Across the Bridge – Chapter 20
Continued from “A Hunk of Salt”
Universe was unfolding rapidly. Second World War had already started. Governor General Linlithgow had entered India into the war without consulting the Indians, who felt insulted as a result. The country was divided; some supported country’s involvement expecting self-rule as promised in return, others questioned the integrity of the British, particularly in view of their past record including the promises made in exchange for help during the First World War but not kept. They advocated exploitation of the stress of war on them to wrestle independence. Mahatma Gandhi who was against war as a matter of principle, stayed neutral arguing “I will not win freedom for India on the ashes of the British.”
Udham Singh did manage to avenge Jallian Walla Bagh Massacre about two decades after the incident by shooting Michael O’Dwyer dead who was the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab at the time of the massacre. General Dyer did not live to see the day however, having died conveniently a couple of years earlier. Udham Singh, as most Indians, had deemed O’Dwyer more responsible for the massacre. Gandhi of course condemned Udham’s action but many others supported it. Bose was always opposed to Gandhi’s ways. He escaped from his house arrest and sought help from the axis to win independence at the battle front. In his quest, he became the Commanding General of the Azad Hind Fauj, the Indian National Army, which existed already in Malaysia but not as a meaningful fighting force. Bose recruited Indian prisoners of war from Japan, Indians outside and inside India, even females constituting the Laxmibai Brigade named after the Queen of Jhansi, for her bravery in 1857 revolution. Bose transformed the army into a force to reckon with. While the British tried to recruit the Indians with slogans like, “Hamari or a-o, Dal-Roti kha-o,” meaning, fight on our side and get food to eat, Bose asked, “Give me blood, I shall give you freedom.” Both sides were succeeding in getting the soldiers. In an attempt at winning India’s full cooperation in the War, Cripps tried to negotiate transfer of some powers to Indians in exchange. The mission was doomed to fail as there was no clear definition of the powers to be transferred and there was no timetable for whatever there was. Such promises had been made before and broken regularly increasing Indian distrust of the British. Mahatma Gandhi called for Quit India movement during the year of Parasu’s marriage. Quit India movement itself was controversial as was almost everything else.
While the universe was unfolding rapidly, Khatku’s mother died a couple of years before Parasu became a seasonal patwari. He had already earned his name, “Khatku - A thorn in the side, pain in the butt,” and he was very proud of the name, which he earned by bothering everybody. Khatku had crossed his eighteenth birthday and was not yet married. He was beginning to get worried. Now that his mother died, he thought that his father would try a bit harder to find a bride for him as there was no woman in the house any more. So did everyone else in the village. Khatku’s sixteen years old brother Suddal, having earned his name for being simpleton, was also looking forward to Khatku getting married hoping to be the next in line. Therefore, when one day someone came looking for a groom for his sixteen years old daughter, everyone thought that Khatku might just get lucky this time. Someone did get lucky alright but it wasn’t Khatku, it was his father. Everyone in Kesari Nagar and nearby villages made disparaging remarks on the father, “This girl is in his son’s age group, the old man has no shame.” Suddal was in agreement with the others; his gestures and body language spoke amply although he did not say it in words. Khatku, for his part left the village, headed to chhavani in Meerut Cantt and enlisted in the army. Division among the Indians about their involvement in the War and all the other related matters were not of much concern to Khatku. To him the war came in handy even though he was a staunch patriot. It was not only Khatku who struggled with conflicting ‘loyalties’ within them: Loyalty to their material needs and security, and loyalty to their national pride, principles.
The War was already on and the military could use as many soldiers as they could find. Khatku had a strange accent in that he pronounced some letters with double emphasis. He gave his name as Khattakk Singgh. The enlisting officer looked at him in surprise as if asking, “What kind of a name is that!” and then there was his accent, which we shall not use accept occasionally.
“I have been a thorn in the side of everybody, now I will be a thorn in the side of the Germans,” Khatku remarked, “and in the side of my father,” he said to himself.
The enlisting officer was rather impressed by his zeal, wrote his name ‘Khatak Singh,’ which is what Khatku had meant.
