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2nd August 1998

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Cover GirlOur cover girl this week is Durga who appears in a creation for the Haddai label by Sonali White. Shobhi from Salon Naresh handled her hair and make-up and she was photographed by Mettasena
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Would another Death make a difference?

He is a weak man. I think it's best to get rid of him. These weaklings they are a problem. You'd be better at leading his boys.

"At least I might as well know how com mitted you are. Why did Indran leave the country tell me please?" Suddenly Raju was too tired to lie, it would be easier to share his fears with Devi. She would protect him as she had done those many years earlier when he trusted her with his thoughts. She would guide him, tell him what to do. It would be easier.

The fear was too strong in him, he had to speak, or else the foreigner would destroy him. "Indran was suspected in that bomb case and so before the police questioned him, he had to leave," Raju's reply was mechanical. "What bomb case?" asked Devi. "The hotel bomb," he answered. "When that girl died?" she asked urgently. "Yes" "Oh Raju was he really involved - my son - may the Gods forgive you for what you've done. It is better if you had left us and now you will destroy the other boy too."

Her voice was almost hysterical. "He talks of liberty and freedom as if it was a game, all this blood, this brutality for what? Who's helping you, giving you the money, is it that voice that phones you so often?" she asked shrewdly. Raju was silent.

She would never understand the dreams and longings in a man's mind. How beautiful his vision had been, a land governed by those who spoke his tongue, knew his customs and his religion. He had sat at the feet of the man who spoke and thought that he would be one like those heroic leaders who had fought for their country. Gandhi, Nehru - Ah! but that was before the division in his own group had started.

What he had dreamt of was something non-violent, peaceful but gradually the dream had changed to the reality of fear and death. "Surely Raju, you are clever enough to know that there must be something more important in this for him than just helping all of you. It's only men like you, who are dreamers. Let us go Raju. We'll take Mohan and go to some other country. Please, we were so happy." Raju was quiet.

He too was thinking that perhaps it would be better to leave than remain. The struggle was too long and the end did not seem to be in sight. When he had listened eagerly to those who had spoken it had seemed heroic and glorious but now it was fear and sadness, the blood of mangled bodies and sightless eyes of young faces whether they were his boys or others they were young and dead. He shrank from the cruelty of a tide he could not stop.

Yet was it not too late to turn back? He knew too much about too many people, would they let him go away? He wished suddenly he had never got involved. Yes perhaps it was better to leave now and forget excited voices, never again see wailing women searching for their children. "Perhaps Devi we'll think about it." She sighed and turned away thinking of her son, the eldest a refugee with another name in another land. Sacrificed for what?

The early light shone on her face and her eyes were full of unshed tears. She suddenly covered her face and sobbed. Raju touched her awkwardly. It was so long since he had touched her. "No!" she said and yet she wondered could she refuse Raju, he needed her so much now. "Please," said Raju "don't turn away from me." "It's you who turned away." She said sadly.

"You kept me from all your thoughts and everything you did. The boys are young and when you are young, life is an adventure, there is no greater glory than fighting injustice or seeking liberty, or whatever you may call it.

It's you who were older who should have seen behind the glamour with your wisdom, your religion, yet what did you do but feed them on dreams for what? Raju for what are you sacrificing our children?" She was sobbing. He held her in his arms trying to still with his need the fears in his heart.

The foreigner was furious and he was worried. Things were not happening the way he wanted. These natives he thought, they were so cunning and devious. He could not trust Raju. He was sure he knew something otherwise why his remark that the boys were not involved. Was he trying to be smart, blackmail him? No he could not trust Raju. It was dangerous to have a man you could not trust. Not that he really trusted any of the natives.

He was here to help them not because he believed in what they wanted but there was money in it and power. He was not going to risk all that for a silly idealist like Raju, and Raju had sounded strange this morning. Normally he was servile, pleading, but this morning he had sounded sullen and rebellious.

He smiled again, foolish natives. Rousseau had been right those many years ago when he started a revolution with three little words and all along the years dreamers and idealists built sand castles with those magic words but the ultimate rulers were never those who dreamt those beautiful visions of equality, fraternity and justice. He had seen it happen in so many countries. He had been instrumental in many of them because in dreams there was more money than in dull reality - To make a dream come true, you needed weapons and propaganda and all manner of things which cost money.

Before anyone could associate him in the social upheavals so common in the third world with its inequalities and poverty, he left as silently as he had come richer and ready to start chaos elsewhere - he smiled cynically he was the reality behind the vision of each tribe that struggled for recognition. His fingers continued their compulsive tattoo on the table, and he thought no insignificant little country like this was going to create problems for him. No little dark skinned native would do so - oh no - Raju knew something that he was sure of and so Raju had to go. It was easy as that.

It was more so because there were so many splinter groups jealous of each other trying in their own way to achieve their ends. He helped them to keep their different identities. It made things easier for him. They feared each other, feared betrayal and that made it easy for him to get rid of those he disliked or distrusted. Yes Raju had to go. In the mayhem of confusion one death would not make a difference.

