Saturday, January 25, 2014

Not a Nice Place to be!

Published in The Red Elephant Foundation

Image from Pixabay (c) Lucida

The fiends are at it again! The dust hadn't settled after the rape of the 23-year-old in Delhi, (and may it never do so!), when the next gang rape was committed. The numbers of atrocities grew, as criminals, who should have quaked in their shoes, danced in abandon over the corpses of their hapless victims!

Just when one thought that human cruelty could not get worse, it did. A labourer from Bihar picked up an innocent five year old girl and raped her over three horrific days. When the poor mite was finally rescued, the doctors found bottles and candles inside her, a scenario too gruesome to even imagine. And yet, a monster of a man had done that, caused immense pain to an infant, confident that he lived in a country where he could get away with it. A country where in a gang rape, the most brutal rapist actually has knowledgeable lawyers and activists pleading for his acquittal because he is a juvenile. Underage he might have been, but in mental years, he was older that Methuselah himself, as he used modes of torture that even hardened criminals might have hesitated to use! And yet, shamefully, he actually had people on his side, as does almost every felon who has been sentenced to Death Row. 

Patently evident, and painfully so, is the fact that India has turned into a soft state, a state soft on criminals, corrupt politicians and the venal wealthy. However, the common man, the helpless and the poor have no means to evade justice, even for a petty theft. The police serve the ruling class, stomping heavily on those who cannot serve their purpose.  Every time there is a horrifying case of rape or brutality, determined protesters come on to the streets, trying to bolster public support and sympathy. But this ends in a one-way street, with no support from the politicians, who pay lip service with put-on accents as they lisp, “We will find the perpetrators, and let law take its own course!" 

Unfortunately, by the time law gets out of bed, puts on its socks and decides to take a stand, all the clues are lost, as in the Aarushi case, or the afflicted people have lost heart, as their loved ones have gone beyond the pale, leaving behind pain and anguish. The 23-year-old girl’s case shook not only the nation, but the whole world, but even today, seasoned lawyers argue about whether the main accused, Ram Singh, committed suicide or was murdered in jail. And shrill social activists argue about whether the death sentence will really deter people from committing crimes like rape and murder. This is just the point! The four ‘adult’ rapists in the 23-year-old’s case have been given the death sentence, maybe because the entire nation rose up in arms against them.

The “most unkindest cut of all” is when these same activists argue about the human rights of the criminals, who have got away with heinous crimes. What human rights are we talking about here? Don't victims who have suffered at the hands of these monsters have the right to be avenged?  

The ones who protest the loudest are those who, most often, have never undergone the agony of having their loved ones cut down in youth. They have never been parents who have lovingly nurtured their young ones to adulthood, only to lose them to crazed sex maniacs.  Or faced a living death when their innocent little babies are raped and brutalized by men whose wives have gone away for a vacation!  They have not seen their daughters turn into vegetables because ward boys have raped them in hospital, or witnessed their daughters' beautiful faces eaten away with acid, and left blind and helpless, because of rejected men with huge egos. 

Even as we debate endlessly, more rapes take place every day. An eighteen year old German teenager was recently raped on a train, and a fifty one year old Danish woman gang raped that very week. According to an official document, rape cases in Delhi have doubled in 2013 and molestation has gone up by almost four times. A new Chief Minister is at the helm in Delhi, with all the right motives behind him, but methinks he is getting a trifle swayed by the not-so-right motives at the moment. One gets a sense of the one-eyed man leading the blind! May he settle down soon and actually go after the corrupt and the cruel, the reason why he was voted into power.

Whom do we blame finally? The politicians who pull the strings, and turn a blind eye; the police who react to wires pulled by their masters; the silent bystander who allows crimes to be committed before his eyes, where lone girls are molested by gangs of men, and drives his vehicle away in haste when he sees a woman and her six month old baby dying on the road, despite the pleas of a hapless husband.    

Do we blame the law of the land that has no harsh deterrent that could stop these criminals in their tracks? Or the advocates who cry foul at every juncture, putting a spoke in the wheels of justice? 

