Mysore! The city of palaces with its old world charm, memories of summer holidays with cousins, trekking up Chamundi hills to get a glimpse of the divine goddess, the Dasarafestivities, the smell of jasmine, the craving for my aunts home cooked food and the love of literature which I share with my uncle beckons me every year.
This year too I was on the train chugging along, fond memories and happiness in my heart. Smiling involuntarily I turned around to see a child wailing for Chocolates which a hawker was selling but the parents refused to buy, two newlyweds talking and laughing in a world of their own, a man immersed in a book, and a face that struck me as familiar! Where had I seen this lady before? I knew her! But who was she? I wondered as leaned forward to get a better look at her face, hoping to recognize this woman. “ANJALI”! I called out realizing who this was! She was a friend from college! The one we always referred to as “Goddess”. My mind immediately conjured up images from the past…the smell of joss sticks, the rendering of the Durga Sapthashatahi, Anjali elegantly performing the classical Bharathnatyam steps to the beat of the Midangam. I got up and moved towards her as she smiled at me vaguely acknowledging my greeting with a smile that was neither open hearted or encouraging. Something was wrong. “Hi” she said feebly. “How are you?” By then a fellow passenger had generously offered me a seat next to her in exchange for my seat at the window.
I sat down next to Anjali and we spoke about a few common friends. As we chatted, I wondered what happened to the vivacious girl who would laugh at anything and everything. The talented young woman who was part of every cultural festival at college. She had won every competition she entered. HerArengateram –the stage debut performance was a huge affair, which was attended by film stars, politicians and theatre personalities. The dance reviews in the press were all praises for her dance and her beauty. Anjali was the daughter of a successful businessman and needless to say very popular at college. Most girls, including me were a bit jealous of the confidence she exuded at the same time loved to hang out with her. We were a gang of giggly girls who did our bit of bunking classes and sneaking out to movies, but made sure we scored well. So what had happened? Why was she looking so forlorn, a little lost, and definitely sad?
I decided to ask. “Anjali is everything all right? You actually seem to be uncomfortable with me around? Do you want be to..go back to my seat?”.
“OH No” she replied “Do stay” … I sat down hesitantly. Unsure of how to continue the conversation with my slightly unresponsive friend, I asked , “You are travelling to Mysore for a dance performance?”…..and all hell broke loose! I realized I had said something that opened the flood gates and tears streamed down her face. She was sobbing. I put my arm around her and did my best to calm her. After a few moments she opened up slightly and told me her story.
She had married into a prosperous family. Kaushik was good looking and successful. The marriage was a grand affair. Anjali’s wiped her tears and showed me some bruises on her arm saying “my hubbys gift” , touching them gingerly tears cascading down her cheeks. I needed no more information to realize that Anjali was a victim of abuse. The outbursts of violence had started, hardly 2-3 months after their marriage, when she had agreed to a performance at Mysore’s prestigious Dasara festival, without consulting her husband. “No wife of mine will dance in front of others. Disgusting” he had declared. Anjali had argued that it was an art. “Art my foot“ he had said angrily, twisting her arm so hard it hurt “It’s cheap. Forget about it from now on. There’s enough for you to do at home”. Anjali insisted and was strongly arguing her case, when suddenly Kaushik’s hand had moved swiftly and slapped her hard. Shocked she could not react. Sitting down on the bed she had watched her husband walk out of the room muttering “That should take care of your art”. Several such episodes occurred regularly, for different reasons. Rice was overdone, the vegetable was not of his choice, or he simply dint like what she was wearing! “I always told myself -this was NOT happening to me! Every morning I got up and tried to convince myself that this never happened. But it did again and again”, she said her voice reflecting the pain and abuse she was subjected to. More than the pain it was the humiliation that troubled her.She sensed in her an inability to retort which further ruined her confidence, killing her zest for life completely.
She told me that her parents had blamed her squarely for his misconduct; never for a moment did they listen to her side of the story. She should know how to “adjust”. What was the necessity to quarrel over the pursuit of an insignificant hobby? Anjali had tried to explain “But mama I am made for dance. I love it! And for Kaushik dance is an excuse. Even if I stopped dancing he will find something else he doesn’t want me to do”. That fell on deaf ears! She felt defeated, stuck in a situation which she could neither live through nor walk out of. If she were to walk out the marriage, which she knew was the sane ting to do, where would she go? What were the options? What would she do? Her parents’ had made it clear they had nothing to do with her. She was a prisoner! A prisoner in the comfort of a plush home and artistic interiors! The always confident Anjali had lost the battle. Her self -esteem was at an all-time low. She felt lonely, with no strength to fight Kaushik, no dreams in her heart, no dance in her life, no desire to even get up in the morning! There was no hope, nothing she looked forward to. She had for months felt adrift and aimless.
