Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Freedom


This story was first published at Women's Web here.


Prabhjot Kaur had moved to this Gerrad Street home in Toronto only a year ago, to live with her only son Angad and his wife Kiran. Her husband Kulvant had passed away after a stroke about two years ago in their hometown Patiala, and ever since she was struggling with old age, loneliness and health issues.
Angad decided to rent out the house in Patiala and brought her along to Canada, she was not initially to move so far away from her roots but knew her fate now as a widow was in her son’s hands and being a dependent she should just adhere to whatever he decided for her.
She had long back give up her capability to decide first gradually when her parents had fixed her marriage without even thinking about her consent once and later completely as her domineering in-laws and husband made all her decisions for her.
Her only solace remained her faith. She was a devout Sikh woman and despite her inability to move around much now because of her ailments, she like to read her Japji Sahab every morning without fail at the same time after her daily bath. There were no servants here, so by default Kiran helped her in her toilet and daily routine.
She was a beautiful, quiet, homely girl whose parents had paid happily for Angad’s degree here in Canada and also helped him setup his business.
Today as she woke up, the house was drowning in an eerie silence, it was a dark foggy morning outside and there were no noises either from the kitchen or her son’s bedroom upstairs. She looked at the clock, it was just quarter past four, and she decided to wait for a while for Kiran before she rang the bell they had installed next to her bed, if she needed something urgently.
So many times Kiran had asked her to sleep late because unlike Punjab it was very cold in the mornings here, but a habit she had inculcated almost four decades ago as a young bride was difficult to break. She was always up before the sunrise for years though she could still never finish the tasks to the satisfaction of her late mother-in-law, or please Kulvant or her four children.
Finally at around six she heard faint footsteps on the staircase, it must be Kiran. In a while as she walked in slowly, without a word she placed Prabhjot’s tea on the side table and turned towards the restroom to turn on the geyser, her neck was badly bruised and one elbow had a deep gash. Prabhjot knew what this was.
Angad was their youngest, after three daughters and two abortions finally Kulvant was happy to have a son. She was relieved and hoped that it would soften him and his family towards her but that was never to be, she never became his life partner or even wife, just a round the clock slave and child bearer. She was a graduate and an intelligent girl to begin with but over the years the violence not only numbed her body but her mind too.
She was Kiran herself decades ago. Angad had taken after his father, a sexist patriarch who believed women needed to be thrashed often to be put in their place. In their five years of marriage Kiran had undergone three miscarriages, Prabhjot knew that pain too, of trying to protect another life inside you when you are pushed down the stairs or banged around.
She never asked Kiran and Kiran never said a word – just like her this young girl had chosen silence as her defence. Prabhjot felt her pain but her own helplessness overwhelmed her.
Two weeks after this Prabhjot was woken up in the middle of the night by Police sirens and a lot of armed police personnel storming into the house. After a while a police woman entered her room, asked her to identify herself and then explained to her in easy English- Kiran had killed Angad. She asked again and again because in all probability she feared that Angad could have killed Kiran.
Her world had come crashing down as she finally saw Kiran being taken into custody and Angad’s body being taken by paramedics. The two women looked at each other, both blank as stones.
Kiran was under trial for several weeks after that. Prabhjot was sent to an NGO’s old age centre because her testimony was crucial for the case.
Her daughters called her and were unanimous that her statement should implicate Kiran as the murderer of their only brother. She looked at Kulvant’s hard eyes in their family picture taken several years ago and wondered what would he have to say in this situation.
She wished it was him too on trial somewhere for treating her and their three daughters worse than cattle and for raising Angad the way he had.
But Angad was her son, the son she had given birth to after millions of prayers and fasts, the son who was her only hope for old age care.
Finally after weeks of deliberations and moral dilemma Prabhjot had made up her mind. Her statement had detailed descriptions of Angad’s fiery temper and violent nature, she testified how he used to brutally beat Kiran sometimes even in front of her while she had looked the other way because that is what they are taught to do in India, never interfere between a husband and wife. Prabhjot insisted that Kiran was a loving and caring girl and she was sure that she must have struck her husband only in self-defence.
Now five years had passed. They had returned to Patiala, and Kiran had taken up a job in a local school as an art teacher. It was Prabhjot’s 65th birthday today and as a gift and Kiran had painted and framed a quote from some author for her –
“How like flowers we are…knowing nothing of the fate we simply inherit from others.”
Prabhjot read it again and again and moved her wheel chair to the front porch. It was time for Anhad- her grandson to return from school. They had come back to Patiala together, she could not save her son from a violent life and a terrible death as a demon that he had become but Kiran had saved hers that night from a drunk father who was about to kill him in the womb itself.
She still prayed for Angad’s and Kulvant’s souls every day and hoped Anhad would grow up to be a better man and inherit his fate from his grandfather and father, to choose not to be like them, to make amends, to break the chain of violence.
The two women were also now healing slowly from their own deep wounds and had formed a bond much stronger than Prabhjot had ever formed with anyone all her life.
Prabhjot had finally found peace, because the freedom she had gained for Kiran had freed her to.

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COMPANIONS CALLED BOOKS

To Kill a Mockingbird
The Catcher in the Rye
Animal Farm
The Alchemist
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Romeo and Juliet
Frankenstein
The Odyssey
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Count of Monte Cristo
Eat, Pray, Love
Lolita
The Da Vinci Code
The Kite Runner
The Silence of the Lambs
The Diary of a Young Girl
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
The Notebook
Gone With the Wind
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The Human Bean Cafe, Ontario

The Human Bean Cafe, Ontario
my work on display there !!!!!