The story has been published as part of my book 26 words : A to Z of Short Stories available on Amazon
Veena put in the fresh Rajnigandha sticks in the vase by the window sill. It was taped together with a massive amount of cellotape and glue to ensure that it could hold water. It was broken but not useless.
She loved the fragrance of this beautiful flower. It was so calm and serene. It filled her with a sense of peace, and took her back to her childhood when she spent her holidays at her Didima’s home. Its elegant presence and sensuous smell permeated the days and nights of those summery months. Its smell now evoked a small tinge of pain in her, her past was like a pin prick. But she reveled in this pain, it gave her the courage she needed, she wanted to feel this and learn to face it. Time was the best healer and she hoped one day, she will be able to look back on those days and not feel this twisting and wringing inside her heart. She remembered the last time she had called her Didima to talk to her, “Never show me your face again, dead or alive, you have brought shame on our family name. I hope to never see you again.” Didima had died shortly afterwards, she was unwell.
Didima was the one who used to braid her beautiful hair and then would put a beautiful blossom of Rajnigandha in her hair. “Now my beautiful princess smells like a queen too.” She would plant a kiss on the face of the gorgeous child. Veena was an exceptionally beautiful girl. Deep grey green eyes, wide and bright, set on a face with the most perfect features imaginable. Her skin was the colour of pure white melted wax, clean, shimmery, and glowing. Thick, black, luxurious hair, which her mother would never cut and a waif like figure. She looked like a fairy out of the pages of a book, ethereal. She had the most melodious voice one had ever heard. They had named her Veena, after the Goddess Saraswati’s instrument and she had turned out to be blessed with a sharp and academic brain too. Excellent in studies, skilled in extra curricular activities, always smiling, kind hearted and soft spoken, she was almost too good to be true. She was the most popular girl in her school, part of the debate team, the drama team, the dance club, but it did not make her conceited. She was always a humble girl, ever smiling; this was because of her upbringing. Her father was a school teacher, a middle class man with high principles and her mother was a teacher too. They believed in teaching their 3 children the ways of simple living. Veena loved reading and could spend hours curled up with a book. In spite of being so outgoing, she was really an introvert. She had always wanted to be a teacher. Unlike her classmates who left for bigger citis to finish their higher studies, she stayed at home and finished her course. She joined as a middle school teacher at the new school which had just opened.
It was at the school that she met Ankur. He was the founder and owner of the school. The only son of a very wealthy businessman. Ankur was young, dynamic and charming. They became friends instantly and it was not long before Veena found herself falling for him. When she was with him, Ankur would talk about his visions for the school and about bringing radical changes in the education system. Veena was mesmerized by his passion and zeal. She could listen to him talk for hours. He had such lofty ideals and grand visions. He shared with her how he planned to achieve all this, how he was going to raise money; it was evident his father was not very supportive of all his ideas.
They had fallen in love soon enough and it was not long before tongues started wagging. It was a small town. Veena’s mother had some inkling about it and warned her. There were rumors about Ankur, that he had been kicked out of his job in Delhi and thus had come back. His father had funded this school for him so that he could earn a living. It was all hush hush. Veena did not believe any of that. They both were deeply in love and determined to be together. They wanted to get married but Ankur’s family would never agree to the match; Veena was too poor for their standards. It was Ankur who suggested that they elope. Veena was skeptical and wanted to try and convince her parents. But Ankur stopped her, saying that if his father came to know of this, he will ensure that they never be together. He assured her that once they were married, they will come back and convince their parents.
They ran away on a Friday, Veena took only a few of her clothes with her and a pair of sandals. She left a note behind saying she will soon be back. She knew she would come back in a jiffy and apologise to her parents and ask for their forgiveness. They went to Malda, a small city in West Bengal where one of Ankur’s friend lived. They took shelter there. Veena and Ankur were married next day in a mandir, it was the happiest day of her life. The first couple of days passed in a blissful haze. The third day Veena woke up with a splitting headache. She needed fresh air, the last two days had been spent cooped up in the house. She asked Ankur when they were going back. Ankur assured her that they will go back soon. But she could not relax, she was feeling guilty and knew her parents will be worried. She told Ankur she wanted to call her parents and tell them she was ok. She started crying while thinking about them. Ankur tried consoling her but she kept crying hysterically. He then gave her a medicine to help her relax and put her to bed. Veena slept fitfully. She awoke several times dreaming, she felt like she was in a haze. In her dream she saw some men come in to her room with Ankur. They were talking loudly. She fell asleep again and woke up sweating. She was thirsty, and her head was spinning. The door to her room was locked. She called out for Ankur many times. He came after a long time, and brought her a glass of milk. He told her she was sick and needed to sleep. Veena wanted to go out and get some air, but her head was so heavy, she fell asleep again. It was the next Friday when she was rescued by the local police.
Unknown to her, her parents had gone mad and filed a police complaint when she went missing. Her father, her young brother and all their neighbors and friends had hounded the local police to take swift action. It was a peon at the school, a young boy name Karim, who cleaned and took care of Ankur’s office, who had given the information. Ankur had been planning for quite some time to sell Veena to human traffickers. He was supposed to lure her away and hand her to them. Karim had heard enough snippets of his conversation which provided the leads to the police.
She was brought back home 3 days later in a police van.
Life changed quickly after that for Veena. She lost her job, her dreams, her respect and her pride all in one go. She lost her friends, her neighbors did not talk to her. She was ashamed to go out, the one time she had tried going to the local grocery shop, 3 weeks after she returned, everyone stared at her. She knew people talked about her. There were rumors and stories about what had happened. Her father stopped going out in the evening. Her mother used to cry whole day and both her parents did not talk to her anymore. Some time later, the members of the society, where they lived in a rented house, asked her father to move and find another house. People were concerned that she was not a good influence for the younger generation there. Women who had known the family, and who had not known the family, said it was Veena’s fault for running away. They had always known she was a bad egg, rotten, always flaunting her beauty. Served her right.
Ankur had been let off on bail long back. His father had deep pockets.
Ankur was married to a very rich girl two years later.
They moved. It was some months later that a prospective marriage proposal for her younger sister broke when they came to know about Veena’s ‘history’. Her parents had been trying to get their younger daughter married as soon as possible. Her father lost it then, he blamed her for everything that had fallen on them and told her to leave. In his anger he threw all her belongings out on the street and kicked her out.
As she stood there among her things on the street, she picked up the broken pieces of the vase which she kept by her table with a Rajnigandha stick in it. She left town that night.
It had been a year to that night. She had come to Malda, the place where she had lost her life as she knew it. It was a smaller town and she knew her past will come to haunt her there. But she felt she had to build it there, from the ruins. With the little money she had in the bank she managed to rent a house. She was able to get a job at a local school, and after a few months she started tuitions for two of her students. The first thing she had mended in her life was the broken vase.
She took up the book she was reading from the table and went and sat on the chair. There was a knock on the door, her students were early today. She went to open the door. Her parents were standing outside. Her father had a bouquet of Rajnigandha sticks in his hands.
A Short Story by
Smita Pal Sinha