by Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar
Bharati drove past the posh market street enchantingly lined up with branded shops. ‘So much money must have been spent on the decor’ thought Bharati, ‘and the location must also bleed the company through their noses – and there are hardly any buyers, albeit footfall is high.’ She smiled to herself and the thoughts kept following,’ People including her loved to loiter around these streets; the glitter and the glam makes a perfect background for the selfies and groupies’. “It is like being in a fairy tale,” she said aloud unaware of herself.
“Excuse me?” The passenger at the backseat was a little startled. “I am sorry Sir; I was lost in my thoughts and made a remark. I am really sorry, won’t happen again,” said an embarrassed Bharati.
But the passenger prodded on, he liked the sound of her voice. The chit chat continued till they reached his Hotel that was almost an hour’s ride, but to Rohaan it felt swift.
And then the usual followed – from Ramavatar to Rahim khan, from George to Abrams, from Jagpal Singh who literally had a kripan (single-edged dagger or knife carried by Sikhs) to that fellow Dhawal who taught her about the tirthankaras (in Jainism, a saviour who has succeeded in crossing over life’s stream of rebirths and has made a path for others to follow); they all wanted to spend some more time with her – a refreshment for the mind and body, spirit and soul after a tiring journey or a long day.
Bharati enjoyed these time outs as much as her customers did. They were not always purely of the platonic kind but she did not feel exploited as it was her choice – she was captivated by their intriguing stories about the vast world out there whence they came from, each with different ideas and belief and customs and culture and also the variety of ways people sought pleasure, some she too found replayable but some were too ghastly and she would immediately refuse to comply, mostly the gentlemen would respect her opinion.
In rare occasions she had to use force and tact to get out of unpleasant situations, she had prepared herself for such eventualities.
“Bharati you speak so well but then you say you never went to school am curious” Rohaan said zipping himself up, his face was glowing with satisfaction. Bharati giggled, “I try to imitate if I like something and thus learn.”
“But English?” Rohaan was fascinated.
“A customer who became a friend and mentor with time helped me enroll in an online course, I followed diligently and now I don’t have to refuse English only customers like you!” Bharati said with a wide grin.
“I speak Hindi and Spanish and German too! Am not English only” Rohaan said faking anger.
Bharati went near him as if to pacify, “Oh ya, you caught snippets of my blabbering in Hindi.” Rohaan pulled her close, “Am glad I did” Both cuddled a bit.
“Will you have dinner with me please?” Rohaan asked expectantly, he really liked the girl. She was easy going and fun. “Sure but only if it is accompanied by some interesting narrative.” Bharati winked at him.
Rohaan did make the dinner interesting with narratives from Germany where he was born and brought up and an ensnared Bharati gulped them down eagerly along with the delicious delicacies.
As it was time to part, Rohaan felt a tug at his heart and he said, “Shall we meet again?” He gave her an ornate box, “A token of our companionship.” Bharati opened it – it was a beautiful necklace. “Whom did you buy it for?” she asked smiling. “My wife.” Rohaan was unable to meet her gaze.
“Then give it to her Sir, let us keep this simple.” Bharati said with a meaningful gaze. “We watch so many movies, if we like any we watch again – but it still remains a movie – it does not become our life. For me these dates are like movies, it will be dangerous if I get emotionally involved with its characters like you.”
“I understand” Rohaan said softly lowering his gaze and taking the ornate box from Bharati. “But Rohaan” she tried to say something but he felt a shiver run down his spine as he heard her say his name. He pulled her towards him with a sudden jerk and whispered, “Say it again, say my name again!”
She did and held him lovingly.
The man really liked her and she liked him too – ‘we have no future together, I would never ruin another girl’s life. Someone else could, Rohaan seems eager for love; it is not a physical urge but a deeper need for companionship. Well it could be someone else, but not me’ Bharati thought determinately.
She came out of his embrace slowly, “Until next time – u know where to find me!” Bharati bade him farewell.
People may call her names and not approve of her but Bharati had gained a lot from these one night stands sometimes turning into long lasting friendships – money was just a sweetener. As for Rohaan she would not meet him again, she didn’t want to complicate her or anyone’s life.
Bharati cherished the control she had of her life. “This is my third life, and I like it”, Bharati told Bhumi her roommate as she finally parked her vehicle for the day and sat crossed legged and relaxed on the bed opposite to her with a cuppa. “You mean your third reincarnation?” An astonished Bhumi asked wide eyed. Before Bharati could say anything, Bhumi started narrating the story of a girl in her native who was supposed to be a witch in her earlier birth as she could read letters from the age of four.
“Oh dear that is so sad – superstition has ruined and taken so many lives” Bharati said visibly hurt.
“Then what ‘third life’ were you talking about Bharati?” Bhumi said inquisitively. Bhumi and Bharati have been residing in this PG for women for about 3 months now. Bhumi worked as a nurse in a hospital nearby, she had shifting duties sometimes at night and otherwise in the day and it was rarely that the two got an opportunity to talk at length.
