Right & Wrong

January 1, 2011 Off By Mani Padma

I looked on as he was led away-shoved and pushed unceremoniously by the men in uniform. Six on one; some more were waiting near the vehicle. They were not taking any chances. My eyes betrayed none of the turmoil I felt. It hid all my emotions while I searched for some in his eyes. My gaze locked with his. What did I see in them? Desperation? Anger? Grief? Love? Lost love?

It was a cold wintry evening when love walked into my life. On that cold wintry evening he emerged out of the mist to walk into our lives. There is something magical about winter. All beautiful things seem to happen in winter- or is it?
I was and still am a small town girl. In fact it was such a small town, that the only distinguishing feature from a village was a college and of course the big health centre. Father was the Head of the Department of English in that college, where I had just joined for my graduation. Deuta, as I called my father was a very learned man, but his lack of ambition and his dedication to a single minded pursuit of educating young minds, led us to settle here, where we led a quiet and contented life along with my family of four consisting of my younger brother, my mother and Deuta. We were happy with our simple lifestyle of togetherness and delightful evenings spent in discussion of politics, literature and philosophy, until one evening, when everything became more beautiful…with his arrival.

He was rakishly handsome, strong, and lithe with intelligent eyes. We had an outhouse where we used to occasionally take up paying guests; mostly students of our college. He had given reference of my maternal cousin, who was doing his higher studies in Bangalore and had inquired about accommodation. My parents were only too glad to let out to this young man who seemed to belong from a cultured and educated family. He had introduced himself as a PhD student who was on a research project on the tribes that dwelt in the nearby hills.

From the first day itself he had endeared himself to our family. Deuta was impressed with his intellect. Mother was charmed with his sweet demeanor and polite ways. My younger brother, Bhaiti found in him the elder brother he never had, one who would tell him about fishing and biceps and what not, and I .. Well I found in him a welcome distraction from my mundane existence of chores and studies.
There was nothing untoward that I could notice about him initially. He was the perfect man. He used to be always turn out nicely, on time for meals. The morning used to begin with an easy banter about the weather and the garden. I remember my mother being very pleased when he would clear the tables and insist on taking the plates to the sink. After Deuta left, I used to go up to his room with Bhaiti to clean up. There hardly used to be any mess. I was initially shy to speak much but he seemed eager to strike up a conversation. There was an easy confidence in him that made conversations vibrant and lively. Afternoons began to be a bit dull without him, when he used to leave for his project work. Late afternoons he used to go with Bhaiti for a walk to the nearby army camp area. He and Bhaiti shared a common interest in the Indian army and both used to spend many such afternoons discussing and observing them.

After Deuta used to return home in the evening, discussions would liven up. He was well read and knew a lot. His brilliance shone through when he spoke and some of the views he presented were amazingly simple while some were radical to the point of being extreme. My peace loving Deuta used to counteract his views which usually brought a singular smiling response from him. “Well Khuradeo you are right in your own way. You are too honest but the world isn’t so and needs extreme measures sometimes. Each to his own, you can say.” And the debate would dissolve in to some other topic. There used to be so much vibrancy in the air. Oh yes! He had even enrolled himself as a member of the organizing committee of the literary convention that was to take place in 6 months time in our college, much to Deuta’s delight. Life couldn’t have been more interesting at that point.

I still remember the first conversation we had. It had been a week since he had arrived.
“Excuse me!” he asked me hesitantly, “I am sorry to bother you but the network in my cell phone is playing up… If you don’t mind…” he let the obvious question hang in the air.
“Of course”, I had said, eager to be of help. He had a hurried conversation in a soft voice and I had wondered with some pangs of jealousy if it was a girl…
“Thanks! I am really sorry for imposing like this” he added after some hesitation.
“Not at all” I replied continuing to change the pillow case.
“I would like it if you charged me for it”
A spontaneous laughter escaped from me.
“Well”, he appeared quite embarrassed. “That was really silly of me… I see that you read a lot”
Yes… happy that he had noticed it. “Do you too?”
“Yes!” He exclaimed eagerly. “Well, let me show you the ones I have. Maybe you would like to have a look”
And to my delight he had brought out a whole collection of Tolstoy’s works. That had started off an easy camaraderie between us. It was a strange bond that we shared .We had no sob stories to share, hardly talked about our aspirations and never gossiped, but we felt a strange kindredship in the little things we used to do together- reading in the library, watching the television, taking walks. Meanwhile he continued using my cell phone occasionally. I never used to mind but it puzzled me to no end whether to find or rather not find any traces of the numbers he used. Was it something I should have minded…?

