They parked the bike at the start of the lane.Dimly lit by a solitary bulb in the protruding balcony of Gupta Ji, the narrow lane didn’t have visibility beyond few feet.The dim light of the sixty-watt bulb was further diminished by the hundred sixty voltage supplied by the UP Electricity Board. Bhuppi stopped well before the place from where the arc of the light of Gupta Ji’s balcony started, but he had to go further, till the second last house in the right side of the lane. Moon was about to rise and she was waiting there. It was not clear whether Nimmi was influenced by Simran of DDLJ but she wanted to break her fast only after seeing her own Raj. Her Raj, twenty five year old Manish Maheshwari, son of a well to do business family, was equally in love with her. Love he had for her in plenty but it was the passion she brought in the relationship which defined their love story. The front of the house, they decided to meet, was vacant as it was under repair. The timing for meeting had to be perfect as Nimmi could manage hardly ten minutes outside her house, located in the same lane. But this was the fifth year for the karwa chauth and they had perfected the schedule. As always Bhuppi remained in the dark, keeping a hawk eye for any danger, and ready to create diversion long enough to allow them to slip. Danger was immense and law of probability was catching up with them. But all passed peacefully. They met and hugged and she broke her fast by taking a gulp of bisleri water from his hands. For her it was not the moon in the sky but the moon in her lane that mattered. She broke her fast well before the moon was seen by her both sisters-in- law. She reached the roof of her house in time to announce the rising of the moon to her bhabhies and mother. To avoid suspicion, she had spent whole day with her friend Nilotfar at the girls’ hostel of her college, on the excuse of group study. But her deadline to reach home was six thirty and she reached by six forty. Ten minutes late was not a big deal.With all these limitations, she had to break her fast fifteen minutes before the moon rise time but this much diversion didn’t matter when lives were at stake. Nimmi was daughter of Ratan Pal Malik, a local jaat leader and an influential person in the community.
Manish was the eldest of the three brothers and a sister. Sister Reema being the youngest. Two brothers, Aneesh and Aashu were the second and third progenies of Rama Kant Maheshwari, who once had a thriving business of hardware. The bad times befell the family when the elder brother and partner of Rama Kant Maheshwari lost fortunes in spot trading, forcing the whole family into penury. Manish and Aneesh dropped out of school but ensured their younger brother and sister get the best of education. With enterprise of Manish and hard work of Aneesh, they established thriving small businesses of cement agency, hardware and a swanky upmarket cyber cafe. It was here at the cyber cafe that Nimmi met Manish and love blossomed with every session of internet surfing and every print out from the laser printer. Years passed away, Manish added a Mobile store by buying a shop adjacent to the cyber cafe. The rented rooms of Manish’ friends became their escape from the world. From graduation to post graduation, Nimmi got enrolled just to be able to see her love. When the Girl’s Post Graduate College had nothing more to offer her, she enrolled in private computer classes to learn basics of windows 98. News was first broken in the family of Manish. Though not well received, the resistance wasn’t much and neither it was violent. The only issue they had was the ego associated with the family of the ‘boy’. They, specially Manish’ father, expected the parents of Nimmi to come with the proposal. But Nimmi’s family lived in a different plane altogether. Love marriage that too outside jaats was blasphemy, punishable with death. Afterall family’s ‘honour’ rested with the conduct of the girl. But Nimmi was made of sterner stuff. She broke the news first to her younger brother. From younger brother to both sisters-in-law and to mother and through both elder brothers, the news reached her father, Chaudhary Ratan Pal Malik. She was ushered in front her father, terrorised by the prospects of unforeseen tortures, she was mentally ready to speak the truth and stand by her love, which she did when faced with the harsh grilling from her father. The ‘shameless girl’ deserved the two tight slaps she got after finishing with her version of the story. The .315 calibre rifle was loaded but the trigger was never pressed. Afterall she was the only daughter in the extended family. But punishment was awarded in other forms; her outings were stopped, classes were barred and she was confined within the walls of the house. The idea of this exclusion suffered a big jolt with the cellular revolution of free incoming calls. The older sister-in-law sneaked the phone to her and the barriers were breached again. Few words from her love would lift her spirits and she would be ready to face another day full of taunts and contempt. Months passed and things started to look normal again; even Chaudhry Ratan Pal Malik started turning into the doting father he once was. The father daughter conversations were now fluent again after some initial awkwardness of monosyllabic question-answer sessions. She waited for an opportunity to speak to her father when he was in good mood. The opportunity came soon enough and her father gave a patient ear to her reasons and entreaties. But the ground sank beneath her feet when her father replied,”If you wish to marry that boy, be very clear that I’ll kill him without giving a second thought. “ She didn’t know what to say in response to this; her father wasn’t someone to make empty threats.” If you want the boy dead and your father in jail, go ahead and marry him,” her father concluded.It were not the words but the chilling smoothness of his father’s tone that sent a shiver down her spine, making her break into a cold sweat. But she was her father’s daughter and replied with equal nonchalance, “ Be very sure Papa that I’ll not hesitate in killing anyone you force me to marry.” They never talked again on the subject for years until that day. But before this happened, nine years had already passed. Lines were drawn. She was allowed to leave her home as usual and soon she started to see Manish again but she was not to raise the dreaded subject again. The truce lasted for nine years. The issue of her affair with Manish was never out of anybody’s mind but all behaved as if nothing had happened. The only reminders of discomforting issue were the vehement opposition from Nimmi whenever any attempt, no matter how feeble, were made by his family, mostly by the efforts of her mother who was getting skinnier everyday worrying about the future of her only daughter. Soon she was bypassed as her younger brother Pankaj also got married. Everything looked normal in the family except that the only daughter was now in mid thirties and unmarried. The unusual became usual by its acceptance over a long period of time. The other thing constant during these nine years was her steadfast commitment to the relationship which was reciprocated by Manish. He had settled well in his own business and was under pressure from his family to get married when all her siblings, including the youngest Reema, were got married. Soon the pressure from his own family and adamance of Nimmi’s family started affecting the stoic patience he had maintained for almost a decade . The continuous pestering from family now resulted in his easy irritability when he was with Nimmi. The young dreamy eyed couple of the last decade were now worldly wise adults. The passionate love of twenties had now turned into an affection out of habit. Nimmi was sensing the restlessness inside her boyfriend but despite all the commitment she couldn’t breach the unseen wall erected by her family. Then this happened. Nimmi was sensing a certain aloofness in Manish for last few days.She sensed that he was avoiding meeting her but she ascribed it to the increased family pressure being put on him. For last two days even his phone was switched off.She confided in her younger sister-in-law who in turn forced her husband to find out the reason of it. His brother made few phone calls. The reason of Manish’s phone being switched off was soon found out. It was what Nimmi had feared deep inside her heart but wasn’t ready for it. What the pressure from her family couldn’t do in nine years, this two bits of news did in moments. She accepted that she had been wrong all along.The acceptance created a void in her heart big enough to consume her in it. The world of hope she had created and nourished around her collapsed suddenly, leaving her bereft of any hope in the world. She felt lonely. The world looks a lonely place when you realise that you have invested so much in a cause which was nothing but a mirage; loneliness that is caused breaks you from inside. Nimmi had just realised that she had been chasing this mirage all these years.
