A TRAGEDY OF INDIAN SOCIAL EVILS TOLD THROUGH 48 HEARTBREAKING IMAGES - PART IV./IV.
It was now high noon and the sun beat down with unrestrained brutality, as a few withering trees cast patches of pathetic shade onto the smoldering Kashyapi floor. Aware of the encroaching heat, Aadi released Avani, worried that the dancing would be too much for her and little Surya. Inwardly, Aadi was breathing a sigh of relief for Avani had stopped crying as soon as he had started to dance. A big smile was now spread across Avani’s face as she embraced Surya and watched Aadi continue to entertain them with his funny dance moves and clownish gestures. However, the unrelenting heat licked at their sunburned faces, coiling around their limbs like a serpent. Surprisingly, Surya wasn’t showing any signs of dehydration or heat exhaustion. In fact, Aadi and Avani noted that she was smiling. “Surya was a most fitting name, Aadi. The heat doesn’t take a feather off this little one,” Avani said. “She has her mother’s strength,” Aadi lovingly replied. Still, taking no chances, Aadi and Avani quickly moved under a tall tree to protect little Surya from the burning sun.
So upset were they by Tai’s behavior that they had walked further and further into the Kashyapi without realizing how deeply they had ventured. The ground was now sizzling, sending up a disorientating haze; not a blade of grass swayed nor did the birds make a sound, as if all of nature was too hot to move. Avani, who hadn’t eaten all morning, felt hollowness in the pit of her stomach, while her eyes were burning, somewhat from the searing heat but more so from the tears she shed since leaving the Sayan home. Aadi was also exhausted, but he was used to the heat since he ventured into the Kashyapi regularly to gather firewood. As the sultry heat pressed in on Avani, she began to feel woozy and lightheaded. Her mouth was parched and her palms were no longer sweating. Every lungful of hot air robbed more water from Avani’s body. Unable to bear the thirst any longer, Avani turned to Aadi, but before she even had a chance to ask him to bring her some water from the nearby pond, Aadi kissed Avani on her forehead and said gently, “I’ll fetch some water from the Vimala. Rest here under tree until I get back. I don’t want you to waste any more energy, okay?” Avani nodded as she held onto little Surya protectively and watched Aadi as he walked away.
Her eyes stayed glued on Aadi from the moment he kissed her goodbye, hoping that he would turn around one last time before completely disappearing, but he didn’t. She watched until he fell from her sight behind the green hillock in the distance. For his part, Aadi was of two minds; he hated leaving Avani and Surya alone in the forest, but with Avani completely dehydrated and aching for something to drink, he didn’t have any other choice but to go fetch some water. As a reluctant Aadi walked away from Avani and Surya, he felt like the world was slowly disappearing in front of him. Or maybe it was he who was fading away. Banishing this dark thought, Aadi picked up his pace to get to Vimala and back as soon as possible. He felt his lungs burning and his heart hitting his chest so hard that he thought it would break his ribs and rip apart his skin. He knew they had ventured too deeply into the Kashyapi and the Vimala River was a fair distance away. But they couldn’t return to the Sayan home either, he thought. Avani was dangerously dehydrated and wouldn’t be able to walk that far without water, and he couldn’t risk exposing little Surya to the burning afternoon Sun on the long route back.
Avani wished he had looked back, smiled, and reassured her that he would return soon. She knew he had already said it once, but it wouldn’t have hurt to say it again, Avani thought to herself. Suddenly, Avani felt very alone and vulnerable – it was just her and little Surya in the Kashyapi, and Aadi was nowhere in sight. Because of the recent dry spell, the grass crackled beneath her feet as she stepped forward. There was no sound of a tree’s swaying movements in the breeze, for it was replaced by the snapping sound of twigs being crushed behind her. For a second, she could have sworn someone was following her, like her crunching footsteps were not alone. Avani jerked her head to get a quick glimpse of what she thought was a tall woman towering over her, but soon realized it was just a thin tree, bending close to the path. Wary of her surroundings, Avani quickened her pace, making her way to a huge tree in front of her, the eerie, dark green forest passing in a blur beside her. For a brief moment, she felt betrayed, like the sweet, welcoming Kashyapi had tricked her, lured her into sending Aadi away. At exactly that same moment, Aadi was tormented by thoughts of wild animals prowling the forest as day moved towards dusk. Although awash with a yellow glow, the sky was quickly being engulfed by deep gray, smoky clouds. Avani sat down gently on the dry ground and rested her back against the knobby trunk of a tree, her head leaning against the cool, thick mossy bark. The Kashyapi had started to feel different from the very moment Aadi had left them. Surya had begun to fuss almost as soon as Aadi was gone, her agitated cries reverberating in the dense forest. As Avani studied her surroundings and looked above, she was overwhelmed by the size and majesty of the trees. Their knotted arms rose ever upwards, as far as her head could lift. They were hoary fortresses and stood like messengers of death with their heads hanging down. An anxious Avani hugged Surya to her bosom to calm her, and then closed her eyes; the Lord’s name on her lips, she secretly prayed that Aadi would return soon.
