At the stroke of midnight, my cell phone kept hidden under my pillow, started vibrating. I got up from my bed and disconnected the call. I was wide awake, lying still on my bed until the phone call came. I reached under my bed by wriggling deep under the cot and pulled out a duffel bag. I slowly opened the door to my bedroom, making sure that the doors didn’t creak which would wake up my father who usually slept in the hall just outside my room.
It was dark outside; even the moon had refused to show up to illuminate the dark shroud of night. As I crept slowly towards the front door, my eyes fell on my father, who was fast asleep in a corner of the hall. He looked worried with creases on his forehead even when he was asleep. He had aged by ten years in the past one week. I felt guilty for bringing so much sorrow and worries in his life. My Papaji was a simple man, working as a school teacher for the past 25 years. He was a middle class common man who lost sleep agonizing over means to run his house during the last week of every month, because his family’s needs exceeded his meager salary.
But I comforted myself by thinking that I was doing the right thing. I would be out of his house, his life and I wouldn’t be a burden on him. I wouldn’t give him anymore grief.
“Papaji, I’m sorry because I have given you tears and grief. But I have to take this step. I cannot live without Yatin. If possible forgive me Papaji. I’ll always be your little girl whom you lifted on your shoulders and walked around the village with pride.”
I walked out as fast as possible into the dark night and into the loving arms of Yatin.
The living room of Madhav Rathore’s house resembled a war preparation room with close to hundred men inside it. Some were talking in hushed tones, trying to extricate information from their various trusted sources, some talking to the local police on the whereabouts of Yatin, Rathore’s only son.
Madhav Rathore had served as MP in the village of Pinjaur for two successive terms and was confident of winning the coming elections to make it a hat-trick win. The secret behind his success was not his dedicated work that he performed as a politician that made people vote for him, but his hired henchmen who didn’t stop at anything to ensure that people voted for him. The methods of persuasion ranged from bribing, kidnapping to threatening.
But currently Rathore looked stricken and pale. His eminent win in the elections were looking bleak, with his son eloping with a girl from lower economic strata and from another caste. If this news got out then he would be the laughing stock of the whole village. His prestige that he had earned after struggling against powerful politicians and becoming a tough gangster would be torn apart and shred to pieces. No, he couldn’t let that happen. He had to save his reputation and status.
He remembered when one of his men had delivered the news that his son, Yatin, was going around with a girl from his college. But Rathore had felt pleased that his boy had finally turned into a man, enjoying his new found manhood. Never did he imagine that his son was in love with the whore. His blood boiled in rage, when he recalled the night his son had announced that he wanted to marry the girl whose father was a school teacher.
Rathore had point blank refused to bless the matrimony and also threatened Yatin that if he got married then the girl would be murdered or worse, she would be kidnapped and raped and then thrown into a whorehouse where men would daily feast on her body.
Yatin had looked at his father hard and then left without a word. Today morning when Rathore’s wife raised an alarm about his son missing in the house, Rathore couldn’t believe that his own flesh and blood could behave such scandalously and not think about his father. Clearly he had done something wrong in bringing up his son.
But now his son would suffer and that girl too, who had lured his son away using her body. He would teach them a lesson so that no girl or boy from Pinjaur village would ever dare to go against the diktats laid down by him.
Ranga, came running towards him and whispered in his ear.
“Bhaiyyaji, we have traced them. They are in a bus and they have taken a ticket to Rajoana. What do you want us to do? “
Rathore stood up and ordered his men.
“Get the jeep out.”
He went inside to get his rifle and then proceeded to climb the jeep.
The bus braked and I, fast asleep on Yatin’s shoulders, woke up with a jerk. Yatin caught me in his arms and kissed my forehead.
“You don’t have to worry anymore Meena. We are outside my father’s control. We are safe. We’ll get married as soon as we reach Rajoana. I’ll search for a job and we’ll start a new life, away from the dark shadow of crime and violence. “
“Your father will be very angry. Don’t you think we should have tried persuading him instead of running away”? I asked holding Yatin’s hands.
“I know my father. His reputation, his status, his career is much more important to him than his own son. He would have never agreed, Meena. Trust me, I know what I’m doing.”
Suddenly the bus braked and came to a halt. The bus driver honked loudly as a jeep swerved in a sharp turn and came to stop in front of the bus.
As I saw Yatin’s father sitting in the jeep with his rifle in hand, my blood ran cold. Two men climbed inside the bus and hit us with a rod before Yatin could react. The last thing I remembered before I lost consciousness were my shrieks as the men dragged both of us out of the bus.
Surendra Tyagi was sitting in dark room with his eyes on old photos of his daughter, Meena. He remembered what a bright student she was, always eager to learn new things; her thirst for knowledge delighted him as he happily answered her volley of questions.
When she came first in her board exams he had proudly lifted her on his shoulders with her medals around his neck and paraded in the village. He had built so many dreams for her.
And all those dreams lay shattered on the floor alongside her daughter’s body. The phone call had arrived in the late hours of evening.
“Surendra Tyagi, this is Inspector Dinesh Khanna speaking. We have discovered dead bodies of a young girl and a boy in a lake near Patli village. We were able to identify the bodies as Meena Tyagi and Yatin Rathore. Can you please come to Patli police headquarters to confirm and claim the body of your daughter?”
Surendra, sobbed his heart out as he remembered his naïve and innocent daughter whose only fault was that she had listened to her heart. She had dared to fall in love with someone outside of her caste and religion. And that, in our country, is an offence worthy of the death penalty. Even after 66 years of Independence, India is tied down in shackles of terrorism under a false cloak of religion and caste.