Tag Archives: Short Story

Short Story : She did it

Her eyes shone feverishly, she kept checking the time on her watch. She was waiting. Waiting for the phone to ring. It was about time. She should have reached by now. Why did the phone not ring? Her anxiety broiled inside her, yet she was a picture of serenity. No one could have guessed, seeing her sitting there, in the hotel’s café sipping her morning tea. Thoughts raced through her mind. She could picture the scene vividly after all, she had created it.

The maid would have reached by now. She would have opened the house. We have given her the extra key. I hope she hasn’t forgotten it at home. Gosh, why is this taking so long. Knowing Sid would be sleeping and wouldn’t wake up she would not bother to ring the bell. Did she have to go back home to get the key. No, no that mustn’t be, it would disrupt her best laid plans. Months of planning would go to moot.

By now she’d have made his tea and should have knocked on their bedroom door, “Chai is ready, Bhaiya,” and entered to find him. Amrita could picture the scene, what she would see, the blood on the sheets, Sid lying on his back, arms splayed out, with his throat slit, just as she had left him last night, dead! So very dead!

Almost a year and half of planning, putting all the pieces together, tying up the loose ends! She’d be free now!

No, not yet! She reminded herself. She had to play the grieving widow for a while.

“Where was Shimoli?” she thought impatiently, she needed someone to be with her when she got the call. To be credible witness to her shock! On the other hand it was good she was a little late. The call hadn’t come in yet. There was definitely something wrong.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” apologized a visibly flustered Shimoli, “woke up late and everything just went downhill from there. Hope you weren’t waiting too long? Have you ordered anything?”

Amrita quickly smiled at her friend and colleague at the Mumbai office, a picture of calm, hiding the turmoil in her heart. She was an actress par excellence, she had Sid to thank for that.

“No worries. I was waiting for you, what will you have?” asked Amrita.

Just then she heard her phone ring, it was their home landline number.

“Just a sec, got to take this one” she said rolling her eyes, “It’s the ritual maid call, wanting to know what to prepare for Sid’s breakfast!”

“Yes, Kashi Bai,” said Amrita.

“Hello Amrita, this is Girish,” she heard the voice of her neighbor on the floor above theirs, “Where are you?”

“I’m in Mumbai, Girish, for work, been here since Monday. Is everything okay? Where’s Kaishi Bai?” asked Amrita looking genuinely perplexed.

“Are you alone? Is someone with you?” he asked again.

“No, I’m with a friend,” she replied, “What’s the matter, Girish?”

“I’m sorry Amrita, there’s some bad news. Sid’s been hurt, you need to come back immediately!” he said.

“Hurt! How? What’s happened?”

“It’s bad Amrita!” he said, “Can I speak to your friend?”

“Yes, sure,” said Amrita and handed the phone to a confused Shimoli.

“Oh my God!” gasped Shimoli after listening to Girish for a few minutes.

She put down the phone and looked at Amrita and tried to hide the horror in her eyes.

“I’ll arrange a cab to take us to Pune immediately!” Shimoli said.

Amrita let Shimoli take over the arrangements. She called their Boss, Apeksha out of earshot from Amrita, all the while sneaking anxious glances at her.

It took all of Amrita’s self-control to appear confused and dazed and let Shimoli treat her like something fragile, something that would easily break.

On reaching her Condo in Pune, Amrita rushed up to find the cops and her neighbors Girish and his wife Kanika, the maid Kashi Bai was slumped in a corner of the living room. And her brother-in-law disoriented sitting on the sofa with his head in his hands and blood on his shoeless feet.

“Where’s Sid?” she asked fearfully.

“Oh! Amrita!” Kanika engulfed her in her ample bosom, “You poor girl, how are you going to take it!” she sobbed.

“Sid’s been murdered in your own home, in your bed!” said Girish softly, as if the softness of tone would mitigate the shock of his words.

“How is that possible,” Amrita shouted, looking at the cops. She tried to rush towards her bedroom but, Kanika held her back.

“Don’t go in there, believe me, you don’t want to go in there!” she cautioned.

The cops questioned her about where she had been and why. In the meanwhile, Sid’s parents had arrived from Jaipur. Amrita let her father-in-law take control; play acting the shocked and bereaved wife to the hilt.

Later Amrita congratulated herself, “I should get an award for my acting abilities,” she thought. But then it came naturally to her, didn’t it, after all she’d been doing it for years. Sid had made her the actress she was today.