This ‘deepawali’ – the festival of lights, both the girls were taking a break from their hectic schedules and going off to a nearby hill station – a 3 days trip. They were very excited and the holiday mood had already set in.
“Okay let’s talk as we pack, our bus leaves very early tomorrow morning – right?” Bharati said sportingly keeping her cuppa away and pulling out the travel bag which was lying under her bed. “But my multiple lives will need possibly the entire trip to narrate – so why don’t you start first?” Bharati added jestfully.
Bhumi laughed out loud and started talking while piling up the clothes and tit-bits to be packed on her bed, “Mine is a very simple life; a small town girl – but somehow understood seeing the plight of my mother and other women that I had to elude the vicious cycle of marriage::children::suffering.
School education was free and I really studied hard. I graduated from school with good marks and appeared for the entrance exam for joining a nursing college. But my parents wanted to spend their money on my marriage rather than my education.
Fortunately my eldest brother who had joined the army a few years earlier and had a little money of his own, supported me, he sponsored my education and stay at the nursing college. So here I am – living my dream, learning everyday from so many wonderful people and aspiring to touch many lives in a beautiful way.
It is no doubt a lot of hard work, but I feel good without getting frustrated as opposed to my mother and sisters and the many women I had seen at my place – working as hard as a bull and suffering 24/7 without any respite – mental or physical.”
“Your zeal and determination are an inspiration Bhumi!” Bharati meant every word of it.
‘Never does an accident come announced nor does a life go as planned. These things, these beastly things just happen’ thought a sobbing Bharati, holding Bhumi’s head in her lap that was still attached to the otherwise lifeless mutilated body. Their bus had a bomb planted in it and when they had just reached the foothills, through a heavily wooded area, it exploded. Most of the passengers died instantaneously. By sheer random chance, Bharati was alive with a few bruises here and there, though she lay unconscious for a long time.
The soldiers from the military camp nearby rushed to the accident spot hearing the loud explosion. Bharati was among the fortunate five who had survived and among the more fortunate three who did not need hospitalization. It was only because the explosion had somehow thrown her away and she landed on a marshy wet ground, where she had been lying unconscious when Kuntal found her.
Kuntal had recently been posted at the army camp and when Bhumi told her that she and her friend were travelling to that very hill station, he was overjoyed anticipating the meeting with his little sister but kept it as a secret only to surprise and delight her.
It seemed as though his grief was flowing through Bharati’s eyes – he had to attend to duty.
It wasn’t a grand or gorgeous affair but a simple minimalistic setup where the four hands met through a simple ritual in accordance with Kuntal’s family as Bharati had none. This was about a year later since the fateful accident took place. It had been love at first sight even though the duo had realised it much later.
They were lying exhausted from the fury of passionate love making, they had left it for this day, like old times – where mating was allowed only after the marriage. Though Bharati was not a virgin as Kuntal – who had never found the time or inclination for the carnal pleasure, they both found it to be divine.
Memories have a way to appear at the most inconvenient of times. Bharati could shake it off and indulge in the moment’s bliss but she let her thoughts flow.
As she lay naked and satisfied and overjoyed, she was reminded of that dark day when it all started – in her first life – the one she got at birth, the one where she was a puppet of destiny. She pulled the sheets over her and cuddled herself.
She was 8 or a little more may be, the fifth girl child of her parents and very unwanted. The family had three sons and two daughters born and three daughters killed in the womb. Bharati was not to be but by some random chance she was not killed. Their home was a two room affair with a small area for cooking where they also ate. Defecation was to be done in the fields a little distance away but all other discharges could be done at the back of the dingy house.
Little Bharati was returning from the fields with her family, but was left behind as she had needed to discharge. Suddenly a hand covered her face from behind and threw her on the ground. It was Monu bhaiya(brother in Hindi language), their neighbour – she recognised before losing consciousness. When she regained her senses it was already dark, none was around and she was in terrible pain.
Bharati dragged herself home and narrated the event breathlessly to her mother, scared to her bones she was in need of comfort and assurance. Instead her mother said, “Why did you have to gain consciousness, why couldn’t you just die?”
The wounded and dejected little girl cried alone all night but it was not until she was 16 that she decided, that this humiliation could not go on any longer – every other night she was sent off with different men of varied ages who would excruciate her body in all possible ways. Bharati was distinctively beautiful and attractively fair and delicate for a farmer’s daughter – her family had found the best possible way to make her life worthwhile – after all what is wrong if the whole family is kept well from the sacrifice of one! Possibly her mother anticipated this cruel future and wished for her daughter to die to be spared of this heinous viciousness. She was as helpless as the poor child.
One summer night it was raining heavily and most people were tucked inside their homes to be safe. Bharati went out under the pretext of discharge and ran away from her unsafe home for ever. She made herself and everyone she met thereafter believe that she was an orphan.
