The soporific rhythm of the anklet bells wafted in the air. Samyukta could feel the flowing sound fall into her ears like drops of honey.
She opened her eyes, and to add to the mesmerizing effect of the dance steps; the rising sun displayed the upward crepuscular rays.
Samyukta got up with a start.
“Mausheeeee……,” she called out in a flurry.
Maushi came sprinting to her bedside. “What is it, Samyukta?”
“Why didn’t you wake me up, Maushi? You had promised that you would do so and take me to see him practice.” Samyukta said, feigning anger and pouting her lovely cheeks.
“I did come to wake you when he started with the invocation to Lord Ganesha, but then I found you in an ecstatic state, smiling over something in your dreams.” Saying so, Maushi patted her cheeks. “Was it about him?” She asked with a mischievous tinge in her voice, and Samyukta smiled, exhibiting a pearl set like teeth.
“Well, get ready then. I will take you to see Amitava’s rehearsal today. I think it is about how Lord Rama was seeking Hanuman’s help to reach Sita Devi.”
“Sounds interesting, I will be ready in a jiffy.” Like a deer, Samyukta sprang from her bed.
In half an hour, Samyukta was ready draped in a beautiful magenta half saree. This striking color attire further accentuated her fair complexion. A pearl neckpiece adorned her graceful neck, and it dangled till her pretty bosom. A set of pearl earrings and bangles to match with it gave her the charisma.
As Samyukta accompanied by Maushi crossed the long passage to the hall where Amitava was practicing, they spotted Shelar kaka’s rangy figure approaching from the other end.
“Oops! Shelar kaka is here. Will he take offense to our going to see the dance practice?” Samyukta asked, her eyes wide with awe.
“No, do not worry, he himself is a connoisseur of fine arts. He would only appreciate our interest.” With that assurance from Maushi, Samyukta walked with confidence.
“You both going to see Amitava dancing?” Shelar kaka enquired. “Go lucky, ladies. I have work, or else even I would not have missed such a graceful performance. Anyway, I can catch up on all the performances during the Navrati festival. These are only rehearsals.” Maushi made a face at his receding figure, and Samyukta could not help giggling.
Amitava was a versatile dancer adept in various dance forms, though he was an ace in Bharat Natyam.
It was Shelar kaka, who had somehow coaxed the busy artist to perform at the Navratri festival in their village. Samyukta’s father, Ramcharan, was the head of the village, and it was his responsibility to make arrangements for programs during festivals.
He conveniently passed on his baton of responsibilities to Shelar Kaka, who was a perfect concoction of diligence, sincerity and agility.
“Amitava is a very renowned dancer,” Maushi had also suggested to Shelar Kaka. “He hails from my village,” she had added with pride lit large on her face.
Samyukta had lost her mother three years before when she was hardly sixteen. It was Shelar kaka again who had bought Maushi as a domestic help to be with her always. Maushi was like a motherly figure to Samyukta.
Amitava had arrived in their village three weeks before, well in advance for the Navrati festivities to begin in a fortnight since he had to start rehearsing with a fresh group of accompanists.
“Accompaniments and singer will be ours. We have the best singers like Brijesh in our village and his percussion group.”
Shelar kaka had opined with a definite tone and Amitava had humbly agreed to it.
“If not for Shelar bhaau, nothing would work systematically here,” sighed Maushi.
She was right, Ramcharan was in his own world of ecstasy. It had nothing to do with the death of his better half. He had always been like this with a lackadaisical attitude. He often immersed himself in alcohol for long hours.
Samyukta, his only progeny, was scared of him, though he adored her. His very presence and bloodshot eyes made her shudder. Many a time, she had hidden her face into Maushi’s bosom, afraid to hear him roaring and snarling on the nights when he returned fully drunk. No one dared question him.
Presently Samyukta and Maushi entered the hall, while Amitava’s feet were conversing with the air. How nimble-footed he was, how beautifully he danced! Samyukta could not take her eyes off him.
Amitava’s broad chest and muscular arms further accentuated his alluring personality. Everything about him looked so very majestic. He writhed his body as if he was a snake sliding effortlessly over the ground. With bated breath, Samyukta watched him as Amitava performed non-stop and his anklet bells below his ruched costume tirelessly moved.
During one of his many lithesome turns, he spotted Samyukta, standing behind the door.
“Hey, why are you standing there? Come and be seated here if you wish to watch the rehearsal.” He smiled at her.
Blushing to the core, Samyukta walked in, requesting Maushi also to accompany her. No sooner than Amitava spotted Maushi, he humbly touched her feet.
“Is she your Maushi?” Amitava asked, looking at Samyukta. She nodded and shook her head simultaneously, bewildered to have come face to face with Amitava.
“I stay here with her after she lost her mother,” Maushi came to Samyukta’s rescue and nudged her for being such reticent.
“Can’t you say something?” She chided Samyukta.
Amitava asked Maushi, “Can I address you as aayee*?”
Hearing this Samyukta’s respect for Amitava levitated.
