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Read part 1 here – Boiling Water – I

I wasn’t late. As I waited for my turn, I looked at the people around me. They were petrified. They carried a façade but I was a fellow traveller. I knew what they craved from inside – to sleep with a grin on their face. No one was as old as I was. At least they realized early in their life that they needed help.

“How are we today, Shubh?” Dr. Kapoor, the kind psychiatrist asked as I settled in his cabin.

“Same old same old,” I said.

“How are the dreams?”

“They still visit me every day without fail.”

The doctor sighed. I was a complicated case. No amount of medication has helped me in the past year. He was the most reputed doctor in Delhi but I had an ever-growing inkling that he was as helpless as I was.

“Tell me about the dream,” he said finally after a few seconds of scribbling on his pad.

“It was different this time but related. There was a huge vessel of water kept on a cooking oven made of bricks in a corner of a hut. A lot of firewood was burning.”

“Go on.”

“The water was boiling. Bubbles were breaking the surface, making a hissing sound. There was a lot of steam coming out.”

“That’s it?”

“Yes.”

“And you woke up?”

“And I woke up.”

“This might be an improvement.”

“It isn’t. I have had this particular dream before. It is not very frequent.”

“You have never told me about it.”

“I thought it was not important.”

“What terrifies you about this dream?”

“Doctor, the dream is the same. Only she is not in it. I am still terrified of what I was terrified earlier.”

“All right, Shubh. I think it is an improvement but we will wait for a few days and see. And, it is not just the sound of boiling water that terrifies you and you know it.” 

I reached home at six. She was watching television.

“How did it go?” she asked.

“Medicines and no conclusion,” I said.

“Have faith,” she said with a sad smile. 

                                                *           *           * 

Shyamli was bright. She was the only girl in her class. A few boys teased her for being foolish enough to study and I had a fight with them. One of them ended up with a bloodied forehead. No one dared to tease her again. Both of us walked the 3 kilometres to school every morning. If we were lucky, we would get a ride on a bullock cart while coming back. Sometimes we took a dip in the village pond while returning. Sometimes we would ride buffaloes on the way.

            Shyamli went to school with me for three years before her studies were abruptly stopped. Baba was worried that he would not be able to find a suitable match for her if she studied too much. He was of the view that I too should start working on the farm instead of going to the school. I objected and stopped eating food. Ma took pity on me and talked to father who reluctantly agreed to continue my studies. I asked her to talk about Shyamli too.

“No Shubh! She has studied enough. Now it is time for her to put her mind to household work. She is already eight. She will be married in a few years,” Ma said.

“You were not sending her to school because it was the right thing to do?” I asked her. Ma looked at me for some time.

“No son. We sent her because of you. It is time to end the games and be serious about life. We have to marry her off and these books are doing her no good,” Ma said.

I started going to school alone. In the afternoon, I would come back and teach Shyamli as much as I could. I became her teacher. Sometimes she cried and I told her that she will complete her studies. I promised.

Shyamli was thirteen when Ma and Baba decided that it was time for her to get married. There was a sixteen years old boy called Raghu in the village whose father had a lot of land. They married her to Raghu who raped her on the first night of their marriage. I was not aware of this or I would have strangled him. She told me about it years later.

I was seventeen the year Shyamli was married to Raghu in 1967. My parents had started hunting for a bride for me while I was packing my bags to go to college which meant leaving the village and going to the nearby town to study. Baba was aghast. Ma was petrified as if I was going to fight in a war. No one in our family had ever left the village. In the end both of them gave in after a lot of shouting and cursing. I told them that I did not want to end up like them. I told them about the dream that was killing me from the last fourteen years.

“How many times have you committed the crime? How many?” I screamed.

Baba slapped me hard. I told them what I thought about them. That put a lock on their mouths.

                                    *           *           * 

I washed the dinner plates. She cleaned them with a towel. We then watched television for sometime. She stopped talking after a while. I looked at her. She was sleeping on the sofa with her mouth open. I smiled and woke her up.

“Go to bed,” I told her.

“Aren’t you coming?”

“I will try to avoid it as long as I can.”

“Don’t stretch yourself Shubh. We are not young anymore. Your body needs rest.”

He was holding her upside down by her right foot. She was naked and her crying filled the room. Her body was smeared with blood, the blood of her mother. There were other men in the room, watching the act. Two of them were chewing tobacco, another one was yawning. It was a way of life for them. This was not the first time they were witnessing the act. Another man was digging the ground outside the hut. Someone was wailing nearby.

            He took her to the corner of the hut where water was boiling frivolously over a brick oven. Water, that was unaware of the crime of which it was going to be a part soon. He lowered her towards the water. Steam was rushing up to condense on her face. Her tears mixed with water and dripped in the bubbles breaking the surface. Her shrieks were reaching a crescendo. Her face was close to the hissing water. Oh! So close.

I woke up with a start and with horror in my eyes. I gulped air. My hands were trembling. After a few minutes as my breathing came back to normal, I looked at the clock. It was 4 am. I sighed and got up from the sofa. I needed fresh air.

The same dream. The same dream ever since I could remember. 

*           *           *

I lived in a hostel. Every evening, I would take tuitions to pay for my college fee and other expenses. I was a good teacher. I would go to the village on the weekends to meet my family. I went to Raghu’s house to meet Shyamli. I wasn’t welcomed there. They were unsuccessfully trying to have a baby. Shyamli always beamed on seeing me. I was the only happiness in her life.  She never reminded me of the promise I had made a few years back but I remembered. She would complete her studies. She lived with Raghu and his family for four years. They sent her back home because she could not bear a child. A year later Raghu married someone else.

“I knew it was a mistake to save her,” Baba said.

My parents were grieved by her presence in the house. She was a burden now. They treated her like a servant, beating and cursing her for minuscule reasons. 

I completed my college and gave entrance exams for clerical posts in government organizations. I got through one and was posted in Delhi. I took a small one room house on rent in Chandni Chowk and shifted there. I went back to the village on the weekend and asked Shyamli to pack her belongings.

“What are you doing Shubh?” she asked with fear in her eyes.

“I made two promises that I intend to keep,” I said.

Baba stood in my way and slapped me. I was a bad son in his eyes. He then held Shyamli’s hand and tried to push her away. He pulled her hair. I slapped him. He held a hand to his cheek and stared at me with disbelief. I slapped him again and again and again till he crumpled on the ground. Ma stood in a corner gawking at me. She did not recognize me anymore. Now she knew how I felt all those years. I took Shyamli’s hand and both of us walked out of the house, never to return. 

to be concluded…