This case has been pending for years. Discussions, debates retrospection and introspection, have all failed. Who is at fault, them or me bothers me more than anything else. I am an individual who just needs to weigh the actions of an applicant and assign him or her a location fit for them. However, I seemed to have failed miserably.
Apologies for this banter, I should have introduced myself before piling you with my worries. I am Chitragupta, the one who assigns your soul to heaven or hell after you die. Hope it makes my position clearer.
I peered over the yellowed leaves of the memoir regarding the case in question. I have decided the destinies of every soul who walked the earth, be it the mighty Ravana or the righteous Yudhishthira. Furthermore, I have treated everyone with respect and in a non- partisan manner be it Kasab or Angulimaal. However, I fail to understand my hesitation in pronouncing judgement for these four. Love is most arduous to judge! And when it’s unfulfilled even more so.
I dusted the cover page, and read aloud. ‘The case of Sohni — Mahiwal — Maklin — Jabru.’ This story needed to be put to rest. I flipped the cover and worded, ‘Sohni!’
‘My question remains the same, why did you do it?’ I questioned like I had done since decades.
‘My answer remains the same as well- I don’t know!’ Sohni declared.
‘You don’t know, or you don’t want to accept. Remember until and unless you accept your doings I can’t assign your soul to heaven nor hell.’
Sohni took a deep breath. She had denied accepting her true feelings even to herself. However, now her soul was tired and worn; it looked forward to release.
‘Will our conversation be recorded too?’
‘Not verbatim but it’s crux. I need to justify my stance if questioned.’
‘Will Mahiwal know all I say here?’ She asked haltingly.
‘Not if you don’t want him to.’ I reassured her and made a note. It seemed the ice was about to break. I prodded her with an understanding look.
‘I loved him … Mahiwal, but I was tired!’
‘Tired of loving him?’ I asked incredulously.
Her sobs didn’t plummet my curiosity. I waited patiently for the torrent to subside.
‘I loved him then, and will do so forever, but I was tired of living a life devoid of happiness and satiety; a life full of deceit.’
‘Deceit?’ My fingers stopped penning away and eyebrows raised.
‘Yes, deceit. My heart longed for Mahiwal every moment we spent away from one another and my conscience nagged every moment I was with him. The world branded me as the girl driven by love, but I was a human too. Even though I desired another man I acceded to my parents’ wishes and agreed to marry someone else. So tell me Noble Chitragupta, you counted my doing so as good or bad?’
Bewildered at being questioned, I stammered. ‘Both, a selfless deed for your parents but betrayal towards your lover.’
‘That’s what I meant. Every night after my marriage I tried hard to accept my new relationship but couldn’t. He waited.’
‘Who?’ I interjected.
‘Jabru, My husband. He never forced himself on me. He never demanded consummation of our relationship. Even though he watched me go every night to meet Mahiwal, he never stopped me. Yes, I loved Mahiwal but Jabru’s vacant undemanding eyes haunted me. Mahiwal on the other hand had lost all hopes of living. He became frailer and weaker. I could see him slowly withering away. He became a nomad, wandering the streets begging for alms. I was the cause of torment for both the men in my life, and unfortunately I couldn’t amend anything.’
‘You could have left Jabru and married Mahiwal, wouldn’t have that been better for everyone?’
‘No! I had promised my father and married Jabru, I couldn’t have done that to him. So that stormy night when I stepped out to meet Mahiwal, I turned back to see Jabru watching me go. I wonder, had he abused me and forced me to accept him, then I wouldn’t have felt the guilt that I did, at that time. I wouldn’t have that feeling of cheating on him, fulminating within me. But it was there, nagging me and gnawing at my soul. I was so angry at myself for being a weakling, at Mahiwal for loving me so and at Jabru for tolerating me that I picked up the pot even though I noticed that it was substituted with an unbanked one. Yes I did it knowingly.’ She broke into a cry.
I gave her a moment to absorb her grief. A woman’s heart is a sea of deep secrets; secrets she doesn’t confide to herself as well. She must have felt lighter as when she raised her glowing face, I saw her smile.
‘You must be so happy to have your answer finally. So, no one killed me. I wanted to end my suffering and the pain I bestowed on others. Mahiwal would have died soon anyways whether I was alive or not and Jabru, I hoped would lead a happier life without me and get married again. Alas! It wasn’t to be.’
‘You didn’t mention Maklin, what of her?’
‘Maklin, was a wonderful sister. I would give anything to have a sibling like her. Hopefully in next birth.’
I had never been so perturbed, ‘do you know that she was the one who changed the baked pot with an unbaked one, so that you could drown to death as the unbaked pot would crumble in water and drown you?’
‘Of course I do. She loved her brother so much that she wished to end the source of his worries. We were all potters, just a glance would have revealed whether a pot is baked or not. She exchanged them just to discourage me, she never admonished me for my doings. That was a subtle way of telling me not to go. They were good people.’
