She was strolling in the market, looking for gifts. The chattering crowds and the hustle bustle of the market were like music to her. It had been so many days since she had walked like this among people. Free and unhindered. Had her husband known that she was wandering in the market alone, he would certainly have freaked out. There are as many downs as there are perks of pregnancy. She thoroughly enjoyed her hubby fussing over her, making dinner, taking her out for walks, shopping for her and so on. Just that his apprehensions put a kibosh on her solitary outside activities. He wouldn’t let her out of his sight for fear of some mishap. Today, he was in the office working late as he was taking the following day off so they could spend Rakshabandhan at their in-laws’ place. He had a younger sister, who was in college. Since he would be late in returning from office, he had reluctantly acceded to Radha’s idea of choosing a gift for his sister. However, he had extracted a promise from Radha that she would take the neighbouring Mrs. Verma along. Mrs. Verma had already left for her relatives’ place. As a result, Radha had to go alone, an opportunity she did not regret. Her husband, Rohit cared for his sister like a father. Probably that’s where his fretting and worrying came from.
Radha glanced at a golden purse with a beaded chain around it. She wondered if Naina would like it. No...it was too jazzy. She should look for something decent and yet smart. Her eyes fell on a grey purse in a square shape. It certainly looked different and yet she had seen it before. Oh yes! That’s what Varun had chosen for her on one particular Rakhi. But the thought of Varun made her heart clench. It was painful to think of him. Or of her parents. Especially today. On the eve of Rakhi.
It had been four years since she had left her maiden house. There had been a terrible quarrel and she had opted to live with her chosen mate much to the chagrin and anger of her parents. They did not approve of Rohit. Because he did not have a very high paying job. He was not an MBA after all. He worked in the delivery department of a small company. They had met on the metro. While she was returning from college, he was usually returning from work. How they talked and when their chemistry sparked is another story. But before long, they knew they wanted to spend their lives with each other. When they broke the news to their families, they were met with two opposite reactions. While her in-laws welcomed her with open arms, her own family severed all contact with her. She could understand her father and mother. But her brother too? It was quite unbelievable. She had always found support in Varun. When she wanted to go to a disc with friends, it was Varun who convinced their parents to let her go. It was Varun who always took her shopping even though he cribbed and complained a lot while doing so. It was Varun who always got her thoughtful gifts on Rakhi. She remembered their childhood when they used to invent games of their own. There was one particular ritual which they used to follow that stuck in her memory just because it was so ridiculous and weird. Taking cue from mythological shows, they used to create a sacred potion which they called as the power potion or the potion of life. They used to pour water in an earthen bowl (the mud pots that were kept unused in the storeroom) and take a candle out into the balcony. Then they would say all kinds of hocus pocus and light the candle. Placing the bowl above the candle, they would say one by one- “earth, sky, air, water, fire!” and after the pronunciation of the five essential elements, they would pour the water into two glasses and drink them in a most formal manner. To them, it was a sacred potion made of the five basic elements and contained utmost potential.
Radha laughed inwardly as she thought of the stupid tricks they used to cook up. Then the laugh turned bitter as she realized she sorely missed all those idiocies and oddities.
The memory of the day she had stormed out of her house was clearly stamped in her mind. Varun did not support her. He disowned her as easily and heartlessly as if nothing of value had ever existed between them. She had spent four Rakhi-less years. Four years of not seeing her parents or her brother.
While such thoughts invaded her mind, she walked past a herd of cows contently grazing on a pile of garbage. The dairy owners let the cows loose in the evenings, thus creating chaos and unnecessary traffic. Thankfully, there hadn’t been any accidents owing to the docile creatures. But that status was going to change today. As Radha walked onward, she didn’t see a calf lying down and stumbled on its legs. The squeal of the calf was not the turning point but the sudden obstacle took Radha by surprise and she moved to her right in a protective move. Just then, a scooter rushed by, hitting Radha in her side, causing her to topple over the calf, which elicited a plaintive cry from the animal. The pain rocked her consciousness and threatened to engulf her. She saw people hurrying toward her but could not keep her eyes open any longer.
It was the umpteenth time that his phone had rung. ‘Who was calling at this Goddamned hour?’, Varun wondered, rubbing his eyes. He clicked open the flap and saw the number. His face hardened. Why would Rohit be calling him? And that too at this time of the night? He decided to ignore it. The rings stopped after a while. He went back to bed. But a sense of unease had taken hold of him. Rohit had called him only twice before. Once, to apologize in an effort of reconciliation and another time, recently to inform him of Radha’s pregnancy. Not very fruitful conversations both, he must admit. He was still deeply stung by Radha’s treachery. But none of those calls had come in the middle of the night. He decided to let his guard down for a while. Before he could harden himself by reminding himself of his sister’s betrayal, he had already dialled the number.
“Why did you call? What happened? !!”
“Radha was in an accident...” and Varun didn’t need to hear the rest of the words. All his pride and hurt forgotten, he told his dad that he had been called urgently to a friend’s and rushed to the hospital Rohit had mentioned.
Radha was covered in a white sheet, her eyes closed and her body moving rhythmically up and down in the action of breathing. Varun looked at her through the jalousie. Radha hadn’t changed much. Women rarely do for that matter. Her cheeks were always sunk in a certain manner, which Varun had often teased her about as witch’s cheeks. She had always been plump and now looked even healthier in the hospital room with a mound in the middle of her structure. He wondered if she was safe...if the baby was safe.
He kept looking at her for another hour or so when Rohit came and thanked him for coming. He offered him something to eat but Varun refused.
Varun could not decide if he should tell his parents about Radha. They might take it badly. He decided to wait till he heard from the doctor. It was nearly morning when the doctor let them in the ICU. He couldn’t bear to see her ebullient sister so helpless and wounded lying on a drab hospital bed. His vision grew misty and it took all his self control to prevent tears from breaking through his eyes. He wondered if it had been his fault and his intransigence that had led to all this. Had they reconciled their differences, his sister would not have been roaming around alone and nothing like this would have happened. That rascal Rohit ! It was his fault ! He couldn’t understand the reason why he was at daggers drawn with Rohit. Rohit did not earn very well...accepted. Apart from that, there was nothing that hateful about him. His family was decent and had accepted Radha and welcomed her. Perhaps he was just not ready to relinquish his sister to another man. Perhaps he abhorred the idea of her sister’s devotion and love to another man. That sounded highly ludicrous even to Varun himself. But feelings do not follow norms. Just like at this point, his long-upheld pride and animosity had been punctured by his conscience and the old deep-seated affection he always had for his sister.
He hurried out of the hospital. Right outside the gates, stood a tea seller, offering tea in earthen cups. He bought two, paid him and rushed back to the room where his sister lay.
He pushed open the door carefully, trying not to give Radha a shock. Rohit stood beside her, cradling her head. “I told Radha that you came, Varun. And she is out of danger now. I will give you two a minute to yourselves.” and so saying, Rohit exited the room.
“Have this...”, Varun said, handing one of the tea cups to Radha. “It is a power potion made of the five basic elements, remember?” A faint smile played on Varun’s lips. “It was prepared outside with the sky and the air and the other things. You will be fit and running in no time. Come on, have it !” Radha was not as capable as Varun in stemming the floods behind her eyes. Her tears flowed freely as she sipped her tea. This was probably the most poignant Rakshabandhan of her life.