The Urn of Ashes
The sands of the Kihim beach were warm as Rajan sat with his legs stretched on the shore looking at the horizon. He had taken off from Mumbai, last night for the weekend offer of a quiet tent holiday. He sipped the chilled beer from the can and looked at his well shaped feet. In another hour, Bela would join him. She was to leave her office at noon by the luxury bus and arrive at the holiday camp by evening. He was looking forward to her company. He really needed this break.
Rajan thought of Malini, his wife and their two lovely daughters. Malini has been a loyal wife and been with him through all the initial trials and tribulations when he was setting up his small scale industry in Andheri. She had even pawned her gold to raise some capital. There was hardly anything that he could find as a shortcoming in her. She was pretty and had maintained herself even after two difficult childbirths. She spoke well and was a wonderful homemaker and mother. Had it not been for her, his factory would not have made profits. Every week, she came to write the accounts and do odd jobs. Even the workers respected this ‘madam’. The rewards came when, Rajan’s industry succeeded and he could replace his two-wheeler with a car and his small flat with a luxury apartment in a central Mumbai complex.
At one of the stag parties that Rajan attended, he had met Bela. She worked for an event management company and had come to set up the place at the Marve cottage. Rajan’s eyes wandered towards her often until it was a stare. Bela could sense the admiration or lust. She looked at him and smiled. After her work was done, she drove off with her colleague leaving two attendants behind. She also cleverly left her business card with Rajan. It stated ‘Bela Guha’ Executive Coordinator.
Bela was an easy catch. Practically, every Saturday, Rajan picked her up from her office at Andheri and went out. Malini was sensing something different and had asked why Rajan was not coming home early on Saturdays and sometimes even on Sundays he was not seen at home. “As I grow in my profession, I have to float in the social circles, dear. That is how we build contacts and get more orders,” Rajan had justified his waywardness. Malini, however, least suspected her husband to have ‘the other woman.’ Rajan was very careful about his cell phone and deleted all messages from Bela to ward off suspicion. It was like falling in love again with this twenty-something beauty. She knew of the shacks rented out near Erangal beach and they spent a few hours in torrid love sessions almost every weekend.
Rajan was startled when he saw Bela walk towards him. She always wore trousers and body-hugging tops which accentuated her curvaceous figure. She sat next to him and was rather quiet. He put his hand around her waist and kissed the side of her neck. “Rajan,” she spoke softly, “I’m pregnant with your child and I don’t want to abort it. I want to marry you,” the words came like a heavy axe. “Are you crazy? You know I’m a family man and I love my family. Look, look Bela, I had made it clear right from the start that you were only my weekend fun girl and no emotions involved in it. You remember?” Rajan almost yelled and pulled her hair back. “I have no commitments to you, mind you. I’ll give you the compensation and go and abort that unwanted baby. If you’ve been sleeping with me you could be doing this with anyone else too!” Rajan was grinding his teeth now. They kept silent for some time. She was lost in deep thought while Rajan was silently swearing at himself.
She got up and dusted her trousers. “I agree, Rajan. I’ll get rid of the baby. I should’ve known better. I got carried away by your charm. But can you do me one favour. Tomorrow, come to see my aunt who has been my guardian since I came to this city. I’ll try and convince her. Please. I won’t trouble you in future. Let’s part as friends.” They both held hands and walked towards their tent. They forgot about their supper and spent the rest of the night in love-making.
Next morning, they left in his car for the city. Bela spoke to her aunt, “ Masi.. I will come home in about 2 hours. Heh? Ok -the maharaj is there? Tell him to come later when I reach. I do want to send some money for puja. Okay. See you then.” Bela mumbled something like she sends money to Kolkatta for annual puja and the person had come to collect the money. Rajan was not interested.
He first took her to her aunt’s place. A middle-aged woman sat near the road-facing window. She got up when she saw the duo. “Come, come Rajan. Bela has told me everything about you,” she smiled as she uttered the welcome in a sing-song way. “ Rajan sat awkwardly in a red sofa.
Aunty spoke softly, “Bela tells me that you don’t want to break your family. But naturally. Ok. Pay her the hospital expenses and a little more dear as she would have to go on a week’s leave. Done. Happens sometimes. Bela would get on with her life, I’m certain,” aunty’ s words were reassuring. The lady then laughed so loudly that Rajan was scared.
A bearded man emerged from the inner room and folded his hands and turned to aunty. The vermillion mark on his forehead, the yellow scarf on his shoulder and a crisp dhoti kurta-must be the maharaj, Rajan guessed. Bela went in and brought out an envelope. After handing it to the priest, she bent to touch his feet. Then she turned to Rajan and said, “I told you about this person, remember, when we left Kashid?” Rajan got up and left soon after the priest had gone.
