Tales of Sita — II

I bit my lip trying hard to think but it was beyond me. I vaguely remembered Lakshman mentioned something crucial before he left, but for the life of me I could not recall what he said. Well, I couldn’t entirely blame myself for that. With those sharp pangs of hunger disarming most of my senses including my ability to think and retrieve pieces of information from the back of my mind, it wasn’t easy. It had almost been a day since I ate any real food. I looked around. It was a shabby little house with one small bedroom and a tiny kitchen. All three of us had to sleep in this bedroom — me, my husband Ram and my brother-in-law Lakshman. I suggested I sleep on the floor the day we got here as the bed simply wasn’t big enough for three. In reality sharing it with my husband and his brother at the same time seemed more terrifying than sleeping on the floor everyday.

I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself. I could never imagine I’d have to end up in this far-away village amidst a forest from the mansion that I was married off to. My father kept his word, I couldn’t have found a better match in terms of family or fortune. About the man himself, I couldn’t care less. Ram was tall, well built and spoke very few words when I met him for the first time, right before taking my steps towards the wedding Mandapa. He was dressed as a groom, had a straight face and didn’t try to sneak any looks at me until explicitly asked to do so when performing the wedding rituals. I did manage to steal a glance, however. He was whitish brown and had a rather tender mouth as compared to the rest of his body. His had light brown eyes — the ones that hold your gaze onto their surfaces and stop you from diving deep into them, so you can never really tell if they are lying. However, at that moment all I really cared about was the fact that Ram’s family was probably even richer than my father’s. The society would expect someone like me to have a longing for love, affection and a real family to call her own. But I got accustomed to the absolute opposite instead. I was used to having businesslike conversations with father and not having to share any of my belongings or luxuries with anyone. I was raised a lonely selfish princess of an empire showered with all materialistic charms but ripped off free will and tender feelings.

Ram’s father had been married thrice. The first two wives had one son each, with Ram being the first born of the first wife. The youngest wife had twins. All three marriages ended in rather hasty divorces for reasons yet unknown to me. However, he seemed to be in pretty good terms with all his ex-wives when I joined the family. The four sons lived in the house with their father. The rest of them got married soon after Ram had married me. So the house now had four newly married couples occupying four huge rooms spread across two floors. The kingly father-in-law had an entire floor to himself. The wives visited frequently so there were three other rooms to accommodate the rare occasions when all three of them turned up at once. Theirs was quite a unique, and if I might add, perhaps a slightly strange family. I thought so despite of not being too well versed with the ways of a real family or human relationships in general. It struck me quite a few times that the wives seemed to treat all the sons equally and at times even shunned their own to favour the others’. I was surprised to the point of convincing myself that it was only a transient happy illusion they liked to create and maintain in front of new family members. However, I was wrong — until I was right.

I still remember the day all of us were asked to assemble in the great big hall — four sons with their brides, three former wives, the man of the house himself and his lawyer. Without a hint of anything at all, a brief announcement was followed by reading out of Dasharath’s will by the lawyer. To my relief and surprise, as per the will Ram was to inherit the palace and half of his father’s properties. The rest of them were to be distributed amongst his half-brothers. It was quite clear to me since I set foot in this house that my father-in-law’s words were always final. Even this time nobody questioned this unfair distribution. I looked around the room anticipating some bitterness to say the least, but couldn’t even spot a hint of anger or grief on a single face — the only visible reaction being acceptance. Ram’s mother Kaushalya was particularly enthusiastic and told us later she had expected this to happen, Ram being her husband’s favourite child. I din’t have any clue as to why Dasharath was being so biased towards Ram except for the fact that I noticed Ram carrying out each and every order by his father without any questions, all the time. ‘At least we have something in common’ I remember thinking rather bitterly to myself. That night I was thrilled and kissed Ram hard on his lips for the first time. And let him do whatever he pleased to me without any objections.

As it turned out later, I wasn’t that fortunate after all. My father-in-law’s second wife, Kaikeyi, suddenly appeared a few days later and stormed into Dasharath’s room. I had no idea what happened in there, but she left with pursed lips and a strange glow on her face. Before I had enough time to analyse it, later that night Dasharath called Ram and me in his room and told us that he had changed his will. As per the new will, Bharat, Kaikeyi’s son was going to get the palace and half of his properties. The rest of them were to be divided between Ram, Lakshman and the twins. We were shocked beyond surprise. Dasarath looked sad and angry, he kept mumbling to himself. Once he got himself together, he told us that Kaikeyi blackmailed him about a certain dark phase of his life to get him to change his will. All of us kept quiet for a while. Dasarath had his face buried in his hands. He suddenly looked up straight at Ram and said that it’d be better for us to leave the city at once, for Kaikeyi could go to any extent to make sure she got what she wanted. She wouldn’t hesitate to sacrifice one or two lives to secure her own son’s future.

Ram had his sources and we came to know later that the ‘dark phase of his life’ was in fact the publicly known incident where Dasharath accidentally ran over a young boy while driving half drunk with Kaikeyi by his side. The trials were still going on in court and all it took Kaikeyi to get her ways was to threaten him about being an eye-witness. Ram thought it wise to follow his father’s advice and ran away as far from the city as possible, renting this shabby little house from one of his trusted friends.

I din’t have a choice but to follow Ram’s footsteps no matter how helplessly angry and agonised I felt — I couldn’t even go back to Mithila anymore. I promised my father to give up that part of my life and I had to keep my promise forever, as he kept his. Ram din’t object to this, nor asked me any questions. I was sure he never imagined me to be so much in love with him as to follow him to the ruins but I was secretly glad that he din’t ask. As to why Lakshman accompanied us, Ram was convinced that Lakshman was merely his shadow who couldn’t survive a single day without him. A weak, vulnerable younger half-brother who always came crying to Ram for help whenever he was bullied in school would follow him anywhere on earth to exist — even now. I however, had a completely different answer to this question. I came to know after the wedding that I could have almost gotten married to Lakshman instead. My father wanted one of these two brothers to be my husband, din’t really have a preference even on the day of the wedding. Lakshman happened to see me earlier that day and wanted to have me. However Dasharath thought I’d suit Ram better. I wouldn’t deny I was slightly disturbed by this and having Lakshman accompany us to this remote village wasn’t quite comforting.

I peeked out of the only window in the room, kneeling down on the floor and raising my head high enough to have my eyes at a slightly higher level than the bottom of the window. There he was. Standing right in front of the house waiting for me still. I wished with all my heart for him to go away. He had a bunch of hair tied up on the top of his head in sort of a bun and it looked like they haven’t been washed for a long time. Similar inference could be made about his clothes as well — as shabby and dirty as they were. He had a pair of khaki trousers loosely clinging to the lower half of his body. The upper half, on the other hand, was almost bare except for a piece of cloth he had wrapped around his neck that could probably be classified as a scarf. He wanted something from me. And I was scared to get out to entertain him when neither my husband nor his coward of a half-brother was present in the house.

I somehow got up, forcing my weak and exhausted body up on my feet. I’d have to face him, I thought to myself, I didn’t have a choice. Lakshman’s face flashed inside my head for a moment — I could see that grave look in his eyes. I could even see his lips moving but couldn’t hear what they mumbled.

I stepped out anyways.

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