“Sonali……………, Sonali…….. Get some vegetables for dinner.” cried her mother. She was feeling under the weather today and hence wanted Sonali to make that short trip to the local market. This was a rare occurrence, since her husband had asked everyone, to not send Sonali outside their house for avoidable reasons. She was her father’s darling daughter, but his love for her was limited by his view of the society and how women and girls need to be treated/protected by the men of the family.
Sonali’s face lit-up on hearing this, but soon she felt guilty for feeling happy at her mother’s health's expense. She got up from her bed where she was working on her B.A assignments, combed her hair in a way that her mother wouldn’t make out that they were freshly combed. She found her dupatta and slowly pleated it over her bosom, as she had been doing for the past many years. She gave herself that last glance and her eyes met her mother’s in the mirror. Mother screamed again - “You are going to get vegetables, no point looking like a hoor. Now go quickly, before it gets dark or else you’ll put both me and yourself in trouble with your father.”
Sonali rushed out of the room and bumped into the new wall that had come up in their compound. “I’ll never get used to this.” She said to herself as she rubbed her forehead while staring at the incongruous and hideous structure that now divided her childhood home into two exact halves. Her elder brother, Vijjuu - Vijay, lived in the other half with his wife and two children.
“Now what has happened?” asked her mother, as Sonali stood before the brick wall, open mouthed.
“Nothing. Will be back soon” she said, while going out. As she closed the gate behind her, she saw her brother hurriedly getting on his motorbike. She said 'Namaste' to him, her eyes lowered. As was the case usually these days, he seemed angry and rode off without responding to her.
She started to walk towards the market in quick , hurried steps quite aware of the impending dusk. On her way she saw some of her friends coming back from college and waved at them. After exchanging quick helloes, she promised to meet them later since currently she had to run an errand and rush back home. Her friends understood, they knew all about her father and his strict ways. He was the reason why despite being a bright student, Sonali was doing her graduation via distance learning and not from a regular college.
Sonali moved on and as soon as she was about to enter the market area, she adjusted her dupatta again. She had to remain and appear modest at all times, especially in the market, she doubted every male who passed her. At the vegetable stall, Sonali exchanged greetings with the vegetable seller. Since her mother was his loyal customer, he serviced her order before others. It was almost dark and Sonali turned to go home. From the market she took the right turn which lead to the narrow lane. Her own house's lane was at the end of this one. Five minutes walk and she would be home and her father wouldn’t even know about it.
As she walked, she saw a green tempo (a big, covered autorickshaw) parked in the side encroaching almost all the space of the narrow lane. “Now there is going to be a big jam as soon as even a single bike passes through.”, she thought. Two guys were smoking bidis standing next to it. Sonali stiffened on seeing them and quickened her step. Just as she was about to pass them, both of them threw their bidis and pounced on her. The taller one pushed her inside the back side of the auto and jumped in it with her. The other one closed the doors to the backside and her world went dark. Sonali was paralyzed with fear, but still her body was throwing punches and kicking hard, her mind on the other hand was completely numb. What was going on, was this really happening? She continued to kick and punch in the air, but eventually the guy, who had been grappling with her, got his aim in the dark, punched her hard on the nose and she passed out.
Consciousness came and went, but all the time the vehicle in which she was captured, remained in motion. Her hands and feet were tied and she was lying sideways in pitch darkness. The space in which she was lying no longer seemed to be as small as that of a tempo rickshaw. This seemed to be a bigger vehicle, but with her state of mind and the lack of light, she couldn’t say. To her it seemed that she had been drifting in and out of consciousness for eternity, but in reality only eight hours had elapsed. Her captors had kidnapped her from a small bylane in Najafgarh, in the outskirts of Delhi. From there, they rode the tempo rickshaw to a dark farmhouse near Kapasehra border of Delhi. There she was moved to a lorry which was meant to carry refrigerated goods. The lorry took her to a small village in Jhunjhunu district of Rajasthan, where they took her to a deserted house. On reaching there, the driver and his helper opened the doors to the lorry. It was still dark outside and Sonali was awake that time. Trying to make sense of the events that had just unfolded she started to blabber, “Bhaisaab, why are you doing this? Bhaisaab, Please let me go! What have I done to you? My parents would die worrying for me! ” But the two guys moved her from the lorry to the old abandoned house like they were moving a corpse. They threw her inside a room and closed it from outside and then locked another door on the outside. She heard the lorry go and all became quiet. The darkness of the night was as black as it’s silence was deafening. Sonali finally realized that her captors were gone and started shouting and screaming for help. She screamed and sobbed but her shouts and cries got diffused in the dry, hot and morbid air of her room. Not a soul stirred outside, not even a bird, even an insect sound would have given her some assurance. But all was quiet.