This was getting difficult by the minute.
I threw my final question. ‘So, whose love was strongest?’
Sohni’s lips quivered, ‘is the measure of love done by its aggressiveness or by its subtlety?
Tell me how do you measure love…. by its duration or passion or by its silence.?’
I had got my answer and hoped that in her next birth she does meet the love she truly deserves.
Haggard; drained drooping shoulders with eyes full of longing, defined the man who had become the epitome of love, Mahiwal! He walked in looking for her.
‘Has she left again without meeting me? Did she mention me? Chitragupta my friend, please tell me… Does she still wear her hair in a braid? Does she still quiver her lips when she smiles?’ Mahiwal prattled away.
‘Make yourself comfortable Mahiwal. She wants to move on, let her go.’
‘I followed her here, I will go wherever she goes.’
‘That brings me to my question, why did you do it?’
‘Did what? I have told you a thousand times that I jumped in to save her, but failed.’
‘You were weak, malnourished and hardly able to walk, how could you have saved her life from the tormenting water? What made you jump? You were at the other bank, you couldn’t have reached on time, then why did you?’
Mahiwal froze. He lowered his gaze and said, ‘I was tired.’
Second time in a row, human behaviour is beyond my comprehension. He suddenly became guarded. ‘Will you write down all that I say? Will it go down in history?’
‘Not verbatim but it’s crux.’
Mahiwal seemed unconvinced, but realised it was too late to hold onto secrets.
‘What were you tired of?’
‘For her? But you knew she was married, why were you waiting?’
‘Have you noticed the pregnant clouds brimming with the moisture of love? Does it have a choice not to shed what it has absorbed? Even if it wanted to, the cloud becomes so laden with these droplets of love that it has no choice but to shed them, and loses its identity in doing so.’
‘I am weak in language of love, can you explain… ?’
‘Haha… the men of practical ways of life seldom agree with men like me who drove their life on roads of passion. Sohni was the elixir of my life. Without her, I had no existence, she became my identity. She acceded to her parents’ request and got married. I tried my best to live without her, but my feet dragged me to her new abode. Our love got rekindled. I waited for her to relent and meet me. She did and came to me every night, but she wasn’t the Sohni I loved. I waited for her to become mine forever, but something kept tugging her back. I waited for her even when she was with me, as even then she seemed…. lost. This waiting drove me crazy, and I realised that in my quest to have her, I had pushed her further away from me. I couldn’t bear that thought.’
‘When you realised her turmoil, why didn’t you return to your part of the world and allow her to live her life with her husband. Wouldn’t have that been better?’
‘I loved her! She was bonded by rituals, but my love wasn’t. Alas! It didn’t work out that way.’
He paused to reflect. ‘Jabru was acquainted with our alliance but never uttered a word. I am still looking for a reason for his doing so. Do you know?’ He inquired. I couldn’t break my vow of client confidentiality by revealing the truth, so, I kept mum.
‘That brings me to my question, why did you jump into the river?’
His shoulders drooped further, ‘it was time to accept my defeat. I was destined to eternal wait. When I saw Sohni being swallowed by the waves, I realised the only way to get rid of this never-ending wait was to die and meet her in heaven. I knew my weak, feeble bones would never be able to fight with the raging water and would soon unite me with my lady love. My life had become a pitiful sight, my death would make my love, and its stories eternal.’
His throat chortled with laughter, ‘So, you have it in record that I took my own life. I didn’t jump to save Sohni but to end my own.’
‘Who changed the pots according to you?’
‘Jabru, who else? He must have done that to teach her a lesson and seek vengeance. And when he feared the secret to unravel, he took his own life. How I despise him for killing my Sohni.’ He spoke with disgust.
‘Do you think that if you had left them alone, all of you could be alive?’
‘But, love is about attaining and not giving it up. True love doesn’t accept limitations. It surpasses all. Love is about being together. Love is measured by the passion it invokes.’
I nodded; love had always confused me. I bid him goodbye and wished that he would not have to wait for his love in the next birth.
An air of composure surrounded her as she walked in gracefully. Eyes lowered, but her chin held high. A woman scorned by the world but loved by her victim.
‘Maklin, my question remains the same but this time I want the truth!’ My voice becomes stern with perpetrators of crime and in her case, it was murder.
‘You want the reason as to why I killed her by exchanging the pots?’
‘The world has already branded me a killer and so has my brother, please take your decision, I have no intention of refuting it nor of giving an explanation.’
Women and secrets are hand in glove. Maklin seemed to be made of sterner stuff or was it just a facade.
‘I want to hear your version of the world’s interpretation.’
‘Will you write it in your records? Will you tell my brother, Jabru?’
‘Not verbatim but it’s crux, and I won’t tell him if you don’t want me to or do you?’