I used to tease him about his obsession with the army to which he used to smile sheepishly like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. But once in the library when I was teasing him about the army being his real topic of research he had retorted,“I wish I could research on something more interesting”
“Like?” I replied with a mock taunt.
“Like girls… or more accurately one girl” he whispered. I had been pleasantly surprised at his attempt at flirtation. How unlike him yet how likeable it was. I too had egged him on by smiling coquettishly which was again so unlike me…

“And who could that be?” I asked in a soft whisper.

. “Who do you think it could be?” he asked smiling mischievously as he slipped in noiselessly to the seat next to me. I was flustered and started busily turning the pages of my book.

“I have no time for your riddles” I replied with a mock frown. I trembled slightly as he placed his palm over mine and looking deeply into my eyes had whispered.
“It’s actually a very simple riddle. I would love it- if – you-solved – it –soon.” emphasizing each word.
Library indeed was one of the ideal romantic places.

Conversations became awkward after that incident. I felt shy to strike a conversation, the memory of his words haunting me throughout. He avoided speaking to me preferring instead to observe me silently from a distance. Had that been an attempt to gauge me…?

It was again my cell phone that had broken the ice. He had inquired again if he could use my phone. I had a feeling he had something else on his mind, which was reinforced when he asked me to accompany him to the library. The afternoon passed normally in the library. I tried to pick up some notes for my class work while he immersed himself in his socio political books. While glancing at him-engrossed in sheer concentration in his books, I realized that I was falling hopelessly in love with him. And then, fear had replaced the realization- fear of losing him. What if he didn’t? What if he stopped speaking to me after knowing about it? I had looked away hastily for fear of giving away my feelings. But the evening had dispelled all my doubts, all my fears in a beautiful way as an answer to my unsaid prayers. Did he feel what I felt? Could he read my thoughts?

It was already dark as we set off for home. We were walking in silence when a group of boys in bicycles rode close to us hooting loudly. His jaw clenched tightly as he pulled me closer and shielded me with his hand protectively. The silence that followed had so many unspoken questions…I quickened my pace as we neared our house when he suddenly called out.
“Moon”! I turned back quizzically. He thoughtfully walked up to me as if deliberating upon something… “Moon!” he hesitated.
“I …I”, he started and then taking a deep breath as if coming to a painful decision he had blurted out… “I love you…”
I stood shocked rooted to the spot. Afraid to breath, afraid to move.
“I won’t ask you love me, because…I know… It’s sudden… But could I ask you to try to love me back?”
If only he had known, or maybe he knew hence he dared.
“Yes!” I whispered before rushing off towards the house.

The days that had followed were like a dream. Multitude of emotions fleeted through me. Ecstasy! Shyness! Daze! As I kept running through the incidents in my mind, I wondered if mother had noticed the changes in me. I started spending more time in his room on some pretext or in the library. The cell phone that had brought us together almost changed hands as the owner. I was only too contented to be loved by him. If only time had stood still, then… then, that momentous incident wouldn’t have happened – My first kiss!

Like a devoted mate I loved tidying up his things. It gave me immense pleasure to fold his clothes, tidy up his papers- Ah! The papers! He was very particular about them and seemed a bit displeased whenever I used to meddle (as he used to call) with them. He had a small inconspicuous looking notepad which had some rough jottings. What had caught my eye was a sort of map and I had been trying to rack my brains on it when he noticed me with it. He made a grab for it but I was quicker. I darted giggling, the note pad in my hand and attempted to escape from the room.
“Moon!” He had called out a bit sternly. “Hand that to me… Please!”