Aadi, now a fair distance away, was frantically running to get to the Vimala River and back before sundown, while Avani was still trying to comfort Surya, whose cries pierced the silence of the Kashyapi. Her eyes still closed from sheer exhaustion, Avani instinctively kept her ears wide open and alert, ready to fend off any unwanted intruders. But her exhaustion and dehydration were getting the better of her, and she fought the urge to drift off into a deep sleep. Unbeknownst to Aadi and Avani, there were greater dangers than wild animals to fear for; Tai and her men were quickly descending on them. Tai went into a rage when Aadi left the Sayan home holding Avani’s hand, all for the sake of that damned child, she thought, and damned it will be after I get my hands on the little piece of muck. She angrily directed her men to still themselves as she listened for the slightest sound, her eyes darting in all directions, a scowl on her face as she sniffed the air like a wild beast.
While Avani and Aadi were dancing with little Surya in the Kashyapi, Tai had been planning murder, a slaughter more likely, as she gathered her men and ordered them to sharpen their swords for the attack. Tai’s plan was to sever baby Surya’s head from her little torso and feed it to the vultures to scavenge upon while Avani watched. “This woman must suffer as much as much as she’s made me suffer, stealing my son and wrecking the sanctity of the Sayan home!” she hissed at the men, who stood frozen in their places, in fear for their own lives should they cross Guru Tai. Mukh Baba’s absence had made it somewhat easier for Tai to unleash her revenge on Avani and the child. If Baba ever questioned Tai, she would say that he wasn’t in Pravadh, which is why she couldn’t seek his advice. Mukh Baba had seen this horror coming many months earlier when he had visited the Sayan home and had implored Tai to stay away from Avani. In his heart, Baba believed that what was destined to happen would happen but chose to remain silent. He held Tai back for as long as he could, but destiny had different plans. Hatred spewed like bile from every pore of Tai’s towering body as she scanned the Kashyapi with her men, suddenly realizing she could see no sign of Avani. She ordered half the men to search the forest down to the Vimala River, while the rest followed her in the other direction. As she moved past the thick bushes, her eyes darting more wildly with each passing second, she scanned the thick brush for pale orange, the color of the sari Avani was wearing when she last saw her. She began screaming at her men, her cries getting ever louder, until the men shuddered with fear. They had their hearts in their mouths; they knew she wouldn’t spare them if they didn’t find Avani soon. She threw her sinewy arms in the air and howled, “Bring me the head of that damned baby!” her voice almost cracking. “She’s about this high,” she gestured wickedly, her hands approximating the height of a newborn baby, and her face suddenly changing from an evil grimace to a sinister smile. A sea of cold and heartless faces stared back at her, nodding in agreement before darting ahead. Tai’s henchman, who had stayed back, suddenly appeared at her side and whispered, “Do you hear that, Guru Mai?” Tai peered into the man’s eyes, a vicious smile forming on her face as her eyes widened. It was the sound of a baby crying. The men quickly moved in the direction of the sound, clearing bushes and tall spiky grass with their swords to make a path for Tai. Suddenly, they saw Avani sleeping like a baby herself against a tree in the distance. Tai turned a cold stare to her men, and raising a bony finger to her lips, she signaled them to be silent as she walked ahead. As they closed in on Avani, she gestured to her men to surround Avani from all sides. But, as soon as Avani heard the sound of a branch breaking underfoot, she opened her eyes at once and clutched Surya to her chest. In her worst nightmares she could not have imagined the site before her, for towering over her was none other than Tai, with an an evil grin on her face, and her men behind her, their swords at the ready.