Or do we just form strong silent groups and take tough measures to keep ourselves and the people round us safe and secure? After all, self help is the best help, and the day we stop being mere onlookers and dumb witnesses, and take action against those who break the law and harm others, criminals might think twice before they commit crimes. And that might just be the difference between life and death!       

Deepti Menon has always believed in the power of the pen. Having done her post graduation in English Literature and her B.Ed. in English, she had the option of teaching and writing, and did both with great enjoyment. She started writing at the age of ten, long before she acquired a Diploma in Journalism. Deepti also had the advantage of being an Army kid, and later an Army wife, and loved the idea of travelling around India, meeting new people and acquiring new skills. She firmly believes that much of her personality was honed during those travels. For Deepti, writing needs to sparkle with simplicity and originality, and she strives to find that one word that conveys her ideas most meaningfully to her readers. She believes that Mark Twain had the right idea when he said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

Friday, January 10, 2014

Mirror Image

He could not take his eyes off her exquisite profile. Her face reminded him of the moon, but minus all its flaws, radiant as it emerged from behind the clouds. She carried herself with unconscious grace, and he adored the ground she walked on. He recalled words from a classic Hindi movie, where the raspy voiced hero pleaded with his beautiful heroine, asking her not to place her dainty feet on the ground, lest they be soiled. He had laughed, with the rest of his generation, at the idea, but he could see himself adoring her blindly, willing to anything she asked him to.
Then one day, in the throes of twilight, when the breeze blew into his ear balmily, he could contain himself no more. In the shade of a tamarind tree, with all its little leaves twinkling and swaying, he went down on his knees. “Marry me, please! I cannot live without you!”
Her face paled, her lips trembled, as she shook her head gently, not wanting to tread upon his heart wantonly. “I cannot marry anyone at the moment. I have an older sister who is still unmarried and only after she marries...!” The words fell like a hammer on his ears. He did not think twice as he said desperately, “I will look for a boy for her! We can wait!”
She shook her head. “It is not that easy. She is in love with a man, who is also in love with her. But our family is against it as he is from a different caste.” She took out a crumpled photograph from within her bag. The same exquisite features and lustrous eyes stared out at him. As he stared at the aquiline nose and a complexion like dewdrops on a rose, he said impulsively, “She is beautiful! Anybody would fall in love with her! I didn’t know that you are a twin!”
She smiled ruefully as she said, “The man she loves is in hiding from his family as they are determined to get him married to a girl from an affluent family. Even we do not know where he is, as he does not want to put us in any danger.” She looked at him squarely. “I will marry you if you find him for us.  My sister’s happiness means everything to me!”
He agreed instantly! How difficult could this be? “In the meantime, I do not want you to meet me. This is a dangerous game and I do not want you to be hurt.” Much against his wishes he succumbed, confident that he would succeed in his task in a couple of months. He saw himself as a Knight from King Arthur’s table, riding in armour, to win his lady love. All those Literature classes which he had taken to impress his pretty young neighbour, came in handy now.
And so the hunt began, as he pretended to be the boy’s friend, and walked into the opulent house that took his breath away. The parents proved to be as close mouthed as clams, and he could get nothing out of any of the numerous cousins, aunts and servants, except suspicious sidelong glances. Then one day, he was ousted from the house unceremoniously, as the smiles had begun turning strained. He was dejected, but the thought of his beautiful bride to be, and the sorrow in her eyes as she spoke of her sister’s happiness being vital to her own well being, made him plod on.
One day he called her up. “Could I speak to your sister? Maybe she knows where I could find him! Some little clue... anything!”
“She is still in a state of shock. She will not be able to help you at all! She was always so full of life, but now she has forgotten to smile even!”
Months dragged on, with no news. He went everywhere, photo in hand, even though she had cautioned him to be careful. “They are rich, unscrupulous folks. They will not hesitate to kill you. Don’t let anyone know you are looking for him!”
She paused and went on. “The girl they want him to marry also comes from a family with a tendency to quarrel. So, pray, be very careful! I don’t want to lose you!”