Siddharth had seen Amrita at his close friend’s wedding, who was her cousin. He had told his parents who had sent out feelers through common acquaintances. Her parents had been quite excited, they couldn’t believe their luck. A software engineer with TCS and working on a project in New Jersey, he was a huge catch for the daughter of a small garment shop retailer in Saharanpur. A meeting of the families had been arranged.

Amrita was vivacious and fun loving, a brilliant artist though not very good in academics. She had given her mother many sleepless nights worrying over the scraps she would get into, going out with friends to movies and parties that too with boys, a total no-no in a conservative city like theirs.

“No one wants a fast girl as their daughter-in-law,” she had warned Amrita to appear demure like her other cousins in front of Sid’s family.

Amrita at twenty-one couldn’t wait to get out of sleepy, stifling and conservative Saharanpur. USA was like a dream come true. She had to make sure his family liked her. That’s when the acting had begun. She had played her part convincingly. Sid and his family had gone back happy with the deal that had been brokered the perfect Indian bride and enough dowry, after all the parents had put their life savings into their son.

As Sid only had fifteen days left to return, the wedding was put together quickly, with barely any time for the young people to get to know each other. They left for Jaipur to stay with his parents till his return to the US. If Saharanpur had been backward and boring, living with Sid’s parents was archaic; she had to wear a saree all the time with her head covered all day long. Smile for all the relatives that trooped in to ‘see’ the new bride and bear their humiliating inspection. She was pretty, thank God, for that, but was too tall according to one Aunt and too thin for another. How will she bear healthy children said another, her hips are to narrow.

“It’s only till we get to the US,” she thought to herself, “Just a matter of a few days.”

Her Father-in-law though had a different take.

“If you take her with you now she’ll never learn the ways of our family, Sid. Leave her here for a few months,” Amrita overheard him.

Sid had left and she was alone with them. She had to be the perfect daughter-in-law, cooking and serving the family and eating after everyone had finished. She had acted and pretended to be ok with everything, holding her tongue at every comment thrown her way and cried into her pillow at night. The day her mother-in-law had hurled her bowl of daal on her face because she had forgotten to put enough salt in it, was one of the worst, she’d only gotten through it all reminding herself that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Only a little time and then she’d be out of here in another country, away from them. With Sid life would be different, she consoled herself.

After six months of hell she was finally on her way, to the US. Looking forward to a brighter future with Sid, who would be a progressive male, after all he had lived in the US for three years. The first few weeks were heady and romantic and she loved being there.

Till the first fight they had. Over her wanting to buy a dress and go dancing. He’d thrown a fit, shouting and screaming at her and then storming out of the house. After that, had come days of cold and silent treatment. With no one to talk to, a scared Amrita had begged and pleaded till he finally came around. She had assumed that this was a just one off incident…till it recurred again…and again…and again…at the smallest of pretexts, anything that angered Sid.

It wasn’t all bad though, a happy Sid was generous. Buying her expensive gifts designer bags, jewellery, etc. It was easier to act, to keep him calm.

Sixteen years and two children later, moving from one place to another the acting had continued…The mild and docile wife, who did not react to his moods, to his temper tantrums, his throwing things at her. The dutiful daughter-in-law, their treating her like a servant, their nagging and interference, Sid’s sending money to them regularly. To the world including her own family her life was perfect, for Amrita didn’t believe in airing her dirty linen. And even if she did, who could do anything for her. She was after all an Indian woman, her own parents would tell her to adjust.

Two things helped her to survive, her sketching and her voracious appetite for fiction, where she could escape into another life.

They had moved to Mumbai five years ago. Sid had invited his Boss with his wife for dinner. Over conversation Sid had boasted of Amrita’s drawing abilities and her sketch pads were pulled out. Mrs. Boss, Apeksha owned a design firm and was super impressed with Amrita’s work, offering to hire her as a freelancer. Amrita had looked at Sid, who was now stuck between the devil and the deep sea, he couldn’t offend his boss and also needed to appear a progressive male acquiesced then and couldn’t retract later.

Two years ago they had moved to Pune for another of Sid’s projects. He as always under the influence of his father decided to send the kids, Samar and Saksham to hostel at Mayo College, too much of shifting schools is not good for them declared her father-in-law. Her opinion was not even sought. Broken hearted at losing her boys Amrita still did not react. She had become very good at acting.