Avani jumped to her feet the moment she saw the swords in the men’s hands. Holding Surya tightly to her chest, Avani stood perfectly still in fight mode, assessing her next move. An adrenaline injection had replaced her sheer exhaustion; her heart thudded against her chest, and beads of sweat formed on her forehead. Tai took a menacing step forward, her eyes transfixed on Avani’s pale face, and pointing to her own feet, she bellowed, “This is where you belong, down here with the rest of the dirt!” With a sinister grin plastered across her face, she gestured to her men and roared, “Take that damned baby away from her and bring it to me!” Tai’s words echoed in Avani’s ears and a hideous chill ran up her spine, while a fury she didn’t know she possessed consumed her psyche. They will have to kill me before they can take my child away from me, Avani thought. Her eyes flashed with anger, as she looked from Tai to the two men closest to her. At Tai’s order, the two men flung their swords to the ground and lunged at Avani, as if they were hungry wolves and baby Surya their prey. The men grabbed Avani’s slender arms with full force, their nails piercing her flesh and causing her to howl in agony. Almost frothing at the mouth with animalistic rage, a mother protecting her young, she would not loosen her grip on Surya, not now, not ever. Avani would die a million deaths before she would let go of her child, her entire world. Although just a little baby, a little life, Surya had instilled in Avani the faith and courage to fight a hundred Tai’s!
The men pulled and grabbed Avani’s shoulders, trying in vain to release her clutches from her child, while Tai stood there grinning like an evil ogre, relishing the pain and horror she was inflicting. She could have easily taken the baby with more men, but she was enjoying watching Avani’s tormented struggling far too much for that. Of course, Tai did not know what Avani was capable of when it came to protecting those she loved. Had she known the truth about the wolf slaying, she may have considered her strategy more carefully, rather than thinking that the time was rife to strike with Mukh Baba and Aadi out of the picture. Surya was now crying convulsively; the feral smell of the attacking men and the sounds of her mother’s screams and grunts instinctively filled the infant with fear. As Tai and the rest of the men danced in ecstasy at the scene before them, the two men threw punches in Avani’s face every now and then, hoping she would succumb to the pain and let go. But Avani’s hands were firmly gripped around Surya, protecting her little head by pressing it against her chest. She would take another million punches but her fingers around her baby would never loosen. In fact, as Avani suddenly felt her body fill with an overwhelming, almost spiritual strength, the men’s grip on her weakened. Inexplicably, they were tiring and Avani was ready to make her move.
Avani was now completely surrounded by Tai and the rest of her men, as the other two continued to punch and grab her in a frantic attempt to snatch Surya. However, as their energy waned, Avani’s strength and determination intensified. Convinced that they had her cornered, Guru Tai threw her head back and let out a wicked laugh, an unplanned distraction which, unbeknownst to Tai, was an unconscious signal to her men that they could relax. Sensing this shift in energy, Avani seized the moment to extract all the courage from her heart and summon every ounce of her strength, mindful that she had Surya firmly grasped in her left arm. Tensing her muscles to their maximum, Avani gathered all the force in her body, and with a wild grunt, she jerked her left shoulder violently and struck the jaw of the man on her left side, breaking it like glass and sending him flying into a thicket of thorny bushes. Before the man on her right could even react, Avani thrust her right palm mercilessly into his face, her sharp nails digging into his skin and the full force of her power slamming him to the hard Kashyapi ground. For a brief and sickening moment, Avani thought she had lost her grip on Surya, so quiet was she throughout the altercation, as if realizing that this escape required their complete and united focus. But Avani had held onto Surya with just her one hand. Cupping her neck and upper back firmly in her left palm and hugging her to her chest, Avani made her break. Before Tai could realize what had happened and before the men on the ground could even rise to their feet, Avani darted into the woods with Surya, jumping over fallen trees and maneuvering through huge rocks. Running blindly through the thick forest, unaware of the thorns and nettles tearing at her face and limbs, she ran as fast as she could to put distance between herself and her attackers. A sharp rock gashed her left foot, sending her tumbling sideways to the ground, all the while ensuring that Surya was protected from the fall. As she lay there holding her baby, tears streaming down her face, she became aware of the throbbing pain in her face where she had been beaten, and the sticky streams of blood trickling from her mouth, nose, and the countless cuts on her body. In the distance, she could vaguely hear the moans and grumbles of Tai’s men, but above their noise was Tai’s maniacal laughter. But what she couldn’t hear was Guru Tai’s evil pronouncement, “It will be amusing to see just how far she manages to get.” Then, with one sinewy arm extended from her sari, she ordered the men to follow her in Avani’s direction.