She tried to understand why this was happening to her. She was dressed modestly, her salwar suit was loose fitting, her dupatta was covering her chest properly. The neckline of the suit was very conservative and she wasn’t even wearing kajal. She had done nothing to “incite” anyone, as her father had often said of the girls to whom bad things had happened. Then why was this happening to her? She did not have any enemies, she barely had a social circle, no boyfriends, ex or otherwise. Her father and his ways were well known even for any secret admirers. She started to feel a little relieved. “They’ve got the wrong girl. Yes, it has to be. Let them come back and realize their mistake. It was dark when they got me and it has been dark ever since. When they come back in the morning they will realize what a big blunder they have made.”
Morning came soon, her head was spinning, and her nose hurt like hell. On and off she shouted for help but there were no sounds around and she got the impression that she was in the middle of nowhere. The room in which she was locked had a door which was locked from outside and a window which was also closed. With her tied hands she tried in vain to open it. Some light got inside via the crevice along the window and the room and it’s silhouettes became less dark. After growing tired of shouting and crying, she lay there waiting for her fate. After many hours, she heard the lorry stop a bit farther. Her captors had returned. They then unlocked the door to the house, got inside and bolted it and then unlocked the door of the room in which she was lying. Her hands were set free and they gave her the food they had got for her. She asked for water, her throat was parched and her lips were cracked. “There is a tap in this room”, the shorter one pointed towards the darkest corner of the room. With a little more light in the room due to the sun outside, Sonali could see it. “Use it as you deem fit.”, he said and then both of them smiled after exchanging glances. She hobbled to the tap and drank to her fill. She then changed her focus to food. They stood there staring at her as she ate, with both pity and amazement in their eyes. She could feel their gaze on her person but kept on eating. Upon finishing she began her barrage of questions. “Why am I here? My father is not a rich man! I have no enemies. You have made a mistake. You have got the wrong girl?” The tall and fair one kept on looking at her mockingly. Eventually he said - “Sonali ‘ji’, we have made no mistake. We were asked to pick you up only .” But Sonali kept on repeating her questions, totally missing the fact she was addressed by name. She shut up only when one of them threatened to give her a black eye. Her nose was already giving her a tough time and she did not want to ‘feel’ one more organ on her face. She quitened down, eyes brimming with tears. The guys softened and told her that they were willing to set her legs free, if she promised not to create trouble. They told her that they’d get her dinner in the night and also the answers to her questions.
Sonali spent the next few hours alternating between extreme hysteria and then total composure. At times, she felt totally spent and out of control and then at other times she seemed to be accepting her fate. Still the why’s and the who’s lingered in her mind. Night fell and the lorry came back. This time she heard more footsteps, or maybe she was just imagining. The room was pitch dark, she couldn’t even see her hand,right in front of her face. As the men entered the house they performed the same drill, bolted the door to the house, then opened the door to her enclosure and then bolted it back. One of them was holding a torch and in a very light vein, asked her - “See who has come to meet you Sonali ji?”. The man was flashing the torch light on her face and Sonali was blinded by it. She put her hand to her eyes, trying to cover them when the third voice spoke - “I need to talk to her alone. You two wait outside”. On hearing her brother's voice Sonali felt an instinctive relief but then the reality dawned on her. She couldn’t believe her ears. How could this be?
“Vijju bhaiyya? Is that you?”, she asked in the direction which the voice had come. No-one answered, but the other two men left the room and the house. The third person bolted the room from inside again and kept the torch on the floor and replied, “Sonali, don’t pretend to be innocent. You must have seen this coming.” He paused for a bit “I came to know that father is planning to name you as his sole heir in his will. Who else but you to feed such nonsense in his head? How else do you expect me to react? I had to teach you and the old man a lesson? How can he do this to me? How can ‘you’ do this to me? ”.
