi had been assigned Social Studies for class 5 and 6, besides her there were 4 other teachers and then there was Pandit Ji, of course. She had been introduced to her students, who seemed like a bright, intelligent lot with lots of questions to ask. But most of them were comfortable in Hindi only. Urvashi was happy to notice that the craze for learning and aping a language that is foreign to us had not yet reached Padrauna. Here, speaking only Hindi and not knowing English was not a taboo. Learning a new language is a wonderful skill. However, to think a foreign language is superior to out native tongue, is a proof of the power our Colonial Masters, still exert on us. We still consider a foreign language superior to our native tongue, when we have such ancient and well-organized grammar and linguistic rules in our native languages.
As Urvashi was in the middle of her social studies class, explaining the World Map with various countries geographies, Vicky barged into the class room.
“Madam… need to speak to you,” he said, standing with his hands on his waist.
“Please wait outside. I am in the middle of a class. I will speak to you when I am done,” she said, turning back to look at the children.
“HEY…Children… move. Get out now… your teacher and I need to talk in private… OUT ALL OF YOU,” screamed Vicky, screaming at the kids, in an unruly manner. As the kids began to stand up to leave.
“Sit down Children,” said Urvashi in a calm tone. “Don’t fear bully’s like this. If you get scared they will bully, you more. Sit down… please…” she said, turning to Vicky now. Her eyes were wild with anger, but her tone was still normal, soft as always. “Tell me, what did you want to say?” she asked, looking at him, dismissively.
“You want me to tell you here? In front of the children?” he asked. “I can say it… but it won’t be nice for you,” he said, trying to scare her. “What is it Vikram?” she asked, her voice stern now.
“Fine… I’ll say it here... So, you are a widow is it? Married to someone who you oved once and he was killed? Well I am glad your husband got killed,” said Vikram, as Urvashi’s eyes changed from anger to something he could not recognize. They went blank as he spoke, not giving him any idea about what went on in her mind.
“If he had been alive, you and I would never have met,” he said, coming closer to Urvashi, as stood her ground.
“I’ve played with a lot of woman before,” he said, as she looked up at him, with an unfathomable look. “But never have I been defeated by a woman before. In fact, I have never failed, whenever I have planned something, it has been a success. It seems I have finally met my match…. I think I am falling in love with you…...” he said, watching her face, harden into stone as he said those words.
Urvashi watched Vicky, as he moved closer and stepped back, away from him. She turned to look at the class full of students, who looked at both by turns, waiting in anticipation to see what their teacher will now say. If word gets out of the classroom, the whole gossip cycle will start all over again.
Urvashi turned from the children to look at Vicky. Vicky watched her closely, his eyes narrowed to thin lines as he waited for her reaction. As he stood watching, he saw her face soften into a warm smile. The smile that was blossoming on her lips did strange things to his insides. Urvashi looked at Vikram and said, “Thank you so muck Vikram,” then turning towards the children. “Did you see how convincingly he acted? I want you all to come up with a play, where you will act your roles just like this. The audience watching you must believe that you are the person you are playing and forget the real you.” She turned to Vicky then. “Wait for me in the staff room vikram. I need to talk to you,” and she turned around, back to the lesson.
“Madam!” Vicky called out, not moving from the classroom. “GO NOW!” ordered Urvashi, her eyes wide, her voice only just losing control.
Vicky scratched his head and looked at her unsure, before walking out of the classroom.
A Few Minutes Later – Staff Room
Urvashi walked in briskly into the staff room, as Vicky paced the empty room, waiting for her to appear. It had been over 20 minutes and when she still had not come, he was just about to step out of the staff room, when he heard her footfalls.
As she came in, she stood in front of him, with her hands crossed at her chest. Vicky looked at her from head to foot. “I love...” he began, as soon as she stood before him.
“What new tricks are you up to…? Is this Narottam’s order?” she asked, keeping a safe distance from him. Vicky’s eyes caught fire as her words provoked anger within him. “I am telling you that I am in love with you. It’s love at first sight for me. What has it got anything to do with Narottam or anyone else,” he asked, trying to step closer to her.
Urvashi stepped back immediately. “You will leave right now. And you will stay away from me, henceforth,” she said, turning away from him. “I was in your house, sleeping there for a few hours. If my intentions were wrong, I could have done anything,” he said, as Urvashi turned around to look at him. “ANYTHING,” he repeated, as her face tightened in anger. “But I didn’t do anything. You know why? Love…” he said, a smile curving at his lips.
Urvashi stood observing the impudent man standing in front of her. She was very nearly tempted to slap the smile off his face, but she knew better than to provoke him that way.
Urvashi brought her phone to her line of vision and dialed some number. Vicky watched with curiosity, what she was trying to do. “Narottam JI?” she asked, after a few seconds.
“Are you serious?” asked Vicky. “Do you think I will fall for such juvenile tricks?” he asked, looking away with the smirk intact on his face.
“Yes, it’s me, Urvashi. I have Vikram here with me and he is talking nonsense with me, here at the school. Could you please put some sense into your man, not to cause trouble anymore?” she said, as she observed Vicky.
“Yes… I am talking about him,” she said, looking down at the ground. “Here...” she said, offering the phone to Vicky. “Your boss wants to talk to you,” she said, giving the phone.
Vicky’s smirk vanished from his face. He took the phone, slowly, apprehensively and put the phone to his ears.