She broke down. I granted her a moment to absorb her repentance. ‘Jabru, my brother had always been the mellow guy. A person who accepts whatever is handed to him, not conveying his feelings at all. I saw it in his eyes, he loved Sohni from the core of his heart but never expressed his feelings as he realised, she loved Mahiwal. As their marriage progressed, I noticed that though Sohni went to meet her lover every night, she was increasingly becoming uncomfortable doing so. I often caught her looking at Jabru expectantly, as if wanting and coaxing him to stop her, but he didn’t.’ She paused as if conjuring strength to proceed further.
‘That night I decided to take matters in my hand. We were all potters, just a glance is enough to tell us whether the pot is baked or not. I exchanged the baked pot with unbaked one just as a symbolic gesture to make Sohni realise that she shouldn’t go and accept our home as hers. I didn’t want to embarrass her by confronting her, so I thought this would give her a hint. Alas! It didn’t work out as I had planned. The unbaked pot dissolved in water and Sohni drowned in Chenab.’
‘That brings me to my question, why did you jump into the Chenab? That night witnessed four deaths, two widely known and the remaining two eroded from memory.’
‘I was tired! Tired of explaining the villagers, tired of answering their accusing looks, tired of my seeing brother suffer. I gave up.’
She paused again.
‘Jabru, couldn’t bear the news of Sohni’s death. He broke down and for the first time expressed his feelings of love for her and hatred for me. Is love between lovers so supreme that it undermines all other relationships? My brother was the cynosure of my eyes, I couldn’t bear his hatred. Yes, I had committed a murder though unknowingly. I cried and asked for forgiveness, but he didn’t relent and shoved me away. I ran out to escape his wrath only to be punished by the villagers for my crime. Life devoid of my brother’s love wasn’t worth living. I took refuge in Chenab’s embrace.’ Her stoic calm unnerved me.
Just a last question, ‘whose love was the strongest, Jabru’s or Mahiwal’s?
‘Chitragupta, I am certain Sohni has answered that question and also repented. True love is acceptance; virtues and vices. Hope my inference helps.’
I watched her in marvel as she walked away her head held high and wished her peace.
His calmness percolated my aura. His soft yet assertive tone broke my reverie.
‘A very Good morning Chitragupta Ji, hope you are doing well today.’
‘Haha… I thought I was the one in control here. You seem to have taken over my role.’
‘No way! Your job of a decision maker is tough for a naive like me. Please tell me how can I help you?’
‘My question remains the same, why did you do it?’
‘To accept one’s weaknesses is treacherous. I keep avoiding confrontations, but it seems that time has run out. The answer is- I was tired!’
‘Tired of what?’
‘Tired of my weakness of not asserting my presence in Sohni’s life. Tired of waiting for her to reciprocate my feelings and tired of the guilt of forcing her to stay with me and not freeing her so that she could marry Mahiwal. Tired of carrying the guilt of her death.’
‘So why didn’t you let her go permanently to Mahiwal, wouldn’t it have been better for all?’
‘I did try to, but she didn’t agree for the sake of her parents.’
‘Then why didn’t you stop her from going and express your love. Maybe she had developed some feelings for you over the time.’
‘Chitragupta Ji, love is not about attaining, it’s about giving. I loved her, but I didn’t ask for her permission to do so, thus it was my problem not hers. She was an epitome of truthfulness. She never deceived me for a day. It’s better to be unloved than cheated. I wanted to give her time to feel my love, but it didn’t work out as I had thought.’
‘That brings me to my question, why did you jump into the Chenab, if your love was so accepting?’
‘Love is forgiving but forcing oneself onto another to drive them towards death is not. My presence in her life caused her death. Had I moved out of her life myself as in… run away or committed suicide before, at least she would have been alive and happy? My dear sister Maklin out of her pure love for me became instrumental in causing her death too. Unknowingly we became perpetrators of a crime that deserved only one punishment.’
I looked at a man of silence; a man of integrity. Though I already knew the answer I still asked, ‘So what is true love, Jabru my friend?’
He smiled shyly, I couldn’t understand, ‘The love that I saw in her eyes that fateful night, she turned to look towards me as if coaxing me to stop her from going. I was so lost in those eyes that I couldn’t react. That was true love without physical bonds and limitations. Alas! I couldn’t see those eyes again.’
I marvelled at the circle of karma. I bid him goodbye and wished him love.
The case had finally reached its end. Love and its finer nuances were remarkable. Love is a medication; a requisite for one’s soul but when taken in plenty it can weaken your core. How does one justify one’s feelings? Is falling in love so supreme that it allows disregard for the other people in your life? Is love important or whom you fall in love with is, as it decides your fate?
I have closed the case with my verdict, hope you have reached yours.
This humble effort is loosely based on a famous legend of Sohni and Mahiwal. However, this interpretation is am amalgamation of various versions of the folklore across continents and my final inference of it.
This a work of imagination without any intention of hurting anyone’s sentiments.
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