At that moment, he could pluck stars from the sky, jump off the highest mountain for her [all those Literature classes again!]. And all she wanted was for him to find one measly man!
Every day he would scour around the town, even taking leave from his not-so-exciting job. His mother was livid. “Why are you doing all this for a girl you don’t even know that well, you besotted fool?”
Not know her? She is the love of my life, he wanted to proclaim to the world, stand below her balcony and spout classic lines to her. But it was all too premature. His parents would lift him up bodily and lock him in his room, to cure him of his ‘madness’. He had just got a job, and they did not want him to throw it away.
“Ma, give me just two weeks more? I promise to stop after that!”
The clock clicked on onerously, he began to lose weight, his heels became calloused and his hair grew frizzy, as he walked around the seamier side of the city, where the shadows shielded crime and criminals. He peeped into the red light areas where garishly made up women beckoned to him, and men with deep fathomless eyes stared at him. He had never been exposed to the underbelly of life and he had very little idea how to deal with it.
A knife rasped against his neck as his wallet was torn away, but he managed to escape. “All because of her prayers!” he breathed to himself.
Once, after a particularly exhausting day, he went to her room, even though he had promised not to see her. He lay down, his head on her lap, eyes red rimmed and watery. She stroked his forehead gently, almost maternally, as she said softly, “Maybe you should stop. You’ll kill yourself at this rate!” Her large eyes were filled with concern, and he could hear the regret in her tone.
“I will not rest till I hunt him down!” He sat up with a jerk. “You and I can rest after that!” She smiled at him, but there was a strange sorrow within her eyes that made him wonder. But he shrugged it off!
Then one day, he struck gold! He was getting off an auto rickshaw in front of a three star hotel, in a remote area of the city, when suddenly he saw him, walking down the lobby. It was him all right – the same lanky build, the grey eyes that looked around furtively, as though he was ready to duck at any sudden movement, almost like an animal that senses it is being preyed upon. He appeared to be a man in turmoil, a man on the run!
He recalled her words, “He will not come willingly because his father has sworn to break his legs if he is seen anywhere in public. He is petrified, and hence, you will have to bring him here under false pretences!”
He walked into the lobby, accidentally brushed against him, apologized profusely. The next day he went back, sat down in the mini restaurant and ordered coffee, and waited for him to come in. They smiled perfunctorily at each other. A week went by, before he made his first move. He introduced himself and offered him a drink, and another, and yet another. By the end of the evening they were best buddies.
This turned into a routine, and he sensed the other man had no suspicions about him. “Why don’t you come over home tomorrow and have a drink with me? This is getting a bit monotonous, isn’t it?”
“No!” came the spontaneous reply. “I cannot go anywhere! I am in deep trouble!”
“Can I help?” he asked with the right amount of concern.
But there was no getting anything out of him. His face turned into a blank wall and he clammed up completely. This was a wall that could not be breached. It was time for Plan B.
One balmy evening, as they sat drinking together, he managed to slip a drug into the other man’s glass. He watched as the liquid went down in deep draughts. They talked about life, love and longing. The evening grew darker till finally the drug took effect. He slumped over the table, with glazed eyes. It was now or never!
He hailed a taxi, hanging on to the drunken man, making inane excuses for him as they bumped into strangers. People looked at them, but not with suspicion. Just a couple of youngsters letting their hair down! As the taxi moved, he was filled with a strange sense of elation. He had done the seemingly impossible. She would be his finally! Maybe they could have a double wedding. She would look so lovely in her rich brocade sari, eyes a-lustre with adoration and hope. Sudden love filled his heart and he hugged the unconscious man, who was the key to their happiness.
She opened the door and her face paled as she looked at the two men, one holding up the other. As he made him sit on an armchair, she stared in disbelief as his head lolled against the cushion. There was a strange expression of triumph on her face, one that disconcerted him. Wasn’t it supposed to be relief and joy?
Suddenly she turned to him, arms outstretched, and burst out crying, “Thank you, thank you! You are wonderful!” and she collapsed into his arms. He smelt the fragrance of her hair as he clasped her closely, ecstatically.