The revolting sound of Tai and her men shook Avani to her very core. She knew they would soon be upon her if she didn’t pull herself together quickly. Wounded and terrified, Avani collected herself, and scrambling to her feet with Surya in her arms, she began to run through the Kashyapi as fast as her torn bloody legs could take her. As she ran through the thick forest, limping painfully from the deep gash in her foot, her eyes remained fixated on the horizon, as if an oasis awaited her. The sky was ablaze with hues of reds, purples, and oranges, reminding her all at once of brighter, happier times in the past and the deep emotional and physical wounds of the present. Little did she know that Tai had spread her men throughout the forest with strict orders not to leave a single stone unturned.
Avani had run so far that she could actually see the Vimala River in the distance. Fatigued and hurting from all her wounds, she crouched behind a wall of thick bushes to catch her breath for a brief moment. Overcome by emotion and completely exhausted, Avani looked at baby Surya’s smiling face, and kissing her on the forehead, she whispered, “I’m sorry.” Hot tears streamed down her bloody face and fell onto Surya’s cheek, staining the infant’s face with tawny reminders of the danger they were in. Immediately, as if responding to her mother’s tears and fears, she let out a gentle cry, “Maaa . . . aaaa . . . waaaa!” Surya was just a few days old and she definitely couldn’t speak, but Avani clutched her to her bosom as tightly as she could and wept silently and helplessly. She just called me “Amma!” Avani thought to herself. Aadi would be so happy if I told him, a gentle smile now appearing on her blood-stained face. However, before she could feel grateful for having such a beautiful and miraculous baby who just called her Amma, she heard the ominous hissing of Tai’s men. Fearing for Surya’s life, with her heart in her mouth, Avani wrapped the cloth around Surya even more tightly so she could secure her as she continued evade the men.
The sun was now a fiery red orb of light slowly tip-toeing at the edge of the horizon. Threads of sunlight lingered in the sky, mingling with the rolling clouds and dyeing the heavens first orange and then red. As the sounds of Tai’s men’s footsteps grew louder, Avani darted in the direction of the Vimala, hoping to find Aadi by taking a narrow path that she saw in front of her. Within minutes of Avani emerging from the thicket of bushes, Tai’s evil men, who were hiding behind thick trees and huge rocks throughout the Kashyapi, saw Avani’s orange sari pop against the deep brown bark of the trunks. Immediately, and as if on cue, they slithered out of their hiding places like venomous serpents, creeping across the Kashyapi at lightning speed, their eyes glued on their wounded prey. Avani’s heart was racing and her ears were ringing with the pounding of blood through her veins. Nearly blinded by her tears, she ran aimlessly in the direction of the river, her blood curdling from the sound of Tai’s command, “Get her now!!”
As the panic-stricken Avani darted in the direction of the river, she suddenly had a flashback to her childhood when, as a little girl, she would often aim at a little mango tree in the Mistla’s backyard. Blessed with a natural athleticism, a good eye, and a strong arm, she would hurl stones in the direction of the fat juicy mangoes that dangled from the tree’s limbs. This was her way of killing time as she waited for her Dad to return from his shop and take her for a ride on his cycle. This habit carried forth, even into young adulthood. Thus, with Surya secure in cloth wrapped around her, Avani started to bend down while running, scooping up sharp heavy stones, until she had gathered a substantial handful. Realizing that the only way to fight back was to attack, Avani spun around and aimed a sharp stone in the direction of one of Tai’s men. As the stone hit the man’s eye dead on and with full force, he slumped to the ground, wailing, “My eye, I’ve lost my eye! I can’t see!” The men at his back heartlessly trampled over him; they had no time to waste on their comrade. Gaining confidence from that shot, Avani pelted several stones in their direction, catching one on the forehead and knocking him out cold, while the others struck mouths, chests, and limbs, shattering teeth and hemorrhaging blood in the process. As the men tumbled to the ground in a heap, wailing and screaming in various levels of distress and pain, Avani took advantage of the distraction and turned sharply to hide behind a huge boulder.
