She looked back in terror. The black of the leather belt glistened in the yellowed frame of the room and she shivered. The belt had found its mark more than once and every time it burnt her skin ravenously, severe excruciating pain. She dared not look back at the perpetrator. Sobbing silently she lay still. After hitting her again with much more force than before, Aniket sat down on the bed, breathing heavily. He was drunk; the air in the room was stale with the smell of alcohol. His maniac eyes were darting rapidly from the motionless body bundled up in the corner to the two pair of tiny eyes watching him silently from behind the upturned plastic chair. He spat on the floor mouthing an obscenity and then crashed on the bed noisily.
Meera grew up angry, looking for answers, watching her mother get abused everyday and hating her father more with each passing moment. One fine day everything changed, Sukanya had walked away. It was a summer evening and everything was a tad blurry now. Aniket had not come back for the seventh consecutive night and looking at Meera’s face, Sukanya decided that she had had enough. The years after were very difficult. Sukanya worked as domestic help but money was always scarce. Sukanya’s torn sarees were sewn into dresses for Meera. She would borrow school books, beg for them from the residents of multi-storeyed houses, juxtaposed around their shambled tin roofed house. Meera never missed school, come rain or shine. She passed all her examinations with flying colours and everytime Sukanya would be filled with immense pride.
Aniket walked in announced one day into their veritable paradise. His speech was slurred and his drunk, reddish eyes had eye bags underneath. Sukanya was scared, Meera was not home yet from her part-time teaching job. Aniket looked around and laughed at their wretched living conditions. ‘So this is your little peace of heaven? He asked in a mocking tone. ‘I have got a very good alliance for our daughter’, he said. ‘The man is fifty years old, recently widowed but fit as a fiddle. He will take good care of her. Stop filling her head with education, women liberation nonsense.’ He guffawed and looked at her challengingly. Sukanya was listening to him with her head lowered, still and seething with anger. When she lifted her head, her eyes were blazing. ‘Get out from my house.’ She spoke so low that Aniket had to strain his pudgy neck to hear her. ‘GET OUT NOW!’ This time Aniket got up and stepped towards her menacingly. With speed of lightening, Sukanya wielded a big kitchen knife in front of him. He stepped back and tried to talk. The knife came quickly between them, cutting the air and all talk. The hunter now was hunted. Abusing profusely, he ran away, leaving his slippers behind.
Meera came back home to a very quiet mother. Hiding her jubilant smile she embraced her mother. ‘Mum!! Mum!’ Sukanya was surprised at her daughter’s sudden emotional outburst. ‘What happened, Meera?’ In reply, Meera gave her a letter. It was a dull white envelope with a gold embossed seal of Government of India. Sukanya’s world grew in rainbow colours as she slowly opened the envelope.
Congratulations! You are selected in Indian Administrative Services!
The sun broke in through their tattered window and a cool breeze blew in. And then the phoenix rose from her ashes, soaring through the brilliant blue sky.
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