The next moment, she turned business like, as she sat him down in a chair. “You need to hear the truth now!” Her eyes were deep pools of mystery and a sudden dread suffused his body. She appeared to be almost a stranger as the whole story tumbled out.
Later they wheeled the still unconscious man on a wheelchair, into a stark white building. She was pale as she looked at the young man who walked alongside her, still shell-shocked at the story she had told him.
Her sister had been the victim of a brutal attack by the very man who had claimed to love her. He had professed to love her, but had had no intention of marrying her. When his ambitious parents had found a rich girl for him to marry, he had readily fallen in with their plans, not wanting to forgo a life of wealth and comfort.
When he broke the news to her, she resisted violently. “You cannot leave me high and dry! I love you and cannot live without you!” She fell at his feet, tears adding more lustre to her beautiful eyes, but he shook her by her shoulders as he barked, “I am not going to marry you!”
“I am pregnant with your child!” She wept hysterically, clutching at the lapels of his shirt. He shoved her aside, but her next words transfixed him. “I will not let you dump me! I will tell your parents everything. Or go to the police!” Her voice had turned shrill, and she had turned into a virago, eyes distraught, hair all over her face. Never had she looked so beautiful, and never had he been more tempted. Her beauty haunted him, day and night, but he did not want to jeopardize his golden future. Cunningly he managed to quieten her down, as he promised to marry her.
“Give me time to tell my parents!” he said, as he left her.
Two days later, he went back to her house. In the dark of the night, as the stars hid their faces behind the clouds, he unlocked the door with his key and moved in quietly. He could see her sleeping on her bed, a silhouette that breathed delicately. He knew what he had to do!
And now they were going to see her at the hospital, where she had been ever since. The nurse opened the door for them, and waved them in. “Please do not excite her in any way! She has been through enough already!”
She lay in her bed, a slight form, her back towards them. She moved towards her sister softly, and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. He stood, not knowing what to expect, even as the man on the wheelchair groaned, maybe because the drug was finally wearing off.
The room was dimly lit, and the girl on the bed turned around, making a strange pleading sound. Her sister kept her hand on her shoulder, as she asked him to turn on the light. He did so, and as he looked at the prone figure in the bright light, his heart almost stopped, as he struggled to stay upright. For the face that looked up at him from the bed was nothing like the photo he had carried around. It had been marred beyond recognition.
“The louse threw acid on her beautiful face!” She burst out crying, as he stared at the shapeless mass that stared back at him blindly. The acid had eaten away at the flesh on her face, and what was left was a hideous travesty, a mutilated apology for a face. He felt as though he had been hit by a club on the pit of his stomach. How could any man be so bestial, so callous? He had half a mind of smashing his hand on the brute’s face, over and over again, till there were no bones left, no face left!
She sensed what he was going through, even as she crooned to the pitiful figure that lay on the bed. The man on the wheelchair opened his eyes blearily, trying to get his bearings. His eyes widened as he saw the figure on the bed, and his gaze changed as he looked around like a cornered rat. Two pairs of eyes stared back at him stonily, even as he realized that he was in real trouble.
“You have a last chance to apologize to her!” Her voice was steely, but there was a deep undercurrent of sorrow within it, as she faced him squarely. His eyes widened as he looked at her, and gasped, “How... how...?” She looked at him in loathing, and then turned her gaze towards her sister who lay so still.  “I will make it up to you, my dearest!”
They drugged him again, and took him back home. They sat in silence, as he tried to make sense of what he had just seen. She glanced at him from time to time, but said nothing.
The air was still and oppressive, as she had shut all the windows in the room. He sat there on a chair, hands pinned behind him, terror in his eyes. What he had done was even worse than he had imagined, and he saw it in her eyes... the eyes he had once loved!
She took a vial from her pocket, as she said softly, “What you did was unforgivable! Who gave you the power to make such a decision?”  She held up the vial which held the deadly acid. The next moment, her voice broke down, as she added, “Did you even realize that you had attacked the wrong twin?”