In the evening, he drove to Bela’s house and rang the doorbell. “On second thoughts, I’ll marry you. But our marriage won’t be legal. I’ll settle my family and I’ll move in with you till we get another house. Don’t abort the baby. We would be man and wife soon!” Rajan spoke with confidence. Somehow, neither Bela nor her aunt were surprised at the change of heart. He asked Bela to come with him and they drove to his house in Worli.
Malini opened the door and saw the young girl holding Rajan’s hand. In total consternation, she felt that her innermost fear had come true. Rajan spoke in an authoritarian manner, “Malini. This is Bela, my love. I value all your love in the past and acknowledge your sacrifices,” there was no sentiment in his voice. The two girls clasped the curtain with fear writ large on their faces. Malini tried to argue but Rajan had made up his mind. “Look I am keeping this flat in your name and all the savings in your name. I’m not changing the nominees on my insurance policies either. Don’t dare to go for any legal action. I can be nasty with my bequests then. Be happy that you have this crores worth of property. I’ll come once a week to see the girls. Don’t trouble me, mind you. I want to start life afresh with a lot of love and romance with this beauty here,” Rajan was exploding. He walked into his room, evidently to pick up a few clothes.
Malini took her dupatta to her mouth and then to her eyes and spoke between sobs, “There is no use stopping you when you have made up your mind and there’s no love left for us. Better you go.” Rajan almost dragged Bela out and drove off. Malini was inconsolable but she saw her daughters’ scared faces and stopped crying. The following week, as promised, Rajan had transferred the flat and the bank accounts in Malini’s name. He left the original policy papers too with her.
Months passed and Malini and her daughters had come to terms with their broken family. Occasionally, Rajan encountered his neighbours’ queries and he shamelessly told them that he had found a mistress and was living happily with her. One day, a worker came to Malini’s house. “Ma’am,” he faltered as he folded his hands. “Something is wrong with Rajan saa’b. He does not come to the factory regularly. That woman comes and screams at us for no obvious reason. They have a son, whom he brings along some time when that witch hangs out with her kitty party friends.” Sohan hesitated and spoke, “Ma’am there is no bigger sin than breaking a happy family. The woman would realize that soon.”
Malini asked, “Is there something you have come to ask or is it just this bit of disturbing news that you wanted to convey?”
“No. I don’t want to disturb you. But what is happening is not good for his health. I just dropped by to share this with you. I am not here on a gossip trip,” he turned.
Malini softened. “Please don’t misunderstand. As far as we as a family are concerned, he has cut off all ties. I am helpless too.” Sohan arose and took out a box of sweets. “I had come to Worli for my brother-in-law’s wedding. You had paid his ITI fees, remember?” Sohan smiled and bent down to touch her feet. Malini was touched by his gesture. “He would come with his bride to take your blessings after he comes back from a trip to the family shrine,” Sohan spoke softly and left.
A few weeks later, Malini was disturbed by a late night call. She saw an unknown number but she answered. “Ma’am,” she recognized the worker’s voice. “Saab is in hospital. He suffered a stroke yesterday while in the factory. We admitted him in the hospital. We informed the other female. But no one has come to see him.” Malini’s heart sank.
Next morning she dropped the girls to school and drove off to the private hospital where Rajan was admitted. A couple of workers were standing out. She went in and found Bela with her toddler sitting at Rajan’s bedside. He was conscious. Malini inched ahead fearing Bela’s anger. Rajan smiled feebly. She stood there for a few seconds and said, “If you need something send for me.” She walked away with tears brimming in her eyes. The factory accountant walked with her to the parking lot. He shrugged his shoulders to express despair and waited till she drove away. A few days later, Rajan was discharged. He was almost a vegetable, Malini had heard. Bela went to the factory which was not functioning efficiently now. Half of the workforce had left in good time with their dues. The others were about to follow.
The accountant came one evening to see Malini. ‘I don’t have good news for you. Rajan passed away this morning. Bela had strictly stopped us from informing you. Some nephew of Bela performed the last rites. It was very painful for a loyal employee like me to see Rajan’s world disintegrate like this.” Malini sat speechless. Bela did not want her to take the last ‘darshan’ also. She did not try to contact Bela. What was the use?
On the tenth day, after the nephew had performed the rites at the sea shore, Bela came to the factory and pretended to do some serious work. She asked one of the workers to accompany her to her house. “ Gangaram, you wait with the child in the house. He knows you,” she instructed him. “Aunty and I will go to the seaside and immerse saab’s ashes. It will take an hour, clear?” the worker nodded.