He dialed Mahes and smiled as he spoke. "Yes Raju so unded peculiar. He seemed at the end of his tether. Maybe it's due to Indran or his wife perhaps. But Raju is dangerous. If he speaks under pressure and he is bound to, things will be difficult for all of us. He is a weak man. I think it's best to get rid of him. These weaklings they are a problem. You'd be better at leading his boys. You have more courage than him - yes. I think he is dangerous and he knows a lot about your boys Mahes - You'd better be careful." Mahes understood, and the foreigner smiled as he rang off.

Saturday Night

Neela was surprised when she saw Nihal. Mahinda said, "He is very sick and is frightened to go to the hospital. Can you keep him here. I spoke to the Doctor and he prescribed some medicine. It's only for a day, on Monday he can leave. Please Miss. I am sorry to trouble you," said Mahinda again as Nihal introduced him "but you know the danger, please."

Chitra was holding Neela's hand as she opened the door. Now she smiled and reached out for Nihal. She held his hot hand and turning to her mother placed her hand on her forehead mimicking that he was having fever. Nihal smiled at her, and Mahinda watched the woman, waiting for a decision. He saw in her wide long lashed eyes fear. If she allowed this stranger to stay in the tiny flat it was not only the danger that bothered her but she was a lone woman and the presence of a man after such a long absence disturbed her.

She looked helplessly at Nihal "I am sorry," he said, "to be so much of a nuisance but you know it's impossible to go anywhere where I'll be recognised." He looked so tired and sick that she felt sorry for him, and the child was already drawing him into the room pointing out the chair asking him to rest his head. She moved back and watched helplessly.

Chitra yet held his hand. Her mobile face alight with the happiness of having this gentle friend with her. A very own friend who had smiled at her and admired her paintings. Neela looked round the tiny room. "If he stays here he'll have to sleep on the couch there is no extra room." "It doesn't matter, please if you could keep him here just for tomorrow, I'll make the necessary arrangements on Monday." Nihal sat on the couch. His head throbbed but he felt more rested, yet he looked very sick. "Can I have some water" he asked.

Neela left the room with Chitra following. "It worked" said Mahinda. "At least till the headline appears you'll be here and let's hope the child will be safe." Chitra stood near the door looking at him. He called to her, "shall I ask her to show you the drawings." "Please," said Mahinda. "The drawings Chitra of the accident and the car." She ran to the room and came back with the second set of pictures. The first were in his pocket safe.

Mahinda gazed in wonder at the accurate drawings "She is a genius," he said. "How did you learn to draw like that?" he asked. Chitra smiled. "See if I draw you how funny you'll look." He took a piece of paper and sketched her. He smiled again her eyes lit up in a laughter which he felt was imprisoned in her throat. Neela looked surprised when she brought the water to see Chitra so confidently resting on the arm of the chair, smiling at the awkward drawings which Nihal was scribbling on the paper.

Nihal took out from the bag he carried a box of chocolate and gave it to the child. She smiled her thanks and looked at Neela, who thought it was not fair for this big man with his twinkling eyes and friendly smile to be so much at ease with her child. Chitra had not met many men since they had left her home, except the very few office friends who had at the beginning brought Neela home hoping that being a divorcee would make her susceptible to their charm and the parameters of middle class prudishness would not apply to their relationships.

Disappointed at her stiff response to their demands of friendship they had left her alone. Neela had learned quickly that men felt a divorcee was ready to fall into bed with any man who was so inclined and so she had become colder and more remote, till her office acquaintances left her severely alone.

But now watching Chitra she wondered, did she miss her father so much and was that why she was so friendly with this man whom she had seen only yesterday. Or did she think that Neela had known him earlier, that he was a friend of hers? She wanted to tell her that she knew nothing of him except his name and that he was the investigator who was reported to be dead. But seeing Chitra's shining eyes and her smile she did not want to hurt her.

Chitra patted the couch and seemed to ask "Are you staying tonight." "Do you mind" asked Nihal speaking to her as if he had heard a question. "Can I stay tonight for I am sick and the hospital is full tonight, tomorrow too, may I stay?" Chitra touched his hand and nodded her head. Her eyes were bright with happiness. Nihal was aware of Neela's disapproving eyes. He did not want to tell her the many things that bothered him about the child for Chitra would listen and he remembered how in the morning at his harsh words her eyes had filled with tears.

He tightened his lips in annoyance - the woman did not seem to have any feelings even for the child. No wonder her man had got tired of her. Neela seemed to guess what he was thinking, for her eyes darkened with sudden memory and she turned to Mahinda who was getting ready to leave. "I'll come tomorrow. I am sure he'll sleep now. I've given him the medicines. Don't worry about the food, I'll bring it."

