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.
‘What is troubling you?” asked her mind.
Ilaa did not respond to the questions her mind had asked. Her hair swayed in the air, giving gentle slaps on her cheeks. Her aimless posture, closed eyes and bare feet, everything was just basking in the glory of nature which just had got drenched in the rain.
She sat peacefully by the banks listening to the stream.
“Look! There she is!” said a villager Setu from Sauviragram.
(Story in Flashback)
“Shadab is dead!” Exclaimed Bhalasahab.
A chaos across the village had spread. Everybody who heard the news accumulated near Bhalasahab’s house.
“Bhao! What happened? What did we hear?” eagerly questioned a villager.
Blood stained clothes of Bhalasahab spoke volumes of what must have happened inside. But Bhao (as villagers fondly addressed him) was too humble for a heinous crime, he was a man of words, wisdom, and generosity.
“I killed him.” Bhalasahab said with face hanging in utter shame and guilt.
Villagers, to whom Bhao was someone they looked for advice, someone who had seen several ages of war and love in Sauviragram. His greying hair and wrinkles stretching till the temples elaborated that he had seen the thick and thin. A man who had keen sense of trade, who had been the most instrumental reason behind the village’s cotton bales business stood in front of them – pale and sad.
“Bhao! Tell us for god sake. Is Ilaa ok?” Inquired an eager Jagan.
And with that question, some more curious eyes raised high. After all, with the killing of Shadab, there died the major source of income for the cotton manufacturers in Sauviragram. The strong trade of cotton with the wholesalers reduced down to almost zero.
Shahdab, a wholesale trader in cotton was a regular visitor in Sauviragram. This year, he was more handsome and seemed wiser. A man in his forties, Shahdab was the most successful and constructive trader of all who used to visit the village every year. For the farmers, he was the best cash cow who would never cease to do his transactions with the village at the highest prices.
This was the tenth year which marked the consistent and healthy business transaction with the villagers.
But, the silence had deeply castrated several hearts and minds by now.
(Bhalasahab’s drawing space, a big room with adequate things kept in all places. Serene house with bedding on the either sides made it a cozy and a comfortable place)
Shadab entered the house to have a meeting with Bhalasahab and settle this year’s cotton supply.
“10 years and counting, sir!” Bhao complimented with a doting smile.
“Hahaha! Yes, yes! It’s all your service Bhalasahab. You have never ceased to disappoint me.” Said Shadab.
Ilaa appeared from inside with sherbet.
With some noise of bangles near the other door, Ilaa entered the room carrying sherbet for the guest. She was another year older and more beautiful. Her partially covered face and the nose ring showcased from the other side. The floral prints added to her gait and grace. She seemed taller this year and her hair reached the waist. According to Bhalasahab, she had reached 19. Adjusting gently her veil, she placed the sherbet cup in front of Shadab.
A momentary but a conspicuous eye contact had happened. Shadab was smitten, to the depth of those sharpness in her eyes, he could barely keep away. Those sharp eyes! How shrill! Those could kill someone.
Ilaa could easily feel the cacophony in her heart.
As she moved back to another room, she sneaked back to verify if the eyes were still looking for her. Another friction of four eyes and Ilaa quickly went inside.
Shadab stood blank till he was given a gentle jerk by Bhalasahab.
“That’s Ilaa!” Bhalasahab introduced his daughter.
“Well! Ya. Ya. She is all grown up!” Shadab responded like he had just woken up from a dream.
“Hahaha! Yes. Let’s get back to business, sir!” Answered Bhalasahab timidly yet sturdily.
Another business meeting between Shadab and Bhalasahab had been happening for over an hour.
Today, Ilaa again entered the room with Sherbet and this time, her face was visible. The veil covered only the forehead. Shadab could see every inch of her face. The peaches and cream skin, that round red bindi, the nose ring and those earrings which just complimented everything. And in the middle of those imitated ornaments, were the piercing eyes. Seemed, they hid something, really mystical.
While her soft hands gently picked the glasses, her bangles made some sound that felt like sweet music to Shadab. This time, the friction between the eyes had some message, there was more of a war than any affection. The eyes were defending. Ilaa walked inside.
“Shall we seal the deal Shadab sir like other years!” Asked a curious Bhalasahab.
