COMPETITION

                                           BEST STORY

                                   A SPECIAL BIRTHDAY

                        By TEJUSVINI VARADACHARI

  I woke up with a start.  I do not know what shook me up. There was a steady drizzle outside, I could see the early rays of the sun, straining to bring in light to the day. The last three days had seen a heavy downpour, with no respite. As was my habit, I prayed to the Sun God, and slipped in a little word for myself, I wanted a day filled with light and happiness; it was my birthday! If it seemed child-like for an adult woman to seem excited about her birthday, I did not care. On this very day, my parents had ‘found’ me, a month old baby near an old well. I valued this day and celebrated it for all three of us. My father always insists I was born for him. Indeed, my parents had prayed for a daughter for years. “ You were the most beautiful baby I had ever seen, jet black hair, big, luminous brown eyes, and your spirit, even at that tender age, kicking your legs fiercely and crying loudly because you were hungry.” said my mother. Yes, I had spirit, I still have it, I think. But today, I had prayed for myself, prayed for a day with a sliver of sun light and a sliver of happiness.

       As I lay on my bed languidly, waiting for my spirit to show up, my trusted maid Nayana, who was like my sister, walked in briskly, and drew the curtain open.  “May this year bring you happiness, you definitely deserve it.” As she left my room, I finally got off my bed, and walked around my huge room, befitting a queen. I stood in front of my mirror, “ Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of us all?”.  I critically looked at myself – three children had not taken away from my beauty, I had a stunning figure, and my skin was translucent, clear and bright. I laughed out aloud, to my mirror, what a pitiful state I was in, praising and admiring myself !

       There was another person in my life who had once declared I was born for him.  He fell in love with me, at first sight. When I married him, I was on top of the world. Thrilled with his flattering attention and giddy with love, those were heady days. He loved me with a totality that was frightening yet fascinating. I was his friend, confidante and lover. Over time, he trusted me and valued my opinion enough to discuss his work with me.Very often, he would ask me advice and would give me enough freedom of thought and independence to express myself. I was one of the lucky ones, for none of my friends had the same freedom with their husbands. They were merely toys, to be played with and to procreate. I was special. At least, I thought I was. Few years into the marriage, I realised that I was indeed special, a special toy given  pride of place for my beauty, wit and intelligence- that was all.  Rumours I heard about him turned out to be true. His glad eye for women, his varied excuses, “I work hard for the good of the people who work for me, my Queen, you know me’. I used to hear stories, confront him, rage at him, till he would apologise and beg for forgiveness. “They mean nothing to me, you know that, you know me”, he would say.

       I cried to my parents. “Why me?  What if you had not picked me up, would I have suffered so much?” They bore it all, my accusations hurt them because they understood my grief, lived through my suffering, and yet always insisted on my status quo as the ‘all forgiving’ wife, the dutiful one. My mother would comfort me, “He loves you, madly, you know him. We are here to support you but your place is most important in his life.” Slowly, I began to accept the fact that my husband even through his philanderous ways, loved me. The truth was that he only loved me. I began to take pride in my love, he only loves me, he comes to me for advice, love, comfort, he still says I was made for him. It turned out that I had wilfully lied to myself out of a sense of false pride and ego.

       One fine day, Bhumi walked into my life or rather my husband brought her into my life. She was a complete stranger to me but my husband was totally infatuated by her. Bhumi ruined my life!  He felt tormented by her because she refused to acknowledge him or his love. Who would dare to refuse him, you might ask, a powerful man, known all over the world? Well, she was married! She did not want to have anything to do with him. In fact, she hated him. But her hatred did not help me. For the first time, my husband stopped coming to me. Her refusal stunned him into a phase of depression, deep unhappiness and violent rage against his fate, for conspiring against him. He started neglecting his work, his people. My ‘can do’ spirit woke up. I had to step in. I took over his work and his people. Slowly but surely, I gained their trust and they started coming to me for advice.  My husband continued to burn in his own hell of hate and lust. He would not accept any advice from me or his family. He shut himself out. This time, I knew I had lost him, after all, I knew him as well as I knew myself. He stopped coming to me.

       Today, on this special day, I find myself alone, talking to my mirror. Will he remember me, will he remember my birthday? Without realising it, I found myself thinking back to those years when my birthday was a national holiday, declared by my  husband. He would decorate our house, order the choicest of dishes for me, buy me expensive jewellery and clothes to last a lifetime. Memories of a lifetime, how ironic that sounds, it was all a lifetime away!  Will he remember, I thought to myself desperately? Please, dear God; my pride, my self- respect, my love, is at stake. Please let me have the pleasure of his love on this special day.

       Suddenly, I saw a strange sight at my window…a monkey, staring at me, intensely, almost like asking me a question.  Monkeys were very common at my window, prancing about on my balcony. But this one was different, his gaze was searching, and it seemed like a host of expressions crossed his face as he looked at me. Intrigued, I watched him, this strange animal, almost human like. I had heard from my house-help about a monkey that had entered my city last night, who seemed almost God like in his powers. As I approached him, he scampered away to the fragrant garden, beyond my palatial house, a garden built by my husband for Bhumi. . Ah well, back to my moody musings!

      The hustle of the household stirred me out of my morose state of mind. My parents came home, armed with gifts and love. My people enveloped me with attention and affection, my children and their families, delightfully entertained me with their lively anecdotes- what did I have to complain? I felt blessed to receive so much love. My mother whispered, “He will come, don’t worry, you know him.”

       I did not have any hope. It had been months since I had set my eyes on him. He was still obsessing over Bhumi and her rejection. Lucky woman, I thought bitterly. I had never met her, never wanted to meet her. My people told me I was prettier than her. That was enough for me, I thought, trying to act smug. But yet, on this special day, where was he?

       Close to evening, Nayana came rushing in, with great excitement. “He’s coming! He remembers!  I was told he has left for home.”  Yes, he was coming home to me! I could not believe it. Nayana was exuberant for me, on my behalf. “You have to get ready; you have not combed your hair, no jewellery. I am going to dress you up today. You have to look resplendent, like an apsara. Get ready to welcome him back to you!”

       Slowly, I began to comprehend the situation. My sliver of light for the day was on his way. A small frisson of doubt lingered, I knew him you see, more than anyone else in the world. As I got ready, my hands shivered, I truly loved him, I knew now, it was love that had kept me bound to him. I ran to the door. However, I didn’t hear him and that stopped me for a second, it was not like him, he was a boisterous, loud man, his emotions were an open book to all. As I opened the door, my face felt cold. As I stood there, all dressed up, he came in, looking bereft and shaken. He came towards me and hugged me, “I need you, Mandodari. I need your help.”  I froze in his arms, but he did not notice. He continued, in a defeated tone, “I need you, Mandodari. Why isn’t she accepting me? Sita’s rejection has driven me crazy. Mandodari, you have to help me, you go speak to her. Tell her about me, you know me! ”

       Raavan, my dear husband stood hugging me and weeping. Shocked and stunned, I saw Nayana from the corner of my eyes, walk away, also weeping silently.

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