Amrita travelled once every two months to Mumbai for meetings with Apeksha. She was now earning good money and that was the only reason Sid let her continue, after all she was adding to the family kitty. It was on one of her trips, travelling to Mumbai that the thought of freedom had come to her. Divorce was out of the question, she would lose her boys. Besides, she didn’t want to give up the life style she was accustomed to, the luxuries. Why should she? She’d endured a lot over the years with him.

As the longing for freedom began to take root in her, the idea of doing away with Sid became stronger every day. Till there was nothing else that she could think of.

Then she began to plan.

Reading fictional murder mysteries had given her a lot of ideas to start with. She needed to get away with it. She was smart about it, she secretly bought a laptop and hid it from Sid. She would research at coffee shops and café’s with free Wi-Fi.

It’s interesting what one can find on the internet, if you’re looking.

Step 1. She read, you need a perfect weapon. A knife, she decided easily obtainable. Never interested in Biology in school she now studied the human anatomy for hours, to find its vulnerabilities. Did you know that once the carotid artery is severed a person can bleed to death in twelve seconds? When Sid made love to her she felt the pulse, the throbbing of the blood pulsating inside it and imagined slashing it.

Step 2. Decide the location. At home. While she was supposed to be on a trip to Mumbai. She studied train and bus schedules to and from Mumbai for days. In India no one checks your ID while buying a ticket for a bus journey. But taking a bus dead of the night by a lone woman was fraught with its own risks. She bought clothes from the street sellers outside the railway station, two caps, shirts and pants and two pairs of canvas shoes. Being slim and tall she could easily pass off as an average height man, and makeup did the rest. A successful trail run revealed their condo’s lax security and one flat per floor tied into her plans perfectly.

Step 3. Find an alibi. Amrita for years had not been close to anyone, she didn’t make friends easily since her marriage. Now she needed one. On her next visit to the Mumbai office she struck up a conversation with Shimoli and developed a ritual of her dropping her off to her hotel after work and meeting her for breakfast at the café in the hotel. Always footing the bill.

Step 4. Find another suspect. This proved to be the most difficult. Luck seemed to be with her as that too fell into her lap neatly. Sid had the first falling out with his father over his younger brother, Avinash who had a drinking problem and could not hold down a job. After depleting all their father’s hard earned money on one hair brained business scheme after another, he wanted twenty-five lakhs to invest in a franchise. There were rows upon rows between both the brothers and their father trying to convince Sid, who refused to give money to his wastrel brother.

Step 5. Find a way to link her suspect to the murder. Three months ago on their annual Diwali trip to Jaipur, she collected hair from Avinash’s hairbrush. She also developed a rapport with him and started to talk to him regularly, telling Sid she was trying to make him see the error in his ways.

Step 6. Find a place to trash all the evidence that could point to her. There are literally hundreds of places in India where one can dump things. And if valuable like a laptop, they will conveniently disappear without a trace. She had wiped out its memory and dumped it in a dustbin on the roadside weeks before.

Step 7. Put all the pawns in place. Amrita left for Mumbai and called Avinash from a pay phone. She told him that Sid was beginning to see reason and was ready to talk asking him to reach Pune by Thursday. Sid she knew was a creature of habit, he would arrive late from office having had dinner and by then Avinash, a sponge, would be sozzeled. Disgusted the teetotaler Sid would ask his brother to sleep it off and talk to him in the morning.

Step 8. The final act. All had worked to plan she had entered home in the dead of night and heard Avinash snoring in the guest room. Sid a heavy sleeper, wouldn’t wake up even if the house was burning, was fast asleep. She closed the door and snuck up to him on the bed from her side slashing his neck in one swift swipe with the knife. She watched as the blood drained out of his body and the life out of his eyes. She then dropped Avinash’s hair around the room. She quickly changed into the other set of clothes she had purchased exiting as swiftly as she had entered throwing the blood stained clothes in three different garbage bins at the bus stations on the way and chucking the fresh ones out on a corner of the dirty Mumbai streets took care of the last of the evidence. She was back in her hotel room before dawn broke.

Step 9. The curtain call. All she had to do now was watch the cops put all the pieces of the puzzle together. They wouldn’t find the murder weapon though… she had wiped it and thrown it out of the window on the highway between Pune and Mumbai while the bus had rolled.

“Freedom,” she thought, “Just a matter of a few more days.”

 

Ilaa’s Story

I

(This is a short story I wrote last year for the Write India Contest. The prompt, in the form of the first nine lines, was given by Amish.  Though a short cut today, this story is special to me as it was one of the first that I wrote.)

