Mulaqaat: A Meeting
“You say that you never killed him. You also say that you have been controversially tangled in this murder. The police say that you were the one who shot my husband. My children wonder why my picture is splashed every now and then in the newspapers these days. I need to answer and know about that person who ruffled my small world.”
Meera had never stepped beyond her beautiful world until her husband was killed in broad daylight. Within two years of that incident, she had aged unimaginably and also matured beyond expectations. Her salt-and-pepper hair and forehead criss-crossed with irremovable lines of stress and anxiety portrayed that big vacuum that had emerged unannounced in her life. A woman who loved watching her husband talking and yearned for his attention was suddenly caught neck deep in the morass of politics and local police. And, she was finding it difficult in being rescued from this mess. Her husband, Milind, was a young and dynamic leader who had risen unimaginably in a very short time to the position of a general secretary of Rajnitik party and had also formed numerous foes among party members. Many envied his eloquence and sophisticated city mannerisms that had drawn support from one and all. He had slowly created space for himself in both heart and mind of people. It seemed that he would have been the new face of the political party whose vote count had dwindled and appeared like a sinking ship looking for smaller boats to escape from the damages.
Milind was an ignorant politician who chose to trust than suspect his party cadres when the disgusting odor of “conspiracy against him” was first smelt. He chose to tread on the path that any man would have dreaded to have, as Milind had never learned the dirty tricks of politics. He was still vibrant and morally upright. He detested being one of sheeps in the herd of politicians who pushed and pulled each other to reach at the top of the hierarchy. Meera still remembers those anecdotes about people who wanted to taste the pleasure part of politics that Milind shared in such an amusing and animated manner. He detested politicians who nudged others while photos shoot to be clicked right next to the senior leader. A faint smile spreads across her face and few drops of tear trickledown through soft skin. His absence was so loud and pronounced that she was unable to bear her life. Being a shy and reticent woman she was absolutely ignorant of this life that was deliberately imposed on her. She had been running from pillar to post to get into the details of a matter that should have been better left untouched, as with every passing day she encountered truths that looked so strange and cruel that everything else appeared fake. Senior leaders who till now had chosen to pass their political blessings to Milind, suddenly disappeared from the scene. They found it befitting to not even show their sympathy at such a poignant moment of Meera’s life. They rather issued a diktat, limiting all party cadres from discussing about Milind again. The sympathizers, with no alternative left, chose to throw the key of this matter in a deep sea.
Despite all odds, she wanted to continue her search of that “big” truth that had been playing hide and seek game with her. She spent innumerable days and restless nights in arriving at this decision. She had lost count of days and hours in this entire gruesome soul-searching procedure. Even children chose to not disturb her by spending countless hours in front of the idiot box. They had lost interest in everything interesting, and what fascinated them now were the images that flashed on their television screen, as they stared blankly at them by appearing happy and complacent. This was not the life they had expected, but even the energy required for questioning such a system was lost in this lost battle. The concepts of liberty, justice, fairness, etc, appeared useless and worthless in a society that had chosen to turn blind toward injustices. They were also clueless, whether they should look forward for a judgment that had never believed in truth or pray for miracles. Education also appeared a harsh joke that can only be enjoyed when taken as a vocation than as a source of interpretation and living.
Meera had been running from pillar to post for justice. The police too seemed disinterested in chasing after a case that was destined to be closed as soon as possible. “It is useless to chase that illusionary and invisible colossal called ‘justice’. The mirror of my heart has clearly reflected the end, i.e., defeat. At the end, I would be defeated as a Human. Beliefs that till now had assisted me in standing firm with my head held high would be shattered unrecognizably and unimaginably,” such thoughts surged whenever Meera wondered about the course of her case. Rudeness and bluntness that she had encountered in people till now had also roughly stirred her heart and mind. After chasing after the case for almost half-a-decade, she had deliberately abandoned her beautiful “imaginations” about life and embraced the definition that was thrown upon her. Ultimately, she knew the tragedy of being a woman in a country where prejudices and corruption were the rule makers and parameters of judging an individual. Finally, when the police had zeroed upon “Sooraj” for being the murderer, she tried to believe the judgement. Sooraj was a local hooligan who was ill-reputed for his criminal background. This tall man with sharp features was worshipped devotedly by the locals who looked up to him for his impartial judgments and actions. Sooraj was a rough man, with a tongue that had never learned to tell a lie. He denounced the police accusation and charges. He can never imagine killing a man who stood for “common good” and “progress”, as the country already had deficit of such men.
