The phone rang. Sameer opened his eyes and checked the time. It was 3 a.m. Who could be calling at such an hour, he thought. He picked up the phone.
“Saab, she is no more. Kuni is dead,” came a voice from the other end. Sameer sat up. He saw his wife Mita, in deep sleep on the other side of the bed.
“Why did you have to call for this, at this unearthly hour? Could you not wait for the morning?” was his angry retort.
“Saab, it is our duty to inform the relative of the patient as soon as he/she passes away. What would I do if Kuni chose to die at this hour?” the man snapped back.
Sameer was thinking fast. He blurted out,
“Listen carefully Raju; you arrange for her cremation like the hospital does for unidentified people and I will see that you don’t regret it. Hope I have made myself clear and no phone calls any more. I will come and see you tomorrow,” and Sameer hung the phone. Visibly annoyed, he pulled his sheet and went back to sleep. But where was sleep? Like the Pandora’s box, visuals were fighting to tumble out of his mind.
Kuni’s and Sameer’s fathers were real brothers and they were very close to each other. They decided to leave their parental zamindari to their other brother and move to some far away place and do something of their own. They had a technical aptitude so they set up a factory that made diverse tools to conserve water. Their tools were a great success and the factory started doing good business. Both the brothers had a child each, Kuni and seven years younger, Sameer. Kuni and her mother Savitri went back to their hometown because the climate did not suit Savitri. Soon Kuni reached her marriagable age and she was married to Vishwaroop, the son of a rich zamindar there. Vishwaroop was spoilt with money and had all the vices that surplus money would often lead to. Kuni was a very simple, God-fearing girl, who believed her husband to be the personification of God himself. Her eyes saw nothing wrong in him. She was completely devoted to her husband. She was not too educated either, for she liked believing herself to be a great devotee of God, spending most of her time making garlands and other flower ornaments for Him. Going to school did not appeal to her too much and Savitri also did not think education to be any important for a girl child. After marriage, all her attention got focused on serving her husband, blindly.
In an effort to help Vishwaroop mend his ways, Kuni’s father called both of them to stay with him. He made Vishwaroop in charge of his part of the factory. The business had grown, so both the brothers had their own factory. Sameer finished his MBA and joined his father in his factory. Lady Fortune decided to take a break from her stint with Kuni’s father and he suddenly died of severe pneumonia. The factory was in sole charge of Vishwaroop now and he let it slip off his fingers faster than sand and within two years of his father-in-law’s demise, he was bankrupt. This huge misfortune did not change his wayward ways much, though. Now he lived in a small house with his wife and managed in whatever he would get from his land in the home town. Kuni never complained, even though she had to do all the house work now, something that she had never done before, in her life.
Sameer was a witness to the downfall of his brother-in-law’s living standards but he never did anything to help. He hated Vishwaroop for the person he was and for destroying Sameer’s uncle’s hard-earned status and business. He had lots of anger for his cousin Kuni, for being devoted to such a man. He spoke to neither. It was only Sameer’s parents, who would ask Kuni and Vishwaroop over on occasions and feed them like their own daughter and son-in-law and give something to take back home.
Sameer’s eight year old daughter, Isha was very fond of Kuni. Kuni would play dolls with Isha, whenever they’d come. Kuni would show Isha how to make bead ornaments, pretty clothes, for the dolls. Isha never understood why her father behaved so with Kuni and her husband. She had asked him once too, but Sameer had very firmly told her to not meddle into adult’s matters. She had asked Kuni but her Kuni aunt just smiled sweetly and said,
“Oh your Baba! He is just busy. Where will my little brother get time to sit and chat? There’s nothing to worry Ishu, let’s play.”
After some years, one day, Kuni came running all the ten kms to their house, in a bewildered state sobbing that Vishwaroop was not waking up. Sameer’s father and Sameer rushed to their home to find Vishwaroop dead. Kuni was left alone and she just could not accept her husband leaving her for ever. She refused eating anything and soon took to bed. Much as Sameer’s parents insisted, she refused to move out of the house where her husband had lived. Every morning on way to work Sameer would drop in to check on her and leave some food for her. It would all be left untouched.
One day Sameer found Kuni unconscious on her bed. He went and got her admitted in the municipal hospital. That was three days ago and now he got a call from the hospital saying Kuni was no more. He had not told anybody in the house about her hospitalization.
So next day in a cart drawn by the cows, lying on a bed of hay, Kuni set out on her journey to the other world. She was cremated near the holy Ganges by someone whom she never knew. Sameer stood there at a distance, behind a tree, watching the pyre being lit. Uncontrolled tears streamed down till he could not keep standing any more and sat down on the ground weeping bitterly.