Close to the city of Paithan, in a small village called Sauviragram, which lay along the banks of the great river Godavari, lived a woman named Ilaa. Being cotton farmers, her family was well to do, but not among the richest in their area. It was the harvest season, and cotton had to be picked from the plants. The wholesalers and traders from Paithan would be arriving in just a few weeks, carrying gold and goods for barter. They would exchange what they carried for the cotton that the farmers grew. The bales of cotton had to be ready in time! Work was at its peak!

But Ilaa was not to be found in the fields. She wasn’t working. Instead, she was sitting by the banks of the great river Godavari.

‘I am sick of this!’ she grunted loudly, as she looked down on her hands, scarred and bleeding from picking the rough bolls of cotton for days now.

“If Baba were here, I wouldn’t be subjected to this indignity!”

Tears flooded Ilaa’s eyes as she thought of her dear Baba, her strong and versatile father, who with a twinkle in his eyes over-rode all opposition to his only daughter being educated alongside his son. Ujjwal, Ilaa’s mild mannered brother from a young and tender age had shown a leaning towards letters which delighted his illiterate yet enlightened father. He had the most renowned Brahmin, Dyaneshwarji in the village accept Ujjwal as his shishy.

Ilaa, a girl child born after five generations in his family was Baba’s delight; he named her Ilaa after the Goddess of speech and also the female form of the first ruler of Paithan. Ilaa followed her brother everywhere and could not be separated from him even at the Gurukul. She learnt what Ujjwal did twice as fast; her interest in her brother’s studies pleased her father even more.  Baba convinced Dyaneshwarji to let her attend classes in Vedic studies too. He entertained notions of his daughter growing up to being a great sage like Lopamudra, Gargi and Maitreye of the Vedic ages.

Ilaa was an imp as a child, everyone doted on her, everyone that is, except for her Ajoba, her grandmother, Baba’s mother. Ajoba hated Ilaa from the day she saw her son’s eyes shine with unconcealed adoration for his beautiful little baby daughter. Ajoba disliked anyone taking away her son’s affections; she barely tolerated Ilaa’s, gentle Ai. Only because of Ai’s utmost patience with the older lady’s love for her only child, did that fragile relationship work.

 

Baba was born late in Ajoba and Bhau’s marriage, long after Bhau’s mother had married him off to another doe eyed beauty who had given him three boys and Ajoba was maligned with the word ‘infertile’ by the people of the village. In a society that places value on a woman’s ability to provide an heir to continue her husband’s bloodline, side-lined by her own family and ostracised by the villagers, hers was a lonely and miserable existence.

Bitter from the taunts of the villagers and pettiness of Bhau’s other family, she had all but given up hope for any happiness in her life, when by the grace of the Gods she found herself the mother of a strapping young baby boy. This happy turn of events should have restored her good nature, however, she refused to let go of the past and remained embittered, mistrustful and ill-tempered, alienating herself from the whole village. If there was any good left in her it was reserved for her only child, whom she brought up with jealous affection.

Bhau’s other three sons died at various stages of growing up as the times were harsh and the weak in spirit were wont to. All the families’ lands and rich cotton fields were passed down to Baba, “as is rightful,” Ajoba had said unfeelingly to her rival. It was credit to the young boy that he did not grow up to become anything like his draconian mother. He was wise, free spirited, quick to laugh, finding the good in everyone and everything.  As he grew into manhood his charming temperament won over the entire village and with it the Headman’s educated daughter, the old lady given no choice reluctantly accepted. This was the first of many battles that Baba would fight with his mother and win. Sending Ilaa to school would be another.

As llaa reminisced about the past she again thought of her predicament.

Baba was gone!

He had followed the Peshwa Baji Rao’s call to arms to every able bodied man against the cursed ruler of Hyderabad, Nizam-ul-Mulk. How the whole family had begged Baba not to go, he was a farmer they said, Ajoba had wept and threatened, Ujjwal had pleaded, Ilaa had cried, to no avail! Baba’s mind was made up! Ai, said nothing, with pride in her eyes she had performed the aarti and bade Vijayi bhava, (return victorious) to the love of her life. That was Ai, stoic with complete faith in Baba and her Gods.

