Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Short story - Cheating the Stars

Maanglik of the worst sort. The malefic influence of Mars in her kundali ensures that if you marry her, you will suffer an unnatural death before the year is over. No two ways about it,” said the old man gravely, shaking his grey locks.

“What about my horoscope? Don’t I get any protection from my own astral heritage?” asked the young man.

“None whatsoever, my son! Forget this match and move on in life! You have a full life ahead… your planetary influences are good, and the stars indicate success in most of the ventures that you will undertake…”

“Let me think about it, Uncle. I need to consult with Shalini first. After all, humne pyaar kundali dekhke nahin kiya tha,” said Vishal, rising. Damn, he should never have gotten into this astrology chakkar. But trust a woman to insist on some superstitious mumbo-jumbo before taking an all-important step in life!

When they met that evening, he was silent. “What did Panditji say?” Shalini asked.

“You knew what exactly he was going to say,” he said gloomily.

“He warned you against marrying me…”

“But naturally… what else? Your maanglik status is mentioned even in those matrimonial ads your folks publish from time to time. So why did you send me to this astrologer? Deliberately?”

“Yes, deliberately. I wanted you to be warned by the proper person and in the proper way,” she said, smiling.

“My parents would never give their consent… Now they have one more reason to oppose our marriage. Of course, I don’t have to tell them about it…” he said thoughtfully.

“Of course you don’t have to.. because I already have! I phoned your mother as an anonymous well-wisher and said that her only son was going to marry a maanglik. I also told her he was planning to elope.”

He went pale. “You wouldn’t!!!”

Her smile widened. “No? Go on, call my bluff. Just call up your mother and make some small talk. You’ll know soon enough…”

“Why are you doing this, Shalu?” he moaned. “Don’t you want us to get married?”

“Of course I do, silly boy!” she replied, hugging his arm. “Absolutely… but we’re going to do it properly, aren’t we, Vish?”

“You believe in this astrological stuff, don’t you? You believe that I will die if I marry you,” he whispered.

Her eyes moistened and she looked into the distance. “I don’t know what to believe or to disbelieve. But this I know: I would rather be your widow and the mother of your child than the wife of some other man.”

Vishal gazed into her eyes long and hard. He kissed away her tears and gazed into her serene face. “You’re a weirdo, you know that?” he said affectionately.

Two weeks later, they were married in a quiet ceremony where only their closest friends were present. The specter of impending disaster lent a certain solemnity to that otherwise festive occasion.

That night, they slept tenderly in each others’s arms. Of course they had slept together earlier, but now it was different. Earlier, their lovemaking was passionate, but now they made love slowly, tenderly, with compassion rather than passion. That night, making love was almost a sorrowful act. They felt sorry for each other, and sorry for themselves.

Later, as he slept, the grey moonlight from the window made his handsome face seem like the noble corpse of a prince, she thought. She spent half the night gazing at his face, his chest, his beautiful hands and fingers that had claimed every part of her body in caressing her.

In the morning however, he awoke first, and gazed at her face in the mild sunlight. She looked so clear, so free of worries, that her impending widowhood grieved him.

“If I should die, forget me as quickly as you can, my love,” he whispered into her hair. “You must take a lover to help you forget me completely…”

And then he tenderly caressed her breasts. “Your body is too lovely to remain without love. Let it never be hungry for love,” he blessed her sleeping form.

But many days and many nights passed uneventfully, and they forgot their worries. They began to live like any other pair of newlyweds. They shopped, fought and made up, and made love madly and impulsively after both had dressed and were getting late for work…

And then one day, three months into their marriage, he had a nasty fall from his motorbike at a traffic junction, and came home with a scraped thigh and shoulder. She went hysterical. She not only made him sell his bike, she insisted on seeing a renowned astrologer again with both their horoscopes.

This old man too gravely looked at them and said, “You should never have been in this marriage. Yes, you are meant for each other, but at what cost?”

“Is there a remedy? An escape? What if I give him a divorce?” she asked.

“No… Hindu jyotish shastra does not recognise divorce. You two are now joined together for better or for worse… But yes, I can foretell that the means of your death will be something very large and green.

“Like a green truck?” Vishal asked.

“Maybe… or like a green tree… There are so many green things in our world, young man. How will you avoid them all? But avoid, if you can, that fatal green object at the precise fated moment of your death, and maybe you shall have cheated death.”

Those words stayed with Vishal. He now had a new mission in life, which was to cheat death, and to stay alive to be with his beloved wife. First to go were all the green things in their house. Then he managed to get the greenish cupboards in his office replaced with white cabinets. He grew wary of approaching green lorries, greenish cars and scooters. He stayed away from trees. He bought a white secondhand Qualis, and made sure that it wasn’t a green vehicle painted over with a coat of white. The mobike was sold.