For a brief interlude, there was silence; not a man to be seen. However, Avani could still hear the distant screams and wails of Tai’s men. Glancing at Surya quickly and sensing that she was thirsty, Avani hugged her tightly, gathered a few more stones and sticks, and then emerged from her hiding place to run in the direction of the Vimala. Upon reaching the riverbank, she knelt down quickly, and dipping her fingers in the cool water, she put a few droplets of fresh water first in Surya’s mouth and then her own. She looked around for Aadi frantically, but he was nowhere to be seen. “Aadi, Aadi! Where are you?” she screamed at the top of her lungs as tears streamed down her face. She did not care if Tai and her men could hear her; most important to her at this point was to be reunited with her husband. With each passing minute, the sound of Tai’s men grew louder and louder as they closed in on her. Taking a deep breath and with the Lord’s name on her lips, Avani hugged Surya protectively, before wrapping the cloth securely around herself and gathering a few more sticks and stones. She wondered if Aadi was in trouble; confused and scared, she ran up and down the river’s edge, but before she could decide on her next move, Tai’s men, who had been standing on a little hillock, spotted her. Avani ran a few hundred meters, but Tai’s men descended the hillock from various directions, capturing her like a pack of wolves after their prey. As they dragged her to Guru Tai, the men punched and beat her until the headstrong Avani was bleeding from head to toe. Throwing her down with great force at Tai’s feet, Avani held onto Surya securely and protectively, cursing her own fate and praying that her husband was safe.
Tai marched ahead, looking down at Avani as if she was a piece of dirt. With her powerful arms, she grabbed Surya from Avani’s arms, not caring for even a moment that it was a little child. Avani, now severely weak and feeling powerless and helpless, could do nothing but let go of her baby. Tai’s men stood there with sharp swords; had she held onto Surya for even a second longer, she was certain they would have severed the head of the baby within seconds. Fearing for Surya’s life, Avani begged, “I will leave Pravadh with my child. I will never show you my face again, Mai. Just please don’t hurt my child!” Tai looked down at Avani scornfully and growled, “You should have thought about that before giving birth to this piece of muck!” Holding onto Surya who was now securely wrapped in the cloth, Tai looked at the orange sun, which was now a sallow shadow of its daytime self, almost hidden beneath the hills. Then, she laughed loudly and wickedly, the menacing sound of which echoed through the Kashyapi. “Please don’t do anything, please, Mai. . .” begged Avani, as blood and tears streamed down her face. The more Avani cried, the more Tai smiled as she held onto Surya with one hand as if it was a piece of meat waiting to be stewed.
Despite all that was happening, Avani still had a prayer for Aadi on her lips. Where can he be? she wondered. Did a wild animal attack him? Had he lost his way? Her mind ran in a million places, but never could she have imagined that Aadi had been captured by Tai’s men hours ago. Aadisesha was Tai’s stepson; she had never considered him her own despite her outward show of affection. When Aadi had held Avani’s hand and walked out of the Sayan home, Tai had felt disgraced. Is this what I get for having brought up this boy with so much affection and love throughout my life? she fumed. This is a different Aadi from what I know, that evil witch Avani has cast a spell on him! I must get rid of the evil spirit residing in him, Tai thought to herself. She immediately ordered her men to capture Aadi and lock him in Kaal Kutir, a dungeon on the outskirts of Pravadh where people who were possessed by evil spirits were thrown. Each day, the inmates were tortured, beaten, and whipped until they were rid of the evil spirits. Sadly, Aadi was not possessed, nor had Avani cast a spell on him. All he had done was to stand up for his beloved wife and child.
Little did Avani know that as she begged and pleaded Tai to spare the life of her child, Aadi was tied to an iron cot and on the verge of death from being beaten repeatedly until he lost consciousness. His face was unrecognizable and his breathing shallow. He was certain all his ribs had been broken. He wept silently, fading in and out of sleep, questioning why and how such a fate could befall a man who had tried to lead a pure and honest life. Each time Aadi woke, he would mutter only two words, Avani and Surya. Yet again he would be beaten until he lost consciousness.
Tai marched away with Surya. Standing only a few feet away from Avani, she placed Surya on the hard Kashyapi ground close enough for Avani to see. Avani had wrapped Surya securely in the cloth, fearing injury, but now Surya was in Tai’s control, and all Avani could do was watch helplessly.
Looking town at Surya with an evil smile plastered across her face, Tai raised one heavy leg and moved it right above Surya’s little head. “Why don’t you stop me?” she asked mockingly.