"If you start bringing food here the neighbours will wonder what's happening," her voice was angry. "It's better for you to come in the evening." "You don't have a phone?" he asked. "What's the purpose of a phone for me" she queried. "Anyway" he said ignoring the sarcasm "my number is on the card I gave you. If there is anything you want, give me a call. Take care of Nihal," he said and touched the child's head. Neela opened the door for him to leave and closing it came back.

"Chitra it's late, let's go to bed. He's sick, let him sleep." Chitra dragged a carom board on the small table. She looked at Nihal pointing at the board. She seemed to ask if he would like to play. "Let's play," he said "If you aren't too tired it'll take my mind off the pain." "No!" said Neela. "The child must sleep." Chitra bit her lower lip, her eyes were mutinous. She shook her head and looked up at the clock, her eyes accusing Neela. Neela sighed "Alright you can play till I do some washing." He looked at her and said sharply "She wants you to join - can't you relax for awhile. Don't detract from the child's happiness."

She sat down not because she wanted to but she did not want to argue and played gradually half heartedly. Nihal said softly, "You are not interested in the game - it's not fair to hurt the child." She glared at him, annoyed and then with the same mutinous annoyance that Chitra had shown, biting her lower lip, her eyes angry, she started the game.

Nihal laughed and looking up at him, the glimmer of a smile touched her lips and gradually he relaxed enjoying the game as much as Chitra did. She felt the unhappiness and tension leaving Chitra and wondered again whether her pride had not caused her more sadness. It was late when the game was over and Chitra reluctantly went to bed patting the couch again and touching Nihal's hand. He seemed to guess what she wanted to say for he said, "tonight I'll sleep here and tomorrow I'll teach you some tricks with cards. I'll ask Mahinda to bring a pack. Good-night little one."

Neela came back from the room and asked him, "would you like something to drink - coffee." "Please," he said smiling at her reluctance and she was aware of his amusement as she brought him the coffee. "Sit down," he said "you remind me of an obedient wife waiting on her ailing husband." "God help" she said "I pity your wife." "I don't have one," he answered. "No wonder," she said. "I guess no woman would have wanted you." She was angry. "You are right," he replied wryly and she was embarrassed. "I am sorry I was being nasty, but really why aren't you married?"

He shrugged. "May be I never found a girl I'd like to spend the rest of my days with, and now I am old nearly forty, all the girls I'd like now to marry are already married and the others are too young." She smiled, "Perhaps you'll find one someday." "I guess I have now," he said cryptically and she looked at him sharply. He looked back innocently and said, "you know I should ask you why you didn't get married again, it's too much for you to give the things the child needs, she wants someone to care for her, look after her. She has to go to school.

You can't keep her cooped up. You said yesterday it's almost a year since she came here. How long can she stay away from other children. She is so lonely. Soon she will be a beautiful woman and then what? You must think of the future. You are living too much in the past with all your hurt."

"Maybe you are right, but marriage is not a solution and anyway which man in our society wants to marry a divorcee." All the hurt she had felt was in her voice. "As far as the world goes I am responsible for the break up of our marriage and I am good only to have a nice time with. Who will want to give me a wedding ring again and take over a dumb child too?" Her voice was bitter.

"All men are not that bad, you must get to know people," he said. "How can you live alone like this. You are so young, you must have married when you were just a girl." "Yes" she said. "I was eighteen. My father was sick and he was keen that I marry and Anil was the son of a friend of his.

He was much older than me. It never worked 'cause I was straight out of school. He was a man of the world. He talked of things I could not understand. The house was big, he had servants. I had nothing to do so, I went around with my friends. He liked dancing. He entertained a lot and I went with him, not because I liked to, but there was nothing to do. We never really got to know each other."

She was thinking. Could she tell this stranger the disastrous honeymoon when her unawakened body accepted his desiring manhood with pain and revulsion. Perhaps, that had really been the problem. It had never changed. She had hated him even to touch her and gradually he felt her rejection. First he had been cruel and humiliating saying "we may not be able to talk much to each other but even in bed we are unable to be together."

Then he too had turned to others for satisfaction and she ceased to exist as his wife. "Why did you leave him?" Nihal's question recalled her. "He fell in love, he said with another woman in his office. He wanted a divorce. It was the time Chitra fell ill. I was too upset and then when the doctor indirectly said that if I had been more alert she would never have been that sick, I was too involved with the child to even wonder why Anil got late to come for us or ask him where he went. I wanted to be with the child all the time.

When he said that he'll put her to an institution and wanted a divorce, I knew that as a father he would have the right to take the child. He was rich and the child was sick. So when he had to go on business abroad I brought Chitra and came here. He never searched for me. The divorce must have come through for he is married now and I've seen the baby he has." Her voice was bewildered. "You are a beautiful woman. You are foolish to live this way," he said. "What can I do?" she asked picking up the cup and leaving the room, before he could see the tears in her eyes. - To be continued

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