“But bhaiyya, I didn’t even know about all of this? How can you think about me like this? I am ten years younger to you..…” she said finding her voice finally. “I know what is beneath this innocent facade. If you weren’t my sister, I would have killed you to teach that old bastard a lesson!” said her brother. Sonali’s head was spinning in circles, she really wished that all this be a really bad nightmare and that she wake up from it this instant. But it wasn’t and she found herself crying out loud, calling out to her mother and father, asking them to help her. Her brother waited for a few minutes, but then came straight to point. “I don’t think this will go on for too long. If all goes well, they should be able to come and get you by tomorrow night. But I don’t want any funny business from you till then. I don’t want to take any risks so I am asking you to do this.” He hesitated for a bit but then pulled himself together. “I want you to take off all your clothes and put them near my feet. All of them, mind it! I am going to look the other way and you can just take them off and put them near my feet. These clothes would be your assurance to me that you would not call out to anyone or try to runaway till the time this matter is sorted. Do you understand? Did I make myself clear?” he asked menacingly. Sonali couldn’t recover from the shock, the faint light falling on her face exposed the disbelief and pain in her expressions. How could this be happening? How could her own brother be putting her through so much shame and humiliation. Is this the same boy, with whom I have shared my childhood?”, she thought.
“Bhaiyya, don’t do this, please!! Ask father nicely, he’ll give you everything. It is all yours anyway. You are the only man in the house after him.” she pleaded with him.
“But the oldie has threatened to disown me and I want to put an end this before he gets any more bright ideas. Now stop lecturing and wasting my time. Do you want me to rip these clothes off your body or are you going to take them off yourself?” Sonali caught the expression on his face and froze in her tracks. How could she do it? She had only been naked in the bathrooms, that too for the quick 5 minute shower on a daily basis. Always fully clothed from neck to toe since last 9-10 years. Even her own mother had seen her fully clothed in salwar kameez since she turned 10! How could she disrobe with her brother in her own room? Tears started to fall from her eyes, but she couldn’t move her hands. Her brother on the other hand, had had enough. He took a step closer to her and snatched her dupatta. “Are you testing me sister?”. Sonali was shaken and took a couple of steps backward. “Wait bhaiyya, wait! Don’t stoop to such levels. I will give you my clothes. Just look away please, in the name of god, just look away!” Her brother was shaking himself, and was relieved to hear her words. He turned his face towards the door and turned the torch light away from Sonali. She undressed herself completely, and as she took of her clothes she instinctively started to stoop, trying to cover her nakedness. Almost doubled over, she neatly kept all the clothes near her brother’s feet and stepped back from him. He knelt down, picked them up and carefully checked if both the undergarments were in place. Sonali felt even more violated at his last action and continued to shed tears. As he stepped out, her brother told her to wait for a couple of minutes and went outside locking the door. He was back after a short while with a bag . He said loudly, as he put the bag near the door ledge, “Here is food for you for the next day or so. Now that you are in such a state, I can’t have those guys bring you food or anything. I myself need to rush back to Delhi to settle things with father. Pray that things go as per my plan and your beloved old man picks you up tomorrow night. I know you won’t try to act smart, because I am carrying all your smartness with me.”
With that he locked her room and then the outside door as well. She heard the start of engine and then they were all gone. The room became pitch dark again and Sonali felt that the color of her life was darker than the darkness that engulfed her body. She crouched down on the floor and thought that if she remained still for too long maybe death would come and claim her as it’s own. Maybe it was possible to die by sheer will.
How was she ever going to reconcile with what had just happened to her? Since childhood she was taught to trust only her father and her brother when it came to males. Her brother had often told her to cover up or choose more modest dressing style than her existing one. He had stood guard at the terrace as she walked to go to school. Her family’s honor more often than not depended on her clothes and here she was lying naked, in a strange place, carried by strange men, thanks to her own brother. Her mind drifted to her parents, how worried they must be for her and how her mother would be crying buckets worrying about her daughter’s whereabouts. How her father would be moving pillars and posts to get her back. She felt a sort of satisfaction in knowing that her father would smack her brother on his face when he would come to know about what he had done. She imagined her brother in the police lock-up and her father rescuing her from this forsaken place. She also imagined visiting her brother in jail and him asking for her forgiveness, just the way they show in the movies. She would not forgive him! Definitely not! But she’d promise to take care of his wife and children in his absence.