Avani winced in pain as she raised her head and looked at her child on the ground. As Tai raised her fleshy leg above the baby’s head, the look of agony on Avani’s face melted into a harsh smile that etched itself across her battered face. Much to Tai’s surprise, Avani’s smile turned into laughter, which was like ripples in a still pond after a stone had been thrown in. It radiated outwards through the Kashyapi, which had, until that moment, been quite silent. Now the birds and trees too started to titter, and soon the sound of laughter filled the ancient forest.
The more Avani laughed, the more it angered Tai, who wondered why Avani was laughing despite the fact that her child was about to be crushed under her foot.
“Let me see how you laugh now!” Tai roared, engulfed with rage. Then she pounded her foot straight into the little baby’s skull.
As Tai stamped the skull of the baby with her giant foot, a sharp, stinging pain pierced her leg like a bolt of lighting. She stamped the baby’s head again, and this time her heel cracked open, sending fountains of blood onto the cold Kashyapi floor. Sensing that something was wrong, Tai turned to Avani, who was laughing maniacally despite the men pressing and twister her arms with all their might.
“How dare you?” Tai hissed. In truth, she had sensed something was wrong the moment Avani started to laugh. Beads of sweat formed on Tai’s head as she bent down and opened the cloth, expecting to see Surya’s bloody, distorted face. To her surprise, instead of baby Surya, there were only sticks and stones, the same kind of stones Avani had used earlier to attack Tai’s men.
Tai’s eyes turned red with anger as she turned towards Avani. “Where is the baby?” she growled, her eyes protruding from their sockets.
Avani’s laughter vanished, and with the anger of a thousand scorned goddesses, she screamed, blood and saliva oozing from her injured mouth. “How dare you even think about killing my child? How dare you?” Her voice echoed through the Kashyapi, sending a chill down everyone’s spine.
Tai stood still, her body trembling with anger as she stared at Avani’s livid face. She had never seen this side of her.
“You will never find my child, so don’t even try!” Avani gasped, spitting out blood as she spoke.
Tai glanced at the bundle of stones and sticks one more time in utter disbelief, and then she turned to Avani. Avani was naïve and innocent. How had she managed to do this?
Avani had protected her child, and that’s all she cared about. As she looked at Tai’s shell-shocked face, her anger melted away, her lips curling into a mocking smile. “Ask your men to hold me tight,” she said in a serious tone, her eyes locked on Tai’s face. “Should they let go, I will break your neck with my bare hands, crack your skull, and feed your body to the wolves!”
Tai’s anger skyrocketed. Not only had Avani hidden the baby, she had just insulted her in front of her men.
“How dare you speak to me like that?” howled Tai as she stomped towards Avani with a sword in her hand.
Tai’s men wouldn’t hear a word against their Mai, and before Tai could even reach Avani, they had already punched Avani several times in the face, breaking her teeth and cutting her head open in several places. Avani was now bleeding profusely from her head; she was struggling for breath and slowly losing consciousness. The entire forest seemed blurry, and Avani could barely see anything clearly.
Tai stood in front of Avani, and looking down at her face she asked harshly, “Where’s the baby?”
Before the exhausted Avani could respond, Tai’s men struck her in the face again, shouting: “Answer Mai, or we will skin you alive!”
Tai’s eyes widened, a crazed look coming over her, as she looked down at Avani’s bloody face. “Where’s the baby?” she continued, "I’m asking you for the last time…”
Avani, despite her painful injuries and her broken teeth, refused to answer. Instead, she looked slowly up at Tai, gathered the masses of blood and saliva in her mouth, and, in a final act of defiance, spat on Tai’s face with determined force. “You will never find Surya!" she shouted, "Not you, not your men, nobody!”
Tai, in utter disbelief, reached up and touched the bloody spit on her face. Then, in a fit of rage, she raised her sword above her head and brought it down hard against Avani’s slender neck. The sword made a deep gash that exposed Avani's veins and cartilage; cascades of blood rushed in every direction. Avani collapsed to the floor, mumbling Aadi’s name as blood pooled around her head on the ground.
Tai’s lips widened, her mouth twisting into a sickening smile as she looked at Avani before turning to her men. “The Kashyapi vultures will have a feast today! Let us go find that piece of muck!” she cried.
Tai’s men bowed their heads and followed Tai as she marched away, leaving Avani and her blood behind. As Tai walked farther and farther, Avani’s breathing became slower and slower. Within minutes, she stopped breathing completely. There she lay, completely still, her hands still clinging tightly to her mangalsutra.