He went miles in denouncing the charges and stood firm on his stand. With the help of his local contacts, he got hold of few local journalists to highlight his innocence against the charges pressed upon him by the police. Meanwhile, he suffered enormously while in that pigeon hole. He was subjected to severe punishments, despite law forbidding such actions until proven as accused. But as the case was one of the most awaited case that had hogged media’s attention since the day first, his statements regarding innocence were published, which generated curiosity in all, especially Meera.
She wanted to know the truth, but the journey to it was embedded with hurdles and dangers. After Sooraj’s accusation, Meera had decided to redeem herself by taking a short journey to Spiti Valley in the Himalayas. It was while looking at the wide expanse of this sparsely populated valley and mountains that she realized the futility of being a human, as she had spent so many years after men who knew nothing beyond money, alcohol and women. Humiliations and disrespect that she had encountered in the entire process was something that she had least expected and imagined. In the lap of nature, she was not Meera of that small town but a wanderer who had lost her soul and respect in fighting with the mutable material world, where ego and desire were steering the dilapidated vehicle of world. For almost a fortnight, Meera visited the dharmsalas of the valley and cleansed her mind of all stress. This “mulaqaat” or “meeting” with “tranquility” was enriching. For hours, she would stare at those snow peaked mountains and the sky streaked with red color. A short walk to nearby villages rekindled hope and desire for living. Living was not as bad as she had imagined being.
There were other meetings too that were awaiting her back at home. As usual, she had just woken up and standing next to that human-size window pane and leafing through a local daily, when a headline caught her attention. She sat in that wooden sofa and started reading the report furiously. The report was about her case, Milind’s murder. Sooraj had denied his involvement in the murder and had requested the civil society to assist him in revoking the charges. She threw the paper aside and rested her head on her hand. The entire disgusting feeling of “defeat” was gripping her again. She wanted to see into the eyes of Sooraj to know the truth. However, she was unaware how she was going to restart this quest. She relooked at those mountains and listened to the faint music coming from the local monastery. She knew her life would be completely futile in absence of a purpose/goal/mission. Also, she wanted an answer that had for long deluded her.
Before leaving she sat for hours at the monastery and tried to innately comprehend the intricacies of life. She watched a local woman with one of the most remarkable and honest smile milking her cattle. Also, she watched those adolescent boys who looked serene and meditative for their age. The serenity and honesty of this place which was quite far from the material world instilled a completely new perspective, i.e., faith in humanness and simplicity. Those birds and animals around had taught her the real “definition” of life. The remains of the past memories had quietly faded, and a new energy was instilled.
Next day, when she landed in her small town that was always in news for political reasons, she knew exactly what she was supposed to do. She called up the local SHO and requested for a “meeting (mulaqaat)” with Sooraj. The SHO was taken aback and cursed her silently for once again reopening a case that was on the verge of closure. He banged the phone and asked other policemen to not allow Meera from meeting Sooraj. He raced in the dilapidated police jeep to the local politician who had till now not allowed any investigations in the case.
“Let her do what she wants to do. A woman who has never ventured beyond the four walls is definitely not capable of adventures. She will eventually return to the place from where she had started, i.e., her hearth and those damn four walls. You khakhi wallas (policemen) should cool your heels and not worry for a second,” this is what the local politician said when the troubled SHO reached his palatial residence. They had underestimated the strength of a woman who had forgotten the comforts of a house and was spending each second of her life in finding the truth which was consistently being pushed aside by those in power. Will she succeed such a doomed fight? Will she able to get justice without being harassed, victimized and damaged? She had no idea, but the journey had started and she was not ready to quit like a coward.
Meera had hardened with time, and her faith in law and governance had deteriorated with time. She thought, “The giant and well-weighed concepts of “liberty, freedom, justice, etc.” sounded pompous words that have remained dead since their birth. How helpless and spineless is the condition of we humans, we are nothing but people with inflated egos and differences that can never be addressed even in centuries. Crime, murders, injustice, etc., will continue as usual, with no “super hero” to salvage us from such a morass.”
The havaldar allowed Meera to meet Sooraj, who was facing one of the walls. Noise created while opening the gate of that prison had awakened him from his deep thoughts. He turned and expressed surprise on looking at a stranger, and that too a woman. He said, “Yes, what do you want? What have I done now that a woman of your esteem had to come to this dirty and dishonorable place?” Meera looked calmly at his extremely troubled face and replied, “I am Milind’s wife.” Sooraj had no words and just turned away and sat on the floor.
