Of Promises and Prejudices

The rivulet of blood slowly makes its way down the jagged outlines of the rocky pavement. The little boy follows its path with wide eyes, curiously drinking in the scene before him.

A colourful dupatta lies within arm's reach, decorated with dusty footprints of those who’d carelessly trampled it. The tiny sequins glitter brightly in the sunlight, veiled in the gloom of the dingy alley. The little boy’s eyes dart to it, and then the men making the commotion. Quick as lightning, he wriggles out of his mother’s grasp and bolts towards the dupatta, carrying it to safety. “Veer!”, his mother whispers, terror evident in her eyes. He just looks up innocently at her as she yanks him firmly inside the doorway. And just in time too. The voices reach to a crescendo outside, and Veer catches one glimpse of dark hair and red bangles before hearing the most heartrending wail in all of his eight years of existence.

He turns to his mother. As white as a sheet, she pushes him with trembling arms into the living room. “Go read your books”, she says. But Veer just hides behind the oak bookshelf and stays put.

Moments later, his father strtoms in. “Ho gaya,” he bellows, wiping his hands on his kurta. “Sikha di unko sabak!” Veer’s mother is shaking as she dares to look up and ask, “Par...zaroori tha kya?” she realizes her mistake within seconds as her husband strides forward and strikes her across the cheek. Again. And again, till she’s whimpering on the floor.

He starts making his way down the hall, but he spots the hiding boy.

“Veer” he says, smiling, his voice painfully gentle. “Idhar aao.”

Veer doesn't budge.

He makes an encouraging gesture. Veer hesitantly walks forward. “See Veer, it’s important that you learn some things early on. How to put a woman in her place, for example. Don’t worry, I'll teach you everything that you need to know.” He ruffles Veer’s head and makes his way to the bathroom.

As Veer finds all the band-aids from Ma’s collection, he promises himself, “I’ll never be like him.”

The next day as Veer leaves for school, swinging his backpack, he sees the rivulet of blood has been joined by others. The dried red cakes the sidewalk, once a veritable stream. Broken shards of the red bangles litter the path. A group of people stand gathered around twin pyres. Suddenly, men with lathis, led by none other than his father, appear on the scene, yelling, “achhooth!” Veer turns away, vowing, “I’ll never be like him.”

Six years on, Veer excitedly brings his mother into the room blindfolded, surprising her with the feast he’s prepared; aloo parathas, pav bhaji and gulab jamun. He’s just about to serve her when his father walks in. “What are you doing?'' he questions, deadly calm. “No son of mine will ever step foot in the kitchen.” He grabs Veer by the scruff of his neck. The following day, Veer wakes up to the smell of smoke. He peers out of his window and sees a fire of his beloved recipe books, painstakingly handwritten and filled with trade secrets. “I’ll never be like him.”, he tells himself.

Six years later, it’s Veer’s cousin, Rohan’s wedding. Veer is in the process of going downstairs to greet the guests, adjusting his hair, when his father barges in. “I need a red kurta! He frets, opening Veer’s cupboard and rummaging through the drawers. Suddenly, he stops, holding up a multicoloured dupatta. The sequins still glint. Veer’s heart stops in his chest. This was the only remnant of his sister he possessed. He stands frozen, at an utter loss for words. Kaka bursts into the room then, muttering about the lack of drinks and grabs Veer’s father, ushering him out of the room. Saved, Veer lets out a sigh of relief, then promptly hides the dupatta elsewhere, only to note a tear in the cloth. He purses his lips in a grim line. “I’ll never be like him.”

Six years later, he visits his in-laws with his new bride. At night, they hear a commotion in the next room where his brother-in-law and his wife are staying. The next morning, Veer discovers his brother-in-law’s wife lied about her caste to prevent the cancellation of the marriage. Her husband had left immediately, leaving her penniless. Veer tries to remind himself, “I’ll never be like him.”

He won’t, but he can’t bring himself to help either.

His wife pesters him to help the girl the whole day, and by night Veer is fed up and consumed by guilt. “Please, I can't do anything, it's beyond my control,” he mutters tiredly to her. She makes the mistake of pressing on. Before he realizes what he’s doing, Veer roars, grabbing the vase on the bedside table and throwing it with all his might. She ducks, and it smashes into the wall, but the damage is done.

Even if Veer measured the capacity of the seas, it wouldn’t be enough to measure the shame and horror coursing through his veins as his wife looks at him the same way his mother used to look at his father. “I’ll never be like him.” he whispers. He steps forward, shaking her shoulders, “I’ll never be like him, do you UNDERSTAND?” She whimpers, tears streaming down her cheeks. Something in him breaks forever.

Six minutes later, he’s in the bathtub, rocking himself back and forth, muttering “I’ll never be like him. I’ll never be like him. I’ll never be like him.” Over and over and over.

Six hours later, his wife finds him on the floor, unmoving. The bathroom is empty, save for a multicoloured dupatta that must’ve once been pretty, with sequins that glow dully in the light.

Author: Ananya Chaure

Editor: Nandini Patil

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