While the media was stuck up with Shibu’s suicide, Rasika stayed away from the idiot box that Xmas day. But as it went overboard the next day with Shilpa, the dalit boy’s mother, on board, she could see through the media game. That’s to antagonize dalits against the emergent rightist party that rode to power in the national election and to buttress the leftist coalition that lost its sheen. What with the election to the state assemblies round the corner, the dalit suicide seemed to be a godsend to bust the rightist dispensation. Being a dalit with political ambitions, Rasika knew that her caste mattered in the politics of the day, and so watched the non-stop Shilpa show for the next six days looking for the winning ways at the hustings.
Came Twelfth Night and Rasika was tensed up as to how her son Rohan’s suicide would be handled by the police and played up by the media. Having carpet covered Shibu’s suicide, what if the media were to conclude that there was no novelty left in her son’s case for it to milk. But then, won’t the moneybags that back the party out of power induce the media to stay focused on the common agenda to hurt the upstart rightists? Why not showcase the anti-dalit character of the central government with two dalit suicides in a row? Rasika was bogged down thus, as if her own life depended on the media coverage of her son’s death, and the arrival of the police, at dawn, to conduct an inquest provided a welcome distraction. But with the arrival of the media-wale, her apprehensions about their interest in the incident returned to the fore, and as they left she glued on to the TV to await the verdict. The idiot box began to beam the ‘breaking news’ with more manufactured outrage than before and she breathed a sigh of relief. As the victims happened to be poor and ‘promising’ students, the central government had a lot to answer for the caste discrimination on the country’s campuses, so went the ranting of the anchors.
Surfing the channels unceasingly, she began to contemplate.
Today it’s all about Rohan’s body and his suicide note but by the morrow, won’t the media-wale come back to milk the story? And her son’s youthful photogenic face should only add to the story of his hapless suicide. Also, he was a research scholar in a premier institution, a leftist bastion at that. That she was a middle-aged beauty and educated as well should help the media in making it a wholesome affair. That’s the heady mix that afforded Shilpa an unprecedented media-exposure in the wake of her son’s suicide. And why should it be any different in her case? But unlike Shilpa, who played the dalit card to no avail, won’t she cut her political suit according to the electoral cloth, and that should make a difference in the voting booths. If not, of what avail is sacrificing Rohan at the altar of opportunity.
“Being an underling to the leader is not the way to build a political career,” she thought. “Won’t my life illustrate that?”
She was poor being a dalit and spirited in spite of it. She was attractive by birth and sophisticated by education, both of which enabled her to marry Shekhar, a wheeler-dealer. With a prosperous husband and two cute children, a boy and a girl, when she thought she had nothing more to ask for, fate gave a political twist to her life. As it happened, alive to the caste arithmetic in the electoral calculus, her man reckoned that it’s only time before the middle-aged Saran of the leftist party would be catapulted to the pole position. So, he began investing in Saran. What with Saran well on course, as Shekhar began to up his stakes, she got sucked into the vortex. When Saran proposed to take her under his political wings, Shekhar had seen in that a second string to his business bow. But life seems to have had other ideas.
As her political proximity with Saran occasioned their personal intimacy, she was thrown into a dilemma at the lakshman rekha. Bogged down at the threshold, she chanced to hear a successful woman politician’s public confession that it’s a fair game for women to use their personal assets for a sexual climb on the political ladder. While men have all the means to reign in the political arena, so went the wannabe woman’s argument, only by conceding her sexual space to the powers that be that women can gain political ground. With that ‘sane’ advice putting her in the family way for the third time, though on a non-family path, she gave birth to Rohan and that changed the equation of her life and the equilibrium of her mind. What with Saran becoming fond of his only son - he had two daughters from his wife - their liaison began to acquire the colours of a union making her dread about the prospect of her man getting wind of it sooner than later. Butthat fateful day ended her torment.