Khatku as others was sent for crash training and was soon dispatched to the front, not a sensible decision but that was not their concern; more bodies to go to the front, the better. They still could serve various functions like removing the dead and load the wounded into the ambulances, and they could be used as the ones to occupy the attackers until they caught bullets in their guts. They were recruited just to dispense with for whatever use they could get out of them, not very different from Khomeini’s new recruits whom he handed aluminum rifles, keys to heaven, and sent to be shot by Sadam Hussein’s soldiers. Whatever the case, Khatku soon found himself in El Alamein commanded by General Montgomery. His own platoon was commanded by a Subedar under the command of their Sergeant. Initially he was just removing the dead and loading the wounded in the ambulances. The Subedar, as well as others were impressed by his diligence but disturbed by his proud ways, which he thought arrogant. Then he was put inside a tank, told how to fire, and ordered to fire, which he did all day. It didn’t matter much to him where the shells landed as long as they were fired in the direction of the opposing forces. All the time he would be muttering, “I’ll kill’em all.” How many he was killing, no one knows. There too he was more of a bother. Not that he was not a good soldier, far from it, he was fabulous to have at hand to work; it is just that he was Khatku. As it happened, they could use some soldiers for combat. So he was put at the front, given a manual rifle and told to fire as many bullets as he could, which he did.
“Wow,” he said to himself, “I have a rifle, all to myself! Isn’t this what I always wanted and I can fire as many bullets as I want, kill as many bastards as I can!”
At a point, Khatku’s platoon was in difficulty. The commanding Subedar ordered the platoon to pull back, “Crawl and fire.” The soldiers would fire a few shots and pull back. The Subedar would not pull back just yet, he had to be brave. If he pulled back before the others, he would have been considered a coward and not a leader. The opposing forces were advancing and soon the Subedar was about surrounded from three sides, bullets flying all around him. It was a surprise that none had caught him yet. However, he saw that there was no escape. He looked back at his soldiers pulling back. Khatku saw fear on his face, the kind of fear of surrender he had seen on a pig’s face in Kesari Nagar.
It was customary among the people of a particular caste in the villages to slaughter a pig for the wedding feast. They used to feed the pig well for months before the wedding. Killing was done as a ritual in a prescribed manner. As the custom required, on the day of a wedding feast in Kesari Nagar, a strong young man was selected who was handed a butcher’s knife and the pig was set free. The pig ran for its life. After the pig had gained a distance of about a couple of fields, the young man with knife ran after it, the spectators ran behind the young man. During the chase, the pig dodged the young man several times but was soon spotted and about caught but then again it would escape again. In fact, the young man could catch it several times but the purpose was to tire the pig enough to surrender; the hunter was supposed to play with the hunted as at times, a cat plays with its prey mouse. The play went on for about an hour. By that time, the pig, the designated slaughterer and the spectators had made it more than a couple of miles away from the village. Then suddenly the pig turned around and kneeled on its front legs with its head bowed making sounds of vulnerability. Tears rolled down the eyes of Khatku who was among the onlookers; he just could not see the pig humiliated in this manner and in that state of vulnerability. Khatku never forgot the scene. The fear he saw on his Subedar’s face was exactly the same as he had seen on the face of the pig that day and was as overwhelmed with the same feeling.
Khatku immediately turned bac, threw himself in front of the Subedar and ordered, “pulle backk.”
“I am the commanding officer here,” the Subedar said with a trembling voice, which was no commanding voice.
“Pulle backk you pigg or I’ll crackk yourr fuckkingg skkull with the butt of my rifllle.” While the other slurs had the usual meaning, the use of the word ‘pig’ had a special meaning to Khatku. The Subedar did ‘pulle backk.’ Khatku kept on firing while crawling backwards as much as he could. Then they noticed that another platoon had joined them. Now it was the turn of the opposing platoon to ‘pulle backk.’ By this time, Khatku’s side had lost about half the platoon and Khatku himself had caught a bullet that brushed the side of his skull; he fainted as a consequence. After the battle was over, he was sent to the hospital with the other wounded. By the time the battle of El Alamein was won, Khatak Singh had earned several honors including a medal for bravery. Soon after that, he found himself on the Belgium front.
On the front, he was in a trench with his platoon as was the opposing side. Not much was happening except for sporadic fires. It was more to wait for the orders from their commanders higher up in the chain. The soldiers passed their leisure time by engaging in similar discussions as on the Bridge in Kesari Nagar. The fact that Quit India Movement was at its peak, only added fuel to the fire. One of those days, a fellow soldier commented during one of their chats, “Khatku, did you hear what Churchill said the other day?”
“He said that he had no shortage of soldiers, he gets them for mere sixteen and a half Rupees a month from India.”