Days were followed by nights and nights by days, she wandered from place to place hiding from potential dangers of the kind she had known from her early childhood. She soon figured out that begging near temples would keep her fed and relatively safe. This went on for a while and then one fateful day lightening stuck the tree she was sleeping under.
It was months before she regained complete consciousness and when she did, she could not recognise herself. Her face had to be fully grafted, the plastic surgeon had done a good job but it was not her – it was not that cursed beautiful face any more – she smiled.
Bharati was supposed to die that night, the night lightening stuck the tree but fortunately a doctor was passing by and saw the event happening in front of him. He ran to the spot, picked up the frail malnourished girl, it was a miracle that he got her pulse. The doctor drove straight to his hospital and initiated treatment. Thus Bharati got her second life – she was born again – with a new face, but her destiny changed little.
The kind doctor having given the poor child a new life sent her to a ‘home’ – a place where orphans are given shelter and training such that they can earn and support themselves once they become adults at 18.
But Bharati spent a rigorous two years at the ‘home’, toiling from morning to night in exchange of food and bedding, two pairs of clothing a year and sweeping, mopping and washing in the name of training. They threw her out as soon as she turned 18, according to their records. The hospital had given her an identity card with her name and date of birth written on it which was highly speculative but close.
The 18 year old started walking – without a destination – unaware of what life was going to offer her next!
She came to a cross road and suddenly she heard a screech followed by a high pitch scream – which seemed to be directed towards her, “What on earth are you doing in the middle of the road and where did you appear from? Abhi mere taxi ke niche aa jaati (You could have gone under my taxi)!” A woman in a blue denim and red tunic topped with a light khaki blazer was looking angrily at her. After the girl was done yelling she went back into the car, and Bharati’s eyes followed her intensely as she entered the car, sat at the driving seat and drove away.
Bharati stood there for a long time and then started walking – the words ‘my taxi’ played in her ears several times and a yearning rose from the bottom of her heart – what if she could drive one too!
A part of her said, ‘this is crazy – you don’t even know where to start’ – another said, ‘so what?’
As she walked along the road, she came across a shop with a lot of cars on display – all polished and beautiful. There were some men and women moving around who too looked all polished and beautiful.
Bharati went in and asked if she could get a taxi. The folks at the shop were so taken aback that they didn’t know what to say, they just asked the security guard to show her out.
Further down the road she found a petrol pump where cars were pulling over so she went and enquired with the girl who was filling fuel. She thought Bharati was lunatic and called for help; soon a couple of boys and girls came to her rescue. They grabbed Bharati and put her on the road again warning her not to venture around the petrol pump ever.
Bharati knew how to survive – begging and shop lifting – so she survived but her quest never left her though she didn’t know how to go about it. Then one providential day, an accident happened right in front of her. The man started screaming and mentioned the words ‘taxi’ and ‘garage’ time and again.
Bharati felt that there might be a correlation between the words and she started looking for a garage – soon she found one – it had lots of cars, but unlike the showroom the cars were mostly old and dirty. The place was dusty and greasy and the people running around were also the same – sitting amidst all this on a charpai (a type of bed with a wooden frame and woven base) was a huge man with a huge turban on his head.
He shooed her way like a mosquito. But she kept buzzing. ‘This huge man’ felt Bharati ‘must have a huge heart and there would definitely be a place for a frail little thing like me’. She was right! He finally took her in; but he made her do everything except go near the cars. She would sweep and mop and serve tea to the men working in the garage on various cars. She would run errands for them and with time they took a liking in her, this time not as males but as human beings trying to help an eager apprentice – they taught her what they knew bit by bit in their spare time and the huge man let them.
Bharati emerged as a natural with cars, from driving to their mechanics – she grasped them all fervently. The huge man helped her get a driving license. And one fine January morning – first time ever since she had emerged on this planet, her birth was celebrated – she was made to cut a cake – and when all had had their fill and the cake was over, at the bottom lay a key – a car key!
The huge man hugged her and she cried – he cried – and everybody cried. Everyone was happy for her as she drove the car out of the garage. It was a second hand refurbished vehicle that the huge man had enrolled as a taxi.
Months had turned into years and from ‘what if’ – Bharati was actually driving a taxi! She had left behind all those years of gruesome brutality and helplessness and dependency, she was steering not only a car but also her life – according to her own wish – she was born again – her third life – which Bhumi had wanted to know about. ‘Should I pen down the story of my many lives and dedicate it to Bhumi?’ Bharati wondered.
“Come on sleepy head – tea is ready!” Kuntal’s loving call broke her trance. She hurriedly got dressed, sat with her cuppa at the porch beside him, kissing him deeply once more.
Kuntal has decided to opt for an early retirement from the army and lend Bharati a helping hand in her new venture – her own garage. He didn’t want to be away from her anymore. As for Bharati – she didn’t know what life had in store for her; she had never known, but as of now in her fourth life – she felt happy and gratified. They embraced and kissed each other like there is no tomorrow – and indeed – when has one ever known!