After Avani had attacked Tai’s men with the sharp stones, they had tumbled to the ground in a heap, wailing and screaming in distress and pain. That was when Avani had taken advantage of the distraction and turned sharply to hide behind a huge boulder. For a brief interlude, there was not a man to be seen. But Avani could still hear the distant screams and wails of Tai’s men. In panic, and fearing for the life of her child, Avani hugged Surya to her bosom with one hand and then quickly filled the cloth in which Surya had been wrapped with sticks and stones so that it would seem as if a child was still in it.
Once she had filled the cloth, she emerged from her hiding place and ran in the direction of the Vimala. Upon reaching the riverbank, she knelt down quickly and, dipping her fingers in the cool water, placed a few droplets of fresh water first into Surya’s mouth and then into her own. As the sound of Tai’s men’s footsteps grew louder, Avani quickly made a makeshift raft out of the midrib of a dried coconut leaf. She placed baby Surya on this as securely as she could.
Before setting Surya afloat, Avani had frantically looked around for Aadi, but he was nowhere to be seen. “Aadi, Aadi! Where are you?” she had screamed at the top of her lungs as tears streamed down her face. With each passing minute, the sound of Tai’s men grew louder and louder as they began to close in on her. Taking a deep breath and with the Lord’s name on her lips, the helpless Avani kissed Surya several times before gently setting her afloat on the little raft, praying again and again that little Surya would safely reach the neighboring village of Bandhumati. Avani then ran away from the Vimala, holding the bundle she had made from the sticks and stones as if it were a baby in order to distract Tai’s men. The men found Avani and began to chase her, not realizing that the baby they were looking for was no longer with her.
As the sun sank behind the Pravadh roof tops, its color deepened from orange to crimson red, making it seem as if heaven itself was in mourning. As baby Surya floated away quietly down the Vimala, a furious Tai had walked away from Avani’s body that lay bleeding on the ground, hoping that the vultures would feed on her flesh and destroy her very existence. And with each struggling breath that Avani took, the calm waters of the Vimala gently caressed Surya’s raft, as if it were reassuring Avani, asking her not to worry about her child.
Tai and her men frantically searched the Kashyapi for hours on end, but Surya was nowhere to be found. Not long afterwards, the clouds above parted to reveal a large opal orb enveloping Tai and her men in its silent moonlight. The Vimala’ surface shimmered with stars like floating diamonds and the moon like a single pearl mercilessly stealing all attention for itself. Furious that the light had faded away so quickly, a frustrated Tai screamed at her men, blaming them for their incompetency and lack of effort. However, deep within, Tai was overjoyed that she had gotten rid of Avani in such a brutal manner.
Aadisesha was brought back into the Sayan home on the next day in accordance with Tai’s orders. He had been tortured so much that he no longer remembered his own name or that he had a child or wife. The blows he had received on his head had taken a toll on his memory and speech, almost turning him into a vegetable. He could barely walk or even speak as he sat on a chair outside the Sayan entrance, staring blankly at the Tulsi plant. Tai hoped that Aadi would recover soon, so that she could get him married to a new girl from a rich family, hoping that this would allow her to rake in another huge dowry from the marriage.
Nobody knew what happened to Avani once Tai left the Kashyapi forest with her men, nor did anybody care enough to find out. Tai lied to Avani’s parents, telling them that Avani had left the Sayan Home a month ago saying that she was going to visit them, but she had then gone missing. Tai concocted a story that something must have happened to her while crossing the forest on the way to their house. The parents were devastated; they searched the Kashyapi for days on end but found no trace of Avani. They were too scared to question Tai and succumbed to her evil ways.
As Avani breathed her last on the Kashyapi floor, Surya safely reached the banks of Bandhumati where she was picked up by a fisherman and his wife. They were a childless couple, overjoyed to find Surya on the riverbank; they welcomed her into their lives, thinking that she was a blessing from God. Avani, a woman of substance and power, had faded away. But hope comes to those who see beyond the suffering of the present. The stars above encourage us to carry on through the darkness. And Surya, a new life brimming with sunlight, after surviving an epic journey across the endless Vimala, now brought happiness and hope to a childless couple.
Deeply in love with storytelling, the creative photographer in me finds tales everywhere, be it tucked in a little corner of the world or sprawling across an ocean of human emotions. Visit www.kamatharjun.com
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