All, from Linlithgow’s treachery, Jallian Walla Bagh Massacre, Azad, Bhagat Singh, Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqulla Khan, Udham Singh, Cripps Mission, to Bose’s appeal, unfolded in front of Khatku’s eyes in a moment.
“What am I fighting for? To save the world from the fascists? British want to continue and increase their domination of the World, to humiliate the mankind; Fascists want to dominate the world, to humiliate the mankind. What is the difference?”
His gaze turned into Ghanto’s gaze.
“I am fighting for Dal-Roti.”
His eyes turned red, “I am fighting for Dal-Roti. A proud Jat fighting for Dal-Roti! A Kshtriya fighting for Dal-Roti!!”
Thoughts started crowding his mind, his external being and his inner voice talking to each other.
“Udham Singh, a Jat Sikh, gave his blood, he was a Kshtriya. Some Sikhs, Jats, made firangi Dyer, an honorary Sikh for Dal-Roti; were they Kshtriyas? Sardar Bhagat Singh, a Sikh, gave his blood. Ashfaqulla Khan, a Muslim, gave his blood. Were they not the true Kshtriyas? Pundit Ram Prasad Bismil, Chandrasekhar Azad, Brahmans, gave their blood; were they not the true Kshtriyas? Netaji Bose, refused to serve as an ICS Officer, refused to serve the oppressive rulers, gave up Dal-Roti; is he not a true Kshtriya? Parasu Rama, the sixth reincarnation of God, a Brahman, liberated the land from the oppressive rulers. Was Lord Parasu Rama a true Kshtriya or the rulers, who were known as Kshtriyas? Do we not need Parasu Ramas to liberate the land from the British and the other Fascists?”
There were too many, from varying groups, varnas, castes, for him to know and remember but that was no longer necessary. He paused and pondered.
“Are there any Jats? Are there any Brahmans? Are there any Hindus? Are there any Muslims?”
“No, no, no, brother Khatku, there are humans, righteous humans and non-righteous humans. Each one determines one’s own Dharma that determines one’s Varna. A Brahman by birth can be a Kshtriya by the Dharma of his choice, a Muslim can be a Brahman, .....”
“What is my Dharma?”
Khatku had no wisdom or mind of seers, sages, neither did he have any refuge like Shambhu, his Shiva Shankar Bhole Nath. Khatku had to slug it out for himself.
“Are Gandhi’s ways my Dharma?”
“No, no, I am Khatku; I must be a thorn in the side of somebody, pain in the neck, pain in the butt.”
“Should I be a thorn in the side of somebody, pain in the neck, pain in the butt, for Dal-Roti?”
Fire raged in his eyes and his thought crystallized, inner conflict resolved. He sided with “Give me blood, I will give you freedom.”
Khatku stood up immediately, placed his rifle on his shoulder and walked out of the trench.
“And where the hell you think you are going?” hollered the commanding officer, a Second Lieutenant.
“Goingg homme,” came a terse reply.
“Goingg homme! You take one more step and I’ll sendd you homme.”
“I havve to do whatt I havve to do, you do whatt you mustt.”
The lieutenant shook his head in disbelief and ordered a few of the other soldiers to grab him, which they did.
“How do you think you were going home?” the Lieutenant asked.
“Walkk! Do you know how far your village is from here?”
“You’ll walk alright, to the gallows.”
Khatku was arrested and court marshaled. There was not much to do. He was guilty of desertion and was to be put in front of the firing squad after the formality of a trial. The Brigadier commanding Khatku’s brigade was the defending officer who knew just about all there was to know about him. He talked to his client to prepare his defense.
“Now, don’t you know that desertion is punishable by death,” the Brigadier asked Khatku.
“Death is better than a life of indignity.”
“And why on earth you think that your dignity is compromised?
“I fight for bravery. I am a Jat. That firangi Churchill declares, he has bought me for sixteen and a half Rupees.”
“Proud brave Jat, eh? He has bought your head, if there is any, and your ramapyari, God loved ass of yours, and everything in between for sixteen and a half Rupees, which you willingly sold.”
“I wanted to earn an honest living, to live with dignity. I sold my services for sixteen and a half Rupees a month.”
“Then provide the service, not desert.”
“Brigaddierr Sahibb, you arre a Jatt. I amm surre you understandd whatt I amm sayingg.”
“Yes, I do, oh how well do I understand,” the Brigadier sighed, hurt was clear in his voice.
“Now, shut up and go along with what I do and keep your fucking Jat mouth shut, just stare in space, not a sound, no matter what; got it in your fucked up hollow skull!”