“You can come to see my rehearsal whenever you want. This is after all your house,” Amitava offered a glass of coconut water to Samyukta and Maushi. “Have it; they are from your farm only.” He laughed. Samyukta just could not take her eyes off him.
Then it became a routine. Samyukta would come with Maushi to see Amitava practice for the Navratri festival to be held on their village ground.
“Soon the two began spending the evenings together, talking of sweet nothings. Samyukta was relieved that neither Sheklar Kaka nor Maushi took any offense to their meeting.
However, the thought of her father constantly troubled Samyukta. She was aware that her father would not compromise on his only daughter’s wedding, and would never agree to wed her to a dancer.
With the hope of closing any gap between them, may it be social stigma or financial differences, the two young lovers lead a blissful life.
“I want you seated there in the first row for all my performances,” Amitava looked into Samyukta’s eyes intensely. She blinked her eyelids in a beautiful flutter and nodded.
“For nine days from tomorrow, you will come in different colored costumes as per the rules of the Navratri festival,” Amitava said, handing her a sheet of paper on which he had written the variant colors for the nine-day festival.
She nodded again.
“Come on, say something. I am waiting to hear your melodious voice.” Amitava held her hands. She flinched. This was the first time she was experiencing the touch of a man. It sent an electrifying wave through her body.
“I am afraid,” She said. “My father will never approve of our love.” Her eyes had gone misty.
“I know, that is why I have made a plan surreptitiously.” Amitava moved closer to Samyukta.
“On the last day of the festival, be ready with your belongings. I will take you with me. When people set fire to Ravana’s effigy, everyone will be engrossed in watching the fireworks fitted in the effigy. Taking advantage of that moment, we will leave the place.”
Samyukta was utterly taken aback. She was not prepared for such a turn of event, though she loved Amitava from the depth of her heart.
“My father will leave no stone unturned to trace us and might even ruthlessly kill you.” She cried.
“My love for you is invincible; do not trouble yourself with such disturbing thoughts. I suggest you take aayee into confidence. She will be of great help to you.”
By next evening the move was planned strategically with the help of Maushi.
“Do not worry. My close kin has a vacant house nearly 7 km from here,” Maushi assured them.
Samyukta could feel her heart pound against her chest each day when she dressed in the stipulated color and sat before the stage where Amitava performed.
Each of his dance performance was distinct. Whenever the audience burst into applause, he would look at Samyukta, who would blush, her cheeks turning pink.
On the last day of the festival, Maushi packed Samyukta’s bag and told her that she had already sent it away to the house where they would be moving at night.
“Maushi, you will be there with me, I hope. Please do not leave me alone.” Samyukta held Maushi’s hands and implored.
“Of course, I will be with you, my child.” Maushi assured her with a hug.
It was with mixed apprehensions that Samyukta threw a last glance at the house, in which she had been born and nurtured for nineteen long years.
“I dread at the outcome when father comes to know about this.” She whispered.
Amitava assured her that lady luck was on their side and would bless them to make their plan a success.
Not knowing or even making a wild guess about what was in store for her, Samyukta left with Amitava and Maushi while the whole village was celebrating the destruction of evil.
Amitava took the reins of the horse carriage and rode it effortlessly.
As they approached the house that Maushi had spoken about, Samyukta was stunned to see Shelar kaka standing there.
A strange inkling told her that things were not in her favor.
As if in a trance, Samyukta got down from the carriage and mechanically followed the instructions given by Maushi and Amitava.
She sat on a vast concrete step inside the house and looked bewildered at Shelar kaka.
“Kaka, how come you are here? Father will look for you as soon as the function culminates. Why do I have this creepy feeling that all is not well?” Samyukta wiped her moist eyes.
“Kaka please say something, my heart beat is accelerating. What is the matter?”
“Let me tell you everything in detail,” said Shelar kaka, sitting beside her on the vast step, while Amitava and Maushi took a chair, each, facing them.
“It was nearly four years ago that I had accompanied your father for some sugarcane deal in this village. Suddenly the car engine failed.”
“Was it the deal that mother wanted to materialize while she was alive, but counting her days?” Samyukta was trying to recollect what had transpired four years ago.
Shelar, Kaka nodded and continued. “We approached this house so that we could request the owners to allow your father to be seated inside till such time I fetched a mechanic and rectified the faulty engine.” Shelar kaka gulped what seemed like a massive lump in his throat, indicating that something worse was in store to be revealed.
“A pretty young girl answered the door and heeded our request. She was alone at home and said that her mother worked as a nanny to two kids in the Zamindar mansion, and her only brother was away in the town mastering some fine arts.”
Samyukta gradually began to add two and two together. If her sharp brain had not let her down, the girl, whom Shelar kaka referred to, must be Amitava’s sister. This house, she realized, belonged to Amitava.
She suddenly turned to Maushi, who was sobbing quietly. Though her tears baffled Samyukta, she could get a vague idea that Maushi also fitted somewhere in this household.