Night passed in all this fantasizing with short and disturbed interludes of sleep. As the sun shone outside, some of the light also trickled inside Sonali’s enclosure. Every time she woke up her nakedness and her humiliation at her brother’s hand came hurtling back to the forefront of her consciousness. It still seemed very surreal to her. She wondered if all that really happened and is still happening. The lack of clothes on her body, lying in that hot and dark room, smelling of sweat, all brought her back to the real world.
She had never been this naked for so long. She was all alone, but still crouched forwards, with her knees or her arms covering her breasts all this while. She realized this and started to think about what made a woman’s body so worthy of shame? She couldn’t understand why lying there she was the one feeling the humiliation and shame, while her tormentor, her own brother was in the driving seat, probably bargaining with her father for a deal. How is she going to look into her father’s eyes again? She had been disrobed, whatever be the reason. Would he blame her for this? Maybe he will kill Vijju for doing this. As she was sitting there, she thought she heard some voices from a distance, maybe it was sound of some animals, but she didn’t get up to scream or shout. Her brother knew her too well, or maybe they had tamed her well enough to know that for her clothes were an integral part of herself, almost a second skin. She wouldn’t want to be seen by anyone without them.
The food that Vijju had bought remained in the same bag, untouched. Hunger was far away from her mind and her body was not complaining either. She did feel thirsty every few hours and every time use to make the trip to the corner tap, bending over, afraid of being seen in this state. The day descended into night and little lines of light entering through the window crevices became orange and then grey and finally darkness swept the room like the night before. No-one came for her, she was expecting high drama to unfold but all was as still as a tomb. All sorts of thoughts crossed her mind. Maybe the police killed Vijju before he could divulge where she was hidden, maybe he met and accident while going back to Delhi or worst still- maybe her parents or one of them had a heart stroke on hearing Vijju’s misdeeds. She cried thinking about her parents and how badly they’ll be affected on seeing her like this and even more on realizing what a devil Vijju had become. Another night passed almost like the last one and dawn came. She got up, washed her face and drank some water. The bag of food had started to stink, maybe she should have eaten. She couldn’t even throw the bag anywhere now. It must be five or six in the morning she guessed and thought she heard the groan of an engine in the distance. Her heart skipped a beat! Who could this be? Her rescuers or her captors? Maybe her parents had come to get her or maybe her brother’s accomplices had come to rape her. Maybe it was the police. How would she face them? Like this, without clothes? They would all smirk at her? Maybe pass lewd comments! Oh! How was she ever going to face anyone! She hoped and prayed with folded hands that the coming vehicle be the vehicle of her rescue and that her parents be in it. The engine stopped outside and there was faint shuffling of feet. She couldn’t hear any voices though. Then someone unlocked the outside door and moved towards the inner door. The second door was opened as well and Sonali’s squinted her eyes to counter the sudden surge of light in the room. “Sonali…..Beta……Sonali…”, said the voice. It was her mother’s voice. Sonali didn’t get up and started wailing “Maa……… Maa………”. Her mother came to her with an opened sheet and draped it over her.They both hugged and cried for a very long time. Her mother kept on kissing her forehead and after a long time they broke the embrace. “Beti, are you alright?” Sonali didn’t hear her question, she looked at the door and asked her mother where her father was? “Your father is outside, he has come to get you. But how could he see you like this. We were so worried for you beti. Get dressed, here I got your clothes. Wear them and let’s go home.” replied her mother while glancing downwards, unable to look at her daughter in that state, despite the cloth draped over her. “But ma, how did you guys get here, tell me what happened? Where is police?” asked Sonali.
“Let’s get home beti, we’ll tell you everything. This isn’t the time or the place. Let’s just go and forget this like a bad dream.”, came the reply from her mother. “No ma, tell me”,said Sonali with finality in her voice, her back straight and eyes prodding her mothers.