During the trial, Khatku did what he was told, acted not to understand what was happening. The presiding officer asked if he was fit for trial. It was not clear that he was, so he was excused for now. During the discussions that followed, the Brigadier managed to convince the officers that Khatku was a brave and dedicated soldier, which was evident from the honors he had received in such a short time. He had received a wound to his head in the battle of El Alamein, which has impacted his thinking faculty. Besides, he didn’t receive an adequate treatment, just a bandage and few days’ rest, and then was sent to a new front. He has been on the front almost nonstop. He was not really deserting. He is exhausted, can’t think straight, he needs rest.
“I can give him a permanent rest,” the white presiding officer grinned.
“You wouldn’t want to lose such a valuable soldier, would you?”
“No,” the officer said somewhat irritated, “Alright, give him a vacation, vacation from the front that is,” he added sternly.
Khatku survived and remained employed. He was given a few weeks off away from the front. After the rest, he was still fighting on the fronts but the earlier zeal was gone; now he was fighting for Dal-Roti. In time, the impact of Churchill’s words and all the other things were fading somewhat but the wound they created remained as hurtful as ever, whenever they sprung in his memory. A story he had heard in his childhood on the lap of his grandfather would keep springing to his memory. As the story goes, a man who earned his living by sawing the tree stems like Fakhru, ended up befriending a lion. His daughter was getting married and the lion insisted on attending her wedding. The man was apprehensive as the lion would scare the guests. The lion agreed to watch the wedding from a cage. The guests were surprised at a lion’s presence at which the man told them that the lion was his dear friend.
“You made a friend out of this filthy beast!”
After the wedding, before leaving, the lion insisted that the man made a deep gash in its thigh with an axe. The man objected but the lion insisted. So the man obliged. After about a year, the man met the lion and asked how it was doing.
“Has your wound healed?”
The lion showed the spot where the gash was made. Wound had healed leaving a fading scar. The man was curious to know why the lion made such a peculiar request.
“As you see my friend, the wound made by an axe has healed but the wound made by the insulting comments I had to endure from your guests is still as fresh as ever and hurts the same.”
As for his quest to give blood, it remained just that, a lifelong quest that never materialized. Galileo, on his deathbed had repented for admitting his theories to be wrong and blasphemous for otherwise the church would have burned him alive as was Bruno, “This way, we will just be a race of inventive dwarfs who can be bought for anything.” Khatku kept fighting for Dal-Roti until he retired and kept lamenting, “We are brave Kshtriyas whose rampyari, God-loved ass, can be bought for anything; Dal-Roti, sixteen and a half Rupees per month and …..”
Quit India movement had sputtered out well before the War ended. Those who had opposed it said, “We told you so,” those who supported it, said, “Not so fast” and argued that it has still contributed towards eventual independence. After the war was over, Khatku ended up in the barracks where he had enlisted in Meerut Cantt under the supervision of the same Subedar who had commanded him in the battle of El Alamein. Although he could not see his village from there, at times he stared in its direction for long times. One day when Khatku was in his familiar trance, the Subedar came close to him and interrupted, “Hey Khatku, what do you stare at standing there all the time?”
Khatku felt no need to tell him for the Subedar knew it; instead he said, “One night’s leave.”
“What are you talking about, brother, you can go for as many days as you want. I’ll make a good recommendation. The leave will be granted.”
“Onne nightt with markkedd presentt in the barrackks.”
Almost the same fear engulfed the Subedar’s face as the pig in Kesari Nagar before surrendering to be slaughtered and on his own in the battle of El Alamein. It was clear that Khatku was up to some big mischief. He wanted to be marked present for in view of the strict discipline in the military, no court would convict him for a crime committed away from the barracks. After regaining his composure, the Subedar said, “What has gotten into your fucking head! Do you know what you are saying?”
“Onne nightt with markkedd presentt in the barrackks.”
The Subedar paused for a rather long time; then added, “Khatku brother, you are more than a brother to me, you saved my life, .....”
“No, not as a favor in return. That was my duty.”
“You know, if any one finds out, we both will be court marshaled.”
“Onne nightt with markkedd presentt in the barrackks.”
The sergeant paused again; then looked into Khatku’s eyes,
“God damn it, let it be so, but...”
“No murrderr,” and Khatku placed his palm on the palm of Subedar, to give his word the weight of a solemn oath.