Baba left the responsibility of the farm and household to Ajoba, knowing his wife to be too timid to stand up to his mother and Ujjwal was more academic than farmer. Many of the farm hands and men of the village had followed Baba, a natural leader of men. Soon after the harvesting season for the cotton had arrived, and Ajoba’s first directive had been to pull Ilaa out of school to help out in the fields. Ujjwal was allowed to continue.

“Girls should be helping out at home and in the fields, going to school, ridiculous!” she announced. “Your father had foolish notions for you girl, sixteen already and no prospects of getting married yet, your place from now is at home!”

Ilaa, the darling of her father, not used to being denied her every wish, stood up against her grandmother. It was a sight to see, the grandmother with her head shaven and dressed in all white, ramrod straight, with the stiff bearings of a woman used to getting her own way, the grand-daughter young, beautiful and vibrant her eyes flashing.

“The Rig Vedic society was a free society; women were as free as the men. Education was equally accessible for boys and girls. Girls studied the Vedas and fine arts,” Illa reasoned.

“Nonsense! These are not the Vedic times, no man will marry a woman who knows the Vedas but doesn’t know any housework,” retorted Ajoba. “You are responsible for the management of your future household and need to learn to be a devoted wife, taking care of her husband’s needs.”

“But, brahmavadinis or married female scholars like Lopamudra, Sulabha Maitreyi, Gargi are still revered and they strengthened the knowledge of their husbands,” countered Ilaa.

“Silly child,” laughed Ajoba, “Too much in the company of books has turned your mind to mush!”

“But the Mahanirvana Tantra praises the birth of a scholarly daughter in these words: ‘A girl also should be brought up and educated with great effort and care,” tried Ilaa .

“Enough!” thundered the formidable old lady, “there is no more to be said, you will do as I say.”

With neither the matriarch nor the young woman giving way, the atmosphere in the house was fraught with stress. Finally, Ai pleaded with her daughter to stand down.

“It’s only a matter of some time,” she appealed, “Your father will be back soon, life will go back to the way it was.”

Where the commands of the grandmother did not deter Ilaa’s resolve, her gentle Ai’s entreaty could not be ignored, with a sigh she gave in. Peace returned to the household and Ilaa hid her unhappiness well.

Till today!

 

 

Last night Ujjwal had returned from the Gurukul excited, he’d pulled Ilaa aside and given her the news.

“Ilaa, you won’t believe what’s happened!  Dyaneshwarji has been invited to the brahmayajna, the annual discourse at Sant Jaganade Maharaj Temple in Paithan, next week. He’s been asked to bring two of his most promising students to participate too. There’s to be a pariksha day after to decide who would be going. Guruji has asked you to participate as well!”

For a moment Ilaa forgot that she was not allowed to attend school anymore, “We are the brightest in the class, Guruji has always said, we are sure to be selected! Why the pariksha?” she asked.

“He probably wants it to appear fair,” replied Ujjwal, “the other students and their parents would complain otherwise. He’s asked you to attend school from tomorrow. We need to prepare.”

Ilaa’s eyes shone with excitement, she’d been dreaming of this day for years, ever since she had heard the story of Gargi, the Vedic prophetess and daughter of sage Vachaknu, who with her knowledge had stumped many eminent sages in her time.

Suddenly, Ilaa’s face fell as she remembered, “Ajoba will never let me go,” she whispered.

This morning when she reached the fields and looked around her, she could not take it anymore, she’d run till she had collapsed at this, her favourite spot near the holy river Godavari, hidden from prying eyes by an ancient Banyan tree. The sun danced on the dappled waters of the river while tiny fish darted in the darkened pools formed on its rocky banks, Ilaa sat there in reflective melancholy oblivious to the beauty of her surroundings. Normally this place would bring calm to her restive mind, not today, the peace that she craved eluded her. Her heart was breaking into tiny pieces.

“I can’t go on like this anymore! It’s not fair!”

“I knew I’d find you here. Did you know this used to be my favourite place too, to hide away from the world?” she heard her mother say as she sat down next to her.

“Ai!” with tears flowing down her eyes Ilaa rested her head in her mother’s lap.

Ai, ran her fingers through Ilaa’s thick black hair, “My lovely child!”

“Did Ujjwal tell you about the Brahmayajna?”

“Yes.”

“It’s not fair, Ai!”

“I know, you’ve been very patient, my child,”

“This was my dream, Ai!”

“Yes, I know that’s why I’m here. To release you from my request for peace in the house, I want you to follow your dreams.”

“You can’t be serious Ai, you know Ajoba will never let me!”