Ratan Pal Malik had never seen his feisty daughter so helpless. Lying on the ICU bed, the girl with the forlorn look was not the daughter he knew. Doctors saved her life by washing the pesticide out of her body but saving her spirit wasn’t possible for the medical science. The elder Malik didn’t know what to say to her daughter. The guilt was overwhelming his mind. Her daughter turned her head and looked at his face.”Sorry Papa,” she managed to say. Her father couldn’t face those lost looking eyes of hers any more. He turned away and rushed out of the hospital. She couldn’t see the tears in his eyes.
Out of the hospital, he rushed home. The .315 rifle was again loaded. But this time the whole clan was there. Harindar, Surendar, Rampal, Ajeet, Vickky, Pintu, Sunny, Bhura, Jeevan, Ajab Singh, Ronny and many more were summoned, few from town and even more from their ancestral village of Raeespur. Few had the licensed weapons but others came armed with the country made guns. Loaded in Mahindra Commander jeeps, Boleros and Sumos, they reached the house in the posh colony of Sanjay Nagar. Rama Kant Maheshwari was supervising the decorations for the evening function, the ring ceremony of Manish with a girl in his own caste. He was shocked to see the convoy of cars stopping in front of his house and was even more shocked to see the hardy armed men inside the vehicles. It took him few seconds to recognise Ratan Pal Malik as one of the occupant of the white Tata Sumo, parked at his gate. The elder Malik got down from the vehicle , sans his rifle, but others were indicated to remain inside their jeeps.
Without saying a word , Ratan Pal Malik greeted him with folded hands. Rama Kant Maheshwari didn’t speak eithere but nodded in reply to his greeting.The sexagenarian businessman understood the matter in moments but he waited for Malik to speak who took few moments to explain the purpose of his unplanned arrival,”You wanted the father of the girl to come with the proposal– “.
“Now?,” Rama Kant Maheshwari asked in a low voice.
Ratan Pal Malik knew that his sense of family honour had wasted a decade of two young lives but now he was adamant to save their remaining years.
“I seek forgiveness for not keeping the happiness of our kids above my sense of family prestige–,” he explained.
Rama Kant Maheshwari kept mum for few seconds which looked like hours when the tension was hanging around in the air “. “Malik Sahab–the world can not run as per your wishes–,” he said firmly,”Now I can’t allow another family to be humiliated just because you have a change of heart after nine years”.
“Think again Maheshwari ji–my obstinacy wasted their nine years, yours might ruin their whole life,” Malik said , still folding his hands. He added,”I’ll seek forgiveness from the family where you have fixed the relation of Manish “
“Manish has agreed for the relation and will not turn back now–”
“Let him say it on my face”
“What if he says so on your face–”
Malik pondered over what Rama Kant Maheshwari had just said, but then spoke with a different, much harsher tone,” For nine years I wanted to kill him for wanting to marry my daughter but today I’ll kill him for not marrying her”
Before his father could answer, Manish rushed out of the house with other family members and relatives.
“Uncle ji–,” he said.
The reply came in the form of a tight slap from ‘uncle ji’.
“Nimmi has consumed poison–”
“Not dead–at least physically”
“I never wanted to–,” Manish said as he looked at his father who looked away.
But the ice had melted. What couldn’t happen in nine years, happened in nine hours. The wall of ‘honour’ which looked impregnable for years was demolished in moments of emotional madness of a father. Ratan Pal Malik never saw her daughter happier in years when he appeared before her with Manish on his side. The doctor was against her being discharged from her hospital but she insisted and was discharged with a caution against exertion. But nothing could have affected her now, not even the possibility of medical complications. Everything was feeling like a dream; it was indeed a dream, dream which had come true. Deep inside she still feared that her father would change her decision anytime but her fear was unfounded. Chaudhry Ratan Pal Malik was a changed man. The marriage was hurriedly organised despite murmurs of disagreement from her father’s clansmen. Nine years were reversed in nine hours. Today, two years after her marriage, this picture was taken. The whole of Maheshwari and Malik families were in it with a new member, six months old Pammy– daughter of Nimmi and Manish, smiling in the lap of her maternal grandfather, Chaudhry Ratan Pal Malik, sitting proudly in the center with Rama Kant Maheshwari.
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