The sun had already gone down and it was getting dark. Khatku guessed that the congregation on the Bridge must have dispersed by now. He changed in his civilian clothes with his outermost garment being a leather jacket and dashed towards Kesari Nagar. On his way, he knocked at the door of a stick seller whom he had known, bought a stick and headed towards his destination cutting through the fields and taking shortcuts. A bike would have taken no less than an hour and a half; Khatku made it in about the same time. His army training came in handy; so did his knowledge of the area. He reached the bushes by the Ganges Canal well before midnight. He hid inside the bushes and waited. As the stars gave him the signal that it was close to midnight, Khatku entered Kesari Nagar. Village was deep asleep in the dark for long. Dogs barked but as they approached Khatku, they only hugged him, although they only reached up to his thighs standing on their hind legs, as if they were pleased to welcome one of their own. Khatku came to the mud-fence of his parental house, which was only a couple of meters high, jumped over it, found his father who was sleeping in the yard as it was summer, and landed a blow of stick to the side of his head. His father woke up screaming ‘robbers, robbers.’ By that time Khatku had scored a few more hits to his body. Villagers rushed to the house but before anyone could get there, he had jumped the fence and made to the outskirts of village leaving the chorus of ‘robbers, robbers’ behind as many villagers had joined in the recital. Khatku called out the owner of the outermost house who was almost ready to go to join the chorus of ‘robbers, robbers.’ After the owner responded, Khatku asked him, “Tell them, there were no robbers, it was only Khatku.” He was not going to let any robber-sobber embezzle his credit.
Within minutes, the chorus of ‘robbers, robber’ was replaced by the whispers of ‘It was Khatku.’ No one had to theorize as it was quite clear that Khatku had taken his revenge. Later on some even praised Khatku for giving his father what he deserved. As for Khatku, he was in the barracks well before sunrise. The Subedar did comment, “There was no murder brother Khatku!”
“There was no murder brother, I made sure of that.” Khatku was grinning perhaps thinking that if he had followed his urges to land the stick in the middle of his father’s skull, a murder would have looked like a child’s play. Couple of days later, during their usual walk, Subedar asked Khatku what he had done. Khatku told him the whole story.
“Do you think I did something wrong Subedar brother.”
“Don’t worry, brother Khatku, such things have happened before.”
Expecting almost an illiterate Subedar to have studied Brothers Karamazov or anything else for that matter, would be almost sacrilegious and he may never even have heard of the movie ‘Ship of Fools’ either, nor he may have come across any out of many such stories. But no one has to; these are pervading human situations; many just understand them intuitively; great and not so great works of art emanate from eternally pervading human situations.
By the time they finished their conversation in the matter, they were close to the Thandi Sarak, the Cooled Road. The road had ditches on both of its sides; during the summer months, it was filled with water to cool it so that it was comfortable for walks in the late afternoons, which is how it had acquired its name. As usual Khatku stopped in his tracks staring at the sign. The first time he was there, he had kept on walking and the Subedar had pulled him back immediately. That is when he learned that Indians were not allowed to walk on the Thandi Sarak and the sign said, ‘Dogs and Indians, Not Allowed.’ After that day, he would stop there in his tracks staring at the sign with burning eyes and Churchill’s words together with all the other incidents would spring to his mind; then he would stare at the white officers with their women walking and chatting. The Subedar was worried for there was no limit to what Khatku could do. He tried to persuade Khatku to start going for their walks somewhere else. There was no way Khatku could be persuaded; he insisted on that route. The Subedar realized that it was safer to continue to escort him, which he did.
One day Subedar asked, “Brother Khatku, why is it that you insist on walking on this route? it only aggravates you. You stare at the walking couples with burning eyes. It only consumes you.”
“Subedar brother, I want to keep that burning passion alive in me.”
“What for brother Khatku, what for?”
“So that I can show them what being a Jat means.”
“What are you planning to do? Earn the title of London Tor?”
“I’ll settle for less, just their Gardan Tor, their Neck Breaker, will do; just a few of them.”
“Have patience brother, they are on their way out.”
“All the more reason for me to do it soon, not miss my chance.”
“Violent ways are not always the right ways.”
“You fight all the time, it is your profession, your Dharma.”
“I am not saying violence is never right, it is not right all the time. I can understand what you did to your father, even condone it, but I don’t understand your anger in this case.”
“Because they’ll hang me?”
“That they will, but that is not my reason. I know life means nothing to you, your principles are everything. Listen to Bapu ji. He too is like you. Life means nothing to him either, his principles are everything, but they differ from yours.”