“Your Ajoba has had a difficult life, child,” began Ai.

“That does not give her the right to destroy my life,” interrupted Ilaa, vehemently.

“No one is destroying your life Ilaa,” laughed Ai, “let me finish.”

“Your Ajoba as a young woman was a lot like you, she too wanted to be educated but never got the opportunity. Married off young she gave her heart and soul to her new family, you are very well aware of how things turned out for her. I know deep down in that prickly exterior beats a kind heart.”

“Your joking right Ai, Ajoba’s kind heart, ha! Are we discussing the same woman?”

“To be fair to her Ilaa, she may have a harsh tongue, but she’s never been mean to me. I’ve always had my space and taken my own decisions.”

“Ai, that’s because of your own generous and kind nature.”

“No dear, she’s always been possessive of your father, but ever since I’ve come into the family she’s always treated me with respect and I know in her own way she loves us all.”

“Let’s agree to disagree on that one, Ai.”

“Ok, let’s get back to your life being destroyed,” smiled Ai.

“If only Baba were here, he’d never hold me back.”

“Nothing’s holding you back, Ilaa, your father showed you a path. He can’t always be there to hold your hand and take every step with you. Neither can I, you have to find your way forward.”

“But, how Ai!”

“Ah! Now that’s something that needs to be figured out.”

“How about I pretend I’m going to the fields and instead go off to the Gurukul, Ajoba will never know! She doesn’t come to the fields!”

“Lying and sneaking, is that the way you want to do it then?”

Ilaa looked sheepish.

“Then how?” she groaned.

“Like Krishna said in the Gita, by doing your dharma, in life we all encounter dilemmas, although perhaps less dramatically than Arjun.”

“Isn’t my dharma to obey my parents and elders?”

“Yes, however, as a student your dharma is to follow knowledge and learning.”

“So are you saying I should take on Ajoba?”

Ai laughed, “You’re not on the battlefield with Ajoba, Ilaa.”

“Ilaa, all the scholars that you look up to, Lopamudra, Sulabha, Maitreyi, Gargi, were women who lived in the Vedic ages, the status of women in that age was different from ours. They were accorded the Upanayana, or thread ceremony that allowed them to attain higher learning like their male counterparts.”

“I know all that Ai! What’s your point?”

“My point, my dear impatient child, is that they had not only the opportunity but also the social sanctions to pursue learning. Over the ages our societal structure has changed, things are not that easy now.”

“So are you saying I should give up?”

“Not at all. Women in our times too have broken social barriers forced upon them and emerged winners. Look at how esteemed literary women like Aka Bai and Kena, disciples of Ramdas Swami, are. Do we all not revere Rajmata Jijabai, Shivaji’s mother, who as regent not only laid the foundations of the Maratha kingdom but also inspired her son to become a great leader? Also, Tarabai Mohite who, after the death of her husband Rajaram, took over the reins of the Maratha Army and sent the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb scurrying. They all found a way to bring about change and mind you, it was not a cake walk for them. Ilaa, the history of Maratha women has many such examples and nothing would give me more pleasure than to have posterity remember your name with them.”

Ilaa listened with amazement to her Ai! Who would have thought that behind that gentle demeanour hid such a passionate persona.

Ai, got up and held her hand out to Ilaa.

“Come,” she said with a twinkle in her eyes, “there is cotton to be dealt with… or not!”

Ilaa, followed Ai reflecting quietly.

The next morning Ilaa woke up at dawn, got dressed and stepped out of her room into the Courtyard, with the accoutrements for her day at the Gurukul.

“Where do you think you’re off to, young lady?” demanded Ajoba.

Ilaa expecting this smiled and went up to her grandmother.

Touching the old lady’s feet she said, “I’m going to the Gurukul, to prepare so that I can accompany my Guru to the Brahmayajna.”

“You dare defy me, child?” asked an apoplectic Ajoba.

“My karma has brought me to a place where I have to see through my dharma,” replied Ilaa.

“Do not speak in riddles child! What is this karma-dharma?”

“Oh revered Grandmother, as a child my father recognising that he had a scholarly daughter helped me attain my karma. Today, I am honour bound to see through to my dharma, to my Guru and bring my learning to fruition. I seek your blessings willingly, however, if your choice is not to give them, that too I will understand. ”

So saying Ilaa quietly got up, took her Ai’s blessings and walked out of the house with a bewildered Ajoba looking on.