Seven year old Subhagi stood there, motionless. Her mother lay on the burning pyre. The orange, red flames seemed to be in a hurry, leaping towards the sky. Her father Bholanath was sitting on the ground, holding his head and sobbing. He at times would beat his chest, crying out her mother’s name and someone around would console him. After the fire of the pyre subsided everyone left the cremation ground, and Subhagi returned home with her father. Her grandmother Nirmala, sitting with some ladies, held out her arms and took her into them saying that God had been so cruel to them, especially this little girl, leaving her motherless.
“Henceforth, I will look after my little one and see that she never misses her mother. Anyways, we all know that Gayatri, her mother, was not as simple as she seemed.” She looked around for a moment and carried on,
“ You do get punished for your misdeeds and she too was not spared. How much my son loved her and we always treated her like a daughter that we never had. And what did we get in return? Disobedience, haughty behaviour and baseless accusations. No wonder, she met with such an unfortunate death.”
“Maa, will you keep quiet please? What is the use of raking up such talks? Just let me be at peace.” Bholanath got up and locked himself up in his room.
Subhagi had woken up to terrible screams that morning. The screams of her mother! Subhagi ran from her bed to see her mother in flames. She was screaming for help and saying,
“They killed me! They killed me!” What did her mother mean, thought Subhagi. Why was no one helping her? She ran and took a mug of water and threw at her. She kept doing this for a while but it did not help. Gayatri was aflame. She ran to go out to call her father, her grandparents, but the door seemed to be bolted from outside. Why was the door bolted? Subhagi started banging on the door calling for her father. In some time, the door opened and a disturbed Bholanath came in with his parents shouting,
“Oh God! How did this happen? Gayatri! Gayatri!” But why were they not doing anything to douse the fire, thought Subhagi. Hearing the screams, the neighbours trooped in but it was too late. Gayatri fell down on the floor, almost burnt completely and in some time there was no sound and she lay dead. Now Subhagi gave out a scream,
“ Mummy! Mummy! Mummy!” She was now inconsolable. Nirmala held her. Subhagi was hearing people asking,
“ What happened? How did this happen?”
Her grandfather was explaining,
“ We were out on a walk so we have no idea.”
Walk? What walk? Her grandparents never went for a walk, thought Subhagi. He continued,
“Gayatri was probably making breakfast, like every day. How she caught fire, is a mystery to all of us,” sighed grandfather. After a few hours, Gayatri’s wailing parents and brothers arrived. Subhagi could not understand why they all were so agitated. They were shouting, cursing Bholanath and his parents,
“How could you burn our daughter alive, like this? We had always fulfilled your demands to the best of our capabilities, since the time of your marriage. How you ill treated our daughter all these years and we kept on trying to satiate your greed but this sort of inhumanity, was beyond our imagination. Your demand for two lacs, was way beyond our reach so you all killed her!” Gayatri’s father was banging his head against a wall, in despair.
“What rubbish is all this? In this hour of grief you have the audacity to hurl such shameless accusations at us. You all may leave and just let us mourn at our loss,” Bholanath shouted. There were some of his friends, who somehow forcibly managed to turn them out of the house. Bholanath had some police friends too, who saw to it that there was no more such unpleasant happening. Bholanath was pretty well connected with the local politicians too, and the matter was hushed up in no time.
Little Subhagi could not understand any of this and a plethora of feelings churned in her mind. Everything got imprinted on her mind and would keep playing, like a film. Time flew past and within a year, citing the need of a mother for his daughter, Bholanath remarried. He married a girl Yamini, who was to say, a bit mentally slow but was the only child of a rich father. Bholanath was now financially secured but could not stand his new, dumb wife. He would beat her at the drop of a hat and Subhagi would come to her rescue and stop her father. Subhagi and Yamini hit off very well. With the passage of time, both grew extremely fond of each other. Yamini was not only ill treated by her husband but also by her in-laws. She gave birth to a girl child and Subhagi named her Suhasini. She loved her little sister.
Years rolled by. Subhagi was now an accomplished sixteen year old. She, Yamini and Suhasini had a beautiful world of their own. Bholanath’s father was no more and his mother had grown quite old. With age she had become more nasty and insensitive towards Yamini. Subhagi was always her shield. Subhagi, though a very caring and mature teenager but every now and then would be haunted by her childhood memories of her mother, Gayatri. The film imprinted on her mind would keep playing and she was not able to share this with anyone. Over time, Bholanath had become even worse in his behaviour. Yamini would tremble in his presence and would be around Subhagi, as much as possible.
One day Nirmala expressed her desire to go to a nearby village, to perform a Puja, near a certain well. People from far away places would go there to worship an invisible Goddess, who they believed lived in that well. The puja could be done on any new moon day. So it was decided that Bholanath would take his mother there and Yamini would go along to take care of her needs, those few days. The trio set out in a bus and reached the place from where one had to walk for a few miles. They started walking and reached the well around midnight. It was pitch dark all around. Bholanath lit a lantern and Nirmala started making arrangements for the puja saying that midnight was the most auspicious hour for the same. Bholanath had to relieve himself so with instructions to help his mother, went away for a while. He returned in about twenty minutes or so and was shocked to find his mother missing. He was distraught with fear and asked Yamini where his mother had gone. Yamini was sitting on a rock, sucking a long piece of sugarcane that they had brought with them, as an ingredient for the puja. On asking where was his mother, she pointed to the well. Bholanath could see no one there. In anger, he asked her to give him a proper answer. She again pointed to the well,
“Ammaji went to worship the Goddess and the Goddess pulled her in,” she said and again started sucking at the sugar cane. Bholanath was furious. He went to her and slapped her hard and dragged her to show him, where exactly his mother was. Yamini climbed up to the edge of the well and pointed inside. Bholanath climbed up too and could see nothing. Yamini pointed to the inside again and as Bholanath bent to look in, he lost his balance and with a scream fell into the well. The echo of the scream could be heard for a few moments. Did he lose balance or there was a push, Bholanath could not decide as he went down, down and deep down into the well. Yamini stood there sucking at her sugar cane.