“Mahatma Gandhi is a saint; I am a human. All he is doing is saving the lives of firangis and Muslims at the expense of the Hindus and delaying independence.”
“There is always a price to be paid to do the right thing. A little delay is not so big a price.”
“Why does he stop Hindus from striking back?”
“Have you not heard brother, eye for an eye, the whole world will go blind.”
“Well I don’t want to go blind while these bastards jeer me with their eyes wide open. If I gouge their eyes, at least they won’t insult me for my blindness.”
The Subedar shook his head, “I don’t know why I even argue with you, knowing full well that you are Khatku; will always be!”
“Yess, Khattakku,” Khatku added.
Soon after the incident, Khatku came home for his annual vacation. Before the nightfall, he collected all the cots from his parental house and declared that if anyone in the village lent his father or anyone else in his family even a single cot, “they wille havve Khattakku to reckkonn witth.” Then he piled the cots up in three piles beside each other, lied on the middle one and placed his hands each on the pile on his respective side. Villagers watched the spectacle in amusement. Parasu’s sister passed by and remarked, “Khatku brother, what the hell are you doing?”
“Sissterr, onn thiss pille, my leftt handd wille slleepp, onn thiss onne, my rightt handd wille sleep, andd onn the middlle pille, my backk will slleepp.”
Parasu’s sister left, laughing and shaking her head. All in his parental family slept on the ground that night.
Next day he let his father take the cots; just kept one for himself together with the bedding and asked his father to give him his share of the property. By law, his father owned everything till he died but informal divisions while the father was still alive were normal. All he wanted to have was a place to call his house. His father gave him a small mud-cake house, which was empty. Khatku’s house and his father’s for the females sandwiched Ghanto’s house. In lieu of his farmland, he asked to be fed whenever he came home for his vacation. Of course he would claim it after he retired or his father died, whichever came first. The father got a better deal; besides he had no courage and ability to stop Khatku from doing whatever he wanted anyway. He told his wife, Khatku’s stepmother, to deliver him food on time.
On the first day, the stepmother delivered all the meals on time and picked the metal dishes later. The next day, after she brought his supper, which was just a few chapatis and a bowl of lentil, she waited for Khatku to finish eating.
“Mosi, are you angry with me for what I did?”
She paused for a few moments; then added, “If you had killed him, things could be tough for the family.”
“I was careful. I had given my word to spare his life.”
“What if the incident was reported to the police?”
“Oh, I was marked present in the barracks.”
If he was marked present in the barracks, he was in the barracks; nowhere else.
From that time on, the stepmother started waiting for Khatku to finish his supper although she was not so regular for the other meals. As it happens, no one knows how, they would talk all sorts of nothings, smile at each other blushing at times. One of those evenings, conversation moved on to the situations that led to it all. Slowly he discovered that the ‘old geezer,’ as she called him, slept in the house for males except occasionally. Her husband could hardly be called an old geezer as he was only about forty but for a girl of about twenty, he was probably an old geezer, particularly as he was sleeping with her only occasionally, which may have been more for her responsiveness or lack thereof than for his own sexual prowess. On occasions, Khatku and his Mosi would stare into each other’s eyes. On one of those occasions, Khatku said “No,” rather loudly; his sound was laced with fear. It was difficult to determine what thoughts were racing in his mind but it was clear that they were racing fast and many of them, not very different from Shambhu’s thoughts when he faced the same Dharma Sankata, dilemma, in a similar situation with Champa.
“Because I am your stepmother now?”
“No, you are soiled.”
“Because I am no longer a virgin?”
“No, because you lost your virginity to that pig.”
“Not by my choice.”
Khatku had no argument to counter this one. When they parted, no words were spoken, but the messages had been exchanged, “I wille forggett to lockk the dorr tonightt.”
“And I’ll decide to sleep-walk.”
Unless, of course, Khatku’s father was sleeping with her that night.
After that night, Khatku became a regular forgetful fellow when it came to locking his door and the stepmother, a regular sleepwalker, not just during that trip but also during all of his vacations. His father ‘never felt like sleeping with her’ during that time. If people suspected, they had no qualms given the history, and not much in the name of gossip spread. If some novice ever tried to start something, a veteran Sanjo would quip, “Shut up and learn the ethical standards of your craft, your limit; some things are sacred, to be left alone.” As for his father, it was difficult to say whether he was afraid of Khatku, feeling guilty, or had reconciled with the situations. No one knows.
Continued to “Woman in Burqa”