One day as she went about her mundane tasks at home as she heard the sound of dancing feet! “Tha Kitta kitta Thai”.. The sound ad come from house opposite Anjalis! They had new people in the neighborhood. She had decided to pay them a visit. As she opened the gate, she saw a group of students learning dance. This was a dance school! She involuntarily smiled. The dance teacher returned her smile. Anjali had introduced herself as a dance teacher and a few minutes later the owner of the school had offered Anjali a job to teach the afternoon batch. She would get some money and Kaushik wouldn’t even know about it. More than that she had dance back in her life now. A small silver lining at the end of the tunnel! She was careful not to disclose or drop a hint to Kaushik. She lived in fear, sneaking out every afternoon, to teach her students. Praying that her husband would not call on the landline or decide to come home in the afternoon. The earlier Anjali would have defied her parents to do what she wanted, but this Anjali was a different. She lived in hiding, with the fear of being discovered. Her fear of Kaushik haunted her every day. But her love for dance kept her going! However she could not hide it for long. One day Kaushik had returned in the afternoon to see her walk into the neighbor’s house had followed her inside and seen her teaching the students. He had quietly walked away and waited for her to return. As Anjali entered he kicked the front door shut, holding her by her long hair and banged her head against the wall. Caught off guard she had slowly recovered and touching her bleeding forehead and looked at Kaushik. She felt a surge of anger! Her mind conjured images of goddess Kali ! Just as Kali had seethed in anger at evil , she seethed in rage at Kaushik. The bubble of endurance burst had burst! Ik Kaushik was saying “You choose dance over your husband?….do you think…” ,,before he could complete his sentence something hit him on the head! It was the vase on the center table! He looked up reeling from the pain and saw Anjali holding it in her hand ready to strike again .She was now the goddess herself who refused tolerate evil. Anjali stood towering over Kaushik screaming “Don’t you dare raise your hand again! ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! It hurts doesn’t it? That’s how I felt every time you hit me. Don’t you dare come anywhere near me again!’. Throwing the vase on the ground with such fury that it lay shattered to smithereens on the ground. She HAD LOOKED AT Kaushik with disgust and had walked back slamming the bedroom door behind her. She had cried into the night.
The incidents of abuse had ceased after that. Anjali had shown that she could defend herself. She had continued her dance lessons and slowly her role in the school had increased and she was now being called to perform at a few events. “I earn a moderate amount. Enough to maintain myself. I am sure it will pick up.”. I patted her on the back and expressed that I was happy she had stood up to her tormentor. That was worthy of praise! Like Anjali put it “Never suffer abuse. Suffering it is as bad as encouraging it. It initially leaves you stunned, but one has to get over it”.
And Kaushik? Had she continued to live with him? “Of course not! I know enough not to trust him. The man is sadistic! He asked for a divorce and I willingly agreed”. Looking away she added “He begged me not to complain to the police. He offered money to buy my silence. But I did lodge a complaint. He received a warning and paid a hefty sum. This was not because I wanted to hurt him, but I wanted people to know that you can’t get away after committing a crime! Some people felt I should have forgiven him and not subjected him to public ridicule by complaining. But I did not want him to go scot free after what I had suffered. I was right wasn’t I?” she asked and I nodded.
“My parents were angry for some time, she continued, “ but they now realize what I have gone through. They have invited me to live with them. That’s where I am going.” I smiled at her, and she returned my smile, this time a lot less labored and more genuine. “And yes I am going for a performance to Mysore. Hey ! why don’t you come and see me perform?.. Do come..” She said as she pulled out an invite from her bag handing it to me. “I will” I assured her.
As we were gathering our belongings to get off the train, she turned to me and said “I feel a lot lighter now. Thanks for listening”.
As I walked towards the auto stand the image of Anjali holding a trident and performing the dance of durga vanquishing evil Kaushik loomed large. All I could do was close my eyes and pay tribute!