With little hesitation he replied, “I didn’t even know your man. The biggest crime that I have ever done till now is kidnapping a little girl on the behest of her relatives, which I regret till now. That day these men came like wild dogs left free to my house and arrested me without telling me my charges. Anyways I am quite used of being manhandled, so it does not matter. But to accuse me of a murder was something beyond my imagination. I am a simple man with simple desires. At the end of the day, I need my woman and kids around me. And, I would never say a lie to a woman. Please believe me. I entreat you. I do not want to rot for a crime that I never did, for that matter had never even heard. I know many men rotting like vegetables in such jails for crimes that they never did. I read about injustices within these four walls, and it scares me. I want my children to read and go miles beyond this land where nothing except corruption and injustice rule. Please say something.”
Meera had been looking straight into his eyes and with a stern look she said, “I am not here to accuse you, but to know the truth. I want to know you and your problems too. I had a man who loved and respected me. I miss him and his presence. It pains to know that I lost my man who was good and who was killed for his “goodness”. It pains to know that there is no law for deliverance of justice when the rule makers themselves are involved in the crime. My heart aches to see pot-bellied men making money by adultering food for children and trafficking children and women living with no complaints and rising with each day. Where should I go for justice? Is she really blind? Please guide me. Should I leave hope and return to those four walls which are merely theoretically better than this prison. Please…I implore you…guide me.”
When she ended, her face had reddened and was drenched in tear. She turned her back towards him to hide her tears and rested her head against those rusted iron grills. There was an audible silence for almost ten minutes. Two defeated people had no words to comfort each other. They knew that the words “encouragement” and “courage” are hollow and does not exist in this corrupted world.
“Madam ji, I have never met a woman like you. I know I have no power and position to lessen your problems. I had no means to become educated, and I still do not possess any means to secure my life. I was picked up in the middle of my dinner with my family. That day she had made some special dishes of my choice. We merely wanted to enjoy that moment. That particular moment was so unpredictable and painful. Like any common man, I too had believed that if a person follows the path of truth nothing can come in his way. And, look where I stand now. Life is so funny! Sometimes I feel that I shall never be able to meet my wife and children. I miss her warmth and their smile. Is this life? Was my life destined for such a punishment? Now, please guide me on this front. You are more educated and enlightened, and I know you will have answers for my confusions. But, I believe you are as ignorant as I am. You are also as feeble as I am. I am amazed to see that you came to a fool like me for finding the solution of your problems which has deluded me since childhood. Sadly, I have no solutions for you. I have always lived my life as it was given to me. I remember being beaten up as a child for sleeping on the pavement. I remember being thrashed so many times for being a child at work, when I was really a child. My childhood had ended the day I found myself surrounded with those men capable of going to any level for money. But…I can advise you to be strong…as life is beautiful. You are a nice woman.”
Meera had never imagined that her meeting with Sooraj will turn so poignant. She in a voice laced with sadness said, “This life was as useless as everything around me. We deteriorate and disappear in this soil. Never in my life had I thought that my life will look so empty and meaningless. Those bhakti saints had realized the truth long time back. I am yearning to meet one of them to express my agony. This agony of loss, guilt, fear and cowardice had killed me long time back. I just live because those mountains, brooks, dykes and flowers who have never spread evil. Long time back someone brutally thrashed my soul with that flail. Since then it never arose from that state of comatose. I was reviled as a shameless whore running in public for ruining the status of a lost empire whose guardian had long disappeared. There seems no end to this toil.”
Sooraj retorted, “I want to live. Do not try brainwash my mind. I want to earnestly love my woman and make her beautiful every day. I want to be reprimanded by my woman for forgetting simple things and then watch her amusingly. I want to run after my kids and buy toys for them. The daily ups and downs of life no more bother me. Long time back I learned to live with them. None of the saints can show you what one can feel. I am scared of life with no responsibilities. I am scared of silence and total peace. I detest impassionate beings striving not hard for their dreams. Mountains too have witnessed the fury of landslides, flowers too have been trampled and defeated by storms, and brooks too disappear.”
Meera had no words and replied, “You have shown mirror to a defeated soul. I wonder what your woman looks like, because she is so fortunate to possess a gem like you. I was once caught in a landslide and life looked beyond rescue. But we lived, we lived for many years to come. I can’t promise a sudden change, but try to be the full-bloomed flower of you garden.