I waved it at him smiling wickedly as I charted out a course to escape. I made a dash across the room, but this time he caught me and lifting me up by the waist pulled me to the bed. I was squealing in mock fear. He pulled me down and tried to snatch the pad from my hand. I know the description does sound clichéd like a B grade movie but I think things do happen this way –sometimes. He was partially on top of me, eyes desperately on the note pad, when his gaze wandered to my lips. I know my face was flushed, laughing with gay abandon, my long hair fell wildly on the bed, and then without any warning his lips were on mine as he kissed me fiercely. I was furious and pushed him with all my might. But he was insistent and pressed me harder, his tongue probing deep inside. The sensations that flooded my mind were impossible to resist and I gave in to him, my resistance failing completely. At last after a long passionate moment he moved back panting heavily. I remained lying there breathing heavily with my eyes closed… As soon as I regained my breath and some semblance of senses, I jumped up from the bed.
“Wait! Have some water…smoothen your hair…and dress. If possible take a walk before going home. Don’t go like that in front of your mother”
Just like him. Analytical!
There had been no apology but again, why apologize for something beautiful? The note pad was forgotten but I had a feeling that something was just not right. Something…

The kisses became more frequent in the following days. I reveled in my new found love: new found sexuality. And then the note pad had appeared again after a week… He was busily jotting down some data on it. I decided to ignore it and instead directed my attention to the magazines lying in front of me. I started fiddling with the pages when the pen I was holding fell on the floor and rolled underneath the bed towards the head end. Frowning slightly I wriggled in between the bed and the wall to retrieve it : he was still deep in his calculations with his back towards me and hardly noticed what I was doing. And then… that was when, I noticed it. The bulge. Something was taped there to the bed. Puzzled, I ran my fingers to feel it. An audible gasp escaped from me as I realized what it was.
It’s a g…gun!
He swore loudly and pulled me out from the gap. He looked furious and slammed the door shut and banged his fist on the wall.
I crouched in fear against the wall. He seemed like a different man, a stranger.
“Who are you? “I sobbed.
He slumped near me in defeat and looked up at me. There was no trace of anger, but only despair in his eyes
“Moon! … Everything is over! You…You’ve finished everything… Everything!”

“Who are you?… Why are you scaring me?”
“I belong to the revolution” he said calmly. I was devastated. Revolution was a dreaded word. For us it meant only one thing- terrorism. I started weeping uncontrollably as I realized that I had lost him forever with that single statement or maybe he had never been mine. Maybe my grief, maybe my cries like a wounded animal convinced him of my love for him and my helplessness for he suddenly hugged me and whispered,
“Ssh! Don’t cry love. Everything will turn out fine…just give me a chance to explain… Please let it remain a secret or else we will be destroyed.” He tried explaining…justifying something which had no explanation, no justification. I was distraught. Exhausted I stopped crying, but I had stopped listening to what he was saying. I was lost in my morbid thoughts.

The days that followed were dark, gloomy. We argued every day. I tried convincing him to leave the path, but I wasn’t sure what I meant. He said it wasn’t simple and I knew it wasn’t. I knew he was trapped. But somehow I felt that if I convinced him to admit that he had made a mistake, I would induce a miracle which would make everything alright.
“You are all killers” I had spat out once in desperation.
“I haven’t killed anyone.” He hissed.”This is a war, there will be causalities.”
“An unnecessary war.” I had countered
“For you maybe. Not for the oppressed”
“The oppressed?” I had mocked. “Oppressed by whom? That is a laugh coming from you!”
“You live a cozy life. Think about the many who have been oppressed by the military and paramilitary forces.”
“Why were they deployed here in the first place? Because of you all.”
“Oppression is not only about the physical oppression but also economical. We had been neglected by the authorities since long. We had to stand up against the system”
“You should have shown your strength by becoming economically independent instead of resorting to violence”
“Don’t repeat the ideological bullshit of your father” he said, immediately regretting the words. I had burst into tears at his insensitive statement.
“I love you Moon! Why do we need to argue about something that we cannot alter even if we want to?”
“What do I do then? Wait for you to get shot in an encounter? Arrested and hanged?” I had shot back, tears of frustration threatening to spill. I used to end up weeping every time we had a conversation.