“When you went missing that day, we looked all over for you. Your father went looking for you in the market where the vegetable seller told him that you had taken vegetables from him and gone back in the direction of our home. We called your nearby friends and checked with the neighbors as well. When all failed then we went to the police to report you missing. The police started interrogating people and the only lead that they got was that someone saw a cargo tempo parked outside our lane, but no-one in the neighborhood had any cargo coming or going out of their houses or shops. The police suspected that someone in the family may have a role to play and were investigating on that angle. Then yesterday, in the day, your uncle called us to say that we should reach his house immediately. We rushed there hoping to see you but instead Vijju was there. He had called some people from his in-laws as well. There he told us what he had done. I was so relieved to hear that he had you and that your honor and the honor of our family was still intact. Your father was also relieved but in anger he gave a tight slap to Vijju. Then a scuffle broke out and people had to disentangle both of them. When Vijju told us the reason for his deeds your father was very disappointed. He rushed home to get his will. He came back to show Vijju his plans for him. When Vijju saw that your father had willed all the agricultural land to him, he had tears in his eyes. We wanted him to become independent but we knew what our responsibilities are towards him and his family. Your father told him that he was very disappointed in his lack of patience and with the partition wall in the middle of the house and then at what he had done to you. On hearing this Viju fell on his feet and apologized in front of all relatives and friends who were present. He also threatened to kill his kids and himself if we did not forgive him. It was all very sad.
Vijju really looked repentant. On advise of people around, your father and Vijju then wrote up a compromise note and some legal things happened with a lawyer and by evening, all was settled. Now, we will all live together happily . Vijju will also start working with your uncle at his factory. We informed the police that you were at a relative’s place and we’ll present you in the station after one day.”
Sonali stared at her mother in disbelief, “But what about me, Ma? What about me?”
“What could we do Sonali? Vijju would have killed himself and his little kids. If we reported him to police, then also he would have done the same. You know how hot headed he is. We had no choice in the matter. We wanted you back safely and he is also our son, we couldn’t be too hard on him. He also apologized to both of us for what he has done to you and touched our feet. Now everyone in our relatives are involved so he will also behave himself. Come on beta, forgive him. He is a fool. Good, that no real harm has come to you. You are hale and hearty, with just some bruises on the nose. Otherwise what all happens to girls when they are abducted. Let’s thank god for his graces and go home. Think of this like a bad dream and forget it. Here, take your clothes and come outside.” Her mother stroked her head with her hand, got up and turned her back to Sonali, probably giving her some privacy to put on her clothes. “What is that smell coming from? ” she asked, trying to move the conversation to a less dense topic. “What a rotten stench! It’s coming from this bag. What is in it?”, she paused for Sonali to answer. On not getting no response she picked it up and carried it outside “What is in this?” Sonali heard her say to someone. “Food I got for her the other day”, came the response.
If it were possible to be more devastated than before then Vijju’s voice, at this point of time, had that impact on her. Not only was he not punished by her parents, they had also shielded him from the police and now they had the audacity to get him there with themselves. Her tormentor, her captor, her abductor was a part of the rescue team and she was to go home with him. Sonali did not move from her place and her mother came back after a few minutes to check if she was dressed and ready to go. “Arre, you are still not dressed! Why didn’t you eat? Vijju said that he got the food especially for you. Paranthas and pickle. You should have eaten beta. Anyway he is worried for you and says that he knows of a dhaba just outside this village. We’ll stop there first thing, to get you something to eat. Right?” she asked her coaxingly. Seeing that Sonali had not moved a muscle, her mother came near her and said to her, “Don’t be a stubborn child, you have always been our good daughter. Come! Get up! wear your suit and your dupatta and let’s go! If you are feeling too weak, I can help you with it! We need to hurry beta, we have to get to the police station in Delhi by evening or else the police people will get suspicious. Papa has prepared a sequence of events that you need to learn and tell to the police people. Rest we have taken care of.”
Hearing this, Sonali woke from her trance and slowly stood up straight. She started to walk towards the door listlessly. The sheet draped over her, parted from the front and slowly slipped off from her shoulders. Her mother aghast at seeing her daughter like that and fearful of what was going to happen next, gave out a cry, “What are you doing?”
As she reached the door , Sonali said slowly, “I am going to father. He needs to see me like this. So he never forgets, what all he has forgiven..” and out she went.