“Shelar kaka, please do not take such long pauses; my anxiety is shooting.” She requested him to continue, but his voice was choked.
“I will tell you the remaining story,” said Amitava, who had not uttered a word all this while but was sitting with his eyes closed.
“When Shelar kaka was gone, your father asked my sister to fetch a glass of water.” He paused, and looking intently at Samyukta said, “Yes, she was my younger sister Avantika.” His eyes turned fiery all of a sudden.
“And when she went inside to fetch the water, your father followed her into the kitchen.” There was complete silence which seemed to last till eternity.
The wailing of Maushi broke the eerie silence. Samyukta watched with bewilderment as Amitava went near her and consoled her. “Aayyee, please don’t let your heart get weak over the sad reminiscences. It is time for the sinner to get his cup of punishments. Delinquents never walk scot free as along as God’s blessing are there on the innocents. Today he will know how it feels when the daughter of a house is in a perilous situation.”
Hearing this, Samyukta could now put all the pieces of the puzzle together.
Amitava was Maushi’s son. Her daughter Avantika was crushed under the lust of Samyukta’s father.
She threw a baffled look at Shelar kaka, which mutely asked, ‘Why have I been brought here?’
Fear loomed large in her eyes. She cringed as Maushi came near her and patted her cheeks as she always did.
“Amitava is my son, and Avantika was my daughter. Neither Amitava nor I learned about the brutal act committed by your father as we were away at that time, but when I returned in the evening from the zamindar’s house, I saw my daughter hanging from the ceiling of this room.”
She opened the door of the adjoining room, and Samyukta was aghast to see a cloth dangling from the top.
“We have left the cloth to remind us of our revenge.” Amitava intervened. “Once we avenge the barbaric act done by your father, we will remove this forever.” He fought his brimming tears.
“We racked our brains, wondering why Avantika, a very calm and peaceful girl, had taken such a drastic decision. All our confusion was cleared the following day when Shelar kaka visited us.”
Amitava looked at Shelar kaka and gestured him to tell Samyukta what had happened after that.
“I begged pardon to Maushi and Amitava. Though I was not a part of this abominable crime, I felt that I was in a way responsible for it. Knowing that your father was under the influence of alcohol, I should not have left him in a house where a twenty-year-old girl was alone.
It was then that Amitava asked me for a favor. He said, ‘Kaka since you tell me that Ramcharan has a daughter, can you help me get closer to her under some pretext?’ “
Samyukta looked at Amitava with deep, hurt eyes. ‘Was it not love that she had seen in his eyes? Was she being used as a means to quench his vengeance? Was he going to crush her just like her father had done to his sister?’
“I know what is going on in your mind,” Shelar Kaka said. “Be rest assured that your chastity will be unharmed. It was I who appointed Maushi to be with you after your mother died. That was a strategy to get her closer to you. Amitava’s performance was also fixed for the Navratri festival by me. The plan stretched for four years because Amitava had not finished his formal training, and you were too immature to fit in the act.”
Samyukta tried hard to hold back her tears.
“Shelar kaka will now return to your village and let your father know that his daughter has eloped with dancer Amitava. He will claim to have chased us. He would say that he spotted us in this house, but since you refused to accompany him, he has locked the door from outside and returned to fetch your father.” Amitava was speaking but Samyukta’s senses had turned numb.
“Only you would be inside the house when your father and Shelar bhaau open the door. Amitava and I will be standing away from where we want to watch your father’s helpless expression. The expression of a father who thinks that his daughter’s virginity is lost. That is enough to serve our revenge. We do not want to repay his evil deed with the same evilness.” Maushi gestured Shelar kaka to leave, handing him a key.
Amitava also arose and told his mother, “We too should move out in some time now.”
“Don’t you have any affection for me?” Samyukta asked Amitava, with pleading eyes.
“I am sorry, Samyukta, there is no place for love in my heart that has become cold after my sister’s death. I had no intention to hurt your feelings. Please pardon me. Avenging my sister’s humiliation had always been my sole motive.”
“We intended to unveil this darker side of your father in front of you and to teach him a lesson for having brought the end of my child.” Maushi cried while Amitava gently took her away.
The receding figure of the duo blurred in Samyukta’s eyes. They locked the door behind them leaving her all alone.
Amitava and Maushi waited with bated breath for that moment for which they had been meticulously planning; to catch the maudlin expression on the face of the man responsible for the death of Avantika.
Shelar kaka soon brought Samyukta’s father. Amitava and his mother could see him hurrying up into the house. His face looked as if someone had been all over it with a broom.
He kicked open the door and hastened inside, followed by Shelar kaka, and then there was an ear-piercing wail.
Not bothering about the consequence, Amitava and his mother rushed inside the house, only to see Samyukta hanging from the ceiling with the same cloth that Avantika had used.
‘Retribution,’ the word was scribbled in a piece of paper, addressed to no one in particular!!!
She had left behind a plethora of unanswered questions!
Connect with Penmancy:
Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!