In short, Vishal took all the proper precautions, and in the process, began to look more than just a little timid. Pretty soon, some of his office colleagues were kidding him.

“Raj is wearing a jade-coloured shirt today, dost” one buddy would say, pokerfaced. “Jade isn’t exactly green, but why take a chance? Stay clear of him!”

“The ED’s new secretary is wearing a skirt that looks kinda blue-green. Should we tell her that blue-green is a dangerous shade?” another one would gravely add.

“Take care. Watch out for the potted plants,” someone would say as he left for home.

Vishal just gave them dirty looks and went about his work.

Things went on like that until the monsoons. And that’s when even the ground turned green. Greenery was everywhere, Vishal thought anxiously as he looked out of the window of their apartment.

And that’s when he saw the birds flying about between the apartments. There were all sorts of birds — pigeons, crows — but he looked up saw one sort in particular. And he smiled.

From that moment onwards, he ceased to be afraid.

A few days later, a storm broke towards the end of the day, and within two hours, the main roads were kneedeep in swiftly flowing streams. He managed to call Shalini on his mobile to let her know that he would be leaving his vehicle parked in the office compound and try to walk home.

“DON’T!” she cried in alarm. “Stay over at the office! Have you seen the winds whipping through the trees? Branches are breaking off and crashing everywhere. We have been warned… Please don’t do this! Please, Vishu, for my sake, don’t do this!”

“I’m doing this for both our sakes, Shal…” he calmly responded. “It’s important now to do what comes naturally, no matter what happens. It’s very important to me, and I know it’s important to you too. We can’t let this death-prediction rule our lives, Shal… Shal… Are you listening?”

“I’m willing to let anything rule our lives!! Anything, so long as you’re on my side, Vishu… Please, please, PLEASE consider my feelings and don’t step out of that building,” she said tearfully. The phone went dead in her hands, leaving her panicked, desperate. She kept trying to dial his mobile for half an hour, tears streaming down her face, whispering, “Please please please God! Please let him not go out!! Please let him be OK!!! Please let him come home alive and safe! I’ll do anything, God! Please!”

After she gave up on the phones, she lit a couple of diyas at the small temple in their bedroom, and prayed to all the Gods, holding them witnesses to her love for him, and witnesses for his love for her.

And that was when it hit her… his love for her. That was why he was doing this! Because he loved her more than his life! And because he loved himself more than his own life!

How could she have missed it? How could she not have understood?

She laughed! She laughed and laughed with tears pouring down her cheeks. She wept and wept with laughter flowing from her throat. She wept for them both, and she laughed for them both.

And then she fell down on her knees and gave thanks to the heavens. She gave heartfelt thanks for the life that the whimsical gods had bestowed on them. She felt her heart open up and soar to the skies as she thought about Vishal and his love for her. She felt a great laugh building up within her breast, and she exploded with laughter that was truly laughter… laughter that was liberating, that was triumphant.

They had triumphed. They had truly triumphed over the universe. No matter what happened from now onwards, their triumph was complete.

The phone rang. She calmly took it. “Hi Shalu. I’m in the awning of a green building to make this call and hey, there are massive trees in this compound. I passed several green vehicles on the way here… It’s lovely walking in the rain… I reckon it will take me a couple of hours to get home. But when I get home, will you join me in walking in the rain?”

“You’ll be cold and exhausted by the time you get here, my darling… but let’s do it if you’re still in the mood,” she replied, laughing. “Will you dance with me in the rain? I’d like that very much! I haven’t done that since I was eight years old…”

“Yes, I’d love to dance in the rain, on the lawns… Shalu?”

“Yeah?”

“Open the bedroom window and look towards the seaside, will you?”

Setting the phone down, she opened it. Raindrops wind-lashed her face, and the curtains billowed inwards, and then whipped outward in the gust.

She took the phone. “You there?”

“Do you see the birds?” he asked? The connection was breaking up.

“Yes I see them flying about in the rain… I didn’t know birds flew in such bad weather. What kind are they?”

“Stormy Petrels, and it isn’t bad weather for them. They are in their element. Goodbye my love, and take care.”

“I love you. Take care and come soon. A hot cuppa coffee awaits you,” she said, before the call terminated.

They had given all their love to each other. There was nothing left to give or take. God willing, he would come home safe and sound today. God willing, he would live with her for the rest of their lives together.

However long that may be. That was immaterial.

She was calm as she sat down by the still open window and watched the petrels diving for fishes amidst the high waves.

She felt blessed to have received a love as complete as this one. The love had been given to her. She felt complete. She felt whole. No matter what happened, she would never be less than whole again.

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