She counted the money kept in the small box in the drawer of her almirah.
‘Hmm, not much. But enough to buy what I had planned’.
She took the money out and kept in the black leather pouch which he had bought for her on their first trip to the ‘haat’. She rushed out of the house, giving no attention to her uncombed hair or crumpled sari.
‘Not much time left before he comes back home’.
Once in the chowk bazaar, she halted for a second. She felt lost. Where to go now? There were many khokhas lined up near the temple.She remembered the way he had pointed out at one of those necklaces hung on the display, telling her that it was the ‘mangalsutra’ which all Hindu women wore after marriage. She laughed at that subtle hint. They didn’t need to get married, for they were a ‘special’ couple. Ever since she had opened her eyes, his was the only face that she saw night and day. They were like siblings, friends, lovers …. marriage was the only next step. But she refused.
‘It would only complicate this relationship. Let it be the way it is, don’t pollute it by getting into the religion and ritual related issues’.
They were happy and complete. Religion was never the issue, neither was marriage. Nothing came in between them, not even a child. They both were sure that a kid would change the beautiful balance their relationship had attained.
‘I am sure he doesn’t love her. It must have been just an infatuation. No, not even that. She must have trapped him in her fake tears.’
‘I hope there is no black magic involved’
‘He told me that even if his parents were alive and forced him to marry a Hindu girl, he would have refused to do so. “Life”, he said,”would have been trapped in the mesh of rituals”.’
‘Is there no truth in the rumors then? No, Sweety saw them together. And she was sure that he promised marriage to her.’
‘Marriage? Did he really crave for that? Why didn’t he say that to me? It was a joint decision, wasn’t it? Would I have said no if he expressed his wish to have a social stamp on our relationship?’
‘Would this mangalsutra help me in tying his loyalty and love towards me? Would the red color of the sindoor wipe out his acts of betrayal? ‘
‘I don’t know much about my own religion. But the little that I know of it, there is no place for symbols. What matters is the faith that lies in the heart. But his religion is different. It believes in displaying even the most private emotions. So, would these symbols of marriage that I would be donning tonight bring back that trust and faith to our relationship?’
She got so entangled in her own thoughts that the shopkeeper’s voice almost knocked her off. Embarrassed, she paid quickly for the black-beaded necklace, and moved on to the saree shop nearby.
He walked slowly towards home.
‘Home – she is so proud of this small, dark and dirty place. I wonder why’.
‘I know that she loves me. And in some way, I love her too. But I do not know if the love I talk of is deep enough to sustain itself forever. I am not sure if it is just a manifestation of friendship and dependence that we shared since our childhood. ‘
‘She is beautiful, soft-spoken, comes from a good family. And we share the same religious backgrounds. I never thought it was important. But as I grow older, the desire to be in a socially accepted family deepens. I look for some security that only marriage can provide. And no matter how hard we try, religion seeps into even the tightly packed relationships in some way or the other. Having similar faiths would mean open-hearted invitations to the social circle.’
‘Would she be shattered if I tell her today that we are no longer meant to be?’
‘A major part of my life has been spent in her company. I can be just myself when I am with her. She makes me laugh, cry, angry, and experience all other emotions that life has to offer. It is going to be difficult now to tear myself away from her. Do I really have enough reasons to do so?’
‘Just a while ago, I told her that we would make a good couple. Did I mean those words? Would my marriage to her wipe out the memories of my previous relationship?’
‘What is her fault, anyway? Just the religion, social unaccaptability?’
‘Is it wrong to try turning your life around? Is it a crime to yearn to go back to one’s roots?’
There are times in our lives when we are torn between right and the right paths that are supposed to be taken. He knew the merits and demerits of both the options that were available to him. And yet, he was unable to decide for himself. Perhaps it was nothing but his old habit of consulting her for each and every decision taken. She had been her best friend. And he hoped that this time too she would be there to guide him.
He reached the small house where they had lived for past ten years of their lives. It was lit with the innumerable small bulbs hung together by a wire. ‘One of her home-decoration projects’, he smiled. It gave it a rather festive look. As he was about to enter through the open door, which was decorated with a new torang, something hit him. It was a familiar scent. Something that reminded him of pain, loneliness and sorrow. Gathering courage, he went inside. There she was – in red splendor. Beautiful. With scarlet red saree draped around herself, she looked Goddess-like. The red sindoor and mangalsootra made her look so out of place in that small, dark room. She was there, the way he would have visualized her. And yet, something was missing. As he went near her, he realized what made it all look so cold. As he lifted her lifeless body, something fell down from her hands. He picked up and kept the small leather pouch back in the almirah.