Finally after one such heated argument, he had asked for some time to work out a solution. We never did reach a solution, because there was none. At least I thought there was none, but still I hoped for one. He was sure there was one but he was not ready to work on it. I knew he was on a specific job. He had said that he was more onto surveillance and research but I had a feeling that he was onto something. A mission, maybe.
Each morning would bring another day filled with dread and a fear of uncertainty. Never did uncertainty scare me as it had then. Danger lurked everywhere. Whenever I saw him trudging along with Deuta to the college, I used to feel guilty…His long walks with Bhaiti made me nervous…He still continued using my phone. If only my family knew how much I was endangering all of us. Did he realize how we all could be destroyed due to him? I became more irritable as the days passed while he remained patient and loving as before…
I was home alone that day. Ma and Deuta had to visit a relative’s place for a function. Bhaiti taking advantage of their absence had gone to his friend’s place… And he had come home early that day from his so called research work.
“Could you come up to my room?” he had asked without any preamble from the doorway. I was whiling away my time watching some mindless movie. I locked up and went to his room. He bolted the door slowly, as I entered the room. I sat down on the bed eyes downcast. I could sense him just behind me and then he had gently encircled me in his arms, his lips brushing me lightly behind my ear lobe.
“ I love you.” he had whispered. It had felt tantalizing and I leant back on him in acceptance and assurance.

“I feel afraid of losing you. Be mine… completely…and let me be yours. Everything will be alright.” He murmured holding me tight, his lips arousing unknown sensations .My mind was too fudged to make any sense of what he was saying. I don’t remember what I had said because whatever I had said was drowned in the kiss, as he turned me towards him to kiss as if there was no tomorrow. His eyes were dark with desire as he ran his lips over mine, sliding to my throat, and…
I was drowning helplessly in desire as he ran his hands over my back underneath my kurta, too weak to resist, too weak to think…The shrill ring tone of the cell phone startled us both.
“Switch it off.” I whispered urgently. I watched his lean frame as he walked up to the desk to pick up the phone. It was a text message and he frowned as he read it. Then I lost him…His frown transformed into comprehension, comprehension changing again to puzzlement. He had transported himself into his dark forbidden world where maybe my existence hardly mattered. Tears of humiliation, remorse, anger, streamed down my cheeks, as I slowly gathered my kurta and slipped it on. I arose from the bed and quietly made out of the door. He remained oblivious to everything, immersed in that note pad of his.

I cried my heart out in the safe haven of my room. After exhausting myself of all the tears and efforts, I lay there trying to figure out everything. He did not come to see me until dinnertime. He was his usual cheerful self- smiling and teasing. The conversation was animated with Bhaiti and Deuta joining him. As I watched the three most important men in my life, I couldn’t but help realizing how dangerous their existence had become.
Bhaiti- looking forward to a bright future; Deuta – contented with his simple life, and Him?
I blinked hard and tried to smile at them.

But some things are inevitable and that dreaded day did arrive. The paramilitary forces were swift. They struck at dawn when he was least expecting. They were taking in Deuta too for interrogation. But Jitu da, my paternal cousin who is a lawyer had assured us that we needn’t worry about Deuta. It was just a formality and they wouldn’t detain him for much long. In other words it was just an eye wash as it was I, who had reported about him (with Jitu da’s help of course)
Yes ! Me!
Why did I do it? – Isn’t it obvious why I did it? There was only one outcome of what he was: of what he did; of what we shared- Failure! But I had the power, the option of bringing it about. It’s like opting for euthanasia instead of waiting for a slow, painful death. I could have waited for a miracle, if I had faith in my love, but I believed life is more than about love…
Maybe I was wrong in not giving him his chance to fulfill his promise of finding a solution, but I believe what I did was just the right thing to do- for all of us. . Maybe I was not right, maybe I was wrong, but still what I did was the right thing and …to do the right thing you needn’t be right or wrong.
But … yes! The right thing was done… And the right thing needs to be done at all cost… isn’t it? The right thing is the only thing to be done…

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