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A Girl's ‘Horror’scope!

Deepti Menon writes about the trials and tribulations of what many young women across India face when it is time to be married off. Even as many girls in urban India are empowered with the best of education and careers, the sword of society’s prying eyes hangs over their heads when it comes to matrimony.

Would such a hue and cry have been made if
the boy had rejected the girl? Not really!

The flurry begins when a girl turns eighteen and wedding bells begin to ring in every neighbouring home! Sly glances are cast, comments on complexion, education, appearance and lifestyle begin ricocheting off the ceiling. A dusty/ musty horoscope is pulled out and perused by a plump astrologer who predicts the position of planets, benign and malevolent.
Matrimonial sites loom ahead, with thousands of profiles falling into one's lap like manna from heaven. That is exactly when one realizes how many different kinds of species make up the world! And that one man's meat is another man's poison!
Luckily an uploaded photograph can be protected, if one is a paid member on the site. It is worth it to pay to keep one's picture away from covetous eyes. For not all viewers are genuine as some are out to just have fun. Like the man who claimed to be a Hindu Brahmin and wrote an enticing message, “I can see the beauty in your profile despite there being no photograph!" Very romantic and very off putting, as a person who could wear his heart on his sleeve for the whole world to see, could have very little left over in the end.
However, the rest of the profile proclaimed him to be from a different religion. Not that one has anything against any other faith, but why on earth would a Hindu mom looking for an arranged match for her daughter look for a groom from so different a background?
The girl in question does not want a Prince Charming or an Adonis - just a boy who is well settled [youngsters today are very level headed and practical!], tall [but that is negotiable!], family oriented [which includes an orientation towards his spouse's family as well, warm and genuine. And yes, most importantly, she needs to like what he looks like [no Adonis, mind you!] And her mom wouldn't mind a son-in-love with a good sense of humour, a person she hopes will laugh at her horrific puns!
Suddenly appears the perfect horoscope -the well settled boy, compatibility 8 out of 10, a well known family and the whole proposal one made in Heaven. There is no question of the girl rejecting the boy, and the family waits with bated breath for the response - which never comes! The girl finds the boy not quite her type. She does not want an Adonis, but she does need to feel a tiny bit of attraction towards him, after all!
An ice rink forms, the verdict is consensual! How dare a chit of a girl reject such an eligible boy? Who does she think she is - Miss Universe? The clucks increase, the nods are disapproving and the whispers clear, "No point in looking out for any more boys!"
The sad part is that this is the first proposal put forth by the family, not the 25th, and yet, they take it to heart. The parents shake their heads in unison. They will stand by their daughter, and hold her hand, and why not? Would such a hue and cry have been made if the boy had rejected the girl? Not really!
The heartrending fact is that no one can gauge the tender mind of a young girl as well as her parents, who have brought her up with care, nurtured her every wish and allowed her to blossom out in her own beautiful way. They have spent hours of joy and laughter, wielded control and chastisement, doled out advice and cherished very moment spent with her. They have allowed her to make her own choices in life, reposed perfect trust in her, fully aware that when the time comes, she will take the right decisions. So when it comes to the most important choice in her life, is it fair to fetter her and make their choices hers?

Deepti Menon has always believed in the power of the pen. Having done her post graduation in English Literature and her B.Ed. in English, she had the option of teaching and writing, and did both with great enjoyment. She started writing at the age of ten, long before she acquired a Diploma in Journalism. Deepti also had the advantage of being an Army kid, and later an Army wife, and loved the idea of travelling around India, meeting new people and acquiring new skills. She firmly believes that much of her personality was honed during those travels. For Deepti, writing needs to sparkle with simplicity and originality, and she strives to find that one word that conveys her ideas most meaningfully to her readers. She believes that Mark Twain had the right idea when he said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

Published in The Red Elephant Foundation


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