The shy blushing bundle was carried in with fanfare. Finally Sheila Rani Kher had found a bride for lame son Raju who had been afflicted by polio since childhood. Sheila was actually the great aunt of the bride. Maya, the newlywed had just lost her parents in a rock fall during a pilgrimage to the family shrine in lower Himalayas. She was barely sixteen and lack of dowry had brought her to this impasse. Maya was still under shock and had performed marriage rituals in dumb misery. Apathetically she curled up on the nuptial bed adorned with rose petals. Her extremely fair hands and feet were covered with intricate traditional henna designs. Maya was wearing a ruby red salwar suit (harem pants and top) and her dupatta (scarf) was laced with tiny gold bells studded with gold lace stars. On her forehead a gold Tikka glittered (forehead ornament) hung by pearls string from her hair. Her anklets and bracelets made tinkling sounds each time she fidgeted. She had a black and gold bead necklace called mangalsutra around her neck which was the symbol of a marriage. She was a sumptuous feast wrapped up in gold and rubies. She waited for her husband with heart in mouth.
Distant beat of drums could still be heard as women relatives continued their song and dance. All the men were hung over on country liquor and sounds of puking could be heard sporadically. Sheila had a haranguing tongue that kept husband and son in check and now she was letting loose choice epithets as she and others were forced to clean up after the men. Still Sheila was very happy as she longed to become a grand-mother.
Raju was slim, of medium height, fair complexion, high cheekbones, a perfect nose and chiseled lips. A small neat moustache formed a great base for his twinkling kindly eyes. His dependency on a cane had not soured him and he thanked god for a wonderful mother. She massaged his limbs daily and tied a fresh amulet on his arm every other week and fed him his favorite dishes. He was aware of her mixing various herbs in his food. He still ate everything knowing it was for his betterment. The latest concoction had been the flesh of a cactus which an itinerant monk had given to her to enhance Raju’s manliness and strengthen his limbs. Raju hated the taste but grudgingly ate it as he had implicit faith in his mom’s love. Raju had a pet mule “Shera” who helped carry him over mountain passes. He travelled into satellite towns to purchase goods for the family’s dry grocery store when inventory ran low. This also gave him news of their community, district and state. Raju had a fine brain and with the help of a kindly headmaster had obtained a bachelor’s degree in economics. Now he taught English and math in junior classes and was happy with his lot. He had been bulldozed into this marriage by his pushy mother against his will. Thus, he entered his bedroom with equal trepidation as his bride.
Raju and Maya had met briefly at family gatherings only. Maya was still wallowing in misery and was scared for her future. She was however savvy about birds and bees as her mother had prepared her well, tutoring her to expertly fend off straying hands and other mauling. She always carried a tiny dagger on her person. It was a family heirloom and very ancient. One peculiar thing about Maya’s mother’s family had been that it was a family of seers and often a child was born with a third eye. In olden times people ostracized them due to ignorance but these days they were respected and much sought after.
Per umpteen movie scenes of first wedding night, Raju removed the veil covering Maya face and spoke to her very gently. Listening to his kind tone, Maya lost a bit of her fear and paid closer attention to his words. He said “First and foremost I wish to express my grief over the loss of your parents. Rest assured I will not make any demands on you until unless you yourself are willing and ready. In the interim we can become good friends and understand one another. Also please do not fear mother even though she is like a prickly pear. She has a heart of gold.” Hearing this, Maya’s worries vanished. Time has a way of passing and it was two years already since Raju and Maya had married. Now they had become fast friends and Maya was ready for a family. Raju felt great joy at his chance of happiness finally as he loved kids and longed to be a dad. Maya had come to love and respect Raju and his parents who had been extremely patient with her. Maya was not a shirker and helped Sheila in tending home and caring for the cows and kitchen garden. In nine months Maya presented the family with twins, a boy and girl. They named them Suraj and Tara after sun and star.
The kids grew like weeds. Suraj was a handful whereas Tara was placid. From early on family tiptoed around her. They felt her quiet power as though some goddess had reincarnated in their home and treated her with deference. Tara was born with the third eye and often in sleep she started making predictions that always came true. Be it the rainfall or lack of it, a birth, death, windfall et al. Soon whole town clamored after her but she only spoke in sleep state. Maya protected her daughter fiercely. She knew well that such a gift could be a curse too.
Tara was very fond of her brother and always covered up for him. Suraj too loved her very much and even though she was his twin he looked up to her.
Suraj was playing ball with his friends after school when one of the volleys’s overshot and landed in the bushes. The kids ran to retrieve it. By sheer bad luck Suraj got bitten by a cobra that was nesting there. The quick thinking kids spat out the venom by biting into his leg. Poison was spreading fast. Two of them ran to fetch help.
Suraj’s vitals had become feeble. The local doctor was trying his best. The family sat praying non-stop. Then Tara came running and put her hand on her brother’s forehead. She started swaying and chanting in a strange ancient tongue. The venom started transferring from Suraj’s veins into Tara’s. Suraj stabilized and Tara fell into a deep swoon.
A week before Tara had had a vision and knew Suraj had a short life span. She chanted non-stop for two days before the deity appeared. They had made a pact. The twins would now each live to fifty and not a day more. Tara had happily given up half her life span for Suraj. No one knew about this pact.
Word count: 1168
note: Third eye means clairvoyance in the Hindu religion
picture from internet