“No. I refuse. No cotton this season.” A stern voice came from Shadab.
“What happened?” Inquired a shocked Bhalasahab.
“Yes. I am true to my statements. What is so unique in cotton that you can offer me?” Asked Shadab.
A shocked and anxious Bhalasahab asked, “But why sir, why? Did you face any quality issues?”
“Why are you blaming those poor cotton bales?” Shadab was smooth as silk as he spoke.
“What is that you are looking for?” Asked a concerned Bhalasahab.
“Ilaa or the business shall cease.” Shadab answered sternly.
A pin drop silence in the environment and an absolute void could be felt across the room.
Sun had set and villagers had returned to their huts after a hard day at work.
“If that is your decision, Baba!” Ilaa’s voice choked.
“It’s the case of entire Sauviragram.” Bhalasahab.
Ilaa was quite. Her edgy eyes were soaked in tears.
Entire vacant space echoed in pain and synced in chorus with Ilaa’s mourning.
“Dear, Shadab wants to cease the entire business with the village and also restrict other merchants. I am speechless at this.” Bhalasahab tried to justify.
“Baba! That is how it is, if you have decided already.” Ilaa was pale as yellow.
“This barter has been the heaviest.” Bhalasahab claimed while he looked out for consideration.
Ilaa was just drying up her waist long hair when she suddenly heard a thud. Her wet hair had droplets dripping from various hair strands and eyes were trying to track the intruder from the spaces.
“Who is it?” gasped Ilaa.
“You can’t just ignore me.”
The voice seemed familiar and in no time, Ilaa knew it was Shadab, who had invaded the house without any permission.
“Are you not mine now, darling.” Shadab reciprocated to Ilaa
His feeblish smile, cunning gestures and his slow gait towards her were intimidating. She didn’t move an inch, stood firm to her position.
“Treachery in thy eyes,
Lust in your arms
Lost in the woods”
Just when Shadab was about to attack Illaa with grit and grudge, with deceit in his eyes, just when he was set to disrupt her dignity, touching her – came a sound of a thud.
Ilaa found Shadab falling like a cascade of water and a flood of blood came gushing from his body. She crouched herself like a baby, her blood curdled, eyes tightly shut and murmuring something.
“Open your eyes darling! Everything is fine.” Said Bhalasahab.
With pouncing heart, Ilaa opened her eyes, Shadab was dead. Her father saved her, saved her for life.
Peace and tears in the room.
(In continuation to Part 2)
A huge commotion in the crowd as people were hushing and murmuring. People were questioning who killed Shadaab, the only merchant of Sauviragram.
“What happened Bhalasahab?” Asked a villager.
“I shall answer the question.” Came Ilaa in the light with guts and courage all in her heart.
“No Ilaa, you shall not. It is me and the fellow villagers. Let me speak to them. I trust them and the real justice shall turn up.” Bhalasahab waved at her and asked her to move inside.
“I killed him. This chisel was the defense tool to save my daughter. All I can say.” Bhalasahab shared all he could.
The commotion in the crowed was louder now; one could hear more voices and screams. There was a chaos of opinions as people were asking for their future. Who will associate with them now? There could never be a merchant like Shadab. “
“That was unfair Bhalasahab. Utterly unfair to kick our food.” Came a voice from the crowd.
Ilaa felt something was wrong. She hurriedly came out only to find her father being groped and attacked by a mob. She came running to defend. But, by the time, she could push the mob, Bhalasahab was in a pool of blood. He was hit in the head.
Ilaa screamed, “Babaaaaa!!!!”
Nothing was left while she sat teary eyed and blank in front of her dead father.
Crowd had left, there was a disturbing silence around. Ilaa stood, collected herself walked towards Godavari. She murmured her last words as she took the last leap in the river.
“If there was a path,
Where else would I go?”
But you Oh! Universe.
(In continuation to Part 2)
“Look! There she is! That is the only sighting we have of hers in the entire day. She will vanish in a while. I have heard she doesn’t harm anyone.” Said Setu, the young villager from Sauviragram.
“Slowly, speak slowly! Is that the spirit? This is where she died” Aghast at the sighting, inquired Ranaj.
“Yes.” Said Setu.