Shekhar was driving here and her kids in their Sokda to make it to a relative’s wedding when Saran called him as they were midway and wanted her to take an urgent political call at Jhula, which, he hoped they hadn’t as yet passed through. So, she broke her journey along with infant Rohan and made it to Saran but Shekhar and her other children couldn’t reach their destination, owing to a head-on collision. Saran felt though sad it was a welcome development. It was sooner than later that Shekhar would’ve got wind of their peccadilloes and then wouldn’t he have vented his pique in public. So, his sudden demise precluded their political ruin, and her paramour’s reasoning made her suspect his hand behind her man’s death, which the discreet closure of the matter by police as a hit and run case had only confirmed. Yet, she didn’t bear a grudge as he made her his mistress and treated Rohan as his son and more so entrusted all his unaccounted wealth with her. But promising to lead her into the legislative council without facing the heat and dust at the hustings, he put paid to her budding grassroots political career. So she bided for her time as he rose in the party hierarchy.
After Rohan turned fifteen, Saran became increasingly scarce at her place, which loss of ardour she attributed to his advancing age, but when she came to know that he dumped her for a young thing, though hurt, yet she took it in her stride. But when he dragged his feet over fielding her as the party candidate in the ensuing elections, she felt he used her only to betray in the end. As her resentment of Saran grew, she began to perceive Rohan as a fruit of his vice and that made her contemptuous of her own son. Seeing her life was doubly jeopardized, as she was possessed with the idea of revenge, there came the breaking news of Shibu’s suicide followed by sustained media focus on the boy’s mother. When Rohan proclaimed that a dalit died in vain for he blamed none for his plight in his suicide note, she could visualize an anvil of her avenge and casually suggested that he might as well draft a meaningful one for fun. As he obliged her with a stinking indictment of his father’s desertion of his mother though without naming the character, she knew that would come in handy to bring about Saran’s doom.
That Twelfth Night, ensuring Rohan drank a glass of poisoned milk; she planted the suicide note under his pillow that the police had discovered on the morrow.
Having done with the past, Rasika began crystal-gazing.
In Rohan’s death she could see the means of Saran’s end. But not the whole means. Though he was bound to feel Rohan’s loss, yet he wouldn’t dare to face the media glare and so can’t even see his boy’s body. That in itself is bound to affect him in the short run but then death only warrants a limited grief period. It’s the political death that would devastate him. And God willing, she would ensure that happens.
She would usurp all of his unaccounted wealth he had vested in her as reparation for his sexual abuse of her. But then, she needs someone powerful to protect her in her endeavour. Why, she knew that Kanwal, the state mukhiya of the rightist outfit, had a glad eye for her for long. What with the opinion polls predicting change of guard in the state, it could be the right time to hitch on to him. After all, she was desirable and hungry and he was promising and young and that way, Saran’s ditching her could prove to be a blessing in disguise, a ‘right’ jilt so to say. And she would ensure to make her surrender appear to Kanwal as his conquest not only of her but also of Saran.
That’s the bed side of the story, a prelude to the impending political drama, she thought turning in the bed.
She could see Shilpa wasting her godsend by merely playing the dalit card but she won’t fail to make good the media attention to gain public approval, not merely the sympathy of the dalits. But given her late entry into his party, it would be well nigh impossible even for Kanwal to earn a reserved seat for her, at least not at this juncture. But it won’t be so, if she opts to take on Saran in his bastion. The party is bound to welcome that move and may even strain its every nerve for an upset victory. Besides, Rohan’s suicide note that squarely blamed his unknown dad for his end would come in handy for an insidious campaign against Saran. Moreover, even as Saran would be hard up to fund his electioneering, she could bribe the vulnerable voters with his money! What an irony and it won’t get better for any black comedy.
Should she win, and if the pollsters are proved right, won’t Kanwal make her the ‘giant killer’ minister? Won’t he know that would afford him enough excuses to keep her near him without raising eyebrows?
As she was about to pick up her iPhone to contact Kanwal, he called her to tell her that he was nearing her place to condole her.
“What if he’s imagining the same possibilities?” she thought with a sense of anticipation. ”If not, can’t I take his courtesy call to a mutually beneficial ground? Is life as simple as that and would crime pay such dividends? Is it not said that criminals invariably leave behind the tracks of their crime for the police to follow them? How am I to know whether I had left any, in spite of it all? I’ve to wait till the police come knocking at the door to know that, isn’t it?”
Thereafter, at the sound of the buzzer, Rasika walked upto the door, wondering whether it was Kanwal or a police on the other side.
“If its Kanwal, he would lead me onto the gaddi and if it were a police then it’s to the gallows. Let me see what life has in store for me.”