The loud barks from the other side, were audible even to Urvashi. “You dimwit, fool, what the hell are you doing. Did I not tell you, we made a deal with the new teacher? You will come back immediately and help with arrangements for Swamy Ji’s arrival. Leave…NOW,” screamed Narotam onto the phone. Urvashi watched as Vicky’s brows gathered together in a firm frown, as his jaw jumped violently. His eyes, glaring at her, from under the frown, were windows to the violence he was capable of if he willed it. Vicky cut the phone and stood glaring at Urvashi.
Urvashi shuddered at his furious glare, even as she stood firm, her fists now clenched, away from Vicky’s sight, under the cover of her saree.
Vicky walked up slowly towards Urvashi, his eyes intent on her. Urvashi, though, did not budge from her place, although instincts screamed to her to move away from the goon coming towards her threateningly. “Don’t think this is over or that Narottam will leash me, if you complain. I will not stop until you accept my love. There is no escape, there is no other way, but to accept my love,” he said, walking up to her, his hand slowly raising towards her.
Urvashi stood, shocked at his audacity and utterly petrified at his words, but she knew, if he saw the fear she felt, he would press on that fear to get her to accept his condition. So, she stood, cold, her eyes, unflinching, her face a wall, not showing any of her real feelings.
Narottam’s Place – Later That Evening
“Who is this Swamy… Thakur Ji,” asked Minku, as he carried the Tiger Skin and placed in on the Rosewood stool, specially placed in the center of the hall, for the Swamy to sit on.
“He is an enlightened soul, no one knows how old he is or where he lives. But occasionally he comes to visit us, and I believe our family was given the task of hosting this great soul. I saw him a long time ago, when my father was managing this estate and he had told many things about the future, which came true. He even predicted that I would save you 4. After he is rested, if he permits I’ll let you ask him one question each,” said Narottam, walking away to inspect preparations in the kitchen. Just as Narottam walked into the kitchen, Vicky came in, as quietly as a cat and began to help with the preparations. As soon as they saw him come in, Sonu, Minku and Jai surrounded Vicky.
“Where the hell you and what were the hell are you trying to do. Get yourself killed? When that teacher called he became mad, ready to kill you,” said Sonu.
“Stop this game, right now Vicky, before things become worse, just forget about that teacher and focus on work,” warned Minku.
But Jai observed Vicky silently. He knew Vicky inside out. The fact that, that new teacher had beaten Vicky at his game was unacceptable to Vicky and he had now made it his personal mission to conquer that woman…any way possible.
“Don’t waste your time, talking to a deaf man. He won’t listen to anything you say, because he’s made up his mind,” said Jai, looking at Minku and Sonu. Then he turned to Vicky and said, “Vicky! What are you planning to do?” he asked. “I’ll stalk her, wherever she goes, whatever she does, I’ll follow her like a shadow. I have already told her, I love her. Now till she accepts my love, I will follow her. And once she accepts my love, straight to First Night. Then I will make her run behind me, begging me to marry her. I’ll make her life hell. From this moment on, her destruction begins,” said Vicky, the lust for vengeance shining bright in his eyes. Just as the four boys were busy chatting, Narottam entered the room again. He spotted Vicky as soon as he came in.
“VICKY!” he screamed and as soon as Vicky heard his name being called out, he ran towards Narottam, and fell at his feet, shedding Crocodile tears. “You can punish me as much as you want Thakur Ji, I will even lay down my life for you at one command. But don’t ask me to stay away from Teacher ji. I love her Thakur ji, I fell in love with her from the first moment I set my eyes on her. Wherever I look I see her, it’s as if I can’t stay away from her. My feet go to her of their….
“HAHAHAHA,” the loud, shrill laughter, echoed in the center of the huge mansion. The laughter was both loud and ear piercing, all at once. “Do you even know who she is? If you knew who she is and who her father is, you wouldn’t even dream the things you’ve just said now. Son, forget her…. she’s way beyond your reach. Even if you take 7 seven lifetimes, you’ll not get what you are dreaming of. So, forget this love, shuv and focus on the work you need to do, understand?” said, Narotttam, still laughing.
Vicky’s brows knotted at Narottam’s words. “What do you mean? She has family in India?” he asked, wondering why she lived alone, when she had family.
Narottam laughed openly mocking at Vicky. “Do you think I and Durgesh ji will talk to any woman who bothers to come over for a discussion? You fool, that woman can destroy people like me and Durgesh Ji with just a phone call. Don’t think that she is alone. If you even touch her, you will be dead before you realize it. She is fire… hellfire,” said Narottam, warning Vicky in no uncertain terms.
But there are some people who rejoice in doing exactly what you tell them not to do. It’s like a disease, like mental disorder. They cannot sit in peace, until they have attempted what everybody is asking them to stay away from. It is only after they burn their fingers that they realize what they were trying to tame is fire. Vicky was one such person.
Narottam’s warning, had the exact opposite effect to what it should have. If Vicky had any second thoughts about what he was planning to do, he was now more determined than ever, to make execute what he planned. Urvashi was going to belong to him, voluntarily or by FORCE.
An Hour or So Later
As everyone from Narottam’s family sat down, cross legged in front of the Saint wearing saffron robes, Minku, Sonu, Jai and Vicky observed the goings on from the corner. The face of the saint seemed calm, a glow unlike anything they had seen before on his face. His hair was a matted mess, and his face covered up to his cheeks with beard. His eyes were like thin lines, his pupils submerged into his upper eye lids. Minku and Sonu even joked if he could see properly. The entire family of Narottam ji sat in reverence, in front of him, their hands folded, watching him in reverence.
As Narottam sat in stoic silence, the saint like man looked towards the four men standing in the corner and at Vikram in particular. Then he looked down towards Narottam. “In this house lives a man, whose life is about to change forever," he said, observing Vicky from the corner of his eyes.
To Be Continued.......